Literary Arts | READ LOCAL First

Shane Camoin: “Lightheaded”

READ LOCAL First represents Utah’s most comprehensive collection of celebrated and promising writers of fiction, poetry, literary nonfiction, and memoir. This week we bring you Shane Camoin, winner of the 60th annual Utah Original Writing Competition in the novel category. A second generation American, Camoin was born in L.A. and raised in several cities around the U. S., including New York City, Las Vegas, and Salt Lake City, where he currently resides. His experiences with issues of ethnicity and gender in diverse cultural settings inspired him to explore the complex nature of identity and the struggles people face with taboos in “Lightheaded,” his award-winning manuscript. Today, we bring you the first two chapters.

Chapter 1 – Too Young for a Baby

Cole sat under an evergreen, the first and largest in a row that lined the south side of the tennis court, drenched and shivering from walking five blocks in the rain. Rally had told him to bring a coat but he didn’t just to spite her. She sat across from him on her tennis racket with her knees together. She was wearing the flannel shirt she’d borrowed from him several months ago and tight pants that flared at the ankles. Her curly red hair was tied in a high ponytail with an elastic she kept around her wrist. A few wet strands stuck to her face and neck. It’d been almost a month since he’d last seen her.

She handed him the pipe, thin and black with a gold dragon twisted around the shaft. It was a birthday gift. He’d given it to her two years ago and this was probably her third or fourth time using it. He pulled all five tennis balls out of his front pockets before finding the plastic baggy. There was only a little chunk of opium left. He loaded it in the bowl, lit it with the mini-Bic and passed the pipe to her. It tasted like almonds, reminded him of marzipan—he loved marzipan. Rally took a big hit and coughed it in his face.

“Sorry,” she said.

“You should be.” He wiped the spit off his cheeks.

Her graduation tassel caught his eye as she handed him the pipe again. She wore it as a bracelet, held with a silver clasp engraved West High ’94. He’d gone to the same school until some asshole in his world history class bragged about fucking Rally and Cole smashed his face into the overhead projector, breaking his jaw in two places. He was put on home study until he graduated a little over a year later. He’d graduated early.

“You done already?” He flicked the red and black tassel.

“Two weeks,” she said. “I got the gown and hat yesterday.”

“Good for you.”

“You coming to my graduation? I’m not going if you don’t.”

He nodded. His thumb was bright red and tingled a little. He’d burned it on the bowl but it didn’t hurt.

“Pass it.” She held out her hand and wiggled her fingers.

“I think it’s dead,” he said. He tried to slick a strand of greasy hair behind his ear but it fell back in his face.

“Load more.” She rubbed her hands on her thighs.  “And don’t bogart it. I only got one hit.”

He clutched the empty baggy in his pocket and stared at the tennis court. The green concrete was uneven and rain pooled in the lower left corner. Lindsey Gardens was only a couple of square blocks but it had three baseball diamonds and behind the picnic pavilion was a gully full of broken tombstones. A car horn startled him. Myoko’s Grand Am was on the wrong side of the street below them.

“Is that your girl?” Rally said. She held the pipe between her legs.

He nodded.

“How’d she know we were here?”

“She’s weird like that.”

“Make her stop honking.”

He crawled out from under the spiny branches and wiped his muddy hands on the back of his cutoffs. They were cut a few inches below his knees from a pair of old slacks that were way too big for him. The rain was cold and he wished he had a coat. He ran down the grass slope and slid the last few feet to Myoko’s car. She rolled down the window. Her bleached hair was short and messy and she was wearing his Dead Kennedy’s t-shirt. Everyone was stealing his shirts. He leaned in the window and kissed her. She tasted like aloe and peaches.

“You taste funny,” she said. She wiped her lips on the back of her hand and peered over his shoulder. “Who’s with you?”

“My sister,” he said. “We’re playing tennis.” He looked back at Rally and she stuck her tongue out at him.

 “You’re not playing tennis,” Myoko said.

“We’re waiting for the rain to stop.” He pointed at her hair—yesterday it had been long and black. “Where were you?”

“Serena’s baby shower.”

