One eye was stuck wide open. Dry, angry red veins, thick behind the eyelids, branched out to thin tendrils that appeared to tease a scarred iris.
Above the eye, the paralysis had seized the brow into a thick black arch that sloped all the way across a face that rarely saw sunlight.
The other eye was functional. It was stuck half-closed, watered incessantly, and was sort of… bent. But he could see out of it most of the time.
Pete ran a finger under his eye, swiped it on his shirt. His face un-blurred in the mirror. He continued brushing his teeth. As Aquafresh spittle accumulated on his reflection he stared at his scarred iris, unable to look away. His heart beat faster. His throat tightened. Breaths coming in short gasps through his nose, toothbrush tearing hard and fast on his teeth, Pete leaned forward and pressed his forehead to the bottom of the mirror until he couldn’t see himself any longer. Short gasp as the toothbrush popped out, a huge sharp breath. He spat into the sink with a shout. The toothbrush clattered in the sink basin.
Pete lost his balance and fell to the floor.
A shadow fell across him. “Pete?”
“I’m okay, Mother.”
“Sure, Pete. Sure. You look okay.”
Pete wiped sweat from his forehead and sat up. He jumped as the toilet flushed behind him. Looked up and relaxed at the sight of his mother’s smile.
In a soft, quiet voice she said, “You didn’t flush or put the seat down.” The toilet seat and lid slammed hard in the small, tiled room. “Wipe the mirror.”
“Yes, Mother. I was going to flush the toilet.”
“Sure, Pete. I know you were.”
In the hallway a bedroom door opened, booted steps approached on the linoleum. “Hey Bev. That fucking idiot do it again?” A man filled the bathroom doorway, head and shoulders brushing the frame. His old cowboy boots thumped to a widespread stop. He displayed large teeth, looked down at Pete. “You little pussy. You’re scared of your own reflection. Every fucking day.”
“Eagle!” Bev moved to stand in front of the man. “That’s not helping. That’s not how it works. He has severe obsessive compulsive disorder. He’s been diagnosed.”
“Yeah, he’s made it clear he’s severely disordered. But you’re the one obsessed with it.”
Pete wrapped his arms around his legs. Buried his face between his knees.
Bev clucked her tongue, glanced at her son. “Talking to him like that only makes it worse.”
Eagle ran a hand over his facial stub, glaring at the two. He raised his voice. “No, talking to him like that will toughen up his little ass.” He narrowed his dark eyes. “And talking to me like that will get your ass toughened up. Go make me some coffee, Bev, before I make you scared of your own reflection.”
Bev closed her mouth and dropped her eyes. She pressed her lips together and shuffled past Eagle into the hallway.
Eagle smiled after her. Turned to Pete. “Your daddy ain’t around here to coddle you and your mother anymore, boy. And I ain’t gonna be the man of a weak family. You hear me?” He leaned down and gripped Pete’s shoulder hard. Shook him. “You better toughen up if you know what’s best for you…” He jerked his head toward the hallway. “And your mom.”
Pete fell over when the big man let go and left the bathroom. He wiped his eye and stood. Peered through the doorway, holding his breath. A drop of water splat in the sink and he gasped, looked around wildly. Looked at the mirror and the Aquafresh spittle.
Grabbing a roll of paper towels from under the sink, he tore off a couple and started to wipe the mirror. One quick swipe and his reflection smeared. He let out a breath. He repositioned the paper towel and tried to keep breathing as he leaned over the sink to wipe again.
As his hand inched closer he tried to keep focused on the smeared spittle and ignore his paralyzed eye growing larger in front of him. Sweat trickled down his sides from his armpits. His fingers pressed the paper towel to the mirror but his hand wouldn’t make the wiping motion; it only trembled.
Eagle cursed Bev in the front room – he scalded his lips with “her” coffee – and Pete squeaked in pain as his elbow hit the sink. He held his breath and ran from the bathroom.
“He’s a ‘repeater’. So recurring obsessions are not abnormal.” The doctor turned off his optic scope and focused on holding a neutral expression. He glanced at Pete, knowing the kid sensed his disgust, gave a small smile, then turned to the mother. “The experience that caused the disorder, and consequently the paralysis, was extremely traumatic. And relatively recent.”
