You Can Watch
by Anthony Neil Smith
Kevin sat in his wheelchair, wedged between the bed and desk in his younger brother Edward's room, while he watched the kid pick out new girl-on-girl shots to post on his porno web site, The Dick-o-meter ("Pick the Pics that Raise your Bar"). Edward clicked on a brunette girl in a halter top and tennis shoes but naked in between. She was crouching on another girl with her knees spread and giving the camera a thin grin.
"She looks like Gina, don't you think?" Edward said.
"Gina wouldn't do that."
"No, the look is what I'm saying." Edward pointed at the girl's breasts. "Those are real. Gina's were small like that. And the nose. Just reminded me a little. When's the last time you called her?"
"Not since the hospital."
Kevin had broken his neck two years before at seventeen when he fell off a trampoline in his backyard. He was in the hospital for a year. It bankrupted his parents, then Dad disappeared with the car one night, didn't come back. A week later, their mom left, and Edward moved from the family's country home ten miles north of town into a cheap duplex across from an abandoned shopping center in Pascagoula. When Kevin came home from the hospital, they couldn't afford a nurse or electric wheelchair. The doctor gave Edward pamphlets so he could take care of Kevin himself.
Edward was fifteen when it happened, and before the accident Kevin usually only said four words to him: "Get away from me." Things had turned around since. Edward was his brother's keeper for real-doctor trips, emergencies, getting up in the mornings. After school, he made good money designing web pages for businesses, but the real payoff was in porno.
Gina was Kevin's ex, used to be a cheerleader, his first fuck, although he was sure he wasn't hers. They dated for six months before the accident, and it was fun. She didn't mind that Kevin was more a stoner type than a jock. She stopped by the hospital once after the accident and rubbed her fingers up Kevin's leg and said, "You can't feel anything?"
"Not really. It's like when your foot's asleep, but all over."
She went further up his leg and watched his face for reaction, but nothing was there and Kevin was too doped up to imagine it. She inspected the machines at bedside-the respirator, the heart monitors, the IV tubes.
"Are you going to stick with me through this?" Kevin said.
"Any chance of you walking again?"
He tried to shake his head, forgot he couldn't. "There's hope."
Gina shouldered her purse strap and said, "Sure. I'm still here."
He hadn't seen her since.
Edward tapped a few keys, made a few mouse clicks, and they heard the phone line buzz, a fast dial, then a modem screech.
"You should call her," Edward said. "I saw her at the mall, working at the gift store. But she lost a lot of weight."
"She was a rail before."
Edward stuck out his elbows. "She's all knobby and shit. Going Kate Moss on us."
"Think she throws up her food?"
"I don't think she eats. One of those." Edward shrugged. "Call her and see."
"But she needs some payback. I need to mess with her head a little."
"Lay off that. It wasn't a normal situation, not like you just stood her up or she blew your best friend, you know."
"I get tired of it. So I can't walk. So what?" Kevin said.
When he got tired of Kevin's whining, Edward pushed the chair out into the living room and shut his door. Kevin rolled across the bare tile before the couch stopped him. After a while, he shouted for Edward to come empty his leg bag, but his brother tuned it out and stayed in his room before finally leaving the house near dark without a word. Kevin's bag overflowed and screwed up his catheter so he wet his pants.
Edward came home after midnight and saw Kevin against the couch. He walked over and knelt by the chair. "You okay?" He felt where Kevin's jeans were wet, the piss spread almost to his knees.
"You've got to be nicer if you want my help."
He rolled Kevin into his room, put the chair brakes on, moved Kevin from the chair to the bed. Edward undressed him, fixed the catheter, and drained the rest of the leg bag into an empty milk jug. Then he sat beside Kevin, massaged his leg muscles, and told him about his evening out, all the details he used to take for granted: the way a cold beer can felt in his hands, how his feet hurt, how chilly fall breezes were. Then Edward patted his brother's chest, turned out the light, and closed the door so a thin line of yellow light from the hall showed through. Kevin stared at it for half an hour, wishing he could walk over and make it go away.
Edward woke Kevin up Sunday as usual, put him in the chair, the shower, got him dressed. The kid had bulked up a lot, having to lift Kevin all the time. After Edward brushed his brother's hair and shaved him, Kevin said, "Listen, bring me the phone."
Edward went in the kitchen after the portable, came back, and Kevin told him Gina's number. "Dial that, okay?" Edward held the phone up to Kevin's ear, slipped an elastic headband around to keep it in place.
Her mom answered. Kevin asked for Gina, was told to hold on. He listened to her carry the phone to Gina's room, knock on the door, say, "Phone for you. A boy." Another connection picked up, Gina said, "Got it. Hello?"
"You remember my voice?" Kevin said. "It's been a long time, and I was wondering what you're up to."
She got cheery, giggly. "Ohgodit'syou! You guys got a new number and didn't tell me. I couldn't find it."
