Kim asked me to housesit for her parents while they took her on a Hawaiian vacation. They were personal friends to a celebrity shooting a movie there. She promised me: no houseplants to water, and their hound’s anal fissures had cleared up.
When Kim put her hand on my forearm, two things happened: Everything under my skin turned rotten and sweet, and I knew Kim could ask me anything for anything. All she had to do was be everything I wasn’t.
I hated dogs. But Kim’s didn’t know that, and her parents paid up front. I was broke because I was always broke. Rent was twice my parent’s mortgage before they lost their house and moved into a motel.
The dog’s named was Bundy. She barked for no reason. Kim’s parents lived on a street where nothing happened. But Bundy barked at a moth giving itself to the porch light. I walked her along empty, immaculate sidewalks. No crickets sowing songs in the grass. I left her shits where she made them, if only to show that something there was alive.
The house was nice in a boring way rich people like. The couch and carpet and curtains were comfortable and gray. Within thirty minutes, I’d found a garage full of craft beer and about three grand in bad hiding places. I debated renting a nice car, dialing up some people to drive around and drink with, but I couldn’t think of anyone to call.
I didn’t have friends, except Kim. The bar where we’d met was a dimly lit refuge for the unloved. Her sorority had planned a “dive-bar crawl” and accidently ended up at a real dive. You could feel the avarice of spirit hanging onto the place. I was drinking the last of my last paycheck from a scammy sales gig when they came in on a gust of colorful noise. They ordered drinks no bartender in that shithole had ever made.
Kim’s earring fell and twinkled between a barstool’s legs. Real diamond I could’ve hawked and kept drinking for a week. Instead, I tapped her on the shoulder.
Kim bought me a grasshopper—my “good-deed reward.” For her own opaque reasons, she asked me over to her Kappa-Theta sisters’ corner booth. They smiled like I was something to eat—all teeth and small, small talk. Sales had been an easy job because I was good at lying about myself: I told her I loved animals, volunteered at a dog shelter; my parents hadn’t died last year in a cheap motel; Kim and I shared a birthday. What wild chance—us both wandering into this rattletrap. If I hadn’t loved her immediately, I wouldn’t’ve gone to the trouble of inventing someone worth knowing. But that’s how we became friends.
Kim whispered to me that a man at the bar was dying; she’d eavesdropped on his death-wheeze and sneaked a pic on her phone.
“This place is great. We’ll have way better stories than those Omega bitches.” Kim composed her face for a selfie and said “You don’t need to come back here.” There were classier ways to die, if that’s what I wanted. Then she leaned in and sniffed my neck. “No,” she said. “As my grandma would say, ‘there’s still some vinegar in you.’”
And I didn’t go back. Because after meeting Kim, I didn’t want to die. From then on, she never let me go too long without a visit. We got ice cream; we did drugs she paid for; we threw coins into public fountains, making the most absurd wishes we could think of. Each time, I got a little farther from where she’d found me.
Now, her parent’s hound shit on the carpet, baying like she knew something awful had happened. Kim didn’t respond when I texted that Bundy’s annal fissures had flared up.
Her return date came and went. My calls, straight to voicemail. Bundy snuffled my knees, trying to tell me an accident had occurred on their celebrity friend’s movie set, and the family had been mauled by Bengal tigers.
I drank beers in their hot tub until steam worked into my skull and fogged over the night sky. Brown bottles littered the back yard like abstract dog turds.
Somewhat outside myself, I rummaged through Kim’s childhood bedroom. Everything she owned smelled like crushed-up Smarties. Leafing through her yearbooks showed me a teen-horror film scrubbed clean of blood and misery, where the serial killer is never even born. Friends signed the back pages with such professions of love, I felt embarrassed for them.
Tucked into the back of senior year, were rubberbanded Polaroids: Kim, all cheekbones, elan, and flammable youth. She carried a chalice. Another girl, a knife. A circle holding hands. They murdered someone’s hamster and wrote blood-oaths of friendship on one another’s backs. Downstairs, Bundy moaned that Kim was gone, drowned beneath a Hawaiian riptide.
Days passed. Bundy had started grief-chewing the furniture. She licked my knuckles. Her droopy brow wrinkled like sadness kept going in waves. Didn’t I understand? Kim’s heart had stopped with a nosebleed on a plush hotel carpet.
After a week, the silence took on a mournful density. I sat still for hours without hearing a car go by. The next time Bundy cried, I cried too.
I held onto her neck and asked where were life-long friendships? Where was black magic as Kim floated up from her body? Did she meet my parents, passing into the firmament? Did she tell them how she’d fished me from a slow death’s pocket?
But Bundy only whimpered and licked her bleeding asshole.
The stars came out. But I couldn’t configure familiar constellations. The planet wobbled around the sun, shedding a million or two mothers, fathers, and friends, along the way. The rest of us poor suckers bobbed in the long wake, staring up at diamond fields too distant and bright to console us of anything.