Ma’d suspected, I guess. She saw shit Pa didn’t, being home like that. But for once she never said. Or if she did, Pa hadn’t connected the dots. Then again, maybe they thought it was simple, me being simple, wanting to show respect in an off way. Respect for an older brother, an accomplished brother, a popular, smart, talented brother.
Like I cared…
That’s what the preacher would say, that word, maybe some others, but that one stuck and it felt warm and thick on my tongue. Right, real, regular.
I did it near every night now … now that me and Jackie had started touching, started, not finished.
Thinking, remembering, trying not to scare him too much … that wasn’t where the cramps came from, not exactly. There were other aches, other places, memories almost, like I’d done it before. I hadn’t, but knowing it, seeing it had set me off, like a tickle at first. But then it’d become more, harder, gnawing inside, way down low in a place I couldn’t possibly imagine but did.
Every damn night I imagined it, there in Eddy’s bed. Lying top of his summer blanket, the feel of it nubby and smooth, massaging my ass as I imagined me and Jackie together. Moving together, like a single thing.
Timed out, the screen blank, it put done, over, shit outta luck on my trespass. Eddy’d be home, noonish, so Ma and Pa had something special planned, a welcome event, like he was some conquering hero home from the war.
Only thing he’d be conquering was me and my dreams, there on his bed with his toy, his very special toy. A window to a world they wouldn’t give me, seeing’s how I wasn’t up to it. If they only knew…
I touched the computer screen, making it waver, but then it dimmed. Like me, like my hopes. And he’d know, know I’d been in his room and I’d catch it, mostly when I least expected it, him whupping me. Taking care so’s it wouldn’t show, not that anyone looked, not anymore.
’Cept Jackie. But Jackie already knew so he wouldn’t think much on it.
Not if I kept him busy thinking on us.
“Here’s the boy!” Pa’s voice curdled over the loudspeaker, the crush of welcomers lifting their hands high, the aisles crowded with the sound of clapping and well done Eddy, way to go, you’re sure to make states, sure hand, sure thing…
Eddy raised his mitt, waved it, pumped a fist, his face scowling something fierce, putting on a show like he did. Eating up the crowd and the pats on the back, and Pa’s happy face ringing up sales, sales and praise and halleluiahs, hales and hosannas, and so much shit flying through tight spaces it lifted me, carried me backwards, shoving against my chest until it was damn near impossible to breathe.
Ma and the ladies, they done themselves proud setting up the spare tables from the church basement under the awning, the sidewalk hot enough to melt the soles of your shoes and make you stick, make it hard to shuffle round the offerings, the ham and chunks of Velveeta and a red thing, a squishy red thing sitting on top like a bloody nose.
The widow Carson, she knew shit, knew to make the cookies with raisins, not chocolate. It was too bad in a way. Chocolate woulda melted them together, made it hard to dig just one out. Made a mess. Instead they sat perky, arranged like soldiers in formation, tilted on edge so you picked one and maybe hoped they’d collapse forward and make a riot where control reigned…
Sometimes I was tempted to say shit like that out loud, make them look at me odder ’n they did now. Scare them. Force them to give me wider berth.
Now they just ignored me, me with the broom, keeping the sidewalk tidied, flicking crap over the curb, watching the pigeons coo and squawk and squabble over crumbs.
“You boy, move.”
A hip nudged me away from the table, away from the stack of meat and cheese and bloody noses, like I’d drop cooties on the tray, or worse. They had no idea about what worse was.
Pa had the sports camp trophy setting on the counter near the cash register. Displayed like it’d been earned, like it’d been Pa’s, not my damn brother’s triumph. But maybe it was, maybe it belonged to Pa seeing’s how he’d paid for it, for the two whole weeks and the bus trip and the new mitt and even sunglasses from the big store halfway to the Junction. I remembered that day. They’d made it a Sunday drive, an excursion Ma called it, even taking me. Like an afterthought.
I wasn’t sure what an afterthought was until Ma asked, “Ain’t we forgetting…” and they all looked to the porch, me sitting on the top step watching, thinking they’d leave and then I’d be free but I wasn’t, so Pa rolled down the window and yelled, “You coming or not, ass—” but Ma shut him up with “Samuel!” and they watched until I couldn’t stand it no more and got in the back seat with Eddy hogging it all.
