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By Barry Lyga
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This is Where it Ends, Hate List, and Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock readers will appreciate this heartbreaking novel about living with your worst mistake, from New York Times bestselling author Barry Lyga.
Sebastian Cody did something horrible, something no one–not even Sebastian himself–can forgive. At the age of four, he accidentally shot and killed his infant sister with his father’s gun.
Now, ten years later, Sebastian has lived with the guilt and horror for his entire life. With his best friend away for the summer, Sebastian has only a new friend, Aneesa, to distract him from his darkest thoughts. But even this relationship cannot blunt the pain of his past. Because Sebastian knows exactly how to rectify his childhood crime and sanctify his past. It took a gun to get him into this.
Now he needs a gun to get out.
Unflinching and honest, Bang is the story of one boy and one moment in time that cannot be reclaimed, as true and as relevant as tomorrow’s headlines. “Fans of 13 Reasons Why will find a lot to like in Lyga’s latest.” — Entertainment Weekly
My sister is in the memory hole.
She has been disappeared, vanished, eliminated, eradicated. The memory hole is a conceit from a book they made us read in school, 1984. Even though the story takes place in the past, it feels very much like the present or the near future. It feels like something incipient, imminent, pervasive. Like a fog so cold it's a thousand needles in your skin, just barely breaking the surface.
1984 is a full-body tattoo that's about to start, and it bestowed upon me the memory hole, which swallowed my sister bodily ten years ago.
There are no photos of her in the house.
There is no scrapbook. No baby clothes or stuffed animals or bright, crocheted baby blankets.
She's been extinguished. She's been erased.
My sister is in the memory hole because I killed her.
I'm told it was a Tuesday. I'm told it was June and it was hot and there'd been no rain for weeks, no respite from the heat that pressed down on Brookdale. I'm told Mom was in the backyard, hanging laundry on the line, that my father was in the garage.
I'm told I leveled my father's .38 Magnum at her as she sat in the little bouncy chair with the stuffed birds hanging overhead. I'm told she would only nap in the bouncy chair, that she loved the stuffed birds and the birdsong that the chair played for her.
I'm told it was point-blank range and that I shot her one time.
Which, really, is all it takes.
She was four months old.
I'm told Mom got there first, the back door being close to the nursery. My father arrived a few seconds later and I was on the floor, blacked out from the kick of the pistol, which knocked me across the room. I'm told Mom screamed and screamed, clawing at her face at the sight before her. Local legend has it that my father, fearing she would gouge her own eyes out or tear her face to ribbons, deliberately punched her out cold.
I have no reason not to believe any of the things I've been told.
I'm told so many things.
I was a child. It was an accident. It wasn't my fault.
I was four years old.
It was ten years ago and it's June now, again, as it is every year, but it's not a Tuesday, but it is ten years to the day, and it's going to rain, my phone tells me. It's going to rain.
I like the rain. I like it ferocious and I like it gentle. I like sudden showers that last the afternoon and sprinkles that don't last the time it takes to run to the car.
Rain is clean.
It's Sunday and the last week of school starts tomorrow, so I stare out the window and ignore my homework, and I think of lightning, and of thunder, and of the rain.
There's no indication it's been ten years, no sign of the morbid anniversary. Mom is no more or less morose on this day—she wears her sadness always, an unseeable, unavoidable mantle.
She goes to bed early this night, but Mom frequently goes to bed early, a glass of wine in her hand or—sometimes—a too-sweet scent drifting up from under her closed bedroom door.
Every night before bed, she seeks me out wherever in the house I happen to be and kisses the top of my head. These days, this requires that I be sitting or that she take my face in her hands and tilt my head down. Tonight is a tilting night, as I'm standing at the window.
She pecks at my hairline and says, "I love you."
I don't know when this ritual began. Some nights, she says it perfunctorily; others, sweetly; still others, dully. Tonight, she says it with difficulty, as though she's a child who's broken a neighbor's window and has been forced by a parent to apologize.
"I'm sorry," I want to say, but don't. Every time my mother tells me she loves me, this is what I want to say.
That night, after dark, before the rain, I sneak out of the house. I've mastered this particular skill over the course of many dead nights, when the silence is too loud and the solitude too confining. Mom sleeps soundly and well and without break. I sneak out of the house, but the truth is, I could simply leave.
