...because good little boys don't talk back to adults.
|Daniel Gideon was the boy with the shaky right hand. I know; it’s not the worst problem in the world for a kid to have. I mean, at least he’s not a paraplegic or a child soldier in Uganda or something. But it does have its disadvantages, shaky hands. It makes it pretty hard to draw, which Daniel loves to do by the way. He likes to draw cartoons just like any other little kid, but when he really concentrates (and his hand isn’t shaking) he can make such detailed and imaginative images that you’d never guess they were drawn by a ten year old. He’s drawn quite a few pictures of his mother, a lovely half White and half Japanese woman named Mariah. The way Daniel sees it, all the photographs of his mother that would ever be taken have already been made and therefore he makes new pictures of her so that her face remains fresh and ever changing. Daniel was eight years old the night she passed away. That same night he took his pencil and his sketch pad and spent the next several hours locked in his bedroom perfecting every line, wrinkle and strand of hair so that it was like looking at a black and white photograph of the woman he so loved. The drawing was just right except for the two or three smudges near the middle, you know the kind you’d see if something wet was dripping onto a piece of paper. He tells people its just water that he spilled on the page.|
So yeah Daniel’s not bad at drawing. He’s not bad at a lot of things, at least when his hand isn’t shaking like some kind of spaz. The first time he noticed his problem he thought to himself, maybe I got the same thing Mom had. It stuck in his mind like a splinter with no small portion exposed above the skin to pull out with tweezers. He was always walking with his hands in his pockets just in case someone was looking. Daniel thought about saying something to his dad but he had his own problems. Daniel’s father’s is an ex Marine named Abram, a Black man (or African American if you prefer) with skin the shade of German chocolate and a stare that made you think twice before crossing him. He was a Gunnery Sergeant when he was in the Marine Corps, a man to be respected and revered. But after his back injury he was just a carpenter who had to be careful not to lift heavy objects. All the whiskey and Vicodin in the world couldn’t help poor Abe; in fact it really had the opposite effect. I mean it’s fair to assume that Abe wouldn’t have killed that kid at the bar, been convicted of murder, incarcerated and months later had his sentence reduced; had he not been on his tenth Seven and Seven that night.
Oops, two whole paragraphs into the story and I forgot to mention the date. This story takes place in July of 2008. Sorry about that, I can be kind of a bad narrator sometimes. And just in case you were wondering, no I’m not a character in this particular story or any other for that matter. I’m just your typical omniscient voice whose sole job is to describe action, scene and summary; jumping in and out of each character’s head every which way in hopes of keeping the reader on point and alert. I’m still getting used to this job so please, bear with me. I know it can be kind of confusing, what with me using words like “I” and “me” all the time. I’ll try to keep that kind of talk to a minimum from now on, I really will. I don’t want to distract you from the story or anything like that. Anyway, it’s July 18, 2008 in the Year of Our Lord. The place is a charming little township known as Oak Cliff. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the North Central Texas area, Oak Cliff was a neighbor of Dallas until it was annexed by the city in the early twentieth century. You can look it up on Google maps if you’re near a computer. Our story begins in North Oak Cliff and steadily moves south like a cloud formation in mild winds. It is here in North Oak Cliff, with its sheik public parks, its quaint little businesses and its posh suburban homes where our story begins. Mind you almost none of the residents of Oak Cliff would ever use the words “sheik”, “posh” or “quaint” in a sentence unless they were from out of state or something. Our hero is in the back yard of a large two story brick house. It is one of those homes you see in gated communities which are big but not too big, so it doesn’t seem like the owners are flaunting their wealth or anything like that, at least not until you step in through the front door. There is a swimming pool in the back which is bordered by a wooden deck that overlooks the little manmade lake around which several of the other big but not too big houses in the neighborhood encompass. The deck is half ruined, well perhaps ruined isn’t the right word but it is definitely in a much needed state of repair. You see Daniel works part time for a man named Thomas Gein who owns a little shop out in South Oak Cliff, just a few blocks away from Daniel’s foster home. That reminds me, all of that back story and I haven’t even described our hero yet. I’ll get this narration thing down eventually, I swear.
Daniel Gideon is ten years old. In case you haven’t put it together by now; he is half Black, a quarter White and a quarter Japanese which leaves him and his brother with a perpetual light copper skin tone. Some say he could pass as Latino or even Pacific Islander if his skin was just a little bit lighter and his hair wasn’t so nappy. When he’s a little older his friends will tease him about which box he checks in those government documents and stuff. You know; the one’s which ask if you’re White, Black, Asian or whatever. I guess that makes Daniel an “Other” doesn’t it? It’s no fun being an “Other”, especially if you happen to be a ten year old foster kid. You can’t really claim one race without alienating another and if somebody “talks shit” about your ethnic heritage you aren’t really “allowed” to get mad because you’re not really Black, White or Japanese in the first place. In this part of the story Daniel is wearing two pairs of basketball shorts, a blue one beneath a black one with red and white stripes. He has on a black wife beater and a pair of black and red Jordans basketball shoes which were once pretty nice looking, but they’ve become all scuffed and faded due to the fact that he wears them practically everywhere. Daniel isn’t the type of person you’d think of as being particularly sentimental and he’s not, he really isn’t. But for some reason he refuses to let Mrs. Buck, his current foster mother, buy him a new pair of shoes. I mean yeah, they were the last thing his Dad ever bought for him before he got shipped away to Hutchins Correctional, but come on. The shoes were a little too big for him when he first got them but now his toes are beginning to blister from being pressed up against the sides.
