A lawyer by background, Gary V. Powell currently spends most of his time writing and wrangling an 11-year-old son. His stories have appeared at Pithead Chapel, Prime Number, Fiction Southeast, and other online and print publications. In addition, several of his stories have placed or been selected as finalists in national contests. His first novel, “Lucky Bastard,” is currently available through Main Street Rag Press.
When I was a freshman in high school, my mom packed up her organic soap-making crap, announced she’d had enough, and moved into an apartment across town. She said my old man, a university professor and closet alcoholic, was never going to change and warned that I’d end up just like him if I didn’t watch it. Neither my old man nor I tried to talk her out of leaving, but I had to drag my little brother Connor off the hood of her Volvo when she pulled away. The neighbors swept autumn leaves into neat piles and pretended not to look.
It wasn’t like she hadn’t given my old man plenty of chances. Over the years, she’d thrown him out a couple of times, only to take him back after he agreed to AA or the newest treatment offered up by some guru-psycho-freak on the Internet. I guess she’d finally decided we’d bring her down with us if she stayed. The only clothes she took were the ones she wore.
But she did take her Xanax, which was kind of a bummer.
. . .
I was awakened by Gordo’s ring tone. He wanted to call a snow day, which was our code for skipping school. I rolled over and peeked through the blinds. With the streetlight, I could make out flurries but no accumulation. There was no way they’d actually cancel school for this, not in Indiana, where snow came early and stayed late. I reminded Gordo that we already had three unexcuseds in a second semester that was only beginning.
He was undeterred. “C’mon, dude. My mom won’t be back until late this afternoon. Besides, Amy’s coming over.”
Gordo was no ladies’ man, but he did attract a certain type—chicks with low self-esteem, piercings, and ink. Maybe it was his musical ability, because he played a mean guitar. It sure wasn’t his looks. Big noses, acne, and rosacea ran rampant family wide. Except for his mom.
“Plus,” he said, “she’s bringing Heather, the flute player. You know, the skin flute player.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Her pic’s on the web, Graham.”
“What about Connor?”
“What about him?”
Connor was eight, super smart, and into military stuff like other kids were into superheroes or sports. Ask him if more guys were killed on D-Day or at Guadalcanal. Ask him the names of the Marines who hoisted the flag on Iwo Jima or why the P-51 was the best fighter jet ever made. Just ask him. He knew. The other thing he knew was my business. I mean, he studied my every move. Not only that, despite his smarts, he hated school as much as me. If we called a snow day without him and Connor got wind of it, he’d rat me out for sure. It was a risk I couldn’t take, and I wasn’t about to leave him home alone.
“So, bring him along again.”
“This will cost us,” I said.
“No problemo. Whatever it takes, so long as you don’t forget his Ritalin.”
“I won’t forget.”
“All right, then. It’s a snow day for sure.”
. . .
I found Connor already awake and playing a video game. I watched his avatar assault a German machine gun nest before telling him that instead of school we were headed to Gordo’s for the day. He didn’t say a word, just pushed past me, ran upstairs, and slammed and locked his door.
I stood in the hall and knocked, like I couldn’t bust through if I wanted to. “C’mon, buddy, open up.”
“I’m not going to Gordo’s. I hate Gordo,” he said.
“It’s either come to Gordo’s or go to school.”
“I could stay home.”
“That would be irresponsible. Besides Dad might come home early.”
“Gordo’s mean to me.”
“C’mon, he’ll let you play Call of Duty.”
“I don’t care.”
“C’mon, we’ll make this worth your while. Anything you want, just name your price.”
The lock clicked, the door opened a crack, and I pushed inside. His closet looked like it had vomited sweatshirts and pants. Since my mom had left, we’d resorted to recycling rather than washing. I picked my way through toy soldiers, Humvees, tanks, and aircraft set out on the floor. Connor’s guys, as he referred to them, and their vehicles represented various battles. Tarawa and Hamburger Hill were in play.
“The last time we were at Gordo’s,” he said, “he blew up my guys with firecrackers.”
M-80s, actually. Some of Gordo’s homely-ass cousins lived in Kentucky, where fireworks were available to anyone who could fog a mirror. Once a year, Gordo visited and brought home enough ordnance to blow up the university.
“I thought you liked that.”
“He poured model glue on my Marine Jeep and set it on fire.”
“At the time, you said it was cool.”
“He took out a whole battalion. I told him to stop and he wouldn’t.”
“I promise there won’t be any fireworks or glue today.”
“You just ignore me. You called me a little asshole.”