I ride my bike out of the neighborhood, out to where Route 27 intersects Brook Road. The night is overcast, but the streetlights and a gauzy blur of moonlight show the way. The remnants of the day's heat and humidity linger like party guests who stubbornly refuse to get the hint.
The streets are empty, except for the occasional rumble of a big rig dinosauring from out of the darkness back into the darkness. I sail through intersections, the traffic lights gone blinking red after midnight.
Halfway there, the rain timidly speaks up, beginning as a hanging mist. Moisture wicks by; jewels grow on my eyelashes, distorting the meager light. I wipe at them; they grow back like Hydra heads.
Soon, the mist breaks, maturing into a light tattoo of soft, nearly soundless droplets. Sweat mingles, and a thread of moisture runs cold against the warm skin of the back of my neck, beneath my shirt collar and down my back. Lifting my feet from the pedals, I coast onto the shoulder, then bump and jostle onto the grass, gliding down a grade. My tires, rain-grass slick, slip and jitter under me. I wrestle them under control almost unconsciously.
Through a stand of trees, I see it. Drifting to a halt as the grade levels, I lean my bike against an aging poplar, its branches bent, gnarled, as though arthritic and melancholy. I pick my way through an undergrowth of sticker bushes and brambles.
Above, the rain patters on the leaves.
Ahead, it crouches in the dark, a deader dark, cloaked in dirt and rust.
The old mobile home seems to tilt just slightly to the left, but this is an illusion caused by a dent in the roof and the natural slope of the land here. It is still and silent, save for the clink and ping of raindrops, audible even from here.
This is where.
This is where it will happen.
This is where I will do it.
When the time comes.
I've fired a gun once in my life.
I'll do it again.
When the time comes.
My best friend is Evan Danforth. "Of the Brookdale Danforths," he likes to joke, speaking through and down his nose. His parents are absurdly rich, "offensively rich," Evan often says, snorting as though money is something to be ashamed of, something to hide and conceal. His parents hate that he takes the bus to school, and they hate that he's friends with me.
Sometimes I wonder if Evan does those things in spite of his parents or because of them.
We're a sort of yin and yang of rich and not-rich. Randomly assigned to a homework project together in the bygone days of elementary school, bonding over a mutual love of Power Rangers and Hostess apple pies. On such flimsy foundations are best friendships built.
My therapist, Dr. Kennedy, once told me, "That's what makes them best friendships."
As usual, Evan is saving a seat for me on the bus, and I slide in. Another year down. Ten years. No one said anything. No one ever says anything. Nothing online. Nothing in the Sunday edition of the Lowe County Times—"the Loco"—that Mom still has delivered every week.
Memory holes are efficient.
"One more week," Evan groans. "If we didn't have all that snow, we'd be out by now."
"It's just a week."
"A week out of our young lives," he says. "We'll never get this week back."
"Your parents can buy you another week."
He splutters laughter. Evan's laughter, even when surprised and uncontrolled, is musical and clear, unlike my own, which is rare and snorty and mucus-y.
Rich people can afford anything, even better laughter.
"Even Richard and Myra can't buy time," he tells me. "I bet they'd try, though."
Richard Danforth is a hunter. A "gentleman hunter," Evan's mom says. He owns expensive rifles and shotguns, stocks inlaid with silver and mother-of-pearl. Titanium triggers and blued steel barrels that he polishes twice a season. He's NRA. He votes Republican. "For financial reasons."
Myra Danforth is patrician and WASP-y, with an immaculate coif of frosty blond hair that comes just to her chin and breasts that she holds high and enhanced. "Fortieth birthday present," Evan muttered to me once. I've never seen her smile—the closest I've ever witnessed is a slight upturn of one corner of her mouth. I don't know if she's extra-reserved in my presence or if she's just incapable of smiling. Botox or genetics or disposition—who knows?
She's not a MILF. Because I wouldn't want to go anywhere near her, even though I admit I've fantasized about her more than once. There's a difference between what you'll do in your mind and what you'll actually do for real.
I think of those perfectly sculpted breasts and I realize Evan's wrong—rich people can buy time. Or a decent replica. They can stall it, put it off, freeze it, while the rest of us just lurch along with our snorty laughs into our inevitable futures.
"You should come over today," Evan is saying while I'm silently judging his family. "Downloaded the demo for Stark Weather this morning."
"I have some stuff I have to do," I tell him.
