by Mark Spencer
Table of Contents
in issue 257.
|part 3 of 6|
Armed with only a paint-ball gun and a burning sense of responsibility, 14-year-old Henry Wales struggles to impose good moral values and appropriate behavior on his mother, a “biker babe,” and his older sister, a disciple of Paris Hilton. To add to his troubles, Henry feels his policeman father slipping away into a new life with a new spouse and baby. Ultimately, desperation forces Henry to commit dark and desperate acts.
Maybe it was from inhaling the stench of all that Taco Yummy food, but that night I had some freaked out dream about being in the woods at the park, and I was chasing Krebs the way he’d been chasing Brandi. I was shooting paintballs at him. The worst part of it was that he was wearing a bikini and he was all fat and hairy, just like in real life. On his head he wore the Taco Yummy cap that looked like a burrito. My paintballs splattered against his hairy back.
* * *
The next day I said screw the ban, and I was out there at the park with Josh and Brandon and Weston and Seth, me and Josh at war with Brandon and Seth. I was having a pretty good time, and nobody had called me shrimp or called my mom a whore or my dad a pig. I thought I was so cool when I found a hollowed out fallen tree big enough to lie down and hide in.
Brandon was approaching with no idea I was in that dead tree. When he got close enough, I came up out of nowhere like Jason in those slasher movies and shot Brandon point blank in the chest. And the jerk shot back, hitting me in the chest and shoulders.
“You’re dead!” I yelled. “You moron! You can’t shoot back.”
“No, you’re dead, Wales.”
“What the hell? I shot you first. Come on. Play right.”
Then he shot me in the neck, just at the edge of my face mask, same as he had a couple of days ago. I dropped my paintball gun, clamped my hand over my neck, which felt like it had been torched. Tears came to my eyes, but I couldn’t help it. Brandon stood there smiling. So I leaped at him, knocked him to the ground, sat on his chest, and started beating his face.
“I’m tellin’, Wales!”
I just kept pounding his face until I felt Josh and Seth pulling me off.
Josh was saying, “Stop it! Stop it, dude! He’s hurt. You win.”
Brandon was all teary and bloody and waling, “I think my nose is broke!”
“I’m sick of people not playing by the rules. If you’re not going to play by the rules, then what’s the point of playing?”
“You’re psycho, Wales.”
Seth helped Brandon get up, and they started to walk away, while Josh held on to me.
“Your mom’s a whore, shrimp. I’m telling the first cop I see you’re not supposed to be in the park.”
Josh was pretty strong for a small guy, and he was able to hold me back.
“Come back here, so I can kick your ass some more.”
But quick enough, Brandon and Seth were out of sight.
“Let me go. I think I’m gonna puke.”
Josh let me go, and I dropped to my hands and knees and stayed that way for a while but nothing happened. All I could do was spit.
“Henry, we better leave the park the back way.”
“I was feeling so good. Then he had to screw it all up.” I shook my head and got up from my knees, and we started walking. “That’s the way it is with everything.”
“When things feel good, somebody always screws things up.”
“Dude, you were playing some intense paintball.”
“I was thinking about Krebs.”
“World’s full of guys like Krebs. Can’t kill ‘em all.”
“Pervert won’t leave Brandi alone.”
“I don’t think she minds that much. Now don’t go psycho on me or anything, but don’t you think your sister’s kind of a slut?”
“She hasn’t always been. She used to be a regular girl.”
“A regular girl?”
“Yeah. After Dad left, she changed.”
“So what’s the deal now? You think you can save her? Make her regular again?”
“Somebody has to.”
“I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for her to turn into a nun.”
“When we were little, she used to make me play school with her. She was the teacher and I was her student, and she’d make me sit in front of her and do dumb stuff like spell ‘cat’ and tell her what two plus two equaled. And she’d keep saying, ‘That’s very good, Henry. That’s very good. Your grade for the day is A plus.’”
“I bet you hated that.”
“She took care of me a lot back then, ’cause Mom was always needing to take a nap or something as soon as my dad left for work in the afternoon.”
“Did she give you baths and stuff?”
“No. I didn’t grow up in Arkansas like you.”
“Brandon says his big sister used to give him baths.”
“He probably enjoyed that. Hey, can we go to your house so I can get cleaned up some? I don’t want to go home looking like this.”
* * *
Josh’s house was small, messy, and dark. We went through the back door, hearing TV voices turned down kind of low.
