“Koji’s mohawk, Dim felt, was misleading.”
For the first and what he felt could be assumed to be the last time in his life, Dim had made a friend. The friend had a mohawk and his name was Koji and he spoke perfect English and he looked, to Dim, not all that Japanese. Koji was an on-the-straight-and-narrow, minds-his-Ps-and-Qs sort of boy whose father was employed by a multinational bank based in Tokyo. He was, like Dim, thirteen, but the difference between them was that Koji was averaging one country per year, whereas Dim was averaging one a lifetime. Koji had lived in Japan, Brazil, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, France, Switzerland, Singapore several times, and China several times. Dim had lived in the United States. Koji’s father had brought Koji and his mother from the business district of Dubai to the suburbs of Charlotte because of, as always, his job. Koji’s father was a sort of liaison. He was now a liaison between his bank and Bank of America. Dim wasn’t quite sure how North Carolina would compare, for Koji, to the United Arab Emirates. He imagined not all that well. Dim did not have a mohawk.
Koji had approached Dim after band class because of Dim’s name: Koji had assumed that Dim was part Chinese.
Dim was not part Chinese. Dim was part Turkish and part Finnish. His father had named him after a musical notation. That notation was diminuendo, which meant “get quieter.” In sheet music diminuendo was often abbreviated as dim. Dim’s father had wanted to become a conductor of orchestras. Instead he had become a seller of homes. Now Dim’s father wanted Dim to become a conductor of orchestras. When the exploding starships of Dim’s videogames were too loud, or when Dim’s singing to himself was, Dim’s father would shout from his study, “Diminuendo, diminuendo!” and Dim was always unsure, for a moment, whether his father was calling his name or telling him to shut up.
It was usually the case that Dim’s father was not calling his name.
Dim was thick as thieves with bullying.
When it came to school, Dim’s social standing had gone more or less belly up Dim’s inaugural day of kindergarten. As Dim had stepped from #41, his new school bus, onto the sunny sidewalk that was meant to carry him off to the brown-haired and blue-skirted teacher standing in the doorway of his new elementary school, a gang of particularly ambitious bullies, the go-getter sorts, had taken Dim by his wrists and dragged him off behind a concrete tube.
Children were meant to crawl around inside the tubes. The tubes had been painted bright colors. Stevie Ryan had kicked Dim’s ribs while Josh Isaac had bloodied Dim’s nose while Isaac Nunn had pinched Dim’s stomach. They hadn’t seemed to have had any bullying program in particular—it seemed they’d just been playing it, Dim’s body, by ear.
The way things had fallen out since was that Ryan, Isaac, & Nunn would not stoop to bullying the likes of Dim. They had sort of reinvented the wheel as far as bullying went, and were now enjoying the accompanying stardom and limelight. The feeling was that their bullying someone of Dim’s social standing would be like this totally huge band playing this totally unheard-of venue. The thought of it, for Ryan, Isaac, & Nunn, was just beyond the pale.
Thus Ryan, Isaac, & Nunn bullied the likes of the middle school’s tennis stars and wrestling stars, and the tennis stars and the wrestling stars vented their feelings about being bullied by in turn bullying the likes of the thespians and the mathletes and the student council, and the thespians and the mathletes and the student council vented their feelings about being bullied by in turn bullying the likes of the marching band. Dim was not included in this marching-band bullying. Dim was his own category. Not even the thespians and the mathletes and the student council would stoop to bullying Dim.
Instead, the flutists and clarinetists and trumpeters and drummers and other oboists vented their feelings about being bullied by in turn bullying Dim.
Which left Dim only squirrels and birds, for the venting of his own feelings.
Dim was not above this venting.
Part of what made Dim his own category was the size of Dim’s nose. Also Dim’s forehead was a bit misshapen. Also his father had nearly limitless funds, which always pushed a kid’s social standing toward whatever end of the popular/friendless spectrum that kid was tending. Dim tended toward the friendless, and Dim’s getting to live in a four-story brick manor, with what looked like a turret at one end of it, was sort of the icing on his social standing’s cake.
But then Dim had had the great fortune of being mistaken for part Chinese. Also Koji did not seem to mind Dim’s nose, or Dim’s forehead, or that earlier in band class a trumpeter had emptied his spit valve onto Dim’s pants. Koji had wanted to practice his Mandarin, but even after it came out that Dim was merely Turkish/Finnish, Koji kept talking to him anyway. He talked at Dim from the doorway of the band room to the doorway of the cafeteria, talked as they moved through the line for turkey and mashed potatoes, talked through the course of their turkey-and-mashed-potatoes lunch, without Dim getting in even an interjection edgewise.