I invent an excuse—something about a dentist appointment—and he drops it. A few seconds later, I happen to catch his reflection in the bus window as he drops his eyelids and grimaces. He's my best friend, so I've seen this before, and I know what it is—silent recrimination. He's making the connection. Shooting games. Me. Guns. He's figured it out, and he's angry at himself for not thinking it through beforehand.
Not his fault, though. It's not as though I wear a sign saying, I killed my sister with a gun, so don't ask me to play your super-realistic first-person shooter. No one else needs to feel bad about what happened. Only one person.
I wish there were a way to assuage him, a way to tell him, It's all right. You don't have to step around the rusty nails and broken glass of my past. Don't beat yourself up. But the only way to do that would be to acknowledge it in the first place, to say it happened, and I can't do that. When I try to talk about it, everything goes haywire. In Dr. Kennedy's office, I was okay, for some reason. He made it okay. But otherwise…
But Evan is my best friend, so I do what I can, which is give him a way out.
"Besides, you know me—I'm no good at the new games."
"That's true," he says with a small grin.
But for the rest of the ride to school, Evan sits in silence, kicking himself. I, too, sit in silence, letting him.
I'm no good at the new games because I rarely play them.
I like old things.
Old TV shows.
It's not that life seemed simpler "back then." It's that it was more complicated. When no one had a cellphone, it was harder to get in touch with people. You called a phone number, and you might get the person you wanted to talk to… or her dad. Or mom. Or brother. And without the Internet, simple questions could mean a trip to the library, hours in the stacks.
Life was more complicated, but it was quieter, I bet. Slower. And the distractions were not the ephemeral flash of an Instagram as it scrolled by or the blurt of a tweet. No endless chattering of Facebook status updates and Snapchats and notifications pushed to your tablet, your computer, your phone, your watch.
The distractions then were card catalogs and dust and the smell of old paper and ink. The distractions were deep.
I wonder what it would be like to go back in time, to live as long ago as the 1980s, or even further back.
To know what was to come.
On the way home that day, I stare out the bus window. Evan has been dropped off already, and I am alone in my seat as the bus wends its way slowly toward my bus stop. I catch sight of a large truck—a moving van, I realize—parked in the driveway of a house that has been on the market for so many months that I assumed it would never sell. Two dark-skinned men—one in a dress shirt and a tie fluttering in the breeze, one in blue coveralls—argue, gesturing angrily at each other, at the house, at the van. On the porch, a slender figure in black watches, and I think I notice something, but then we're farther down the road and whatever I thought I noticed is gone.
Mom is still at work when I get home, so I go to what had been my sister's room, the nursery. I only go in when Mom isn't home.
In movies and on TV, when someone's child dies, they almost always show the room preserved, frozen in time. In English class, I learned that this sort of thing is supposed to be symbolic, that the room's unchanging appearance reflects the inability of the parents to move on, the rigid, frozen horror and pain that cannot thaw.
This is why I've come to the conclusion that symbolism is bullshit. Because my sister's room is not preserved, but no one has moved on. We're all still stuck in place.
The room serves now as storage. There are boxes and bags of things here, most of them belonging to my father, things my mother won't throw out. Not out of sentiment—out of spite. "I won't do his dirty work for him," she said once. "His things will rot in there before I lift a finger to get rid of them."
It made no sense to me then and makes no sense to me now, but I try to avoid asking my mother to explain herself.
For a time, I thought the boxes and the bags might contain mementos of my sister—photos, old toys, old clothes. But, no. There are books and magazines, old drawings, bits and pieces of model airplanes and HO scale trains. I have a vague, flickering memory of a Christmas tree scraping the ceiling and a model train platform that took up half the living room floor, the chug and click of the train cars in unison with sparks that delighted me. One engine almost politely burped puffs of smoke. The smell of pine, the stab-crunch of needles underfoot through winter-thick socks. A giggle-laugh that must have been mine.
A broken chunk of old memory, adrift in a pool of blood.
I don't want to remember it. Memories go into the memory hole. That's where they belong. Dr. Kennedy thought that if I could remember the shooting, I could move on from it. I told him I didn't want that in my head, just like I don't want my father's trains and the smell of pine.
Our Christmas tree for the past few years has been a four-foot-tall plastic and aluminum facsimile of a fir that Mom has me haul out of the attic shortly after each Thanksgiving. It looks as fresh each year as the year before. My sister's room is not frozen in time, but the Christmas tree is. It's still not symbolic, though—it's just crappy Chinese plastic. It's chemistry class, not English.