Bev fiddled with her purse strap. She hated examination rooms. Hated hospitals. She uncrossed her legs, stood and smoothed the back of her shirt over her shorts. Shouldered her purse. “I don’t know why I even bring him here. It seems like I’ve spent my entire life in this place. Certainly spent my life savings… I give up.”
The doctor frowned, adjusted his glasses. “Your son’s diagnosis is not one that can be healed with a prescription or home remedy. I’ve personally never administered to a patient with such severe OCD. For mild OCD, Prozac or Wellbutrin works fine to inhibit compulsions and repetitive behavior. Time and understanding – patience – is what Pete needs. And you are giving that to him.”
“I got it.” Bev motioned for Pete to get off the table. He slid down, turned and grabbed his shirt. Pulled it over his head, watching his mom. She folded her arms and sighed. “Except for the patience part. My patience these days is shit.”
“Well Ms…” He held up a clipboard.
“Bev. Just Bev. Hello? I’m here three times a month and you still don’t know my name?”
“Well Bev.” He cleared his throat. ”The brain is a wondrous organ. The plasticity allows damaged neural pathways to find new paths. Keep doing the eye exercises, and one day the eye may regain some functionality. The discipline of the physical exercises may help alleviate the OCD. It’s a long-term solution, but it’s the only solution in today’s medicine.”
“That’s your opinion,” Bev muttered.
“Thanks for your opinion.”
He frowned. “Ah, also, as to the, ah,” he glanced at Pete, “inconvenience of his recurring obsession, that also may change with time. That particular behavior may cease altogether. But most likely it will be replaced with another, sometimes similar, act.”
“Another? Are you fuc – ” Bev looked at her son, who continued to stare at her. She put a stick of gum in her mouth, stuck the pack back in her purse. Tried not to glare at the doctor and chewed while talking. “Are you seriously telling me this right now? Another obsession? How? What can I expect?”
A group of nurses walked quickly past the exam room. One turned back and knocked before opening the door. “Doctor,” she said with quiet urgency.
“Sure.” He looked at Bev and Pete as he backed out of the room. “Expect? Hell if I know.” He chuckled. “That’s part of the fun.” With a big grin he was gone.
What a fucking asshole. Bev scowled, stroking Pete’s hair. I swear, I should go slash his tires…
Pete swiped his eye and kept watching his mother’s face.
Pete didn’t like sleeping with the lights off. He didn’t like the quiet of dark. And didn’t understand why his parents always made a fuss about making the whole house dark and quiet before bed. It made him scared, not sleepy. And it made his parents mad at him because he talked or got out of bed to play with his toys by the light coming through the window.
They got really mad when they had to keep getting out of bed to come into his room to shush him or yell at him for playing when he should be sleeping. So they made him sleep with them most nights. But he didn’t really sleep.
How could he sleep when it was so quiet and dark?
Since Daddy had gone to Heaven and the big man became his new daddy he didn’t sleep in his parents’ room anymore. So he slept in his own bed, and Mother didn’t check to see if he was playing by the window. And whenever he got scared and talked about things the big man just yelled instead of coming to his room like Daddy used to.
Pete didn’t like the yelling. But he was glad he didn’t have to sleep with Mother and the big man.
He went to his room. He was very tired after the doctor visit. The hospital was a scary place. Every time Mother drove them to see the doctor Pete saw people that were hurt. Most of them were hurt so bad they were in beds – and those same people would be in the same beds the next time Mother drove them to see the doctor! That scared Pete, too.
The only thing Pete liked about visiting the doctor was the nice ladies in pajamas. They were very nice because they didn’t make fun of his face. And they had some really cool pajamas!
Pete climbed onto his bed and pulled a race car from under his pillow. He rolled it back and forth over his stomach, wishing he had pajamas like they did…
The nice ladies told him how handsome he looked in his new Scooby Doo pajamas. He smiled at the cartoon dog that was all over his arms, his stomach and legs. He laughed with the nice ladies.
One of the nice ladies stepped in front of the others. She became so big the other nice ladies disappeared. Her laugh hurt his ears. He cupped his hands over his ears and pushed the sound away. He closed his eyes.