“Either Dad’s home or he left the TV on.”
Being quiet, we stepped into the living room. A big lounge chair sat in front of the TV. We were behind it and couldn’t see if anybody was in it. Oprah was on.
“What?” It was creepy the way Josh’s dad’s voice came out of the thin air.
“What you doing home? I thought you were going into the store at three?”
“No. I decided not to.”
Josh stayed back with me. He didn’t act like he wanted to see his dad.
The phone exploded into a loud ring and I damn near jumped.
“Don’t get it!” Josh’s dad said.
“Okay, okay, Dad.”
We just stood there while the loudest phone in the world went on and on. Finally, it stopped and I could start breathing again.
“Boss been calling.”
“You going to work tomorrow?”
“Yeah. Sure. Just not today, sir.”
“Come on,” Josh said to me.
“Who’s with you?”
“Never heard of him. Hi, Hank. Name’s Mike.” His hand appeared above the back of the lounger, and it waved.
“Henry. He’s my best friend.”
I didn’t know I was Josh’s best friend until that second.
“My best friend. Yeah.”
“We been paint ballin’. He’s going to take a shower. Or his mom will kill him.”
“Is she good looking?”
“Okay, Henry. Is she?”
“Yeah. She’s real hot, dad.” Josh grinned at me. “But his sister’s hotter.”
“Hot as Mom was?”
“No, Dad.” Josh looked at me. “Come on.”
And we went down the hall to the bathroom.
“There’s soap and a towel.”
The tub had mildew all around the edges. I touched the one towel hanging next to the toilet.
“We’ve only been using it this week.”
“Oh.” I touched it again. “Is your dad drunk? Why’s he watching Oprah?”
“He doesn’t drink. Not even beer. He just gets this way some times.”
“’Cause of your mom?”
Josh shrugged. “I guess. Some times he’s okay. He goes to work, comes home, watches Skinamax. Eats chips. Gives me tips on how to get girls. Then all of a sudden he’ll get like this.”
“Does he ever go out with girls... women?”
“Don’t you think that’s weird? He’s probably lonely since your mom died.”
“He’s too old. He’s a lot older than your dad and mom. He’s like fifty or something. He says sex is just a spectator sport for guys his age.”
“How old was your mom? Was she really young and hot or something?”
“She was forty-something. He always says she was hot, but she wasn’t.”
“Don’t you worry about him when he gets like this? Shouldn’t you do something?”
“What am I going to do? Go find him a hooker to cheer him up?”
“Henry, haven’t you noticed that all adults are pretty screwed up? Dude, they’re worse off than kids our age.”
I stared at Josh. He was right.
“I gotta get this paint off.”
* * *
I rode my bike up the driveway of my house. Dog’s Harley was dripping oil on the concrete next to Mom’s beat-up Chevy Caprice, which was dripping oil, too. Dog was sprawled on the sofa, watching the Animal Attacks! video. The phone was ringing, but he was ignoring it.
“Hey, watch this, kid.” He nodded at the TV. A leopard was going after a giraffe, then brought it down. The giraffe’s long neck sagged and then it died as the leopard munched away. It was pretty gross.
“Mother nature is one heartless bitch,” Dog said.
The phone was still ringing.
“Is the answering machine unplugged?”
“Your daddy called your mommy and left a message to call him back. Then he called again. Then Mona pulled the plug. You know your mom. But isn’t that cool?”
The phone stopped ringing.
“Why you watch this?”
Dog sat up and looked at me for the first time since I came in. “You get in a fight, kid? Or some chick been suckin’ on your neck?”
I touched the welt on my neck. “I got shot in the neck with a paintball.”
“Did you beat the crap outta the guy that did it?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I did.”
“Good. You wanta know why I watch this?” He pointed at the TV with one of his thick fingers. Dog had the thickest fingers of any human being I’d ever seen. “’Cause it’s real, kid. The real reality TV. It ain’t no lame Survivor crap. Or Fear Factor. That crap is more like fag factor... Hey, take a look at my new tattoo. There’s this new tattoo place downtown that’s got an artist that’s like some kind of freakin’ Picasso or somethin’.” He opened his vest to show me a snarling green dinosaur on his chest. I hadn’t ever thought of a dinosaur snarling, but this one was. It was kind of an Elvis snarl, except it wasn’t Elvis. It was a raptor. “Mona loves it.”
“Not just any dinosaur, kid. A velociraptor. You ever been to that museum with the dinosaurs?”
