by Hetre Z

Kyle wants to know his first name. He's never wanted that from anyone before.

Kyle thinks when he walks. He thinks the earth is tilting under him, that it wants to throw him off, that he isn't welcome. Kyle holds his arms out slightly and balances, careful, walking a line until he can grab a bench or a wall. If he can just brush it with his fingertips he'll be okay. Cartman rolls like a boulder down a cliff; he's steady and he's just. There.

Cartman doesn't have a first name.


Kyle wants to be like his mother, who takes a vitamin pill at seven thirty every morning and watches the Happy Painter at four every afternoon. She always knows when dinner's going to be ready, and bedtime is the same every day. Time, for Kyle, has never been that solid. It's almost as unwelcoming as the sidewalks of South Park, mostly ice under his feet. He can't reach out and steady himself against seconds and minutes the way he does against walls, but he wears a watch on his ankle to keep himself solid inside it.

Kyle wants to be like his mother, who never has a problem telling people to come over to her house, for cookies and movies and soda. He tries, goes up to Stan on the playground and says they're having an Outer Limits marathon Saturday and, you -- takes a breath -- you know. Then he chickens out. Kyle thinks life would be easier if he could ask for things, or order them like Cartman. But he lets his mother invite his friends over instead.

"What the hell is this?" Cartman's on the couch, staring at the Happy Painter with his hands balled into fists.

"It's the Happy Painter, man. Don't you know anything?"

"Shut up, I know lots. I know this is stupid, for one."

"Fuck you, Cartman."

For seven days straight last year Kyle wished that he didn't have to be mean to his friends to make an impression. He made the words in his head; I'm happy to see you, how are you doing, I'm having a lot of fun, that's such a great idea. He shaped them with his mouth, and pointed them at his friends. For a whole week he thought about saying them.

"Excuse me? Fuck you first."

"Hey, Cartman, my fucking mom's in the other room. Can you be a little considerate here?"

"Oh, of course, how could I have been so rude? I deeply apologize . . . you pigwipe." On the television the Painter has a spatula with green and brown, and he's swiping it at a stand of pine trees. Cartman's hands have smoothed out on top of his parka now that he's focused and mad at somebody instead of just nothing. He stares at the canvas on the screen, his eyes bugging out and his face red. "I could be the Happy Damn Painter, if I wanted. I could do that."

"Oh yeah? Have you ever painted anything before? You know you'd screw it up. The viewing public would shove that happy little paintbrush up your ass."

"You obviously have no idea of the scope of my talents. I can do anything. Besides, have you ever painted?"

"No, but --"

"Hey, hey. Hyp-o-fucking-crite. You've never done a damn thing, you little baby. I could be a painter, fuck you."

Kyle sits there, watching Cartman watch the screen. He's never smoked a cigarette either. Kyle has never played piano or jacks or Go, he has never painted a picture. Kyle could make a whole list of things he's never done, that he has to do. He could draw it in pencil with red crayon on the border.

Kyle thinks Cartman could do anything, and with less grace than anyone else, ever. His fingers hurt, digging into the couch cushions.

"Ha ha!" Cartman points at the television screen, "His use of green is ju-ve-nile. I could do better." Kyle doesn't say anything. When Stan comes he changes the channel and Kyle lets him.


When you're a kid, everything about South Park feels wrong, too thick and too steady. The school is solid, heavy bricks and a sturdy roof to keep off the snow. The grownups are solid, something you can run to with a problem or run away from punishment, but they're flat in color and dull in shape. It's the wrong kind of solid, Kyle thinks. There's a right kind, a solid pound of chocolate or a solid ball of snow. Not the solid gray of infirmary walls.

Cartman wears parkas, deep red like a lick of flame along the pavement, tree green in the middle of dull brown slush. Blue sky from the bottom of the slide on the playground. He's bright and he's the right kind of solid, bigger than anything in the whole world.