In the darkness the nice lady stopped laughing. Pete couldn’t see her but knew she was gone… And he wasn’t at the doctor visit anymore. He was at home. In his parent’s room. Daddy was sleeping next to him; Pete always knew when Daddy was sleeping because he made funny noises with his nose. He liked how Daddy always smelled like his truck. Mother wasn’t in bed. He knew when she was gone because he got cold and had to get all the way under the sheet. Sometimes she left after Daddy started making funny noises. Pete didn’t understand why she left. He liked the funny noises. Hearing them made him sleepy and made the scary quiet go away.
Pete tried to move closer to Daddy but couldn’t find him. The whole bed was cold. And the scary quiet came back. Pete sat up when the hallway light came on. It was bright under the bedroom door and hurt his eyes. Two shadows appeared in the middle of the light like missing front teeth. The shadows moved wide right before the door crashed open. A huge black bear stomped into the room holding his paws out to his sides. The bear growled and turned its head. Pete saw it was a very big man, and he was very mad.
Daddy was making funny noises again. Pete sighed as the scary quiet left and looked at the bedroom door. It was closed. The bear hadn’t broken it down. Pete scooted over to curl up behind Daddy and the door crashed open.
Daddy shouted, “Who is that? Who are you?” and leapt from the bed. “Where’s Bev? BEV!”
Daddy grabbed for his pants off the dresser. The big man stepped in and hit Daddy really hard in the face. He fell onto the table next to the bed, crushing a lamp.
Pete pulled the covers over his head. He couldn’t breath. The men fought on the floor, upending the chair and table, shoving the dresser into the door. Makeup and coins scattered, and old magazines were shredded under their legs.
Pete shouted, “Mother!” and scrambled off the bed away from the scary fight. He got under the bed, pulling the sheets with him.
“Fucking my girl!” the big man thundered, punching Daddy.
Daddy growled in pain and turned the big man over on top of the bed. Something cracked and the bed suddenly smashed down on Pete. He shouted for Mother then couldn’t breath. He shut his eyes tight. Above him legs kicked the walls then he could breath as the men thumped over on the floor. He opened his eyes. Right in front of his face Daddy lay with the big man on top of him. Daddy was shaking bad, spitting huge breaths, but couldn’t push the big man off.
The big man roared and Pete saw the huge bear lean over Daddy. Light coming through the busted door made the long blade gripped in the bear’s paws shine. It quivered and the paws became hands pushing down. Daddy yelped like a puppy that had been stepped on, then yelled loud as the big knife pressed into his chest.
The big man’s eyes were wide and shaking. His lips, wet and open, showed large white teeth. “Fucking my girl? Huh? DID YOU FUCK MY GIRL?”
“No!” Daddy yelped.
“No? That’s what she said. At first.” The big man sat up. He slowly pulled the knife out of Daddy.
Pete, unable to close his eyes, heard a sound like his foot being pulled out of thick mud. The mud turned as red as Daddy’s blood on the knife.
“Tell me how you did my girl.” The big man pushed down again. Daddy screamed a sound that made Pete start panting. Pete saw the blade slowly bite into Daddy’s chest again. Daddy’s arms poured sweat, feebly pushing at the big man’s hands.
“It wasn’t me… wasn’t me!” Daddy said. “I – ” He gasped as the blade twisted. His legs, under the big man, kicked and slammed his heels hard on the floor.
“You fucked her! You fucked her!” The big man’s spit sprayed all over Daddy’s face. “You did! She told me you did!”
The red mud appeared, Pete’s foot dragging clear…
The point of the knife disappeared into Daddy’s side. Pete was becoming dizzy. His throat pulsed, sucking in small wheezes of air. He watched Daddy scoot around, squealing. Daddy’s hand fumbled over Pete’s face and squeezed it. Pete wheezed louder, eyes staring through Daddy’s fingers. The hand let go, pushing at the bed.
The big man put a hand over Daddy’s mouth. The squealing stopped. Their noses almost touched. The big man shouted, “Tell me how you did it! Tell me!” He twisted the knife.
