I SNIFF PAINT THINNER in Bobby the Killer’s garage. I’m supposed to be mowing the lawn and he’ll be pissed. I’m only living with him because he’s banging my Aunt Haylie and she has custody. They met when he fixed the tranny on her car; a two door, four cylinder rice burner with a hatchback. She couldn’t get it out of first gear. He’s got a little shop in a barn behind the garage where I’m sitting on a stack of studded snow tires and looking out the busted window. The sky is strange; a crack of blue and clouds and pink. The glassfaced thermostat reads ninety-nine degrees and the humidity is a bitch this time of year. I can hear him pounding on an alternator with a rubber mallet. It’s an old red-rusted Willy’s. Aunt Haylie is slinging beers at the VFW. She used to dance at the Castaway Lounge but Jimmy the Greek told her she was too fat for that anymore. She cried in bed for three days straight. Then she met Bobby. He’d just moved down from Turner’s.
He’s different, she’d said to me. It’s gonna be different. You’ll see.
Maybe I don’t want it to be different.
This might be just the thing, she’d said.
You said the exact same words last time.
That conversation was two months ago and now we’re all settled in.
I look at the lawn mower and it’s not moving. I look at the grass outside and it’s not getting any shorter. It’s not much of a yard really. Patches of green and dirt and stones and little tufts of blond that remind me of cunt hair. There are other tools hanging from the wall on nails. A bag of fertiliser. A red gas can. Some old buckets of paint. Bobby the Killer smokes skinny drugstore cigars called Swisher Sweets. He stinks of them and so I always know when he’s around. He’s standing in the doorway with his thumbs in his pockets. His knuckles are missing skin. His arms are missing pigment.
What the fuck, he says.
I’m takin a break, I tell him.
He wants to hit me so bad I laugh. A blue vein throbbing on the side of his cow-skull shaped head. A cigar sticking out of the straight line of his mouth. Chewing the end of it he looks at me for a minute and I smile but not nice. He turns away and grabs an orange box from under the workbench. It’s heavy plastic with metal latches, smudged with axel grease. His name etched on top in black magic marker. He pops it open, grabs an adjustable wrench, stares at it. Thinking about what to say to me. What to do about me. The stuff I inhaled is kicking in now and I’m having difficulty keeping my eyes open. I know for a fact that he wants to bury that wrench in my face. Wants to hurt me.
That fuckin lawn won’t mow itself, he spits on his way out.
It’s a funny concept and I try to picture the lawn mowing itself and I laugh out loud again. Then I go inside to take a nap because it’s too hot for chores and my brain is beginning to shut down. When I wake up it’s dark and quiet which means Aunt Haylie is working a double shift and Bobby the Killer is losing at cards and getting drunk at the Polish Club with all the other old guys in town. The air is a bit more bearable when the sun goes down. I’m hungry so I eat a pickled egg. There’s a big mason jar of them in the refrigerator. Floating in pissy brine. Bobby’s mom makes them for him and his sis. Then I hear a knock on the front door and it’s Brenda Pasnaki. She’s a hot girl from my school that I don’t always go to for obvious reasons. She’s wearing strawberry lip gloss. A wife beater. Black short shorts. Pearls of sweat on her shoulders and chest like a necklace.
She bats her eyes at me, something she got from MTV.
You here for your lesson, I say.
Yah hey, she says.
I’m teaching her how to suck my dick.
She smiles and blushes, snaps her bubble gum with her tongue. We go into my room and study up on some of Bobby the Killer’s porn. Then afterwards I tell her she’s getting much better. Loads of improvement, I say. She’s very pleased. Brenda is a perfectionist among other things. I pull up my pants and we smoke a joint that tastes a little skunky and watch cartoons. Tom and Jerry crack me up. Then we get the munchies and Brenda craves french fries and a chocolate frappe so I take cash from the drawer in the kitchen where Aunt Haylie hides her tips. I get my bike from the garage and she sits on the handlebars and we ride down the middle of Sugarloaf Street against a warm breeze that carries with it green-eyed horseflies and the chemical smell of the tannery. I drive a car sometimes but I’m not old enough yet. Last year after drinking two bottles of Boone’s Farm and a pint of Jack Daniels I hotwired an El Camino with Jimmy Begos and drove it into the manmade pond. We got caught, of course, because Jimmy Begos can’t swim. Chief Waz made us pick up trash at the drive-in movie theatre every Saturday and Sunday for three months. Milk Duds, Junior Mints, Mike & Ike, popcorn containers.
