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What If?

—for D.P.

By Ira Sukrungruang

You had the habit of pulling practical jokes on me that pushed the line of decency: shooting bb’s from your upstairs window like a sniper, wrapping my Jeep in industrial strength plastic wrap five inches thick, putting on a Halloween mask and stealthily breaking into my house and then standing over me with an air pistol aimed at my head while I slept.

This was fun for you.

Despite all of this, for a few years, you were all I had, and I liked your stories and I liked your pranks—though I would never tell you—and we were inseparable for a while, the muscled-Pollack and Chubby Oriental, two first generation kids making our way in Chicago, poking fun at other minorities in the confines of your Chevy Cavalier, the trailer trash car, you called it, with a web-cracked windshield and busted out lights.

“Dude,” you said, pointing to the Hispanic man at the bus stop, “I think he’s lost.”

“Give him a map then,” I said.

“Somebody should tell him Mexico is south from here.”

“Check him for his green card.”

“You got your green card?”

“This is America,” I said. “Everything’s green.”

And you laughed like it was the funniest thing in the world before gunning the car to whatever destination we were heading to, the mall most likely, or Super Burrito.

Each night that summer, we found our way back to my house and we talked until you headed off to the graveyard shift at the lumberyard. You spoke of things I was not sure were true. That you sold coke and steroids at the gym. That your father was head of an underground crime family in Warsaw. That you had a candy bar named after you there. Mostly, you loved the “what if” game. What if we were gay? Who would we date? What if we committed suicide? How would we do it? What if one of us died? What would we steal from each other first?

The last month before I moved to Ohio, you spent most of the nights in the bathroom. I told you the new rule: Never shit in my house again. I told you something died in your ass. You laughed, but your face was wet with sweat and pale after you came out. You couldn’t sit down. You lay on your stomach or leaned against the wall. One night, you asked me to come into the bathroom.

I didn’t want to.

“I think something’s wrong,” you said.

You had been in the bathroom for over an hour and I was beginning to think that something was wrong. I walked in, covering my nose, spraying scented aerosol into the air. You pointed to the toilet. I looked and looked away. I wanted to see logs of shit or artistically chiseled poop. I expected you to laugh and tell me I was a dumbass for believing you.

But you didn’t. Your finger remained pointed at the toilet. “It’s been like this for a month.”

“God,” I said. “Flush. Wash your hands.”

You did. And then in a quick move, you pushed me against the back wall of the bathroom and closed the door behind you. You sat in front of it and laughed long and hard as I pounded on the door and said I was in the epicenter of stink Hell. But I knew you wouldn’t budge. I knew I would spend the night in the bathroom until my mother came home and let me out.

“Go see a doctor,” I said.

“Yeah,” you said and you sighed afterwards.

“What if your ass was a flower?” I said. “What would it be?”

“A dead one. One that attracts maggots.”

“Go see a doctor,” I said.

“Yeah.” For the rest of the night, we chatted about the fragility of life, a deep and melodramatic conversation. The door stayed between us until you left for work, wedging my mother’s golf bag under the knob.

The first night I was in Ohio, you called and said you were at a bar celebrating your disease. I could hear some boy band crowing in the background. “Crohn’s,” you said. “They have to take out some of my intestines next week.”

“Excellent,” I said. “When you die, I get your TV, right?”

“What a pal,” you said. You said, “For you, anything.”


Ira Sukrungruang's essays have appeared in Arts and Letters, River Styx, The Pinch, and other literary journals. He is the co-editor of What Are You Looking At? The First Fat Fiction Anthology and Scoot Over, Skinny: The Fat Nonfiction Anthology. When he isn't reading student essays, he is shoveling snow in Oswego NY, digging canyon-like pathways for his two cocker spaniels, for if he didn't, they would surely disappear into the white.


[** Ira discusses the origins of this essay and addresses some craft decisions in his blog entry, The Genesis of "What If?"]

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