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“Very Invisible People” by Danny Lorberbaum

Published on Thursday, December 6th, 2012

“Dying Sea” by Frol Boundin

Some nights Boyd sits out back and watches the highway through the forest. Minutes can pass without a single car going by. These are the times he prefers, when he can let himself forget what it is he is looking at and just sit. The air is arctic; each breath he draws in tastes as cold as mint. He focuses on the only warm parts of his body: his crotch, his armpits, the inside of his mouth. When cars do pass they are not cars so much as white or red lights cut up by the trees. A long time ago he used to think of the people inside, but for a while now he’s been focusing on the lights, and then on nothing.

Boyd turns on the bathroom light, lifts the seat, and urinates. In the shower, temple to tile, he has a quick and vivid dream. He is sprinting downhill through the woods towards a river. At the bank he steps hard off the ground and then from downstream he’s watching himself, his own body, soaring through the air. So who is the man watching? He has this distinct thought, feels the rise of flight in his stomach, and wakes up with a start, for some reason aroused. He yanks and he yanks and he yanks, but in his grubby hand his penis looks like it belongs in formaldehyde. Exhausted, he steps out of the shower and dries himself without having cleaned.

He’s scrambling four eggs with a spoon when Arnold enters in his underwear. The boy takes the milk from the refrigerator and drinks straight from the jug. His ribs stand out like fingers.

Boyd lowers the heat. He divides the eggs onto two plates with the spoon and carries the plates to the table.

Yesterday Boyd drove out to Joplin to buy Arnold a game for Nintendo and found a used copy of Super Mario. It was just the cartridge without the packaging or the instruction booklet, but it blew his mind. All through breakfast Arnold talks about the villains: the mushrooms, the flying ducks, Bowser and his castles of booby-traps and skeletons. Boyd knows them all. He spent most of yesterday watching Arnold play. After they’ve eaten, Arnold says he can beat the game without losing a life.

So after Boyd washes the dishes he goes in to watch Arnold play. He sits on the couch while the boy sits a foot away from the screen and makes his little noises of frustration and joy. Mario dances across the screen; Boyd looks at where Arnold’s hair hangs over his neck. Within half an hour the boy’s finished. He turns to Boyd and smiles.

“Do I have time to play again?”

Boyd checks his watch. “I’m timing you.” He braids his fingers behind his head and watches the boy play again.

When Arnold goes into his room he steps out of his underwear and puts on his Darth Vader mask. On camera Arnold wears the mask everyone knows him by. Boyd bought it for a dollar, a brittle plastic mask that became the boy’s trademark. The inside smells like corn chips; there are only the two slits for eyes and the nostril holes which the last owner poked out with a pen. Lying back, he shuts his eyes so hard he sees patterns, gnashes his teeth until they almost crack. Any minute Boyd will come in and turn on the computer.

For the first two months the only words Arnold spoke were his name, and that was in the van right after Boyd took him. In the town where Arnold comes from there is no school bus. A van takes the kids to school. It was like the town where Boyd lives now, where the closest neighbor lives miles away, and the houses, which are long, flat, and delivered by truck, stand far back from the road in densely wooded acres. Arnold did what he was told: he got in the van and said his name. Boyd hadn’t lied to him. He’d said, “Hop in and tell me your name,” that was all, just like Harlan Dotel had said to do. And it was simple, he was right. Right away Boyd gave him the rules. If he used the telephone, if he tried to escape, if he refused to cooperate in any way, then Boyd would kill him and his family. Simple.

Month One was housebreaking. Boyd took care to treat him as gently as he could, but by the time Arnold was ready to perform his eyes had lost their look. He chewed his food looking down at his plate and he walked slouching into the wall. He had this expression like he was about to be swatted, his shoulders shrugged and his face turned partly away. That meant no more joyrides for Boyd; the boy was overworked. He cut back considerably and the color returned to Arnold’s face.

During the day they drifted around each other like moths. At night they watched TV.

Arnold looked as depressed as any kid watching the news: arm on the armrest, fist planted under his cheekbone. Boyd learned about him as they sat next to each other. He was nine, an only child. Pictures showed him playing church league baseball, kneeling with a glove on his knee and smiling. His parents were a couple of flat-faces, Boyd thought, a couple of fat-ass flat-faces. What they said about Arnold could have been about anyone. It was obvious to Boyd that theirs was a home without love or understanding. Whenever the parents appeared on screen Arnold was somewhere else.

