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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
Boy Named Rome
So, if Rome were a senior in college, Rome would look like this: Rome has a swimmer’s body—a tight smoothness. He doesn’t shave his chest, just has that God-given sculptured body, that “I take care of myself but not in a grossly exaggerated, body-builder way.” And of course, Rome is a swimmer. He would never have played football or basketball. He swims the butterfly stroke because he likes the way it stretches his body, prefers to compete with himself rather than with others. Rome always gets the best time.
And, of course, Rome took French because only band and ROTC kids take German. Rome doesn’t hang out with band and ROTC kids, but at least he smiles at them in the hallway and that makes them feel important, recognized. Rome has a way of making people feel important just by looking at them.
Rome is cool without trying. Rome appreciated Woody Allen before he made films with Scarlett Johansson—because, really, Rome often wonders, how can you move from Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow to Scarlett Johansson? And this gives hope to awkward girls with straight, boy shapes because they think that if Rome loves Annie Hall in a men’s tie, maybe he would love them too.
And he would love them—indifferently and then passionately and then indifferently again, with the puff of a cigarette after sex. And Rome never speaks first after sex. And Rome would only suggest a threesome if he were absolutely sure it was his girlfriend’s secret desire, her animalistic adventure she’s too embarrassed to put it into words. Rome is not afraid of sex.
You know that if Rome would have wanted to, he could have run for student body president—he would have won hands down. But he doesn’t care about politics, he has better things to do—learn the guitar, play a Talking Heads song—and besides, he would never make cardboard campaign posters with cutesy rhymes. Rome doesn’t do anything cutesy.
So Rome has this cousin, this younger cousin, Seattle, and Seattle always looks up to everything Rome does because Rome is a senior in college and Seattle’s only a freshman in high school. Rome was the one who gave Seattle his first cigarette. Rome only smokes clove cigarettes, but sometimes Seattle is cheap and buys Marlboro. And Rome tries to give Seattle pointers, like telling him that it’s not really ironic anymore to wear Converse shoes. And Seattle’s like, “Oh yeah, you’re right. Thanks man.” But then Seattle just goes and buys Toms and Rome knows that Seattle was hopeless from the start. Even when Seattle thought he was cool because he discovered On the Road, Rome had already read The Dharma Bums like it was yesterday’s news.
And that one time when Seattle got really drunk and was afraid his parents would be waiting up for him and would smell the whiskey, Rome let Seattle crash at his place, and even though Rome didn’t say anything about Seattle puking all over the kitchen, Seattle felt really stupid about it in the morning. Because Rome never has a hangover. So Seattle knows that he will never really be as cool as Rome because it’s hard to be as cool as your cool older cousin, so Seattle wants to just give up.
But sometimes Rome just smells like shit. Because sometimes Rome is too lazy to take a shower—that secret stench rots under that marble, that perfect face. And strangers never expect this because they only hear the good things, and they would never believe Seattle even if it were true. But Seattle knows. Seattle knows that sometimes Rome is a bastard who never moves out of the way on a sidewalk so strangers always have to do it, and then they end up in the street walking through puddles full of the same cigarette butts that Rome discarded. And, really, when Seattle’s standing in line with Rome at a coffee shop or in line for the bathroom, Seattle’s tired of the way Rome smells, of Rome’s secret flaws and dishonesties. Seattle’s tired of all of this and tired of that same damn smell every day—sweat.
Kait Heacock is a writer and graduate student. She grew up in the same small town in Central Washington as her literary idol Raymond Carver, which she hopes means something. She writes short stories, travel writing, and the occasional fairy tale, when she’s feeling fantastical. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in journals including Soundings Review, Clackamas Literary Review, and Portland Review. She also writes the “Sexy Thursday” column at pdxxcollective.com, which features fiction, non-fiction, and interviews about sex and sexuality.
*Tin House is now accepting flash fiction (under 1,000 words) for FLASH FRIDAYS. Please send to email@example.com with FLASH FRIDAY as your subject line.