Daniel was sitting on top of the new composite board that he and his boss were installing, his left leg perched up on the old rotten board and his right leg dangling down in the gap between them. He set down the crowbar he was using to pull out the old rusty nails and scratched the skin of his wrist beneath the weightlifting gloves that he wore to work sometimes. Wiping the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand, he looked out at the lake in front of him. There was a fountain in the middle of it and the ducks were flapping about as they bathed in the mist it produced (“Bathed in the mist”, see I am getting better at this). For a moment, Daniel wished that he were one of those ducks or even a fish swimming around in the water. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure if any fish could survive in that water. I mean do they stay there all year or are they imported from some other manmade lake around there? A lot of the lakes around North Texas are manmade, you know. But I guess you should call them “reservoirs” or something. Daniel remembered this one time when his Dad took him and his little brother to the Casino across the Red River in Oklahoma where they thought they would get to spend the whole weekend playing in the indoor water park. As they drove through the bleak countryside, they crossed over this one big lake that had a whole bunch of dead trees poking out from beneath the water, remnants of the land they flooded to create the reservoir. It wasn’t as great a vacation as Daniel would have hoped. They had to leave early after Abram lost all the money at the blackjack tables that same night and the management kicked them out.
Daniel’s hand began to shake all of a sudden. By that age Daniel had noticed that his right hand tended to shake the most under two circumstances; when it was really cold or when it was unmercifully hot. But it was strange for it to shake right now. I mean yeah it was hot and all, but it had been pretty much the same temperature all day and his hands hadn’t been shaking at all since the previous night. It got dark all of a sudden and Daniel looked up to see Mr. Gein, his boss in case you forgot, standing over him blocking the sunlight as he looked down.
Mr. Gein said, “Hot today,” as he scratched the back of his neck.
Daniel picked up his crowbar and continued to pull the nails out of the board in front of him.
Mr. Gein smiled as he asked, “thirsty son?” to which Daniel simply shook his head and replied, “No thanks,” before reaching into his pocket for his black mp3 player.
Mr. Gein returned to his little makeshift workbench with a slightly disappointed look about his face .You know, I should probably describe Mr. Gein too, shouldn’t I? He is a pretty important character after all. Thomas Gein is a pretty average person in just about every way a person could be average. He is slightly overweight, but it’s not that noticeable due to his height, he is about six feet nine inches tall. He has blue eyes, a short blonde crew cut with a few silvery gray hairs scattered throughout and he was wearing a long sleeve button down shirt, faded blue jeans and brown work boots. His most distinguishing feature was his blue baseball cap with a large red B embroidered on the outside, the hat he was almost never seen without. Mr. Gein turned on his circular saw and began to cut another piece of artificial wood. He tossed the chunks he had cut off onto the pile to his right and set the board down on the stack to his left, pausing only to watch the rays of sunlight glisten off the sweat of his young employee’s shoulders while the boy scratched the exposed scalp between his cornrows.
My bad, I forgot to mention that Daniel had cornrows. He’s had them for a couple of months. And while we’re on the subject his little brother, Josh in case you forgot his name, has them as well. You know how little kids are, always trying to imitate their older siblings. For Daniel, it wasn’t so much about the hair as it was the person braiding it. He had this cute Mexican girl from across the street braid and re-braid his hair for him. For Daniel it was worth the pain in his scalp just to be able to spend a few hours sitting between the girl’s legs in the comfort of her own living room. Every so often when she would take her eyes off of him, Daniel would steal a glance at the pair of glorious breasts suspended just inches above his head, separated from his gaze by nothing more than a few thin layers of white cotton fabric. Unbeknownst to Daniel the girl knew what he was up to, but she thought it was kind of cute so she never said anything about it.
Daniel realized that his boss was staring at him again so he turned up the volume on his mp3 player and continued his work. Though he could never explain why, the feeling of his boss staring at him always gave Daniel that uncomfortable feeling you get when you see a cat walking around with a dead mouse in its mouth, the feeling that makes your hands shiver like they’re really cold despite the fact that its ninety eight degrees outside and the sun is bearing down on you. Daniel wanted to jump into that water with those ducks or at least take his shirt off, but he couldn’t, not with Mr. Gein staring at him the way he does. Now don’t get the wrong idea, Mr. Gein was not a mean boss in any way. In fact most of his employees would tell you that he was more than friendly. He was a friend of Mrs. Buckingham, Daniel and Josh’s foster mother (in case you forgot), and he had employed several of her adopted kids in the past. Though Daniel was already involved in several extracurricular activities like football and basketball, Mrs. Buck believed that a job to do over the summer would give the boy some sense of independence. Which it did, he enjoyed having money in his pocket and being able to buy candy and toys for his little brother or just knowing that he could do more than just window shopping when he went to the mall with his friends. But there was just something about Mr. Gein that made Daniel feel uneasy.