Daddy made a sound like a big frog, then he hummed against the big man’s hand. The light coming into the room made the tears in Daddy’s eyes turn yellow. The bear paw moved off his mouth. “I’m sorry!” Daddy said.
“Sorry? That’s the same fucking thing she said. Sorry. You two were made for each other. Two sorry motherfuckers!”
“I am. I’m really sorry.” Just like Pete, Daddy couldn’t breathe right. “It just… happened.”
The bear sat up and roared. Then he slammed the knife into Daddy’s head. It sounded like a big watermelon when Mother stuck her “good” knife in it. Pete liked watermelon.
Pete’s panting slowed. His eyebrows felt funny. And one eye hurt really bad because it wouldn’t close. He saw Daddy’s stomach stop moving. Then his mouth stopped moving…
Pete saw himself as he did every morning in the bathroom and started panting fast again.
Pete walked out of his bedroom holding his favorite toy: a big fire truck, the kind with real lights and a siren that works and a ladder that moves up and down like a real ladder. He didn’t play with it last night by the window. But he wanted to.
The fire truck was longer than his arm. He carried it with both hands, keeping an eye on the ladder. Sometimes it shot out and scraped the wall. Mother got angry when his toys scraped the walls. Pete knew it was because the big man gets really mad at her whenever Pete makes a mess or breaks something.
He held the fire truck in front of him whenever there were no lights on in the hallway. Pete could just use the lights on the fire truck. He saw the bathroom light was already on and turned to carefully place his favoritest toy back in his room.
As he walked into the bathroom he noticed his hand didn’t shake when he pushed the door. He stared at the doorknob, knowing it would make his hand shake. But it didn’t. He wiggled his fingers and frowned. He wanted to keep watching the doorknob but he had to pee really bad!
He finished and flushed the toilet, put the seat down. Turning to the sink he looked up at his reflection: big ears sticking out of long dark hair that covered his funny eyebrows and the eye that wouldn’t close. He didn’t like his hair long, in his face. Mother wanted it like that. She said he embarrassed her.
The sink had tiny hairs all over it from the big man’s beard. Pete wrinkled his nose, grabbed some paper towels and wiped it clean. Then he brushed his teeth. Leaning forward, he watched his teeth and gums closely to make sure the toothbrush moved the way Daddy showed him.
Rinsed his mouth, cleaned his Scooby Doo toothbrush, and looked at the mirror. He was surprised he didn’t have to wipe it clean. He shrugged and went back to his room to play with the fire truck.
Bev heard her son in the bathroom and sighed. Blew out a breath and grabbed Eagle’s coffee mug off the TV – the TV! – and walked into the kitchen. Stopped at the sink. Bracelets jingled as she swept her long dark hair back into a ponytail. She grabbed the sink sprayer and began washing the mug. Her cheekbones poked out, lips pursed. Tiny wrinkles sprang from narrowed eyes. On top of the fucking TV… Eagle is such a dick. She shook her head. It’s a nice dick, but that’s all the fuckhead is good for.
Wiping down the counter she heard Pete’s fire truck siren blaring. She stopped, frowning. Then went to the laundry room to trade out towels on the way to check on Pete’s daily bathroom crap.
“Huh. Son of a bitch.” Bev stood in the bathroom doorway looking around with her mouth open. The toilet seat was down. The mirror was clean. And he had even cleaned Eagle’s bullshit out of the sink. “I’ll be damned.”
As Bev walked over to Pete’s room she remembered what the doctor had said. She hoped whatever new crap he started was better than the old crap. Easier to clean up.
And she hoped whatever new crap he started wouldn’t piss off Eagle… or give him a new reason to hurt her.
“Just watch him. I’ll be back in a few hours.”
“Watch him do what?”
“You know what I mean. He’s sleeping. You don’t have to actually watch him. Just be here in case something happens.”
“Oh, yeah, because this is the place where things happen. What could possibly happen in this little Disney dump?”
“Just stay, Eagle. Damn. It’s my uncle’s funeral. He was a good man and I’m going to see his family. And there’s no way in hell I’m bringing you or Pete. I’ll be embarrassed enough on my own.”
“I don’t want to stay. The boys are still at the bar. It’s two-for-one night, and I just got that new cue…”
“Let go. Stop, Eagle!”