Then Koji apologized.
“Sorry,” he said. “I always bring the mustard along.”
“I don’t understand,” said Dim.
“I mean I talk a lot.”
What emerged, over the course of a week’s lunches, was that Koji hadn’t quite yet gotten ahold of English idioms. Koji was a polyglot, septlingual, but although he was fluent in English, its idioms were still beyond him. Meanwhile, Koji often used idioms from his other languages, in English, as if Dim might be able to somehow intuit the meaning of a phrase like “bite the moon.”
At best, Dim was a dilettante polyglot. Dim spoke only English and Spanish, but in Spanish he had been getting mostly C’s and D’s—when it came to tilded n’s and trilled r’s, Dim just could not carry a tune.
These grades had become a problem, because Dim’s father wanted Dim to apply to the Academe Emily, Charlotte’s private music high school, whose standards grade-wise were no picnic. The Academe’s application committee had been known to have a beef with even the occasional B-, to say nothing of D+’s in eighth-grade Spanish. Moreover, applicants had to pass a playing test, and even at his middle school Dim’s oboe skills had earned him only a fifth chair.
When it came to the subject of a private school, however—one attended by zero thirdhand victims of Ryan, Isaac, & Nunn with feelings needing venting—Dim was, like, all ears. Dim, though, had been under the assumption that his father would simply buy Dim’s spot on the Academe’s roster, which was the same assumption under which one could have found Dim’s father. When it came to Dim’s father’s money, that money was with his mouth.
Now, though, the Academe Emily was looking a bit more pie-in-the-sky than the in-the-bag it’d looked before. The director of the Academe, it seemed, was not willing to be bought.
Dim’s father had driven to the Academe and then back again.
“They have certain standards,” Dim’s father said.
Dim was shooting fireworks from the roof of their pool house into the trees. In the light of each scattering firework, Dim could see the dark of scattering birds. Dim’s father stood below with his sleeves rolled to his elbows. He was the Turkish in Dim’s Turkish/Finnish. He had none of Dim’s forehead but all of Dim’s nose. His basic look, Dim’s father’s, was sort of bringing-home-the-bacon. His tie had a shine to it, and also the tips of his shoes.
“They’re willing to make exceptions for grades,” Dim’s father said, “but only if a playing test is just absolutely standout.”
In the three-story brick manor across the road from Dim’s, a light came on in a window of the third floor. A girl named Georgie lived there who had an upturned nose and who once rode Dim’s school bus and who was now in a coma. Georgie’s bed was at the window, and now that the light was on, Dim could see the posts of her bed and the shape of her body under her blankets as one of Georgie’s parents came in to stand over her. In band class, Dim had heard other oboists arguing about what it would take to wake Georgie up, about what they could do to help her.
Dim lit a firework. “I thought you said all it’d take would be a donation?” Dim said.
“It’s a matter of currency,” Dim’s father said.
This was a subject that for Dim had worn out its welcome and then some. Dim’s father had developed this lecture on currencies after he had been unable to buy Dim’s grandmother’s pardon for things he had once said to Dim’s grandfather. Dim’s grandfather was dead, and Dim’s grandmother would speak neither to Dim’s father nor to Dim, despite the varied gifts Dim’s father had sent her. These included a television, an armoire, a gilded mirror, a new roof and the roofers to shingle it, and a mule-sized lawnmower.
Dim’s father’s lecture went like this: money, Dim, is a substitute. It holds the place of other things. A certain number of dollars, Dim, represents the value of a potato. Another number of dollars represents the value of, say, a deck chair. But some things are outside of this system, Dim. Money stands for many things, but some things money cannot hold the place of. Money will represent nearly everything, Dim, but not everything. Dim—and this is the lesson, Dim, this is what you need to remember—there are other currencies.
Dim’s father believed that words were also a currency, and that if he could somehow acquire words of the proper value and say them to Dim’s grandmother, that Dim’s grandmother then would forgive him and come to them and meet, at last, her grandson Dim.
Dim’s father kept offering her words, but so far they had not been of the proper value.
Dim’s grandmother also lived in Charlotte—only a six-minute drive from Dim’s manor.