“We won’t ignore you, and I promise no name calling. You’re not an asshole. You’re a really rad guy.”
He raised an eyebrow and grinned. “You’re only going because of Gordo’s mom.”
“She’ll be at work, man.”
“Yeah, but you think she’s hot.”
I pushed him down on the bed and straddled his chest. I threatened to fart in his face.
“Stop it,” he cried. “I’ll go if I can have Smarties and Oreos.”
Under Connor’s bed were enough Baby Ruth and Three Musketeer wrappers to wallpaper Assembly Hall. He’d inherited our mother’s sweet tooth. She was hypoglycemic, which meant she passed out after sugar binges. It happened at the farmer’s market, a movie theater, and once while she was driving. She slumped over, clammy and cold. I grabbed the wheel and steered us into a ditch.
“You can have whatever you want,” I assured him.
“All right, then, I’ll go. But your friend’s a jerk.”
There was some truth to that, even if Gordo was my only friend. “Get your guys together. I’ll make you a fluffernut sammich.”
“Watch out, that’s the Siege of Malta over there.”
. . .
While Connor ate his sandwich and played D-Day Invasion on his DS, I slipped into the bathroom to take a crap and check messages on my iPhone. Gordo had sent the link to the Facebook page where there was a pic of Heather supposedly giving a guy a BJ. There was no guy in the frame, but she was on her knees and had something in her mouth. It could have been a banana as easily as a dick.
Anyway, seeing that pic gave me a stiffie, but instead of jacking off to Heather I thumbed through my other pics until I found one I’d taken of Gordo’s mom the summer before. She was always nice to me, especially since my folks had split, and pretty hot for someone’s mom. In the pic she was washing her car, her ass in the air. That pic always got me off.
After finishing my business, I checked the mirror for zits and brushed tangles from my hair. I rummaged through the medicine cabinet and found Connor’s Ritalin, a couple of loose Valium my mom had overlooked when she’d left, a nearly full bottle of prescription cough syrup—Purple Drank like Little Wayne used to do—and a pint of Cutty my old man kept there for emergencies.
By the time I made it to the kitchen, Connor had already finished his sandwich and was working on a bag of marshmallows. Not even eight in the morning, and he had a pretty good sugar buzz on. We were about to book when my old man shuffled in, still in his jockeys and an old plaid bathrobe.
“You boys off to school?”
Connor and I nodded out our lie, which made me feel a little guilty, because other than his drinking my old man wasn’t such a bad guy. Most of the time, he even hid his drinking well—a flask tucked inside the pocket of his Harris Tweed for nips between classes, beers over lunch with his buddies, a bottle or two of wine while grading papers in the evening. The exception came about once a quarter when he went on what he called a bender, usually after a reception for some hot-shit visiting writer hawking his latest and greatest. He’d managed to retain both tenure at the university and his driver’s license through a combination of luck and the reputation he’d established early on with a first-rate novel and an acclaimed story collection. We read one of his anthologized stories in English class. Talk about gay.
My old man looked us over, scratched his nuts, and started making coffee. He’d add Brandy to it before setting off to teach. “You boys have a good day,” he said. “Learn something important. Learn something savage.”
He said that that all the time. In fact, “savage” was one of his favorite words. He used it in the title of his novel, “Savage Nights,” which I’d tried to read but hadn’t made it past the first chapter of.
. . .
Outside, the snow fell in big, wet flakes, and the sky was so low and gray that the street lamps continued to burn well after sunrise. January in the Midwest. It was a miracle people weren’t committing mass suicide.
We had to walk through campus to reach Gordo’s house. His dad was a professor, too, and owned this way cool A-frame in Brown County, but after his parents’ divorce Gordo and his mom retreated to a dumpy bungalow on Eighth Street. She worked part-time in a law office and studied for her PhD in art history. Someday, she’d take a job in Washington or New York and move out of my life forever.
The campus was mostly deserted due to the snow. We cut through the Student Union, where Connor begged until I bought him a glazed donut at the Sweet Shop. The girl behind the counter was sporting some truly dynamite tits, and even though I’d beat off just fifteen minutes earlier, I popped another boner and had to cover it with my backpack.
Outside, there was more mud than snow, but a group of students was trying to build a snowman in Dunn Meadow. Connor and I watched from the first floor balcony of the Union. According to my old man, he’d participated in anti-war rallies in the Meadow back in the seventies. But that was my mom and dad: so cool they’d known better than the President and Congress about the war, pursued their true dreams instead of getting real jobs, and waited until they were in their forties to have kids. All my life, I’d heard is that your mom or your grandma? My old man was the only dad I knew who qualified for a senior-discount coffee with his Happy Meal.
