Eventually, I broke protocol and entered the padded cell so that we might read the play together in person. That’s how taken I was with your ability to breathe life into Shakespeare’s lines.
We acted out Hamlet for weeks, and the drugs we gave you started to work—you lost the wild look in your eyes and eventually began to speak to me like a regular human being. Only you weren’t regular at all—you were full of magic.
I remember the first thing you said too, when you finally broke character. You said, “Can I take you to dinner sometime?”
It was a ridiculous thing to say, since you were locked up.
But I laughed, and you smiled.
You began to tell me the story of your life, and I broke protocol again by telling you mine.
I began to take you out into the world—partly to show my superiors how I had tamed the wild man with my science, reclaimed his mind for the good of society, but mostly because I was in love with you.
As you will learn, my father was a high-ranking military man during the Great War and many of the North American Land Collective leaders owe him favors. It wasn’t really all that hard to get both of us transferred to Outpost 37 under his command.
Once the paperwork was complete, after I had finished my drug study and vitamin Z was introduced successfully into the controlled population, we were flown by helicopter to Outpost 37.
My father threw open his arms and said, “Welcome home.”
You and Dad took to each other right away, and he presided over our wedding a few weeks later when we discovered that I was pregnant.
That’s right, Leonard. You’ll be hearing from our daughter next. You love S even more than you love me, and I don’t mind that one bit, because I love you both to death.
You are a fantastic dad.
And I know that your childhood wasn’t all that great—that you felt a lot of pain, and that you are in a lot of pain right now. But maybe you have to go through all that so you’ll learn just how important having a happy childhood can be, so you will provide one for our daughter.
I wish I could send you a video or a picture of you and S playing in the water with Horatio the dolphin. If you could see that, you’d know that all of the pain you have to endure to get here, where you are happy in the future, is most definitely worth it.
Even though she’s getting too old to be sleeping with us, she still falls asleep with her head on your chest every night. You kiss the top of her hair before you man the lighthouse with Dad and me.
We send out the beam for twenty minutes, and then conserve energy for twenty minutes, repeating the forty-minute cycle all night long. Three or so minutes before we switch the light back on, after our eyes have just begun to adjust to the dark, you and I always go out onto the observation deck, to search for shooting stars. There are a lot these days and we’ve been keeping track of who spots the most. This year I’m beating you 934 to 812. We’re hoping to get to 1,000 each before the year ends, and it’s looking good.
And we kiss every time we spot a shooting star too.
So we’ve kissed 1,746 times on the observation deck this year alone, and many more times have we kissed elsewhere.
I like that you are so affectionate with me. You always say you’re making up for lost time and that you wished we could have met earlier in life, so that we would have been able to spend more time together.
It’s a good life, Leonard.
The future is better.
We have so much sex!
Your daughter is beautiful.
And my dad becomes a dad to you too—just like you always wanted.
Just hold on, okay?
My friend Baback is of Iranian descent, but when I first met him, he used to tell everyone he was Persian, because most American teenagers don’t know that Iran used to be Persia, and most American teens have watched enough news to hate Iran.
Back when he was a freshman, if you gave Baback some wrinkles and a salt-and-pepper beard he’d look exactly like the current Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which could cause him problems, especially during patriotic times like 9/11 anniversaries, and whenever Ahmadinejad made anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, and anti-American comments, which was all the time.26
At the very least you would have thought that Baback definitely could be related to Ahmadinejad, that’s how much he used to look like the Iranian president.
I met Baback during freshmen orientation right after he came to America and ended up in our school. For a year I saw him around the halls looking tiny and terrified, dressed in really formal clothes—like if you gave him a tie, he’d be a prep school kid in a uniform. He had a backpack that was bigger than him, and he was always carrying this violin case—like everywhere he went. He wouldn’t leave it in a locker, except during gym class, when he was forced to—I know because we had gym together as sophomores.
There was this one gym class where we were playing floor hockey and our teacher Mr. Austin got called away on some sort of business for ten minutes. Baback and I were on the same team and not really participating all that much. We were sort of just standing in the middle of the gym holding sticks, watching everyone else chase and slap at a little orange ball.
Asher Beal was on the other team and just as soon as he saw that Mr. Austin was no longer in the gym, he slap-shot the ball at Baback. It hit him right between the eyes. Baback blinked a few times in this really comical way, that made everyone else laugh, but I could tell that Baback was actually hurt so I didn’t laugh. I remember feeling hot, like my face was on fire, because I already wanted to kill Asher Beal back then, but I still thought I might want a future so I wasn’t really actively planning his execution, well not consciously anyway.
