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Friends, two boys, stare at each other and themselves in the slightly warped mirror in the second floor bathroom of a small house in Laurelhurst, shorts on, shirts off. They’re in fifth grade, almost exactly the same age—their birthdays are four days apart, missing by inches what to them would’ve been nothing short of an ordained miracle: brothers, twins, the way things were supposed to be. One of them has a younger sister; the other has only parents, and, standing next to his friend, in his friend’s house, he feels a deformity calmed. Their chests are concave; their feet are growing. Their arms are marbled with the musculature of tiny woodland creatures. One has an innie, the other an outie. No one is home.
One of them, the taller one, holds a hair buzzer that belongs to his father, a buzzer that has been rescued from the dank recesses of an upstairs closet in the Laurelhurst house, a closet that smells like soap and shoes and motor oil and is as dark as dark gets, and he is saying to the other that now is the time to do this; now, while his father’s at work in the motorcycle garage where he’s employed on Saturdays; now, while his mother is at the grocery store getting whatever it is mothers get at the grocery store but will include, per the boys’ special request, Fruity Pebbles, Gushers, Dr. Pepper, and frozen pizza (which is the reason they are always at this house; the other house is nothing but wheat germ and raisins, wood blocks and make-your-own-fun, early bed time and no TV, ever); now is the time, he says, now is the time.
Ethan Rutherford’s fiction has most recently appeared in Ploughshares, American Short Fiction, Esopus, New York Tyrant, Faultline and the Best American Short Stories 2009. His stories have received Special Mention in the 2009 and 2010 Pushcart Prize anthologies, and he is the recent recipient of a SASE/Jerome Foundation Grant for Emerging Writers, as well as a Minnesota State Arts Board Grant. He’s finished a collection of short stories, and is at work on a novel.
Q&A by Marie-Helene Bertino
- MB: Where did the idea for this story come from?
- ER: I’m working on a new novel—a love story that takes place in New Jersey about an epileptic radio operator. There’s puppets and particle physics in there somewhere. It’s very different than my first book, more of an international thriller. My version of Dan Brown, but a Willy Wonka Dan Brown.
- MB: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this story?
- MB: Did you base the friendship on a specific one either you or someone you know had?
- MB: The piece is peppered with references to what would have been current trends and events of the time; The Land of Boz, Back to the Future, Garbage Pail kids, Miss Pac Man arcade games, etc... How did you decide which cultural references to include?
- MB: The point of view of this piece is an amorphous, shared, intimate and shape-shifting thing. I realized on the third read that you take us into the heads of both boys, the “cool” Dad, the “camping” Dad, and the “kind” Mom. How aware were you of the point of view while writing?
- MB: What or who were your influences when writing this story?
- MB: Like most smart people, I don’t like the word fag or faggot. However, the word appears in the periphery of this piece in what I feel is a necessary and true way. Was your use of this word deliberate and placed specifically? If so, why?
- MB: Elias, “circling,” and “rumbling around the neighborhood on his skateboard” is a cousin to one of the boys and the vehicle for the boys’ eventual separation. Though the specifics of his influence are sexual in nature, I felt he more represented inevitable intrusion of the external world onto this friendship. What was your intent?
- MB: The piece culminates in a charged scene of sexual experimentation. What was your intent in leaving us as readers on such a complex moment?
- MB: What do you think will happen to the boys in What are you working on nowth grade? In college?
- MB: What are you working on now?