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[This tale ran originally in The Hyperion Chronicles as #360 BLISTER]

Editor’s Note: Monday was a very bad day for me. Events kept piling up (as they are so wont; traveling in packs as they do, the cowards), and by Monday night I had simply had it. Out of that frame of mind, I sat down and wrote this.

They called him Blister. He was never smart enough to know why. Blister did know discourtesy. He didn’t know the word, but he knew what it meant. Blister grew up poor, stupid, trash; pick your adjective, you’ve seen hundreds like him. But Blister’s Momma—god rest her soul—had taught him to be polite.

“Blister,” she told him, “it don’t cost nothing to be nice to people.” It’s a poor man indeed who would treat a stranger like an enemy.”

Blister wasn’t bright, but he understood that much. He said ‘Yes, ma’am’ and ‘No, sir,’ ‘Please’ and “Thank You.’ And he meant it every time.

Why Blister took to this teaching when other things were so hard for him, most likely had to do with the person inside. But also, Blister knew how very cruel people could be.

Blister was big, slow, and stupid, and the neighborhood kids never let him forget it. There was one especially mean kid; Kenny McCoy. He was the worst of them. Kenny made up the name Blister when Blister was only six.

“People get a blister when they rub their skin the wrong way.” Kenny said. “No one ever wants to get a blister. They’re accidents. Blister’s mama know all about that, huh, Blister?”

The other kids immediately took it up: “Huh, Blister? Huh, Blister? Huh, Blister?”

Blister didn’t know what Kenny meant, but by the grin on Kenny’s face, he sense there was something wrong. Blister went home and asked his momma. She got flushed and angry and said don’t worry about it, it will blow over. But it never did. Kenny got all the kids to say “Blister,” and the name stuck.

Blister had a sister once. She died when she was less than a year old. It was the only time Blister ever saw his momma cry. At the viewing, Blister looked down into the little casket, and she looked so peaceful, and perfect, like she was sleeping. Blister leaned down and kissed her on the forehead.

A few days later on the playground Blister told Kenny about it. Soon all the kids were yelling, “Mister Blister, wants to kiss his sister!” in that sing-song chant children use to destroy people.

Blister didn’t understand how they were making fun of him, by just saying what he’d done, but he was old enough now to know it wasn’t right. Blister didn’t like that too well, but he kept his mouth shut. To answer back in anger would be rude, and Blister was never rude.

There was one girl, Paula Jean, who would try to be nice to Blister. She stuck up for him when the kids ganged up, and she would never talk to Blister like he was big and slow and stupid. It was a small respite, but one Blister was grateful for.

Blister got older. He adjusted, learned how to pick up a few things. It turned out he did have some ability. You could give Blister a string of numbers as long as your arm, and he could multiply them by another string just as long in nothing flat. Blister’s momma was excited, and wanted to send Blister to a special school, but right then she got sick.

She wouldn’t tell Blister what it was, but he would catch her hiding handkerchiefs, wet and sticky with blood, dark brown like chocolate sauce. It scared Blister awful.

Blister’s momma died when he was 15. Blister buried her himself, in the backyard; there wasn’t any money for a proper grave. Blister would hear whispers about his momma, and how she died, but no one said anything to him. Except Kenny, who said, “I guess if you spread that often, you’re eventually going to snap.” Blister didn’t know what that meant either, but he knew enough to know it wasn’t nice.

When Blister’s momma died there was no one to take him. Blister had a few relatives, but no one wants a big, stupid kid. The state took Blister and put him in a group home. For five months Blister was there. He hated every second. These kids were even worse than back home. Blister almost missed Kenny McCoy.

After five months they finally got around to testing Blister. At first it was just more of the same—Blister is slow and stupid—but then they got to the numbers. Blister was always handy with those. This made the testers very excited. They gave Blister more and more numbers and more, and each time more complicated. Most of them Blister had never seen before, but he caught on pretty quickly each time to what the trick was.

Men with suits came to the group home. They talked to Blister about going to work in Washington D.C. Anything was better than here, so Blister said okay.

In Washington D.C., the men in suits had Blister look at numbers every day. It was so easy, and it made the men in suits happy. They appointed a legal guardian for Blister, who made sure Blister was paid properly, and the money was put in the bank for him. The guardian also made sure Blister had tutors—special teachers—who taught Blister how to read and write and other little things he’d never been able to quite get. Blister would never be good in those subjects, but he learned enough to be able to live on his own.

Blister did this work in Washington D.C. for three years. But he missed home. His momma was dead and Blister didn’t have any friends, but home tugged at his heart. Blister had some money now, enough to buy his old home back and fix it up.

