Polycephaly – Mason Parker
April 9, 2021
Landon became a bodybuilder after he quit smoking meth. There’s a lot of crossover in the worlds of recovering drug addicts and beefcakes who pump iron. We went fishing every week when he was still bony and tweaking—you could tell he rolled around in bed all night sweating and letting out long groans prompted by heart palpitations. Along the shores, the wind picked up, chapping his round cheeks so they got red and dry while he focused on the bobber moving in the ripples of the tiny Oklahoma lake. The shape of the clouds and airplanes in the sky made dark forms on the wheat and the water, and those forms moved toward us. On the lake’s surface, the world reflected itself in a wet cover pulled over bullfrogs and sand bass. My reflection merged with Landon’s, impossible to disentangle. My messy head of hair protruded from his shoulder. He had the same sort of focus when he came out from the apartment complex in Del City claiming that there was no one home, but there were bullet holes in the windows and through the door, glass broken in the breezeway. We were there for the blue Mitsubishis. All the bangers called him Yung Blood. We were always fishing.
For a few summer months in high school, Landon lived on the couch in the play room at my parents’ house, waking up in the morning and drinking vodka from a Dasani water bottle. We called him Gerber Baby because he had a little blond afro, chubby cheeks, and a dimpled chin with no hair. He was like 5’6”. There was a slick spot on the sidewalk outside of the house where algae grew in a thin coat, living off the moisture from the sprinklers. Landon ran toward the front door, slipped, and came down on his front tooth, cracking it in half. It took the skin from his dimpled chin too. In 8th grade, Landon fell into a diabetic coma. He left the hospital in time to go to cheerleading tryouts, where he gave his girlfriend a bouquet of lilacs and forget-me-nots. His memory was still shot, only returning in pieces when he got hit by a black Dodge Ram while skating across Douglas Blvd. It threw him twenty feet into a roadblock, leaving his body broken all over. I’m convinced he can’t be killed. I watched Landon gaze upon the psychopomp Azrael who’d come to escort his soul into the afterlife and he just smirked real sideways, thin lip pulling back and exposing his broken tooth, then awoke, through pure doggedness, to jello and a get-well-soon card. I saw it that May afternoon between the branches of an ash tree, when Azrael ascended and the sky broke open, a tornado rolling from the fissure to claim lives in place of the one that refused to be collected—the kid with the phantom heads.
We showed up to his mom’s house every once in a while, when his sister Kiley was just a child, maybe ten or eleven. We were sixteen. A decade later, I met Kiley in a bar in Norman to return a copy of Harlot’s Ghost she loaned me while we were wine drunk on the couch of my shitty apartment hiding under a tarp from the leak in the ceiling. We walked to her house through a rare Oklahoma snow that dusted everything around us, reflecting the lights of St. Patrick’s Cathedral so all the trees were golden. She asked me to stay over and sleep in her bed under the comforters, away from the cold. I wanted to, but I couldn’t do it. Her eyes were satellites filled with neon coils, her skin a desert pressed below a clean windshield, but I just couldn’t. On the walk home, the butterflies in my stomach almost carried me back three blocks, through her front door and into her bedroom. At that point, Landon’s traps were already growing, eating the space between his shoulder and his jaw.
I camped with Landon in the forest around my parents’ neighborhood, building big fires from blackjack oak and lighter fluid. We drank Keystone, dancing and screaming into the mouth of our kin—the wild nothing. Landon put the bottle of lighter fluid to his crotch and squeezed out juice that lit up, mixing with the shadows across his back and the reflection of the fire in his eyes, so that he looked like a cherub possessed by demons and pissing flames. I didn’t so much want to be Landon as fuse with him and become his second head, so I could partly process the world from his perspective.
Girls loved him and feared him. He fucked Danielle Terry in a sleeping bag on top of a pool table. She whispered in his ear, “Please don’t use me. I’ve been used before.” And he got a big laugh the next morning, because she was too generous with her emotions like that.
His father enjoyed dope too. He raised falcons and sold them to Saudi princes for a month’s worth of crystal. They cooked together until they had a falling out over Brooke Dawson. Brooke’s eyes were set in dark circles that spun around like she was always trying to hypnotize you. It was her way of making it through all this shit.
Landon caught a case for prying copper from the window units of Baptist churches. Only Baptist churches, because they left a blemish on his soul. He got sober. He called once just to ask if I still did drugs. “Only the good ones,” I joked. He scolded me like he scolds Kiley if she has more than one glass of wine with dinner. She told me that when we were walking through the snow, touching golden elms so the dust fell from the leaves and melted on the sidewalk. Perhaps more snow will fall on Oklahoma this winter as Landon does legs curls watching the muscles contract and stretch the skin so it grows thin and purple. His arms move like mechanical worms stuck in a mouse trap. His Jordans graze the rubber on the gym floor leaving little marks that the custodian will clean with her eco-friendly, all-purpose cleaner. She goes home to an unhappy child, but she hunts in November—turkey and whitetail. The morning wind is cold, but she has a warm core that moves like static sunrise into her arms and legs. That is how I imagine her. But I know her only as well as I know Landon beyond our small knot in youth. I wonder who stays in his mind like that, growing from his consciousness like a second head and cackling in the reflection to no one but him. I wonder if I still exist there.