forty-nine days before

Two days later — Monday, the first real day of vacation — I spent the morning working on my religion final and went to Alaska’s room in the afternoon. She was reading in bed.

“Auden,” she announced. “What were his last words?”

“Don’t know. Never heard of him.”

“Never heard of him? You poor, illiterate boy. Here, read this line.” I walked over and looked down at her index finger. “You shall love your crooked neighbour/ With your crooked heart,” I read aloud. “Yeah. That’s pretty good,” I said.

“Pretty good? Sure, and bufriedos are pretty good. Sex is pretty fun. The sun is pretty hot. Jesus, it says so much about love and brokenness — it’s perfect.”

“Mm-hmm.” I nodded unenthusiastically.

“You’re hopeless. Wanna go porn hunting?”

“Huh?”

“We can’t love our neighbors till we know how crooked their hearts are. Don’t you like porn?” she asked, smiling.

“Urn,” I answered. The truth was that I hadn’t seen much porn, but the idea of looking at porn with Alaska had a certain appeal.

 

We started with the 50s wing of dorms and made our way backward around the hexagon — she pushed open the back windows while I looked out and made sure no one was walking by.

I’d never been in most people’s rooms. After three months, I knew most people, but I regularly talked to very few — just the Colonel and Alaska and Takumi, really. But in a few hours, I got to know my classmates quite well.

Wilson Carbod, the center for the Culver Creek Nothings, had hemorrhoids, or at least he kept hemorrhoidal cream secreted away in the bottom drawer of his desk. Chandra Kilers, a cute girl who loved math a little too much, and who Alaska believed was the Colonel’s future girlfriend, collected Cabbage Patch Kids. I don’t mean that she collected Cabbage Patch Kids when she was, like, five. She collected them now — dozens of them — black, white, Latino, and Asian, boys and girls, babies dressed like farmhands and budding businessmen. A senior Weekday Warrior named Holly Moser sketched nude self-portraits in charcoal pencil, portraying her rotund form in all its girth.

I was stunned by how many people had booze. Even the Weekday Warriors, who got to go home every weekend, had beer and liquor stashed everywhere from toilet tanks to the bottoms of dirty-clothes hampers.

“God, I could have ratted out anyone,” Alaska said softly as she unearthed a forty-ounce bottle of Magnum malt liquor from Longwell Chase’s closet. I wondered, then, why she had chosen Paul and Marya.

Alaska found everyone’s secrets so fast that I suspected she’d done this before, but she couldn’t possibly have had advance knowledge of the secrets of Ruth and Margot Blowker, ninth-grade twin sisters who were new and seemed to socialize even less than I did. After crawling into their room, Alaska looked around for a moment, then walked to the bookshelf. She stared at it, then pulled out the King James Bible, and there — a purple bottle of Maui Wowie wine cooler.

“How clever,” she said as she twisted off the cap. She drank it down in two long sips, and then proclaimed, “Maui WOWIE!”

“They’ll know you were here!” I shouted.

Her eyes widened. “Oh no, you’re right, Pudge!” she said.

“Maybe they’ll go to the Eagle and tell him that someone stole their wine cooler!” She laughed and leaned out the window, throwing the empty bottle into the grass.

And we found plenty of porn magazines haphazardly stuffed in between mattresses and box springs. It turns out that Hank Walsten did like something other than basketball and pot: he liked Juggs. But we didn’t find a movie until Room 32, occupied by a couple of guys from Mississippi named Joe and Marcus. They were in our religion class and sometimes sat with the Colonel and me at lunch, but I didn’t know them well.

Alaska read the sticker on the top of the video. “The Bitches of Madison County. Well. Ain’t that just delightful.”

We ran with it to the TV room, closed the blinds, locked the door, and watched the movie. It opened with a woman standing on a bridge with her legs spread while a guy knelt in front of her, giving her oral sex. No time for dialogue, I suppose. By the time they started doing it, Alaska commenced with her righteous indignation. “They just don’t make sex look fun for women. The girl is just an object. Look! Look at that!”

I was already looking, needless to say. A woman crouched on her hands and knees while a guy knelt behind her.

She kept saying “Give it to me” and moaning, and though her eyes, brown and blank, betrayed her lack of interest, I couldn’t help but take mental notes. Hands on her shoulders, I noted. Fast, but not too fast or it’s going to be over, fast. Keep your grunting to a minimum.

As if reading my mind, she said, “God, Pudge. Never do it that hard. That would hurt. That looks like torture.

And all she can do is just sit there and take it? This is not a man and a woman. It’s a penis and a vagina. What’s erotic about that? Where’s the kissing?”

 

“Given their position, I don’t think they can kiss right now,” I noted.

“That’s my point. Just by virtue of how they’re doing it, it’s objectification. He can’t even see her face! This is what can happen to women, Pudge. That woman is someone’s daughter. This is what you make us do for money.”

“Well, not me,” I said defensively. “I mean, not technically. I don’t, like, produce porn movies.”

“Look me in the eye and tell me this doesn’t turn you on, Pudge.”

I couldn’t. She laughed. It was fine, she said. Healthy. And then she got up, stopped the tape, lay down on her stomach across the couch, and mumbled something.

“What did you say?” I asked, walking to her, putting my hand on the small of her back.

“Shhhh,” she said. “I’m sleeping.”

Just like that. From a hundred miles an hour to asleep in a nanosecond. I wanted so badly to lie down next to her on the couch, to wrap my arms around her and sleep. Not fuck, like in those movies. Not even have sex. Just sleep together, in the most innocent sense of the phrase. But I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.

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