by Jason Otis
Bolt died in the dumbest way imaginable.
He got a toothache, and then he died.
Things happened in between, of course. There was a progression, a worsening of symptoms, an infection, a sequence of unfortunate actions and inactions.
But that’s facts. First toothache, then dead.
Like Lemmy said at the funeral: “You got to be a stupid mother fucker to die from a toothache.”
I mean, he didn’t say it at the funeral, like he was delivering the eulogy to the gathered mourners and called the deceased a stupid mother fucker. He said it after, in the parking lot, on the way to Stamp’s car. Nobody was within earshot, but Lemmy whispered it anyway, looking around to make sure. We laughed.
Sometimes you laugh to keep from crying. Bolt was our boy from jump. We all rode the bus together starting in like first grade. We hung out always. After school. Weekends. Playing basketball or video games. Occasional shoplifting missions—nothing major, just stupid shit like Slim Jims and KitKats from the corner store or Polos and MP3 players from the mall. Running around tagging shit at night, Bolt with his big blocky letters spelling BOLT with a lightning bolt behind, me the word “agent” in orange, which I thought was the cleverest shit ever...Agent Orange! (Disclaimer: I did not know what agent orange was when I came up with the orange agent thing. I thought it was just some cold-ass military/espionage/covert ops shit. I had a moment of silent humiliation in freshman year HIST-A201 when I learned what agent orange really was and what it did. Oooohh a chemical herbicide that fucked up generations of Vietnamese people and countless American war veterans...yes, James, align yourself with that! A period of psychological self-flagellation followed, me cringing at my moronic-ass younger self.)
Bolt left a hole. We weren’t the same without him. He never had much to offer in terms of material things. Like we weren’t going to his house to play video games or get some Easy Mac and Kool-Aid—he just never had shit. And he was nasty as hell. Only owned one pair of shoes at a time and wore them until you had to tell him to leave them outside. Always a dusting of dandruff atop his shirt collar. We would joke that having Bolt around made us look better to girls. Plus he gave in other ways. Like his support, always enthusiastic and bottomless, sometimes more than you wanted. There was the time I left my bedroom window unlocked and somebody came in and stole my PS2. It was my baby. I took care of it, kept it clean, even tagged it up—“AGENT!” in drippy orange paint pen. Then one day I came home to an open window and it was gone. Nothing else taken, just my PS2. I was sad and pissed, but it felt like Bolt was even more sad and pissed for me. “Dog let’s go find it!” he said. “Find it? You crazy? Find it how?” “Man I don’t know...ask around...try to find some leads and track it down.” I had to laugh. Find some leads and track it down?! I loved the spirit but I wasn’t about to do all that. I figured I would just mope around for a while until my dad felt sorry for me and bought me another one. Maybe he’d even upgrade to the PS3.
Losing Bolt was sad regardless, but we all agreed that it was more sad because of how stupid it was.
His tooth starts hurting one day in, like, May. I remember because I had just got home from college, and we were at Stamp’s pop’s Memorial Day cookout. Bolt’s eating and drinking on the left side of his mouth, even the corn on the cob. It was weird. We’re like Bruh what is the deal? You’re embarrassing us! And he says, “Tooth hurt, dog” all matter of fact, not slowing his roll on the cob. By the Fourth of July, his right cheek is all swollen up, and then by August he won’t even come out the house. Bolt go to the fucking dentist, we told him. But he didn’t listen. Bolt didn’t have a job. He stayed with his mom, and she didn’t have money for no dentist. I was back at school when Lemmy told me what happened. Bolt pulled out the tooth with some fucking pliers, crazy ass. There was an infection, and he got to the hospital too late. He was dead.
I stayed home a few days after the funeral. It was coming up on Labor Day weekend so there was time to kill. Hung out with the homies and mourned our loss. The day before I had to go back to school, we went down to the courts and drank some forties, me, Stamp and Lemmy. We were walking back past Bolt’s house, and it looked like his mom was getting rid of all his stuff. Piles of clothes, DVDs, trophies, boxes of things, bags of other things. It seemed like some cold shit to do less than a week after your only kid’s funeral, but we agreed we couldn’t be mad at her; people mourn in their own way.
That’s when I saw it.
“What the fuck?”
Half-hidden by a stack of shirts still on hangers, an old PS2. The side was covered in duct tape, but I knew as soon as I saw it. Bolt didn’t have no PS2. Never did. He played on other peoples’ consoles; it was one of his defining characteristics. I peeled off the gray tape, old and dried out, leaving behind a yellowed crust that I scraped at with my fingernail, flakes falling like dandruff over Bolt’s trashed shirts, revealing my drippy orange paint beneath, revealing Bolt to be one more thing I thought I knew.
Jason Otis lives in New Orleans, works in advertising and writes stories when he's not wrestling with his three kids or cooking or procrastinating.