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Desiree, she hides behind my back, clutching my t-shirt making the collar choke me a little. “She eats your face and cuts off your ears!”
Rebecca grabs my elbow and hisses, “I heard when you see her, you get so scared your eyes lock open and that’s how she reaches in and steals your soul!”
Duane kicks the back of my legs and calls me a fag. “Do it, dude.”
Truth is, he’s just as spooked as the rest of us, all four pale faces staring into a dirty mirror waiting for another pale face to appear. Duane slaps the back of my head, “Wimp!”
I take a deep breath and scream at the glass, at the faces locked on mine, I scream at them, I scream at me, I scream “Bloody Mary!” at the top of my lungs.
Nothing, except the loud sound of the sink dripping single plops down the pipe. Duane laughs, “This is retarded. I toldyou nothing would happen.”
We all leave that empty home, the one full of forgotten furniture that belonged to nobody; we all walk home, down those long dusty roads that wound forever around trees full of bees nests, wasp hives, hornet hotels. We would walk and chuck rocks at birds on broken fence posts, stray kittens blind and mewing, lone coyotes so skinny it made you sick to look at them.
Around here, you could get a suntan walking to your neighbour’s house. It’s that bloody hot out. Summer days for kids like us, kids with dad’s who drink and drive till your mother flys through the windshield landing next to road kill, to your run away pets, and just as bloodied and bent up; kids with stepfathers who ran forklifts and chewed tree sap to help them quit smoking. Yeah, kids like us didn’t get to go to summer camp. We didn’t learn to braid friendship bracelets or make new pals while swimming in the wonderful lakes of wherever it was the kids who weren’t us went in the long hot months of July and August for life skills and priceless memories. Naw, kid’s like us, we had older sisters for moms. Kids like me had a backyard full of twisted metal, both kinds, shiny and rusted, because kids like me had dad’s who worked as a Junk hauler. Meaning, if you had a bunch of ugly crap in your backyard, you called my dad and he came and put it in ours.
My sister, me and my dad we lived right in front of a highway, a single traffic light swaying on top of the wind of the speeding cars beneath. I wasn’t allowed to walk on the road because there wasn’t any side walk and the road itself was a back road, the long way around a town some seven miles away. Drunks would take this route most often to avoid getting caught by highway patrolmen. On the other side of the street was trees and brush, long dusty driveways leading to the trailers and lean-tos my classmates, the other kids who couldn’t go to camp, lived. Oh right and there was some mailboxes on the other side too. My sister or I, sometimes both if she wanted company, would go across once a week after we saw the mail truck pull up, open the tiny metal doors of our mail box, cram it with bills and then pull off. That was the only time I really got to go on the road, and my sister insisted I hold her hand the whole time. When I’d try and shake myself free from her grip she always said stuff like, “You want to wind up like mom? You want to be hosed off these rocks?” And she’d stomp a sandaled foot three or four times on the concrete. My sister loved talking about mom, but it seemed to me that she only brought her up when she was talking about her either being covered in blood or laying dead in a coffin.
Anyways, my sister and I, we’d go home, she’d finally let go of my hand at the door and she’d say, “Don’t bug me tonight.” And something about having a bonfire with Dale, her boyfriend out in the yard. Dale had been dating Crystal, my sister, for about a year and he always thought it was funny to see how hard he could twist my arms until I cried. Crystal didn’t like me being around him because once he kicked me in the dick in front of all his friends and laughed when I puked and had to crawl under the house to get him to stop slapping and pulling my hair. She never told him to stop because he always got mad at her when he was drunk saying something about my dad being a loser and who was going to make me into a man? Once when he broke her nose he almost dumped her because she had to go to the hospital and he thought she was just trying to make him feel bad. He’d hold me down call me his ‘little faggot’ and kick me in the nuts and say I shouldn’t worry about ball damage because I was probably not able to have kids just like Crystal cause she had to get her ovaries removed because my uncle molested her so bad when she was a real little kid, that it sort of wrecked her down there. Even though my uncle hung himself in jail, according to Dale, I was probably raped too or something and that somehow made me a ‘little faggot’. Anyways, so Crystal just tries to keep me and Dale apart.
