Know My Name by Davis Slater

Editor Matty Byloos, Fiction, December 25th, 2014

I could get her there, pretty sure. I could make her hurt.

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I only ever wanted her to know my name.

Ten-year reunion, and they’re all in the gym, feeling secretly thrilled to hold fragile plastic cups of bad beer in the school. The guys wear blazers and dress shoes. The ladies wear fake smiles with their mouths open. They tell us to put our high school nicknames on our Hi, I’m Blank stickers. I pass.

If it had all worked out back then, everybody would know my name but I wouldn’t be here. I would still be inside, maybe forever. And for sure nobody would have wanted me at the reunion once I got out. I’m not sure anyone wants me here now; not even me.

There is somebody I need to see, though. She will need to look at my sticker to know my name because she sure as fuck never did before.

Everybody knew her, though. Now that I think about it, she always had a nametag on. She wore the same school jacket with her name stitched on it for years. She put little tie-tack pins through the big, blocky letter B on the front whenever she joined Track or Band or FFA. Hers and two other girls’ were the only ones with the fake sheepskin collars, fifty dollars more than the regular version. When somebody wraps that kind of jacket around your head, the insides of the pins make marks on your face and clack on your teeth.

 

“Cami? I saw her… that way, by the sign, but it looks like she’s not there now. She might have moved?”

 

She called me “Puff.” They all did. That or “Stay-Puff” or “Stay-Puff-Marshmallow-Man” or “Puff the Tragic Hardon” or “Loser.” Her and her friends. She hung out with a lot of guys and three or four girls from her church, assholes up and down the line. They all rode the same bus as me, until I could scrape together enough money to get my car legal and out of the barn. They shouted names at me as soon as I got on the bus, and they didn’t stop until we got to school or home or wherever else we were going. They made up games to tease me, and asked trick questions, or just held my arms or sat on me and punched me. “He likes it! Go ahead!” The girls would say “Ow!” when they punched me if they hadn’t done it before, and pretend to get mad at me for hurting their knuckles.

 

“Cami? I didn’t know you knew her. I think she went outside to smoke.”

 

I was a big kid, for sure. Two-fifty at the beginning of freshman year, and close to three hundred by the end. Big, but no muscle tone. I spent all my time in my room, watching videos and eating Totino’s pizza and Doritos. Two-liter bottles of Coke or Cherry Coke.

One of the guys my mom brought home for a month tried to take me under his wing, I guess. He made me a punching bag out of a burlap sack and a pillowcase and a bunch of spilled flax from the grain elevator and some chains. Hung it up in my room. Showed me how to hit it with my thumb outside my fingers so I wouldn’t break it. Told me a man was easy pickings if he didn’t know how to make a fist and throw a punch. She drove him out in a big screaming fight over shampoo and I never saw him again. Louis.

 

“Puff! How are you doin’, man? Oh, I should ask, is it okay if I call you ‘Puff?’ This is my wife Wanda. Wanda, Puff. …Cami? No, we just got here.”

 

She was the worst. She always laughed loudest, and she had a voice that cut through everyone. She was the last one to hit me.

I got to be a connoisseur of punches Freshman year. Wrestler Greg and Shotputter Joe would each take an arm and get me in the way back of the bus where I couldn’t move. Wrestler Greg would grab a handful of my hair. They would say, “Come on” and “He likes it” and “Fuck, Droopy saw me in the rear-view, wait a minute.” I spent most days curled up around the hot bruises on my belly and my chest, looking like the girls when they got their periods and had to have a couple friends hover by them all day. The only difference is they cried and I never cried. I laughed.

 

“Cami? I haven’t seen her, but she better be here. She’s supposed to do the awards with me later. Secret crush?”

 

Cami wasn’t pretty. Her hair was three kinds of dirty brown and she wore it in greasy, fucked-up braids. She was rich enough to have straight teeth and clean jeans and new Reeboks all the time, though, and she was mean, so that was “pretty” for a lot of guys. In the back of the bus, she’d be making out with a guy in one seat while everybody else punched me next door. They’d say, “Cami, hit him. Hit him!” She’d say, “Not worth my time.”

 

“Cami? Um… bathroom, maybe? I really don’t know.”

 

She just broke up with a guy, Allan. She was pissed off, hard, mostly because he made her give back his letterman jacket. A guy from Shop was punching me in the chest and I was laughing. I saw her hurting, and I smelled blood. Thought maybe they’d leave me alone if they could pick on her instead. I said, “Looks like you got your old jacket back. What happened to the nice one?” A bunch of people said “OOOOOOO!” and “I heard that!” and “Puff for the burn!” She looked wounded at me like I was so mean she couldn’t believe it. Then, in just a snap, she changed back into herself. Wrestler Greg said, “You want to hit him?” She stood up. “I want to kiss him.”