Dim had found he had like zero pennies for his father’s thoughts.
“There are other currencies, Dim,” Dim’s father said. Dim shot his firework into the trees. “The only currency they’ll take are notes, Dim—you’ll have to play Metamorphoses for them, Britten’s Op. 49, and those notes you play for them will have to have the right value.”
It seemed the doorway to the Academe Emily could only be opened with a song.
Dim told Koji about it at lunch the next day.
“Either I nail Op. 49, or I get sent off to the same high school as the rest of these kids.”
“Play it really well.”
Koji said, “So they will take only giraffe children.”
“I don’t understand,” Dim said.
“A prodigy. An oboe sensation.”
Jay Bhalla, a wrestling star, but of only the 95-pound weight class, was walking down the hallway toward the drinking fountain and the bathrooms beyond it when the janitorial closet’s door shot open and the variously tattooed and not tattooed arms of Ryan, Isaac, & Nunn yanked Jay into the closet and shut the door.
“You have nothing to worry about,” Dim said. “Next year you’ll be gone again and won’t have to deal with any of this.”
Already Koji knew that next year he would be living in Switzerland. The thought of living in Zurich again, Koji had said, made him as happy as a fiancé. This was one idiom whose meaning Dim actually had been able to intuit.
How Dim felt about Koji was this: it bothered Dim that Koji was year in and year out this totally nose-to-the-grindstone sort of kid. Koji got all A’s and was the first-chair trumpeter and got to run personal errands for the school principal and in the spring would be running track, at which point Dim was sure Koji would become just flush with track ribbons. Dim couldn’t think of a line that Koji wasn’t toeing. Dim wanted to corrupt Koji, to make him do at least one wrong thing for once in his life. The few times Koji had come over to Dim’s, Koji had not even been willing to climb onto the roof of Dim’s pool house. Koji’s mohawk, Dim felt, was misleading.
Dim knew he himself had done at least a hundred wrong things in his life. These included drowning a squirrel in his pool, calling his grandmother and making a gargling noise into her answering machine for two and a half minutes after his grandmother had not answered, shaking a bird’s eggs from its nest onto a sort of boulder far below, and, the day before Georgie had gone into her coma, stealing an eraser from Georgie’s backpack, because Dim had forgotten his.
“Then before I leave, I will help you. My father has lots of money. Whatever you need.”
Dim told Koji that his own father had limitless funds—that the only currency the Academe would take was a perfect Metamorphoses, and that when it came to playing notes of the proper value, Dim was like still trying to make ends meet.
From the janitorial closet Dim could hear Jay Bhalla shrieking.
“In the mouth of the wolf, you will make it,” Koji said.
Op. 49 had six movements. For once Dim’s father was actually home by dinnertime instead of bedtime. Each night Dim’s father would spread out for Dim a plate of microwaved meats and vegetables and the sheet music to one of the movements. Dim’s playing test was in one month. The Academe Emily would give each applicant a single playing test—no rain-checking, no makeups whatsoever. Dim’s father had hired an oboe tutor, a Mr. Pete, who was arm-and-a-leg costly, but Mr. Pete had not taken a liking to Dim. Along with Metamorphoses, Dim would have to take a sight-reading test—this meant playing a song whose sheet music he had never seen before. Mr. Pete felt the biggest chink in Dim’s armor was sight-reading, and at each afternoon’s lesson they zeroed in on mainly that. Dim was doing his best to get with the program, but Mr. Pete’s attitude seemed to be, like, sorry, kid, a day late a dollar short.
“I have met boys who played as if they had one hand, or zero hands, instead of two,” Mr. Pete said, “but never have I met a boy who played as if he had seven hands, all of them getting in the way of the others.”
Nonetheless Dim felt he was improving, that is until taking his sight-reading test in band the next week. Students took these once a week in Dim’s class, standing at their chair and playing to Mr. Branom, the bearded band director, in front of the entire band. Mr. Branom was known for being a dyed-in-the-wool hardass, even to those students who weren’t even in band.
After Dim had once again proven himself to be worth neither his nor anyone else’s salt, and Mr. Branom had said as much, Dim sat back down, and from four seats over the first-chair oboist muttered, “With sight-reading that poor, you ought to be taking lessons with Antitoi.”
“Who?” Dim said.
