The Boy in the Tunnel
Chet’s favorite Nintendo 64 game was Goldeneye, a James Bond-themed shooting adventure, at which he was scarily, Special Forces-level good, and he loved to systematically destroy Dick over the course of a lazy afternoon. But after losing 34 games in a row, Dick refused to play Chet anymore, and not even the promise of playing as the towering metal-dentured villain Jaws could lure him back. Dick blamed his lack of success on his inability to master the thumb-manipulated joystick on the (to Dick, anyway) absurdly complex Nintendo 64 controller. He claimed to be a master of the classic 4-button/directional pad Nintendo controller, and further claimed to have beaten Super Mario Bros. with times of 3:38 (using warps) and 11:49 (playing through every level). Chet offered to play Dick at Super Mario, but Dick was feuding with his parents and didn’t want to call to ask them to mail his old NES, and he begged off using a PC emulator, as the controller wasn’t the same, and eventually Chet let it go and went searching for new Goldeneye opponents.
He found his Pussy Galore, as it were, at the Student Union arcade. He visited the arcade every Tuesday and Thursday on his break to play Area 51, a lightgun-based first-person shooter, but on this particular Thursday he found the game occupied by a towering black girl in a wifebeater and velour track pants. And she was killing aliens faster than anyone Chet had ever seen.
Let’s back up here for a second.
The girl with the gun is, of course, Kenya Cassidy, and she learned to shoot
from her dad, who was in fact Special Forces.
No point in hurrying. It’d take half an hour to get ready and make her way across campus to the gym, and practice ended at 10. Might as well write this one off and try to make it up to Coach in laps or something.
With an entire morning
now open before her,
Fuck fuck fuck.
So this was a problem. It
wasn’t like specifically necessary that she have the black powder that very
instant, or even that day, but it was never good to be out of it. You didn’t
want to be caught off guard in a situation like, say, for instance, waking up
late and missing practice and then, holy shit, realizing your roommate, your
friend—your best friend, you thought—didn’t even try, didn’t even attempt to
wake you up, because, I mean, if she had tried to wake you up, then you’d be
up, right? You don’t have like some medical problem where you can’t wake up
even when somebody’s all jostling your shoulder and whispering “
She’d have to go see
Charlie to get it refilled. Fuck. Usually she had enough advance warning that
she could just order it from Charlie through the usual channels, but somehow
this just crept up on her—had Joanie been sneaking
it? It was possible.
Charlie did business out
of the Student Union, in a tiny office in the Student Activities block that had
been passed down from her grandfather. Her official title was Assistant to the
Vice President of Student Activities, but she had never done any work in that
capacity, as far as
The receptionist at the
Student Activities office didn’t even attempt to hide her surprise when
Ten minutes later,
“Excuse me. Mind if I—“ Chet reached for the second-player gun.
Chet pumped two quarters
into the machine, hit the second-player start button, and drew the plastic 9mm.
An alien leapt up on his side of the screen, but before he could aim
This happened again, and Chet was annoyed.
It happened a third time, and Chet was in love.
The Nine Dead Men, though most likely fictitious,
represent one of the more persistent myths on campus, kept alive through the generations
by pranksters armed with chalk and penknife. According to the tales, the
founder and only perennial member of the 9DM is
The myth further posits that
A voice called out “Tim!” from across the quad, and Tim closed the Handbook. Joanie was waving to him from thirty yards away. He waved back. She was walking toward him. He debated getting off his bench and meeting her halfway, but decided against it. She probably wanted to join him on the bench. He certainly wanted her to join him on the bench.
Joanie and Tim, being both practical and somewhat taciturn young people, made a joint decision not to begin their conversation until she reached his bench, thereby sparing any passers-by from having to listen to their small talk. Tim stood and watched as Joanie moved closer. She walked with a slouch, her shoulders slumped and head bent to minimize her (still shocking to Tim) height, though she still towered at least a head over everyone she passed. With her top half bent forward like that, she looked in constant danger of pitching over forward, her legs as precarious as stilts. Tim could imagine classmates in middle school, after her growth spurt, calling her “Lurch” or “Frankenstein,” and he could imagine smashing those children’s sneering faces in with a hammer or a heavy flashlight or something. He could imagine, a few years later, at a New Year’s Eve party or something, a drunk friend of her father’s saying “Just how high up do those legs go?” and he could imagine taking that same heavy flashlight to this soon-to-be-divorced bank manager’s skull, caving it in from the back, causing him to chip a few teeth on his champagne flute.
Five yards from him, Joanie said “Hey, Tim,” and he said “Hey, Joanie,” and then she reached him and they both stood there for a few seconds because they didn’t know if theirs was a relationship that merited contact, yet. They both sat down.
“How’s it going?” said Tim. Is that the best you can do? It is, isn’t it? You have nothing to say to her, nothing to offer her. Is this how you really want to proceed? Small talk? Don’t you think that maybe, after like millions of years of human evolution, you could think of something better to say to the woman whom—let’s just go ahead and say it—whom you love, if in fact you have any idea what love is, if in fact love actually exists? Do you think this is love? Or do you think you’re just the kind of guy who might see this goddamn blonde giantess at your boss’s New Year’s party and forget who you are and who she is and who your wife is for a second and say “Hey, sweetie, those legs go all the way up?” Because, let’s face it, you’re talking to her because she’s so fucking tall and because her name was in that book and Jesus Christ she’s tall and because you want to see her naked because, hey, there’s a first time for everything, and you can’t quite figure out how that all fits together underneath that track suit?
