She doesn’t look at him. He tries to look at her surreptitiously, and takes a bite of his monkey-brain, stolen from Anatomy, as a cover-up. But Mr. Alberts notices and stalks down the row of desks.
“Chute! What are you doing?”
As Chute stands up, monkey brain in hand, reeking of formaldehyde, she smirks, and the other kids laugh. Eileen trips him as he walks out to the hallway and the classroom explodes into laughter.
Chute stumbles down the hallway, looking at his feet. It’s bad enough everyone thinks he’s weird. Chute is weird. He eats weird things. He looks weird.
He doesn’t bring apples for a snack. He brings a pomegranate and sprinkles crushed glass over it. He doesn’t eat a sandwich at lunch, he eats toilet paper rolls and melted ice cream and old phone cords. He doesn’t eat an ice cream sandwich for dessert, he eats stale pop-tarts and old history homework. He thinks stolen monkey-brains are delicious. He thinks the formaldehyde is like seasoning.
I think he’s weird, anyway.
But Chute likes it. He eats weird things because he thinks they’re good. And he thinks Eileen’s good too. Good as in gorgeous and amazing and everything he’d ever want in a girl.
But Eileen hates him.
He’s too weird. Once, in second grade, he offered to share his snack of rat tails and notebook paper with her, and she shrieked and thought he was trying to scare her, and ran off to tell Mrs. Gamet. Chute got detention for it. That was when she started to hate him.
But Chute loved her from then on.
Eileen tried to make him hurt. And hurt bad. And she tried hard. No one can say WHY exactly she hated him SO MUCH, but she did. She tried to sabotage his Biology grade, and she tried to bias the teachers against him. Thanks to her, Chute didn’t eat lunch in the lunchroom any more. He ate on top of the bathroom building. The lunchroom lady wouldn’t let him eat his weird things in the lunchroom like normal folks. She’d told him he was not a normal folk.
That hurt. That hurt bad.
But Chute still loved Eileen. He loved the way she smiled, and the way she always forgot to raise her hand in math class. He loved how she bragged about how she was going to major in calculus once she got to Princeton. He loved her lunches too. Her mother was from the Mediterranean, so Eileen got to eat things like pita bread and hummus and stir-fry and all sorts of things that would be a thousand times better with a sprinkling of crushed glass or a topping of the keys on an old computer keyboard.
I know it was irrational, that it was dumb to love someone so much. That you can only get hurt loving someone that much who only hates you in return. I get that. I told Chute that. But Chute couldn’t help it. He loved her.
One day Chute came up to Eileen and told her he loved her.
Chute went home with a bloody lip that day. And he went home smiling.
Eileen went home confused. She thought she’d hurt Chute. She thought that might’ve made him leave her alone forever. But she’d been wrong. And now she found herself thinking about how beautiful Chute’s eyes were.
Of course she was only observing, she told herself. Obviously. But they were so greenly radiant when he’d said, “Dear Eileen,” that she was allowing her lip to curl, just slightly, into a tiny smile, when she thought of him.
The next day of school Eileen avoided Chute. She told her friends she felt kind of bad she’d hit him, and her friends sympathized, and then ran off and told Chute.
Chute was rather elated.
No, no, sorry. Wrong word. The feeling in Chute was like a lit lightbulb, like such a buoyant feeling of elation explosion; he felt like he was a balloon so full it was about to burst, that the feeling in him was the air inside the balloon that was going to explode and the feeling was such an enormous amount of YES that he thought he might just burst right open right here and now in the hallway and have to skip detention that night. The bubbling YES simmered inside of him all day, and whenever he saw Eileen he had to close his mouth for fear he was going to explode all over her.
He was much more than elated.
Eileen went up to him two weeks later.
Chute was taller than her but she towered over him anyway. She had a taller willpower than he did. He looked down at her, into her dark eyes, and his heart was beating a drumming song inside of him that was sweeter than honey and louder than opera.
Eileen looked at his eyes and turned on her heel and ran away.
But the next day she went back. It was at lunchtime. Chute was sitting crosslegged on the bathroom building eating fried mosquitoes on top of his raw-egg burrito.
“Eileen! Oh, hi! Um, here I am. On the roof yes I am.”
Shut UP, he told himself.
Eileen winced. “Hi, Chute.”
“Ciao and hello!” He was spinning inside of his head. He was topsy-turvy. He was a bouncing ball. He could barely breathe. He took a bite of his burrito. It tasted like formaldehyde. From the monkey brain, I guess.
“Well, I was just going to tell you something.”
“Ooh, yes! Er, er, go—go on then.”
“Yes. Well. Um, you seem to have invested quite a bit of yourself on me. I wanted to apologize in person for, one, hitting you in the mouth, and two, moving.”
The drumming song stopped. The ball hit a pothole and ricocheted off into a chasm. “What?”
“Yes. We’re moving to California. Mom’s job. Sorry. It’ll be in three days. This is my last day at school.”
“C-C-California. Oranges. Dear Eileen.”
“That California. Oranges. Nice. Yup. Well, see you.”
Eileen jumped off the roof and only barely twisted her ankle.
Chute felt like he’d been punched. His emotions would take too long to describe so I won’t. The only thing I will say is that darkness had descended and all he was thinking was NO. NONONONONO was the beat of the drumming song now. His enormous exploding lightbulb had been smashed, and he was empty.
Eileen felt terrible, walking away. She kind of liked Chute, a little bit, the teensiest bit in the world, liked him. He was funny. Oranges. That was cute. She felt sorry that she was moving.
She didn’t hear the enormous THUNK-THUMP-CRASH-OWCH that happened behind her as she walked off. Chute fell off the bathroom building roof and I can’t remember if he died or not.