The Fever / by Rita Twan

It was my brother’s idea but I guess I was the one who picked up the hatchet and did it. Dad always passed out on the couch in the living room, I don’t know when it started, but he either didn’t notice or just didn’t care. Mom though, she just slid against the wall and sat on the floor shaking her head. She must’ve cried for a few hours, but she did that most nights anyway. Right after I did it, Jake was still excited, his eyes wild. But I remember later that same night we stood in front of the microwave watching the chicken nuggets rotate clockwise and then a shakey counterclockwise (ever since that time Dad hurled it at me and it hit the counter instead) and Jake said, “Shit, Pete. We fucked up. We really fucked up.”

Even when the house started to smell, probably from the rot and decay, and that smell took over and masked the beer smell from the living room, I still didn’t feel regret. I had my eyes on the prize. I remembered why we did it. It was out of love. The heaviest love, the kind that knocks it out of you and you don’t even know if it took over your brain or your heart or your dick and then you realize it actually took your whole body like some alien abduction in a movie.

Jake saw her first because the juniors and the seniors share the early lunch period, but I know I fell in love with her first, and harder. That’s why the hatchet was in my hands and not his. Her name was Diane and the first day she came to our school her silver Corolla still had her Jersey license plate. It was the first time we had two girls in the school with the same name and somehow Diane Feinstein became Diane F. and Diane from Jersey got to be just Diane.

I forgot my phone at home that day and didn’t get the texts from Shaun or Freddie about the new girl. Shaun and Freddie were in 11th grade with Diane so they spent the entire day with her in every class and they texted the rest of the team about her until after school when we drove to the town over for football practice. I didn’t have my license yet because I was just a sophomore so I was in Shaun’s car when I first saw her. He was just about to accelerate out of the parking lot when he slammed his brakes. I remember the right side of my face hit into the back of Shaun’s headrest and I saw his arm shoved out the window, “Yo man that’s her.”

I knew right away who he was pointing at even though she was on the other side of the parking lot. She was walking with the twins and the twins never hung out with or walked with anyone else. The twins were a little fat and had short, curly hair that most of the time I didn’t even remember or notice was blonde. But Diane was sandwiched between them with her long brown hair and her beauty stood out even more against the matching white and blonde bobbing blurs next to her. We watched her wave to the twins and get into her Corolla before Shaun finally released the break and stepped on the gas. We were late to practice that day and Coach P. made us run laps, but I didn’t even care because all I could think about was Diane.

Jake was taking out Dad’s bottles to the curb that night when Shaun dropped me off at home. “Dude, that new girl.” “Yeah…fuck.” We were still sitting on the front steps and talking when mom got home. We knew she was having a bad day because her shoes were already off and dangling in her hand when she stepped out of the car. She drives barefoot when she’s mad.

“It’s late did you two do your homework?”

“Yea, Ma, hours ago” I knew Jake would have already. I nodded my head but mom knew. “Go Pete. Now.”

I climbed the stairs two at a time and heard my dad from the living room, “Fuck you, Sharon, I was sleeping,” and knew that my mom probably threw her shoes at dad. I didn’t like when was angry, but I liked it better than when she was sad. I never ended up doing my homework that night and instead lay in bed ignoring the shouting that would probably turn into crying downstairs, just thinking of Diane.

That year was the second year of the three year-long golden streak for our football team because of Ben Murphy, the surprise quarterback. Ben Murphy was in the 11th grade with Diane that year but he should’ve been a senior with Jake. Ben used to be this scrawny guy and all most of us knew about him was that he lived on the poor side of town and he didn’t have a dad. One summer Ben went to stay with his bodybuilder uncle in Florida and he comes back with a chinstrap beard and muscles that even Jake was jealous of and Jake didn’t even care about those things. He walked onto the football field one day during practice and then suddenly he’s starting quarterback instead of Shaun and we started winning all our games.

No one even cared or asked why he had to repeat 11th grade even though I guess it was kind of weird since Jake said Ben got decent grades, maybe even better than mine. We were just glad we’d have him on the team for another year. 

I guess I kind of liked Ben Murphy before I found out he and Diane were talking. Shaun was the one who texted me that day they first sat together during lunch. I texted Jake right away because he liked to read during lunch and I thought maybe he wouldn’t notice Ben and Diane. I was wrong. Jake blew up my phone, “I bet that dick is gonna ask her to prom.” “I should ask her” “Ben’s an idiot he couldn’t even finish 11th grade” “She looks like she doesn’t even want to be sitting there.”

Jake tried to find out more about the Ben-Diane situation from this junior he was tutoring and when he wasn’t doing that he was talking shit about Ben to anyone who would listen (mostly me.) I didn’t say much, but I felt something too. It was like someone lit a fire underneath my feet. I started going to every class late. The juniors and seniors had their classrooms on the second floor and the freshman and sophomore classrooms were stuck on the first floor. I would take the stairs up and walk through the entire length of the second floor to the opposite stairwell back downstairs to get to class. If I did it fast enough I would catch a glimpse of Diane as she was walking into class. I wasn’t the only one. The second floor hallway that usually had maybe 140 kids at most at any time suddenly had 20 extra guys speed walking and pushing their way through.

We were all waiting for something. I don’t know what everyone else was waiting for but I knew what I was waiting for. Like Diane would drop her books and I would help her pick them up. Or the lockers would start to crash down and I’d save her and hold up the lockers against my back. A serial killer would sneak into the school and I’d shoot him down with a gun. I’d have to buy a gun. How long did it take to get a gun license? I could set off a fire in the juniors’ chemistry lab and carry Diane out before the room exploded. I carried a matchbook around for a week before I lost it somewhere in the locker room. The school would get a swimming pool and Diane never learned to swim because maybe they didn’t have pools in Jersey and I would give her CPR. I needed to learn CPR. Each day I came up with more scenarios that I prayed would play out during the two minutes between classes.

