Please Pretend To
?2007 Gabriel Kalmuss-Katz.
“wishes and prayers are the way we leave the lonely alone and push the wounded away”
-John K Samson.
“Right now I‟m trying to write a story about a 10 year old vampire who is trying to get
over…being a vampire so he can be a normal 10 year old kid. I‟ve written four
introductions, eaten too many peanuts while doing so, and thought it might be an easier
story to write while drunk. We‟ll see what happens .”
-Letter to Esther Ruth Martin (18/2/07)
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th, 2002) 1: a failure that worked. (8 PM, May 8
I don‟t kno how to tell youu this, but I need your help, and your the only one who can. Remember when I said I had a secret, well Ill tell you what it is. And this isnt a
joke or any thing. Sometimes my head just feels like I‟m going to die, it like someones screaming from inside, and I cant say when it will happen, or why, or anything. It just
does. And the only thing that helps is to drink blood. Im serious. Its the only thing that
helps them go away. my mom found out, and im scared about what she‟s going too do.
Theres this place in Vancouver, and I kno you said it wasn‟t close to you, but I really
need your help. Theres this place in Vancouver that says they can help people like me. I
dunno how im gonna get there, but I need your help. Your from Canada- could you help
me get in? its supposed to be close to the border, I think. I need to do it in like 1 night or
maybe 2 max, because I don‟t want my my mom to get too worried. Im comingg to seattle which is pretty close in about a month, and if u wanted to meet me there, thatd be
really hgood. I hope u can help me.
ps- I told u mine, whats your secret?
th2: Like I said, secrets never stay. (mid afternoon, March 11, 2002)
It was not the kind of day during which a ten year old boy should be discovered
lapping small puddles of uncongealed squirrel blood (or, really, any kind of blood) off a
copy yesterday‟s Asheville Citizen Times (or any newspaper at all). If a child, much less
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a ten year old, must be discovered performing such an act, it demands the drama of the
eye of a tornado in Kansas with windows on the verge of surrender, overpowering a
mother‟s screams. It belongs in a lightning storm on the outskirts of Tampa, a suburb
with too much asphalt for those same screams to be muffled, and the next morning the
woman who lives one flight down would ask about the noise, wondering halfheartedly
whether everyone was alright, while logging the incident down for future complaints to
The day it happened was a half day, straddled by standardized tests and no bagged
lunch or early bus service. It was a day when, in parents‟ minds, wandering from staring
at phone numbers in a rolodex or the thin borders of a spreadsheet, their children are out
playing hopscotch, blowing sugarsmoke out of candy cigarettes, and ripping their jeans in
15 different mid-spring activities. The kids, of course, were not that lucky. They were
all sitting in their school‟s gymnasium, being shushed by overwhelmed teachers, waiting
for their 3:15 busses to come. The bus drivers couldn‟t be expected to change their
schedules for the whim of standardized testmakers, now could they?
Clam lived not four houses down from the school, and he knew he needed the
afternoon alone. He knew his mom would think it a fight worth fighting, so he got her to
write a note to the principle saying it was ridiculous to keep a child cooped up in the gym
for 3 extra hours when he walked home from school every other day. The note continued,
in handwriting that suggested a power greater than legibility, if the principal had further
issues, he could call her at her university office, but not from 9-10:45. She was lecturing
then. Even at 10 years of age, Clam knew that his mother was proud of her current
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position in the world, which included her only child, and, almost as importantly, her
tenure track position at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.
Clam couldn‟t remember much about the years where he had been dropped from state to state, each possessing their own lunchroom customs and local schoolyard name-
callings. From New York he could recall both a big abstract painting, purple that
somehow dripped into blue without hesitation, by an artist whose name he couldn‟t
pronounce, and digging holes in the little green yard below his 25 story apartment
building, surrounded by a thick brick wall with gates that locked with each closure. From
Bloomington he remember lawns that never turned green, the sensation of sticking his
hands into boxes of cheap glass beads, and a trash compactor that appeared once or twice
in his nightmares. From Anchorage, where he had only spent one year, he could
remember being scared by the sunlight for the first time, a deadly car crash that had
almost happened, and how he felt like he couldn‟t hide his secrets well enough. And then came Asheville, from which he was storing away (unaware that this, this was the one
where he would advance from To Kill a Mockingbird to driving around stoned after
junior prom) the jam his mother would buy without labels, the way their house never had
enough closets and so pictures that were formerly sacred were faded from beating of a
mild sun, and finally the backyard, filled with enough plant life that no one could see him
walking around, stealing his mother‟s trowel, and digging up the grass.