“You’ve never heard of Antitoi?” the fourth-chair said, poking Dim’s side with her reed knife. The fourth-chair had a sort of penchant for know-it-alling. “He played first-chair for the Boston Symphony. Now he lives in Charlotte. He teaches oboe—”
“And he could help me?” Dim said.
The first-chair laughed. “Antitoi? With sight-reading? Oh, yes, sight-reading is something of Mr. Antitoi’s specialty.”
Dim had begun asking another question, but Mr. Branom told Dim to put a sock in it, then indicated for the first-chair clarinetist to begin her sight-reading test.
Walking home from that afternoon’s lesson with Mr. Pete, Dim daydreamed all sorts of rags-to-riches fantasies, the basic plot of all of which was the tutor Antitoi giving Dim some serious schooling with respect to sight-reading, after which, then, at his playing test for the Academe Emily, a just dressed-to-kill Dim, instead of being his usual all-thumbs, giving the application committee like just what the doctor had ordered.
When Dim asked his father for lessons with Antitoi, however, his father told Dim to knuckle down and that they’d be sticking with Mr. Pete.
“He’s an alumnus of the Academe, Dim,” his father said. “He knows what he’s doing.”
Koji walked over to Dim’s and Dim gave him a thorough debriefing. Koji often asked Dim to come over to Koji’s, but Koji’s manor was sort of middle-of-nowhere, which Dim felt didn’t make for a very square meal, socially, and so Dim always said he couldn’t come. Thus Koji was always asking to come to Dim’s, even when there was nothing in particular Koji wanted to do. Dim wasn’t really a between-the-lines sort of reader, and it had not occurred to Dim to consider whether Koji might be lonely. This despite that Koji sometimes, just totally out of the blue, not even from left field but from like somewhere in the parking lot beyond it, would start telling Dim about everything Koji’d left behind in Tokyo, about the grandparents and cousins Koji hadn’t seen since he was two, about how Koji felt he just didn’t know them at all, the grandparents and cousins, and so on and so forth, which, it probably should have been clear to Dim that, when it came to getting to know these grandparents and cousins in an intimate and personal grandson/cousin sort of way, Koji was basically obsessed, gave like a hundred iotas.
“So Mr. Pete can or will not help you. Either way he feels he is combing the giraffe.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Wasting his efforts,” Koji said. “His energy.”
“Meanwhile your father wants you to peel the garlic, to burn your eyebrows, to keep in your thirteen,” Koji said, “but meanwhile you think that this Pete has eaten little kasha compared to this Antitoi and that Antitoi is like the white crow of white crows and that a few minutes alone with him would turn you into a sight-reading celebrity.”
Dim said yes and so that he just had to get a lesson with Mr. Antitoi.
Koji said that but maybe Dim should just invest his time in practicing.
Dim said that by hook or by crook he needed that lesson.
Koji said that then he was all for helping Dim bell this cat, that Dim really ought to just consider this cat belled.
Although neither of them could understand the other, they did feel they had reached an understanding.
What Dim and Koji knew of Antitoi was this: that Antitoi was a man who could be bought, and that his currency was simply the currency of money—that whatever Antitoi wanted, it was something money was a substitute for, and that Antitoi would take several hundred dollars in exchange for an oboe lesson. That Antitoi’s address was listed neither online nor in the phone book, but that they weren’t yet high and dry because it was the case that there was an Antitoi who went to their middle school: another eighth grader, one Antitoi, Brodsky.
Dim and Koji named their undertaking to find and employ Mr. Antitoi Op. 49, where Op. stood for, not Opus, but Operation.
The next day—after Dim had used some of his father’s limitless funds both to pay Mr. Pete for that week’s lessons and to buy Mr. Pete lock stock and barrel, to buy Mr. Pete’s guarantee that if the question of whether Dim had been attending his lessons came up with Dim’s father, that Mr. Pete totally had Dim’s back and would just hook-line-and-sinker sucker Dim’s father into getting the impression that Dim’s attendance was mind-blowing and his progress spot on—Dim and Koji walked to the golf course between their school and Dim’s manor.
They found Brodsky where they’d been told he could be found—in the like lair Brodsky kept in the alley behind the golf course’s clubhouse. Brodsky wore a dirt-cheap tie-dye hoodie and was sitting on the lid of a dumpster. His shoulders were uneven and his fingers were somewhat webbed. His basic look, Brodsky’s, was sort of cat-dragged-in, with a bit of toll-taken in around the eyes. His hands were shaking and he was reading a book whose cover he had torn off and he said that Antitoi was his great-uncle.