“It’s been kind of a weird day.”
“Really?” Just stop right now.
“My roommate wouldn’t wake up this morning, so she missed practice, and Coach Willoughby made me do extra laps because we’re all a team and if she misses practice it’s just as much my fault as hers.”
“That sucks.” Stop it stop it stop it stop it
“And she wasn’t around after practice and I haven’t seen her all day. It’s weird.”
“Yeah.” You are pathetic.
“I don’t know. I guess it’s okay. I mean it’s been such a crazy semester already. With the team and all the classes we’re taking. I don’t know why I thought it’d be a good idea to double-major. I mean, I’m a freshman, I shouldn’t even be worrying about that stuff till like next year at least.”
“Seriously. What are you majoring in?” Okay, “seriously,” seriously? What is your problem? Can you not see yourself? Are you not watching what’s going on here? Because I am, and it is so, so lame. I mean, I still haven’t seen what she sees in you—if she sees anything at all in you, which is still up in the air—but I’m starting to wonder what you see in her, besides what I’m starting to think is some sort of giantess fetish. Do you want her to put on high heels and step on your balls? Do you want her to ride you around the room like a horsey? I’ve read about this shit. You are a weird, weird dude. And believe me, the longer you keep up this “How was your day?” shit, the longer it’s gonna be till you get to see anybody naked, and so by the time you finally do, you are going to need her to step on your balls to get you in the mood, because you’ll be too fucking dead inside to appreciate the normal shit that everybody else does. You need to steer this conversation towards something that anybody might actually care about, like pronto, because you are putting me to fucking sleep
“Physics and French. Pretty useless combination, huh?”
“No, I mean, I’m sure
they need scientists over in
To Tim’s surprise, Joanie laughed, a violent, hiccupy, neck-spasming ordeal.
“Like Marie Curie or whatever. Louis Pastuer. Was that Mendel guy French? You could breed peas and homogenize milk. Joanie-ization.” You’re a regular Jerry Seinfeld now, aren’t you?
Joanie lightly smacked Tim’s arm. “Stop it,” she said.
Tim stopped it. Joanie’s laughter died.
“So,” she said.
“So,” he said. Holy fuck. Just...Holy fucking fuck, you fucking douchebag.
The second-floor women’s bathroom in the Student Union. The widow’s walk of McHolden House. The Garden Tunnel, briefly. Biology lab 316. The big magnolia tree outside Thorn Hall. The Wintertree Hall laundry room. Your car. Her car. The women’s volleyball team locker room. The Garden Tunnel, successfully this time. The McHolden widow’s walk again. That sort of becomes “your spot,” actually. Enjoy it while it lasts. Mary Rutherford room 237.
Chet was not surprised to
learn that his Handbook mentioned
He noted that “Wintertree Hall room 79B” wasn’t on the list, but that
wasn’t too surprising. What with all the traffic from 79A, and Dick acting like
his goddamn wife or something all the time, Chet doubted he’d ever find a time
when he and
He was surprised, however to see that Miss R 237, which he assumed was Kenya’s room, was at the end of the list, meaning that that would likely be his final encounter with her. He wondered how long the McHolden widow’s walk would be “their spot.” He fully intended to enjoy it while it lasted. He closed his eyes, thinking of how hot her skin was as they fumbled in the restroom, how her skin contrasted against his. Chet had always thought of himself as an open-minded sort, a man of the world, the kind of person who judges another not on the color of his or her skin but on the strength of his or her character—but keeping all that in mind, he could not deny that some part of him was thrilled that she was black. That he was sleeping with a black girl. He didn’t know what this meant. Was this racism (I mean, what does it matter that she’s black?) or the exact opposite (come on, I’m sleeping with her, so do the math)? Was it racist to even be asking that, even of himself? Shouldn’t he just be happy that somebody was sleeping with him, whether she was black, white or whatever? Why did a part of him think it was somehow cooler to have a black girlfriend?
Girlfriend? Were we really at that stage yet?
The door swung open and Dick entered the room, grinning. He threw his backpack on his bed. “Guess what, Chet?”
“I’m inventing a new religion. Want to help?”
“Drew and I had to go see Julian because of the fight, right? So the idiot thinks I’m just trying to understand different cultures or whatever, so he’s making us go to each other’s churches.”
“But you don’t go to church.”
“Exactly. That’s where this comes in.”
From his backpack, Dick
pulled out a sheet of newspaper that had been folded into a crude papal miter.
He put it on his head. “The First United
“Come on, you’ve got to help me put together a worship service to take Drew to.” Dick started practicing making the sign of the cross in the air.
“Stop blessing me.”
The last thing Chet wanted was to get caught up in a religious war with his up-ladder neighbors. But on the other hand, he had always wanted to give a sermon.
“I get to be the preacher?”
“Then put me in, Pope. I’m ready to play.”
© 2005 Gardner Linn