June 323 BC Lindz McLeod
If I had to choose, I’d say I’m Luxembourg; small, neat, boxy. Luxembourg’s capital city is also called Luxembourg. Sometimes I think about my brain and how, if the brain is the capital city of the body, my brain must also be called Harrison. The heart is different. I don’t know if my heart is called Harrison. Maybe the heart is like the second-largest capital city, like Glasgow or Marseille—I don’t know what that makes the liver, because they’re usually heavier than the brain, and no one has been able to tell me yet what the correct corresponding entity should be.
David would be Alexandria. He says that’s his favourite place name in the whole world.
After school, I set out to find him. I start in Cyprus—the lowest branch of the big tree in the Delaney’s front garden—and then I cruise across the sea of asphalt, arms open wide like a condor, until I alight on the beaches of Egypt.
When I get to the crossroads near the church, I press the button and wait even though there’s no traffic. Today, David comes from the south, and his left cheek is swollen. “We were in Asmara this morning,” he says. “At the dentist.”
“Capital of Eritrea,” I say, and he tosses me a lemon drop from his pocket.
“Maybe if you didn’t carry so many lemon drops you wouldn’t need to go to Asmara.”
“Did you know that the old man who used to live in your house carried strawberry bonbons around all the time?” He shoves a hand into the pocket, wiggles it to make the wrappers crinkle. “I prefer citrus.” His left eye has bloomed a ferocious purple. “Sour. Tart.”
“Acetic. Bitter. Piquant.” He throws me another. I can’t help staring. “What’s wrong with your tooth?”
There hadn’t been anything wrong with his mouth at school yesterday. Or his eye. In our last class of the day, he’d answered all the questions Mr Kipphut had asked. Answered everything correctly until Sam and Budd had started mimicking him in a shrill, piggy voice. Then he’d stopped answering, even when Mr Kipphut made them hush.
“Did I ever tell you,” David leans closer, “that the dentist’s assistant has a smile as wide as the Ganges?”
I don’t say anything. His story doesn’t make sense. My aunt works at the dentist’s office and it’s much further west, like Khartoum. My aunt says you can’t always believe what people tell you, especially about their teeth.
“What, you don’t think I could charm an older woman?” He smiles, then grimaces and touches a tentative finger to his cheek.
“Why did Budd tell you yesterday that pigs can’t sweat?”
He pretends he’s just spotted his lace is loose and kneels to fix it, but I can see him struggle to tug the knot out.
“Pigs use mud to cool down instead of sweat. I like pigs.” I say. “Did you know that they’re even-toed ungulates?”
He sighs, his face hidden. “Yes, Harrison, I did know that.” He stands. “Want to go for a walk?”
He revolves, finger held out. “West.”
* * *
David listens to me talking all the way to the park, then he takes the left swing because he knows I like the right one. A friend for life is the best kind, my mother says. I don’t have many friends, so it’s good to know he’ll always be around. The chains rattle as I grip them above my head.
“Why is Alexandria your favourite?”
“You know why.”
“I like to hear you tell it.” I wait, poking wood chips with one sneaker.
“Alexander was the greatest.” His voice slows, takes on a dreamy quality. “He assumed the throne after his father died. He sacked Thebes the following year before starting on Persia. He never faltered, never wavered.” He breaks off. Budd, wearing a bleached t-shirt and cut off shorts, is ambling toward the park, cell phone held in front of his mouth. He’s seen us; he’s smiling but I don’t think it’s because he’s happy.
David stands up so I do too. “Alexander cried because there were no more worlds left to conquer. Isn’t that something?” He isn’t smiling.
My stomach cramps because I’ve wanted to bring this up for weeks, ever since I found out the truth, but I didn’t know how. I’m not good at guessing what the right time is. I’m not good at guessing what people are thinking. There’s so much I’m not good at, like lying. “He never actually said that.”
“There’s no proof. Catherine of Aragorn asked for a copy of Plutarch’s Moralia in 1527, and the guy who made it for her included the real quote. If Alexander ever said such a thing,” I pause but he doesn’t say anything. His mouth is slightly open, and his eyebrows are raised. My father says that means surprise or shock or awe. I continue, “then probably what he actually said was the opposite. Something like ‘can you believe there are infinite worlds, and I have not even conquered one?’”
David’s looking at me as though he’s never seen me before. I study his body language. Loose arms, feet pointing north, eyebrows now arching downwards.
“Are you mad at me? I can’t tell.”
He whistles, long and slow. “Well I’ll be damned, Harrison. That’s some good advice.”
Budd kicks the gate. It rebounds off the metal fence. Reverberating. Rumbling. David doesn’t flinch. “Hold out your hands.”
Obediently, I comply. He pours the contents of his pocket into my waiting palms. A lemon-drop libation to his hero. I close my fingers over the crinkling wrappers.
“Keep these safe. Be my Hephaestion.”
Budd stands at the open gate, oinking. He hasn’t come in. He’s waiting like a matador, knowing that the bull is going to have to come out sooner or later. David walks towards him as I unwrap a lemon drop. The sweetness invades my tongue like an onslaught of Macedonians.
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