“We need his address,” Dim said.
“Got it, but won’t give it,” said Brodsky.
Dim could not remember ever having heard Brodsky speak before. At school Brodsky was mostly to be seen coming in and out of bathroom stalls.
“I’ll only give it to you if you can get me some of these,” Brodsky said, and then he showed Dim and Koji an empty orange bottle with the name of a prescription printed onto the outside of it. The name on the prescription was not Brodsky’s. “I’m in, like, withdrawal. Just barely keeping it at bay.”
“Okay,” Koji said. “We will get you what you want.”
“No you won’t,” Brodsky said. “Nobody’s selling. The market’s been cleaned out.” Koji said, “Anything can be bought,” but Brodsky said, “Not these.”
“The only kids I’ve heard who’ve got any left are Stevie Ryan and company,” Brodsky said. “And my rule of thumb with them is, like, stay away, rain or shine.” When it came to hand-me-down bullying, Brodsky, like Dim, was his own category. When Dim was able to admit it to himself, Dim knew he wasn’t the bottom of the bullying—he was one of its various bottoms. Brodsky said, “But if you can get them from them, I’ll give you anything you want.”
What Dim and Koji found over the next few days was that an audience with Ryan, Isaac, & Nunn was just not to be had. Every afternoon, during the hours when Dim was allegedly at his lesson with Mr. Pete, Dim and Koji walked to wherever rumor had it that Ryan, Isaac, & Nunn would be hanging out. On Wednesday they walked to the gas station, but Ryan, Isaac, & Nunn were not buying cigarettes as had been alleged. On Thursday they walked to the tennis courts, but Ryan, Isaac, & Nunn were not, as had been alleged, tossing piss balloons at tennis stars. On Friday they walked to the creek, where it had been alleged that Ryan, Isaac, & Nunn would be spray-painting the bridge’s underside, but under the bridge they found only Jay Bhalla and Wes Green. Wes was cousins with Georgie of the coma, and was also a wrestling star, but of the 140-pound weight class instead of 95-. Jay and Wes would not let Dim and Koji leave until they had answered a certain riddle that Wes had just made up.
“Who’s a fag?” Wes said.
Dim and Koji did not know what to say.
“Who’s a fag?” Jay said. “Fuck, you two are slow. Who’s a fag? Your dad, bitches.”
“Now say it,” Wes said. “Who’s a fag?”
Koji said, “Your dad.” Before Wes could punch Koji in the face, Dim said, “Sorry, sorry, he means his dad, my dad. Sorry, our dads.”
On Saturday Dim’s father ordered Dim’s grandmother raspberry bushes and the gardeners to plant them, and Dim and Koji walked to the principal’s house, where, as had been alleged, Ryan, Isaac, & Nunn were in the principal’s hot tub naked. Principal Schulz was away at one of his college classes—Principal Schulz was earning his PhD. Ryan, Isaac, & Nunn had the principal’s class schedule.
“We like to tub it while Schulzey’s off taking his quizzes or whatever,” Josh Isaac said.
“Yeah and but so what the fuck do you want?” Stevie Ryan said.
Dim showed them the orange bottle and asked them for some pills.
“Since when do you get loaded, Dimmy?” Stevie Ryan said. “You must just be at your wits’ fucking end if you’re coming to us looking for handouts. Gone round the fucking bend.”
Each of their heads was buzzed—Ryan’s topped with red stubble, Isaac’s and Nunn’s with black. Isaac and Nunn sat in the hot tub with their elbows propped on its side, but Ryan sat on the hot tub’s side, his legs spread wide, with only his legs and his penis hanging down into the water.
“Which is not to say that we don’t have them, but—put your money away, Japan, we don’t want your fucking money—you’re talking about some pricey fucking pills.”
“What would they be worth to us, then, huh?” Isaac Nunn said. “What do you think, J?”
“I wouldn’t give them up for anything, I,” Josh Isaac said. “Not. A. Thing.”
“Likewise,” Isaac Nunn said. “We have a fucking accord.”
“Hate to be odd man out,” Stevie Ryan said, “but boys, right off the bat, when I asked myself, ‘What would you want for those pills, S,’ I didn’t answer myself, ‘Nothing.’ I answered myself, ‘S, you’d want Mr. Branom.’”
“I for one change my vote,” Josh Isaac said. “I now vote for Mr. Branom.”
