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  • Writer's pictureAlexandra Drea Tarter

May 29: Prologue

DECEMBER 6, 1992


Dick had always been infatuated with fire. He would sit, legs crossed, by the fireplace for hours on end, watching the flames sizzle. He didn’t blink— swear to God. The fire paralyzed him, turned him into stone. Something about the heat of it all, how such a tiny, miniscule spark burned into a giant bonfire.
It was a Saturday. Dick was defrosting by the fire—his morning ritual—as the sun rose and the snow fell. I noticed that his hair, once carefully gelled back, was wet with melted snowflakes. Wafts of vetiver and cinnamon cologne drafted my way, his signature Dior Fahrenheit. A nice, expensive wool overcoat I would never be able to afford was discarded by his side, along with a pool of muddy water seeping adjacent his boots. I was the scholarship kid; I couldn’t afford any ruin to my $15 K-mart jacket, the way Dick could. No other student was down here this early; anybody in their right minds would wake up after eight.
The fire crackled. He didn’t notice me, sitting unmoving. Or perhaps he did hear me coming down the stairs and was waiting for me to acknowledge his presence.
“Where’d you go?” I asked, sitting down on the floor next to him.
“Library,” he said, staring straight ahead.
“To terrorize the librarians, or what?”
“To read.”
“All right, where’d you really go?”
“God, Don, if it’s any of your business, I’ll let you know.” The line sounded like something out of The Godfather. Even as his best friend, I was subjected to his sarcasm.
“Why do you never tell me anything?”
Dick crumbled up a piece of paper from his notebook and threw it into the fireplace. He watched the edges fray and burn, disintegrating slowly. He didn’t answer until the paper no longer was paper, but ashes below the mantle.
“Sure I do,” Dick said. “I tell you lots of stuff. You just ask too many questions.”
“What’d you just throw into the fire?” I asked, ignoring his complaint.
“If I answer this one, would you stop grilling me?”
“Marge again,” Dick said. “She gave me her fax, like we work together.”
“She has a fax machine? In her room?”
“Chick’s crazy. Probably.”
Marge was the second Eklund girl. The older one, a huge bitch by the way, was in our year. Marge, on the other hand, was the thirteen, maybe fourteen-year-old girl who was obsessed with Dick. She thought we didn’t know, but she made it so goddamn obvious. Notes on his door, giggling with her friends whenever we were within ten feet of her, gift baskets sent to his room. At first, we tried to politely decline. Hell, Dick even sent me up to her to tell her he had a girlfriend.
“Listen, Dick wanted me to come and talk to you,” I had said to her, just outside the cafeteria. “He thinks you’re being creepy. His girlfriend doesn’t appreciate it when you hit on him. Maybe keep your distance. Thanks.”
Then she cried. Her bright orange hair in pigtails, she was probably cursing me in German. She whined to me for a few minutes, and I didn’t really know what to do, so I let her. When she finished sobbing, Marge pulled me down to her height, and told me and Dick to fuck off. She stomped away, heartbroken. I thought she had conceded, but nope. Another note on Dick’s door.
“Does Sophie know?” I asked. Dick’s girlfriend.
“Who the hell cares?”
You see, Dick had an attitude, but a tamed attitude. He usually didn’t unleash such harsh words unless prompted, and I definitely had not. Many times I forgot why I was even friends with such a shallow bastard. Perhaps I wanted to live vicariously through him. Perhaps I enjoyed his awkward sense of humor. Perhaps nobody else would sacrifice their reputation to be friends with the poor kid. Dick understood me, as cliché as that sounds. Both of us had absent fathers growing up; mine at work all the time, his a drunk. I loved my mother, but Dick’s mother was dumb as a rock. Seriously, I met her once at parent night. She came in high and forgot Dick’s name. I was the only one there with him to witness such a tragic exchange, as both my folks were too busy, and couldn’t afford a flight to Switzerland.
“Jesus, Dick. Something happen between you two?”
“You could say that.”
I groaned, frustrated.
“Would you cut the mysterious shit out? I can’t read your mind.”
Finally, his hair bounced back into its natural middle part, one of the few times I saw him without any product. Dick turned towards me, his light brown eyes sprinkled with hazel.
“She broke up with me.”
“Right after our last masquerade? Oh jeez.”
“On the nose as usual, Don.”
“So that’s where you were this morning. Visiting Sophie.”
“Surprising Sophie,” Dick corrected. “Today’s our one-year anniversary. I got her this camera. She was always talking ‘bout mental pictures, crap like that.”
Dick grabbed a box on the other side of him and threw it into my lap. Polaroid, it said on the front. I unboxed his gift for Sophie, and found a gorgeous printable camera, a rainbow stripe right down the middle. The most expensive camera I had ever held, and Dick dumped it into my lap like it was nothing.
“This is a really nice gift,” I told him, observing the weight of it. “What are you gonna do with it?”
He shrugged. “Eh, what the hell. You want it?”
I stared down at the camera, and then back up at him, my eyebrows drawn up in surprise.
“You’re kidding.”
I wanted to hug him, squeeze him in spite of his own misery. Even though Dick regifted the Polaroid to me, I had never been so grateful for such a present. I stocked the empty photo liners into the back of the polaroid, trying to find an “on” button.
“Say cheese,” I said, holding the camera up to my eye like a professional photographer.
“No, Don.” He brought his hand up to the lens, but he was too late. I snapped the picture right then and there, the flash practically blinding him. A few seconds later, a square yet empty photograph appeared before my eyes. It would have to fade into place. I aired out the photograph, waving it like a flag. Eventually I saw Dick, his mouth in an “O,” his hand outstretched towards the lens.
“Lemme see.”
I took the picture and handed it to Dick. He glared down at himself for
a few seconds, then tossed it into the fire.
“No!” I reached out, watching the picture burn. “Hell was that for?”
Whatever. At least I had the camera. Many more pictures to come, and next time, there would be no fire to throw them into.

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