Clam left school that day with things on his mind. Mark Sailor‟s birthday was
coming up. Last year Mark had given Clam his old Game Gear after Mark had
discovered his parents had bought Clam a talking R2D2 robot. Mark had concluded
Clam was unworthy of such a cool toy, and that he probably wasn‟t the type to raise a
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fuss anyway. Clam wasn‟t really plotting revenge, but certainly wanted to teach Mark a
lesson. He would normally ask his mother to help him with projects like this, but, being
ten years old now, he thought it time he start making up his own plans. He thought about
this as he walked out the doors of his school, which slammed behind him pushing a last
measure of air saturated with broken penciltips and ziplocked sandwhiches onto his back.
The doors had slammed shut with the same anger and cruelty every day since Clam
started attending the school two years prior, but Clam still jumped and ran as he heard the
clank and felt the cold air on the exposed skin of his neck.
Clam thought, as he opened his house‟s always unlocked door, that he might write
Mark Sailor a really nice letter about what a nice kid he was and how he always let others
beat him in four square even though he was the best player, and then keep the present his
mother had bought Mark for the occasion. He could not savor this thought, because just
as he threw his bloated brickweight backpack onto the floor, an unwelcome, prolonged
shrieking entered his head for the first time in 3 month. Clam almost thought he was over
it, that it would never come back, but it had come back and it was like someone was
scraping his brain against the bones it rested on, or like he could hear the sound that fish
make when they die underwater. “STOP.” Clam screamed to no one in particular. “I‟m done. I donwanna do it again.” But, like every other time it had happened, there was only
one thing that could bring silence to Clam‟s mind, and he hated himself for giving in again. He tried one last defense- to throw himself onto the couch and cover his head in
pillows, but that only made the noise louder. He kept his head buried there, slamming it
with as much force as he could against the pillows and the secondhand sofa‟s rigid back.
He cried and tried to make his own voice louder than the noise in his head, but he could
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not even accomplish that. It was like lying under a train that carrying a slaughterhouse
on its cars.
Finally Clam gave in. He knew, from the start that he had no fight or choise and
ran to the backyard, right up to where he had coiled the water hose. He couldn‟t find the
shovel, but that didn‟t matter. He began to dig ravenously with his small hands, getting dirt wedged deep under nails and even cutting his left ringfinger on a small rock. 20
minutes and about a foot down, Clam found a ziplock bag, which contained a
Tupperware which he had marked, in case of discovery, “property of Clam. Do not
touch.” He cried once more, louder than he knew he should in public, at what he was
about to do, and lay down for a brief moment on his back, his noise getting lost in
Asheville‟s eternally light blue spring sky.
He quieted himself and brought the bag inside to the kitchen. He opened it after
laying down old newspaper (he knew at this point that bloodstains, even those from
congealed blood, were hard to clean up, no matter what surface they appeared on), and
didn‟t hear the front door open, didn‟t look hear his mom leafing through the mail that
had arrived (the postman had heard Clam‟s scream and wondered halfheatedly if everyone was alright), didn‟t see the way her eyes opened wider than eyes normally
should, when she walked into the kitchen and immediately knew her son wasn‟t playing
with red paint.
3: A few hours before she found out, Clam’s mother had made herself a list and put thit on the fridge (8 PM, March 11, 2002)
The first thing on it was “call the plumber” because their toilet upstairs hadn‟t worked for weeks. That night, both mother and son forgot, and Clam‟s mother stared at
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the soiled basin without water and wasn‟t able to focus on how this had happened. Clam‟s mother went back to her room and tried to grade essays but couldn‟t even underline steadily. Clam was trying to read Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH for school,
but his thoughts and undeveloped plans distracted him. At 12:15, when he was sure his
mother had gone to bed, Clam went back down to the kitchen and took his Tupperware
from behind the cleaning supplies under the sink. He tried to convince himself that he
should throw it out, that this didn‟t need to be part of his life. That he was bigger than
this at 10 years old. He held the container over the metal basin, still filled with that day‟s
breakfast (neither of them had eaten dinner), and concluded that at least now, he couldn‟t
do it, that some day he‟d be ready, but right now he wasn‟t. He snuck out to the yard
where he buried the container back by the garden hose. The firstborn crickets and
cicadas of the year were trying out their voices and sounded groggy and unsure, and the
automatic sprinkler system had sprayed the yard‟s grass with a premature morning dew.
