Next Year I’ll Change
Short story by Avi-Yona Israel
I love kids, and my single greatest complaint about most parties I go to is that no one is under 12. I love my best friend because she hates parties, but she’ll also lend me a kid to take to a party if I don’t want to feel alone. She has four, all of them accidents, and all available for short-term loans on short notice. I got Ty today.
Ty, short for Tiger, is five years old today. This is not the first time I’ve taken Ty to a party. Ty hates parties as much as I do, and he tells people that they don’t have enough hair when they are bald. He told my ex-girlfriend’s mom that her face looked like silly putty. Ty is my first choice of escort.
He probably won’t get to unleash his east wind of truth tonight, however, because I’m taking him to a party full of beautiful people. I’m not entirely sure how I got invited, but I have been, and I am desperate to start dating someone so that I have reason to buy a real bed. My feet hang over the edge of my futon, and there’s a huge menstrual blood stain in the middle. Beds are expensive.
Ty has his own motivations for attendance tonight. I brought him here under false pretenses. I told him we were going to his birthday party, because it’s his birthday, and Ty’s mother threw a television set at Ty’s father when he suggested inviting the kindergarten class over for cake. Ty is wearing a birthday hat reading “I’m 5!” which is thankfully self-explanatory. Everyone has been congratulating him all night, and his blond hair is tangled, his rosy cheeks covered in whipped cream. As are mine.
I’m making him a drink when a man across the kitchen island makes eye contact with Ty and smiles.
“Happy birthday. What’s your name?”
Ty holds out his hand for a manly shake, just as I taught him.
“Tiger. Ty, for short. I’m five.”
The man looks up at me and smiles as if I am responsible for the precocious obnoxiousness that is Ty’s personality.
“Well, happy birthday Tiger. What are you drinking?”
Ty holds up his red Solo cup with five swirly straws.
“A virgin white Russian,” he replies, slurring his words slightly.
I was going to let him handle this interaction, but now I feel like I have a legal obligation to interject.
“It really is just milk, consonants are not his strong suit.”
Ty swirls the cup around, sips from it, and burps as if he really intends to have me put in jail. The man laughs deeply but briefly before lowering his brows and giving Ty a nod of respect. He turns his gaze to me, and the left side of his mouth quirks up into a smile. He motions toward his cheek and then to my own.
“It looks like you’ve got a bit of whipped cream there. Let me find you a handkerchief or something.”
Before he can turn to look for one, Ty licks a broad swath across my face, replacing the whipped cream with saliva.
“Taken care of,” I shrug. Really, there’s no point in being mortified. Mortification implies a contrast with the way one usually feels. This is familiar territory. Ty takes care to slowly massage the remaining cream and drool into my pores while I carry the conversation.
“I’m Bonnie. And you are?”
“Ben. Bonnie is a lovely name. Are you Ty’s mom?”
“Nope, my mom is fat,” Tyson interjects, arms spread wide.
“Nope, his mom’s fat,” I solemnly echo. “Also I would’ve had to have sex with Odin of Asgaard for him to be this blond. Ty is my date for the night. Or, rather, I’m his date, seeing as this is his birthday party and all.”
I raise my eyebrows pointedly at Ben, who turns out to be quick as well as handsome.
“You’re THE Tiger? The Tiger who this party is for? I’m honored to meet you. How do you know all of these people?”
Ty looks around the room. Pensively, he turns back to Ben.
“Um, they probably know me from YouTube.”
It occurs to me that this is actually not a bad answer. Ty has a laptop, and on it, a blog. I always thought he was just smashing the keyboards and singing into Photo Booth but I wouldn’t put it past him to have actually gotten things off the ground without anyone’s noticing. Ben is also impressed, though his bright eyes belie a spot of cheekiness.
“Well, it’s wonderful to make your acquaintance, Ty.”
Ty, ignoring his accolades, turns my face toward his and sweetly declares his desire to go to bed. When I inquire how his guests will stay entertained if he leaves, he replies, “Put on The Little Mermaid,” and I assure him that, yes, I will do just that.
Ben, utterly charmed, walks us to the front porch. In the seven yards it took to reach outdoors, Ty has fallen asleep and drops neatly into the pocket of his pram.
“It was very nice to meet you as well. You’ll be taking Ty home to his fat mom, I suppose?”
I laugh loudly. Dismemberment couldn’t wake Ty after all of the cake he consumed today.
“She’s pregnant again, not exactly fat in the strict sense. And yeah, they live about four blocks toward downtown. You’re welcome to join if you’re all partied out.”
Ben looks even nicer away from the bright light of those obnoxiously posh indoor sconces. His dark curly hair is softly backlit by the moon on one side and a streetlamp on the other, and his eyelashes leave a lovely shadow on his cheeks. The dip of his upper lip is the slightest bit chapped, and without the overpowering wash of beer and whiskey interfering, I can smell his shower soap in the night air. The buckle of his watch makes a soft clink-and-swish every time the sleeve of his jacket slides across his wrist.
“Sure, I’ll walk with you.”
I light a cig and put down the rain shield on Ty’s pram to protect him from my delicious secondhand smoke. Ben fishes his own cigarette from the inner pocket of his jacket and wiggles his fingers to request my Promethean powers. I pass my lighter and Ben flick-and-swishes it open in a move that simultaneously turns me on and makes me want to slap him. He hands it back to me, and winks, reading my mind, and this is probably the first time my inner thoughts clearly articulate the high likelihood that I will attempt to sleep with him tonight.
I catch a whiff of his burning tobacco and smile.
“Golly gee willikers, mister, is that a Lucky Strike?”
“It sure is, little lady. Now stop talking so much and go put on some makeup and clean something.”
I scoff and laugh simultaneously, releasing the pram from my grip just long enough to punch him in the arm and dodge his attempted retaliation.
“Kindly go fuck yourself, Mr. Draper. Oh, and I’ve been putting cyanide in your bourbon for years.”
“My good bourbon?”
Ben and I laugh until we’re hoarse, less because it’s all that funny, and more in mutual recognition of getting away with the first politically incorrect joke of our acquaintanceship. I reign it in only because of the second scent that begins to emanate from his cigarette.
“Wait, is that a spliff?”
All evening I’ve been trying to be sober enough that I don’t leave Ty somewhere, but I see his house and my freedom is oppressive in its nearness. I take off at a gallop, gently crashing his transportation into the bottom steps of his brownstone and launching myself at the doorbell. I also knock, because I’ve only ever lived in one building where the doorbell actually worked, and I can’t remember whether Bette and Tony are the lucky sort. Bette whips open the door and almost hits herself in the face with it. Her eyebrows go up and in the background and Tony raises his beer in salute without taking his eyes away from the men aggressively engaged in what looks like an intensely homosexual experience disguised as sport on television
“What the fuck is wrong with you?”
I jog back down the steps and onto the sidewalk before turning to wave at Bette.
“Ty had a ball. Bye.”
I turn to Ben and slowly remove the spliff from between his lips. He gazes as I inhale half of what’s left, cheeks puffed like a chipmunk. I place the spliff back between his lips.
Avi-Yona Israel is a researcher living in Philadelphia, PA. When she is not working on her Ph.D. dissertation, she writes short stories for print, performance, and exhibitions.