From The Lost Chapter by Eireann Corrigan
His name wasn’t Ben; it was Jim. I changed it for the book and have felt guilty for that since. But back then I felt guilty for other reasons—the brief mentions of him, the fact that I wrote a whole book for a whole other boy. In that book, he was only a side story. But his name was Jim, and he loved to snowboard and was so skinny that he was always cold and wore long johns under his clothes in the winter.
He wrote poetry and that’s how we met. I was in high school, had just been released from the hospital and wore that like some kind of sophistication. I wore heels all the time and mentioned my “recovery” often in front of strangers. I still threw up, still lived for days on sugar-free Jell-O and diet soda. I still fit in clothes from the sixth grade. And every Thursday I dragged my friends to the open mic at this place called Café News in New Brunswick, New Jersey. And read poems about all that crap. Recovery, my ass.
He and his friends always sat at the corner wooden table with the chessboard painted on the top, and he was the only one whose poems didn’t suck. He spoke slowly like he was smoking a cigarette but exhaling words. I couldn’t look at him unless he was on stage, sitting on the stool beneath the spotlight, because I felt weird staring at a table full of college guys. And then when I read, I made eye contact with anyone in the crowd except him. When he went to the counter to get coffee, I’d follow behind him, just to get to know him a little better, just to have the chance to memorize how his shoulders looked beneath his shirt.
Daniel, the kid I wrote most of my poems about, was in college and on acid and generally unavailable. And this guy had even bluer eyes and wrote poems and went to Rutgers nearby. I didn’t have to wait for winter break to see him. I spent two months making sure we stood next to each other on the coffee line, spent rides home giggling to my friends because he and I had smiled at each other, or moaning because we didn’t. And then I finally wrote a poem called “in place of my phone number, for someone who won’t ask for it.” Stood up and read it right at him. I could hardly believe that I did it. And that something so embarrassing could actually work—that night he strolled up to me and introduced himself and told my friend Nicole that he’d drive me home that night.
My parents approved of him so intensely that they moved my curfew back an hour, even though he had hair to his shoulders and drove a red sports car and my brother said he looked like he smoked weed. Which he did. Most nights we went back to his dorm room instead of whatever movie we claimed to be seeing. His was the first body I really understood, really got to know. And I trusted him with mine in a way that had previously seemed impossible. Some anorexics get flashy with their frailness. I didn’t—I wore layers and layers of clothes, and hated to be embraced. But with Jim it was different. Maybe because he was so skinny—we wore the same size pants. Or maybe it was just his gentleness, his immense kindness. We’d sit in his car and he’d play a tape of Lou Reed singing “I’ll be your mirror.” He brushed my hair. When we first had sex, I didn’t cry, but he did. And then he teased me for keeping on my socks the whole time.
Back then, I was obsessed with the idea of sleeping next to someone else. For me that meant true love, that meant romance. I remember thinking what a luxury it would be to sleep curled against him for a whole night, to not have to throw our clothes on and speed to my house by midnight. Sometimes we’d get back to my house early and watch TV in the darkened den just so that I could doze off with my head on his chest. And Jim would ease out from under me, tuck a blanket around me, and let himself out.
On Thursdays, we sat together at the café and read maudlin poems about each other at the open mic. His poems begged me to eat and mine begged him to quit bugging me to eat. We went to vintage shops and tried on silver suits and velvet hats. My sister managed a bookstore and hired Jim, so I’d sit in one of the armchairs reading while he shelved magazines. For some reason we liked to park his little red car in church lots and fool around. He loved carrot cake and I learned to make it from scratch. We traded books and left notes for each other in their margins.
I wasn’t a good girlfriend. Maybe because I spent so much time hurting myself, I developed a talent for damage. Maybe because I was still so hung up on Daniel. Because I’d missed so much while I was in the hospital for my eating disorders, maybe I felt like the world owed me something and back then Jim was the main deliveryman. I ended up resenting his gentleness. When my thick acceptance envelope came from Sarah Lawrence College, he saw it as a new open mic and a life without curfews. But it looked to me like an exit strategy.