I explained to Connor about the protests—the signs, the crowds, the cops with their batons.
“Vietnam was the first war for M-16s,” Connor said. “The Marines preferred the M-1, because M-16s often jammed.” He sounded like the guy on the Military Channel.
“These were protests, not the war.”
“Why were they protesting?”
“I think we were slaughtering babies.”
“Marines don’t slaughter babies. Mom and Dad were war protestors?”
“Yeah, sure.” My mom told me they’d been hippies for a while, living off the land, working in a commune, wearing beads and sandals. That’s where she’d learned to make organic soap. Knowing my old man, he’d been in it for the weed.
“So,” Connor asked, “do you think Mom’s coming back?” He had a habit of asking me stuff like this out of the blue.
“Who knows? Anyway, haven’t I been tucking you in?”
“Like I need a tuck in.” He wiped his nose with his sleeve. “Do you miss her?”
“Yeah, sometimes.” She was a vegan and a good cook, and I missed her funky meals. She hung our clothes outside to dry instead of running them through the dryer, and I missed the way our sheets smelled. She was also a terrific Scrabble player. Three-hundred-point plays weren’t all that uncommon for her, and I missed that, too. Mostly, I tried not to think about it.
Connor motioned to the students and their muddy snowman. “If I had a rifle and a scope, I could take them out.”
He pretended to lift his weapon and sight through an imaginary scope. He made a sound like a sniper rifle firing. We’d heard it in a Tom Berenger flick. “One down,” he said.
“That’s sick, man.”
He worked the lever and jacked another imaginary round.
. . .
Gordo and I started smoking marijuana when we were in sixth grade, but gave it up except in a pinch, because who knew what rat shit or Hantavirus was ground up in a bag of grass. Coke, of course, was readily available, but possession of even a small amount could result in juvie-time. Meth could rot your teeth and kill you. Consequently, Gordo and I limited our intake to prescription drugs formulated by white-jacketed men working in spiffy-clean laboratories. If some jerk-wad wanted to snort powder purchased from ghetto-dwellers who cut their shit with strychnine that was his business. As for Gordo and me, we were strictly Pharmies, into “scripts” like Ambien and Xanax, if we wanted to chill, and Codeine and Ritalin, if we wanted to party. Granted, the guys in the white jackets didn’t expect people to drink a bottle of cough syrup or snort eight pills at a time, but even so we figured the potential for harm was less.
Gordo met us at the door, wearing black silk boxers with red hearts and a t-shirt from Eminem’s The Real Slim Shady concert tour. His curly hair was piled on top of his head, and he definitely had not availed himself of Clearasil as of 0800 hours. His black-framed glasses were always sliding down his nose, but he couldn’t wear contacts due to allergies.
We high-fived and stood inside the door rapping about how cool it was to be ditching and how those slackers at school were just now reporting for homeroom. In the background, I heard hip-hop playing on Gordo’s iPod. I could tolerate it, but preferred vintage Beatles and classic punk.
Connor had no patience for our BS and wasted no time before cutting to the chase. He wanted his Smarties and Oreos. Snowflakes were melting on his regulation Marine buzz-cut hair and leather Top Gun bomber jacket. Even in the morning gloom he wore shades, just like Maverick in the movie.
“C’mon, little man, follow me,” Gordo said.
He ransacked the kitchen cabinets and refrigerator. “You better have something good,” Connor said, looking more and more pissed.
“Not to worry, not to worry.”
Gordo didn’t have Smarties or Oreos, but he found an unopened bag of Hershey’s Kisses and a six-pack of Heritage Dr. Pepper. The DP was a major score—produced in Dublin, Texas, the one place in the world where they continued to sweeten with genuine sugar cane, not mere corn syrup. Sugar fiends like Connor and my mom had developed a tolerance to corn syrup because 99 percent of what we ate was made from corn. Giving corn syrup to sugar junkies was like giving Seconal to heroin addicts. Connor grabbed two bottles of Dr. Pepper and the Kisses.
After setting him up in front of the TV in Gordo’s mom’s bedroom—Battle for Fallujah raged on cable for the third time that month—Gordo and I assembled in the living room and considered our options. It came down to Ambien or Ritalin, both of which Gordo was holding. I preferred Ambien in the morning because it was easier to fight through the drowsiness and find a mellow place than if I took it late in the day. Gordo argued in favor of Ritalin due to the fact we didn’t want to be caught napping when Amy and Heather showed.
The problem was if I took Ritalin now, I’d crash by noon.