“She’s too young for a baby.”

“Only a year younger than us.”

He thrust his upper body in the car window and rested his face in her lap. Her thighs were warm and tensed when he slid his hand up her rayon skirt.

“Jesus, you’re freezing,” she said.

“I know.”

The car lurched forward and Cole clung to her legs, his sneakers dragging on the asphalt. She hadn’t rolled the window down completely and the top edge dug into his belly.

“You didn’t notice my hair,” she said.

“I pointed at it.”

“Cut it myself.”

“Why?” He lifted his feet off the ground as the car sped up. The window was slowly cutting him in half.

“Serena cut hers too,” she said.

“Are you drunk?”

 “I hate tuna.”

“Me too.” The rain blew up his cutoffs and froze his ass. He grabbed the passenger seat and pulled himself across Myoko’s lap.

“What’re you doing?”

“My legs are going to snap off.”

She stopped the car and the dashboard smacked him in the face. He crawled into the passenger seat and rubbed his forehead. It didn’t hurt but he rubbed it anyway.

“You did that on purpose,” he said.

“You knocked my hands off the wheel.”

“I’ll call you later.” He opened the car door.

“Don’t leave,” she said. “Come with me.” She scratched his thigh with sparkly blue nails that reminded him of Rally’s eyes—his sister was going to be pissed that he took off on her. Rally had been on him for not spending enough time with her, same with Myoko.

“Are you headed home?”

“Photo class.” She jiggled the zipper on his cutoffs but didn’t unzip them. “We can fool around in the dark room.” The rain blew in the open door. Her jacket and Hello Kittybackpack were in the backseat. Her jacket was pink and furry like a skinned teddy bear, even had little ears on the hood.

“Can I borrow your jacket?”

“You can’t leave.” She pulled up the emergency brake, leaned over him and shut the door.

“I’ll call you tonight,” he said.

“Come with me.”

“Stop telling me what to do.”

“Someone needs to.”

Cole grabbed her jacket from the backseat and opened the car door. “I’ll call you tonight.”

“Don’t bother.” Myoko rubbed her eyes.

He stepped out of the car and turned around to say something, but didn’t know what and stared at her legs. She had beautiful calves.

She slammed the door shut, almost caught his fingers, and gunned it through a stop sign.

He was alone on 4th Ave and N Street, three blocks south of the tennis court, next to a unit of condos that looked like towers built from Lincoln Logs and up the street was a red brick apartment complex. A key code was needed to get in. The canopy over the front door was torn and snapped in the wet wind. He’d known the code, could remember it again if he touched the pad but it had probably changed in the last seven years. In the eighth grade he’d gone with a girl named Jessica who lived on the fifth floor. Her apartment overlooked the cemetery and she’d jerked him off while they watched her father’s copy of Debbie Does Dallas. He slid on Myoko’s furry pink jacket. It was too small for him, the cuffs tightened around his forearms and he couldn’t zip it up. The Aves were on a hill and it was a hike back to the tennis court.

The rain stopped, the clouds moved east behind the mountains and the sun shined on his back. Cole followed the cemetery up N street where it connected with Lindsey Gardens and the tennis court on Seventh Ave. Mount Cavalry was the biggest cemetery in the Aves and probably the oldest in the valley. It had graves from before Utah was a state. The Mormons took up most the space in the middle, followed by the Catholics on the north and south walls, Presbyterian, Jewish, Greek Orthodox and even a small Buddhist section surrounded by aspens. The inventor of the electric streetlight was in there somewhere.

His sister was in the street juggling tennis balls. She’d tried to teach him but he never cared enough to learn. The sudden rise in temperature made him lightheaded and he tied Myoko’s furry jacket around his waist.

“I didn’t think you were coming back,” Rally said. He sat on the curb and watched her juggle. She walked backwards in little circles.

“She tried to kill me.”

“I don’t blame her.” She tossed a ball at him. It hit his shin and bounced down the street. She juggled the other two with her right hand.

“What do you want to do?” he said. “I don’t feel like tennis.”

“What do you feel like?”

