Of Cabaret Crackers and Hamster Eyes

@ernie

In case you haven’t noticed, I have a slight weight problem. No, it’s true. I’ve come to terms with it, I accept it—so why can’t my grandparents do the same? Why do they have to meddle? Why do they insist on trying to fit me into their own ridiculous set of standards? And after they’ve been doing so well these past few days, keeping off my back, living their own boring lives and letting me live mine. We had an unspoken truce—then we have dinner last night, and everything goes to hell just because I bust my shirt while reaching for the mashed potatoes. Just because, in said busting process, one of my shirt buttons happens to fly across the table and hit my gramps in the forehead.

(Don’t laugh. I’m sure at some point in your life you’ve busted a seam or lost a button at the dinner table while reaching for your second or third helping. It can happen to anyone!)

Anyway, my grandparents both set their forks down and give me the third degree in their quiet, restrained old-farts way. Gramps asks me if I think I’ve had a little too much to eat; Grams asks if I’ve taken a look at the gym brochure she left outside my bedroom door the other day; both give me dirty looks when I say, “Oh, my God. I’m fine. You’re both overreacting. Now, what’s for dessert?”

Grams quietly gets up from the table, goes into the kitchen, comes back a few minutes later with a plate of Cabaret crackers. Cabaret crackers! Have you ever had those? You need a whole box just to get the impression of flavor!

Naturally, I push the crackers aside and get up, heading for the kitchen. We bought a box of chocolate chip ice cream on Wednesday, and I plan on making a sizable dent in it.

“Don’t bother,” Grams says, in the coldest, quietest tone you ever heard. “I’ve put the lock back on the fridge.”

Can you believe that? She’s put the lock back on already! It’s only been off since Tuesday! What the hell? Fucking tease!

I yell at her that it’s unfair, but she just takes a sip of water, tells me I haven’t been excused from the table yet.

I sit back down. The three Cabarets are chilling there on their plate and looking as unappetizing as cardboard coasters. I try one, just to humor my grandparents, and let me tell you, they’re worse than they look. They’re so bad my eyes tear up. Throwing my head back, I scream, “It’s like biting into nothingness!” I down the rest of the crackers, each one dissolving almost as soon as it hits my tongue. “Nothingness!” I wail.

In spite of my pain, my grandparents ignore me and start to clear the table. Gramps tells me to finish my homework, take my shower—so I think fine, I’ll just hit up Becky later and we’ll share a bag of Doritos or half a pound cake or whatever. Turns out she’s in on it too. Either that, or she’s got the worst timing ever. When I message her with my suggestion, she smiles at me, scrunches up her freckled nose, and says, “I’m glad you messaged me, Ernie. I’ve decided that I’m going on a diet with you.”

“Wait, I’m not on a diet,” I say—and then it hits me: She wants me to go on a diet with her.

You’ve got to be jerking me off.

I sit there at my desk for a while, alone in my bedroom, isolated from everything and everyone I hold dear. No fridge, no food, no sugar to level my nerves—and Becky going on and on about how she thinks she can drop fifty pounds so that she can fit into some stupid pair of jeans. Eventually I just close her SMN window (though I can still hear her voice) and bring up Theo’s. Normally, he wouldn’t be my first choice as far as snacks are concerned, but Eva’s never at her computer anymore, and Jan’s too poor to afford any good treats. Lucky me, though: Theo’s in one of his moods, worried about beauty sleep or something.

That was yesterday night. Now it’s Saturday morning, five or six hours away from dawn, and I haven’t had my usual midnight snack. Hunger is a terrible thing. Psychological hunger is even worse. I’m all twitchy and hyper; I can’t think, I can’t game, I can’t fall asleep. Fucking grandparents.

I’m going to message Becky back. Maybe she’ll let me help her clear out her fridge to make space for all the carrots and broccoli she’s going to be starving herself on. I start to bring up her SMN window, but freeze in mid-click when something rustles behind me. I glance over my shoulder—and spot Theo, fully dressed, stumbling over a pile of my clothes. He goes down hard, landing face-first on the floor, arms and legs splayed every which way.

Hmf.

“Have you come to apologize?” I ask, swiveling around in my chair, folding my arms—and nearly shitting myself when Theo rolls onto all fours, looks in my direction.

He’s got black eyes.

Like, his pupils have enlarged and swallowed up his irises, which have, in turn, swallowed up his eye whites.

“Holy shit,” I breathe, jumping out of my chair. “Nice, er, contact lenses.”

“What do you mean?” he asks, whimpering, carefully getting to his feet and reaching out with his arms like he’s blind.

“Your eyes,” I say. “They’re all black…like a hamster’s.”

Theo starts feeling his face with his hands. “Oh, no! What else?”

“I don’t know. Look in the fucking mirror.”

“Damn it, Ernie! Don’t you think I would if I could?”

Oh, shit. He is blind.

And he’s just cussed for the second or third time in his whole life.

I step forward a little, wave my hand in front of his face. “Really? You can’t see at all?”

“Just…shapes. Lights, sometimes.”

“Does it hurt?”

He frowns, swallows. “No. See, I…I got New Eyes—”

“New Eyes? You got New Eyes?”

“Shut up and let me finish!”

I can’t believe Theo—little, adorable, innocent, straight-edge, New Age, vegetarian Theo—got New Eyes!

“I got some Old Eyes to remove them,” he continues, “because I didn’t tell my parents about the New ones, and I was worried about what they’d say when they found out. But instead of giving me back my old vision, the Old Eyes made me go blind.” He settles back down onto the floor, sitting cross-legged. He puts his head in his hands and starts crying. “What am I going to do, Ernie?”