So on nights like this, I just stay in the house with dad until he’s done his first six pack. If I go into my room he just comes in and starts dragging me into the kitchen to wrestle. After his beer, I sneak out with my blanket and sleep in one of the old cars in the back and hope Dale or one of his buddies don’t find me when they start sledge hammering all the junk around the yard.
Anyways, whatever, so today before I get home, Desiree wants to know if she can come over for a bit but I’m not too excited about her seeing my house right now. Crystal is lousy at doing dishes and dad is probably outside pushing metal around in his bobcat, getting drunk and pissed off about the heat, so I say something about tomorrow and just go home.
Duane says his mom is having a kegger at his house tonight and he’s allowed to stay up as long as he likes. I laugh because he always thinks this makes him ‘cool’ when we all know how his mom gets when she’s drunk and how she always starts fighting with her boyfriend until he takes off and she hauls Duane out of bed and beats the heck out of him till he pees his pants and cries. I’ve had enough sleepovers at Duane’s to know he’s a real wimp sometimes.
When I get home, yeah, I’m dead on. Dad is in the yard and he is pushing scrap into piles and drinking beer in his bobcat. I walk in the door, bang my elbow on the doorframe and look around quick to see if anyone is in ear shot to hear me cuss quiet under my breath. Luckily, there isn’t. I reach for a mug in the cabinet, run the dust out under the sink and chug water until I’m bloated enough to puke but not ready to pee. I grab some chips off the counter, itch the tip of my dick and turn on the TV.
Dr. Octopus is punching Spiderman when my dad walks in, throws an empty beer can at the sink, the can bounces off the faucet and lands under the kitchen table, the thin steel legs bent under the weight of weeks of unwashed dishes. Dad says, “What are you watching?”
We stare in silence as Spiderman webs a group of thugs and chuckles, “You guys aren’t serious are you? This is just tooeasy!” I don’t even turn around, I just hear dad plop heavy on the couch behind me. I say, “Spiderman.”, and I point at the TV screen. “I’m watching Spiderman.”
He sighs, “You wanna get me a beer Dave?”
Mary Jane hugs a smiling Peter Parker, he adjusts his glasses and grins.
“Dave! Get me a beer!”
Peter frowns as Mary Jane walks off into the sunset holding another guys hand and he walks home, heads down, hands in pockets, saying how he can’t win every battle.
Something wet and heavy slaps the back of my neck. “Dave! Get me a goddamn beer!”
Dad’s grease rag oozes down my neck, plops onto the floorboards at my knees. I get up, go to the fridge and bring him back a beer.
I spend the rest of the evening crashing my Hot Wheels into the dresser in my room. When I wake up the next morning I’ve got a Honda Civic Si imprinted into my cheek and spider bites around my ankles and I’m happy I slept in my shoes.
I’m brushing my teeth, trying to un focus my eyes in the mirror to see if Bloody Mary will appear. Crystal leans in the door and pinches my bum, “Squirt, you wanna come get the mail with me?”
I bob my head in sync with the short strokes of my tooth brush, spit a gob of foam down the drain, wipe my face with both hands and say “Yeah.”
She grabs my hand the second we get outside the door, she grabs it hard. `
“Ow! Dammit that hurts!”
“What the f**kdid you just say?”
Before I can open my mouth she slaps me hard across the face. One of my eyes fills with water because one of her long nails grazed an eyeball while I wasn’t blinking. She pulls me to the highway, tells me to look both ways, I squint one eyed and she drags me behind her all the way to the mail box.
“Goddamnit…” Crystal is shaking her head at the pile of letters in her hand. I walk over to a can, kick it and she stomps over to me as a car races by in a blur. The vehicle is just speed and sound that passes through me in cold waves as dust and pebbles blow into my teeth and shirt. “David, you stay away from the goddamn motherf**king highway do you hearme you little shit?” She grabs my hand hard enough to jolt my shoulders I look up at her and spit on her shorts. Her mouth becomes a giant ‘O’, her eyes like rifle scopes. One of her sandals connects with my guts, before I can see where her arms are going my vision fills with stars, my neck stretched as pieces of hair give out from the top of my head, my chest pounded free of all air before a wet shot of hot fluid whips across my lips, a bit up my nose and into the corner of my eye.