Kyle wants to be like Stan, who looks up at the sky and sees things. To Kyle, the stars of South Park are crumbs on a tablecloth, solid and flat, heavy above him. Stan watches the sky, points to constellations and mispronounces their names, or gives them new ones. He can see the layers between a Mag 6 star and a Mag 2 star like it's easier than hopscotch, or not throwing up on a girl you like. It's the easiest thing in the world for him.

Kyle wants to be like Stan because Stan has a porch with a roof, and he can invite anyone he wants to watch the stars with him on it. Stan is lying next to him on a blanket, with Kenny on the other side, staring up at the sky and pointing to the white dots, his stubby fingers lit by streetlights and waving patterns in the thick night air.

"I think the stars look like sugar on a chocolate donut. They're frosting." Cartman has his arms up behind his head and he's smiling. Something about him looks protective, like he'd hold the sky up if it fell.

"Jesus, Cartman. Do you ever stop thinking about food?" Stan says, pointing to the Big Dipper. Kyle knows it's the Big Dipper, but Stan calls it God's Fat One or Knuckle Sandwich, or sometimes just Mr Big. Stan has star books hidden under his bed, and he told Kyle once that if he ever told anybody, Cartman or anybody, he'd get his teeth knocked in.

"I don't think the sky looks like anything," Kyle says.

"Of course it looks like something! You can see it, can't you? It's the sky, you moron, it's bigger than everything, it's not like you can miss it."

"It's like the Planetarium, it isn't real."

"Of course it's real! How can you say that?"

Kyle can't explain it, flat movie projector madness above his head. He can almost hear clicks and whirs of the machine as the stars fade in-out at the edge of his vision. "Fuck you. It just isn't."

"I can't believe you don't see it. That's fucking pathetic."

Stan goes back to pointing, leaning over to Kenny and explaining the difference between a planet and a star. Every once in a while he gives Kyle a kick in the leg, when he's pointing to Virgo or Jupiter, and Kyle kicks back and looks harder at the sky, trying to see it. He's missing something. He's missing something, because it's the sky, it's supposed to be bigger than anything. But when Kyle looks to his left, the line of houses stretches on forever, and when he looks to his right he can't see past Cartman's parka buttons. Everything else goes on forever, not the sky.

Suddenly Cartman's hand is there, on the edge of the roof, between the street lamps and the clouds. "Okay, here, listen. See, that one, it looks like a crab?"

"Yeah?" Kyle can't really; all the stars look the same to him.

"Fucking liar. C'mere, I'll show you." His other hand grips the front of Kyle's parka and pulls him closer. Kyle can follow the line of Cartman's arm with his eyes, and he can see the slight shape of a crab when he squints. He doesn't feel anything, his entire side shoved up against Cartman, the cloth of parkas scraping slightly. He doesn't feel a thing, Cartman's fist right in the center of his chest, Cartman's voice a clogged, high-pitched buzz in his ears.

On his other side, Kenny asks something and Stan says, "No, you idiot. That's Capricorn, it's the fuzzy beetle-thing. Check it, those are the antennae, and that's the shell. Got it?" Kyle lies there on the porch roof and listens to his friends.

After a while, Cartman stops talking. He's gone from crabs to trees and fly-fishing, using one hand for emphasis while the other stayed firmly balled up in Kyle's parka, and he slowly winds down. His voice gets softer and breathier, taking longer to find a new thread of conversation, and then he stops.

When Kyle looks over, his eyes are closed, a hand still clenched on Kyle's shirt. He tries to unwrap the hand, but Cartman has a strong grip and it doesn't help. He wiggles, grabs Cartman's wrist, nothing works.

He doesn't think Cartman's going to let go of his shirt; he thinks Cartman might even be asleep already. Kyle thinks maybe he doesn't want to wake Cartman up; he doesn't want to disturb the tiny sleepy smile and the heavy arm over his. There's warmth seeping into his skin through the fabric, fading the cold winter night into a little ball of heat near his collarbone. Kyle rolls over onto his side, careful not to disturb the fist against his chest, curls around it, and falls asleep.

In South Park, nobody pisses against the wall. Kyle thinks that's a shame.

