Mystery Loves Company (Selected Chapters)

Carter’s mother was humming in the kitchen as she cleaned the counters and brewed some coffee. It was her evening ritual—she called it unwinding. Carter and I tried to help her with her Sunday paper crossword puzzle, using our fingers to count letters.
“Okay, boys, It’s bedtime. I don’t want your mother to find out how late I let you stay up, Eilam.”
“Just one more cookie, Mrs. Stevens?” I asked with a little kid smile on my face that never seemed to be forced.
“Eilam—one more. You too Carter, and then off to bed with the both of you!” She whipped her dish towel in the air near us and smiled.
The backdoor opened into the laundry room and we all turned our heads to see Jaime walking in the door.
“And where have you been?” Mrs. Stevens asked.
“Work.”
“And why do I find that hard to believe?”
“Look, Mom, I’m here, aren’t I?”
“Carter. Eilam. Go to sleep.”
“But Mom—” Carter began, cookie crumbs falling from his mouth.
“Now.”
Carter left his half-eaten cookie on the table and we exited the room, not straying too far from the realm of eavesdropping.
“Jaime, you can’t expect me to look after your child while you’re out doing God-Knows-What!”
“I was working.”
“Then why do you have a stamp on your hand?”
“It’s—”
“I don’t want to hear it. Your child barely even knows who his mother is.”
“I’m out trying to find my poor child a father,” she said inattentively, rolling her eyes.
“At bars and night clubs?! Jaime, while you’re out looking for a father, you’re out not being his mother.”
“You expect me to do it all alone then?”
“Well you don’t seem to be doing anything at all! I’m not babysitting for you again. Call a sitter. It’s too late to find him a father. Be his mother.”
“He’s three months old! How would he remember who changed his diaper?”
“It’s not about what they can and can’t remember—”
“You’re impossible!” Jaime stormed out of the room shoving Carter to the side angrily and ignoring my presence.
“You smell like marijuana!” Mrs. Stevens shouted after her, banging a sauce pan into the sink. “Don’t think I didn’t notice.”
***
            We sat at the poolside, folding paper cranes out of used notebook paper lined with mathematical equations, stoned out of our fucking minds. It was three a.m. and there was a fog veiling the sky.
            “I can’t do this,” Mystery declared trying to fold an already wrinkled paper. She was sitting at the picnic table, the only part of the back yard that the persistent porch light refused to touch.
            “It’s so easy, look, I have the instructions,” Carter said, pointing to his laptop where a website held pictures, guiding the folds we were to be making with arrows. He was sprawled out comfortably on a lounge chair, legs crossed, his socks dirty from the day.
            “It’s too difficult,” Mystery said angrily, hovering over her paper, but not making a single change. I was almost finished with my first one, staring intently at the laptop screen.
            “I’ve finished my third one!” Carter shouted, holding up a perfectly folded paper crane like a trophy.
            “I can’t do this,” Mystery repeated.
            “Here, let me finish it for you, it is your birthday after all. Twenty years young, cuz,” Carter offered, extending his hand. Mystery gratefully walked over to him, tossing the neglected attempt at a folded paper plane in his direction so she could retire to stare at the water.
            Carter then began doing a lecture on how to make them, holding up his fourth attempt in the air for all to see.
            “This is the mummy flap, see fold it like this.”
            “I think it looks more like a snake,” I added.
            “Alright this is the snake then. Now we’re getting to the legs,” he said, making his paper walk in midair, moving each side separately.
            “What’s this next flap?” I asked, pointing at the screen.
            “The vagina flap, of course,” he said, “Hey, Mystery, why aren’t you paying attention? This is an important life lesson.”
            “I can’t stare at the paper too long, it starts to get…weird.”
            “What do you mean?”
            “I don’t know, the lines start to blur, I just can’t focus on anything but the details of the paper.”
            “Okay, start pouring lighter fluid on the cranes, then.”
            “What?” she asked, not even looking Carter in the face, still staring at the water.
            “Pour lighter fluid on the cranes.”
            “Why?” I asked.
            “Because we’re going to light these bitches on fucking fire,” Carter smiled.
            “Why?” I asked again.
            “Why not?”
            “Well I can think of plenty of reasons. Smokey the fucking bear for one.”  
            “Fuck Smokey the bear. He’s a dream killer. And so are you, Eilam,” he said, walking over to the picnic table, dowsing the cranes with lighter fluid.
            “Hey, this seems like a bad idea—” Mystery chimed in.
            “Most good ideas always do,” Carter said, lighting a cigarette, and walking to the poolside with the cranes. He placed all but one down on the ground and held the very tip of it cautiously while with his other hand he ran his thumb down the lighter and inched the fire toward the crane. It gradually went up in flames and he dropped it gently in the pool, quickly grabbing the others and doing the same until six lit cranes were floating rhythmically on the surface of the water. They burned and burned and wilted into ash that scattered throughout the pool. It was a beautiful experience, watching what we had created, burning so brightly and gently. It’s then that I realized—something very important. I understood that our dreams could be attained if we just had the courage to ignite them.
            “Make a wish, Mystery,” Carter said, and she stared, mesmerized as the fire reflected in her eyes.
            I made a wish too. I wished that this moment, these days, these nights, these colors, these emotions, will never fade, but of course I knew this was impossible, for I knew all moments burn to faded memories and all we’re left with is ash.
***
            Carter told me something. Something that changed my perspective for good. The first day of high school, I remember precisely. The bustle. We remained stationary in the parking lot while the morning prayer resonated over the announcements.
            “Aren’t we late?” I asked, shifting my heavy backpack off of my lap.
            “It’s fine,” Carter replied, waving his hand as if he could not be troubled by technicalities.
            “Please join us in the Lord’s Prayer.”
            “But really—it’s the first day—” I began.
            “Our father…”
            “Eilam, I need to tell you something…”
            “Who art in heaven…”
            “Whatever they teach you…”
            “Hallowed be thy name…”
            “Whatever you see…”
            “Thy kingdom come…”
            “Whoever you meet…”      
            “Thy will be done…”
            “Whatever they tell you…”
            “On earth…”
            “Whatever you learn here…”
            “As it is in heaven.”
            “Forget it.”
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