Trust the Unseen, 48" x 48", Oil on Canvas

Strange Beast

 

Michael inhaled the stuffy air. The building filled with the smell of costume latex and sweat. He crossed the theater lobby with Lenny right behind. He kept his younger brother close for fear of losing him the crowd. Michael watched the creatures, knowing their names and the which movies they had previously appeared in. Around them were Godzillas of various heights and builds. A Mothra pushed her way from the ladies room, and a man in a Gigan costume struggled to take off his mask with his hook hands. Lenny looked up at his brother as they waited for a small crowd on its way to the snack booth.

“Why didn’t we wear costumes?” Lenny asked.

“I didn’t know we could,” Michael said.

The posters for the showing had said costumes encouraged. He hoped that his brother would fail to notice. Michael had neither the will nor the money to dress either of them up. He hadn’t found a summer job despite finally being old enough to get one, and his mother was only willing to pay for the tickets—even this was negotiated. Their mom already complained of the costs for the game system he had asked for his birthday. It was always embarrassing to ask his mom to pay for things. It was even worse that he couldn’t pull his own weight.

On the city bus to downtown, he had seen at least a few people in costume, but his brother was securely nestled in a window seat at the time. The advertisements were posted at the entrance of the theater and in the lobby, designed in the style of an early 20th century boxing promotion. Mug shots of movie monsters lined the sides. Big block letters declaring KAIJU COMBAT WEEKEND! A special showing of the Kaiju classic, Destroy All Monsters. Combat of the world’s greatest titans!  At the bottom in plain, simple lettering: Half of all proceeds will go to earthquake and tsunami victims.

The charity portion of the showing made Michael feel good about himself. The reports of the earthquake and tsunami had hit in early March and had been all over the news ever since. He had almost convinced himself that he was acting heroic by going, but he knew that he would have gone either way.

Because Lenny was too young to remember their father, Michael saw to it that his younger brother’s life was full of fake monsters. Michael had grown up on old science fiction—alien invasions, Japanese kaiju monsters, and old Twilight Zone episodes. For Lenny’s eighth birthday the previous year, Michael had bought him a DVD of Kronos: Ravager of Planets. They stayed up late watching it. The movie ended when the piston-like robot exploded—foiled by the weight of its own power turned against it. Their father had shown Michael the original Godzilla when he was Lenny’s age. They had sat on the living room couch as the atomic monster roamed the space between skyscrapers. The destruction was loud, bright, and busy. The white light of the TV cut through the dark room as model buildings exploded and cars were tossed aside like pebbles. Flashes and flames surrounded the monster. Their father chimed in with moments of anticipation. Moments of wait till you see this and this part is great.

§

Michael had been at school when their father was killed. He remembered seeing him first thing in the morning, sitting up in bed with the remote of the bedroom TV. Just as he did every other morning, he drank coffee and talked to the television as though it were in conversation. The last time Michael saw his father, he was holding Lenny in one arm, only a few months old at the time, as he packed his lunch with his free hand. On weekdays, he would calm his brother’s cries by joking that they could trade places for the day.

Even years later, Michael sometimes wondered if some clue from that morning, some change in routine might have warned them or prevented it. At first, the news was pure intensity. It had no sense, form, or logic. Over time, he was told what happened. Their father has stepped out from a convenience store just in time to be struck by a sedan. The driver, an old woman with no signs of health problems, had suffered a heart attack while behind the wheel. It was nobody’s fault, his mother explained. Sometimes bad things happen without any good cause.

It happened on a Fridaymovie night with his father. The week before, they finished Creature of the Black Lagoon. His father had imitated the jerking movements of the monster rising out of the water as it played in front of them. Michael remembered how his chest ached from laughing so hard. That Friday night, the house was silent. Their mother had asked if he wanted to watch a movie, but he refused. When he thought of sitting in the room, he could only think of his father’s absence.