Squawky Flanagan is halfsitting on the black handrail in front of Billy’s. Puffing on a Kool. He graduated a few years ago. He works at the package store now and will sell me booze out the back door. He drives a sweet GTO and keeps a wooden baseball bat in the trunk in case there’s any trouble and there usually is because he starts it; it’s easy to get on his bad side if you don’t know him. The car is parked under the dim light across the street and looks like it has just been washed. Blue and shiny and dripping water. Chrome bumpers like funhouse mirrors. Squawky is busy daydreaming and doesn’t see us until my rear brakes squeak and he looks up. He turns slightly so Brenda can see his new tattoo. He got it at Johnny Palomino’s Ink Shoppe off Route 2A in Bernardston. It’s a red rose wrapped around a knife blade on his right bicep. He thinks chicks will dig it.
Oh hell no, look what the cat done drugged in, he says, flexing his pipes a bit.
He always says and does stupid shit like that.
Brenda gets down off the bike and I lean it against the brick wall. She fixes her shorts because she’s getting a wedgy and Squawky watches closely. She tries to ignore him but he gives her the creeps. Then he offers me his cigarette and I pinch it between my fingers and take the last couple of drags. We pose hard like that and look at his GTO.
She’s a real beauty, I say, looking at the car.
Oh yah hey she’s a fuckin beaut, he says, looking at Brenda.
Squawky thinks of himself as a ladies man. Then suddenly his left arm jerks skyward like he’s a puppet on strings. And eventually his hand flaps back down to his side like a buckshot bird. He has a mild form of Tourettes that manifests itself in occasional and uncontrollable spasms. It’s one of my favourite things about him.
Brenda rolls her eyes and goes inside Billy’s and Squawky whistles through grey clenched teeth and adjusts his balls and calls me a lucky somebitch. Maybe he’s right but I don’t see it that way. Then he wants to buy a dimebag of dope so we make a plan to hook up later. Brenda is in the booth and I join her and she has already ordered for both of us. Pat Roy with her blue beehive hairdo is running the counter and she shakes her head when she sees me; her daughter is my age and I popped her cherry last summer at the Dwire Lot BBQ. Pat drops potato wedges into boiling oil. The frappe machine motor whines. Then she puts the big bowl in front of us. Two metal containers overflowing chocolate and two glasses with straws. I squirt ketchup on my fries one by one. We feel better after we eat and Brenda looks at me and says she wants to go home and fuck.
Then much later I open my eyes and Bobby the Killer is naked. Brenda is crying. Aunt Haylie has a bonehandle pistola. What the christ, I think, rubbing boogers from my eyes. The living room is mostly dark but I take in the peculiar scene from the blue light of the television. I’m sitting on the couch in my tighty whities. Aunt Haylie is looking at me but pointing the gun at Bobby and he’s trying to hide behind Brenda. Bobby the Killer is looking at the gun. Brenda is covering her bare tits. Her shorts are around her ankles. I smell gasoline and the pink goop that Bobby uses to clean his hands. And I smell just-got-after pussy, which is another clue as to what is going on here. It’s surprising to me but not unbelievable. The only sound now is Brenda sobbing and a high-pitched hum from the television because it’s off air at this hour and my own breathing. There’s an empty rubber hanging off the end of Bobby’s limp dick. Then he pisses himself in fear and the rubber fills up and falls off; splat. It creates a stain. I’m the only one who seems to notice. Well, Aunt Haylie says to me.