Like I said in the last paragraph, Mr. Gein was not a mean boss. He was always joking around with his employees, he was lenient about showing up a few minutes late and he never once raised his voice. But Daniel felt like there was something, shall we say “phony”, about the way he talked to people especially when he was talking to kids. There was a phoniness when he was talking to adults as well but all adults are sort of phony when they’re talking to each other, aren’t they? When Daniel first started working for Mr. Gein the previous winter it was the same boring old grownup talk. “How’s school?” “Playing any sports?” stuff like that. But as the weeks went on it began to get a little uncomfortable for poor Daniel. “Got any girlfriends yet?” Mr. Gein would ask with a wink and a nod, “Good lookin’ kid like you must have all the girls chasin’ after ya.” Those were the kinds of remarks that Daniel would just sort of chuckle at and then try to find an excuse to stop talking to him. Then some time later there was the physical contact. You know, just the regular pat on the back or the occasional tussling of the hair which all kids secretly hate but rarely say anything about out of respect for adults. Daniel never liked being touched, unless of course it was by someone like the Mexican girl across the street or the college aged chick at the gas station around the way who said he was cute a few weeks ago when he came in to buy a green apple slushy. Later it grew to be more irritating yet still somewhat tolerable; like the time Mr. Gein complemented Daniel on his muscles as he squeezed his arm, telling him he would have to “beat the girls away with a stick.” Then one day when they were retiling a swimming pool, Daniel finished prying up the last of the old tiles and asked if he could go get a drink of water. Mr. Gein asked Daniel if he had finished and Daniel said yes so Mr. Gein said “good job” and told him he could go. As Daniel walked toward the truck where the cooler was located Mr. Gein gave him a very brief yet very noticeable pat on the butt. Daniel stopped and turned around, but Mr. Gein had already returned to measuring the tiles as if nothing had happened. It wasn’t like a pat on the butt was anything to make a big deal out of, and it wasn’t. It happened all the time at football games after Daniel gained a lot of yardage on the field or scored a touchdown or something like that. It wasn’t something he ever thought about. It wasn’t even something he thought anyone should think about (if that makes any sense). The only reason Daniel thought about it at that time was because it hadn’t happened on the field, Mr. Gein was certainly not one of his teammates and all he had done was ask for a drink of water.
After the awkward hand-to-ass incident, Daniel became wary of Mr. Gein. He noticed that his boss was less forthcoming with Daniel on the days he wore long sleeve shirts and jeans instead of shorts. It wasn’t a huge change, but there were a few less annoying conversations and considerably fewer ass slaps when Daniel wore his tall t-shirts and multiple pairs of ball shorts. Daniel made this his own dress code for work. He always made sure that the only exposed skin on his body was on his hands, his face and his neck. But today was different. It was unmercifully humid and the sun was beating down on him like the rubber mallet that Mr. Gein used to beat misshapen joints into place. The only clean long sleeve shirt Daniel had at home was this thick cotton thermal which Daniel knew would be the death of him if he wore it that day. So Daniel came to work just the way he was and just as he suspected old Mr. Gein was as chummy as could be. Daniel tried his best to ignore him but then again Mr. Gein might have thought he was just playing “hard to get”. Daniel wasn’t sure if he wanted to burst out laughing or throw up the frozen waffles he had eaten for breakfast that morning at the disquieting image. He shrugged the thought away and continued his work, prying up the last of the boards and sliding one of the new ones into its proper place. He took the power drill and a screw from the plastic container and began to drive the screw into the deck.
Daniel was halfway finished putting the screw in the new board when Mr. Gein walked over to him and asked, “Hey Daniel why are you doin’ every other joice instead of just gettin’ them all in a straight line?”
To which Daniel responded, “Huh? … Oh, if I do it like this I don’t have to hold it with my foot every time. The other screws keep it in place.”
“Oh, good thinkin’.”
Daniel finished the right side and began to move to the left but the last piece barely moved when he tried to force it into place. He kicked it and pushed back against the other board but it refused to fit the way it was supposed to.
Mr. Gein asked “Havin’ some trouble?”
To which Daniel hastily responded, “I can get.”
Daniel did not necessarily believe this to be true, but he really wanted to avoid Mr. Gein’s help if it was at all possible. He kicked at the board again with as much strength as a ten year old could muster while sitting down, which isn’t a whole lot if you’ve ever tried to do something like that.
It was no use. Mr. Gein set down his circular saw and said, “Here, lemme give you a hand.”
Before Daniel could protest once more, Mr. Gein had already sat down behind him and was pushing against the boy’s back. The added force easily secured the board in its proper place. That cat with a dead mouse feeling was back again. Daniel could feel the palms of Mr. Geins hands in the center of his back, his fingertips pressing into his sides and the stale moist breath on the back of his neck. For a second Daniel could have sworn he felt Mr. Gein sniffing his hair.
Mr. Gein said, “You got it kiddo?”
For a moment Daniel thought about standing up and saying to Mr. Gein, “Keep yer Goddam hands off of me!” but as he’s learned several times by the end of his father’s belt, good little boys don’t talk back to adults. He had a very sour frown on his face as he drilled the last screw into the joice.
After what should have been a short time later Daniel droned, “I’m done now.”
To which Mr. Gein replied, “Good job,” as he stood up he said, “I’m gonna go use the bathroom. The last board is already cut.”
Daniel glared at Mr. Gein as he walked away and pictured his head melting like the Nazis at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” a film he and his brother used to watch with their father back in the days before Abram became all weird, depressed and alcoholic. Daniel looked around the deck. They were almost done. Pretty soon Mr. Gein would drop Daniel off at Mrs. Buck’s house and he would get to spend the rest of the afternoon playing Xbox with Josh, arguing with Isaac about why Kobe Bryant is the best player in the NBA and staring at pictures of naked women on the internet with Joseph. Daniel put the earphone back in and went on to work on the last board.