 

“Cami? Fuck, I kind of hoped she wouldn’t show. Sorry, that’s mean. Did you guys go out or something?”

 

She stood right in front of me. “Oh, Puff, I’ve never had the heart to tell you, but I love you. I love you so much, I don’t care who knows it. I LOVE THIS FAT FUCK PUFF.” Everybody laughed.

 

“Cami? Nope. Have you seen Beth?”

 

“Hold him back.” She put out her arms to me like she was longing to touch me but I was just out of reach. “Puff. Puff. You’re my dream.” “Puff, I want to spend my life with you.” “Oh, Puff, why won’t you come to me?” I said, “What, because nobody else wants you?” She said, “I’ll hit him.”

 

“Sally? Oh, Cami. I can’t hear anything over the stupid AC/DC. Did we really listen to this shit?”

 

She balled up her fists and squeezed her braids for a second, trying not to cry. Then she put both fists out beside her head and looked for a good spot to hurt me. I said, “Wait.” She did. “What, you stupid fat fuck Puff?” I said, “Put your thumbs outside your fists or you’ll break them off.” Everybody laughed except her. She went blood red. “Make him stop looking at me! Here!” She threw her jacket over my head and Shotputter Joe pulled it tight so the pins were right against me. Cami punched me with pretty good fists and no strength about a hundred million times. “Fucking Puff! Fucking loser Puff! Take the goddamn jacket back!”

 

“Thank you all for coming. Oh my God, you guys, I can’t believe it’s been ten years. Can you even believe it? We have a ton of awards.”

 

I borrowed two hundred dollars from my mom and got my car legal when she was going out with a car guy. Sophomore year, I stopped riding the bus. Junior year, I stopped coming home. I lost a lot of weight. I got strong. I saw Cami maybe once a month, and it’s not like we ever talked. And then I found a place to take her.

 

“The award for worst hair… what is it? ‘Worst hair progression from now to then?’ Shouldn’t it be the other way around?”

 

I got a job at the gas station, and I got a discount on fuel. I drove around a lot, out in the country. Came up with a place nobody would ever, ever find her. Old water tank where a house burned down, and it was far enough away from the road so you wouldn’t know she was even there unless you were right on top of her. I bought two things of duct tape. I bought a two-liter bottle of Coke and a box of granola bars so she wouldn’t starve. She could have one if she said my name right. I stole her jacket to wrap around her head when I didn’t want her to look at me.

 

“Oh, I know who gets this one. Worst dancer!”

 

It was one of those things where you make all the preparation and then can’t remember why you ever thought it was a good idea in the first place. I walked through all the steps in my head. I could get her there, pretty sure. I could make her hurt. I could make her say my name a million times and make her beg me for food. But so what? So she’d know how much I hurt? Like she ever would. So I could teach her a lesson? What the hell kind of lesson is that? And if I was going to hurt somebody, why her instead of the big guys who had held me down? Was it because she was still small and they were even bigger now? Wouldn’t that make me just another bully picking on an easy target? Plus I was sure I’d have to go to jail, maybe forever, and live with who knows what kind of hell, for what? I threw the duct tape in the water tank and left it there. I put her jacket back in her locker with the granola bars. It was the first time I remember not feeling like a loser.

 

“Cami? No, she left right after the awards.”

 

I go outside to call my sponsor. “First I couldn’t find her and then she left before I could talk to her.” A light touch on my arm and I drop the phone.

“Hey, Tom. I like your jacket. You were looking for me?”

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If you liked this piece of fiction, you might enjoy one of our monthly response columns on the subject of Violence, here.

Header image courtesy of Amoxi.

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writer davis slaterDavis Slater earned an MFA from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. His writing has recently appeared in The Masters Review, Gobshite Quarterly, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, and elsewhere. Lidia Yuknavitch said his forthcoming Southern Gothic novel Selling Sin at the Hoot-Possum Auction “has the strongest voice I’ve read in about twenty-five years.”

 

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Matty Byloos

Matty Byloos is Co-Publisher and a Contributing Editor for NAILED. He was born 7 days after his older twin brother, Kevin Byloos. He is the author of 2 books, including the novel in stories, ROPE ('14 SDP), and the collection of short stories, Don't Smell the Floss ('09 Write Bloody Books).