THE HONEY BADGER by MOLLY HARRIS

You and Leroy are in the Moon’s parking lot. Leroy always says that if you go between the hours of 1 and 3 am, you won’t have to deal with the police department. Leroy was never wrong.

The Moon is the highest point in St. Charles County. It is a 75-foot tall pile of grey rocks, covering about two tons of nuclear waste. It is actually called the Weldon Springs Site, but Leroy calls it the Moon because the endless, grey landscape you see from the top of it looks like how a bunch of seventeen-year-olds would imagine the moon. Tonight, you and Leroy are here to explore and climb to the top of it. Leroy seems to have missed that memo because he looks like he wants to lecture you.

“Why do you only date shitty boys?”

You ask Leroy for proof that you only date shitty boys, and he starts the list.

He says Nick used to speak to you like you were a slow animal that needed help. He mentions how Nick kicked you out, and how when you tried to get your stuff back the next week, he was wearing your old high school senior hoodie and crying and how he told you to stop trying to get back together because it was never going to happen, even though you really didn’t want to get back together. You just wanted your GameCube back. He mentions Jamie leaving you trapped in a car in a foreign city after ditching you for a 21+ show and then refusing to pick up the phone for hours and hours and how being alone in your car reminded you of when you were homeless and always trapped in your car with no one picking up the phone.

You tell him to stop talking because you’re annoyed that you don’t get to feel the cold stones against your hands as you scale the mass of radioactive rocks. You don’t want to think about Jamie or Nick or Leroy or anyone else. Only the rocks in front of you.

You tell Leroy that you’re taking him home.

He tells you that he’s worried about you.

Leroy has something called Cystic Fibrosis that makes him occasionally have coughing fits that don’t stop. Sometimes, you have to rush him to the hospital. It’s scary, and lowers Leroy’s life expectancy, but you’ve come to terms with it. Some days, you think Leroy has, too.

Tonight, you know where Leroy is. He’s in room 111 on the third floor of Progress West Hospital. He’s always in that room. You’ve spent a lot of time there, watching the Animal Planet documentary on the honey badger (the one that got killed by the snake) and playing around with the hospital “tutorial videos” on the computer that you feel you and Leroy shouldn’t be touching. You will be there tonight, but there’s a stone in your stomach. You are scared to go see him today. Last you heard of him, he was foaming at the mouth and convulsing on the floor of a high school cafeteria.

As you enter the elevator, you’re starting to wish that this visit was more like the time when you were seventeen and visiting Leroy by yourself for the first time.

*

You pulled up in the parking lot in your 1993 Honda Civic, the one that hardly went over 55 on the highway. As soon as you pulled into a parking spot, Mike walked up to your car. You roll down your window to ask what’s up and if they were here to see Leroy, but Mike cuts you off before you can even begin a syllable.

“We’re breaking Leroy out of here.”

Leroy is a ward of the state, and he does not have anyone to sign him out of the hospital when he doesn’t want to be there, like a mom or a dad could do. Even if it feels like he’s fine. Even if it’s been two weeks.

You agree, and ask what the plan is. Mike jumps in your car and pulls out a pair of hospital scrubs that he probably got from his mother.

“I’m going to wear these in. Jake is already up in Leroy’s room. He’s going to let me in the back door, so I don’t have to sign in. I’m going to go up to Leroy’s room, and we’re going to wheelchair him outta there.” You think this sounds ridiculous. “And you’re going to be the getaway car.”

“Okay. Should I keep the car running?”

“Of course. What kind of getaway car are you?”

You don’t answer Mike. You shut your eyes tight while he changes in the passenger side seat.

He bolted out, and around twenty minutes later, you saw Mike and Jake wheeling a Leroy Williams out of Progress West’s front doors. Leroy wore a hospital gown with those scratchy, blue disposable pants. They ditched the wheelchair by your car, and you drove them to QuikTrip, so Leroy could buy a pack of Marlboro Reds and a gas station pop in a final act of defiance. And then you drove them back, laughing and blaring Modest Mouse.

You think that this is your favorite hospital visit because it was the only time you never stepped foot into the hospital.

*

            Tonight, you know that it will be different as you wait for the elevator. When you get to Leroy’s room, you see the door is already cracked. When you step inside, you see Leroy lying in bed, sweating. His skin almost paper white and paper thin.

“Hey,” you say.

“Hey,” he says.

You sit on the foot of his bed, watching the same Animal Planet documentary about the honey badger that always seems to be on when Leroy is trapped in room 3 111.

“You’re going to hate this ending. The badger dies.”

“Oh yeah?” You’re leaning your back against the plastic rails of his hospital bed. You look over and see his face. His mouth and ginger beard is covered by an oxygen mask. You get closer.

You and Leroy are the same age, even if you are in your first year of college, and he is still only a junior in high school. It is hard to finish school when you don’t have a mom and live on Progress West’s Third Floor, Room 111. You’re resting your head on his shoulder. Not because you like him romantically or because you want to feel the heat of another body, but because he almost died again, and you would miss him if he left you. You’re scared that he’s going to be leaving soon. He’s so pale and thin and weak. He is your friend and you will get as close as you damn well please to on this godforsaken hospital bed.

“If you let any of our friends know about this, I will kick your ass.”

“Okay,” you laugh.

You two don’t need to say anything as you watch the honey badger eventually lose itself to the snake’s poisoning in the dark of the hospital room, lit only by the fluorescent, flickering light of the small TV in front of you.

—–

Molly Harris is student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  Twenty-one years young, she writes as a way to process her experiences of the world around her, both its tragedy and its beauty. She is currently living in Chicago, but her Missouri roots always find their ways back into her writing.  You can find her some of her work both in Furrow and in Hooligan Magazine, and you can follow her instagram at @mollyjaneharris if you want to see plenty of pictures of her cats.

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Vagabond City Literary Journal

Founded in 2013, we are a literary journal dedicated to publishing outsider literature. We publish art, poetry, and creative nonfiction from marginalized creators.

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