I sit in the Submarine
Row in Mr. Carbone’s seventh-period algebra class. That’s
where he puts anyone whose grades sink below “C” level. Carbone’s
a really tremendous motivator.
It’s got nothing
to do with grades, though. I’ve got a B- without trying, and there’s
a bunch of football players in class with me—dudes with their jersey
numbers shaved into their heads—who aren’t anywhere near my
row. No, Carbone’s just lining up people he wants to watch, like
we’re this infected gash he has to keep checking on. He recently
got a ton of orthodontic work done, and his mouth sounds so clogged, I
think about pouring Drano down his throat ten times more than usual. Last
week, he was patting some running back on the ass for the way he played
over the weekend. I got tired of it and raised my hand. I’m sitting
there like the Statue of Liberty for five minutes when Carbone finally
nods in my direction. He would never actually call on me. I asked him
if he ever got his braces caught on someone’s scrotum. Cy laughed,
which was cool.
It’s Tuesday, the first day of my three-day suspension. I’m
actually at school, though, across the hall from Carbone’s room.
I had to rescue some weed from my locker. Whenever I get suspended, I
always get nervous that some vice principal with a walkie-talkie for a
dick is going to start searching for a way to get me out of here permanently.
I brought the stuff on campus in the first place because my mother—who
just cannot cover her tracks—was getting too close to the stashes
in my room. So, I just built a false bottom into the cat’s litter
box, which has been my job to clean since I was ten. We’ll see how
I’m also waiting for Cy. He’s been behaving himself in class,
mostly because there’s this freshman Indian girl he’s trying
to bang. He gets off on soiling honor students. I’ve only been hanging
out with Cy since school started a few months ago. I had barely uttered
my name before he was telling me how tight the Latin Club president’s
pussy was. And he loves describing the way the home pregnancy test shook
in the hand of the captain of the Science Olympiad team. He does this
great impersonation of her: “Oh God, please be a minus. Please,
Jesus, please be a minus.” Cy’s absolutely hilarious.
I’m not sure how he gets all those girls. Well, he’s huge,
for one thing. He could be one of those football players if he wanted.
He could be two of those fucking guys if he wanted. (He always does a
hundred and fifty push-ups before he gets high.) He looks like the kind
of bad boy good girls might like. His teeth are straight, his eyes are
blue. He’s even got a dimple on his chin. He’s also got tusks
through his nose, tribal hoops stretching out his earlobes, and “SCOURGE”
tattooed down his spine in medieval letters. That’s how we met,
tats. In July, my so-called family moved to this dead Florida suburb from
another dead Florida suburb an hour away. No big deal switching schools,
just a whole new group of people my age who wouldn’t be my friends.
I think me and Cy were the only seniors taking algebra. I was wearing
a wife-beater that day, and Cy was sitting a couple of seats behind me.
He came up to me after class and told me he dug the giant bat wings I’ve
got covering my back and shoulders. He said they had amazing fucking texture.
He also said—he obviously hadn’t ever seen Clockwork—that
my derby made me look like a homo. A guy like Cy can get away with saying
that to some dude he never met.
The bell rings. I’m waiting and waiting. Cy and the Indian girl,
Sunita, are the last two people out of the classroom. She’s not
bad-looking, though she’s kind of dressed for church—the blouse
buttoned tight around her neck, slacks, loafers with little tassels on
them. She’s just the kind of girl Cy wants to get on all fours.
Cy’s got his black boots, black jeans, and a black fishnet shirt.
I can see the arm with all the bones tattooed on it—skulls, ribs,
even pelvises. He’ll add another one when he’s through with
Sunita. It’s just this thing he does.
Cy’s started carrying a backpack, a green fucking Jansport with
pens and mechanical pencils clipped to the back pouch. He says it makes
him look more trustworthy. He takes one of the pens out and gives it to
Sunita, and she writes something on the back of his hand. He holds on
to one of her fingers for an extra second as he takes his pen back. They
talk some more. Cy touches her arm once or twice. Jesus, this is taking
forever, and I need to smoke. She finally leaves, looking shy, and Cy
walks toward me with two fingers spilt in front of his mouth and his tongue
flicking like a lizard.
“So, what’s she going to be?” I say.
“Maybe collar bone or something,” he says. “I don’t
know. I’ll do her, I’ll get the feel for it.”