“Isaac Nunn himself votes the same,” Isaac Nunn said. “Consider our accord broken, rewritten, and once again fucking had.”
What emerged is that Ryan, Isaac, & Nunn were already at that stage in their career where they felt they were ready to move on from bullying other kids to bullying some adults. They told Dim and Koji they’d give them the lion’s share of their pills if Dim and Koji could get their band director to the middle school’s loading docks at 2 p.m. that following Monday.
Back at Dim’s four-story brick manor, in Dim’s bedroom in the manor’s turret, Dim and Koji pooled their resources. Dim had countless fireworks, innumerable videogames, and limitless funds. Koji had limitless funds and, as a runner of personal errands for Principal Schulz, access to the principal’s office. And so it was decided to exploit Koji’s access to the principal’s office and get at a bit of the principal’s stationery.
After Koji left, Dim’s father came to him in the kitchen, looking rather out of sorts.
“Have I put you under too much pressure, Diminuendo?” Dim’s father said. “I’m sorry if I have. You know that you don’t have to go to the Academe if you don’t want to, don’t you?”
Dim was suspicious. As far as Dim was aware, Dim’s father’s feelings were that if Dim failed to get into the Academe Emily, Dim was going to be either disowned or disemboweled, or some combination of the two.
“You do understand that the Academe would be an entirely different world for you?” Dim’s father’s said. “All new rules. An entirely different system. You’ll have to wear different things, use a different vocabulary. No more um’s, Dim, or huh’s. You’ll have to follow their rules there to the letter.”
Dim did not understand, but he told his father that he did.
On Monday after lunch Dim and Koji met up in the bathroom.
“I’ll write it,” Dim said. “What should I write?”
I do not want to be a pea counter, Dim,” Koji said. “A mouse milker. A shoelace ironer. But I must sing the forty, Dim—I have to say, I do not think this stationery is enough.”
“What do you mean, not enough? We send him a note on the principal’s stationery that says hey Mr. B come quick to the loading docks signed here P. Schulz. How doesn’t that work?”
Koji said, “Handwriting,” and then Dim understood. That sometimes the currency was not the words themselves—that sometimes the handwriting of the words was itself a currency. “I will write it,” Koji said. “I have been practicing all morning.”
And so began Koji’s performance—which required two sheets of stationery, as on Koji’s first attempt he included the phrase “and believe me when I say the bath house soap bowl is missing!” which, even in the principal’s handwriting, it seemed like Mr. Branom was probably going to smell like an eighth grader-sized rat. Both Dim and Koji were pleased with Koji’s second attempt, however, which Dim dictated as Koji composed it, and which alleged that the school system’s superintendent was on the warpath and ready to cook the middle school marching band’s budget’s goose, but to keep a stiff upper lip Mr. B because he Principal Schulz himself would be waiting for him at the loading docks so that he and Mr. B could walk across the street to the superintendent’s office together and put in their two cents and then some, posthaste.
At 1:57 p.m. Dim and Koji went eyes-peeled into the empty band room and slipped the note under Mr. Branom’s office door. Then they hid behind the gongs and chimes and laid low and waited. At 2:02 p.m. Mr. Branom still had not come out, but at 2:03 p.m. Mr. Branom came flying out of his office with a suitcoat on his arm and a hand at his beard and a look in his eye like this budget problem’s bud was about to get like seriously nipped.
And so it came to pass that Dim and Koji bought Mr. Branom with a note, then some pills with Mr. Branom, then Antitoi’s address with those pills, then a golf cart with Brodsky’s face.
When Dim and Koji passed Mr. Branom in the hall at 2:37 p.m., Mr. Branom’s belt was missing, as was one of his shoes, as was a good half of Mr. Branom’s beard. The other half was now mostly purple. Mr. Branom appeared to have been crying.
After school Dim and Koji found Ryan, Isaac, & Nunn taking turns vomiting into the principal’s hot tub.
“Last night we caught Schulzey and his wife fucking in the tub,” Josh Isaac said. “People that old should not be having sex outside.”
“We’re making a statement,” Stevie Ryan said, as Isaac Nunn vomited into the hot tub.
Stevie Ryan filled up Brodsky’s bottle with what Dim ballparked was like thirty pills.
“Did Mr. B know it was you when you shaved his beard?” Dim said.
“Fuck you, Dimmy. We’re better than that,” Stevie Ryan said. “Clean as a whistle.”
