Mike Itaya
BAD LOVE JR.

It was unseasonable noon in August, and I already missed the tangy summer where everything grew like weeds and everyone who was anyone got twitchy pants. Up at Ezekiel Remedial School, I was a no-show for lunch block. All the other kiddies were choking down Ms. Wanda’s tempeh bricks while I was truant at home eatin’ string cheese. My Pa, R.T., was hungover, spread eagle on our lawn. But inside, on the dining room table, I plotted my big time revenge.

You see, young’un that I was, bad love was already fresh behind me.

I’d carried a torch (and a six month budgie) for Junip Agave, the finest fifth grader, ever since she moved up from the Flora-Bama Lounge.

But.

I never could get her and me together. Junip just wouldn’t give me the time. She had a thing for Montfort Mumford, who didn’t have a thing for her because he was seventy-three. So early one morning, with fake petunias, I tailed her out to Muskogee Pond, where I bowed and asked her to the Neptune Dance. Junip said, “Hell no,” kicked my jerries and held my head underwater ‘til I played dead.

I had a rotten life.

Why I couldn’t get next to some sassy thing was like a statement from God on high. Heartbroken on Muskogee Pond, I was at the bottom of all my dreams and schemes when unrequited love festered into something a lot worse.

So at homecoming, I made the revenge play. All in all, most of it worked.

I meant to ruin her.

So during the pep rally, I fibbed that the Pee Wee offensive line had consumed “tofu sundries” (baked by Junip), and the rumor alone made the whole team seriously ill. Everyone was tootin’ and bootin’. Pastor Douglas and R.T. commandeered a school bus and jetted everyone to the Colonel Dixie in Budapest, Mississippi to perform a fast food exorcism.

It was bad business.

In the Colonel Dixie lobby, everybody stuffed nuggets (our kicker was a number six combo from colon collapse), so the team was purged of vegetarian sundries. Which they’d never eaten.

See, people act funky in Mississippi. We’ve got bad love, is what it is.

Like last week, the Mayor infuriated the whole damn city during his keynote address at the Bon Bon Parade when he declared the city of Ezekiel to be “unlovable.”

“What you mean, ‘unlovable?’” my Rhonda-mama asked.

“It means we ain’t got no paramours,” I said.

The mob got unruly. Someone chucked a football and it hit the Mayor right in his biscuits.

“That was me,” I said, and everyone shook my hand.

Truthfully, my heart did pang some for him, and for us all, too. I knew what it was to tell a porky pie, to hide behind your own face, and the dull horror of being useless and alive and unloved (and in Ezekiel, Mississippi) all at the same time. But I also knew what it was to turn a profit, so in Remedial Arts first period I designed a “Bad Love” T-shirt and sold them like hotcakes around town (the Mayor bought ten). I used the bucks to buy infrared blinkers in the mail—so I might see the hidden heart beneath everything and maybe spy the cosmic hole inside Junip Agave’s chest where she should’ve had a heart—but when nothing arrived, I wondered if there wasn’t some cosmic justice at work.

See, me and R.T. had bad love troubles from way back.

Rhonda-mama was always gettin’ arrested for stealing imitation crab legs from Piggly Wiggly. And it wasn’t just the seafood, it seemed her whole heart got greedy. Whatever was on the table was never enough, her hand always extended.

I think the boiler came when me and R.T. formed a French horn duo called the Brassholes, and we jammed so dang loud it shook the house. We tried to match pitch but never did learn to tune. The last time we got funky, my mama just slammed her suitcase around while I sat frozen on the floor, holdin’ my horn, unlike to ever unfreeze.

“Webelo,” Rhonda said my name, and it sounded hollow in her mouth. Rhonda, crab legs sticking from her purse, looked at me, at us, at R.T., at the walls around us in the land of shame and degradation, our home.

“Webelo,” Rhonda said, while me and R.T. said nothing. Life was splitting up. I felt my heart was breaking, maybe this time for good. Junip, R.T., Rhonda. My life was just a collection of people who made me hurt.

“Webelo,” Rhonda said, kneeling to kiss my head. And I felt the entirety of our lives shift right then, because Rhonda held the hidden heart beneath everything. And I’d wait forever just to hear my name again, to hear her promise she would never leave.


Mike ItayaMike Itaya lives in southern Alabama, where he works in a library. His work appears in New Orleans ReviewBULL, and Storm Cellar and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He holds an MFA in Fiction from Pacific University.

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