At dinner their father hits their mother. It isn’t a real punch, more like their father grabbing their mother’s wrists and pushing her against the fridge. A plastic donut magnet pressed behind their mother’s back falls to the floor.
Ellen, he says, I don’t like you.
Shut up, their mother says, you’re drunk.
Their father goes upstairs, trying to stomp, but the new carpet absorbs his weight and makes a faint squeak toy sound. Nolan drops his plate in the sink, where it settles like a coin but doesn’t break. Alex follows him to the basketball court at the high school.
I could take him. Nolan banks the ball against the board and it falls through the net before bouncing away. He retrieves it but does not offer her a shot. I wish they would divorce.
Bits of paper blow in the grass, hundreds of colored paper squares the size of tickets. Alex picks up a few—on them are blurs of white greasepaint and leather, fire and guitars, words. She collects 280 squares off the grass and spreads them on the side of the basketball court. After awhile, Nolan joins her, cross-legged, basketball pressed to his hip. The sun sets and they work under the lights that begin to stretch over the court, putting the pieces together.
It’s an album-sized booklet, “THE EVOLUTION OF KISS”, from the KISS double LP “KISS ALIVE II”. Who still listens to fucking KISS? Nolan says, as Alex gathers the squares in her palm. She remembers watching “KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park” on television together a few days before Halloween. She was six and Nolan was eight, and both were so scared afterward they slept at the foot of their parent’s bed in their sleeping bags.
What’s going to happen to us? Alex asks him, but he doesn’t answer. His fists are tight. Maybe one day their father will hit their mother, and it won’t just be on the shoulder, the back. Everyone will know, and something will happen. But Alex is not sure what. Nolan stands up and shakes his hair out of his eyes. Come on. Somehow he got so much taller than her, she thinks, taller than their father. He looks down at everyone, like God, or maybe like the Paul Bunyan that stands outside the pancake house on Route 9, axe over his shoulder, chipped paint smile.
Later, when everyone is asleep, Alex tapes the pieces of the booklet together at the kitchen table, carefully lining up the tears so that no one can see them. She uses a whole roll of tape, but when she holds up the booklet to the light, it’s heavy and floppy and shiny with grids of Scotch stitches. Some squares are still missing, and Alex will never know what words, what pictures, are gone forever.
When she finds the booklet in the back of her closet, years later, she can’t throw it away. Her father lives with his lover, Steve, in Arizona. Her mother still lives here in the house, where so many of their things remain: hers, Nolan’s, even their father’s.
In 1983, KISS went unmasked. Alex remembers how dark, how Italian, the men behind the cat, the devil, the star child and space alien costumes looked, but she was no longer scared of them. That night Alex puts the booklet in a box along with Nolan’s old Joy Division and Mission of Burma cassettes to send to his last-known address in Los Angeles, hoping it doesn’t come back, return to sender. YOU WERE RIGHT, she writes on a sheet of notebook paper that she uses to hold the cassettes together. She hopes he understands what she means. She is not quite so sure herself. But now the box is closed, taped up tight, and she never opens up what she has sealed.