“THAT’S THE LAST TIME,” MY FATHER YELLED, pounding the arm of his flowered dusty-rose armchair. “I mean it—?I’m not gonna take this crap anymore. This is no way to start the summer.”
“What are you gonna do about it?” I yelled back, stomping up the stairs and slamming my door. The room buzzed with the electricity of our screams, and my hands shook as I placed the record on the turntable: the Replacements singing “Unsatisfied.” I let the sweet, sad sound of the guitar calm me down. The joint helped too.
“Carrie, put that out.” His voice rode the line between pleading and pissed. “I can smell it from down here.”
I flung open the door. “I stole it from you,” I yelled down the stairs. “You’re such a hypocrite.”
“Don’t call me that! It’s Carrie!” I knew I was screaming so loud that the neighbors in the giant house next door could probably hear me, but that only made me scream louder, so loud my voice began to crack. “Why did you guys have to name me after a loaf of rye bread?” I stomped down the stairs and threw one of my jelly shoes at him, and he ducked. Then he stopped. He just stood there, stunned and irate, his whole face descended into blankness, as if he had sudden-onset Alzheimer’s and didn’t know anymore who he was or who I was or how we had gotten there. Which was probably the case.
I was still heaving with all that anger, breathing hard. It welled up in me sometimes, a fiery asteroid of it. It just took over in my bones. But when he froze, I did too. We stared at each other for a minute, and then it was as if he crumbled, his whole six-foot frame collapsing into that armchair, the one that had become his makeshift home since our family fell apart. I could hardly hear him, he was whispering so low. So I had to step closer. And then closer.
“We didn’t name you after rye bread,” he was saying. “It’s a spice.”
He looked up at me, and I thought for a second he was going to reach up and hug me, and a terrible pool of feeling, not one particular feeling but just a messy stew of everything, started flooding me, and I felt like I had to throw something or break something or cut something or smoke something, and I let out an enormous grunt, like a white dwarf star, collapsed and out of gas.
He put his head into his hands and started whispering again. He was saying, “I just don’t know what to do with you. I don’t know how to help you. It’s getting worse, and I don’t know what to do.”
What he did was ground me. I had arrived home reeking of cigarettes and pot, nearly falling into the house at six p.m. when I was supposed to be at work ringing up fingerless gloves and neon half shirts at Dot’s Duds. I’d never shown up, and most likely Dot had called him. Most likely I’d been fired. Again. This was, as he’d said, no way to start the summer.
So he laid down the law: no going out with friends. No walking downtown to buy records. No going to Soo’s, where I was supposed to be by nine o’clock. Worst of all: no going up to the roof to monitor the progress of the Vira comet, otherwise known as 11P/Alexandrov, which any day now would blast through the sky, this ball of ice and dust that grew a tail of gas when it neared the sun, as it would this summer for the first time since 1890. It only came around every ninety-seven years.
I was eleven when my parents first took me and my sisters up to the observatory to see Mars at opposition—?when the planet is closest to Earth and all lit up by the sun, a beautiful, almost orchestral eruption of light. Even then, before the accident, something about the laws of the universe made so much more sense to me than shop class and school dances and the elusive species known as boys. The story of how Earth hangs there in the sky, tied to the sun but always turning away, day after day, as if trying to escape: that was a story I understood. Unlike my family, which even then seemed to have some green patina of dysfunction—?translucent, but always there—?that pure, rule-bound vision I saw through my telescope made all the sense in the world.
The telescope, unfortunately, had disappeared about three months ago, just before my mom took off and things went from worse to worst. Punishment for another one of the terrible things I’d done, I assumed, but I still had the roof. Until now. “You have to at least let me up there,” I begged my father. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Maybe twice if I live to be a hundred and thirteen. Or three times if I hit two ten.”
I thought I saw a smile creeping to the corners of his lips—the roof had been our spot, once upon a time, the telescope our shared obsession. But he just said, “Add it to the list of life’s disappointments.”
I stomped back upstairs and blasted X’s “Real Child of Hell,” collapsing on my bed, pulling the star sheets that my mom had bought me years ago up over my head. My mom wouldn’t have punished me. My mom would have defended me, saying, Paul, sweetie, lay off—?she’s just a teenager. Let’s let her be. Let’s choose to trust her. But maybe she’d learned not to say that kind of thing anymore.
Since there was no talking on the phone, I couldn’t even tell Soo of this next level of injustice (she was the only one to whom I revealed my secret nerd-dom) or that I couldn’t show up at her house that night. Impossible to sneak it, either, because we were a one-phone household, just our touchtone mounted to the wall in the kitchen, the beige plastic smudged from how often Rosie and I talked on it, and fought over it. My dad had had to replace it twice in the last year, after I ripped it from the wall in one of what he called my “fits.”
Now Rosie was standing outside my locked door, yelling, “Turn it down, please—?I’m trying to study!” Rosie was the only person I knew who went to summer school voluntarily.
“You should stop studying and have some fun,” I called, kind of meaning it. Every once in a while I liked Rosie. Now was not one of those times. “School’s out, for crying out loud.”
“You should stop having so much fun and start studying,” she yelled back.
I put the Pixies EP on the turntable and used all of my concentration to place the needle on the record and pretend I couldn’t hear her through the door.
“I wish you would just leave, Carrie!” Her footsteps receded down the hallway.
Why hadn’t I thought of that?
“Great idea!” I called out. If my father caught me, I’d just tell him Rosie had told me to go. At some point in our family history, Rosie would have to do something wrong. My s...