“Well,” I say, trying to sound like I’m putting a helpful suggestion into words when really I’ve got absolutely nothing. “It’s Saturday morning. You, um, can probably sleep in a while. Maybe the effects will wear off.”

“And if they don’t? If I’m stuck like this for good?”

“Then…” I trail off. What the fuck am I supposed to say? I don’t know shit about New Eyes except that those old TV commercials had some seriously stacked babes in them. What can I possibly tell Theo that will make him feel the least bit better about going blind?

I look at him, and he’s crying and shaking all over. I guess I’m kind of flattered that he came to me for help, but now that he’s here I don’t know what the fuck to do. I’ve never seen this before in real life. On TV, yes, but never like this. I want to run from the room and hide in a closet or something; I want to cover my ears and hum really loud—I want to pretend I don’t know that my friend is in deep trouble and
I haven’t a clue how to help him.

Eventually I say, “You should go wake up your parents, get to a hospital or something.”

Theo looks up, looks totally spooked. “I can’t tell my parents. No way.”

“Why not?”

“Are you kidding? They trust me too much.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Come on, how many twelve-year-olds do you know who have their own business?” Theo shakes his head. “Everything in the world works because of constant pressure between forces that balance themselves out. My world exists because I’m careful about everything I do. I plan ahead, I follow through on promises. My parents let me make my own money, they give me total privacy because they trust me not to do stupid things with their trust. No hacking into government sites, no gambling, no porn or sex meet-ups or cybering. No giving in to those opposing pressures. If they find out I’ve lost my sight because of something I got off the Internet, that’ll be it. Everything will fall apart. They’ll treat me no better than your average brat.”

My sarcasm reflex goes off without warning. “You say that like you’re above all the rest of us poor pubescent slobs.”

“I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant I actually do something with myself after school—wait, no, I don’t mean it like that, either—damn it, Ernie, you know what I mean! I can’t let my parents know what’s happened because it means I’ll get in trouble!”

“Um, they’re kind of going to find out,” I say, “when you start running into walls and falling down stairs.”

“Ugh, I know.” Theo starts nibbling on his lower lip. He looks angry all of the sudden. “This is all Beta’s fault.”

“Beta? You mean the metro-Asian dude living in your bedroom?”

Theo nods in my general direction. “Yeah. He’s the one who gave me the New Eyes in the first place.”

“I hate to be the one to remind you of this, but you were the one who actually used them.”

“I know,” Theo says, looking like he’s about to start crying again.

“Why’d you want New Eyes, anyway?” I ask, hoping to catch him before he does.

“Um…no reason.”

“Oh, so you woke up one morning and thought to yourself, ‘Fuck it, I’m bored. I’m going to mess around with some eye drops?’”

Theo sighs. “This is going to sound stupid, but…I wanted Eva to notice me. I thought…I thought without my dumb ol’ glasses getting in the way she might stop paying so much attention to Jan and start paying more attention to me.”

I should’ve known. In retrospect it’s perfectly obvious why Theo would ever do something that might unsettle his perfectly meticulous little life: he has a hard-on for Eva.

“Oh, that,” I say nonchalantly.

Theo stops crying. He blinks at me, sightless. “You don’t sound surprised.”

“Well, it’s not like I didn’t know.”

“Really? You knew?”

Poor naïve Theo. It’s been written all over him since that first day in Thrill-Kill’s office. The way he looked at Eva, hung on her every word—if there’d been any chance of him not getting expelled, he so would’ve whipped out his dick and plowed the shit out of her right there on the desk. Repeatedly. “I’m very perceptive despite my fatness. You like ponytails, she’s got one. You like small and petite, she’s like a little pixie minus the fairy dust. Sure, she’s got the bug eyes, but she’s also got the firmest little handful-tight-bottom I’ve ever seen.”

Theo narrows his hamster eyes.

“Hey,” I say, spreading my hands, “I’m not the one you have to worry about. Bug Eyes is totally not my type from the neck up. Which would make things awkward before and after sex. No, it’s Jan you should be worrying about.”

“But Jan doesn’t like her—”

“Doesn’t matter! She likes him. Eva looks at him like you look at her.”

I think I’m getting through to him. For a sec something like recognition flashes across his face—but then he just shakes his head. “Why are we even having this conversation? I’m blind.”

“You never know,” I tell him. “Some chicks dig blind guys, or guys without legs, or guys—”

“Ernie, stop. You’re not making me feel any better.”

“Sorry.” Back to the awkwardness.

The two of us are quiet for a while. I think we’re trying feel the right way about what’s happened, if that makes any sense. I know my tangent on Eva is proof that I’m in some kind of shock. It’s a weird feeling, not knowing how you’re feeling.

After a while Theo gets to his feet, wobbles, reaches out with his arms. “Where’s your computer?”

“Over here,” I say, pointing (my gesture is, of course, completely useless under the circumstances). “Why?”

“I’m going home. Send me home.”

“What are you going to do?” I ask.

“I don’t know.”

I shrug. I know I should probably say something else to make him feel better, or maybe I should offer to go back to his place with him, offer my support—but, honestly, I just want him out and on his away. I know that sounds fucked up, but I’ve never had to watch someone suffer before.

There’s a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, and I don’t like it.

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jesse

Book designer and formatter based in southern California. Supreme overlord of the SuperMegaNet pseudoverse.