That night, Michael sat up from bed as Lenny began to cry from his crib. He expected their mother to come out, as she always did, to tend to the baby, but the crying continued.

“I’ve got him, Mom,” he said. He expected to hear confirmation but none came. The door gave no answer.

Michael went into his brother’s room. The mobile of cardboard airplanes fluttered just out of reach of his brother’s flailing. Their mother had taught him how to cradle Lenny’s head and warned not to let him fall. Michael was terrified the first time. Lenny was heavier than he thought. He was afraid that his strength would give out—that his brother would tumble to the floor.

Michael watched through the bars of the cradle. The baby screamed, unfazed by his presence in the room. As Michael stood by his brother, he shook. He wanted nothing more than to join him, to let the feeling in his stomach take over. Their mother’s cries seeped through the walls of the house but he tried to ignore it. Michael picked his brother up from the cradle. He had seen his parents soothe Lenny before, rock him to sleep and whisper reassurances. He knew that their parents had once done the same for him. He let his brother sway in his arms.

“It’s okay,” he whispered. His brother’s sobs continued. Michael repeated these words, continuing to rock him until his brother’s voice faltered. He said them so often that he lost count.  As his brother calmed, his small body easing against him. Michael’s ears throbbed with relief. In the distance, out the window of his brother’s room, he could hear the whine of a siren at the end of the street. Some other accident—some other disaster in the world outside.

“It’s okay,” he said to his brother, even though Lenny was already asleep.

§

Michael fished their tickets out of his pockets while Lenny watched the costumed moviegoers ahead of them. The next man in line towered above most of the other theatergoers. He wore the most elaborate Godzilla costume in the theater. The rubber scales and other fine details of the costume skin distracted from the bulging stomach stretching the abdomen of the outfit. The mask, which seemed more mounted to the shoulders than stretched over the face, was in a constant roaring grimace. Michael checked the time—five minutes until the showing—and then looked back at the man in front of him.

“Nice costume,” Michael said.

The lizard head of the mask turned toward them. Michael couldn’t see the man’s real eyes, but he could tell they were pointed in their direction. The man waved. Lenny looked around at other parts of the line, unaware. After trying a few different waves, the stranger stooped toward Lenny, forcing Michael aside by the sheer size of his body.

“How’s it going?” the man said, playfully holding his monstrous face close to Lenny. Lenny looked fearful as he reached out for his older brother, startled by the man’s advance. Michael glared at the man but he didn’t know what to say.

The man yanked off the Godzilla head. Underneath was a round, fleshy face and greasy long hair drenched in sweat.

“Shy kid?” he asked.

The line to the lobby grew longer behind them.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Michael said.

Michael thought of his brother as a younger version of himself. He remembered outings with their father—Michael’s mind wandering with the possibilities of their surroundings more than the world around it. This was why their father loved monster movies, he thought. Their bloodline was happiest when their imaginations ran wild.

The man nodded and inspected the inside of his mask. The head sagged under its own weight, as though a skull and brain were encased underneath the surface.

“Gets pretty warm in there,” the man said, wiping his face with one of his scaly claws. “The name’s Franklin. What’s yours?”

Michael pretended not to hear and looked over at his brother. Lenny stood on his toes and leaned over to look at the front of the line. Already, he had disregarded the man’s presence.

“How much longer?” Lenny asked.

Michael shrugged. The costumed man, hearing Lenny, turned and waved to get his attention.

“Don’t worry,” Franklin said, bending down to eye-level. “The line will move soon.”

Lenny looked at the man and then up at his brother. Michael instinctively took a step between them. Franklin had already turned back around, his long tail swishing in a wide arc.  An attendant called out for people to have their tickets ready. People fiddled through pockets or clasped tighter to their tickets in-hand or hand-like anatomy of their costumes. Lenny bounced on his heels and continued to glance ahead.

“I’m tired of waiting,” Lenny said.

Michael sighed. “Me too.”