One day it dawned on Boyd that the kid was simply bored. He drove thirty miles to pick up a used Nintendo, a game called Paperboy, and a controller without a Start button. Arnold sat on the couch and watched him hook it up to the TV. When Boyd gave him a straightened paperclip to poke Start on the controller, Arnold smiled a true darling smile. “Thank you,” he said. His first words. Boyd had a nervous stomach clot watching him play. You peddle a bike up the road—the screen scrolls up, not across like Boyd had expected—and you toss newspapers onto stoops or into mailboxes. Only certain houses get the paper, and the whole ride you’re swerving around obstacles like cars and wandering children. Crash and you start at the beginning of the level. Crash enough and the game is over.

From then on Arnold’s voice was eager, almost nervous, like Boyd was a new friend he was desperate to impress. Sitting on the edge of the bed and pulling a sock on, Boyd would look up and Arnold would be in the doorway, a shy smile on his face. Returning from the store, he’d find Arnold waiting in the kitchen to help unpack the groceries. In the game Arnold would go off a ramp and throw a paper into a mailbox in midair and he’d whip around towards Boyd and ask, “Did you see that?” And even if he hadn’t Boyd would lie and say he had.

What would I do, he thought, if Arnold got a toothache?

It was only yesterday morning that Boyd was standing at the kitchen window when the phone rang. He snapped to, picked up the phone, and said hello.

“Yeah, Boyd? It’s Dotel. Sorry to wake you.”

Boyd pulled at the hair on his belly.

“Boyd?”

“Hey, yeah. How you.”

“Listen. Sorry to wake you.”

Boyd sniffed.

“Listen up now. He around? The kid?”

Through the trees out back Boyd watched a red pickup truck pass along the highway: there and gone.

“Boyd, you there? Hello?”

“The kid? No, he’s asleep.”

“We need to talk, Boyd. Like, bad. Like, now.”

Dotel spoke like his throat had been scraped raw. His words carried a weight that made the few things Boyd had to say seem lighter than air. Boyd dug his pinky into his navel and toyed around with the skin-knot of belly button. The backyard was blanketed with leaves in every shade of brown. Here and there lay a leaf the color of a penny. A hard wind blew, sweeping a mess of leaves into a little tornado that traveled maybe ten feet, then disappeared, dropping the leaves into a heap. Boyd never raked; he wondered how long it would be before the leaves disappeared and he would be able to see his yard.

He said a quick goodbye and set the phone in the cradle. He went back to staring out the window, watching the leaves move, waiting for another car to pass. What Dotel told him to do had always been a possibility—he had known that from the beginning, had only recently started inventing excuses, imagining ways out, dreaming up escape plans that included him and the boy and the van packed to the roof with their things. Now the fact was unavoidable. It came as no surprise that the outfit in Texas had been caught. Dotel had taken his boy down only once and he had returned swearing that he would never go back. They were fools, he said, running a show in the basement of a church. But that hadn’t stopped him from inviting the Texans and their kids up to his place for a show. This was one month ago, just as Arnold was settling in. Boyd didn’t go and he refused to let Arnold be a part of it, though if Arnold had gone the numbers of boys and girls would have been even and it would have been a favor to Dotel. But Boyd had refused so he could avoid the very situation he was in, and now fear was on his neck like a sunburn.

“Bury the kid and be done with it,” Dotel had said. “I ain’t asking.”

 

 

Boyd fixed Arnold a breakfast of microwaved bacon and oatmeal. Arnold ate four strips of bacon in ten seconds and played with his oatmeal, letting it splatter from the spoon back into the bowl. He ripped open four sugar packets and emptied them on top. They sat there watching the sugar melt into a little caramelized island.

After Arnold’s show Boyd drove out to Joplin and bought Super Mario without really meaning to. He was absent from himself and preferred it that way. Back at home he watched Arnold play all the way through and start over from the beginning, slowly mastering the game. Like always, Boyd sat on the couch behind him. He stared at his curved back and pictured him at the bottom of a lake, his skin gone to pale gunk. He pictured him impossibly and peacefully dead in a casket.

 

 

So Arnold is lying in bed with the mask beside him when Boyd knocks once and enters.

“Get dressed,” he says. “No show today.”

“Why?”

“No show. Now get your clothes on.”

“Why?”

Boyd comes over and picks up the mask.

