Audio: T. Coraghessan Boyle reads.
POLICE DOGS AND FIRE HOSES
I do not go anywhere. You can come in with police dogs and fire hoses, and I’ll cling to the woodwork until I’m stripped to the bone. They’d like that, wouldn’t they, their only child who never asked to be born at all, who was reduced to an artifact in his own room in the only house he has ever known? A souvenir of Mori. A musculoskeletal structure without the muscle. Screaming matches? If they want to scream matches, I’m more than up to the task. They are old and weak and ridiculous and they know it, with their stained teeth and drooping necks and faces like masks cut from sandpaper with two holes through which their glittering, overly critical eyes can flash. But what an idiot I am – I thought the final straw was when they struck me off the family plan and I woke up one day with no cell service and really knocked, how do they expect me to get a job if I don’t have one Phone? Is that so hard to find out? Does that require more argumentation? Do one and one fuck together? The next last straw was when they brought in Lucas Hubinski, who had been in high school with me before, and had him locked the refrigerator and pantry as well as if they were showcases at Tiffany’s. You think that was extreme? How about the last straw that could have filled an entire barn with ungulate fodder tied in eight foot high bales? Are you ready for this They went out and got an eviction notice and taped it on the door of my room as if that meant something, as if I cared what the Danbury Supreme Court had to say about anything. Or what they had to say. They also.
He had every advantage. We loved him, we still love him, our only child who came to us as God’s sweetest and truest blessing when I was forty-one and so empty inside that every waking moment and in my dreams, I stared into space too it used to be full of amazement but got so rancid that I felt my brain rot right there on the pillow while Doug snored all night – because he’d given up, he was really sick of working overtime Performing in vitro treatments that were just cash down the drain because nothing came from them but heartbreak. But I don’t give up that easily. I am as stubborn as my mother and her mother before her. When the calendar said I was ovulating, I went to Victoria’s Secret to get lingerie, drank Doug on champagne, posed for him, sat on his lap and watched porn with him until we were both so hot we could practically raped each other. Still nothing happened. Months passed like slow poison. I told myself that besides having children, there are other ways to be fulfilled. However, when you get to it, apart from God and Heaven, the purpose of life is to create more life. That way – mysteriously, I mean, the way the world goes, whether you think you were responsible or not – I missed my period. I woke up one morning feeling sick in my stomach. I knew it right away. I was excited. And my baby was more beautiful than beauty itself.
THE DOCUMENT IN QUESTION
The document in question is only a paragraph long, gritty to the point, and was produced by a lower life form with a Young Women degree they met at the Emilio’s bar where they took me with them on happier days. previously, in the words of my father – no kidding, my own father – they embarrassed me. Ha! Am I ashamed of her? Have you looked in a mirror lately? Anyway, it was a day out of Hell, the first week of February, a cold needle rain that bothered me all the way back from the mall, which is a 3.7km walk away, and of course, to get there in the first place , I had to run the 2.3 miles and forget to stick your thumb out because no one has hitchhiked here since the first Star Wars movie came out, or maybe even before. Who knows? That is a matter for the social historian. But why didn’t I drive? Because my car, a Japanese piece of shit, needs a new front end and it’s been in the driveway for eighteen months, because my parents refuse to lend me the money to have it repaired, and again their thinking is more than amazing, because even if I managed to find a job without a cell phone, how would you expect me to actually get to my place of work?
But I had to get out, if only for my mental and physical well being, because all you can do is reread those crumpled and melting paperbacks you’ve had on your shelf since you were fourteen, play video game retreads, and stare in the aquarium for like that many hours a day before you feel like Dostoevsky’s underground man so I decided to do the hike. In the rain. I’m not a big drinker and with my unemployment expired I don’t have a lot of money to throw around, but there is a bar in the mall that I like to sit over a mug and watch the bartender do their business briskly at the it’s mostly about polishing the bar top and flirting with the male customers, a subgroup that I belong to. Her name is Ti-Gress, or at least that’s what her nameplate says, and given what I have to endure at home, it’s not refreshing to sit there and watch her while the sound system turns the electronics and the client’s jaws on all at once another delivers and the television redirects its pixels until everyone is in a trance. I also wanted to stop at Pet Emporium to pick up a pair of convict cichlids for the big tank (50 gallons of fresh water, only Central and South American species, because that’s my method, not like those so-called hobbyists who mix Asian). African and South American species in a way that makes nature indignant when you think about it). Anyway, I was watching Ti-Gress and exchanging a comment or two with her as she slid up and down the bar like a big silk kite, drank my beer, selected the convicts, and had the stringy-haired sixteen-year-old pet shop Nerd put them in a larger than average plastic bag with an extra shot of O2 (which I put in my jacket to keep them warm for the 3.7km walk home).