In the corner of Michael’s vision, the bulky figure of the Godzilla costume spun back in their direction. As the man faced them, the eyes of his mask flashed yellow light and a recording of Godzilla’s roar emanated from a speaker in the head. He looked down at Lenny, who frowned back.

The man removed the false head again and grinned with yellow and crooked teeth at Lenny. “Ain’t that pretty cool?”

Lenny looked at his brother and then back at the man.

“I guess,” he said.

Franklin laughed and turned to Michael. He held the mask out toward him.

“Want to try it out?” he asked.

“No thanks.”

“It’s not hard,” he said. “Here, I’ll show you.”

His clawed hand pressed a button somewhere on the stump of the neck. The eyes and mouth flashed and emitted a scratchy roar. Before Michael could say anything, the line moved. Lenny stepped ahead of his brother, but Michael grabbed his shoulder.

“Stay close,” he said.

As they approached the screening room, Michael heard the mask roar again. He didn’t think anything of it until the sound continued to play on a continuous, warped loop. He looked back and saw the man in the Godzilla costume tinkering with some kind of circuit-board on the neck of the mask. His bulky claw-gloves fiddled with wires as the eye-lights match-flickered and the speaker made a long, continuous croak.

Some people in the hall called out to him.

“Okay, we get it. You can stop now.”

“Jesus Christ, pal. Turn it off.”

“I’m trying,” he said. “I can’t!” People cut around him as he stood and worked with the machinery in the neck. Michael and Lenny could still faintly hear the roar and people’s complaints as they headed into the theater. The last Michael saw, the man stood alone in the hall, fiddling with wires and parts. Lenny looked back as the sound faded around the corner, but Michael urged him into the theater.

§

The seats were nearly filled by the time the brothers stepped into the screening room. The projector displayed Kaiju movie trivia and information about the charities supported by the event. As Michael and Lenny found a spot near the back, Michael heard Lenny say something, but it was drowned out by the sound of the crowd. A woman wearing Mothra wings blocked the view for a section of the row behind her, and large hairy men mocked a nearby theatergoer for wearing a T-shirt of the 1998 American version of Godzilla. Near the front row, a group of friends hummed the Godzilla theme song in chorus unison and laughed when they had finished.

When the lights dimmed, the slides disappeared. A small video by the owners of the theater played, thanking everyone for taking part. The organizers urged the audience to further look into the charitable organizations’ websites and phone numbers and to make additional contributions. Whispers and laughs carried around the theater. After the message ended, the screen went black before a new projector switched on. The opening credits rolled for Destroy All Monsters.

Michael had nearly forgotten the charitable part of the screening. It felt strange to bring it up in a room filled with laughing, costumed people. All week, the news had shown the same footage of destruction. When he first heard about the tsunami, he had imagined a giant cresting wave, like something a surfer would ride. Later, he watched a news video taken from the air. A dark mass swept through towns, carrying everything with it. It moved ceaselessly from the shore and into the countryside, over farmlands and suburban houses. The unending motion rolled on over fields, sweeping over roads, even devouring rivers. Water somehow swallowed up water. The mass rolled on beyond the length of video and played on repeat as analysts and reporters bantered. The footage could have been just another countless disaster or tragedy shown on the daily news, but the thought of such a destructive force, so sudden and unstoppable, made him shiver. It reminded him of their father—how at any moment, everything could be taken away.

No one he knew seemed to understand this. Michael’s friends at school talked about the world as though it were static. They acted as though the world to remain the same. He knew better. Kaiju movies, as they were called by their fans, were one of the few things that seemed to make sense. Monsters came up from the sea, fell from the sky, or rose from the depths of the earth. These movies made some order out of the world—it was a world he understood, unlike the real one. He knew that the word kaiju itself, while used for Japanese movie monsters, translated more directly to “strange beast.” He would make sure that his brother knew this world and the words that came with it too.