I’m on the lookout for the school’s big-time authority figures—that
twat Mrs. Friedman; Mr. Anderson, the half-ape; and Mr. George, whose
toupee looks like a nest of pubes and who, whenever I’m in his office,
often starts off by announcing the things he’s going to “dispense”
with—“pleasantries,” “chitchat,” “friendly
banter.” I must be fidgeting or something, and Cy doesn’t
like it. He usually owns my attention.
“Hey, you didn’t have to come on school grounds,” he
says. “You could have grabbed the weed and left campus. I could
have caught up with you at Taco Bell or something. That would have been
a bit more logical, right?”
“I don’t know, I just thought I’d meet you here.”
He shakes his head. I’m not even worth destroying. Then he says
something he hasn’t said once in the four months I’ve known
“Let’s just go to my house.”
Neither of us knows how the other lives. Not really. He drops me off at
home sometimes. The first time he saw the Infiniti in the driveway, the
mailbox with the tulips on it, and the Spanish guy humping around a big
sack of mulch, he said, “You fucking fairy. No wonder you wear a
derby.” I tried telling him that it wasn’t what it seemed,
that my dad’s a vodka-and-tonic addict who’s banging his chiropractor’s
receptionist and that my mom’s a hypocritical piece of shit who’d
step right over a mostly limbless Vietnam vet in the path of her fucking
Walk for Retards. He wasn’t buying any of it. He just spat in my
face and said, “That’s for all this shit. What the fuck are
you doing with those tattoos on your back?”
I don’t know where Cy lives. We usually smoke in some woods near
the school, and when we’re totally stupid, we get into Cy’s
decrepit fucking pickup truck. He takes me home, then drives off wherever.
But lately it seems like everybody’s getting high in our woods,
and it’s only a matter of time before even the clueless cops catch
on. Cy tells me that he can finally have me over because his mother’s
started working weeknights and wouldn’t be around. He doesn’t
say much else on the way to his house. We pass block after block of shithole
apartment complexes, with community swimming pools filled halfway with
green water and shirtless guys standing around the parking lot. Inevitably,
one of these apartments will be his, and I’m afraid he’s going
to tear my larynx out so I never tell. I’m smoking a cigarette,
but I’m still fucking shaking.
“What’s wrong with you?” he says. It’s an accusation.
“Nothing. Just a little cold.”
“It’s December, dude.”
“It’s December in South Florida. Fucking subtropics. You can
practically jizz on Cuba. You’re always getting twitchy on me. Get
a hold of yourself.”
Finally, we’re there, this place called Brookwood Estates. We drive
by a row of reserved parking spaces. Cy pulls the truck into most of them.
All houses smell. Some smell like onions, some smell like German shepherds,
some smell like grandma. My house is a little more complicated. It smells
like carpet deodorizer, but it’s sort of rancid, too, kind of after
the fact. If potpourri had an asshole, that’s what it would be like.
Cy’s living room smells like booze and cigarettes for sure, and
there’s something else, too. It’s sort of a curdled stink,
but it might also be a curdled feeling, like the whole place is three
weeks past the expiration date. The TV absolutely no one is watching is
blasting Judge Judy. There’s an open pizza box on the carpet—the
coffee table I expect to be there isn’t—and the two leftover
slices look like they have leprosy. One of the couch cushions is just
gone, the halfway-open window is slumped off track, and the little bookcase
is so dusty you’d have to shave that shit off.
But there are stairs, which seems weird to me, maybe because my house
doesn’t have them. We’re halfway up when something crunches
under my foot. I lift my boot and free the Lego pirate caught in the treads.
He’s got a blue tunic, an eye patch, and a stupid smile on his lemon
face. The hat that would have the skull-and-crossbones on it is missing,
so a peg is jutting out from his head. When we reach the top of the stairs,
I show Cy what I found.
“Great, now you have two friends in the world,” he says.
“You have a little brother?”
“He’s my stepbrother,” he says.
up here but two doors, inches apart. Cy throws open the one on the left,
and flings his backpack onto a mattress. There’s nothing on the
walls. It’s all dirty plaster. The window has bars on it. There’s
brown carpet on the floor, but the room still feels like a fucking jail
cell. Cy’s even on the ground doing push-ups. He finally gets up,
swivels his arms around, and says, “You ready?”
“Yeah,” I say, “Always.”
I pull the triple-wrapped baggie from the inside pocket of my jeans jacket.
Cy kicks the door shut, reaches over and locks it. Suddenly, his cell
feels like mine.
* * *
Day two of my suspension.
I meet Cy after school at the Taco Bell just like he said I should, but
all he does is bitch about not getting a parking spot and exaggerate about
having to walk a quarter mile. I cram down three MexiMelts while Cy just
stands over me, totally ignoring the empty side of the booth, like his
sphincter’s going to detonate if he takes a seat. We get to his
house just in time because my ass really is going to explode.