It was getting colder. The rain turned into sleet. Nobody would consider stopping to offer me a lift, and no, I didn’t have the money to waste an Uber if you think so. Then I go into the house – nobody is at home, they are still working, thank the gods of protection for small miracles and also Jesus, Muhammad and Siddhartha, if they listen – and this notice is attached to my door. You are hereby informed. And so on.
I didn’t even get a chance to get out of the car before he looked me straight in the face and told me that I had come all the way home on my lunch break to tape his door so we couldn’t be mistaken Intentions, no more second or third chances – or twentieth, actually, if you want to know the truth about it. He was ugly at that moment, which I hate to admit as he stomped around in the mud of the driveway causing a tantrum like a two year old. And the neighbors watched too – Jocelyn Hammersmith across the street, whose stone face I saw peering through its split blinds, especially below them. Oh, he was so dressed, so abused, and I was inhuman, the most callous mother in history, who had never understood him, never supported him, never given him a break. Doug had called him an embarrassment that was cruel and wrong, but at that moment – with a contorted face and the scruffy growl of a beard that he never cuts or even washes, so flecked with scales that he looks like a fur catcher in a blizzard and with all the weight he put on to feel sorry for himself in the room that I haven’t been allowed to enter since he moved home after breaking up with his girlfriend seven years ago – I couldn’t help but to know the truth.
Will he think of opening the car door for me? No, he just wants to rave about it. “You’re killing me! Is that what you want? You want me to be homeless? You want me to sleep outside in this shitty weather and get multiple drug-resistant TB from all the bums? Huh, would that make you happy?” “
Has he noticed my arms are full, or is he wondering why I’m bringing home a bouquet of pink roses and white carnations (which my eight-hour honor class surprised me with)? Does he even know it’s my birthday? And what about a card? What about a birthday card, even a generic one – or a handmade one like the one he gave me in elementary school? Am I being petty to want some kind of acknowledgment that I live and breathe, even if it’s only one day a year? Who is this person? What did I do What did he become?
The car’s door – a Jeep Grand Cherokee that Doug insisted I get for four-wheel drive – is heavier than a bank vault door, and even at the best of times I have to push hard to open it, but now It is a real trick to juggle my purse and briefcase and try to protect the flowers. Somehow I make it, and then I have one foot on the sidewalk, in the mud, and I’m so angry I’m scared of what I might say, scared of whipping and reminding him of all the “credits.” . Over the years and the fifteen hundred dollars we gave him for Christmas to get an apartment he supposedly spent on “spending,” I just match my expression to his and say, “It’s my birthday . “
That keeps him from, if only for a moment, the hand dropping the note on its page like a doomsday flag, and his face softening before returning to the umbrella look he uses every day seems to wear all day, even when he is alone in the yard or on the street down the street, wherever he goes when he leaves the house. “You want me to die?” he yells loud enough that Jocelyn Hammersmith can hear through her storm window.
I should bite my tongue. I should remember what he was like, what life was like before whatever happened to him – us, him, Doug, and me – wiped it all away. “Yes,” I say and walk past him, so close that the flowers in their crumpled cellophane paint the black leather coat that he absolutely wants to wear in winter and summer as if it were the skin in which he was born die, carry on – but do it somewhere else, right? Will you at least do that for us? “
I’m angry, but he looks so pathetic right now that I want to take it all back. “I didn’t mean it that way,” I say. “Justin, listen to me, look at me …”
But he’s already turned his back on me, trampled up the front stairs and practically slammed the door in my face.