When There’s No One Left to Point At
Eric Scot Tryon
On Fridays after school, we rode our bikes to the liquor store to buy sour candy, the kind in large plastic bins with big metal scoops. Sour peaches, sour rings, sour bears and worms and sharks, sour lips and sour rainbows and sour kids. Emily never had money, so I paid, which was fine.
With the bag of candy tied around my handlebars, we pedaled to the high school where we sat in the bleachers, on the top row, and pressed our backs to the metal railing. The first sour bite was the best. The way my jaw clenched like a fist even before the sour hit my tongue.
Meanwhile, the field below was electric with teams practicing and students buzzing, and we played a game called That’s Gonna Be You. Emily and I were still a year away from high school and joked that watching from above was like watching ourselves in the future.
“That’s gonna be you,” she’d say, laughing and pointing to the football player dragging his feet, half a lap behind the team.
“That’s gonna be you,” I’d say and shoulder-bump her, pointing to the cross country runner leading the team in stretches. Blonde hair pulled tight in a ponytail, she barked orders and counted to ten.
Besides pointing out our future selves and sucking the sour off gummy soda bottles, we also complained about our parents. To make Emily feel better, I made stuff up about my dad yelling and being an asshole, but really he wasn’t. He was the kind of dad who always listened, even if sometimes I wished he talked too.
But Emily’s dad was another story. Three months ago she found out he had another family. Family #2, she called them. She found a birthday card in his office desk with a drawing of a dad, mom, older boy, and a little girl with red curls. Emily was blonde and an only child. She didn’t tell her mom, but she told me as we pushed sour rings on the tips of our tongues. How many could we fit until one snapped? She didn’t cry like I thought she might, but instead pointed at a group of boys huddled like vultures under the bleachers across from ours, secretly smoking and punching each other in the arms. “That’s gonna be you.”
Emily started questioning everything about her father. Whenever he wasn’t home, which was a lot—work trips, golf trips, who-knows trips—she assumed he was playing catch with his son or teaching his redheaded daughter to ride a bike. When he was home, she tried to sniff foreign odors on his shirt as he hugged her goodnight. And when the light hit his mouse-brown hair at just the right angle, she swore she saw hints of red.
The more she shared, the less I shared. Having to deal with Family #2 was so much worse than my mom drinking too much white wine after dinner. My mom didn’t get silly-drunk like in the movies, but the next day she wouldn’t remember what we’d talked about. I had to get used to cloned conversations. Plus I was running out of bad things to make up about my dad, so mostly I just listened and searched the field for future-me.
Then Emily’s Dad called her Dylan accidentally. Twice.
“Dylan doesn’t sound anything like Emily,” I said. “How can the dillweed make that mistake?”
With a mouth full of sour gummy bears she’d scrunched together until four became one, Emily said, “Whatever. That’s gonna be you,” and pointed to a funny-looking kid sitting against the goalpost doing homework alone.
“Yeah? Well, that’s gonna be you,” I said and pointed to a cheerleader practicing her leg kicks. She looked ridiculous, and I knew that would get Emily good because she swore she’d never be a cheerleader. She said cheerleaders were just decorations for guys, and how stupid was that? I was waiting for her to point out the worst guy and say it was me, but she didn’t. She just sat there working her tongue, unsticking bears from her back teeth. Finally, she said, “Shit, Dylan’s even a cooler name than Emily.”
Today, as I’m scooping the last of the sour fish into the bag, Emily says she has something big to tell me. But later, with our backs against the cool metal bars and one handful of sour keys already gone, she still hasn’t said anything.
“So, like, did something happen?” I ask, as the marching band marches in a giant circle.
“Nothing happened,” she says, tears in her eyes for the first time. “But, like…I realized something.”
I want to give her a hug, but I’m not sure if that’s the kind of friends we are. So, like my dad, I sit quietly. Waiting to listen.
“What if, like…” She stops to tie a sour rope in a knot, then bites off one end. “What if I’m Family #2?” She looks away. “What if it’s not them. What if it’s me that’s Family #2?”
The worst part is I don’t know what to say because she could be right, because who gets to choose? I try to imagine what my parents might say, but I’ve got nothing. So I reach into the bag and grab two sour cherries—her favorite—and give her one. Then she grabs two sour bombs—the strongest of them all—and hands one to me.
“That’s gonna be you,” I say and point to the girl walking like a horse with high knees, twirling a baton.
“That’s gonna be you,” she says and points to a big kid banging a drum hung around his neck.
And then we can’t stop. We point out everyone on the field. The football player doing pushups, the sprinter collapsing on the grass, the kid in crutches asking girls to sign his cast, the couple holding hands, the boy getting yelled at by his coach, the girl with pink hair. That’s gonna be you, I tell her. That’s gonna be you, she tells me. And we eat. We eat until the sour scrapes our tongues and cuts our gums.
Eventually the sun drops behind the mountains, and the lights of the field click, then buzz, then shine. That’s gonna be you, she says and points to a kid sitting alone, picking grass. And to the coach blowing his whistle. And to the boy trying to do a cartwheel. That’s gonna be you, I say and point to a girl sprinting as if she’s late, backpack bouncing side to side. And to the girl crying into her phone. And to the girl who was running laps when we first sat down and is still running laps, her face bright red, and she has not stopped, has not even slowed. That’s gonna be you, that’s gonna be you, we say until all the teams have packed up their equipment and left, until even the non-athletes, the randoms and slackers and stragglers have decided it’s time to go home, and there is only a pile of sour sand at the bottom of the bag, and our mouths are swollen and raw, and we have pointed at everyone until there’s no one left to point at, and still we have no idea what kind of people we are going to be.