By the middle of October there was a set group of guys that would sit with Diane at lunch. Jake was one of them. It was the day before the first football game of the year when I came home to Jake waiting on the porch for me, dad’s empty bottles in a clear garbage bag next to him. “Fuck, Pete, fuck.” 

Ben told Diane during lunch that day about how he lived in a shotgun style house and she didn’t know what that was because they didn’t have those in Jersey. “Yeah, like you know it’s called shotgun cuz like if you open the front door and also, uh, the back door too and you take a gun ha, like the one my uh uncle got me, did I tell you about that Diane, I got my own rifle, and if you shoot that gun it goes in the house and out the house in one uh line. Shot gun style hah.” Even when Jake got so excited that he talked too fast he still could pull off a good imitation of Ben.

“Pete I fucked up though. Ben invited Diane to come over to his house and Diane was like, yea sure Ben that sounds cool and that fucking Ben was so smug and talking about how he’s tough as shit with his dumbass rifle and if she goes over he’s gonna make a move, I know it, game over, so I told her about our house. It just came out. I didn’t even know what I was saying. Pete, I told her a storm hit our house and destroyed the stairs so we use a rope ladder to get upstairs. I don’t even know man. I was nervous or some shit. She’s coming over next week to check it out. Fuck Pete, what the fuck do I do?”

I don’t even know what I said after that but I was still pumped from practice and Coach P.’s pep talk and nervous about the game and then suddenly I had Dad’s hatchet in my hands and I was swinging down into the wooden staircase, just hacking it apart and Jake was whooping next to me, “FUCK YOU BEN!” and I pictured Diane’s face as I described the killer storm to her and I would demonstrate the rope ladder to her (where do we buy one?) and she would see how big my biceps got and I just kept chopping away. The center of the stairs caved in and I could see into the basement but I didn’t stop until I broke into the wall and it was soft and wet for some reason and there was a weird musty smell. Jake was breathing hard and loud and my arms were burning up and I remember I just let the hatchet drop onto the ground and we started laughing so hard that Jake doubled over and my eyes watered.

Diane never did come over. She and Ben went out for what felt like the longest two weeks of high school until she ended up leaving school for six months because she got mono. Ben skipped all our football practices when they were dating and Coach P. got so mad that when Ben finally hauled ass to practice Coach P. just started yelling and raised his arms and shook them until Ben walked off the field. Shaun carried the team for the rest of the year and it was like a fever broke with Diane gone and everything back to normal.

I spent the rest of the year with my team trying to get back on our feet without Ben and Jake was getting his college apps together and then later was figuring out which school to choose. The staircase stayed broken because mom didn’t want to pay for it and dad didn’t care. Sometimes we would look at the half-demolished steps and start laughing all over again. 
Jake had already driven to and unpacked his things at UChicago when Shaun texted me that he ran into Diane at the pizza place and she said she was coming back to school. I called Jake to tell him but I guess he was busy with his orientation week because he didn’t call me back until half a month later. He was supposed to come back home for Thanksgiving that year but something came up and then he just didn’t come back for any break after that.

Jake finally came home two weeks after I graduated from Romopa Community College. I was working my shift at the hardware store. Jake had just graduated too, he sent copies of his graduation portrait here to dad and also to mom. His diploma was shipped here by accident before mom drove over to pick it up. He graduated magna cum laude with a major in Philosophy and a minor in Gender and Sexuality studies. Mom hung the diploma up in her living room.

I saw him walking towards the store through the double-paned front windows that I had just wiped clean that morning. His hair used to just flop but now it had a deep part and he was wearing these glasses with thick clear frames. Even his walk was a little different, like someone had pulled back his shoulders and pushed back his chin. I was still staring even when he came through the door because I wasn’t sure if it was him.

“Hey Pete.” He pulled a pack of gum from the bottom slot of the racks below the register and slid it to me. I just stared at the top of his glasses because he kept looking at his hands on the counter. He drummed his fingers a few times. “You talk to Ma recently? I’m driving over to her place after I grab some things from my room.” I shook my head. “I accepted a job in L.A. It’s nothing big, but it’s a start and I think a good foot-in-the-door for me when I try to get into production. Can you take a quick break? I don’t want to be alone with dad.”

We didn’t talk on the drive over. I waited by the front door until Jake came down the stairs, stepping around the areas that we had destroyed. He moved really slowly, like he wasn’t sure if what remained of the staircase could hold him up with the added weight of the box. I tried to catch his eyes, but I knew already that he wouldn’t laugh anymore about the staircase. His hands were in his pockets when he dropped me back off at the hardware store. “I think the smell got worse, you should probably call a mold guy.” I nodded. “Listen, Pete. I don’t know when I’ll be back. Don’t let dad drink himself to death and check in on Ma sometimes, okay?” He pat me on the arm and shuffled off to his car.

The gum was still sitting on the counter when I got back to my register. I was squatting down to put it back on the rack when I caught a glimpse of her hair, still as long and brown as it was before. Her current boyfriend was next to her, rummaging through the plumbing shelves. I stared at her hair until she turned around and saw me and gave a smile and a wave that knocked the pacifier out of the mouth of the baby she had cradled in her arms. Her eyes widened as she looked around to see where it fell and for a brief second I remembered the weight of the hatchet in my hands and I pictured Jake with his eyes wild and tears down his face, laughing.


Rita Twan is borrowing lots of money from the government so she can fix your teeth one day.