“You don’t have a show today. Now get dressed.”

The boy sits up on his elbows. “But why?”

“Because we’re going on a drive.”  He looks around and sets the mask on the computer.  “Let’s go,” he says, and claps his hands twice.

 

 

With Arnold in the passenger seat, Boyd feels how a father must feel. He adjusts the vents for the right distribution of heat, lets the boy choose the station, and tweaks the knob depending on the song. Every so often he glances over to read Arnold’s face, but the boy stares continuously out his window. No sites emerge from the landscape and in fact there is hardly a landscape to speak of, only a continuous brown blur of leafless trees. Ahead of them lies an endless two-lane highway. An eighteen-wheeler follows at about three hundred yards, but besides that they are totally alone on the road. After a while it occurs to him that the boy’s silence is not dread. He’s thrilled speechless. This is his first time on the road in three months—No, Boyd thinks, two months, three weeks, and a day.

Someone could mistake them for father and son. Both have skin so pale it glows and both have the same mouse-brown hair. They like a quiet house. Mostly they keep to themselves, but when the time is right they like to sit together, talking and not talking.

Boyd sits up in his seat, clears his throat, searches for something to say. He flexes his fingers on the wheel.

“You know, you remind me of me sometimes.”

“I do?”

“That’s what I said. You just like to look.”

“I’m looking at the trees.”

“That’s what I mean. It’s nice just looking.”

Arnold shifts around in his seat. “What are the trees’ names?”

“Like, what kind are they?”

“Yeah.”

“I just look at them,” he says, “I don’t know what kinds they are. All different kinds, I guess.”

“Boyd?”

“Yeah.”

“Can I ask you something?”

“Yeah.”

“How old are you?”

Boyd laughs out through his nose. “Why?”

“I just wondered.”

“That what you were thinking about looking out the window?”

“No. I wondered a long time I guess.”

“Well, how old do you think I am?” He drops one hand to his thigh, centers the other on the wheel. The boy studies him for a few seconds but doesn’t speak. Finally he answers himself: “I’m 42.”

“Oh.”

“That doesn’t mean much to you, does it?”

“I don’t know. My dad’s 44.”

Boyd steps on the gas pedal. The engine growls, but the van hardly accelerates. The highway enters a slight leftward bend, a gentle tilt of the wheel for Boyd, and when the road has straightened again the scenery changes: the woods on either side begin to thin, and now and then rock faces rise out of the earth. Soon they become constant on both sides, gray cliffs, fifteen feet high.

He still has no plan. Getting the boy in the car had been the first step in a more complicated process that he had left for his current and future selves to work through. He isn’t hungry yet and he has no need for a bathroom, but the time will come when he and the boy will need to stop.

The drive is not entirely different from others he’s made. Before Arnold, Boyd worked for Dotel, shuttling children to shows as far as three states away, delivering them to men who answered the door shirtless in shorts. For the kids each drive began with the excitement of a vacation, but when they got close Boyd would have someone read the directions to him from a sheet of notebook paper and things would end in silent animal despair as they pulled up to a house with cars parked in the yard. But Boyd did his best. The trunk became a pantry stocked full of chips, cookies and soda. If he were driving overnight he would keep a two-liter bottle of Coke or Mountain Dew hugged between his thighs. He could almost tolerate the drives there, but the drives back were like returning defeated from a war.

Though the driving money was good, Boyd wanted a change. The inevitable look on the children’s faces when he took them home after a show—blind, dead, not upset, nothing—was one thing, but what ultimately made him want a change was that he had moved dangerously close to the circles of men who ran these things. There was always the drop-off, when the men wanted to talk shop. Even Dotel he saw only when it was absolutely necessary; he could count their interactions on his fingers and toes. So when Dotel called him with a sympathetic word and a suggestion for a way out, Boyd was all ears. Because he knew how some of these kids lived. He had been inside the houses, he had breathed in the stink. In rooms without doors, bare mattresses made up the floor. The hallways to the rooms were unlit or lit by a dim blue light, and as he stepped along he would bring his hand to the wall for support and pull back—it was wet, it was sweating. The air stank of rubbing alcohol and lemon-scented cleaner that stung his nostrils and there was unnerving, almost frightening silence. Only if he held his breath and listened over the sound of his heartbeat could he make out the occasional whisper, or moan, or the clearing of a throat. These were houses he and maybe ten other people knew about—then again, the number could have been twice that, four times that, even. From the outside they looked like ordinary houses: gutters sagging, tall bushes in front of the windows. A man told him about a house he had visited once, where the kids had drawn all over the walls of the rooms with crayons. They’d drawn kites with strings looping and looping like giant telephone wires reaching from one corner over and across the wall, as high as they could stretch their arms. Boyd couldn’t remember where he’d met this man. He couldn’t describe him at all. This man said that some of the children only spoke Spanish, and he said that there were towns, these villages in Mexico, where kids got snatched up, or sold off by their parents, and wound up here, there, wherever they were needed.