“I gotta use the bathroom,” I say. Judge Judy is on TV telling
some landlord to “smarten up.”
“You have a cigarette on you?”
I don’t. Cy tugs at one of his backpack’s Velcro flaps, and
pulls out a pack of Camels. “Smoke this while you’re in there,”
he says, firing up the cigarette’s tip with a lighter. “I
don’t want to fucking smell you.” It’s the first cigarette
he’s ever given me. I bet I’ve given him a carton’s
worth, but I’m still weirdly touched.
“You owe me a cigarette,” he says, stomping up the staircase.
“I won’t forget.”
The bathroom is right off the living room, and I sprint for it. I’ve
got my belt unbuckled and my jeans halfway down my thighs before I even
reach the door. I practically catapult myself onto the toilet. My ass
is breathing fire, but soon the whole fucking universe is a perfect place.
Cy’s cranking Master of Puppets upstairs, and then I hear a couple
of thuds—he’s planting his hands for push-ups. I can still
hear Judge Judy like she’s standing at the sink presiding over my
taking a dump. And there’s something else, faint, behind me. Someone’s
crying. It’s the stepbrother, of course. But there’s not a
room on the other side of that wall. There’s a closet.
* * *
I pull my hair back
and press my ear against the door. The kid sniffles, babbles some shit.
Suddenly, there’s this weird barnyard screech, and he’s thrashing
like mad, whipping stuff into the walls. He thumps the door a few times.
I hear him shift around some more, then he goes quiet.
The answer to the question, “What’s that person in the closet
like?” is never going to be pleasant. But I feel like I need to
look, anyway. I pinch my cigarette between my teeth and give the doorknob’s
brass fin a twist. It pops unlocked. I open the door just the width of
my head. I have smelled piss before, including the rusty kind that sits
in broken locker-room urinals for weeks, but never anything like this.
I almost expect it to spill out like high tide.
There’s that missing couch cushion, and the kid’s on top of
it, on his side, strangling a blanket, sucking on a Matchbox car, wearing
a t-shirt with something crusted over the sailboat and a diaper that seems
too baggy—I can see his little prick through a gap near his upper
thigh. Some shoes have been pushed to one edge of the cushion, and a couple
of sweatshirts have been shoved to the far end of the rail above.
The kid looks up at me. His eyes get big, and the Matchbox makes a slobbery
exit from his mouth and tumbles to my feet. He throws one arm over his
hair and starts yanking some of the brown strands. He stretches out the
other arm and points a chubby finger at my head.
“Haph! Haph! Nooo!”
“It’s just a hat, little man.” No one gives my derby
a fucking chance.
He rolls around and
finally stops on his back. A penny is stuck to the side of his thigh.
He keeps one hand over his head, and beats the cushion with the other.
He starts kicking the walls with his heels. This is what honest-to-fucking-God
writhing looks like.
I close the door,
and—I don’t know when I’ll do something worse—lock
it again. My teeth are chattering, and the cigarette is jerking all around,
dropping ashes everywhere. I take it out of my mouth, which doesn’t
do much good because my hands are shaking just as much. But that doesn’t
stop me from taking that Matchbox car and winging it across the room at
Judge Judy’s corpse face.
“How old’s your brother?” I say. I’m rolling a
joint as thick as a highlighter on my lap. I’m sitting on Cy’s
chair, a dining-room chair. It’s got wavy armrests, and its back
is carved into vines. I have absolutely no idea where he got it from.
There are no others like it downstairs. It looks a lot nicer than the
chairs we have, but that’s only because my mother paid extra to
have them “pre-distressed,” so they’d professionally
look like shit from day one.
my what, now?”
know. Two, maybe? Do I resemble a fucking birthday cake?”
“Your mom take
him to work with her or something?” I’m not going to press
this. I’m just wondering where he’s going to go with the lie.
Some of the stuff he tells the chicks at school just amazes me. He pulls
that stuff straight from his ass, but there’s no shit stuck to it
whatsoever. I bet he lies to me sometimes, but now I know he’s fucking
going to, and I can just watch him work.
in the closet downstairs,” he says. “You didn’t hear
him in the bathroom? Don’t beat off so loud next time.”
out as best as he can be on a mattress that’s too short and too
narrow. It stops at his calves and amputates his right arm almost at the
shoulder. So that must be his last thought every night and his first every
morning: “I don’t fucking fit.”