“Well, if I can’t have beer and play pool I wanna play with you.”
“No. I have to go. We can do that in the morning when Pete has his bath.”
“Ah shit, Bev. That’s the only thing worth staying here for. So if you want me to stay, come here… Now.”
Pete listened until the big man started taking off Mother’s clothes. He knew the big man was going to hurt Mother. He always got really scared when he hurt her like that. So he stopped listening and went to play firefighter.
Pete pushed the fire truck into the light and made the ladder go up to the window. He pretended the light was fire and the wooden frame was a giant house. He wanted to turn on the siren and lights and play like real firemen and fight the fire. But he was supposed to be sleeping and didn’t want the big man to yell at him.
Fighting this fire was not easy. It took all of Pete’s G.I. Joes to do it. Smiling, he took them down off the window ledge, one at a time, sliding them down the ladder to climb off the truck and stand together like real firemen do after they put out a big fire. He wished he could feed them sandwiches like people do on TV. He didn’t have any sandwiches. Not even pretend ones.
Pete stood up quickly, excited. He knew where something even better than sandwiches was. It was in the kitchen.
Pete smiled and walked to the door. He could give each of the firemen a piece of Mother’s watermelon. And Mother would never know because the firemen were small. He could give them each a small piece.
He swiped a finger under his eye and peeked out into the hallway. It was quiet. But the hallway light was on so it wasn’t scary quiet. He knew Mother was gone. Her car makes a lot of noise when it leaves the garage.
He walked into the living room. The big man was sleeping in Daddy’s chair. Pete looked at the TV as he hurried past it. A cowboy movie was playing. There were horses running fast, and the men riding them had big funny hats and were shooting guns. Pete wanted to stop and watch the cowboys but he didn’t want the big man to wake up and yell at him.
Walking into the kitchen Pete saw Mother’s good knife on the counter. He slowly walked up to it. Reached up and touched the handle. Mother didn’t want him playing with her good knife. She didn’t want him even touching it. Or any knife.
He turned and looked at the big man. His eyes were closed. Pete grabbed the knife and looked at the blade. It was very shiny. He wondered if his firemen could use a good knife. Smiling, he swiped his eye, looked up at the refrigerator and remembered the watermelon.
The cold air pushed out against his face, blowing hair out of his eyes. It smelled like watermelon. Pete opened the refrigerator all the way and leaned in to look at the watermelon in Mother’s big dish. She hadn’t cut it up yet. He lifted the knife and pressed the blade into the green part people weren’t supposed to eat. It didn’t go in very far. He pulled it out and stuck it back in, harder this time. His hand slipped down the handle and scared him; he almost touched the blade.
Pete left the knife and walked away from the refrigerator. Then he stopped. His squinted eye stopped its rapid blinking. His panting slowed. He chewed on his lip. Then he went back to the watermelon and grabbed the knife with both hands. He jerked it clear and, without thinking, rammed it down hard into the melon. The handle thumped under his fingers, but didn’t slip. He smiled and pulled the blade out slowly. Dark pink showed where the knife had been. Pete stared at the hole. Then he looked at the other end and pushed the knife in. Using both hands, he pretended they were paws and he was a giant bear. He pushed the knife in all over, making the green part have big holes that leaked pink water. Playing with Mother’s good knife was really fun.
“What the hell?”
Pete gasped and spun away from the refrigerator. He put his hands behind his back.
“Who were you talking to? Aren’t you supposed to be in bed? What the fuck time is it?” Eagle peered around the kitchen, wiping fingers over his eyes.
Pete stood, frozen, scared the big man was going to yell and call him stupid names.
Eagle smacked his lips and staggered towards the refrigerator. He stopped suddenly and looked down at Pete. He threw his hands out to his sides. “Well, you little fuck. Why are you just staring like a little pussy? Tell me who you were talking to. Fucking woke me up. You having a sleepover or some gay shit?” He glanced around, then leaned in and grabbed a beer, closed the refrigerator.
Pete shook his head. His eye watered. He wanted to wipe it. But he was scared he would hurt himself if he let go of Mother’s good knife.
