Pulp.net - Boy

The Online Home of New Fiction

November 2008

Saleem Vaillancourt
Boy slots change through the Laundromat control machine. A few feet away Number 19 steps up and spins.


Chews his gum open-mouthed, slides his feet in a breakdance step to rotate for the door, not arousing the interest of this girl in the corner. Disregards her slice of black hair and that ski-jump nose, pops in headphones and flips the sweater hood up, sliding out.

Boy’s scruffy with the five-day shadow, the hoodie and loose torn jeans, but his shoes are good, they’re matt black, they have soles perfect for breaker moves on most any surface, and as he walks down the street he’s always perfecting a step, a slide, in tune to his tune.

Feels the vibration of phone in pocket, pulls out the right plug and answers.

‘Yeah jack, what’s the word,’ he asks.

‘I’m ordering pizza, are you coming back?’

‘Yeah. Later I gotta step out for my number 19, but I’m in. Get me a large half pepperoni half Hawaiian, all right? Papa John’s.’

‘I’d buy nothing else for your boring ass, biatch.’

‘Don’t talk ghetto to me/it don’t suit your diversity.’

‘Don’t try and rhyme, it’s weak, ninety-pound weakling weak.’

‘You’re such a Swede.’

‘I’m a Dane.’

‘All your Nordic shit looks the same to me. Look, I need to make a call.’

‘Dane, do you hear me? Dane from Denmark, Dane like the Danish, diabolical and super-dynamic.’

‘You’re dynamic like a pretzel. You’re cheesy like the Danish, fatty like the Danish, a waste of Danish standard time.’

‘There is no Danish standard time. At least I don’t walk down the street in dance, talk down the phone in song.’

‘Enough, I need to make this call.’

‘Alright. Buy Coke, avoid pizzeria extortion.’


A television in the White House is always tuned to CNN: this is a suppositional law of existence, and the corresponding law is that our boys have their thirty-one inches constantly pointing at MTV Base, their source of ‘hood verbosity. Their mothers are friends, and both worry that all those electron tube emissions are slowly rendering them bereft of a future with grandchildren.

Boy makes his call, hears the girl answer.

‘Hello, boyo.’

‘Esmeralda my dear, wa gwan?’

‘You’re not from South, man, don’t even try. I bet you don’t know a third word of Caribbean patois.’


‘That’s still English. And stop listening to Clear Channel radio, it’s filling your brain with mainstreamism that I plain can’t tolerate. When was the last time you checked out Philip Glass?’

‘Does Philip Glass’s crib appear on MTV Cribs?’

‘I can’t even believe we’re at the same university, it makes me think I’ve been scammed.’

‘Look here Gwendolyn, stop talking down to me. I choose to pour my intelligence into a glorification of the contemporary. Is there something wrong with that?’

‘Philip Glass is contemporary.’

‘Maybe I should be more explicit. I dig bling. Philip is all glass, no ice.’

‘You can dig it all you want, you are totally without bling.’

‘You don’t even know what bling is, Genevieve.’

‘Boy, while I appreciate your attempts to show that you attend medieval lit lectures, it’s ultimately pointless, because I will not go to Starbucks with you.’

‘Come on girl, I know you love that featureless chasm.’

‘Their lattes aren’t even coffee. It’s hot milk for adults with a Freudian desire to be babies again, to drink warm milk. You know that little plastic lid people suck from? Starbucks’ answer to the maternal nipple.’

‘I refuse to believe that you hate Starbucks.’

‘Look here Lancelot, it ain’t gonna happen.’

‘I ain’t through wit’ you girl. You will suck from the Starbucks nipple before the month is out.’

‘Yeah whatever. See you Monday.’

‘That depends on Sunday. Later Leoshi.’

An old lady is walking in a direction opposite to the boy, on the same pavement. He keeps his dancing strut paced and steady until the instant before the fly-by, and in that slice of time his music spikes and his feet flash out, he’s breaking moves in a halo around the old woman and she stops, her face aghast, her arms with their umbrella and shopping drawing back against her torso, her mouth emitting a sound difficult to print, one of those ‘oooh!’ noises that come from enfeebled vocal cords and a distressed elderly disposition. The dance steps finish once he has circumambulated the lady, and she trembles for an instant before deciding that she will live to potter another day, and so she does just that, all the way home.