They were finished with the deck in about half an hour. Mr. Gein hauled the old boards into the trailer of his truck while Daniel swept away the composite wood shavings. When he was finished sweeping, Daniel began to carry the equipment to the bed of Mr. Gein’s truck.
Daniel was in the street in front of the house putting away the last piece of equipment, the battery powered Black & Decker drill, when he heard Mr. Gein calling his name from the front door of the house. Daniel sighed as he shut the truck door and walked up the sidewalk through the freshly cut grass to the front of the house. When Daniel stepped inside, he heard Mr. Gein calling him from the kitchen. As Daniel stepped past the granite counter that separated the kitchen from the dining room, he saw Mr. Gein shutting the refrigerator door while holding two bottles of beer.
Mr. Gein held up one of the bottles and asked, “Want one?” laughing as he spoke.
Daniel folded his arms and said, “No thanks.”
“Aw come on. I was about your age when I had my first beer.”
Daniel sort of shrugged as he shook his head. He had already tasted beer once before and quickly discovered that he’d rather drink a tall glass of paint thinner. He was even familiar with hard liquor. One Sunday, he went to church with Joseph, his best friend who happened to be Catholic (not that I’m suggesting that has anything to do with consumption of alcohol). Joseph snuck in a plastic Coca Cola bottle filled with Jack Daniels beneath the jacket of his Sunday suit. The two of them spent the entire Mass sipping the bitter liquid from the bottle and cracking mean spirited jokes about the nerdy looking altar boys. Joseph had a tendency to grow louder in relation to his blood alcohol content which inevitably led to his mother finding out what they were doing. She dragged poor Joseph out of the sanctuary by his ear in front of the whole congregation. Daniel on the other hand had managed to avoid detection and even kept himself from vomiting until he returned home that afternoon. To make an incredibly long story short, he was no stranger to alcohol although the peculiarity of being offered a drink by a grownup was not entirely lost on him.
Mr. Gein carried both beer bottles with him as he walked into the living room.
As Daniel took a seat on the leather sofa he asked Mr. Gein, “Are you s’posed to have those?”
Mr. Gein sat down next to him and set the glass bottles on the coffee table, “The guy who owns this house is a friend of mine. He said it’s okay if I have a few.”
I wish there were a way for narrators to audibly sigh in the middle of a story without just typing the word *sigh*. Because then I would go *sigh*, “It seems like everybody’s friends with ole Mister Gein,” and it would sound kind of clever. Oh well, this story’s not about me. I’m supposed to be objective when I’m narrating, aren’t I? Daniel was about to tell Mr. Gein that he was referring to the fact that he was drinking right before he was supposed to drive, but he decided that it was best not to say anything. It’s not like he hasn’t ridden in a car with someone while they were drinking. Once when Daniel was eight years old, his dad picked him up from baseball practice. Daniel noticed a red plastic cup in the drink holder in the center console. If you’ve ever been to a college party (or a high school one for that matter) you know the type of cup I’m talking about. It was one of those cheap plastic party cups and it was filled with orange juice. Daniel asked his dad if he could have some juice only to be told that it wasn’t for little kids. When Daniel asked his father what was in it, Abram laughingly told his son to start naming off tools. Daniel answered, “hammer…wrench…um pliers…” but as soon as he said the word “screwdriver” his father laughed and shouted “bingo!”
So Daniel decided that he wouldn’t mention anything about it. He picked up the remote control and began flipping through channels while trying not to notice the fact that Mr. Gein was moving closer to him on the sofa. Mr. Gein guzzled his beer until there was less than half of if left in the bottle. As he set the bottle down on the coffee table he looked at Daniel who was by then leaning against the armrest while trying to remain as far away from his boss as possible without making it too obvious.
Mr. Gein said to Daniel, “Hey, I’ve been meaning to have a talk with you.”
Daniel continued surfing the channels as he replied, “bout what?”
“I know it must be hard for you, with all the stuff that’s been goin on lately.”
Daniel rolled his eyes. He could sense another wave of pity rolling along to batter the shores of his sanity once more. He had heard this speech about a million times before from teachers, police officers, case workers, psychiatrists and whatnot. There was nothing like the phrase, “I know it must be hard for you,” to let you know that someone was about to bash your skull in with a lead pipe of false sympathy. Daniel would have felt like Reggie Denny at that moment if only he were old enough to know who that was. Daniel tried to drown out Mr. Gein’s voice with his own thoughts as he pretended to care about what the man had to say.
Mr. Gein continued, “I don’t think anybody should have to grow up without a father in their lives, ya know? Boys they…they need someone to look up to. Someone they can always count on to listen to ‘em and all, ya know?”
Mr. Gein put his left arm around Daniel’s shoulder, causing the boy to change his face from a look of sheer boredom to sheer…um, what’s the word I’m looking for? You know the look I’m talking about, that expression a person makes when they want to scream, “what the fuck is going on!” without actually opening their mouth because they know it will be too loud and possibly wake the neighbors. The cat with a dead mouse returned once again and this time the mouse was half eaten with its entrails dangling from the cat’s fangs. Daniel felt like he could jump out of his skin when he felt Mr. Gein’s sandpapery fingers scraping the skin of his naked shoulder.
Mr. Gein said, “It’s important you know, for boys to have someone to talk to. I know you probably just think of me as your boss and all, but I want to be more than that, you know?”
With a quivering voice Daniel replied, “Not really,” while trying to figure out how many times a person could use the word “know” in a sentence.
“What I mean is…I want to be that person you can talk to about anything, and I mean anything. You’re at a time in your life when you’re starting to go through changes. You start noticing women and you’re not really sure what to do with your feelings and all.”
Daniel was wondering just what the hell this guy was talking about when Mr. Gein’s grip around his shoulder began to tighten. Daniel’s right hand started shaking again.
Mr. Gein whispered as he began to push Daniel’s back against the armrest, “don’t think of me as your boss.”
“What are you doing?” Daniel tried to get up but Mr. Gein was holding him in place.
“Think of me as your best friend.”
Daniel cried out “Lemme go!”as he tried to push his boss away.
Gein pinned Daniel’s arms above his head as he whispered “Don’t be scared,” the sandpapery feeling of his right hand slowly moving from the boy’s knee to his thigh.
Daniel cried, “Stop it!” as he struggled in vain to free himself.
Daniel felt the fingers on his inner thigh, scraping their way upward beneath the synthetic fabric of his blue basketball shorts as he shouted at the top of his lungs, “get the fuck off me!” Daniel delivered a very decisive kick to his boss’ groin as he made the F sound in the word “fuck”.
Gein yelped the way a dog would when you’re trying to enjoy your dinner but it keeps trying to jump up on your lap so you give it a little kick in the chest to let it know who’s boss. Daniel jumped up from the sofa and backed away right before Gein fell face first into the armrest where the boy had just been restrained. Gein’s hands were now pressed tightly against his crotch while he mumbled incoherent curses into the leather. Immediately after Daniel had freed himself he began to feel a bit of remorse. He had always thought it was somewhat of a “bitch move” to kick a guy in the balls. That was something that girls did when a guy was trying to rape them or something. But what other option did Daniel have? Gein was a giant compared to Daniel and he had made it so the boy couldn’t even use his arms.
Daniel did not realize that his feet were still moving until he bumped into the end table next to the loveseat behind him, sending the ceramic lamp that was resting on top of the table crashing to the floor. The sound of the shattering lamp snapped Daniel out of his temporary daze. He looked at Mr. Gein lying on the sofa with his face mashed up against the armrest and a strange feeling came over him. You know that feeling you get when you wake up too late in the morning so you skip your shower and go straight to work and all day long you feel all grimy and kind of itchy even though you don’t really smell too bad because you put on some deodorant before you left? That’s how Daniel felt at that moment. He wasn’t sure why but all of a sudden he felt the way he did when he slept fully clothed on the futon at a friend’s house, only it was worse because he had already taken a shower that morning and even put on a clean pair of boxers. He wasn’t sure what Mr. Gein had done, or tried to do, but he knew that it made him feel all grimy just the same. Before Mr. Gein could call to him to wait, Daniel had opened the door and dashed outside. He had the urge to run back to Mrs. Buck’s house and take a hot shower and when he was finished he would take about a dozen more before tossing his clothes into the fireplace.
Wow, that was some heavy stuff! And this story’s not even half finished. Hey reader, if you’d like to take a quick break, maybe go get a snack or a cold beverage or something, I’d understand. No? Oh well, on with the story. Daniel ran out of the house and down the street as fast as his legs could carry him, which was pretty fast seeing as how he was his team’s first string running back and all. He ran until the muscles in his legs began to scream, his chest tightened up and the back of his throat felt like a raisin that had been left in the sun too long. And then he ran some more. He kept running until all of the big but not too big houses with their freshly cut grass and brick mailboxes gradually transformed into not so big and even too small houses. The wooden fences turned into chain links which were all rusted so it looked like the Rottweiler that was barking its head off in the front yard could easily push it over with one paw if it wasn’t chained to the metal faucet on the side of the house. When Daniel had finally reached familiar territory he stopped, let’s say in front of a McDonald’s, no a Sonic, yeah that works. He stopped in front of a Sonics Drive-In, not one of the new ones that have been sprouting up all over Denton County about that time, but an old one where the service was really slow and half the time the green apple slushy you ordered wasn’t even mixed up real good so it was all slush on the top and syrup on the bottom. If you ever eat at a Sonic, don’t let those guys serve you drinks like that. They’ve got machines in there that can mix it up the way it’s supposed to be. Anyway, he stopped on the sidewalk outside of the restaurant and leaned over with his hands on his knees as he tried to catch his breath. Daniel knew that Mr. Gein couldn’t have been following him by the time he reached the park which was just down the street from that big but not too big brick house, but for some reason he never felt like stopping once he began to run. It’s probably got something to do with football. Mind you, this is Texas we’re talking about so pretty much everything has something to do with football.
Daniel thought to himself, “What was he trying to do?” as he looked over to the pavilion of the restaurant, watching one of the carhops skate over to a customer’s SUV to deliver their cheese coneys and chili fries. She had on a pair of those really small black shorts, the kind volleyball players wear which are probably against the company’s official dress code but nobody ever says anything about it because, let’s be honest; they’re a hell of a lot nicer to look at than the black khakis they’re supposed to be wearing and they sure as hell bring in a lot of business. Daniel thought about the way Mr. Gein had spoken to him at the house. His voice was all airy and soft, kind of like the way those guys talk in those corny high school dramas, you know like the one where the guy is standing alone in a boat in a lake or something at the beginning of each episode. Daniel tried to picture Mr. Gein as one of those corny White guys, trying to sound all sensitive and romantic when he talked to a girl. Only instead of a girl it was Daniel in her place. The thought alone made Daniel feel like puking all over the sidewalk, or maybe it was the aroma of those chili fries.
Daniel began walking once more. He reached his destination several blocks later, a single story house with sky blue paneling that kind of looked like real wood from the street but once you made it to the front door you could see the rusted metal around the edges where the paint had chipped off. Daniel sighed as he reached for the doorknob and let himself in. He walked through the hallway which was illuminated by the fluorescent lighting from the kitchen on the right and the living room window on the left. He made his way past the display case full of little ceramic angels, the kind whose eyes were so big and adorable that you risked catching diabetes from staring at them too long. He made his way into the kitchen where Mrs. Buck was stirring a plastic pitcher filled with a dark blue beverage. Mrs. Buck was a White woman who had long curly brown hair with more than a few silver strands laced throughout. Her face and arms were tan from the long hours she spent outside tending to her garden on the weekends. There were wrinkles around her mouth and below her eyes, but when you looked at her you would be able to tell that she was a pretty attractive woman a few years ago.
As Mrs. Buck turned away from the sink she noticed Daniel standing in the kitchen entryway and greeted him with a simple, “Oh, hello Daniel.”
Daniel replied with a dull “hey” as he took a seat at the table and pulled off his work gloves.
Mrs. Buck set the pitcher down and asked, “Thirsty?”
Daniel simply nodded his head as he stared at the faded images of pastel flowers on the fold out kitchen table.
“Well go ahead and get yerself a glass.”
Daniel got up and took the plastic step stool from beneath the telephone mounted on the wall. He set it down in front of one of the cupboards above the kitchen counter and stepped up on top of it to get himself a clear plastic cup.
He picked up the pitcher but before he could pour it into the glass Mrs. Buck said, “it’s still warm, yer gonna need some ice.”
Daniel sighed as he set the pitcher down and Mrs. Buck watched him with one eyebrow raised as he walked over to the fridge and pulled out a few cubes from the ice tray. After Daniel had poured himself some of the drink he returned to his seat. He didn’t drink it right away, but simply watched the condensation forming on the outside of the cup before it began to trickle down.
Mrs. Buck broke the silence as she turned on the electric oven and said, “How was work today?”
Daniel gulped down half of his raspberry flavored drink before he answered, “It sucked.”
“Oh, it couldn’t have been that bad. At least you got outta the house.”
Daniel set his glass down and replied, “The only good thing about work today is that I aint never goin back there. I quit, I’m never doin that stupid job again.”
Mrs. Buck was opening and closing the cupboards above the stove in search of her bottle of vanilla extract as she calmly replied, “You Quit? Now why’d you wanna go and do somethin like that? Tom told me, you’re one of his best workers.”
“Cuz I hate ‘im.”
Mrs. Buck found her vanilla extract and set it down next to the stove as she replied, “Now Daniel, that’s not a very Christian thing to say about somebody. You don’t really mean that.”
Daniel crossed his arms as he replied, “I don’t care if it is. And I do. I hate his fuckin guts and I hope he dies.”
Mrs. Buck set her metal mixing bowl down next to the vanilla extract and turned a very angry eye toward Daniel as she said, “Now that’s enough of that! I told you before I won’t tolerate that kind of language in my house.”
Daniel pushed his chair away from the table and began to storm out of the kitchen, but he stopped when Mrs. Buck said, “Don’t leave your dirty gloves on the table.” Daniel let out a very audible groan as he turned around and snatched up his gloves. He mumbled, “I still hate ‘im,” as he walked away.
Mrs. Buck pointed at him with a wire whisk and said, “You better watch it, mister! Don’t think I won’t wash your mouth out with soap.”
The sound of bass pumping through the walls could be heard as Daniel approached his bedroom door. He stepped inside and walked past the television where his friend Joseph was engaged in a heated game of NBA 2K8 with Daniel’s little brother, Josh. As always Josh was playing with the Dallas Mavericks while Joseph had the Phoenix Suns. Josh was wearing his brother’s football helmet as he sat on his knees laughing hysterically at the screen.
Joseph mumbled, “Hola güey,” to Daniel before he threw up his hands and shouted, “This is bullshit, man! I’ve played you with this team before, you’re not that good.”
More character descriptions: Joseph’s parents are both Guatemalan immigrants but since he’s spent most of his life in Texas and Oklahoma he’s picked up a lot of slang from the Mexican nationals who inhabited the area (mostly curse words). He has black shoulder length hair and a small scar below his left eye, courtesy of Daniel’s right hook. It’s kind of a long story but I’ll try to make it short, I think I’m getting the hang of that. Daniel and Joseph haven’t always been the best of friends. They even got into a fistfight this one time when they were both in the first grade. To this day the two of them still argue about who started the fight even though neither of them can remember what it was about. The fight went on until their coach separated them, but it wasn’t before Joseph knocked out one of Daniel’s front teeth. Not to make it seem like he hit him too hard or anything, it was just a baby tooth and it was on its way out anyway. By this time the tooth had long since grown back. But Daniel did manage to bloody up Joe’s nose a little bit. The funny thing about the whole ordeal is the fact that in the days following the fight, the two of them practically became brothers. Daniel ran away from his foster parents a couple of times when they were still moving between temporary homes, but every time he ran they always found him at Joe’s house. He almost prayed thanks to Jesus when he got put in a home just down the street from Joe. Joseph wasn’t like most of Daniel’s other friends. To put it in perspective; a normal friend would bail you out of jail, Joseph on the other hand would be sitting in the cell right next to you, making fun of the fact that your arresting officer’s name sounds suspiciously similar to the word “anus”. A friend like Joseph never knocks before entering your home, but he walks right in and calls your parents “Mom” and “Dad” which really irritates the hell out of them. But the main reason Daniel always hung out with Joseph was because of his brutal, unrelenting honesty. He always told the truth even in times when the truth was inappropriate, like the time Josh fell off his bike when he was first learning to ride without training wheels. Josh scraped his knee on the asphalt and began to cry. Joseph calmly walked over to the child, gently put his hand on the boy’s shoulder and with a kind smile he said, “Nobody likes a whiner.” It wasn’t “tough love” with Joseph; there just wasn’t any other kind.
Daniel walked over to the bunk bed that he and his brother shared and laid himself down with his arms behind his head on the bottom bunk. Isaac, the third foster child who had been staying with Mrs. Buck about three months before Daniel and Josh showed up, was lying on his bed listening to the loud rap music blaring from the speakers on the stereo to his right as he flipped through the pages on his Japanese manga book. The manga itself was called “Broken Wings” or something like that, some kind of futuristic yet somehow feudal Japanese war story where everyone dressed like samurais while carrying around swords and machine guns. Stupid, right? Isaac was almost five years older than Daniel and Joseph and when he wasn’t busy reading one of his mangas or flexing his muscles in front of the bathroom mirror, he was tormenting Daniel and his friends. You know, I realize that as a narrator I’m supposed to be unbiased and descriptive and all that, but I don’t really like this character that much so I don’t think I’m going to go into much detail with him. He’s a light skinned black kid, almost to the point that his skin is the color of coffee when you put too much creamer in it. A few shades lighter than Daniel and Josh. He has this white spot in his hair on the right side of his head that’s about the size of a Kennedy half dollar but not quite shaped the same. Daniel’s first impression of Isaac was that he was a huge faker. If he were White he’d be one of those guys who likes to walk around the mall wearing a skin tight American Eagle polo with a camouflage baseball cap while talking really loud on his phone so everybody within earshot knows about the shitfaced girl he had sex with the night before. But he’s not, so instead he wear’s Timberland boots and black jeans in the middle of the summer with a muscle shirt on so everyone can look at the stupid tattoo on his shoulder that his dad bought him before he got his third strike. Oh, and he also talks real loud on his phone so everyone in listening range can hear about the drunken skeezer he smashed last night. But that’s not why Daniel dislikes him, well not the only reason. Their first week at Mrs. Buck’s; Isaac pushed Josh onto the floor when he refused to quit playing the Xbox so Isaac could look at his reflection in peace and quiet or something. Upon seeing his brother fall to the floor, Daniel jumped in and managed to get a couple of good punches in before Isaac pinned him down on the floor and started delivering blow after blow to his squishy face (Don’t know if you’ve ever punched a little kid before, but their faces are kind of squishy when you hit them. Not like adults). Daniel left that one sided fight with a swollen eye, a bloody nose and a cut on his lower lip. They’ve learned to get along to a certain extent since then, but the two of them were more or less at each other’s throats most of the time.
Joseph shook his head when the Mavericks took possession of the ball once more saying, “You gotta be cheatin or somethin’.”
Josh laughed and said, “Bein a better player aint cheatin.”
On the TV screen, Josh Howard of the Mavericks passed the ball to Dampier, but the Suns managed to block it allowing Nash to pick it up and run down the court. After doing two decisive spins around Dirk Nowitzki Joseph managed to make a layup with Nash. Josh grunted angrily for failing to put a stop to the play.
Joseph stared at Josh with his mouth open and said, “You see the ridiculous shit I gotta do jus to make a layup?”
Josh simply shrugged his shoulders and began to run the ball down the court with Dampier again.
Joseph grabbed the face mask of Daniel’s helmet and said, “It’s that helmet that’s messin me up. Take it off!”
Josh cried, “No!” as he paused the game and wrapped both arms around the helmet.
It was no use; Joseph pulled the helmet off of Josh’s head and pushed it underneath the bunk bed.
Joseph laughed and said, “What now, güey?”
Josh glared at Joseph as he picked up the controller and said, “I don’t care, yer still gonna lose.”
Joseph shook his head and said, “Whatever. Hey Daniel? You can have next after I make my comeback right quick.”
Daniel replied, “I don’t wanna’ play.”
Josh laughed and said, “Comeback? Watch this!”
The Mavs held onto the ball until there were only four seconds left on the shot clock, at which point Dampier went in for another layup. The Suns got the ball back just in time to lob it from the half court line, missing the basket completely.
Josh replied smugly, “That’s three in a row.”