Boyd knew this much: he could not quit, not all at once. But with a boy of his own things would be different. Quitting outright wasn’t the point. The point was hard to pin down, but essentially Boyd wanted to do better than those other men. At the same time he figured there was no sense in denying himself. After all, even with Dotel’s guidance he was constantly in danger. And even though Arnold wore his Darth Vader mask when he performed, someone could somehow figure out that this was he, the boy who had disappeared. In short, Boyd deserved to enjoy himself, and for a while he had.

 

 

They make their first stop at a Shell right beside the highway. One car, a vintage Volkswagen Beetle, orange, sits at the farthest pump. Boyd pulls into the pump farthest away and watches the man step out of his car and pump his gas while smoking a cigarette. He scrapes the windshield clean of all the smeared insects with the cigarette smoking in his lips. As the gas pumps freely he leans on the side of the car smoking, tapping ash off the cigarette and glancing occasionally at the van.

“Lean back,” Boyd says to Arnold. “Lean back as far as you can.” He leaves the keys in the ignition and keeps the heat on while he steps out, his head down. He gets the gas pumping and heads inside without a coat, his fists crammed into his jean pockets. He grabs two bags of chips, two sandwiches wrapped in plastic, and two two-liters, a Mountain Dew and a Coke. The cashier is a fat old woman with a slack mouth and a hair growing from a pellet-sized mole on her chin. He asks for the key to the bathroom, which comes linked to a red toy car.

He leaves, sees the Beetle has gone, and is all set to go when the boy springs up and says, “I have to pee.” So Boyd reaches across him and digs around in the glove compartment, coming out with a pair of aviator sunglasses. He hands them over and sends Arnold in alone so that if things head south he can peel right out of there.

Boyd is still toying with this scene minutes later as they’re cruising in the fast lane, scarfing down Lays, a bag in each of their laps. The traffic is heavier but still pretty scarce, a car here and there but mostly eighteen-wheelers. At one point they spot an enormous yellow tractor inching along the shoulder and Arnold applauds and laughs as they fly past. By now the woods are far behind them. Now the highway splits an otherwise endless expanse of dead farmland. Telephone poles tick by, the wires sloping and rising hypnotically—fifteen poles to a mile, Boyd counts—and every so often a water tower in the distance marks a town that can’t be seen. The light is the polished gray of early winter. Out of Arnold’s window the clouds at the very edge of the horizon are bunched up and bruised.

Boyd eats one last handful of chips and dusts his salty hand on his jeans. He reaches into the sack between the seats, grabs his sandwich and carefully peels away the plastic while steering with his knees. Arnold guzzles the Mountain Dew with his hands choking the bottle. He pauses long enough to take a breath, then reattaches his lips.

Eventually they reach their limit. They’ve demolished the sandwiches and most of the chips. Arnold finishes his soda and Boyd gets his Coke down below the red label. They gather the trash into the paper sack and Boyd settles lower in his seat, his stomach bloated and close to bursting.

“The boxes,” Arnold says, as if picking up where he’s left off.  “You know, the brick boxes, are just like up in the air, just like hanging there, and you, like you, Mario, jump up and hit them and you get a coin—ka-ching! And after you get a hundred coins—ka-ching! ka-ching! ka-ching! ka-ching!—you get an extra life.”

Arnold is caffeinated and fidgety, twisted towards Boyd, wringing his hands as he speaks.

“You start with four lives, and you get extra, like bonus, like extra lives for the coins.”

Boyd turns the radio on low, switches to AM and begins to scan the stations, but the only broadcasts he can pick up are too fuzzy to make out. He’s not certain there will be a report if Dotel was arrested, especially this far away. But that depends on what the authorities find and how big this thing gets. There must be others like him with Arnolds of their own, only none of them have waited this long to dispose of their evidence. The thought of Arnold as evidence makes his guts go to liquid and for a moment he believes he will vomit.

