No Stories

Kenny avoided prison after school.

“It’s a horrible little planet,” he said.

The drugs were hidden inside a hollowed-out copy of William James’s Principles of Psychology (unabridged). Carlos stole the book. Carlos was interested in psychology. He threw away the drugs. Carlos thought the book was supposed to be empty that way. A proper clever book. Which is how Kenny gave up on the drugs.

Kenny was a little man. But gorgeous. Absolutely fucking gorgeous. He could only feel for people who couldn’t feel for him. Which was nobody. So Kenny got a dog. The dog bit Kenny. Kenny loved that dog. 

The dog took to Carlos. Carlos loved Kenny. Carlos called the dog “Kenny.” So that he could say “I love you Kenny” in front of Kenny. Carlos could have said it anyway. Kenny wouldn’t have minded. Kenny the person, that is.

Kenny grew up with all the stories. The father who. The mother who. The uncle who. The aunt who didn’t. Kenny’s ambition was to have no stories. To get through a complete span of years without making, without giving rise to, stories. 

Carlos walked into the kitchen with his dick out.

“What you doing, Kenny?”

“Looking at biscuits and thinking of stallions.”

“I love you, Kenny.”

Kenny the dog barked. Carlos put his part back in his pants and left the room.

Jacinta walked into the kitchen. Kenny didn’t know Jacinta. Kenny didn’t know anyone called Jacinta or anyone who looked like Jacinta. He thought of asking her who she was, given that he was in his own flat, but he didn’t know where that might lead.

“You’re Kenny, right?” said Jacinta.

“You know it,” said Kenny.

“You rude bastard.”

“I was just being . . . economical.”

“Why do you call my brother Carlos?”

“What?”

“He doesn’t like it, you know.”

And that was the last time Kenny saw Jacinta.

There were no stories for the longest time. Kenny died. Kenny the dog. It had eaten some bacon that had fallen behind the bin and turned green and furry. Kenny’s death wasn’t much of a story as far as Kenny, the person, thought. Not enough of a story to ruin his plan. Not enough of a story to make Kenny afraid.

Seasons are not stories. The summer arrived. Sweat ran frothing in the gutters. Sweat did not run frothing in the gutters. It was just hot, that is all. Men stripped to the waist after drinking and stood in the street outside Kenny’s flat. They stood under the lamp, punching each other slowly, wetly, tenderly. One of the men was Carlos. His partner pulled back his face, a patchwork of flaws with plenty of teeth. Smiling, or something.

Kenny sat in a wicker chair padded with cushions. The lights were out. He was watching the street. Kenny was relaxing. A large white security van with small, blue-black windows drove past every evening around this time on the way to the prison. Kenny imagined the prisoners inside the van. Sitting in the hot and the dark of the van. It was hot and dark inside the heads of the men inside the van. Kenny was relaxing.

Carlos stood behind the wicker chair, dripping on himself, dripping on the floor. Kenny had not heard him come in.

“Please turn the light on, please,” said Carlos.

The wicker creaked and the lamp came on.

The room was moldy and steamy, dusty and untidied, three old gray tv sets pyramided against a wall, a green bench stolen from a garden center, a rickety little table of the same complexion, and a lemon tree in a pot, brown-leaved and, to all appearances, dead. 

While the room was being described, Kenny had left and returned with a voluminous, clean white towel. He enfolded Carlos in the towel. Carlos moaned like a cat. Kenny stepped away with his hands in the air, the internationally recognized gesture for retreat or surrender or something else.

Kenny had a job, which he didn’t talk about. Carlos was a baker. He rose at four and walked to the bakery. He returned at three with a carrier bag of bread, croissants, and jam tarts. Carlos made Kenny breakfast. Kenny never said: “Tell me about your day.” Kenny did say: “Thank you. Thank you for breakfast, Carlos.” And Kenny, regardless of the weather, put his jacket on, chose an umbrella from the array of half a dozen stuffed into a bucket in the hall, and left for work.

This happened every working day. Weekends were different.