§

A large form made its way along the movie aisle. Michael watched the silhouette in the dark. He couldn’t see the man’s face but the shape of the man in the Godzilla suit was undeniable. On the screen, actors spoke of an island filled with monsters as Franklin came up to their row with a large tub of popcorn. He lowered himself into the outer seat of the aisle, unfurling his tail out into the walkway. When he had settled, he took the mask off his head and set it on his lap, nearly spilling his tub of popcorn.

Franklin adjusted in his seat. He was older than a high school student, Michael thought. His patchy beard and slightly receding curly hair framed a boyish round head. The rest of him was obscured either by shadow or his costume.

Michael settled back and looked at Lenny. His brother was fully absorbed in the movie, even though it had only just begun. When Michael watched with their father, he would fast forward through some of the early scenes, mimicking the artificial speed of the characters on the screen. He had a purpose when he shared these movies with Michael—a message that could only be conveyed by men in rubber-suits, pushing and grappling each other, surrounded by pyrotechnics. In the last few years, Michael began to doubt what their father was trying to convey in these movies, but he wanted to share it with Lenny. Maybe, by teaching his brother, he would find it again as well. But as he watched the screen, there was something missing. Giant creatures fought each other for no reason. Michael knew this story by heart, but when he saw it played out before him—before Lenny—he doubted. Characters spoke dramatically in earnest, in poorly dubbed voices, about a place called “Monster Island” and an alien moon base. He was old enough now to recognize the plot-holes or strange internal movie logic, but he knew Lenny was just beginning to grasp these things. He could take these characters at their word—accept their world at face-value.

The costumed man chewed popcorn and wiped the grease and kernels from his rubber claws onto the rubber sides of his costume. Even with just the light of the projector, Michael could see the oily shine on the rubber. The man noticed Michael looking in his direction and held out the tub.

“Want any?” he asked. A kernel arced from his mouth and landed on Michael’s arm.

“No thanks,” he said, brushing away the debris.

“You sure?” the man said.

“Yes,” Michael said, not turning away from the screen.

Projected on the wall, monsters ravaged cities all over the world and little model tanks and trucks desperately fought back. A volley of missiles hit Godzilla as he rampaged. The loud, explosive ordinance didn’t register with the creature. Michael imagined what it would be like as a soldier in charge of the defenses—to sit in a tank or on a missile platform as an unstoppable beast shrugged off every effort to stop it. It seemed that they were not only outmatched, but that they tried the same failed strategies over and over. If the first barrage of missiles failed, they fired a second time with the same results. They should run, he thought. They should get far away from what can’t be stopped. He wondered what made them stay in the path of destruction.

The large man leaned toward him. Michael didn’t see an immediate threat, but his mere size was enough to intimidate him. The man pointed to his popcorn tub.

“Hey kid,” Franklin whispered. “You want any? My treat.”

Michael shook his head. “No thanks.”

Franklin paused before leaning back. Lenny hadn’t even noticed the disturbance. His eyes were fixed on the screen. Michael felt like a barrier—a storm wall holding back the tide. His brother was lost in the world of monsters as he knew he once had been.

On screen, as a monster rose up out of the sea, Michael thought of the news footage—the overrun of the ocean onto distant farmlands over a news crawl. In this chaos they would find enjoyment. This destruction would bring them together, not tear them apart.

The silhouette of a large arm suddenly eclipsed Michael’s vision. Franklin stretched out his fat, scaly arm toward Lenny. The silhouette of the popcorn tub resembled the head of a hammer, stretching out toward his brother. Michael readied to defend him.

“Hey, want some?” the man asked in a louder, more assertive voice.

Michael reached up and swatted the man’s arm away. The popcorn tub left Franklin’s grip and somehow landed on a man in a Rodan costume behind them. Nearby theatergoers turned to them.

“What the hell, man?” Rodan called out.

“Do you mind?” Michael said, louder than he anticipated. Lenny looked over, surprised by his brother’s voice.