It seems she has asked me a question and is waiting for an answer.
What you got to say for yourself, she says.
I don’t know what to say to her. I’m still trying to piece it together.
Whoring your slutty little girlfriend out to Bobby, she says.
I laugh out loud. Holy fuck. She can’t really believe that I set this up.
Look at her, she says. How could he resist.
I look at Brenda and Aunt Haylie is right. She’s a beautiful girl and maybe I have created some kind of monster. Brenda looks at me and tells me she’s sorry but I don’t really care about that. Aunt Haylie’s gun hand is shaking. Bobby is shaking too and he puts his hands over his cock as though that will help. Then the front door flies open and Squawky strolls in with his Louisville Slugger. Driving around like he will and I guess he witnessed my predicament through the window facing the street. He stands next to me, twitching like somebody is shocking him with electricity, and he leans on his bat and assesses the situation; checks out Brenda, gives Bobby a look, nods at me and half smiles at Aunt Haylie. He was a regular of hers at the Castaway Lounge when she was stripping.
Then his body calms down and settles into itself.
What’s up, he says to my aunt, sounding cool, unflappable, maybe oblivious.
He angles himself so she can see his tattoo. Aunt Haylie ignores him.
Well, she says to me.
A dog is barking somewhere and that gets a whole gang of them going in chorus.
I don’t know what to say to her. Nobody says anything for a few heartbeats.
Well he ain’t so different now is he, I finally muster.
She tries to speak but gets choked up. I truly didn’t mean to hurt her feelings.
You always want different but nothin ever is, I say.
Aunt Haylie still can’t believe her ears and shoots her wolfblue eyes at me and lowers the bonehandle pistola to her hip, which is Bobby the Killer’s cue to bolt for the door that Squawky left ajar. Now she starts to cry and sits down sloppy on the floor and I take the gun from her gently and put it in my waistband and then we hear his pickup engine start, tires squeal. I wonder where he’ll go now, driving off without any clothes.
Brenda gets dressed. Her wife beater is bunched up on the floor near the coffee table and Squawky fetches it, holds it to his nose before he hands it over. She’s regaining her composure now. She snaps her gum. Her running makeup is clownlike.
You want a ride, Squawky says hopefully to Brenda as she tugs her shirt on.
She says all right. She looks down at her feet instead of anywhere else.
He winks at me. They leave together and close the door. His fat Eagles chirp too.
Now it’s just me and Aunt Haylie like it always has been since my mom split for Florida when I was a kid. I sit next to her and we stay put for a good long while, her crying and me rolling a fatty. Then I put my arm around her and she rests her head on my shoulder. Then we smoke together. Her cheeks are red and puffy. Her T-shirt smells like fabric softener and peanut shells and the underarm roll-on that balls up where she hasn’t shaved. There are crickets in the bushes alongside the house. Aunt Haylie says we’ve got to pack up and get out before he comes back with the cops. I remove the bonehandle pistola from my shorts and it feels funny in my hand. Not a natural thing to me. I tilt my head and aim the gun at the television screen where from this angle ghosty figures are moving—old images that got stuck in there somehow; bad memories. Then I tell her about an apartment above the Bloody Brook Bar in the centre of town. I saw the flyer on the wall in Rogers & Brooks. It has new carpet and curtains, and a Sears microwave.
She nods her head up and down until her chin rests on the hard part of her chest.
That wouldn’t be too bad, she says. Her voice sounds funny, muffled.
She inhales and holds the stuff deep in her lungs as long as she can.
Then she closes her eyes and exhales.
And I can smell her breath.
That might be just the thing, she says.
Opens her eyes and blinks them to adjust.
I can feel her looking at me.
Then she sighs my name and smiles. And I squeeze the trigger and there’s a flash of white and the gun kicks and the meaty part of my arm jams back into my shoulder socket and the bad memories trapped inside Bobby’s box explode into a million pieces.