“I feel like a turtle.” He lay back in the small stretch of grass between the curb and sidewalk. The grass was cool and smelled like moldy cinnamon bread.

“Dad’s a turtle,” she said. “You’re more like a raccoon.”

“How am I a raccoon?”

“Your girl doesn’t like me.” She scratched her breast with her free hand. She’d taken off the flannel and was wearing a thin white blouse and no bra.

“She doesn’t like anybody,” he said. He couldn’t take his eyes off the tennis balls bouncing in her hand. She could go on forever.

“She likes you.”

“That’s debatable.” A bee buzzed his eyelashes, startled him and he jumped up and swatted at the air.

“Are you going to marry her?”

“Maybe.” Cole looked around for the bee, couldn’t see it and walked over to Rally. She was allergic to bees.

“What if I won’t let you?”

“You can’t stop me.” He grabbed a few strands of her hair and tucked them behind her ear.

 She dropped the tennis balls and wrapped her arms around him, squeezing him as hard as she could. “I’ll tell her about you and me,” she said. “I need to tell someone.”

“Tell a priest.” He tried to pull her off but she had a good grip.

“It wouldn’t help. I don’t believe in God.”

“Me neither.”

“I know. Kiss me.” She puckered her lips.

“Stop it.”

“Is she better than me?”

He slapped her and she slapped him back, then he punched her in the face. His knuckles bounced off her cheekbone. She staggered back and fell on her ass. His head swirled and his fingers pulsed in his elbow. He grabbed his hand, dropped to his knees and puked as hard as he could but only spit and bile came up. He hadn’t eaten all day.

“Let me see your hand.” She crawled over to him and he reluctantly held his hand out to her. She pushed down on his pinky knuckle. Hot needles shot up his arm and he yanked back his hand.

“You broke it,” she said.

“How can you tell?”

“I’m guessing.” Her whole cheek was bright red with thin white lines where he’d hit her.

“Are you okay?” he said.

“You hit like a girl.” She rubbed her cheek and smiled.

Chapter 2 – Nixon’s Dead

Focused on Myoko’s thin lips and slight overbite, Cole clawed at the linoleum searching for the towel he kept beside the futon. There was a heavy snowstorm two days ago, the end of May, and the snow melted in a few hours but the floor was freezing, sent goosebumps up his arm and shrank his nipples. His eyes wandered from Myoko’s lips, to her dimpled earlobe, to the guy being shot in the head with Holiday in Cambodia written below him. The twin tigers jumping over Dali’s naked wife. A Doonesbury cartoon. He’d covered the walls and most of the ceiling with posters, newspaper clippings, pages ripped from magazines and postcards. A box elder bug landed on his arm. Its legs and feelers tickled as it crawled down his bicep. He flicked it off with his bandaged hand—his broken pinky was held straight with a metal brace and wrapped with a bandage that twisted all the way up his forearm. The towel was under his khakis, stiff and crunchy, hadn’t been washed in weeks. He wiped his groin and handed it to Myoko.

“This place is too small,” she said. She scrunched the towel between her thighs.

“It’s cozy,” he said. He didn’t need a lot of room, didn’t want it, preferred it this way. And he didn’t have to deal with neighbors. His shack was in a grass field, his closest neighbor over thirty yards away. But mainly he’d rented it to be closer to Myoko and it was the only place he could afford. Only a couple blocks away, she still lived with her parents.

“It’s dusty and smells like mold,” she said.

He sniffed the air, smelled cream cheese. “All I smell is us.”

“I hate our smell.” She stared over her shoulder at her reflection on the TV screen. “Do you like my ass?”

“I love your ass.”

“Do I have the best ass in the world?” She spanked her right ass cheek.

“It’s not a competition,” he said.

“I want the best ass.”

“You’ve got the best ass.”

She curled in a ball with her head on his belly. “I’m hungry.”

“Me too.” The fridge on the far wall growled like it was alive. Sometimes Cole yelled at it. He wiped the sweat from his forehead and ran his wet fingers through Myoko’s hair, rough and crunchy like dry grass. The bleach made it worse. He rubbed a strand of his own hair in comparison, softer and finer, Asian hair was what she called it, straight and black. She’d made him cut it off and donate it to little girls with Leukemia, but he was growing it out again. His bangs were just long enough to slick behind his ears.