“It’s okay, dude,” Gordo assured me. “After we snort up, we’ll pass that cough syrup around to maintain, then snort up again when the girls arrive.”
That was Gordo, always thinking ahead.
He dumped the contents of four twenty-milligram capsules onto his mom’s coffee table, and we each did two lines. The forty milligrams of Ritalin hit like a mini cocaine rush, lifting me right off the sofa. Gordo clapped his hands and let out a yelp.
After the rush subsided, we surfed the web, played video games, and listened to music before heading over to Facebook. Gordo’s Wall included pics of himself blacked out at parties and a pic of the two of us pouring beer over each other’s heads. My Wall was lame by comparison, with pics of Connor’s toy soldiers and a girl I’d met at a concert in Indianapolis but hadn’t seen since. After a while, I took a break to check on Connor. He’d already polished off the Kisses and downed the DPs.
Now he wanted to know if Gordo had ice cream.
“Why don’t you see for yourself? You know where his fridge is.”
“I’m waiting for the commercial.”
We watched Marines slaughter terrorists until the Lipitor commercial came on. Connor handed me the flipper and trotted down the hall, leaving me alone in Gordo’s mom’s bedroom. I liked how she always asked how school was going, what my plans for the future were, and whether I had a girlfriend. I had this fantasy that she’d stop in the middle of pouring me a glass of milk and ask if I’d mind if she kissed me. I imagined our tongues tangling like feral animals.
On her nightstand was a trashy novel by Joyce Carol Oates. On the other side of the bed, a door opened into a bathroom. I rolled across the bed and peeked inside. A towel lay on the floor. The air remained humid and warm from her morning shower, scented with violet, hairspray, and something earthier underneath.
I turned and stared at a large mirror that hung over her dresser. She was a redhead with freckles under her eyes, and I wondered if the freckles continued onto her breasts. The mirror knew, but held a memory it wouldn’t share. I imagined the bunched bed covers in the shape of her curled and sleeping body. I pulled the comforter aside. Gordo’s mom had lain on that sheet, rested her head on that pillow. I leaned in and inhaled, the aroma sickly sweet—perfume and sweat. I pulled the covers down. There, in a crushed ball, lay her black satin panties.
I heard Connor talking in the kitchen. Then I heard him coming down the hall, making the sound of machine gun fire. I scooped up the wisp of fabric and plunged it into my jeans’ pocket.
. . .
The girls arrived in a restored 1969 VW bug, which Amy’s dad drove only on weekends. Amy was at the wheel, although she was a year away from getting her license. Her black hair was cut short, and like Gordo she sported dark-rimmed glasses that accentuated her allergy-ridden eyes. She wore tight jeans that made her look even skinnier than she was. Her nose, lower lip, and ears were the only piercings visible, but rumor had it her nipples were pierced, too.
Heather was a total opposite. Blond and cute and Midwestern round, she’d been a cheerleader in eighth grade, but hadn’t made the cut this year. She looked older than the rest of us and could have passed for a teacher with her skirt and sweater, blow-dried hair, and make-up. Her fingernails were manicured and painted a red that matched her lipstick.
I knew the girls only from school and the occasional party, but Gordo had a thing for Amy. The two of them, along with Heather, took music lessons at the same studio. Part of the reason I hung with Gordo, aside from the scripts, was I wrote lyrics for his original licks. The songs sounded like Snoop Dog meets John Lennon.
I served Pepsis, and Gordo passed around a bag of Doritos. While we snarfed, we shot the breeze with the girls about how unfair it was to force kids to attend school and how we should be allowed to graduate just by taking a test on the Internet. When the Pepsis and Doritos were gone, we got serious.
Gordo, Amy, and I opted for Connor’s Ritalin, while Heather chose Ambien, washing it down like a champ with a shot of my old man’s Cutty. She asked if she could smoke, and when Gordo said yes, she lit a Camel from one of those black and pink packs RJ Reynolds markets to teenage girls.
After that, we spent twenty minutes trying to decide what to do next. Amy wanted to make a YouTube video, but everything we thought of someone had already done. Heather wanted to go to the mall, but I explained I couldn’t leave my little brother alone and there was no way we were taking him.
“How old is he?” Amy asked.
“Eight, going on eighty,” Gordo said. “He knows everything about WWII.”
Heather blew smoke rings. They marched across the room like soldiers off to war. “My little brother is eight. He’s into Pokémon.”
“Pokémon.” It was a funny word, and I blurted it out like an ass.
Heather frowned, but let it go. “My oldest brother’s in Iraq.”