The monstrous arm jerked back. The man’s face had a grim, sad look.

“What?” The man in the Godzilla suit looked confused. Michael saw the man look past him, focusing on his little brother as though he wanted his opinion. People began to turn their heads toward the disturbance.

“Leave my brother alone!” Michael said.

“Oh.” The man slumped back into his seat. “Sorry.”

As the crowd returned its attention to the movie, Lenny leaned over to his brother.

“What happened?” he asked.

“Nothing,” Michael said. “Watch the movie.”

Lenny looked at Franklin, slumped in the seat and then returned his attention to the movie. The end of Franklin’s tail dropped into the aisle but he didn’t pick it up. Michael watched the man at first, but as the movie went on, the man’s continued stillness let him forget.

On the screen, several monsters banded together to fight King Ghidora. In these movies the monsters could turn and be used to save people. Their destructive potential was used for good. Michael knew that the world didn’t work like that. Disasters accumulated, they didn’t cancel themselves out. When they gathered, things were only made worse. He thought about the news reports from the past few weeks. An earthquake started the tsunami. The tsunami brought floods. The floods sent nuclear reactors into meltdown. Meanwhile, the monsters flanked and double-teamed their enemy, unleashing their fiery breath and super strength.

Michael watched the man next to him, still only a stretch away from Lenny. To look away for one second, the man might try again or do something else to separate him from his brother. Next to him, Franklin fiddled with the Godzilla head in his lap. His claw gloves, slick with grease, tightened around the neck of the mask. The electronic head on Franklin’s lap roared to life with new energy. His hand must have gripped the button of the mask’s speaker. The man shut his eyes tightly, as though he were wishing or praying for some kind of deliverance. The roar turned to a groan and then a squeal. Michael covered his ears as the man first tried to reconnect some sort of wire that had come loose, but his costumed hands fumbled.

Franklin squeezed the head, hugged it—as though to suffocate or at least muffle the sound. The warped groan continued. Whispers and complaints rose around him.

“The hell with this,” a man in the row behind them called out. “I’m going.”

The man in the Rodan costume, still dripping popcorn from the folds of his costume, stepped out into the aisle with a group of costumed friends. Suddenly, Rodan stumbled and fell as he passed Franklin. Michael saw the tail of the Godzilla costume tighten and slack as it happened. Franklin stood up. The mask still flashed and whined in his hand. Rodan scrambled to his feet and grabbed Franklin by the collar.

“First you ruin my movie. Now you fucking trip me?”

Michael couldn’t see Rodan’s face under his fake beak. For all he knew the man could really be a monster. He radiated anger. Even under the bulk of his costume, the man’s shoulders and arms were broad. Despite Franklin’s size, Rodan looked like he could break him in half.

“Calm down,” one of the Rodan’s friends called out, “it was an accident.”

Silhouettes of people throughout the theater stood up. Voices rose from whisper and grumble to the roar of talking and shouting. The electronic mask screamed in the aisle.

Rodan tightened his grip. His fake wings wrinkled under his arms. The point of his beak was an inch from Franklin’s nose.

“Turn that god-damned thing off!”

The man’s friends called to him but the scream muffled their voices. Michael looked over at his little brother, who tried to poke his head over the row of seats to see what was happening. Michael’s stomach churned. He imagined what these monsters would do to his brother, even though it was a fight between the two of them. The movie screen depicted monsters in combat, crushing and tearing apart cities and homes. Disaster didn’t keep to itself. It spread. Just the proximity to it was enough to consume him—consume Lenny. His brother was unguarded. Only Michael and his small body stood between him and the fight about to break out. But there was nothing he could do. Around them, theatergoers watched from their crowded seats or swayed on their feet for a better look. He and his brother were trapped. The only way out was blocked by the two men in the aisle. Michael saw Franklin’s face turn red, sweat glistened on his cheeks. Rodan’s grip tightened. The rubber of his costume pressed against Franklin’s throat. He gasped for air.