They’d stopped at Dairy Queen for cones, the twisty kind with vanilla and chocolate all tangled together, and you licked it round and round and round trying to keep up, chasing the drips that drooled over the paper onto your thumb, and it got to be a game, me against the drip, and then the stream was running faster and faster. Eddy huddled with Pa and Ma under the awning, out of the sun, wearing his new shades, but what was the challenge in that? So I leaned on the hot hood of Pa’s station wagon, blue like a mirror sucking and spewing the hot until the air shimmied right over it, dancing like maybe ocean waves might.
Eddy sneered, “He’s a moron.” Pa grunted at that. Ma said nothing.
On the ride home, I’d been curled against the door, hot and sticky, sucking on my fingers, one at a time, and that reminded me of how much I was looking forward to later, to getting sticky again, sucking on Jackie, making him near as bad as me, then us sticking together like glue.
The speaker squawked, “On your mark…”
The men inside spread out, looking to find bargains, though God only knew why a man needed more two pennies or another damn screwdriver, but Pa always seemed to know what they hankered after, making it a game. Hunt ’n pecking through the store, jostling the boxes, making a nightmare with the ones and twosies getting mixed together, bumping displays, putting it all out of order.
I used to like it, the sorting. Ma had called it cute once, said it occupied me, made me think. Like I was two, not ten, and wanting what I couldn’t say because the words stuck. But the nails, they didn’t stick at all, so I spread them and sorted them and set them in the boxes and earned praise—at least he’s out of your hair, Martha—the backhanded kind that dismissed me so no one needed to look too hard on what was boiling inside.
Now my belly cramped like it’d done at the ass crack of dawn, worrying over my transgressions, my violations. But this time it was real fear driving me hard, a worry he’d keep me there, making the mess disappear before the store opened next day. Maybe locking me inside, locking me in so’s it was easier to lock me out.
I caught my reflection in the window, caught it, choked on it, hated it, hating the me it showed, the wrong me, the me who sorted and chased drips and sucked fingers and stole a peek at a world, a naughty, dirty, disgusting world I wanted so hard, so bad, so desperately it ate me up, spit me onto the hot sidewalk with the crumbs and the pigeons, making me dance, dance in a very special way.
Eddy stared back, stared through my reflection, like he’d slipped my skin on, slipped the sneer and the better than and the good boy off himself and onto me. I thought on the fit, the feel, and knew it was him, not me, but being him for a reflection’s worth of time was another game, another way of making do with my own poor fit.
Then he was gone and the ladies fluttered and chittered, the pigeons cooed, the broom and the plastic table cloth ssh’d ssh’d ssh’d in time to the creak of folding legs and grunts as they shucked them tight, one two three four, and stacked them against the Church van. Lids fupped shut, air escaping like when you flick the tire nozzle, zitting it out, releasing it, freeing it, but the lids trapped, they didn’t free, and the sound reminded me of what I might miss if I wasn’t careful.
Ma was gone, giving blessings and thanks. The reflection was mine. Pa was still backslapping and taking the congratulations as his own. I set the broom against the window, against the reflection, against the fear and the defiance and the need to be with Jackie and show him what I craved, what the screen had revealed, had opened up, like floodgates releasing, it had opened up me to me…
The trespass, the violation.
Eddy would find out. He would punish me like he did. For the violation. For the sin.
Touching the handle of the broom, I paused and looked up, up into eyes smirking, knowing eyes, eyes that made me sweat, eyes cramping my belly, eyes pinning me in place, locking me in place. He waved me in.
Backing away, soles sticking like glue, the heat hobbling me, the furnace inside boiling my blood, me shaking my head no no no no…
Ma sighed in my ear, “Your father wants you,” her hand on my back, propelling me inside and those eyes, those fucking mean eyes jeered as I passed, the word “loser” on Eddy’s lips, in my heart.
The door chimed, the lock clicked. I sank to the floor, cramped in the aisle with the boxes, belly cramping in the aisle. Dumping the first box, I stared at the pattern on the wood floor, and then I went away, far away to my special place, to the place on the screen, to my secret world.
The floor was dirty, it was filthy, filthy dirty, filthy like me and Jackie. I counted, counted sins, sins we hadn’t yet committed.
At least he’s out of your hair…