“Actually, it’s dangerous.”
As it turned out, she had four brothers, one a football star at Bloomington South.
“Graham’s not really into sports,” Gordo said.
Heather flashed a smile. “I know. He writes the funny editorials for the school paper.”
“Oh, no,” I told her. “Anonymous writes those.”
“Everyone knows you’re Anonymous.”
I knew I never should have trusted Gordo. “Everyone knows?”
“I think it’s cool,” Heather said.
“Well,” Amy said. “We could play Twenty Questions.”
Heather lay back on the sofa. Her legs fell open, and I could see all the way up her skirt. I tried not to be obvious, but I couldn’t help myself. “How about a movie?” she said. “We could download a movie.”
She was zoning on the Ambien, pushing through and flying nicely, and I envied her because I knew that after snorting the Ritalin I would eventually come down hard. I passed the bottle of cough syrup around.
“A movie’s good,” Gordo said, and everyone agreed. But after another twenty minutes, we still couldn’t decide between Avatar and Gladiator.
Maybe I was feeling edgy from the Ritalin, maybe I just needed to move things along, or maybe I wanted to get back at Gordo for telling everyone I was Anonymous. “Gordo has lots of porn,” I said. “I mean, if you’re into that.”
You’d have thought I’d dropped the “F” bomb in English class.
“You mean hard-core porn?” Amy asked, cutting a glance at Heather.
“Well,” I said. “It’s pretty hard-core.”
Gordo gave me his mean-ass look. “It’s my dad’s vintage porn video collection.”
“Vintage?” Heather asked.
“You know,” Gordo explained, “hairy chests and bushes.”
“Gordo’s dad’s a sex addict,” I announced, unable to let it go.
“At least he’s not an alcoholic like your old man.”
“He’s not that much of an alcoholic.” I felt compelled to defend my dad, even if he might not have defended himself if he’d been there. No one heard me, anyway.
“Wow,” Amy said, “I guess we could do porn. I mean if it’s vintage.”
Heather squinted through the smoke of her cigarette. “Sure,” she said, “why not?”
“Give me a sec,” I told them. “I need to check on my little brother.”
. . .
Connor was finished watching TV. He sat on the bed paging through a photo album. Next to him sat what he said was his second bowl of ice cream and a bottle of chocolate syrup. He lifted the bottle to his lips, squeezed, and filled his mouth.
“You’re going to get sick.”
He gave me a maniacal look, eyebrows arched, mouth twisted in an evil grin. “Or will I?” I yanked the photo album from his hands. “Who said you could look at this?”
“I can look.”
“You better put it back.”
“You put it back.”
I thumbed through the pages. There was Gordo’s mom—a younger, even hotter version of the current Mrs. Dana Silverman on a beach in a swimsuit. Next to her stood Professor Silverman, purveyor of vintage porn.
“Where’d you get this?” I asked.
“That drawer. I’m getting bored, Graham. I want to go home.”
“It’s too early. I’ll set you up with a movie.”
I opened the bottom drawer and replaced the photo album. Off to the side was a bottle of yellow stuff described as a gentle, naturally-scented personal lubricant. I squeezed a dollop and rolled it between my thumb and forefinger. That shit was slicker than snot.
“What is it?” Connor asked.
“None of your beeswax. What movie you want?” Gordo’s mom had a million videos in her closet.
“Saving Private Ryan.”
“It’s too violent. It will seriously freak you out, man.”
“I won’t freak. I promise. Anyway, you better let me watch it. I know what’s going on. You want to have S-E-X with those girls.”
“You don’t know squat. And if you bother us, I will kick your ass.”
“I’ll call 911. If you touch me, I swear I’ll call.”
“Are you sure you can handle Private Ryan?”
“I can handle it.”
I slipped the DVD into the player. “Well, you better not bother us. I mean it. I will kick your ass if you do.”
He took another hit of chocolate syrup. “Banzai,” he said, raising his spoon like a spear.
. . .
It was my opinion that the women of vintage porn were considerably hotter than the girls of the modern era. Modern porn stars featured perfect boobs, asses, and faces. By comparison, Linda Lovelace and Georgina Spelvina were totally trailer trash. Yet, the fact they were a little rough around the edges made it believable when they took on a bar full of bikers, went down on the pizza delivery boy, or cheated on their husbands.
My favorite vintage porn actress was Marilyn Chambers, the Ivory Soap girl. Marilyn was super slutty, with platinum hair, bronze skin, and a rock-hard body. Dressed as the secretary for an office scene, she came across as demure and vulnerable. Laid out naked across the hood of Johnny Wad’s hooptie, she looked as coarse and randy as Molly Bloom.