There may be symbols and symbolism in books and movies—sometimes it's even fun to find them—but in real life, we only have boxes and bags, old sagging shelves, and attics with fake Christmas trees. And none of it means anything. It's all just the detritus of life, our own jetsam, heaved overboard, then washed back to us by the waves and the tides.
Coming around and around again. And the water disgorges the same sights, same house, same me, same Mom.
My mom is forty-one years old. She does not necessarily look older than that, but the fact is that forty-one is usually people's second or third guess after two higher numbers. Not substantially higher—they guess forty-three, maybe, then wince at the flicker in her eyes that says too high and drop to forty-one.
When people get older, they develop fine crenellations around their eyes, typically called crow's feet or, more popularly, smile lines.
In my mother's case, I don't believe they were caused by smiling.
She conceals her sadness as well as could be expected, ten years later. She laughs at silly sitcoms and she grins at funny comments her friends leave on Facebook, but there is always a veil between her mirth and the world, a sheer scrim that mutes her reaction. It is as though she is a half second behind the world and can never catch up. And has given up trying.
I try to stay out of her way. This is just something I do. I avoid her. I began doing this early on. Some of my earliest memories. Six or seven years old and I was trying not to spend time around my own mother.
I don't want her to see me too often, to encounter me, to deal with me. Me, this walking, talking, living, breathing, eating, shitting, farting reminder of what she's had and what she's lost. During the school year, it's easy—I'm out the door after she leaves for work and most days I've eaten dinner and ensconced myself in my bedroom by the time she's home.
Summer, it's harder. With no ready-made excuse for being absent, I look for ways to get out. I don't linger in the house. I sleep in late, stay out late, keep my bedroom door closed when I'm home.
I make myself invisible, intangible.
It's easier for her, easier for me, just easier, period.
According to Dr. Kennedy, my mother is the surviving member of the family dealing with my sister's death the best. Let that tell you something.
There are ingredients in the refrigerator for pizza. This is Mom's unspoken, unspeaking way of telling me that I should make pizza for dinner. I typically make something for myself before she comes home, but some days she requests homemade pizza. It's what we have that passes for tradition.
I assembled my first homemade pizza three years ago, when I was eleven. In a mandatory home ec class in middle school, we made French bread pizzas, twenty-one eleven-and twelve-year-olds slopping sauce onto bread, sprinkling plasticky shredded mozzarella over it, then shoving the whole dripping mess into the school's ovens.
Somehow, this fascinated me. The too-browned, soggy results of the culinary experiment resembled actual pizza closely enough that I was captivated, stunned that something hitherto conjured only from a cardboard delivery box could be brought into existence with my own two hands. It was all I talked about for days, until Mom finally bowed to my insistence and allowed me to make pizza for lunch one Saturday.
The results were less impressive than in home ec, as impossible as that seemed, and Mom declared that we would henceforth "do this right." She downloaded a guide to making homemade pizza, and my obsession was born. I wanted to go back to the beginning, to the raw ingredients. I learned how to use the big stand mixer and make my own dough. I sliced the slightly gelatinous bulbs of mozzarella. While at first I used store-bought sauce, I eventually unearthed a good and not-too-difficult recipe online and began making my own. I wanted to smoke my own meats for sausage and pepperoni, but Mom drew the line there.
From the ingredients she's assembled, tonight looks like pesto and chicken pizza, one of my favorites. The dough ball is already thawed in the fridge; I like the sensation of kneading it, its elasticity, its pliability. I flour the counter and roll out a crust measuring about fourteen inches across. Just enough for two people. I crimp the edges with my fingers.
I slice mozzarella into discs. Shredding it gives a more even coverage, but I like the look of the slices after they've melted. I chop the chicken and scrounge in the fridge for the remains of an onion. Mom always forgets the onion. "You can just use onion powder," she likes to say, but it's not the same. Not at all.
I sauté the chicken and onion together in some olive oil, toss in some fresh grated pepper, and preheat the oven as high as it can go.
The pesto—not homemade, I regret; Mom still hasn't bought a food processor—gets spooned onto the crust first. A little goes a long way. I want just a glistening sheen of green and black, not a sludge. Then I add the slices of mozzarella, aiming for maximum coverage without any sort of noticeable pattern.
