Henry Hoke’s dazzling and daring new fiction challenges the concepts of memoir and dreamscape, reality and surrealism, literature and sexuality.
What if Tom and Huck Fucked?
Someone has spray-painted “What if Tom and Huck fucked” on the wall of school. Tom thinks they wrote it to drive Tom and Huck apart. Huck hopes Tom wrote it because that would be amazing. But no, Huck knows, this graffiti happens in high school, in the nineties, and it’s still the eighties, the future far off, and Tom and Huck haven’t even been born, they’re still gestating in wooded communities a state away from each other.
Tom finds a black widow in his sand box and puts it in a bug hut. That night Tom can’t sleep for imagining the widow climbing into his mouth and down his throat like he’s heard happens. In the morning, Tom finds that a larger spider has replaced the black widow in the bug hut, and this new spider is dead. That same morning, Huck moves into a house up the street.
Tom comes home and tells his mother that Huck is mean to cats. Huck comes home and tells his mother that he’s found a new best friend in the whole world.
The first time Tom and Huck are allowed to ride their bikes alone they stay out until sunset. They stop at the top of the biggest hill in their neighborhood. In the distance, they see two men crawl out of a storm drain and run away.
Parents: if you teach your children to pray, they will only pray for endless sleepovers.
“It’s a little bit night and a little bit morning.” 4am, not dawn, but when day teases the edges of the world. If they walked outside they’d be drifting silhouettes, a terrifying time. But warm inside, Huck’s mumbled response is comforting. Tom wakes up at 4am when he sleeps over, wakes loudly or moves just enough to rouse Huck, and Tom always asks the same question: “What time is it?” And Huck always has the same answer: “it’s a little bit night and a little bit morning.” Tom wakes at this time for the rest of his life.
“We have to work out a system” Huck says and lays out a map of tunnels and turrets on the rug. Tom stares at a spot of dried blood on Huck’s ear. It’s all Tom can see. It’s going to be the best snow fort ever.
Imagine yourself on a raft in a slow-moving river at night. Every soft animal makes sounds from the bank. You are in the center of the raft, and surrounding you are all your friends, asleep. This is heaven. He wakes you up by singing “I just stuck a top in my crotch.” You wonder if he’s sure what crotch means and if he’s hurt and if you are in love with him. The water is stupid with stars.
When the girls twist the stems of apples and the pop-tops of canned coke they always end up on H for Huck. Never, in the history of twisting girls, have they reached the letter T.
Tom and Huck are on their backs in the grass again. Huck says he can’t wait to have kids, so he can beat them. Tom tries to imagine what their children would look like.
How many times can you write the word “pussy” in a book of Mad Libs? Tonight we’re going to find out. By God.
Becky Thatcher sits in the middle of Tom and Huck in the closet. She takes turns kissing them, placing their hands on her knee. Tom imagines Huck. Huck imagines a guinea pig with broken legs. Becky Thatcher imagines herself in fifteen years, rolling around Alphabet City with Aunt Polly, the great poet, going to get her groceries, seeing this book, never existing.
Tom pulls out his final baby tooth in the school courtyard. Huck takes it from him and Tom turns his head to the right and puts his ear to the picnic table. Tom blinks and Huck has his ear down too, facing Tom. They spend the break period with locked eyes. Etched between them is “bitches on my nuts cuz I got cash flow and what.”
Huck is an amalgam. Huck’s real name is Nathan, or Nathan, or Oliver. These names become the names of stuffed bears. Tom’s real name is Tom fucking Sawyer.
There’s only so many times you can hurt your younger brothers until their pain surpasses yours and they grow up to be exponentially more successful.
Having others whitewash the fence robs you of a formative character-building experience, a crucial life skill: many lunches later you’re not where you want to be.
Huck stands Tom up at the top of the ridge. “Close your eyes, hold your arms out” Tom makes the Christ pose and Huck steps back. “Like you’re holding buckets of rainwater. Good.” Fallen leaves crunch, it’s warm for autumn. “Okay.” Tom’s lips part and when, hours later, he opens his eyes, Huck has disappeared and won’t be coming back.
Are you really falling if there’s no ground rising up to meet you? Was the bottomless pit even in the book, or was it just a set piece at a theme park? There’s no way our boys can go back and reread it, they’ve come too far.
Tom still thinks, to this day, that the larger spider got into the bug hut and was killed by the black widow, and the black widow then escaped. It never occurs to him that the larger spider got into the bug hut, ate the poisonous widow, and died.
I’ll always love you Maurice
There was a sign on Tom’s door… it read: “to find out the secret, knock three times.” Huck knocked three times and Tom opened the door.
“Hello Huck.” “Hello Tom, what’s the secret?”
“I’m not Tom anymore,” said Tom. “That’s the secret.”
“Then who are you?” Asked Huck.
“I’m Frank Hardy and you’re Joe Hardy and it’s the Mystery of the Whale Tattoo.” Huck said “You’re doing it wrong we’re supposed to be girls.”
Henry Hoke was a child in the South and an adult in New York and California. He authored “The Book of Endless Sleepovers” (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2016) and “Genevieves” (winner of the Subito Press prose contest, forthcoming 2017). Some of his stories appear in The Collagist, Birkensnake, Gigantic and Carve. He co-created and directs Enter>text, a living literary journal.
This excerpt was originally published in PANK Magazine.