Eloise was going to get hit by a twenty-ton flat-nosed bus, right in the kisser, and it was going to roll her out on the pavement like pizza dough. There was no question about that.
She didn’t even see it coming. She was looking up and pointing at something on the wall, wearing that stupid smile she makes when she sees something so hideous and “streetsy” that she can’t help but tell us all how beautiful it is, and how she wishes she could have it in her room with all the other pieces of junk that make visitors marvel over her artistic genius.
That’s the thing about Eloise; she wants to be an artistic genius. She takes pictures of cigarette butts floating in little gasoline-slicked rain puddles and posts them on her photography site. People who want to be genius artistic critics look at her pictures–which usually make you want to burn yourself, or at least take a shower with some strong lye soap–and post comments about how beautiful they were. “It really speaks to the futility of the urban setting,” they say, or “the unconventional take on an often-overlooked subject is breathtaking.”
I once posted a comment along these lines, using the most ambiguous and nonsensical combinations of lofty praise I could imagine. “The whimsical, almost ash-like cadence of this piece is reminiscent of an emotional holocaust,” I think I said. The picture was of pigeon poop, dripped down a wall, with the wall taking up most of the picture and the white poop smear almost hanging off the left side.
In the morning all the genius artistic critics had agreed with and expanded on my comment. Eloise called to gush over how she’d known I had a sensitive side and how I should be a writer. Danny was the only one who saw through me.
Of course he saw through me. He knew me. He’d grown up with me. He’d tagged along with me and watched from a distance when we were kids and I wanted to climb the radio antenna or make a run through the junkyard without the dogs getting me. He’d said I was stupid, and that I was going to get killed, but he’d always come at least as far as the edge of the trees or the top of the fence to watch me try.
Danny knew exactly how sarcastic my comment on Eloise’s page was, and he didn’t like it. He knocked on my door and started yelling at me, pointing with one finger while he pushed his glasses higher up on his nose with the other.
“Hey now,” I said, hanging my head off the couch to get a better look at him. “It was the ash-like holocaust of it, man. It spoke to me.”
Danny hit me then. His little fist hit my ear, hard enough to sting. It surprised me. I sat up. Danny was trembling, but he came over and faced me.
“Listen,” he said. “Listen.”
“Hey,” I said, “don’t worry. She called me this morning. She’s happy about it. She says I should be a writer.”
Danny sat on the coffee table in front of me. He looked me in the eyes.
“I know you think she’s stupid,” he said.
“No, I don’t…”
“Listen! I know you think she’s stupid. She acts like it sometimes, I know, but she’s a lot smarter than you think. Before she called you this morning, she called me. She saw exactly what you were doing. She was in tears. I had to convince her that you really meant what you said. I had to sit there and lie to my girlfriend about how you really respect her and you’re only negative all the time because of some stuff that happened when we were kids. I never wanted to lie to her, but I had to so she wouldn’t give up on the whole thing. Because of you, she almost gave up and I had to lie to her.”
Danny got up and left then. It wouldn’t have surprised me if he’d never spoken to me again, but when I called he picked up.
That was the thing about Danny; he was loyal. Why he was loyal to me, I’m not sure. I’ve got as many problems as Eloise–all the opposite ones–but Danny has hung around a long time. He’s tagged along to parties where I pretty much ignored him just so he could drive me home afterwards. He’s kept hanging out with me even after I made him lie to his girlfriend.
Danny’s a good guy. Skinny, and weak, and afraid of everything, but probably the best guy I know.
He saw it too, when Eloise stepped into the street, pointing up at some wall and grinning about the pigeon poo or grease smear or spray-painted profanity she saw there. He saw all forty thousand pounds of steel and glass, the driver pulling back on the steering wheel like the reins of some great beast, and the smoke rising from one wheel that had managed to lock up. He saw, as I did, that in about four seconds Eloise and her camera were going to be on the street making perfect subject matter for her successor in the hideous art club.
Now, if you’re going to step in front of a bus to save a girl, you’ve got to care about the girl more than you care about your own safety. There are two ways this can happen. Either you’re a person like me, who doesn’t care much about the girl but cares even less about safety, or you’re a person like Danny, who cares about safety very much but cares about the girl even more. A psychologist would say you either have an unbalanced and abnormal sense of risk or an unbalanced and abnormal sense of love. A cynic, or a bumper sticker manufacturer, would say that you care either too much or too little.
Any way you look at it, the bus came on, Eloise pointed at the wall, and both of us ran for her.