When Clam finished he looked back towards the house and realized there was still light
coming from his mother‟s window.
thth- 11, 1996) 4: How he found out. (September 8
In northern Westchester County, a 25 minute Metro North ride from New York
City, there is an office building which has 6 stories. The first two floors of this building
are the offices of a law firm that advertises its accident and malpractice prosecution with
poorly acted commercials aired during the Price is Right, and requires its lawyers (it has
many) to work Saturdays and attend at least 3 games of the company sponsored little
league team. When Clam and his mother had first come to the building, they had
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accidentally arrived on the second of these floors, and the first wave of sound (mostly a
constant sputtering of electronic phone ringing) sent the then-4-year-old Clam into
hysterics, and sent mother rushing with her hand over Clam‟s mouth back towards the elevator.
Clam largely blocked out memories of the building, the elevator, the far too large
parking lot, scattered with aged family sedans, and also of what happened in this building
for the next four days. They had come because Clam‟s mother was prone to getting migraines, but she had never seen anyone act so violent or so pained by pressure in their
skull. She had never seen headaches that make children of 38 months break glass and
then step their unpadded feet on it. She had never heard of children having headaches so
bad they get rejected from daycare.
Clam was left in the care of a doctor with oily hands, who was trying to grow
facial hair to look more professional. He had gotten hired at this relatively prestigious
clinic based on his the school that had given him his medical degree. Clam‟s mother
could not stay all day. She had a class she could not miss, but it was also her son‟s screams which drove her away. To her it sounded like her son was petrified of breathing.
It was unnerving and unrelenting and so her love for her son was, for the moment overrun
by her need for silence. She needed to remember what an average day was. Last week
she had shouted at a homeless woman who had asked her for change and she was 3
rdweeks late turning back her classes paper‟s on the limitations of 3 wave feminist theory when applied to Petrarch‟s love sonnets.
Clam‟s doctor spent the first day leaving the preliminary interview to curse the
limited vocabulary of four year olds. He made notes on a tape recorder about this child‟s
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inability to sit still or stop screaming when an inspection of the inner ear was attempted.
There were rips in Clam‟s red shirt, adorned with a surfing Eskimo and 2 different food
stains, and the doctor would use these, along with the scars on his feet, to consider calling
child services on Clam‟s mother. The doctor would, from his windowless office, make notes in Clam‟s file on “the child‟s endless fidgeting” and assume attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder. On the second day no further progress would be made.
It was not until two full days of observation, the exhaustion of every possible x-
ray and blood test the facility had to offer (they had run out of cartoon bandaids for the
track marks on Clam‟s left arm; Clam was given gauze and an alcohol swab), ignored requests for calls to his mom (who could only visit him for about two hours each day;
that was all the commute and her teaching schedule would allow), ignored requests for a
working television, for an extra pillow, and finally, after a 13 year old next door
requested a room change because Clam‟s early morning whimpering had kept her awake, it was not until the third day that the doctor decided to have a second interview with
Clam had finally fallen asleep after a painful night, when the doctor arrived with
an overmilked cup of coffee, tape recorder and stuffed animal that smelled of detergent
and 99 cent disinfectant. He asked Clam how he was feeling without realizing Clam was
asleep. He repeated the question more loudly, and Clam stirred and eventually responded
“ok, I guess.” The doctor asked if Clam was in any pain and Clam said “not now.” The
doctor clicked a ballpoint pen in his pocket that would make a trail of blue dots soak
through the white fabric. He asked Clam whether his mother had ever hurt him, wanting
to wrap up what he was sure was a case of post abuse trauma, and Clam, incensed even at
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