New York City, a vision of Big Apple fueled by Woody Allen movies and nonstop media coverage, glitters against his eyelids and pricks his skin. He imagines dirt, not dirty snow but real dirt, along the sidewalk, and heat that comes off the road in waves. He dreams about the white glaze of sun on the cars and people, or the dull purple slice of sky between granite buildings, and he wakes up to gray town and black wool overcoats. Kyle's eyes hurt all the time.

He doesn't know why the city's so fascinating. If he had to say something, it would be that New York isn't South Park, but he doesn't really think that's it. The city is trapped in his head for no reason, it's cheap like plastic beads and it sounds like foghorns; it doesn't make any sense. It tastes like the cookies his mom made for his brother's birthday, a few days stale and the icing crumbling off.

Kyle thinks Cartman is like New York City, loud and rough; the way he never forgives is harsh sidewalk and subway trains. Kyle thinks Cartman's like the city, but he doesn't know which one he liked first and which one came later.

Kyle wants to be like Cartman's mom, who buys bacon and sausages and ham, cooks steak rare, doesn't let a blush spill across her cheeks going into the packaged meat section of the supermarket. Kyle wants to be like Cartman's mother, who forgets what the word "Kosher" means five seconds after he tells her, and invites him to go shopping with the family like it was nothing. Like bacon is everything, and Kyle should know.

He follows the soles of her shoes, black against the white floor of the supermarket. Cartman stops at the potato chip section, the Milano cookie section, watches the pinatas that hang from the ceiling as he walks. Cartman's parka is unbuttoned, just the first button, and the sleeves rolled back. He swings his arms in time with the clomp clomp noise his snowboots make on the tiles.

"Thank you for bringing me, Mrs Cartman."

"Nonsense, Kyle dear, you're a sweetheart to come."

Behind him, Kyle can hear Cartman humming kyle-dear, kyle-dear softly. He's got a tube of Pringles chips and he's tossing them up and down; the chips make a muted thump when they hit the side of the cylinder.

"Shut up. What does she call you?" Kyle wants to know his name.

"Lord and master," Cartman says, and smiles and walks past him down the aisle, turns the corner.

Kyle's shoes squeak while he walks, he rubs his knuckles on the metal shelves as he travels past Near East and bottled water. Everything looks sickly under the lights, the food garish and not- quite-real, more like the bearded lady at the carnival than anything he might want to put in his mouth. There are sausage samples being cooked down the aisle, and the smell makes him curdle inside. Cartman's parka looks like blood against the white tiled floor.

"It's creepy. Why the fuck does your mom shop here?" Kyle slides his hand along the length of the shelf to anchor himself. Everything is sick green and purple bruises against his eyes. Even the shallow light of the school playground is better than this.

"Hey, fuck you, I like it."

Kyle's chest feels tight, the skin of his arms going numb; he has to slap the backs of his fingers against the metal joints on the shelves to feel anything at all. Cartman is smiling slightly, he looks awake and serene.

"You would, sicko. The lights are all weird."

"Fucking pansy-ass baby." He whaps Kyle on the back of the head with the Pringles can, lightly, so that it feels almost like a hairbrush or a knitted cap. "We come here every week. I dunno, I guess I'm used to it."

When they walk outside, Kyle can feel his chest expanding, withered senses lighting up and his eyes going wide in the near-yellow sunlight. Cloudcover is thin in places, little blots of gold like pats of butter on the blacktop of the parking lot.

When Kyle looks over at him, Cartman is walking slower and slower, buttoning up his parka with quick, angry movements. He looks paler when he has to put down the sun visor in the car than he looked in the freezer section, surrounded by bags of frozen peas and TV dinners and cold pizza in boxes. Cartman watches the grocery store in the sideview mirror as long as he can, and Kyle can see the exact second that he forces his eyes away, and instead looks at the holly bushes and shrubs as they drive past.

Kyle chases bees. Or maybe they're really wasps or yellow jackets; he's never actually learned to tell the difference. To him they're just flying creatures with yellow and black stripes, and they sting. They move slower in South Park than probably anywhere else, winter being seven months out of the year and the cold season being the other five. Kyle thinks they hibernate pretty much all year round.