“Ah, you crying now little pussy? Did I hurt your little pussy feelings?” He took a big swallow of his beer. Sighed. His eyes narrowed. “Hey. You hiding something? What do you have behind your back?” He stepped toward Pete.
Pete held his breath. He gasped when the big man grabbed his shoulder and squeezed really hard.
“I asked you a goddamn question, boy. What’s behind your back?”
The big man took hold of Pete’s neck. His giant hand wrapped all the way around it, fingers touching thumb. He snatched Pete toward him.
Pete squeaked as he was yanked off the floor. The big man pulled him up so their faces almost touched. He tried to grab the big man’s arm.
“I told you I will not be the head of a weak fam – “ Eagle wasn’t expecting the little pussy to hit him. And damn did it hurt! He dropped the boy and felt the side of his neck. His eyes widened. Beer sprayed from the can as it hit the floor. He started coughing and suddenly had trouble seeing. He felt sick, worse than any hangover. He felt for the counter and tried to move his feet over to the sink. But his feet wouldn’t move. He opened his eyes wide and saw he was on his knees. He tried to resist coughing. It came out and the pain in his neck flared down his spine like a burn. It spread into his arms and legs, turning cold. Hot blood poured over trembling fingers. He gently touched the knife handle, thinking he would pull it out real quick. He grabbed the handle, eyes closed tight, groaning. Then lost his courage. He would wait for Bev. She’ll be home any minute…
Pete watched the big man move around the kitchen. He moved like he does whenever he comes home from playing with his friends. It was funny. But it wasn’t very funny this time. Mother was going to be really really mad about this mess.
The big man tried to pull Mother’s good knife out of his neck. He couldn’t. Pete walked over and took the handle in both hands, pulling it all the way out. It made a sucking sound. Pete froze, staring at the blade. Blood shot out of Eagle’s neck and he screamed because it must hurt really bad. Pete felt blood running down his face. It felt gross but he kept looking at the knife.
Eagle clamped a hand over his neck and fell on his back. He coughed and pink spittle covered the cabinets he lay next to. His breaths were shallow. His eyes were locked onto Pete, on the knife the boy was staring at. Holding his eyes open made him want to puke. He was glad he didn’t drink much today. The pain from puking right now would certainly kill him.
Pete’s face turned toward the big man. Chewing on his lip, he held his hands out wide and waved the knife in front of him. He stomped over to Eagle. “You fucking my girl?”
Eagle jerked and blew out a high pitched wheeze. He screamed. His boots pushed at the cabinets, sliding him into the pink beer.
Pete jumped and landed on top of Eagle. He shouted in a deep voice, “Tell me how you did it!” and pushed the knife down into Eagle’s chest. A boot caved in several cabinet doors, heel thudding on the tile.
Eagle pushed at the boy with all his strength but couldn’t budge him. He tried to say “stop” but only coughed. His chest made him forget about his neck. He grabbed at the blade, cutting his fingers. Nausea swamped him. He groaned loud as the boy leaned back and slowly pulled it out. He managed one gasping breath before the knife plunged into the other side. He heard that deep voice say, “You’re sorry? That’s the same fucking thing she said. Sorry. You two were made for each other. Two sorry motherfuckers!” and then he heard no more .
Bev parked and got out. The garage door rumbled over her head, closed and locked. She walked around to the trunk and took out several bags of groceries. Closed it and walked inside the house.
She was dead tired. She hadn’t slept much lately because of Pete’s weird crap and Eagle’s drunk bullshit. She nearly fell asleep during the long drive. Almost died… Shit, I hope Eagle is sleeping.
She hefted the bags and walked through the laundry room, into the kitchen. Groceries hit the floor, cans rolling into a pool of blood. On the other side Eagle lay against the counter cabinets. Bev screamed. Her eyes seized on Eagle’s neck and chest and she kept on screaming.
Pete appeared from the living room. Bev jumped when she saw him. She started to run to him but saw the knife. She froze again.
“Expect? Hell if I know,” the doctor had said, then laughed. “That’s part of the fun.”
0h my fucking God.
Pete held his hands wide and waved the knife. He stomped over to her. “Fucking my girl?” He said in a thunderous voice. “Huh? DID YOU FUCK MY GIRL?”
Bev started screaming again.