When I returned to the living room, Gordo was playing one of Marilyn’s most famous flicks, Behind the Green Door. In the opening scenes, Marilyn is kidnapped, taken behind the green door, and fondled by several women in long, flowing robes.
“Yuck,” Amy said. “I didn’t know it was going to be girl on girl.”
“It just starts that way,” Gordo said. “We can skip ahead if you want.”
I sat next to Heather on the sofa. She finished thumbing a text message, smiled, and said, “This guy I met the other night. He’s a Sig Ep. A college sophomore.”
Which meant he was five years older than me, probably owned a car, and had a place he could take girls without being hassled by a little brother.
“Have you ever watched this before?” She nodded to the screen.
“Parts of it.”
“The good parts?”
“Actually, it’s all pretty much the good parts.”
“Did you jerk off?”
“I don’t jerk off.”
“Yeah, right. My brothers jerk off all the time.”
“Well, not me.”
Gordo fast-forwarded to the scene where that black ex-boxer, Johnny Keyes, really puts it to ole Marilyn. Not to be racist or anything, but Johnny’s was one large pecker, and Marilyn took it like a champ.
Across the room, Gordo and Amy shared a bean bag chair. I was pretty sure she was rubbing him through his silk undershorts. We were nearing the psychedelic money-shot scene, which was my favorite porn scene of all time. Heather’s whisper was as cool as an Ivory Snow flake. “So, were you expecting a blow job today? That’s what everyone says, right? That I give random blow jobs.”
“I never heard that.”
“Bullshit. You must have seen the pic on Jennifer Reed’s Facebook page.”
“That pic doesn’t prove anything.”
“What did you think? That was a banana in my mouth?” She blew more smoke rings. “That was Dan Wilson’s dick.”
“Wow.” I didn’t know what else to say.
“So, anyway, I’ll give you a blow job, if that’s what you want. As long as you promise to pull out before you shoot.”
The seven-minute scene with the neon green goo splattering across the screen and onto Marilyn’s face and breasts was just beginning. I tried to act cool, like I got blow jobs every day. “I can work with that,” I said. “You sure you don’t mind.”
She mashed out her cigarette and placed a hand on my knee. “Actually, I like being in control.”
“No one’s more in control than a woman with your cock in her mouth.”
I was trying to think of the next thing to say when I heard Connor behind me. He held the empty chocolate syrup bottle upside down and slumped against the wall.
“Graham,” he said, “I don’t feel so good.”
He didn’t look so good, either. Before I could grab him, he pitched forward like he’d been pushed from behind. It would have been the perfect face plant, except on the way down he struck his forehead on the corner of an end table. Blood gushed onto the white carpet.
Amy jumped up. “Holy shit,” she said. “He’s fucking dead.”
He wasn’t dead, but he was clammy and cold and unconscious. Not to mention he had an ugly gash on his forehead. We stood over Connor’s limp body, peering down.
“You best put some ice on that shit,” Gordo said. “He’s not dying on my watch.”
“Hold on,” Heather said.
She dashed into the kitchen while I knelt beside Connor. I checked for a pulse like the paramedics did the time they came to our house after my old man collapsed from the dry heaves. Heather returned from the kitchen with ice cubes wrapped in a damp towel.
“He’s really bleeding.” Amy said.
Heather mopped Connor’s forehead. He moaned and his eyelids fluttered. “Head wounds always bleed a lot, and this one’s especially deep.”
“I’m calling 911,” I said.
Gordo grabbed my arm. “The fuck you are. It’s bad enough I have to explain the rug.”
Amy squatted next to Heather. “Maybe we better go. I don’t want to be here if he’s going to croak.”
“He’s not going to croak,” Heather said. “Trust me. I’ve seen it all with my brothers. They…”
Before she could finish, Connor started to convulse. His face contorted, and he bucked and writhed like he’d been tasered.
“He’s faking,” Gordo said.
“He’s not faking,” Heather shot back. “We’ve got to help him or he’ll bite his tongue and choke.”
She tried to work the towel into Connor’s mouth but it was too thick. Without thinking, I retrieved Dana Silverman’s black panties from my jeans’ pocket and thrust them into Heather’s outreached hand. When I pried my brother’s jaws open, she pushed the panties inside, and Connor clamped down.
After a couple of minutes the tension left his muscles. He lay there limp and cold again.
“We’ve got to take him to the emergency room,” I said.
Gordo leaned in. “What the hell is in his mouth?”