And then that June, we ran into Daniel on the street outside Café News. He was home from college and when I saw him it felt the same way it always did when I saw him—like my lungs had suddenly turned themselves inside out and pressed my heart up my throat. For a second we all stood there on the sidewalk, the three of us shifting our weight and studying the pavement. Somehow I managed to introduce them. The two of them shook hands and I wanted Daniel to suffer a little, seeing me with someone else. I hung on Jim and then spent too much time watching Daniel walk away. Jim and I sat in the car and yelled at each other until it was time to take me home. Almost a month later, we were pretty much breaking up, but we went to a party in the garden of one of Jim’s professors, danced on the patio and drank wine out of ceramic mugs. Days later I found the article in the newspaper about how Daniel had been found shot on his cellar floor. And everything else stopped mattering then.
There’s a whole book about the summer I sat next to Daniel’s hospital bed, watching the monitors and machines like they were some soap opera marathon. You Remind Me of You was so slim and narrow and we pretty much figured it couldn’t hold that much recklessness, so many lousy decisions. So Jim became Ben and that story got streamlined into a sudden, unexpected, and terrible event. But the truth is more complicated than that.
From 53 killers: an introduction by Markus Zusak
My name is Henry Shipps.
I have a face like darkness. I have a smile like an uncomfortable tide.
My father is Arnold Shipps.
My mother is Zelda Shipps.
Arnold Shipps also has a darkness face, but he has a smile like a shoulder. Zelda Shipps has red hair. Her face is white and a little bit gray, like the clouds.
The truth about me is that people like to call me a freak. This is through every fault of my own, considering that I am sixteen and I like to drift. I rarely speak. My voice sounds like a crooked trolley. I am like a rainy day. I am needed but no one really wants me. Still, I smile about this fact. I find the time.
Also, I can play the flute.
I like to play it at the cemetery.
Dead people are quite kind.
But they never clap.
As to the point of these pages, I have discovered something.
I have discovered that there are 53 killers in all of us.
53 killers in a human leaf.
53 killers in you,
and in me.
killer #1: fear
You might think me strange for playing my flute in the cemetery, but it’s not really so freakish, or perhaps sinister, as you might think.
It’s Aretha who makes me do it.
Aretha’s a lovely girl.
She’s not so good-looking as other girls. She has a pimple or two and she has brown hair. She isn’t too skinny either and she has pretty average legs.
But she can certainly be beautiful, on her day.
She’s mildly popular and ignores me at school and other public places. I do not despise or blame her for this. People think me strange, and I’d hate for her to also be considered as such, by association.
Aretha comes to the cemetery on Saturday mornings, when I work there. Mostly I dig graves, but if no people have died recently I do some gardening work. More people die than you think.
My boss, Mr. Hutchinson, is what you would call a burly man. He’s always in a suit and a crooked tie. He refuses to buckle to progress; therefore I dig graves manually rather than scoop them out with machinery. Another thing about Mr. Hutchinson is that he does not necessarily like me. In fact, I’d say he tolerates me, implying consistently that I am bludging. I think this arose from the time I finished digging a grave and Aretha jumped in and I played my flute for her. He caught us.
There are many worse things to catch people doing.
Saturday is routine, like this:
My alarm clock goes off at 6 A.M.
My cornflakes are earthquakes in the still of morning.
I brush my teeth.
I go to work.
If I see on the news, like I did a few nights ago, that some deaths have occurred, I know it will be a long day.
A few nights ago, three clumsy-headed youths tried to hold up a service station and one shot the other through the chest.
The odds are that he will be buried in a grave that I have dug.
Unless they burn him.
Personally, I would like to be burned when I die.
I fear death quite heavily.
But I have felt a fear greater than death once before. It concerns my alarm clock.
It was Christmas and I wanted to get up and watch The Little Drummer Boy and Frosty the Snowman on the television, and in my excitement I woke up too early. In the orange-lit lounge room, I watched the legendary yuletide cartoons. I forgot to switch off the alarm and when it went off and I didn’t hear it, Arnold Shipps went in and smashed the clock to pieces on the floor.
He then walked back to bed, just as Frosty came to life – “HAP-PY BIRTH-DAY!!!”
Next, my mother, Zelda Shipps, stormed through the lounge room, went outside, smashed the mugs my dad had bought her with her consent for Christmas, then returned and picked up a board game called Careers. When she re-entered the bedroom, she threw it at him.
A dry shower of fake money floated down around them.
She also threw her quite heavy jewelry box at my father’s head.
The damage was not permanent.
_____________A certain fear killed me that day, but I survived.