Dim and Koji walked to the golf course. How Dim felt about recent events was this: he felt as if he had meant to corrupt Koji, but instead the both of them had been corrupted. Dim couldn’t decide how he felt yet about having maybe made an adult man actually cry, but by and large he felt not good. His playing test at the Academe Emily was in three days. Outside of band class, Dim had not played his oboe in almost two weeks.
Brodsky was sitting on the same dumpster he’d been sitting on before, wearing the same hoodie he’d been wearing before, and looking about a week’s worth more cat-dragged-in.
“Not a chance,” Brodsky said. “Don’t toy with me, boys.”
Dim gave Brodsky the bottle. Brodsky popped open the bottle and looked at the pills. Then he looked at Dim and Koji. Brodsky shook Dim’s hand, shook Koji’s hand, said, “Sweet dreams,” and swallowed three of the pills.
“Yes yes,” Koji said, “like a maggot in bacon. The address?”
“The hell did you call me? And Great-Uncle A.’s at 2491 Bluff Drive. Up by the—”
Dim said that he knew. Bluff Drive was where Dim’s grandmother lived, although at a different number. “It’s going to take us at least an hour to walk there, Koji. I don’t know—”
Brodsky told them just to rent a cart.
So Dim and Koji went into the clubhouse and offered the clubhouse’s pimpled manager $400 for a golf cart.
“A rental’s only $5,” the clubhouse manager said. “But you have to be at least sixteen.”
It seemed that here, age, too, was a currency—the clubhouse manager said he could not be bought with anything aside from a driver’s license.
Dim and Koji had, between them, zero licenses.
Dim and Koji walked back outside, where Brodsky was looking not just up to par but as if he was now a resident and passported citizen of cloud nine. He was drumming on the lid of the dumpster with the palms of his hands. “No cart?” he said, and when Dim told him about the currency problem, Brodsky said, “Piece of cake, boys, piece of cake.”
What emerged was that Brodsky, although not sixteen, was known to the clubhouse manager in some capacity, and that Brodsky’s face was somehow a currency the clubhouse manager was willing to accept. With Brodsky’s good word, the clubhouse manager said he was willing to turn a blind eye, age-wise, in Dim and Koji’s case.
And so Dim and Koji found themselves tearing down Dim’s suburb in a horse-sized golf cart with a yellow pennant. Dim left the golf cart and Koji in the road and ran up his driveway and into his manor and up to his bedroom in the turret where he took up his oboe and his reed from the cup where it was soaking and a box of his finest fireworks, with all the bells and whistles, just in case, and then Dim, feeling armed to the teeth, and not even stopping to like powder his nose, went running back to the golf cart where the sun was setting and the sky orange and where Koji was talking to a gang of assorted and ponytailed tennis stars and thespians and even clarinetists, who were taking turns carrying a wooden ladder down Dim’s road.
The third-chair clarinetist said, “We’re going to wake up Georgie.”
“We’re going to sneak through her window,” said Becky Green, sister of Wes Green, cousin of Georgie of the coma, and thespian through and through, “and then hold Georgie’s hand and ask her to wake up.”
“And then Georgie will come back to us,” the second-singles tennis star said.
Dim saw that something odd was happening—that Georgie of the coma’s coma had brought together girls from various classes of bullying. Dim wished the same could be done for the boys. It made Dim angry, now, that it had not been done for the boys but that the girls were doing it for Georgie, and so Dim did not tell them about currencies—not even as a sort of by-the-way—about how their words might not be the currency that Georgie of the coma would require.
The tennis stars and thespians and even clarinetists carried the ladder off into Georgie’s yard, where they propped it against the balcony outside of Georgie’s window and then began to climb, all-caution-to-the-windily, up it.
Koji said, “Let us strike the four hundred blows.”
Then again Dim and Koji were tearing through the suburbs in their rented golf cart.
Six minutes later they came careening up Bluff Drive.
Dim hit the brakes out front of his grandmother’s house.
“That’s my grandmother’s house,” Dim said. Dim’s grandmother was in her yard picking raspberries from her new bushes. Dim’s grandmother’s boyfriend, who was the age of Dim’s grandmother, was riding around on her lawnmower, mowing Dim’s grandmother’s lawn.
Dim knew his grandmother did not know who Dim was. She was wearing a white hat.
“Hello, grandmother!” Koji shouted and then Dim hit the gas and they went flying off up the hill again.
