The boy looks at CDs, not cassette tapes. He can hear his new CD player call him from the van and the money in his pocket answers that they want to be spent on shiny discs, metal circles, flat musical mini robots who sing when not shaken. He is going to get a Spice Girls CD and he is going to listen to it again and again.
“You like CDs?” the man asks, hands in pockets.
The boy shakes his head. He does like CDs. That’s what he’s there for – not talking. He has been saving his money for months and, today, as his family scatters the store looking at lawnmowers and washing machines and high heeled shoes and popcorn tins, he is getting a CD. He places his finger on a hard case, the plastic ridges calling him to run a fingernail over their faces, bulging the cellophane wrapper, suggesting songs hidden inside the robot circles.
“These are good CDs,” the man squats, meeting the boy’s face. His breath smells like coffee, that bad coffee smell like someone sat on coffee and absorbed it, the scent traveling through their insides, coming out as a vacant air of invisible brown. The man’s face is so close that the boy is in a shadow and he feels like he is dressed up for Halloween as a ghost.
“I have a lot of CDs,” the man says. “I have a big CD player.” He takes a hand out of his pocket and the boy follows his arm to a large Sony sound system. “It’s like that.”
Is this a CD player that can hold five or six CDs? The boy’s CD player can hold one and he has a boom box but it’s only for two cassette tapes and the radio – not CDs. The boy starts to open his mouth but the bad breath goes inside and mixes with his, caught between his tongue and teeth, a round hunk of this staleness.
He watches the man puts his hand back in his pocket, rolling his fingers around. There must be paper money in there. The boy puts a hand in his own pocket: paper money and metal money (change). He pokes them like the man pokes his money and it feels like the soft hairless underside of a dog was wrapped in the cold front of a refrigerator. “What’s your favorite CD?” the man squints and smiles and rubs his bright red tongue against his lower lip and a little white circle on the tip of his tongue sparkles under the store ceiling lights.
The boy doesn’t have a favorite CD. This is the first CD he is going to buy for himself and it will be his favorite CD since Jock Jams: Volume 2 doesn’t count because he didn’t buy it for himself: it was a gift and it’s all he has so it’s all he listens to. He finally has enough money – $18.57 – to buy the Spice Girls CD and he is very excited to have something else to listen to, something that he actually wants to listen to. He looks over to the CDs – rows of faces and places of all sorts, hoping to get gotten – and he grabs the Spice Girls CD and shows it to the man. He presses the middle of the case, over Sporty Spice’s face, making it breath between his fingers and smiles because he feels like he is one of the fab five.
“You like the Spice Girls?”
The boy nods.
“That’s really cool,” he says. “They’re a great band.”
They’re the greatest band of all time because they’re from Britain and that means they’re foreign and sophisticated and they all have different names too and they sing about sex and Posh Spice is the best one because she actually looks like the word sex because she wears miniskirts and heels and has this angry way of looking.
“I can buy this for you. We can listen to it in my truck.”
He has a truck? With a CD player? The boy has his CD player in the van but it isn’t a part of the van: it’s portable. It’s the type of CD player that you have to hold in your hands like an egg hatching, hoping that it doesn’t accidentally pop open or it will buzz at you angrily, wheezing about how it doesn’t want to play music anymore. A CD player in a car? That doesn’t happen. Grandma has a CD player in her car (A Cadillac, that’s why.) and her CDs never skip, not even when she bumps over bumps because the CD player is in the trunk.
“Come on,” the man says and grabs the boy’s hand. The man feels like the salamander from the science museum field trip: dry and wet. The man stands and squeezes the boy’s hand and it makes a tiny fart noise and the boy laughs but it feels like both sides of his hands are going to touch because the man is squeezing so hard. The man looks around and, like the salamander, moves his head left and right and left and right and then starts walking toward the front. Can you believe people can just buy CDs and don’t think about it? The boy has saved for weeks and here is a man who just buys CDs and now all that saved money ($18.57) can go somewhere else, probably to another CD like Ace Of Base or maybe Jock Jams: Volume 1.
His hands are sweaty, the man, and they squeak like a foot in a wet boot. The boy loves how his hand looks in the big hand, like a pig being dragged into a small blanket or like a small baby fist coming out of a hole like you see in those photos at church that say that babies who aren’t born yet but they know they’re special because they are small and alive in that hole. They walk past clothing and the boy wants to look and they walk past perfume and the boy wants to smell and they walk past candy and the boy wants to taste but he is getting dragged so fast – clomp, clomp, clomp, flat plastic feet slapping against the ground like a hollow, mad duck – that he doesn’t have time to say anything or catch his breath, just pulled along in a two car train with a Spice Girl caboose. The boy is rushing around so fast and slamming against the floor so hard that the bottoms of his feet burn and he imagines that this type of walking would be better with light-up shoes and that maybe he should buy those shoes instead of a CD but it’s time to buy the CD because they’re at the register and the man grabs the CD and puts it on the pay treadmill and the woman scans it and he pays – In cash! He has a twenty! Not metal money (change)! – and he also buys gum. The woman slams the register shut and reaches out to give the man money back and he tells her “Keep it.” like a mean sneeze and the coffee smell puffs out his mouth and the boy can smell it again even though his nose is so far away and the man pulls the boy away.
“Sir! Don’t you want your CD?”
The boy reaches out and grabs the CD from the woman and the man pulls on him, tugging his arm but this time it hurts, like the arm was going to pop right out, like when the bottom of your ear feels like it’s going to rip. They keep walking and walking, quicker and quicker, the man’s grip pressing the boy’s skin, red and wet. The Spice Girls hold on, plastic wrapped but slippy, and the boy worries they’ll fall because the man and his wet hands are making his own hands wet and he doesn’t want the Spice Girls to hit the ground and break their faces. The food court, the toy store, that place with all the mattresses pass by before the revolving door and the cold air bites his skin like a lot of little bugs. They keep walking, almost running, until they get to a big red truck, the biggest truck the boy has ever seen, as big as his room, as big a house, a truck so tall and wide that the boy can sit in it and no one can see his head: it just looks like the man is by himself, enjoying his big red truck, driving around listening to the Spice Girls, wet hands against the sticky steering wheel, smiling as he breathes, coffee smell going in and out and in and out and in and out.
Kyle Raymond Fitzpatrick is a writer based in Los Angeles. He is currently pursuing an MFA at Otis College of Art & Design and recently wrapped up a LARB/USC Publishing fellowship.