I don’t hear anything except the sound of cars pulling up to the traffic light, I can feel Crystals sandal wiggle under my knee, she’s talking through her teeth and she sounds scared, she’s saying, “David come on, get up, I’m sorry, get up get up get up…”
I keep my eyes closed in the heat, in the dust whirling around my mouth and nostrils, I keep my eyes shut to the sound of the engines idling at the stop light, at the sound of the crows calling above us, I keep them shut to the sounds of my sister begging me to stand up. I feel her fingers wrap around my elbow and I jump up so fast the top of my head smashes under her chin and she stumbles back, all those ‘goddamit’ letters of hers spiralling behind her and I jump in front of the traffic light and I twirl and scream and spit all the blood in my mouth at the cars stopped on the highway under that one damn light. I skip up and down, I start to dance and wiggle and shout and when my sister storms across to pull me off the road I kick her straight in between the legs and race right back into the middle of the highway to the sound of car horns and engine revs. I stand there legs wide apart and tear my shirt like Hulk. My eyes watering me blind my mouth drooling little streams of red, I’m thinking I’m ready to meet my maker, I’m thinking I’m ready to be hosed off this strip of cement, I’m thinking I want to be reduced to mush and stains, bashed into a soupy pool of my old self through the glory of car horns and barrelling traffic. I’m thinking I’m ready for all of this when I realise I’m not dead yet and my throat is sore and I don’t have the steam to scream anymore. My eyes lower to the traffic before me, the noise machines revving and honking, sun glaring off the hoods of dented cars belonging to the drunken drivers with dented interiors, scarred souls. I look at their cars and I look at the arms pumping out the windows, thumbs hiked up, I squint one eyed into the scratched windshields, the guys behind the wheels smiling and hooraying me. I hear ‘Yeah buddy!’ I hear, ‘Don’t take any crap!’ I hear, ‘Kick her again!’
I look to the side of the highway, my sister isn’t there, but a group of kids are. Duane with a fat lip and black eye, Desiree crossing and un crossing her arms, a bunch of others on bikes with busted chains and rusted spokes. I walk off the road, past the kids and sit in my room until night comes and I’m alone with my thoughts and the crickets, that just don’t seem to ever get loud enough to distract me from myself.
I can’t tell what the clock on the wall says so I go into my dad’s empty bedroom and look at the glowing red numbers on his night table they tell me its two eleven AM. I walk into my sisters room, flick on the light and see piles of dirty clothes everywhere, a bed full of tangled sheets and lumpy pillows and no people. I turn off her light and stand in the living room, touching my lip. I take off my torn shirt and almost jump out of my skin when I hear cars honking outside. I look out the window, Duane and Rebecca are running up and down the crosswalk screaming and breaking their broken bicycles against the traffic pole. The drunks inside the cars are tossing change out the windows yelling hoorays and honking their horns every time something smashes off their bikes. I walk outside and both of them run up to me.
Duane, smiling through split lips and blackened eyes shakes my shoulders and shouts in my face, “Did you see us out there? Did you see me?”
Rebecca’s dress is all torn, she isn’t wearing any shoes, she hugs me, points at the highway and says, “They love us! They really love us!”
That summer, our eyes were shining like those kids I imagine must look like when they hit summer camp. That raw energy and pure joy, yeah, we got that too. Thing is though, we didn’t use canoes, we didn’t need rowboats or classes to show us how to bead friendship bracelets, we didn’t get our self esteem or learn to conquer our fears by leaping off the high diving board. No, we stood in the middle of the dark highway, swatting mosquitoes and horse flies, we earned our merits by tackling old cars piloted by the drunks and scum of the city, speeding down the abandoned stretches of road fleeing the law.
Every night we preformed for the deadbeats who threw us popcorn, bottle caps, the nickels and dimes bought us ice cream while we thought of new stunts to pull that night. This wasn’t just recklessness, this was serious. If we lost their attention, we could get killed, if we didn’t go home and get beat up enough, we didn’t go crazy enough and those cars could kill us faster than our home lives would.