He lies there for
a while, then starts talking to the ceiling. “She walks out on my
dad for some Rican, who then goes off and walks out on her and leaves
his little parasite behind, this kid from his first marriage or whatever.
Total scam from the beginning. I fucking told her, too. I fucking told
the woman. So she puts him in the closet when she leaves for work cause
she can’t get a babysitter and can’t have him running around
sticking his pee-pee in electric sockets, and then I come home, and she
wants me to take him out, feed him, watch fucking Nickelodeon with him.
Seem fair to you?”
“No. But, I
mean, it’s not totally the kid’s fault, is it? I’m,
you know, just saying.”
Suddenly, he swings
his thick legs off the mattress. He’s leaning toward me and staring
right in my eyes. He’s turning me to fucking stone. Maybe that’s
why I can’t get my guard up in time to block the back of his hand.
Before I know it, I’m on the carpet. The chair’s fallen on
top of me. I’m crying. I’ve got my shiver going again. I’m
sure I’d be crapping my pants if I had any ammo left inside me.
Cy’s on his feet now. He’s a fucking skyscraper. This must
be the worst part of getting bitchslapped.
shit,” he says. He’s not insulting me; he’s reminding
me. He puts the chair back on its legs. He picks the joint up off the
floor, dusts it off with a fingertip. “Now, are we going to light
this thing or are you going to start walking home?”
It’s Thursday afternoon, and the final day of my suspension is over.
This time, I meet up with Cy in the parking lot of a closed-down Sun Federal.
When he finally pulls the truck up in front of me, he rolls down the window.
“A bank,” he says. “Figures.”
I get to my feet,
but he tells me that he’s heading over to Sunita’s house to
study for the test we’re apparently having tomorrow. He’s
pretty sure he’ll spend the night. The girl’s parents are
taking her older sister to look at some colleges out of state. Cy says
he’ll see me in class and peels off without offering me a ride.
I get the idea. First, I walk a block to the 7 Eleven. When I’m
finished there, I head down to the curb and eventually flag down a cab.
I give the driver the best intersection I can remember because he’s
never heard of Brookwood Estates.
I’ve got a decent sense of direction, so when the guy drops me off
at the street corner I give him, I’m able to sniff my way to Cy’s
place on foot. I hardly ever break into people’s houses, but Cy’s
should be a cinch. The living-room window will still be open, guaranteed,
and the mother’s at work. To be safe, I ring the bell and haul ass
behind some hedges. No one answers the door. I creep over to the half-open
window—I’m not sure why I’m creeping in broad daylight—and
look over both shoulders. I fling the plastic bag from 7 Eleven into the
living room. Then I push myself through.
Judge Judy is over.
Montel Williams has taken over the set, and he’s telling some monstrously
obese redneck with a frosted blonde mullet that “life ain’t
no game. When it’s over there ain’t no putting in another
quarter and playing again.” I’d give a kidney, a lung, and
a gonad to see Montel getting real with Cy.
I don’t want
another freak-out, so I’ve stashed my hat. I’m also sitting,
not standing, in front of the closet because I think I’ll look less
menacing that way. And when I exhale, I’m going to try and angle
the smoke off to the side. I’ve already got the foil lid of a mini-container
of applesauce peeled back, and the bendy straw sticking out of a carton
of Strawberry Quik. I’m ready.
The kid’s crumpled
in the corner, eyes closed, sort of frozen in a somersault. It seems cruel
to wake him up—good morning, you’re still in a closet—but
I can’t just sit here watching him suck his fingers. I clear my
throat once, then louder a second time, but the kid doesn’t twitch.
So I reach over and tug on one of his big toes—it’s like the
size of a cough drop. His breathing kind of sputters into a yawn. He rubs
his eyes with his fists and pushes himself to his feet. He wobbles on
his heels, flaps his arms around, and crashes backwards on his diapered
ass. He flashes me a baby-tooth grin that lasts all of two seconds before
going to shit.
hat’s gone.” I shake out my hair. “All gone now.”
at me again, but not at my head this time. He’s pointing at my left
hand, the one holding the cigarette. He gets to his feet again, but flops
on his face real close to me. I could pull him onto my lap if I wanted.
