“Let me tell you about your hair,” the businessman announced from the next table over at Burger King, a piece of French fry on his lip.
The guy was so bald; that’s what got Kyle, who was about to take a sip of Mountain Dew and froze, with the straw inches from his mouth, like he’d been caught in the basilisk’s gaze. If he were still in the Dungeons & Dragons: Baldur’s Gate, 1999 edition computer game he’d been playing almost continuously since it came out earlier that year, he’d have to wait powerless for two plays till he could move again.
The guy didn’t hold the suspense. “We invented your hair.” He was real impressed with his joke, all right. His three friends in suits laughed, their gray-shadowed cheeks full of combo meals. They were attorneys, or maybe corporate salesmen, men with their eyes on the prize. Baldy raised his eyebrows at his seatmates in triumph, licked the fry from his lip, and confirmed to Kyle, sitting at the neighboring table, “We did.” As if Baldy even knew Kyle. As if Baldy even had hair.
Kyle locked eyes with him, slid the straw between his lips, and loudly slurped Mountain Dew as if it were Stone-to-Flesh elixir. He gave a deep burp.
The man in a suit picked up three French fries, swiped them through his streaky ketchup pile, and said, “We invented your burp too.” He popped the fries in his mouth, chewed, then added, “And your insolence.” He nodded as he swallowed, and his portly tribe chuckled and continued inhaling the burgers that maintained their buoyant midriffs.
Kyle flipped back his long bangs, then messed his hair into a shaggy spectacle, points going everywhere. His friend Brian watched it all in his heavy-lidded stoner way. Who’s to say how much Brian took in; he might have still been back in the D & D game paused in the basement.
Kyle turned to the man, crazy-haired, and lisped, “Sorry, perv. I don’t dig the old guys.” He squeaked out an elongated kiss, winked, and took a humungous bite of Whopper.
Baldy raised his own Whopper in toast and also ate a bite. The men at his table started another conversation, but Kyle could still feel Baldy’s attention. He wondered if the guy could smell weed on them, if he even knew the smell of it. Kyle and Brian hot-boxed the game room right before leaving the house, so chances were they reeked.
‘If I had my choice,’ Kyle thought, ‘which spell would I blast him with now?’ Fireball was the winner, and he imagined the fake wood-paneled restaurant blazing white, right before the boom and flashing orange, boom boom boom boomboom. He was advanced level now and his Fireball spells got six explosions instead of the novice three or four. ‘Yeah, I’d annihilate you,’ he thought at the guy, his mind full of insidious flames as he chewed.
Baldy swallowed loudly, adjusted his pant leg, and asked over to their table, “Let me guess: you go drinking in the woods?” He scratched his scalp with his middle finger. “You guys make bonfires and smoke big joints and screw girls in the dark under the sycamores?”
“Why are you talking to me, man?!” Kyle yelled, eyebrows diagonal. He shoved the last of his burger in his mouth, stood up, and swiped his burger wrapper, full of fries and ketchup, to the floor. He grabbed his skateboard, and Brian, sensing the trend, balled up his burger paper with half his meal inside and stuffed it in his sweatshirt pocket. There was a short fry left on the table, and with a shrug, Brian came to life. Spotting the opportunity, he took aim and flicked the fry at the businessmen’s table.
It hit the table edge and fell. “Have fun, tough guys,” Baldy said and ate three more fries.
Kyle and Brian’s hands slapped open the Burger King doors, and they skated down the mall hallway, wheels clacking on the ridges of the tiles. Brian pulled some fries from his pocket and ate as he skated. And it was stupid, but as they passed the regularly spaced yellow wall lamps, Kyle couldn’t stop thinking about that damn guy’s woods, with the trees flickering in orange light, not from Fireballs but bonfires, the woods where that guy went when he was young, when his friends passed him a joint, and then he drifted away from the fire like smoke, to lay beneath the tall trees and stars with a girl, probably someone classy like Susana, who bummed a cigarette at lunch.
Kyle and Brian skated the three flat streets to his house and thundered down to the basement game room, still muggy with stale pot smoke. Kyle pulled his kicked-out chair back to the computer, and Brian moved the mouse to wake the screen. His thumb hit the space bar, and their D & D game restarted as if they’d never left it.
“Damn Baldy doesn’t even have hair,” Kyle fumed as he shot an ogre herd. “You don’t know me,” imagining his targets were that guy and his bloodsucking friends screaming like howling lampreys. What really sucked was that it had sounded fun, but this side of the city didn’t even have woods anymore—they’d been flattened by subdivisions and stripmalls. He’d never sat by a bonfire, looking up at the sycamores with a girl in his arms, and that guy had.
And one day, Kyle would go bald.
Santa Fe Reporter Fiction Contest winner, 2012