I started hitting my sister’s boyfriend Dale, just so he’d hit me back, I’d call him stupid and I wouldn’t run away when he held me down and told me I was worthless and how loose my sister was. Duane started kicking over his mothers kegs, Rebecca didn’t pretend to be sleeping anymore when her brothers came in her room. Desiree quit calling the cops every time her dad made her kiss him and the other boys stopped telling each other whose dad was the strongest.
Every night when the bars closed we were out there, twirling on our skateboards, running into each other, screaming and zooming off massive ramps, jumping over cars and landing on our knees. For some kids, whose dads had run off, this was their father son bonding because, after a few weeks the traffic came in droves. After a few weeks there was maybe sixty or seventy cars waiting at that traffic light and those kids without dads, they never knew if somewhere out there that dad of theirs was honking at them, cheering them on. We had thirty seconds, sometimes less to grab the disoriented and hostile attention of these people before the light turned green. If the light turned green and they were still there, we knew we were doing a good job.
Every night, for two hours we were the center of all attention. It was almost like divine revelation, because suddenly, our pain made sense, it added up to something. For every social worker who had come to our door and told us to calm down and that they would help straighten things out, but left after our parents or guardians lied well enough to keep us there, we flipped out extra hard. For every teacher who told us to watch our language and sent us into the hall to be quiet, we screamed ‘F**k you’ until our throats went raw and that ice cream we bought became necessary medication.
One morning I woke up, my throat hurt so bad from the other night, I drank orange juice and watched TV well into the afternoon. I watched Spiderman swing from building to building and was thinking about how I could tie a rope at the top of the traffic light and swing across the cars that night, when Crystal sat down behind me on the couch.
“Why do you always sit on the floor?”
I don’t turn around, I just shrug.
“Don’t you know sitting so close to the TV will make you go blind?”
I drink some more orange juice and shrug.
“You don’t care?”
Again, I shrug.
She stands up, kicks my orange juice all over the TV screen and picks me up by the collar of my shirt. “You don’t do you? You don’t care about anything.”
My throat hurts too bad to speak so I kick her in the stomach. She throws me on the floor, doubles over and starts crying, “You little f**king f**k! You little as****e!”
As I run out of the house I hear her yell “You little murdering son of a bitch!”
I don’t see Crystal for the next two days and when I do, she’s limping into the house wearing a hospital bracelet. My dad is sitting at the table and won’t look at me. Her boyfriend, Dale helps Crystal into her bedroom and then comes back out. He sits beside my dad and looks at me for a long hard second.
I sit across from him and he just keeps staring at me. After about thirty seconds I clear my throat and am about to ask what’s going on when he punches me straight in the face. I can’t feel anything because, it all goes numb. The only sensations are heavy drops of wet spill into my hand, when I can open my eyes again; my hand is cupping three baby teeth floating in a tiny pool of blood.
Dale looks calm, my dad takes a swig of whiskey and whispers, “How far along?”
Dale claps the side of my head, getting me right in the ear but I still hear him say, “Five weeks.”
I slap my hand down on the table pressing the three tiny teeth deep into my palm.
Dale says, “You’re a killer David. You killed your nephew. You’re…. a murdering piece of shit.”
I look at Dad, I look at Dale, I look back at dad, “I thought Crystal couldn’t have babies.”
Dad hangs his head and whimpers, “Miracles happen.”
I look at Dale, I lift my hand and toss my teeth at him, “Here’s she can have these.”
I close my eyes, clamp my lips together waiting for that next punch but it doesn’t come and when I open my eyes, Dale is sobbing into his hands, shoulders hunched.
I stand up, walk out the door, the gathered gang of bruised kids huddled together laughing and screaming waiting for the light to go red at any second and bounce up and down the street like rubber hooligans, they stand in my drive way.
I keep walking, pebbles at my feet quaking from the cars racing by and at any second will be forced to stop. Forced to deal with us because of the shit deals that have been forced upon us.
I hear, “Hey Dave..” I hear, “Wait!” I hear , “No!” and I almost hear the blare of the horn. I don’t know how to describe, but I feel my tongue go dry, I feel my lungs and I sigh and I feel the air become my weight and I feel my hair touched in that certain way and I no longer feel pain when I hear my mother say, “I love you Dave.”