It's in the book, Kevin thought.
Gina said, "I thought you would call, but you disappeared. How are you? Moving any?"
Kevin gave her a short version, about the therapy: breathing on his own, keeping some upper body strength with the pedaling machine, might even be able to hold himself up without a strap soon.
"How about you?"
"Nothing much. Junior college classes over in Gautier, working at Hallmark part-time. No boys in a while."
"I thought we could get together, catch up on old times. Not a date, you know. Friends. You think we can do that?" Kevin said.
"It's me, Gina. Old times. Please?"
They agreed to meet at the coffee hut in the mall that afternoon.
Edward pushed the wheelchair up the wooden ramp into the van, locked the chair in place, then drove to Gautier, eight miles away across two bridges. Kevin's neck was killing him by the halfway mark because the van's ceiling was too low, but he kept his mouth shut about it. He made do with watching the water of the Mississippi Sound off to the right past tall grass, some fishing boats floating.
At the mall, Edward pulled around back to a handicapped spot, unloaded Kevin, locked up, and rolled him inside past the mostly empty arcade, a closed down pizza joint, and the movie theater. There was a chill, and the coffee smell from the hut up ahead, the big potted plants in the middle of the aisles, the five-foot tall gumball machine.
"Push me to a table, buy me a cappuccino. With a straw. Then go away."
"She might not show up."
"She'll show up. She sounded thrilled."
"They all sound that way. It's fake," Edward said. He went and ordered from a girl in glasses who hated to put her book down.
Kevin looked at the fountain, half-empty and ragged. On the other side was the big department store he used to get most of his clothes from. People walked by, none he recognized, which was different from when he used to show up here on Fridays with friends and saw everyone else he knew, then got kicked out for running or tearing up store displays. Some of these people now took a look then tried to pretend they weren't looking, weren't disgusted, grateful it wasn't them instead.
Edward set a small cup with a straw in front of Kevin, then said, "I'll be walking around. Want an hour?"
"Hour and a half."
"Hour fifteen, no, ten. I'll come back." Edward turned and walked away past the cookie store and gold necklace kiosk.
Kevin waited a few minutes before he saw Gina walking towards him, still with rich brown hair, shorter and straight now, still with big muddy eyes. But she looked thin and bony, as if she'd been sick. She was in black pants and a white blouse that swallowed her. She saw him and grinned, turned her head away like she hadn't seen. Then back again with a wave. At the table, she leaned over, cupped her hand on Kevin's neck, and gave him a cheek hug.
"Nice to see you sitting up. You look great," she said.
"And you, I wouldn't have recognized you."
A big smile. "I'm still me."
"But you've gained some weight? Looks good on you."
She sat down beside him. "I work hard to look like this." She stretched her arms out. They were scrawny, no muscles, elbow and wrist bones jutting. "How can you say I'm fat?"
"It's fine, I don't care."
"I'll be like a model in no time. Like a model."
Kevin asked her for a sip of his coffee, didn't ask if she wanted one. Gina lifted the straw to his lips, and he sipped, nearly gagged. Gina pulled the cup away and apologized, reached for a napkin to wipe his mouth.
"Too hot," Kevin said. Gina threw the napkin in the wastebasket. When she came back, Kevin said, "I'm surprised you're still in town. I thought you would've gotten a cheerleading scholarship. Didn't you try out?"
She watched the table uncomfortably, shrugged. "I did, I signed up for a lot of places, didn't get a thing. They didn't like my looks, I guess."
"Yeah, it's true."
"Maybe. Still, you were cute then. What's your major at JC?"
"I don't have one yet. Right now it's basic courses."
She told him nursing looked good, talked about her teachers, and Kevin zoned out, glad he wouldn't have to work so hard now because of the thin stuff. Gina was bubbly, overjoyed even, but her eyes had dark circles under them. He nodded when she sounded done, said, "That's great. Are you hungry? Is the corn dog place still here?"
"It's here. I'm not really hungry, though."
"You can have some fries. Please?"
Gina smiled, seemed queasy, like even the thought of food was enough to get her sick. And especially the corn dog place, where the air was greasy and smelled burnt. Kevin thought this would be a great way to do this, have Gina begging for forgiveness she couldn't have, make her feel an inch tall, the bitch.
Gina stood up and pulled Kevin's chair away from the table, pushed him in the direction of the corn dog place. She struggled with the chair, not even having enough strength to push it on slick flat tile. When they got there, the aisle was narrow and Gina banged against the counter a couple times before shoving it through to the back, where she put Kevin at the end of a booth. He told her to get his wallet, wedged between his leg and the chair. It was on the side where the tube to his leg bag ran, and Gina shivered when she brushed it with the back of her hand. Kevin ordered a chili cheese corn dog and large fries, large coke, and whatever Gina wanted, insisted on her getting at least something.