Without a word or warning, Franklin’s fist connected to the human jaw underneath Rodan’s beak. It was a weak punch—more an awkward slap than anything. The beak swayed from side to side. The whole theater rose in a wave of voices. The man in the Rodan costume lunged again and hurled Franklin to the floor. His collapse looked painful. Somewhere in the commotion, the Godzilla head dropped to the floor. Its eyes faintly glowed—its distorted roar more like a whimper in the crowd of voices. When the man hit the floor, people rushed in all around, trying to pull them apart from each other. A foot trampled the monstrous head and then a second and third, until the mask bled circuits and wires across the floor. Michael looked toward Lenny. He rose to stand in the way of the commotion.

“What’s going on?” Lenny asked.

“Just some people fighting,” Michael said, his voice shaking. He grabbed his brother by the arm and tried to lead him out from the other side of the aisle, but a group of people moved against them, toward the fight. Michael called out to the crowd to let them pass, but everyone’s attention was focused on the men in the aisle. He looked down at his brother, who seemed more confused than afraid.

“Why are they fighting?” Lenny asked, his voice barely rising over the crowd.

He pretended not to hear his brother. Michael knew that he couldn’t see the full picture. He was glad for it.

In the aisle, the two costumed men traded punches. Franklin, in his Godzilla costume, was larger, but he was pinned. His punches were wild and disorganized, more like the flailing hands of swimmer drowning in a television show. Rodan stood over him, pounding him in the face. A group of Rodan’s friends—Gigan, Mechagodzilla, and Gorosaurus—pulled him off and held him back. They pleaded with him to calm down. Another strike on his record, they warned. Talk of Rodan’s probation officer. A different group—led by one of the Mothras and a Ghidora—tended to Franklin. They helped him up and asked if he needed a doctor. Franklin’s bloodied mouth moved, but Michael couldn’t hear any words.

As the crowds began to thin, Michael pushed his brother to their escape route, trying to get Lenny to the door. Some of the theatergoers ahead of them paused, blocking their path.

That was when Lenny slipped away.

It had happened, as Michael knew these things did, suddenly and without warning. But that knowledge didn’t keep his heart from pounding. His brother’s head disappeared behind theater seats and passing monsters. Scaled, spiny figures passed between him and Lenny. Each time the shadow of a creature eclipsed him, he feared his brother would pass with it. When he saw a glimpse of his brother again, he rushed to close the gap, but the crowd still moved like rough seas between them. Separated by a cluster of people, he watched as Lenny picked up the shards of the broken mask. He imagined a jagged circuit-board cutting into his small and soft hand or a live unconnected wire finding a path through the boy’s body. Lenny stepped toward the injured man, holding out the broken mask. Above, the theater lights came up and the movie, though still playing, was silent.

§

As they watched the movie, Lenny had heard the roar and whine of the mask but it hadn’t bothered him. He was too engrossed in the action to pay attention to the outside world. It was Michael rising to his feet that brought Lenny back to the physical world. There was shouting and movement out in the aisle, but Lenny could only see the people rushing into a crowd or shifting back and forth. It was only when the two men were separated that Lenny could connect the dots. He had seen similar moments at school—boys, and sometimes girls, who punched and kicked each other until they were pulled away. These classmates would glare with reddened faces and pent up anger. The man dressed like Godzilla looked different. He looked tired. His face was wet and discolored. Parts of it seemed inflated like a balloon.

Lenny saw the mask lying on the floor. Pieces of it looked flattened and torn, like roadkill. He stepped over and picked it up. He was surprised how heavy it was. It was the heaviest mask he had ever seen. He wondered how strong the man who made this mask would have to be to wear it. Over in the aisle, some people gathered around the injured man. The man was crying. He had not yet seen a grown man cry in public before. He felt a strange feeling he couldn’t recognize. Lenny wondered if returning his mask would help.