“I should move in with you,” she said.

“You just said it was too small.”

“We’ll move somewhere else.” She stood up and rubbed the towel between her legs. She’d plucked out all her pubic hair and made him trim his own. He got a little hard watching her rub herself. She caught him staring and smiled. He looked away, looked under the sleeping bag he’d nailed over the window and saw thick yellow clouds swirl in the sky.

“I don’t want to move again,” he said.

She playfully slapped his face with the wet towel before dropping it on the floor. She grabbed her panties and shivered when she stepped on the linoleum, then ran on her tiptoes to the bathroom. It was on the other side of the room next to the fridge. She left the door open.

Cole wiped his nose and cheek on the bedspread. His stereo flashed eleven-thirty. He kept it on the flimsy metal bookcase beside his futon along with all his CD’s. The few books he owned were scattered on the floor, most of them paperback sci-fi.

“When do you have to be back?” He yelled over the growl of the fridge. It burped and went silent and he felt like he’d won an argument.

“Six.” She yelled back at him.

“It think it’s six now.”

“I’ve got a few minutes.”

He grabbed his boxers off the floor, covered in pictures of Daffy Duck kissing Bugs Bunny in drag. Myoko had given them to him for Valentine’s Day. Bugs Bunny was in a tight red dress and yellow wig. Cole kicked his legs in the air and slid on the boxers, and then he turned on the TV with his big toe. The thirty-inch Magnavox sat on an aluminum tray table and wobbled as he flipped through the channels with his toe. Nixon had died over a month ago and the media was still mourning him on nearly every channel.

“Do you go door to door?” he said.

“Sometimes,” she said. She flushed the toilet and came out of the bathroom wearing panties. “I usually work the phones.”

“Telemarketers are assholes.”

“I’m not selling anything.” She turned off the TV and pulled the bed sheet over her legs. “We take donations.”

“How much does it pay?” He found the remote under a collection of Kafka’s short stories and turned the TV back on. Myoko gave him a look, narrowed her already narrow eyes, and he muted it.

“I don’t do it for the money.” She rubbed her left breast. It was slightly larger than her right. It was his favorite, just large enough that he couldn’t cup the whole thing with one hand. He practically ignored the other one, only fondled it when she said it was lonely.

“Why do you do it?” he said.

“Rub my shoulders.” She turned her back to him.

“I can only do it with one hand.” He ran his fingers up her spine and fondled a mole he hadn’t noticed before. It was hard and round like a pot seed.

“I’m making a difference,” she said, “taking a stand.”

“What are we trying to save now?”

“Mountain lions.”

“Are they endangered?” He looked at the silent TV. Richard Nixon was giving a speech. He looked dead with his gray skin and sunken eyes. He clung to the podium as if he couldn’t stand without it. The camera panned over Reagan, Bush, Ford and their wives. Even the Carters were there. They sat behind Nixon, smiled, laughed and clapped their hands when he paused. Nancy was in a white dress that sparkled like a disco ball and was wearing the same blonde wig as Bugs Bunny.

“I hate it when you watch TV,” Myoko said.

“Sorry.” Cole rubbed his palm down her back. A box elder bug landed on the TV and circled around Nixon’s head.

“Why don’t you want to live with me?” she said.

“I never said that.”

“Not in those words.” She leaned her head back on his shoulder and he slid his hands between her thighs. A strong wind rattled the shack and he wondered if it was raining outside.

“I need to shave,” he said. He scratched his furry chin.

“Let me do it.” She pinched the hairs on his chin and he jerked away.

“You’ll cut me.”

“You don’t trust me?”

“Have you ever shaved anyone’s face?” He rubbed his chin.

The ground shook and the TV and lights flashed out. It felt like a small earthquake. Salt Lake had them every few years, little tremors—a fault line ran through the valley and any day now the big one would take them all out. Myoko clutched him and dug her nails into his back, her breasts jiggling against his belly.

“What is it?” she said.

“Sounds like a jet.”