“Yeah, like on a field trip every year since first grade.”
“I love them mothers. All the teeth and claws and horns. That’s what made those mothers survivors. You wanta get by in this world? You got to have teeth and claws and horns. How did you feel after you beat the crap out of the guy that shot your neck?”
The phone started ringing again.
“Kinda sick. I felt like I was going to puke.”
Dog gave me a big frown that looked a little like his dinosaur’s sneer. “That’s no good. You got to enjoy it. You got to acquire a taste for blood until it’s what you want to drink for breakfast.”
“Thanks for the tip.”
“It’s true, kid.”
“Where’s my mom?”
“Gettin’ spruced up.”
I started to head back toward Mom’s bedroom but stopped and came back toward Dog a couple of steps.
“Did you ever know my mom before my dad left?”
He squinted at me. “You accusin’ me?”
The phone stopped ringing.
“I’m just asking.”
“In my world, foolin’ with another man’s old lady is a good and fast way to get yourself planted six feet in the ground.”
“So you didn’t?”
“Mona was a free agent when she pinched my cute little butt the first time. So you love my tattoo or what?”
I went back to Mom’s bedroom. The door was shut, and I knocked. “Mom. It’s me.”
“What you want?”
“I wanted to let you know I was home,” I said staring at the door.
“Okay. I know you’re home.”
“You going out?”
“Where you going?”
Mom opened her bedroom door and stood there with her hands on her hips, annoyed. She had on a real tight skirt and a tight t-shirt and a lot of make-up.
“You’re going out looking like that?”
“Who the hell you think you are? My mother?”
She walked fast to the living room, me following.
“I thought you were sick.”
“Who said that?”
“You said you had a condition and needed an operation or something.”
In the living room, Mom twirled in front of DOG. “How you like?”
The phone started ringing again. Everybody ignored it.
Dog grabbed at her. “Let me show you, baby, how much I like.”
Mom pushed his face away. “The kid.”
“What was that all about you needing money?” I asked.
“I do need money. That’s why I’m dressed this way. I have a job interview.”
“What kind of job interview?”
“Red Dog Tavern.”
The phone stopped ringing.
“The Red Dog? But, Mom, that’s like a big hang out for drug dealers. The cops raid the place all the time. Some guy got knifed to death there about a month ago.”
“Yeap. Messin’ with another guy’s old lady. What I tell ya, kid?”
Mom smiled a little and said, “I know how to take care of myself.”
“No, you don’t.”
“Don’t start, kid.”
“You’ve had four jobs since Dad left, and you quit them all.”
“Doing what you hate is what being a grown-up is all about.”
“Got that right, baby.”
“Then why did you quit them all?”
“I’ll quit this one too, if I get it. As soon as I make enough money.”
“I’ll get you the money.”
“Gonna rob a bank?”
“Why the Red Dog?”
“I can make good tips.”
“How about going back to that insurance office? It was a nice place. All you had to do was answer the phone and type some. You liked it at first. You really liked it. That guy you worked for called here and said you could have your job back any time.”
“You don’t know anything about it, kid.”
“I do. I do too. That guy was nice. Mr. Anderson. He was nice. I could tell. He always wore a suit, and he had that car—”
“Guess what, Henry?”
“I’m the adult. I know that’s a surprise to you to learn. But I’m the adult.”
“That doesn’t make you smart.”
Mom slapped me.
Dog grinned at me. “Gotta know when to shut it off, kid.”
“Will you turn the damn TV off.”
“Sure, babe.” Dog turned off the TV with the remote. “Isn’t Anderson the guy that wanted you to do him in his office?”
Mom gave me a look. “Yeah. That was the guy. At least at the Red Dog the guys won’t be wearing any disguises, like suits.”
I said, “I’ll get a job. I can get a paper route.”
“That would only take you about a decade to make some real money.”
If you work at the Red Dog everybody will think you’re a—” I stopped myself. My face was still stinging.
“Will think what, kid? What will they think I am?” I thought she was going to whack me again.
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t like it, then go live with your father and Jenny the Ninny.”
“I don’t want to live with them.”
“Why? Jenny the Ninny would probably bake you cookies before you got home from school every day. They could call you Beaver. And maybe you can grow up to be a cop like him! To protect and serve. Get your damn head blown off... I’d rather be a whore than the wife of a cop.”
Everybody was frozen and silent like we were a movie and the DVD player had locked up.
Then the doorbell rang.
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Spencer