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Everett had no idea how long his parents had been standing outside his bedroom door. He hadn’t heard them knock or try the knob, hadn’t heard them call out. But by the time he opened the door his father was kneeling at the lock with a screwdriver in his teeth. His mother stood just behind, clutching her elbows.
His father removed the screwdriver from his mouth. “Well?” he said.
“Well what?” said Everett.
“You didn’t hear us out here?” said his mother.
His father stood, joints popping. “We’ve been pounding on your door for five minutes.”
“I’m sorry,” said Everett. “I must have had the record playing too loud.”
“What record?” his mother said.
The question confused Everett. The record playing: “Travelin’ Light” by Johnny Mercer. But then the hiss and thump of the needle became audible to him, and he saw that his old tabletop had finished playing some time ago.
“I guess I was distracted,” he said.
“Distracted.” His father turned and shot his mother a look. “Well whatever you were doing, you ought to put on some clothes. It’s almost one o’clock.”
Everett looked down and saw that he was wearing only a loose robe. He closed the collar and tightened the belt, trying hard to concentrate.
“Are you sure you’re all right, honey?” said his mother.
Everett presented a smile. “I’m great.”
“You don’t have to be great, yet,” said his father. “You’ve been home a month. You can be anything you want.”
“Evvy,” said his mother, “if you’re feeling up to it, we have something we want to show you.”
“Right now?” said Everett.
“No, next week,” said his father. “Yes, now. How are your marks?”
“Are you using your ointment?” said his mother.
He told her he was. Everett could feel himself coming back; the sensation was like being poured slowly into his own body, his feet and legs taking on weight, his chest filling.
“Well, we’ll just have to wait and see on that one,” said his father. “Now put on some clothes.”
“Right,” said Everett. “Will do.” He went to close the door, but his father blocked it with his foot.
“No more locks.”
“At least for now, okay?” said his mother.
“Okeydokey,” said Everett, gently closing the door. As he dressed, he was careful to avoid the mirror; he was feeling a bit better now, sharper, but he knew that the sight of his bare skin would distract him again, draw him back into his thoughts. Once his body was covered—letterman sweater on, trousers belted—he afforded himself a quick peek, and there he was, himself again: an average-looking nineteen-year-old. A little thin, a bit lanky, but broad enough in the shoulders to hide it. He smiled, inspecting his teeth, poking at the muscles of his face. After a moment of hesitation, he leaned closer to the mirror and opened his mouth wide, sticking out his tongue. Cautiously, he peered down into his throat.
“Ev?” his father called from downstairs.
“Coming,” Everett said.
He found his parents waiting for him in the backyard. On the grass in front of them lay a steel pod, nearly six feet long.
“Well,” said his father, “what do you think?”
Everett’s first thought was that the object was a bomb. His parents had lost their minds and somehow purchased a 10,000-pound cookie. They stood over the thing, smiling, waiting a reaction.
His father knocked on the steel hull with his knuckles. “I thought we could work on it together.”
“Like a hobby,” said his mother, rubbing his father’s shoulder.
Confused, Everett examined the steel hulk more closely. He saw that, in fact, it wasn’t a bomb, but a fuel tank from a light fighter airplane. He’d served on a destroyer, not a carrier, but he’d seen enough fighters up close to recognize a belly-tank. The thing had come from a P-51 or 36, he figured, and then the picture suddenly became clear to him: his father wanted to construct a race car together. It was an idea they’d joked about before Everett had enlisted. Maybe when he got back they’d buy an old Ford, supe it up, then drive it out to the playa. The town sat less than five miles from one of the largest dry lakebeds in Southern California and had a long tradition of drag racing. As long as there were automobiles, the people of Boilerville had been driving them out to the desert and racing them across the flats.
“This is the new trend,” Everett’s father said. “Everyone’s using these things to make their racers. It’s easy. I was talking to Hal. Mr. Water-heater guy. He built one. Stuck on a chassis, loaded it up, and whoosh. Got the sucker up to 110 miles an hour. Can you believe that?” His father gave a little laugh.
“Wow,” said Everett.
“You could just use a regular car, though,” said Everett’s mother, waving away the fuel tank. “If you’re not comfortable.”
“Of course he’s comfortable, Margot,” said Everett’s father, his eyes fixed on Everett. “He will be, at least. Once he’s zooming across the desert in this thing. Right, Ev?”
“Right,” said Everett. He was thinking of that scream a Hawk 75 made as it flew by, the strange, hysterical shriek it gave off that caused a ship’s cables to shiver. He wondered how much energy it took to make a plane go that fast, how much power, and before he could help it, the heat in his gut was back, like an oven blazing to life. Panicked, he tried to think of cold, still things: a frozen lake. An iceberg—his iceberg, floating on the Atlantic. But the flames were reaching up through his chest and neck.
“So how about some lunch?” his mother said.
The blaze was in Everett’s throat now, a roaring heat just behind his tongue. He nodded, keeping his mouth clamped shut as tight as he could.