“Hold me.”

The steel bookcase fell on the futon, scraping his left thigh and flinging CDs across the floor. His TV shimmied off the tray table. He pushed Myoko off him and leaped over the bookcase to catch it, slipped on a CD case and caught himself with his good hand. His bandaged fingers brushed the corner of the TV as it toppled off the tray and crashed screen first to the floor. With a heavy sigh he fell back on the futon.

Myoko grabbed her jeans and shirt from the pile by the futon.

“What are you doing?” he said.

“I’m leaving.” She stood up clutching her clothes to her chest. The window exploded behind her. The sleeping bag puffed out like a parachute, tore free of the wood frame and swallowed her whole. She screamed and flailed inside the navy blue sack. Over her head Cole saw a tornado rip through the tall grass. It was skinny, only a few feet wide, like a long bony finger scraping a line across the Earth. He grabbed Myoko and used her as a shield against the glass and dirt that sprayed through the broken window. She beat his chest through the blue nylon. He fell back under her weight and rolled across the linoleum, tried to hold on to her but couldn’t. His knees slammed into the cupboards below the sink and his face smacked into the fridge. The cold metal vibrated against his cheek and he couldn’t tell if the motor had started up again or if the fridge was just shaking along with everything else. Using the fridge’s handle for leverage he pulled himself up. Myoko was crawling on her belly towards the door with the sleeping bag wrapped around her waist. He grabbed her ankles, yanked her into the bathroom and closed the door behind them, locking it.

“Let me out.” She pounded her fists on the linoleum and kicked at his shins.

“It’s a tornado,” he said.

“There are no tornadoes in Utah.” She lunged forward and grabbed the doorknob with both hands. He tossed her in the standup shower and she ripped down the shower curtain trying to stand up. The wind blew under the bathroom door nipping at his heels and he jumped in the shower and curled up next to her. She buried her face in his chest. Dust poured in from cracks around the door and other places he couldn’t see burning his eyes and nostrils. He wrapped the shower curtain over his head and held Myoko tight.

The shaking stopped after several long seconds but Cole waited a minute or two before pulling off the curtain. He coughed and waved the dust away from his face. His bladder ached. Myoko was still clinging to him. He pushed her off, stepped out of the shower and took a long piss—he couldn’t remember the last time he’d pissed—then flushed and watched the thick yellow clouds spin down the drain.

“Hurry up,” she said. “I got to go too.” She jumped up and down in the shower

“Give me a second.” He scraped his teeth across his tongue and spit in the toilet. Dust settled around his feet. He grabbed the toilet paper off the floor, wiped the piss off the seat and flushed again. The bandage and metal brace had come off his hand. His pinky was throbbing.

Myoko opened the bathroom door and Cole stood behind her, his chin resting on her head. His futon was sticking out the broken window like someone had tried to pull it out and gave up half way. Most of his posters and clippings had been ripped from the walls, revealing the turquoise wallpaper he’d made a point to hide, and were stuck in the crevices between the futon and the window and scattered across the floor along with his CDs and books. There was dirt everywhere, and grass, and leaves from the giant Chinese elm up the hill from his shack. His aluminum tray table was stuck in the wall.

Myoko ducked under his arm and ran back to the toilet. She laid paper on the seat before sitting down. He walked out of the bathroom and looked for holes in the ceiling and walls but found none—a board was missing from the corner molding but he vaguely remembered that from before. He stepped on a shard of glass, yelped and grabbed his foot.

“You okay?” she said.

“No.” He picked the glass out of his foot, right below his big toe and flicked it back on the floor. He thought he heard a crowd cheer and imagined Nixon falling dead on the podium but it was his neighbors from down the street yelling outside. His TV was on its side under his futon. He limped over to it, picking up CDs along the way. A thin crack divided the screen vertically. It was no good to him now.

Myoko stayed in the bathroom like she was afraid to leave it. She wore the blue sleeping bag like a toga with her right breast showing, smaller than her left but rounder, perkier, the nipple a little darker. It was his new favorite. He reached out to grab it from fifteen feet away.

“The toilet won’t flush,” she said.

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