He finally catches a station that crackles and fades into a woman’s voice enunciating the words “daily evening forecast” before drowning once again in static. He lets out a long silent belch and turns the radio off.

Arnold goes quiet. He keeps squirming around, looking at Boyd.

“So is he or isn’t he?”

“Is who what?” Boyd says.

“Is Mario Italian?”

“I don’t know. Mario. I guess so, yeah. He’s got to be.”

“What’s his last name, then?”

“I don’t know. He’s a cartoon or whatever. Made up.”

“Everyone has a last name, though. Yours is Volner. I saw it once on your driver’s license.”

“And yours is Dwyer. So what. Mario is a fucking, a game.”

“I bet Mario’s last name isn’t Volner. I bet it’s something like, something like, not Volner.”

“I bet it’s not Dwyer, either.”

“At least Dwyer is a name. Volner is—”

“That’s enough now. Quiet.”

They drive in silence, the heat pouring out of the vents. Boyd wipes a film of sweat off his forehead and grips the wheel.

“Where are we going, anyway?” Arnold asks, his voice small.

“I told you before,” Boyd says. “A drive.”

Imperceptibly evening has settled in around them, the light blue and thin. Every few minutes they pass a streetlight high above the highway burning orange. Boyd flicks the headlights on, shining a path of weak light that catches an occasional grain of falling snow. When Arnold complains that he has to go to the bathroom, Boyd makes him urinate in his empty Mountain Dew bottle. The boy folds in towards his door and Boyd turns up the radio static to cover the sound. He makes sure Arnold screws the cap back on then lowers the volume to a whisper.

Boyd shifts around in his seat, trying to get comfortable. With a full day of driving, his back muscles are beginning to rebel. Plus, all the food he ate seems to have reformed into a grapefruit behind his navel. Suddenly he’s taken back to a time he was about Arnold’s age, rolling newspapers in a garage after school, when another boy shat his pants, stood up, and ran home. The boy was named Alexander Novak. He liked to make fun of Boyd for being an orphan, and at the time Boyd truly didn’t care. There was nothing personal in his insults; like the other children, all he knew was that Boyd’s birth parents had not wanted him. At that time being an orphan didn’t bother him. It was only when he was older that the fact of abandonment began to sink in, and he would wonder if this was because of Alexander Novak. For a long time Boyd thought of Alex shitting himself as a form of justice, then it occurred to him that maybe Alex had started making fun of him afterward. There was something mysterious and strange about a boy without parents. Boyd had to admit that.

Sadness begins to weigh on him. Arnold focuses on the view out his window, the fields hidden in darkness.

“Pretty flat,” Boyd says. “Pretty flat out there.”

Arnold barely shrugs.

“I should have stopped,” Boyd hears himself saying. “Back there, I mean, when you had to pee. I should have stopped.”

Arnold looks at him, his lower lip tucked under his teeth, and turns slowly back to his window.

“Listen, I’m sorry, hear? I’m sorry.”

Arnold speaks without looking at him: “Where are we going?”

“You asked me that already.” He tries a laugh. “But I guess at this point it’s more a trip than a drive.”

“How come we didn’t bring suitcases?”

“Suitcases? You don’t always need suitcases on a trip. Sometimes you just, like, go.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s more fun that way.”

“This isn’t fun.”

“Yeah, well, you say that now, but the worst part of the trip is the drive. Everybody knows that.”

“I’m bored. Where are we going?”

“You’ll see. Just be patient.”

“We’ve been driving all day.”

“It’s a surprise.”

“I’m bored.”

“So why don’t you tell me about Mario some more?”

“Mario is boring. I want to know where you’re taking me.”

Boyd’s stomach loosens and a gas bubble rises up into his throat. He lets a belch into his mouth and breathes it out towards the window. “Ask me any other question you want to,” he says. “I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”

The snowflakes have begun flecking the windshield, sparse and fine as sugar. Boyd leans forward and exhales and watches his breath fog up a patch of glass, which he wipes clear with his palm.

“I never told you much about myself,” he says, not sure where he’s going. “I never told you much about when I was a kid. I didn’t have an old man, or a mother, or a brother or a sister, neither.”

“So what did you have?” he asks, the anger gone from his voice.

“Foster parents. That’s like parents you’re assigned to.”

“Did you have any pets?”