The men in suits wanted Blister to be happy, so they said it was okay if Blister would keep working on the numbers. That was fine with Blister. Every morning a man would bring Blister a locked suitcase with the numbers in it, and Blister would work on it. He was almost always finished by noon, and the rest of the day was for himself.

Blister bought a bicycle, and would ride around town. Some people still looked at Blister strangely, pointing and whispering, but others were nice, and Blister thought his momma would be happy that strangers could be nice to each other.

One day when Blister was riding his bicycle down Main Street, a shop door opened and a woman stepped out with several packages piled high in her arms. It caught Blister by surprise, and he crashed his bicycle to avoid hitting her. She dropped her packages and rushed to help him.

“I’m so sorry.” The woman said. “I didn’t watch where I was going. Are you okay?”

Blister looked up, still kind of in a daze, and saw that it was Paula Jean, the girl who used to be so nice to him. Blister had never forgotten her kindness. She had grown up into a beautiful woman with long lustrous dark wavy hair like the movie stars used to have in the old magazines Blister’s momma liked to read.

Blister—never gifted with words—stammered to try to tell Paula Jean he was story, and that it was his fault for being so big and stupid, but he couldn’t get the words out. Paula Jean laughed, but not at him.

“Aren’t we a couple of clumsy oafs, Blister?” She smiled. Blister smiled back.

After that, Blister began looking for reasons to run into Paula. Well, not literally, but he wanted to be around her. They got along well. She was going to college in town and working part time at the library. The men in suits wouldn’t let Blister show Paula what he was doing, but she found out enough to know it was very important, and she respected Blister for that.

If he wasn’t that great with words and sometimes a bit slow to understand, so what? He had a gentle way about him, and was so polite. It took her two months to get Blister to stop calling her “Ma’am.”!

The only hitch was that Paula didn’t know where “Blister” came from and so she called him that. Everyone did. But Blister was so happy that he didn’t worry about such things.

There was another boy who liked Paula Jean. It was Kenny McCoy. They dated a few times in high school, at her mother’s insistence. Paula Jean loathed him, but that’s not how Kenny saw it. He told everyone they were together, and other things too. Fortunately for Kenny, she never found out about that.

After high school Kenny got in some trouble, and the only solution was to join the Army. Kenny didn’t do too well there, either, and in short time he was in trouble again and dishonorably discharged. While there, Kenny bragged to everyone there was a girl back home waiting on him. He built it up in his mind so much that they were practically married in his version.

When Kenny got him he discovered that Paula Jean—his fiancée—was with Blister. Blister? Blister was big, stupid, and…why would anyone be with him?

Kenny started calling on Paula at the library. She tried being nice, polite (Blister was rubbing off on her), but finally Paula Jean had to threaten to call Security to get Kenny to leave.

But Kenny didn’t give up. He harassed Paula Jean all the time. He would call her home. He followed her around. Finally Kenny caught up to Paula Jean one night in the park. It was the 4th of July celebration. Everyone from town was there, including all of Paula Jean’s friends, who were now that they were more mature were becoming Blister’s friends.

Kenny started in. “C’mon, baby. You know you don’t want this festering ‘blister’ on your velvet skin. You need something more smooth, like me.”

“Kenny,” Paula Jean spat, “You’re delusional. I’m with Blister and I’m very happy. Besides, I’d rather have the clap than be with you.”

Kenny saw the writing on the wall. People were now pointing and whispering at him. Humiliated, Kenny turned to his last weapon; his mouth.

“That’s all right. I guess I wore you out so much that it wouldn’t be fun any more.”

Paula Jean turned crimson, and Blister could tell she was about to really lose it. He tried to step in.

“Sir, you are upsetting Miss Paula Jean. You don’t want to do that, sir. Why don’t you leave it alone?”

Kenny sneered at the retard. “Like you’re not s’posed to touch a skin rash, or a blister?” A gleam came into Kenny’s eye. “You know, Blister, Paula Jean’s the second connection between us. I used to have your momma quite a bit too. In fact, I could be your daddy.”

Blister—who indeed, didn’t know his daddy, knew enough of such matters that Kenny’s timeline seemed absurd. Confused, Blister said, “What are you saying, sir?”

“What I am saying, Blister, you dumb dolt, is that your momma was a straight up whore. Probably what killed her. Before she died, she used to sell that snatch for spare change.”

Blister knew what that meant. Enough of it, anyway. Blister started to get angry. He remembered how his momma taught him to always be polite. She drummed that into him. But then Blister remembered how she coughed herself to death, with what he now knew had been stomach cancer. Mostly Blister remembered how the dirt felt in his fingers when he buried his momma with his bare hands.

Blister looked at Kenny. Blister’s skin got hot and his eyes filmed red. And then Blister popped.

July 07, 2005

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