Conversations Had at Four-Thirty at Night
The problem with Conner is that he's up — sheets twisted into the crevices of his hands — when the infomercial comes on. For the low price of nineteen ninety-nine (in five payments), he can have a detox that's guaranteed to have his stomach flat in just six weeks.
Thick, globular liquid sloshing around in a bottle. A smiling model, teeth aglow, hair curling against the curve of her shoulder. Her hands, reaching towards him, beckoning. He waits for her fingers to connect with his cheek, to collide into his skin and shred him into tiny, people-sized fragments.
There's a burning behind his eyes. It comes from the advertisement, cheerfully jangling its tune. It comes from the walls, boxing him into a negative space. It comes from his bed, which is swallowing him alive, blankets rising up and washing over him until he can't feel anything anymore.
He's on his laptop, letting the glow cut into his face.
Self-help websites, forums, conversations bookmarked at a ridiculous time where he should be sleeping but can't. His legs are draped over the side of the bed, dangling in air and shaking frantically. From the corner, a hoard of candy wrappers sits, and their faint, perfumed smell rises up to him, crushing his throat.
He remembers being nine, still chubby, baby-fat wreathing his cheeks. He remembers her sinking down next to him, dragon nails tapping against her thigh. A flick of the wrist, five of those same candies placed into his sweaty palm. Kiss on forehead, hand on heart, quiet coo in his ear while he devoured his new treats. Aren't you a beautiful little boy?
No, I wasn't, Conner thinks. When he was under ten, he was pudgy and belligerent to a fault. When he was over ten, the fat melted off. He became a creature of gangly limbs, awkwardly unable to comprehend with the new body he was in. Hunger yawned in his chest. He wanted food and coordination and to beat the newest level of his favorite video game.
But she was mistaken. She thought he wanted her.
If he buys the detox, maybe it'll clean out his insides. Maybe it'll root around in his bloodstream and extract all the dirt that lingers there, all the filth that's burrowed into the hollow marrow of his bones and refuses to come out. Maybe it'll purge the clotted rot that's been knotted against his nerves, yanking out his teeth every time he smells a whiff of rose perfume or feels the pressure of someone — anyone's — touch. And maybe, just maybe, it'll shrink the voices that claw into his head at two-thirty at night; voices that scream TELL and DON'T and STOP until they go hoarse but it doesn't fucking matter because no one can hear a damn thing.
He's become a series of picture frames with the glass knocked out:
Woman staring at boy from a distance; motion
Woman's hand on boy's belt, buckle undone; black-and-white
Covers crumpled on floor by bed; still life
Boy at age eleven, with both eyes blacked out; portrait
Boy in room; time lapse
And the rest is silence, he thinks to the empty buzz of his room. And all the rest is silence.
Tiffany Wang is a senior at John H. Guyer High School, a school on the outskirts of Denton, Texas. Come fall, she'll attend the University of Pennsylvania. She loves experimenting with different types of prose, especially at three AM with copious help from coffee. She has been published in numerous journals, including The Cadaverine, Crack the Spine, The Blue Monday Review and the Apprentice Writer, among others. In her spare time, she peruses for new coffee shops and dreads becoming an adult.