“One time I had a fish.”

“What was his name?”

“I called him Fish. He was really small, like a goldfish, but cool looking—black with a bright yellow stripe down its back. I kept him in a bowl on my dresser.”

“Were you sad when he died?”

“Sure, I was sad. It was my fault. I killed him. One morning I overfed him and when I got home from school he was floating in his bowl just like you always hear about.”

“That’s sad.”

 

 

The snow is falling faster now, and Boyd turns on the wipers. It sticks to the parts of the windshield the wipers can’t reach. It starts to accumulate in the road, no more than half an inch. Boyd can feel the traction of the tires through the floorboard.

“Getting a little snow,” he says.

“I have a pet,” Arnold says. “A dog. I miss him. He used to run around the yard and then go like this.” He pants with his tongue lolling out of his mouth.

Boyd has no idea what to say. He says, “I bet he misses you too.”

Then they are silent. It occurs to Boyd that there will never be an exact, perfect moment to do it. He forces himself to imagine it happening, his swollen fingers tightened around the boy’s slender neck. He will have to shut his eyes. He has no tools, not even a tire iron. He was too rash, getting him in the car this morning; he should have thought things through. What he should have done was ground up a bunch of sleeping pills and put them in Arnold’s mashed potatoes, something like that, then made just half of this drive. But then there’s the thought of the body just lying around in the van with him that whole time.

“I want to build a snowman,” Arnold says. “A huge snowman with a hat, and quarters for his eyes, and a scarf, and acorns for the buttons on his shirt.”

“Where you going to get all that stuff? And there isn’t even enough snow.”

“Yeah, there is. If I roll up all the snow around then there is.”

“It is coming down now. Goddamn.”

“I feel like I’m dreaming.”

“Huh. You know, I never had a dream about snow? I just realized that.”

“What do you dream about?”

“Same things as anyone else, I guess. Crazy stuff.”

“I dream that I can fly.”

“That’s funny. Just this morning I had a dream I could fly. I was flying over a river. But I was also watching myself from the ground. It was weird, because there I was in the air, and there I was watching myself. Then I woke up.”

Arnold breathes on his window until it’s full of fog, then he wipes away a smiley face with his finger. “I want to build a snowman.”

Boyd is about to say something else about the dream when he feels the tires lose their grip on the road and the car go into a free slide, and his panic slows the seconds so he can feel the back of the van starting to fishtail, and he can hear the rubber of the tires screaming, and he can see Arnold pressing a dot nose onto the face on his window, and the world swirling around them, each as its own distinct moment. They end up facing the same way in the same lane, the wipers still ticking back and forth.

For a moment the world is still. Then Boyd speaks: “Let’s get onto the shoulder.” He eases the car over and puts it in park. They watch the snow coming down so thick and heavy it’s like they’re in a cloud. Arnold leans his seat back, laces his fingers behind his head. Boyd looks over, watches him watching the snow, and leans his seat back as well.

 

 

When Boyd wakes up his ears and nose are like ice. He cocks his seat up and finds the heat dead, the wipers stuck mid-sweep in three inches of snow. Looking through the windshield is like looking at the sky from the bottom of a lake. His breath comes out like smoke. He tries the keys, but the engine sputters and coughs. He begins to flex his fingers, clenching and unclenching them into fists. They feel as brittle as sticks. He cups them over his mouth and breathes into them, trying to catch the warmth.

“What happened?” Arnold asks, still lying down. “Where are we?”

“The car’s dead.”

“I’m freezing.”

“Me too.”

“Can you turn the heat on?”

“The car’s dead,” Boyd says. “That means the heat’s dead, too.”

“But I’m freezing,” Arnold says. Boyd can hear his teeth chattering. He takes the lever beside his seat and lowers himself back down. He lies there for a second, watching his breath rise towards the ceiling. “Here,” he says. “Come lie on top of me. Stay warm.”

It’s awkward at first, getting settled. An elbow sticks Boyd’s ribs, a kneecap digs into his thigh, but eventually they find the right fit. Arnold rests his small head against Boyd’s neck, his breath choppy and irregular at first, then slower and even. Boyd lets his eyes close, tries not to think of his next move in all of this. He lies still, as if frozen, and tries to forget where he is and why he’s here. He tries to forget his name, and Arnold’s, that Arnold is a boy or even a child. He is almost nothing on top of him: hardly a body, barely a weight.