. . .
My only choice was to commandeer Amy’s dad’s VW. I grabbed the keys from Amy’s purse, then lifted Connor over my shoulder. Gordo blocked the door until Heather hit him with a shot of pepper spray. Amy threatened to call the cops, but I knew Gordo wouldn’t let her bring The Heat down on him. I took the wheel while Heather sat in back, Connor’s head on her lap. My only close call came when we pulled into the emergency room drive-up and I had to slam on the breaks to avoid hitting a gurney onto which they were off-loading some geezer from an ambulance. I carried Connor into the emergency room while Heather parked the car.
I was like my brother’s dying, my brother’s convulsing, my brother’s lost lots of blood, and all the lady at the desk wanted to know was if I had insurance. I flashed my card, and a couple of EMT guys shined lights into Connor’s eyes, checked his pulse and blood pressure, and lifted him onto his own gurney. Heather reappeared as they were wheeling him away, ahead of a construction worker with the broken arm and another geezer with tubes in his nose.
After about twenty minutes, a doctor who looked no older than me pushed into the room. He checked Connor’s chart and barked orders. More nurses appeared with carts packed with scary-looking medical equipment. They drew blood and hooked up an IV. One of them stitched Connor’s forehead.
The doc turned to me. “You’re his brother?”
“I’m Doctor Burns.”
He asked a lot of questions. I gave him the scoop on my mom’s “spells,” as she called them. I laid it on thick about Connor’s convulsion. I described the sweets he’d consumed and the approximate time and order of consumption. Burns studied my eyes. “What drugs have you taken today?”
“Who me? Drugs?”
“Who’s this?” He glanced at Heather.
“I’m helping out,” she said.
Burns didn’t like it. “Your little brother has a probable concussion. He’s likely anemic and suffering from malnutrition. There’s a possibility of untreated childhood diabetes. Where are your parents?”
I was crashing from the Ritalin and Purple Drank. Elephants walked on my shoulders and cicadas roared in my brain. “I haven’t called them yet.”
“You better get them down here now or I’ll have your brother placed with Child Services before the day is out.” Burns didn’t look like a kid anymore.
“My dad’s a professor.”
“I want to see him. Right now. And your mother, too.”
I started to shake. Then I started to cry. My mom was probably eating Milky Ways and working on a batch of soap. My old man was probably fresh from Nick’s Tavern, beers and a Stromboli sloshing in his belly.
Heather touched my elbow. “Give me your phone. I’ll call.”
. . .
We sat out front, watching ambulances deliver sick and dying people. The snow had let up, and the sun was out. Across the way, I saw my old man arrive in his 1997 BMW. He’d bought it with the advance for a second novel that remained unfinished. He wobbled a little crossing the parking lot. Halfway, he paused and tugged on his flask.
My mom hadn’t answered Heather’s call, so we’d left a message. Gordo’s mom was another story. She’d come home early to find Amy and Gordo on the sofa. Mrs. Silverman told Heather she’d pick up Amy’s mom and then drive the two of them to the hospital to reclaim the ’69 VW. We were waiting for them to show.
“Is your dad really an alcoholic?” Heather asked.
“It’s more about writing than drinking.”
“What about your mom?”
“She’s all right. Kinda flakey is all. I really feel like crap.”
Heather took my hand. “Those scripts are bad news. I’ve got some primo piff in my purse. It’ll fix you right up.”
“Is it good?”
She winked. “Not as good as a blow job, but it’s pretty good.”
My old man shuffled over, his hands in the pockets of his Harris Tweed. Over fifty years old and he still wore an earring and needed a haircut. He nodded at Heather. “So, who’s this?”
He shook her hand. “Nice to meet you, Heather McPherson.” He turned to me. “How’s Connor?”
“He’s conscious. They’re feeding him through an IV. I think you’re in trouble. They mentioned child neglect, malnutrition, childhood diabetes. Take your pick.”
He sighed and rubbed his eyes. “Well,” he said, before trudging inside. It was a good thing he had that flask.
“So, why were those panties in your pocket?” Heather asked. “Are you like a panty pervert or something?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know if you’re a pervert or how some girl’s panties got in your pocket?”
“They’re Gordo’s mom’s. I kind of like her, I guess.”
She stared at me. “Mrs. Silverman? That is so perverted.”
“Not as perverted as giving every guy you meet a blow job.”
“I only did it a couple of times.” She looked hurt, which made me think maybe it was true.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“Yeah, well. You did.”