Gina had to wait five minutes for the dog to cook, and after a couple, the Greek lady at the counter told her to go sit down, that she'd call her. Gina came back, smiled weakly and slumped onto the bench. She said, "I ordered a gyro and lemonade. Happy?" and held the wallet out to him. Kevin stared at her and sighed heavily, then got another apology while she shoved it back into his chair. Gina was sweating a little, since it was hotter at the counter, closer to the grease vats than the booth was.
"I've missed you," Kevin said.
"I'm sorry. I mean for what happened. I was just scared. I was young, you know."
"I understood. But we could've been friends. Not just you, but all my friends bailed on me. Quit calling or coming by. They did at the hospital for a month or two, but that was it."
The Greek lady called for them, and Gina went for the tray.
She set it on the table and Kevin said, "Can you cut this up for me? You've got to feed me, you know."
Gina rubbed her hand down her face, sucked in a deep breath and coughed it out. "Don't you bring someone with you to do that?"
"It's just us here, though. I didn't eat anything today, so I'm hungry."
"But how did you get here anyway?"
"My brother drove me. You know Edward? But he left, went walking around. You can't depend on him. I'm sorry if this bugs you. Think about it, what if you were in the chair, couldn't move?"
Gina rubbed her temples while he talked, had her eyes closed. Then she picked up the plastic fork and knife and cut the corn dog into slices. Kevin told her to quarter it, and she did. She stabbed a piece with the fork and lifted it up to Kevin's mouth. He opened wide and pulled it off slowly. He smacked it some, then got Gina to give him a sip of Coke.
"Use a spoon, so you can get the chili and cheese on there. Could you stick a napkin in my collar? In case you drop some."
She fed him half the corn dog this way before Kevin urged her to eat some of her own. She finally nibbled on the gyro, took a few fries, washed them down with big gulps of lemonade like she didn't even want the taste in her mouth. Kevin asked for some fries dipped in ketchup and then mustard. Some of it smeared his lips, dripped on the napkin. When he was full, Gina looked relieved. She pushed the tray away and pulled a packet of laxative tablets out of her purse.
"What do you need those for? Stomach problems?"
Gina shook her head. "Just helps clear out things better, you know? Out with the bad fat." She took two, chewed them and drank the rest of her lemonade.
They left the corn dog place and went back to the coffee shop table, where Edward was waiting for them. Gina smiled and hugged him like they were old friends.
"Thanks for bringing him," she said.
"Anything for you. Coming back to the house?" Edward said.
Gina said, "Sure," and Kevin thought, Is this some type of set-up?
"Really, Gina. You've got a really great body," Edward said when they were all back in the van.
"You don't think I'm fat, do you? Kevin said I was." Gina's cheeks were bright.
"Kevin's an asshole. What I mean is, you're the type right now. People look at you and say, 'She's how I want to look.' God, if you wanted to do pictures-nothing nasty, but naked, arty stuff-you could make a fortune."
Kevin knew where it was going and felt panic. He urged every muscle to work so he could beat the shit out of Edward one more time. "Don't talk to her about that."
Gina's eyes were so big while she asked Edward, "You think? You really sure?"
"I do web sites now, and we could fix you one. Put a few teaser shots up, take orders for other sets. There's nothing weird to it, just normal guys who don't like that airbrushed crap, want to see real girls. And they can do it at home."
Gina laughed, thought about it out loud: "No, I can't do that. But who would know, right? I could use a different name, wear a wig. How much could I make really?"
"Pay for college, nice car. Shitload, I mean it."
"You shouldn't do this. You've got a problem," Kevin said.
"That's not what you said ten minutes ago."
"I was just messing with you. You look sick."
Gina laughed, patted Kevin's shoulder and told him to calm down, not to worry. All the way, Edward and Gina sang along to a George Michael tape while Kevin sulked. This wasn't the plan. She's the one supposed to be miserable right now.
At the house, Edward backed Kevin out of the van and rolled him inside. Edward told Gina they'd try it on the couch. He twisted the blinds on the front window closed, turned on the overhead light, and went in his room to get a digital camera. Gina hopped onto the couch on her knees and bounced up and down. She looked at Kevin, lifted her chin, and said, "I'm beautiful."
"Used to be."
"No, I'm better now. It was people like you, telling me I'm fat, fucking with me like that. I knew what you had in mind."
Edward came out of his room carrying a camera. He stood in front of Kevin's chair, grabbed the armrests and backed him into a wall.
"So you can watch," Edward whispered.
"I don't want to. Take me to my room."
"No. You have to watch."
"Don't do this."
"She likes it. She's happier already. I'm not the one who was trying to make her slit her wrists either. That's you."
"Shit." Kevin closed his eyes hard, but Edward pulled one open with his fingers.
"You have to watch, all right? And the bad thing is, after a while, you'll start to like it. Then how will you feel about yourself?"
Over Edward's shoulder, Kevin saw Gina toss her blouse aside, her white skin mottled, sharp ribs showing underneath.
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