The chicken and onions go on last. Almost last. After they're distributed across the pie, something looks off, so I grate some parmesan and sprinkle it over the whole thing.
I crank out my homework while the oven finishes preheating. There's little to do this late in the year, so it doesn't take long.
My culinary pride and joy—a pizza stone Mom bought me for Christmas last year—rests hot and ready on the center rack of the oven. First I sprinkle it with a little cornmeal (to keep the crust from sticking) and then, with a pizza peel, I transfer my creation to the stone.
The pizza's done by the time Mom walks in the door ten minutes later, the cheese bubbling and perfectly pocked with brown, the crust tanned and only the slightest bit yielding.
"Your timing is impeccable," Mom says, pecking me on the forehead. I wait until she turns around to put her purse down before rubbing the kiss-spot on my forehead with the palm of my hand.
"It needs a couple of minutes to cool," I remind her as I paddle the pizza out of the oven and set it on the counter. "Otherwise the cheese will go all over the place when I cut it."
"Well, I'll go wash up and get out of these shoes."
A few minutes later, we're at the table, eating in silence. I would rather be watching TV. Or eating alone.
But I just eat. Because there are things we do.
"This is really good," Mom says, and I grunt, "Uh-huh," because if I say nothing, she gets angry, and I don't like to make her angry. Not because of anything she does or says when she's angry, but just because making her angry makes me sad. She doesn't deserve it.
"It really hits the spot," she goes on.
There's a familiar tone in her voice. It's the I have something to say, but I don't want to just jump right into it, so I'll do chit-chat first tone. I know it well.
"Sebastian, could you at least look at me when I talk to you?"
With a slow, infinite effort, I lift my gaze to her. She smiles that gauzy smile.
"Was that so difficult?"
"Compared to what?"
The smile widens almost imperceptibly. "I think we should talk."
"Isn't that what we're doing right now? Have I been misled my whole life?"
"I'm thinking we should talk about what you're going to do this summer."
A shrug. "I'll get by."
"No. I don't want you lazing around like last summer."
"Last summer was pretty great. I didn't laze. I was hanging out with Evan."
"And what did you two accomplish?"
"You're fourteen now. Old enough to get a summer job." Before I can protest too vociferously, she forestalls me with a raised palm. "Or do something productive. It doesn't have to be a job. Just something worthwhile."
"Evan isn't getting a job." Evan will be headed to something called Young Leaders Camp, a hellish mix of Model UN and overnight camp, spliced with the DNA of a tech start-up incubator. It's what rich kids do with their idle time as they await their Ivy League acceptance letters and keys to the Congressional washroom.
This is an argument I know is doomed to immediate failure, and—truth be told—I only offer it halfheartedly.
Mom doesn't disappoint. The words rich, family, and not the same are employed rather effectively in a mix of others.
"I want you to know how proud I am of you," Mom says slowly, so slowly that I almost believe her. "You take care of yourself. You aren't mixed up in anything crazy. I don't have to worry about you."
Anymore, I add silently.
"But you're in high school and you're going to be a sophomore. You're going to graduate sooner than you think. And I'm not saying that you need to figure your life out right here, right now, or even this summer, but, Sebastian… honey, you need to start at least thinking about it."
I shrug. A shrug is, by definition, a noncommittal action, but I do my best to add further noncommitment to it. I don't want to think about or start thinking about figuring out my life, for whatever it's worth.
"You can't drift your whole life. You can't give up on your future because of what happened—"
And almost without realizing, I'm telling her to shut up.
And she won't, so I'm telling her to seriously shut up, to shut her big fat stinking mouth, and she's a blur through my tears and I can't hear her voice through my own yelling—
—I don't know when I started yelling—
—as I'm up from the table—
—just in time—
—tears and snot and then leaning over the toilet, vomiting chicken and pesto and mozz and parm and the crust, all of it gone, a green-gray sludge floating there as I spit the last bits into the water, crouched down, clinging to the tank and the rim of the bowl as though I could fall in and drown.
I rinse my mouth with lukewarm water cupped in my hands. I spit out grit that tastes of garlic and basil.
Wipe my eyes. My mouth. Blow my nose.
Mom loiters in the hallway, waiting for me as I emerge. A glut of emotions roils inside me. I'm ashamed of yelling at her, of running away, of throwing up. I'm furious at her for bringing up the past. I'm outraged. I'm exhausted.
- On Sale
- Apr 18, 2017
- Page Count
- 304 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers