“Friends and Relatives of Rubber” by Len Kuntz
To make it easier on everyone involved, he became a rubber band. A paper airplane might have worked just as well but give him credit because his idea bespoke inventiveness, understanding, and a certain languid level of maturity.
First he burrowed into the bark of a nearby rubber tree, waiting for the drilling press. Inside he was strip-searched and boiled, reengineered and born again. He exited in a gluey river of sap that was slow to sundry but became shapely nevertheless.
Afterward he demonstrated superior elasticity.
People shot him.
He went here, he went there. Friends and relatives used him for their own purposes, much the same as before except that now there was a crisp expediency, a complicit collusion.
Not everyone had acuity, however. “What’s happened to you?” his sister asked, and when he failed to answer, she said, “Aw fuck it,” and launched him into the shallow end of their swimming pool where he sank no different than a finless fish.
Seen from below the water’s surface she resembled a David Hockney painting. “Who the hell are you?” her warbled voice chanted.
Speechless, he thought: I am a vessel a utensil a measly weapon an unused binding unit.
No one was especially impressed.
The kings and queens of the neighborhood no longer acknowledged him. The grocery store clerks—former vandal friends of his—now looked askance when he stood in line hoping to purchase cigarettes. Once he was tied and knotted to a homeless man’s dreadlocks for a fortnight, but other than that his new existence remained useless, leafless and lame all the same.
Also, he smelled disgusting, like a car tire or hippo breath, talc-y like a bad batch of heroin. He never bathed and never ate or drank. He became slender then skinny-sharp, fluid and flexible, his own acrobatic show.
Nonetheless, he was under no illusions. He knew what he was: a child, a sire, an heir maybe, someone’s hard burden. He was a son, a stepson too, a rental until eighteen. Prostitutes and backhoes, places to live for a short periods of time—all of these things could be leased as well.
On his birthday a final, fraudulent fuss was made. For appearances sake, one set of parents had a nature-themed party featuring exotic yet endangered species from the pruned plains of Africa and Australia, Mexico or North Dakota. On hand were rhinos and emus, macaws and giraffes, foreign nationals with Nehru collared shirts and felt cowboy hands. The event was a fair to middling success until the boa trainer got sidetracked telling a story and the snake swallowed a neighbor girl whom everyone—teachers, house wives, babysitters—adored. He didn’t know the girl that well, but he understood he was supposed to feel genuine gloom over her loss, and when he couldn’t generate even a pinch of sympathy, he snapped himself off a water faucet and sweated pungent regret the entire flight across town.
He arrived late to the second party because the Seattle PD had difficulty fingerprinting him.
Many of the featured guests were gone by then. Gangbanging bums looted the overflowing garbage bags and cans, adjusting their blousy pants as they did, shuffling their pistols and penises to make room for half-eaten corndogs made from imported Chicken Cordon Bleu.
He hoped no would recognize him.
He tumbled over to the tented table where wilted balloons hung from the aluminum posts like drunken grandmothers or their slackened breasts, and found what was left of the sheet cake.
Untouched but for a finger stab in the northeast corner, cursive frosting gave this enthusiastic yet vague salutation: HAPPY BIRTHDAY YOU!
He took a cigarette from his pocket and lit it. The cig tasted like a bad movie, or a celluloid strip smoldering black and gritty under an unforgiving flame. He stuck the cigarette butt through the gluey icing and flinched when it hissed back, a pissed off Satan woken from his nap.
The lawn gleamed stoner green, yet brittle tawny weeds clung along the outskirts where the neighbors lived. He lit matches, one after the other, and tossed the flaming javelins as far as his rubbery arms could stretch.
The fire crackled and burped up blackened bilge as it digested a field within seconds. It slid dance floor smooth and liquid orange.
The remaining crowd stampeded, ladies screaming, men scooping up their deluded toddlers and oxy cotton teens. Sweaters snagged and ankles sprained.
His own father and stepmother, Jamie, plowed right over him. He hit his stepmother’s breast plate and fell backwards, somersaulting in slow motion while wondering if any child had ever suckled one of those steel bullet nipples. When he landed, his father crushed his cheek, leaving a topsider imprint: the Gucci letter G.
He wished the fire would make its way to him, but the grass where he laid was soggy and soaked from Diet-Coke spills.
He inhaled the burnt odor and pictured the bottom of an urn containing cremation remains. He considered the word “remains”, rolled it around his tongue like a hairy jaw breaker, and listened to the squad of fire trucks, their sirens bleating and piercing the sky, a murdered flock of magpies.
He tucked his hands behind his head. His favorite part of a story was the end.
He opened his eyes and challenged the sun to a staring contest and never blinked, not even once his corneas were boiled.
He smiled. Even as a rubber band, he felt whole. Especially as a rubber band.
His birthday was a success, his wish granted. Rubber or real, it made no difference; he was invisible and would remain that way till the end.