Billy knew he had to do it all before time ran out. How much time he had was an interesting question. The answer was not a lot. The answer was to get moving already.
His whole life he’d been moving. From nice neighborhood to less nice, from one pose to the next. He liked moving, and people liked watching him move. Although he couldn’t see everything, he could see that, the pleasure others took in watching him. He took no such pleasure in watching anyone else.
Things that brought Billy pleasure: salt water in his hair, his mother’s laughter in the next room over, pickles on cheeseburgers.
The ocean was best. There he was small, just the size he wanted to be. Who in the ocean feels otherwise? The key was patience, waiting for the tug and then swimming furiously, so his body crested just as the wave did. To be carried, to give himself over completely to an invisible force—when he timed it right, there was no better feeling. And then, when it was over, to swim back and wait for the tug again. The best days that was all he did.
But there were no waves this day. He bobbed in the ocean, willing them to form, but none of his spells worked. On shore, the sand was covered with empty towels. He lay on the first one he reached. The sun got to work right away. He closed his eyes. He could almost forget sometimes. When he opened them, a shape was fighting its way into focus. He pushed himself up and squinted, though that didn’t help. He squinted for other people, to show he was trying.
“That’s my towel,” the shape said.
“It didn’t feel right,” Billy confessed.
How long had he slept? It seemed only a moment, yet the towels had all been tucked into bags or slung over shoulders, the sand returned to its primal state. He retrieved his shirt and sandals from beneath the bottom step of the pavilion, where he always left them. It gave him faith to return to them unstolen. He never brought a towel of his own. The world had a way of accommodating this need.
Billy smelled the exhaust of the patrol car before it announced itself at the top of the steps. The car was piloted by his mother’s boyfriend, a man whose loud and insistent belief in justice—civic and personal— was betrayed by his perpetually red face. Officer Peters asked Billy if he wanted to go for a ride.
“I didn’t steal the towel,” Billy said.
“What towel?” the officer asked, securing the handcuffs.
They drove slowly in the way only cops do. Billy stared at the usual things from the back of the car.
“I want to show you something,” Officer Peters said.
This wasn’t Billy’s first ride in the back. Officer Peters had a way, since he started dating Billy’s mother, of finding Billy. Although he’d never admit it, this impressed him. Billy respected cleverness. He liked that Officer Peters never told Billy how he knew where he was, though the more Billy thought about this, the easier it seemed. It wasn’t like he was running a drug ring.
The car always had a destination, the more horrifying the better. Sometimes they toured blasted-out neighborhoods, the likes of which Billy had no idea existed, which was the point. Every house had a chain-link fence, waist high. Every house had a barking dog inside the fence. Every house had a car missing something—a wheel, a window— on the other side of the fence.
“You don’t know how lucky you are,” Officer Peters liked to say when they passed a particularly incomplete car.
“I know exactly how lucky I am,” Billy said each time.
Other times they drove past people living with their tattered possessions beneath overpasses. He didn’t think a car could