Not ten seconds later, Gordo’s mom drove up with Amy’s mom. The way they strode across the parking lot said they were on their last nerve when it came to ungrateful, spoiled-rotten, smart-mouthed teenagers.
Heather stood. “Anyway, I’m outta here.”
“Are you going to be in trouble?”
“Get real. I’ve got one brother in Iraq, one who’s a superstar jock, and two others who need emergency care once a week. My parents hardly know I’m alive. Give me a call if you want to smoke up. Or even if you don’t.”
“What about your Sig Ep?”
“I never blew him, if that’s what you’re wondering.”
The two moms clacked toward us in high heels. They’d both come straight from work. Amy’s mom took Heather by the arm and led her away, shaking a finger in her face. Gordo’s mom leaned over me. “How’s your little brother?”
“He’s all right.”
I looked up and searched her face for kindness. I wanted her to clutch me to her bosom, fix everything in my stupid world. Instead, she scowled at me.
“I never expected this from you, Graham,” she said. “I thought you were a steadying influence on Gordo, but now this. You talk him into ditching school, you bring drugs into my house, you invite these girls over and watch your porno movies with them.”
“That’s not my porno. That porno belonged to Mr. Silverman.”
She took a step back. “That’s bullshit, young man. You think I wouldn’t know if my ex-husband kept porn in the house? What’s wrong with you kids, Graham?”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Silverman.”
“Well, sorry’s not going to cut it. I’ve told Gordo you are off limits. And another thing, Gordo says you have something of mine.”
I retrieved her panties from my pocket. She jammed them into her purse, then she got in my face, and I caught a whiff of her perfume. Her voice was softer now, the anger gone. “Look, Graham, I know things aren’t easy at home. I can appreciate that. But you’re headed down the wrong path. Maybe you should get help. Maybe your whole family needs help.”
It was like the understatement of the year.
She turned and walked away, her sweet MILF ass working hard inside her skirt.
. . .
I sat with Connor while the doc gave my old man an earful in the hall. The old man hunkered down and took it like a dog taking a whipping.
“I really liked that first scene in Saving Private Ryan,” Connor said from his bed.
“It’s pretty intense.”
“No shit. Thanks for letting me watch it, Graham.”
“I didn’t take very good care of you today, Connor.”
“It’s all right. Does it look like I’ve got a head wound? Maybe shrapnel?”
“I guess so.”
“I might get a scar out of this. That’d be cool.”
My old man slouched into the room. He reached inside his coat pocket, produced his flask, and placed it in the trash. He let out a sigh, collapsed in a chair, and patted Connor on the knee. “You’re going to be all right, son,” he said. “They’re going to keep you overnight, but you should be all right.”
“It kind of hurts, but probably not as bad as being shot with an AK-47.”
My old man winced. “No, not that bad.”
Then my mom was in the room. Longish brown hair, streaked with gray, fell about her shoulders. She never wore make-up, but she looked all right for a mom in her jeans, boots, and faded leather jacket, an old knapsack over her shoulder.
She pushed past me, sat on the bed, and hugged Connor. She was crying, and I think he was, too. After a while, she turned to me. Her chin trembled. “Oh, Grahammy,” she said. She reached out, pulling me close. It had been a while since I’d hugged my mom, and I’d almost forgotten how good it felt.
“Did Gordo talk you into skipping school?” she asked.
“Yeah, sort of. I guess you could say that.”
“That kid’s trouble with a capital ‘T.’ You need to stay away from him.”
“I was planning to,” I said.
She stood and faced my old man. “You okay, Drew?”
He opened his jacket and showed her the empty pocket.
She rolled her eyes. It wasn’t the first time she’d seen that. “How did this happen?”
“I thought they were at school,” he said. “I’m sorry, Maggie. Things are kind off the rails with you gone.”
“You look like shit,” she told him.
“I’ve been better. Here, Maggie, sit down.” He stood and offered her his chair. It was a simple gesture, a decent thing to do.
My mom gave him a sad smile, went around the bed, and took a seat. My old man stood behind her, resting a hand on her shoulder. She reached up and patted his hand, even gave it a squeeze.
“I’m glad you came,” he said.
She shook her head and slapped at another tear. “I had to be here for my men.”
She reached inside her knapsack, pushed through the Xanax bottles and candy bars, and fished out a portable Scrabble game. She set it up on Connor’s lap. “What do you think?” she asked.
“I’m in,” I said.
“Me, too,” Connor said.
My old man took off his jacket, went into the hall, and returned with another chair. He settled next to my mom. Then we counted our tiles and sized up our options. I remember looking at Connor and thinking this was just like the old times our little family had never known.