“I don’t know how to explain it to you,” said Carlos. Carlos hesitated. He stopped altogether. He did not explain himself. “Let’s go to the park,” said Carlos.

In the park everyone was having a weekend. There was sunshine. The trees seemed greener and more alive. Children appeared benign. An old man with twelve-hole boots and drainpipe trousers capered in front of Kenny and Carlos on the path to the playground. He turned around. His venerable black leather jacket had been recently re-lettered in white ink with the words kleenex, slits, raincoats, and ludus. He ran onto the bright grass and stamped on the passive clay, shouting obscenities from his toothless mouth at no one in particular.

“I like to be distracted,” said Kenny. “Or not distracted,” he added quickly.

Carlos had brought a blanket. He laid it on the ground where the old man had danced. Kenny lay down. Carlos walked over to the café near the paddling pool. All the people screaming were children. Carlos bought two ice creams.

Kenny stood up and waited. Kenny lay completely flat on the sun-warmed rug, farted briefly, softly, and fell asleep. There were dreams, probably. A man in cut-off denim shorts, a tight peach-colored tee shirt, and cheap plastic flip-flops walked up and stood over Kenny. He bent over neatly at the waist, thumb and forefinger extended like a fleshy beak, and pinched Kenny’s chunky wallet out of his jean pocket. A small crowd gathered around the scene. The would-be thief opened the wallet and took out pieces of folded paper with words written on them in black ink. He diligently worked his way through the slips, rags, and leaves, selected a single note, and smoothly slipped the wallet back in the pocket. He gently patted Kenny’s bottom and flip-flopped away toward the tennis courts. The crowd, it transpired not known to one another, dispersed, variously bored, satisfied, distracted, and indifferent.

Carlos returned with the ice creams. Kenny sat upright as Carlos neared.

“You didn’t ask me if I wanted an ice cream,” said Kenny. “You didn’t ask me what kind of ice cream I wanted.”

“And such big portions,” said Carlos.

“Thank you for my ice cream,” said Kenny.

“Are you paying attention?” said Kenny.

“What?” said Carlos.

“Very funny,” said Kenny.

“Eat your ice cream,” said Carlos. 

Kenny was smiling, which Carlos found unsettling, pleasing, provoking, exciting, amusing, and confusing. Smiles are supposed to go with sunshine. Ordinary smiles. Kenny’s smiles were rare until this moment. After this moment Kenny began to smile often. Even going so far as to smile at times that were not, strictly speaking, appropriate. This would make Carlos smile.

“Would you like me to move out?” said Carlos.

“No,” said Kenny.

“Would you like me to stay?” said Carlos.

“Yes,” said Kenny.

“Would you like it if I continued to stay?” said Carlos.

“Yes,” said Kenny.

“A very little? A little? A lot? A great deal?”

“A great deal,” said Kenny.

“Don’t call me Carlos,” said Carlos.

“OK,” said Kenny.

“So, tell me . . .” said Carlos.

“OK,” said Kenny.

“Thinking of some sort goes on,” Kenny began. “Very little of this thought is sensibly continuous. Many objects merge into one, or rather some indistinguishable number that might be large or small or nothing. Exclusion happens all the while. All the while is what I can’t bear thinking.”

“Yes, yes,” said Carlos. He cocked his head to one side, tucked a stray strand of hair behind his left ear, and readjusted his sunglasses. “I bet you know some stories, eh? Lots of stories. All kinds.”

“No . . . no . . .” said Kenny, “. . . well, yes. Yes, I do.” 

And Kenny finished his ice cream, lay down, and went back to sleep.

 

David Hayden was born in Ireland and lives in England. His writing has appeared in The Stinging Fly, Granta Online, Zoetrope: All-Story, The Dublin Review, AGNI, and A Public Space. His work has also appeared in the anthology Being Various: New Irish Writing (Faber, 2019), edited by Lucy Caldwell, and has aired on BBC and RTÉ radio. His first book, Darker with the Lights on, was published by Transit Books in 2017.