At the bell, Nick and Marvin are walking unwillingly into the gymnasium. Colorful chairs are set up in neat rows. Most of the seats are already taken.
“Let’s squeeze in over there,” Nick says, pointing to an almost empty row.
Nick and Marvin met on the first day of high school. They met in an English class on the American canon. Nick really likes Salinger, but he prefers English writers. Nick writes, too. He writes long historical fictions about wars in other countries. Marvin doesn’t like to read or write, but is intrigued by Nick’s stories.
They squeeze into the row, trying to slide past people’s knees.
Then something happens.
An older boy grabs Marvin’s ass. He clenches on his ass cheek so tight that Marvin yelps. Nick doesn’t see or it hear it, so he keeps walking. Marvin’s eyes water in pain and humiliation. The two boys sitting on either side of the ass-grabber laugh hysterically.
“Faggot,” the ass-grabber says as Marvin shoots him a look.
Marvin says nothing. He makes his way as quickly as he can over to where Nick is sitting. He can still hear the laughing even as he gets closer to Nick. He can still hear them howling with laughter and he wishes he was deaf or able to bury his head in sand.
Nick is waving him over. He waves in a way that reminds Marvin of a baseball coach. Marvin never played a day of ball, but he imagines it. He imagines running on the baseball field down the road, smelling the grass and dirt, and having Nick wave him safely into third base.
“You ok?” Nick asks. “You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”
“I’m fine,” Marvin says.
They sit silent until the assembly begins.
Later, Marvin walks home along tall snowbanks. He takes a long way home so he can walk along the train tracks. He stops and sits by the tracks and draws in a notebook. He draws the tracks and a big train with a light on the front of it. He takes off his hunting cap and fills it with snow and lays it on the tracks, to leave a piece of himself behind. Then he continues walking, listening for a train. He turns three times thinking he hears it, but it’s always just the wind.
Marvin arrives home later than usual, but nothing seems different. The only thing that seems different is that someone shoveled the driveway. Besides that, everything is the same. The same few shingles are missing from the house. Marvin’s mother is in the window over the stove. His father’s car is gone.
Marvin walks over to the lawn and lays on the snow. He has always wished that snow was warm like sand at the beach. That way he could sit in it longer. He wanted to be entombed by the clouds of snow; boy that’d be magic.
Then he hears the front door creak open, and close.
“What the hell are you doing out here?” his brother Dillon says, hovering over him. “Dinner is almost ready and you’re out here trying to give yourself pneumonia?”
“I’m not gonna get pneumonia.”
“Then your arms’ll fall off,” Dillon says. Dillon is in college and aspires to be in the Air Force. He’s always talking about limbs falling off.
Marvin starts waving his arms and legs. It feels cold. He starts laughing out white wisps of breath. He laughs and laughs.
“You think getting sick is funny?” Dillon says. “Think dying out here in the snow is funny?”
Dillon pulls him up by his coat. Marvin has stopped laughing. Marvin tries to fight him off, but Dillon is stronger and tougher. He stands face-to-face with Dillon.
“What are you doing then?” Dillon asks.
“Well grow the fuck up,” Dillon says, shoving his brother back down into the snow. “You have no idea what life is like.”
Marvin watches Dillon turn and eventually disappear into the house. Marvin stays outside in the snow.
It’s cold and windy, the air bites at his face. He stays out there a while, even after the dark is tossed over the day. He is waiting for stars. They come, but only after the snow starts lightly falling. He tries to think of what Nick might say about the sky and the stars, but all he can think of is Nick as a baseball coach again, waving his arms like mad, and yelling two words, over and over: Come home! Come home! Marvin’s ears are pink and stiff in the cold, and he wishes he hadn’t ditched his hat down at the tracks. That’s life, he thinks. He starts laughing again and makes another angel.
There is not much need for the comforts inside.
“Angels” emerged as an attempt to write about male relationships, and the way masculinity is defined through the eyes of other men.