I’m making friends with the tough of the block until he pulls a Rambo. I want to say his name is Tyler? I suppose I ask for it when our pretending goes from shirtless karate to Army Men. He lives in a big house with a belly dad who brings home “chick-a-dees,” the mom long gone and never in pictures, and that means angry play.
Yesterday tough Tyler, flexing muscles like He-Man, sent Mark P., the other kid on the street who shows his pink, running home crying. Mark’s mom stomped all the way across the court and rang the doorbell and talked to Tyler’s Big Dad and ended up shouting, “Bully, bully!”
I haven’t seen a rifle except in Rambo, and Tyler-kid pulls one off the wall. I don’t know what a bully means. Just hung there on nails, and it’s long and straight as what Mark shows me. I think it’s a toy and laugh as he squeaks the drawer and takes out the penny-colored point. Then he puts in the penny and presses the “O” to my throat, and I know we aren’t playing.
I’m shaking, and he’s hard. He tells me not to say one word. He makes me clean out his garage, so he won’t… Don’t make him say it… So he won’t walk over to my house like Sly Stallone. Just kill me, we agree. So he won’t have to shoot my sister who can’t say the word idea. She tries but can’t make the sounds with her mouth. She says ideal.
I see my empty driveway 30 steps away, the tree I climb, the silver maple. I clean a bin full of knives. I sweep smelly leaves. I shuffle toys bit through by a Rottweiler. The family about to divorce next door comes home, and they try tossing the ball out front. I try yelling “Help,” but they think we’re faking hostage and hostage-taker. They go inside and eventually divorce.
Dusk when my father pulls the Buick “Green Hornet” up behind the tree—grown “too tall, too quick,” he’ll speak in anger, “middle-class maple.” Such a middle-class tree, springing middle-class leaves. Kid keeps me quiet with the cold to my cheek. See me, I think with powers as my father kills the headlamps on the car. He rests his briefcase on the windshield. He pockets keys in the walk. The screen door shuts. He’s not strong, kid says. I thought he was but not like this gun.
Big Dad from yesterday strolls up all friendly, and kid stows the gun behind a shrub. Big Dad laughs when he sees me doing chores for his son. I kid you not. He laughs with the belly that brings the chick-a-dees and floats off.
Dark, and kid’s got me trained now. I bark like a dog on command. Kid tells me pee my pants “so they laugh when you’re dead,” and I can’t feel the warm of it. He tries to poke me into his backyard, but I refuse to leave the driveway. He holds the gun butt strong, like a slow-motion karate chop, but soon his karate begins to shake.
His hard goes down, I see. I see tears. He’ll kill them if I tell. I think he’s talking about pee. “Run home,” he says, aiming for the street. But I’m fast, God, faster than his penny.
Then the screen door bouncing behind me, bouncing slower than it wants to close like a belly to the rest of the body. And a birdie peeping outside, maybe inside this house, my face. What sound do real chickadees make? I dry in the kitchen as my brain sweeps out the hours, gone, and the real name of the kid I call Tyler, fucking clear cached. I watch as my father eats two hotdogs and my sister tries to say the word idea.
Robert W. Fieseler grew up in Chicago and graduated co-valedictorian from the Columbia Journalism School. Currently, he’s working with W.W. Norton/Liveright on his debut book of nonfiction about a gay rights tragedy in New Orleans. He tweets, irregularly, at @wordbobby.