Then come the rains. Down the block the boy sees the old woman’s umbrella burst open, ponders briefly running back to commit a violence-free act of theft. But he thinks better, and simply turns up his music and starts running, running through the downpour, the aqua assault, the railings of the sky’s grey army against the earth’s bipeds, a bombardment of fat pellets of dihydrogen monoxide with the occasional acid lacings.

How they sting, he thinks. How they hurt, how they soak!

Boy has four blocks before he makes it to safety and dryness, and his sweater is already weighing down with saturation, the hood becoming a sticking cowl, the aspect of a medieval monk somewhere between here and nowhere. Eventually, he fears that his music player will short out, the money value beaten out by the drops. It is the reign of the rain, he coins, and veers under an awning as his phone again rings.

Breathless, he yells into it and listens, grows a look on his face that’s long and his pupils are etched with fear; he is the boy who has been punched in the soul, and finally he presses the red disconnect.

His music player shuffles into overbearing Massive Attack as the dangerous grandeur of his new situation floods him, soaking him anew, faster than the rains and making him twice as cold. The thrum of rain joins the deep bass vibrations from his earphones, the two waves of sound meeting in the middle of his brain and contributing to the discord.

Elsewhere in the city is a beautiful fire hanging from a building by a bomber-artist, the palette of fire and blood and torn flesh, bones and random hands, of half a head and the shatters of glass and metal: all of it smeared in irregular patterns defined by the laws of chaos, smeared and painted on the pavement and televisions everywhere watching the blooming of a new masterpiece, even MTV Base, and even our boy is running to this place.

Institutionalised power has already cordoned off the area, and our boy can see the burn down the street several blocks away, but he is denied an approach vector, refused access, in the future he will attest to memories of someone truly saying, nothing to see here. The skyline is glass, the buildings multiplying this sight: it is truly art as action, art as statement and art as mass-product. So many disparate geniuses would be proud.

The rain continues to bombard, so the flames flicker and black smoke palls out, lower and grimmer than the grey army. The grey army was infantry and this smoke is the Gestapo squad, in streets everywhere there are suddenly kneeling figures, suddenly prostrate figures, running humans drumming into churches. By this time the boy is a lean wet element, his clothes pasted to his physique and his music player lost in a puddle somewhere, lost and discarded, his focus only an occupant of that building, his fear that his mother has been spread over the pavement like a daub from the palette.

The phone vibrates, he picks up, it’s his father calling from Luna, and on the line the boy hears five point four seconds of silent lag.

‘Son, I don’t believe, what is this, what’s happening?’

‘Dad, I— it’s her building, I don’t know. Why are you on the fucking moon, Dad?’

His question is answered in his head, in those five point four seconds between his reply to the moon, and his father’s reply to Earth. In his head he sees his father’s peaked career, he sees the prestige, he sees the opportunity of leading the team that establishes the base, and in his city he sees a fluorescent insanity that his father is three days away from making better, three days at best speed if he left now, and he can’t leave now.

‘I’m sorry son, look, find out if something has happened and I’ll requisition a rush transport. I’m so sorry, but listen, your mother will be alright, she’ll be alright.’

‘It’s her building and there is this fire coming out of, it’s— I don’t understand— who would be alright?’

Two point seven seconds, plus two point seven seconds, equals five point four seconds.

‘There are always survivors, son.’

He disconnects, the costs of a personal call from Luna to Earth existing in the fantastically exorbitant realm of science fiction.

The rains incessantly berate the Earth. The grey cloud beats down and the black cloud chokes, they are twinned by their inflictions, and our boy slumps against a barricading police car, he faints and hits the street.

Amidst watchers and escapees, he is resuscitated and finally explains to a uniformed man that his mother is in there, somewhere, her mobile phone goes straight to voicemail, it’s her building that’s burning and my father is on the moon, and please can’t you help me, please, help me find her.

© Saleem Vaillancourt 2005