They came to the door of Antitoi.
The door of 2491 was opened by Mrs. Antitoi.
Mr. Antitoi was the oboist, it seemed–Mrs. Antitoi the opener of doors.
“I need a lesson,” Dim said, and Mrs. Antitoi told them to come on in.
She led them into a sunny room where Mr. Antitoi and a boy in sunglasses were taking turns playing oboes. They had no music stands, no sheet music at all. Mr. Antitoi had a nose as big as Dim’s and kneeless corduroys and a dime-a-dozen T-shirt. His eyes were oddly white.
“I’m auditioning for the Academe Emily and my sight-reading is a far cry from acceptable and I heard you’ve played with symphonies and are a genius sight-reader and so will you please teach me to be better,” Dim said. “I’ll pay you anything.”
Mrs. Antitoi said, “My dear—”
Koji said, “Dim, I have become an eight. I thought you said Mr. Anti—”
But then Mr. Antitoi quieted both Mrs. Antitoi and Koji with his hand, as if he were a conductor and they his orchestra. Mr. Antitoi squeezed the sunglassesed boy’s shoulder, indicating for the boy to stop playing, then felt the table at his side and set his oboe onto it.
“I’m sorry,” Mr. Antitoi said, “but I am, as you can probably see, blind. I could teach you many things, but sight-reading—sight-reading is not one of them.”
Dim’s stomach dropped to depths that before had been uncharted.
Dim said, “But—what I need is sight-reading.”
Mr. Antitoi dismissed Dim with a pick-up-the-tab sort of wave. Then Mr. Antitoi felt for his oboe and took it up again. He squeezed the sunglassesed boy’s shoulder.
“Again to the fermata,” Mr. Antitoi said. “But this time a decrescendo.”
Decrescendo was a musical notation that meant “get quieter.” Of diminuendo and decrescendo, decrescendo was the commoner. Dim saw that even his name here was of no value.
The sunglassesed boy began playing.
Dim understood now that what he had thought had been helpful oboist-to-oboist advice had just been the usual tongue-in-cheek bullying. That all of Dim’s efforts had gotten him as far as square one. That he was now facing a music that he had not even known that all of this time had been playing. That even blindness could be a currency.
Back in the driveway Dim and Koji sat in the golf cart.
Koji said, “You have the face of bad milk.”
“I don’t understand what you’re saying,” Dim said. “I never understand what you’re saying and I’m sick of trying to figure you out so would you please just stop talking.”
Koji shut up. At some point Koji’s mohawk had wilted onto one side of his head.
“I don’t know what the point is of even being friends,” Dim said. “Next year I’ll be stuck where I always was and you’ll get to go off drinking cocoa in Switzerland.”
Koji grabbed the collar of Dim’s shirt. “You think I want to leave?” Koji said. His voice was a basket-case sort of low.
“You think I like all of this getting dragged around, getting taken away to countries where I will have to learn yet another language, have to try to keep them all tidy in my head?”
The sun had set and the sky was black. The driveway was lit with lights attached to the Antitois’ garage. Koji let go of Dim’s collar.
“It is not like you go away and there are a hundred new friends waiting for you,” Koji said. “You go away and you miss everyone when you are gone. Even the kids who hurt you.”
It became clear to Dim, for the first time, that Koji was emotions-wise more than just a one-trick pony. Dim imagined what it would be like to be somewhere where the phrases he’d learned had no value. It made him feel toward Koji what he’d felt toward the half-bearded Mr. Branom. Dim set his oboe on the back of the cart.
“Would you feel better if I taught you a dance?” Dim said.
Koji stared at him. Then Koji said, “Let’s get the moths off.”
Dim taught Koji a dance he had made up, and then they danced around the golf cart until they saw Mrs. Antitoi watching them from her window.
Then again Dim and Koji were tearing through the suburbs in their rented golf cart, its headlights now lit, and as Dim worked the pedals and the wheel, Koji took fireworks from Dim’s box and lit them one at a time and sent them shooting off behind them, and in that manner they came careening into Dim’s suburb, where, as they passed the tennis stars and thespians and even clarinetists carrying their ladder away from Georgie’s manor—a few of them crying, but most of them just looking a hit-rock-bottom sort of grim—Dim felt so happy and so lucky that he did not even to bother to shout at them, as he and Koji blew by, that he could have told them so.
Art by Yvonne Martinez.