As Lenny stepped out into the aisle, the monsters on screen unleashed a full attack on their enemy. Sparks and energy flew as destructive forces converged together. Ordinarily, these were the moments he and Michael waited for. Loud, busy destruction filled the screen even as the lights came up in the theater. Lenny wasn’t paying attention to the movie. The people around Godzilla looked over at Lenny as he raised the broken mask for the man to take.

Lenny had seen bloody noses and skinned knees. He had heard all sorts of stories of injury and carnage from his friends at school, but nothing could compare to the sight of this man who, upon taking his broken and battered disguise, smiled with broken bloody teeth. That strange unnamable emotion welled up in the boy. He did not move.

“Lenny!” His brother’s voice called out. Michael’s tone was commanding, but it shook as well. Lenny turned to see his brother reaching for him, grasping at him through the crowd, as though he were dangling on the ledge of some dangerous height.


Interview with Eric Notaro

by fiction editorial staff Mary McMyne, Matthew Espinosa, and Wayne Thompson


Border Crossing: 
Tell us about your process for writing this story. What inspired you to write it?

Eric Notaro: The very first draft came about a few months after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear scare.  The whole series of events seemed like something out of a kaiju movie–a terrible force of destruction rising from the ocean, the shadow of nuclear obliteration. It’s easy to see the connection when so much has already been said about how Godzilla and other kaiju characters are an expression of those two painfully real possibilities in Japanese culture and history. I was interested in the ways we process destruction in popular culture versus how we react to the real thing. The scene of Michael recalling the news footage of the water moving over the land is based on some of the real footage I saw at the time. That footage was a big centerpiece of the early drafts.

BC: Do you think these movies, which are considered an expression of painfully real possibilities in Japanese culture, are processed differently by fans in the United States?  What made you choose Michael–someone who understands the very real possibilities of personal loss–as a vehicle for exploring these movies?

EN: I think most US casual fans don’t give much thought to the broader thematic expression as much as they enjoy the tropes of monster movies. That said, the extent to which these films explore those themes can really vary. The original Godzilla is much more grim and serious in tone. It’s much more concerned destruction from the natural world made more deadly by atomic avarice. A lot of the later films approach a winking self-awareness or sense of humor about themselves.

As for choosing Michael, the practical reason is that he was the one who orchestrated this trip. He’s at a critical age where he is old enough for limited responsibilities, yet he is only just starting to see the scope of tragedy and danger in the outside world. Michael doesn’t yet know how to distinguish for his brother what is a real danger and what is just the world going on as it does. He’s also too young to know how to be comfortable with the fact that no one can make those distinctions all the time. Beyond that reason, he’s at an age where he’s weighing the interests of his childhood against his impending adulthood–something that was thrust on him even earlier due to his father’s tragic death. There are a lot of pressures on teenagers that make them give up or hide their interests from childhood. At the same time, they’re central to his memories of his father and he sees them as the best way to bond with his brother.

BC: We love the ending. It’s so heartbreaking when we finally see Michael’s pain and fear from the outside. How did you decide to shift the point of view of the story from Michael to Lenny at the end? Was the story always written that way, or did that come in a later draft?

EN: The shift to Lenny was a product of a later draft. This story has gone through so many different versions that it’s hard to recall when exactly I decided on that. Prior versions of the story involved switching between different character perspectives, including Franklin. I think the George Saunders story “Victory Lap” was a big inspiration as that piece shifts back and forth between three very distinct primary characters. In the end it was a matter of settling on who’s story this is though. It’s Michael’s story, to an extent, but what’s at stake here is Lenny’s innocence and safety. George has every reason to want to protect him from the chaos of the wider world, but in the end the world will still find its way to him. I wanted to give Lenny the final word in that conflict.


Eric Notaro headshotEric Notaro is a graduate of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Creative Writing MFA program. His writing has appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Pleiades, Zone 3, and other publications. He currently lives in Merrimack, New Hampshire.