I saw all of the stupid übermorons with whom Asher now hangs exchange glances and then they all started to smile in this really creepy way. It was almost like they were a flock of evil birds or a school of evil fish, because they all instinctively reacted in unison without even talking.
Do übermorons excrete pheromones?
Everyone started to pass to Baback, and just as soon as his stick touched the ball, Asher or one of his übermoron cronies cross-checked Baback so hard he became airborne. Baback tried to flick away the orange ball really quickly, as if that could protect him, but they kept checking him whether he had the ball or not. He was getting killed, and I wanted to tell him to stay down or run up into the stands, but it was like he didn’t want to believe that he was being targeted for violence. It’s like he had to believe we were all better than that here in America. Maybe because that’s what his parents told him when he left Iran—America is better.
Several people checked Baback before Asher lined up a shot that sent the little Iranian kid flying into the stands. His feet went up above his head and I heard his skull thump the wooden bleacher slat.
Almost everyone27 was laughing really hard, because Baback’s body spun around like a windmill and now his feet were in the air, his torso stuck in the bleachers.
But Baback didn’t get up this time.
“Come on,” Asher said to Baback, like they were friends. “You’re okay.”
Asher sort of pulled Baback out of the stands and you could tell Baback was woozy because he was swaying like a field of wheat in a beer commercial.
“Welcome to America,” Asher said—even though Baback had been in our school for more than a year—and then Asher patted Baback on the back twice.
Whenever I replay this memory, I see myself running, and before I know it I’ve left my feet and I’m a flying cross-check. In my mind, my hockey stick turns into a samurai sword and I decapitate Asher with an awesome swipe so that his head flies through the air and right through the basketball net.
But in real life, I just stood there.
In the locker room they started in on Baback again while he was changing.
“What’s this?” Asher asked as he plucked the violin case from Baback’s locker.
Baback was trying to get his pants on and actually fell over. His little naked brown chest was concave. His nipples were purple-black. “That’s my grandfather’s violin. Careful. Please. It’s been in my family for generations!” Baback’s eyes were wide open—he looked terrified.
No one was really paying me any attention, so I snuck up behind Asher and snatched the violin out of his hands before he realized what was going on.
“Peacock?” Asher said.
I gave the violin back to Baback, and he clutched it to his chest like it was a baby.
“You touch him or his violin again and I tell everyone the secret,” I said. The words just came out of my mouth before I could think. Suddenly my heart was pounding and my tongue was bone dry. But I added, “I swear to god. I’ll tell everyone. Everyone!”
Asher’s eyes got really small because he knew exactly what I was referring to, but he said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Peacock. You’re so fucking weird.”
Asher laughed and then turned away from Baback and me.
I could tell that some of Asher’s friends were like—What secret?—and that was my power over Asher Beal back then.
He backed down from me, and that cost him.
Baback just got changed and left the locker room without even thanking me or anything, which depressed me a little, truth be told.
Just to make sure he was okay, I looked for Baback next period at lunch, but he wasn’t there, which was strange because all sophomores had the same cafeteria time.
The next day in gym I watched to make sure Asher and his übermoron cronies left Baback alone, and they did. So halfway through gym class, as we both pretended to play floor hockey, I jogged up to Baback and said, “Why weren’t you in lunch yesterday? Did you go to the nurse?”
“I don’t want any trouble,” Baback said without looking at me. His eyes followed the little orange ball that the rest of our gym class was running after and slapping at. “Just leave me alone.”
No one messed with Baback in the locker room either, which made me feel a little proud.
I decided to follow Baback when the period was over and I watched him meet the janitor at the auditorium. The janitor let Baback in and then left. The auditorium is in a part of the school that isn’t used for much else, so there’s usually no one around there. I looked through the window in the door and watched Baback take his violin out of the case, tune, and then begin to practice.
To say he was amazing would be an understatement.
He was world-class at fifteen—better than anyone you will ever hear play the violin.
A musical wizard.
I watched through the glass and listened to that little tiny boy make gigantic swirls of rising and falling notes that made my chest ache and ache.
It was so beautiful.
The best part was that he closed his eyes and kept nodding to the rhythm of his bow sawing, and you could tell that when he played his violin, he wasn’t a tiny misplaced Iranian boy living in a secretly racist town—no, he was a god in complete control of his world.
It was like the violin bow was a magic wand, and the vibrations that came out of the holes cut into that little wooden instrument were a force that few could reckon with.