He throws his arms over his head again, but now I’ve got a better
view of what he’s trying to cover, those little white blisters on
his scalp. He wasn’t pointing at my hat yesterday; he was pointing
at the cigarette in my mouth. And he wasn’t saying hat. He was fucking
I’m back in school, and it doesn’t even matter. Why should
I even care about grades at this point? I’m bound for Glades Community
College, anyway, where the entrance exam is the fucking front door. So
when Mr. Carbone comes to my desk, I write on my test “X=Math Can
Choke on My Massive Cock” and hand it right back to him.
even want to try?” he asks with that nasty steel-belted grin. He
knows I’m screwed.
ass cancer,” I tell him. Cy chuckles, and I regret having said anything.
“What was that?”
I say. “I’m just not ready.”
“Too bad. I
might have enjoyed grading it.” And on he goes down the aisle.
I really should avoid
Cy. I blew the test, so I should just walk out right now. I know I should.
My mind is made up. I don’t second-guess myself even once during
the forty-five minutes I spend at my desk until the bell rings.
Fuck me, I’m
even waiting for him after class. Sunita’s got her hand in his back
pocket; Cy’s digging around under her waistband. He won’t
be needing me today, and I can hide from him over the weekend—we’ve
never exchanged phone numbers. By Monday, I’ll have a plan. I turn
to leave, but there’s suddenly a slap on my shoulder.
“Got that cigarette?”
“The one you
owe me,” he says. “C’mon, c’mon, I’m out.
I told you I wouldn’t forget.”
not sure if I have any.”
“I can see
them in your jacket pocket. You got a whole fat pack, liar.”
I don’t know
that Cy burns his stepbrother. It could be the father, or Cy’s mother,
or any of the mutants in that kid’s world. Where’s my proof,
my videotape, my fingerprints, my anything? A decent fucking human would
say no, anyway, and come up with any excuse because he just knows in his
guts what Cy’s been up to, and he knows that the cigarette he gives
him now will take the place of one that would have been smoked from the
next pack, the one he’ll have ready next time he wants to make a
baby scream. But when Cy asks for a cigarette, I give it to him.
huh,” he says. “Fucking slacker.”
I head straight to
the front office. Six months before I’m scheduled to marginally
graduate, I ask the secretary who the person in charge of dropping out
Now that even Glades Community College is dead to me, my morbidly disappointed
parents have given me two more months in their house. I’ve taken
my stash from the litter box and moved it to—of all places—my
sock drawer. I don’t think mom snoops around anymore.
It’s my fourth
day as a dropout, and I’ve already got sort of a routine. I sit
in my room, doing everything or nothing halfway, depending how you look
at it. I’ll mix some of dad’s vodka with some of mom’s
Fresca, and have a few sips before spilling it down the toilet. I’ll
jerk off for a couple of minutes until my boner sort of melts for no particular
reason. I’ll listen to four tracks from Ride the Lightning before
I realize it’s the most bullshit thing in the world to be doing.
I make sure I’m
gone before my parents get home from work. I’ll creep out of the
house at four, walk a mile or so to Corner Newsstand, and kill a couple
of hours with the Punch Out game that’s been there so long the screen’s
gone hazy and blue. I uppercut poor Glass Joe to the mat, stand there
and let Piston Hurricane take me down, and pummel Joe all over again next
When it gets dark,
I head back to school. There’s a maintenance ladder out back that
gets me onto the roof. I line my boots up so the toes are just over the
ledge. I’ve pondered this shit enough. But just the thought of the
principal making some phony tragic announcement over the intercom right
before the volleyball scores, or the pathetic black-bordered page in the
back of the yearbook, or the grief counselors no one would even think
of visiting makes me want to stick it out. On the other hand, the whole
town would blame my parents, and my dad wouldn’t be able to listen
to his beloved talk shows for months.
Tonight the horizon
is all soccer-field and baseball-diamond lights. That’s nothing
new. Sports never leave you alone here. Across town the football team
is playing Coral Beach High. The Pep Club had just started putting up
“PUNISH THE PANTHERS” banners all over the cafeteria before
I left. I think the playoffs are at stake, and somewhere in the bleachers,
Mr. Carbone is wishing he could masturbate. It’s too cold for all
that up here. It’s almost like a December night in a state that
has real Decembers.
I stuff my hands
in my pockets. Then I feel it against one of my nails—the stubby
plastic legs, the clawed hands, the bolt poking out of the skull. I roll
it around in my palm. I don’t take it out, though. I just step back
from the ledge and run for the ladder.
The kid is sort of riding me piggyback, with his arms over my shoulders
and his legs clamped around my ribs. He’s stopped chewing on the
brim of my derby. He’s shaking, but for once I’m not. I tell
him not to worry about one single fucking thing. I tell him, “It’s
me, it’s Ted.” Then we jump, but we never touch the ground.
We just keep flying.