He finds their round papery nests with rocks, or empty Campbell's soup cans, perfect aim and his hand itches to just launch it, just let go. He watches the soft wet-dry explosion, like Gallagher and his watermelon, as the nest flies apart in shreds and a million tiny larvae tumble onto the ground.

One time he was aiming, one eye closed, arm extended, and Cartman laughed. Not mocking or nasty or calculating, just a rough low sound in his throat, a smile on his face and his eyes squinched up. Kyle saw him laugh, rock in his hand forgotten as he watched Cartman giggling in the snow, and it stung all the way up his arm and into his chest.

When he looked down there was a bee on his wrist, the yellow and black ugly against his skin as the stinger leaked poison into him and Cartman laughed.

Cartman tries to use him to cheat on homework. Even little things, like dyeing macaroni and gluing it to paper, he tries to get Kyle to do it for him. Kyle has spent enough time in the principle's office while Cartman plays on the swingset to learn that when Cartman gets that look on his face, he's going to ask for something. Kyle's trained himself to skip the no and the I won't and the leave me alone, Cartman, and go straight to the insults. It always works better that way.

"I hate you. I won't cheat like you do."

"Hey, c'mon. What --"

"I don't want to be like you, you stupid fucker."

He sees Cartman's eyes close; hands curl into fists until the knuckles are white against his jacket.

Kyle doesn't want to be like Cartman. When Kyle was six he was friends with a French boy who lived down the block. He had dark eyes and fuzzy dark hair, and he always smiled when he said "Ky-el", like it made him happy just to speak it. His name was Rene, but Cartman called him "Rennet".

Kyle doesn't want to be like Cartman, who has a mulberry tree in his backyard and whose mother gives him graham crackers and milk every afternoon; who watches the same five episodes of Cops over and over and who has never, ever said a single nice word that didn't sound like he was choking on it.

"I don't want to be like you. I'm not letting you cheat off my papers, I'm not going to follow you around for career day, I'm not going to do favors for you, no matter how many times you ask, you can just forget it."

Cartman is pale, his fingertips reddish-purple in the cold air, and his face gray like the snow on the side of the road. "That wasn't what I was going to ask, moron."

"Right." One of these days, Kyle might wish he didn't know how to sneer.

"It's true."

"Oh yeah? I know you, fat boy. You can't pretend to be something else, I know you."

"You don't know me! You don't know anything. You don't know anything!" He yells so loud the little kids on the kickball field turn to watch.

"Well, fine, what did you want, then?"

"Fuck you! I was just --"

"Yeah, what?"

"Nothing. God, I hate you. I hate you!" He's never said that before.

Kyle tries to figure his name out, listens to Cartman's voice climbing higher and higher the angrier he gets. He watches Cartman hop from foot to foot in rage, or slow his breath down by counting. The wind is blowing newspapers around, snow melting against paper until it's a big soggy mass. It's lifted up to slap the side of the school, wet smacking sounds and a flutter like birds.

Kyle thinks he's lived in South Park too long, that he smiles at Cartman, makes sure his teeth shine in the morning light, and turns away without answering.


Kenny slips on a patch of ice and Kyle says "Oh my God" like a chain letter, the more people hear you the more good luck you get. He sees Stan and Cartman huddled at the other side of the playground, and he knows Cartman will start speaking to him again in a few days. Cartman will pretend it never happened, whatever it was.


Kyle thinks he's been here too long, because he's just a kid and he can think he's been here too long. The way his father says he's been working the same damn job too long without a raise. He's been in South Park too long because he knows exactly what will happen tomorrow, the next day, a week from now. Same bat-time, same bat- channel, over and over.

Cartman will always be too solid and Kyle will never find a way past him. Cartman will never have a first name, and Kyle could wish every day for a different color parka, or less snow, or the city or a paintbrush or a nice word, but nothing changes. No matter how much he wants it to.

Kyle thinks South Park is too small, for him and for Cartman, but there's nothing bigger. There is nothing more than South Park.


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