Joseph held the controller out to Daniel and grumbled, “Whatever, this game sucks anyway.”
Daniel groaned, “I said I don’t wanna play.”
Joseph stood up and turned down the volume on the stereo before he sat down on the floor in front of the bunk bed and asked, “What’s your problem?”
Daniel answered, “I jus quit my job.”
“Cuz Gein’s a fuckin homo.”
Isaac started laughing as he flipped the page on his manga.
Daniel lifted his head and glared at Isaac as he asked, “you think that’s funny?”
To which Isaac replied, “I think it’s funny you made such a big deal about getting slapped on the ass.”
Josh said to Joseph, “Hey, shut off yer controller if you aint gonna play no more.”
Daniel snapped at Isaac, “That’s not why I quit!”
Joseph asked, “So what was it then, he try that same shit?”
Daniel replied, “No!…I mean…” he sat up on the bed and wrapped his arms around his knees, right hand shaking as he stared at the end of his bed and said, “not exactly. It was worse this time…a lot worse.”
Josh yelled, “Hey! Shut off yer controller!” and then Joseph replied, “shut up!” as he lobbed the device at him.
Josh mumbled, “Punk!” as he shut off the controller and loaded a different game into the console.
Daniel shook his head and said, “It was so gross. I don’t even know what he was tryin to do.”
Joseph looked at Daniel’s trembling right hand for a moment before he said, “you should call the cops. He could go to jail for that shit.”
“I’m not talkin to those assholes. They’re the ones that locked Dad up. We wouldn’t even be here if it wudn’t for them.”
Josh replied, “But they said Dad wasn’t good enough to take care of us.”
Daniel moved to the edge of the bed and looked down at Josh with his hands on his knees as he said, “He did a better job than the Cohens or Mister Carter, didn’t he?”
“I guess but…”
“Or what about that place we spent the night at in Grapevine? You remember that?”
Josh sort of trembled a little bit as he stared at the floor, answering his brother with a timid, “yeah.”
“I don’t care what they say, nunna that stuff woulda happened if we still lived with Dad.”
Josh looked back at his older brother and said, “But Miss Buck’s pretty nice to us.”
Daniel sort of laughed as he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Miss Buck? I never woulda even met Mister Gein if it hadn’t been for her.”
Let’s cut off this line of dialogue before it gets too long and boring. When I was learning to become a narrator they taught us about this thing called a “talking head.” It’s what you get when a line of dialogue goes on and on without any tags or descriptions and whatnot. I don’t think I forgot to put any tags on there, okay maybe once or twice, but the fact is that even the tags get stale after a while so we’re just going to move on. Their conversation eventually became less serious the way they often do with kids. Josh proceeded to play a good old fashioned shooter on the Xbox, while Isaac continued reading his comic book. Joseph tried to cheer up Daniel by popping his thumb out of its joint and making it wiggle in a really disturbing yet fascinating way.
Joseph popped his thumb back in place as he said to Daniel, “see? Told ya I could do it.”
To which Daniel replied, “I didn’t say you couldn’t, I said you shouldn’t do it. Normal people aint s’possed to be able to do that.”
Joseph started bouncing on the bed as he said, “yeah, this one time when I was six, my dad was working on the car and my big sister hit that lil thing that holds the hood up while yer workin on it, ya know? And the hood fell down on my hand and it like um, broke my thumb and messed up the nerves ‘n stuff. So now I can pop it out whenever I want and it doesn’t even hurt.”
Isaac mumbled, “That’s fuckin’ gross.”
Joseph continued, “I’m also real good at Bloody Knuckles cuz I can’t feel nuthin. Hey Isaac, wanna play Bloody Knuckles with me?”
Isaac replied with a dismal, “no,” as he turned up the volume on his stereo.
Joseph chuckled, “Ha, Pussy!”
Isaac gave Joseph a particularly sour look before returning his attention to his book. Joseph turned to Daniel once again, shoving his fist in front of his face as he asked, “How bout you?”
Daniel started laughing as he pushed Joseph’s hand away and said, “No way, dude. ‘the hell away from me.”
“Aw, what’s wrong lil baby, you scared?”
Daniel shoved Joseph as he said, “I aint scared, I’m jus not bout to play you at a game I know I can’t win at.”
Joseph shoved Daniel back, “So why do you still play me at basketball then?”
Daniel laughed, “We both know I can hoop better than yer lame ass all day.”
Joseph jumped up from the bed and said, “So prove it then, bitch!”
Daniel stood up as well and responded, “Bet! Hey Josh, where’s yer ball?”
Josh, who by then was lying on his stomach as he played his game, nodded his head toward the closet without tearing his eyes from the screen as he said, “s’over there.”
Joseph stepped over Josh and picked up the ball. As the two of them were about to open the bedroom door, Mrs. Buckingham stepped inside and said, “’Isaac, turn down that music for Pete’s sake! We’re all gonna go deaf!”
Isaac sighed as he reached down to the stereo system below him and turned the knob controlling the volume.
Mrs. Buck said to Daniel, “Tom just called. He wants to see you at his shop.”
To which Daniel shoved his hands in his pocket and responded, “I don’t wanna see him.”
Mrs. Buck put her hands on her hips and said, “Now Daniel, Mister Gein’s been a friend of the family for a long time. And he’s helped out a lotta kids just like you.”
Isaac laughingly mumbled, “Bet he has,” as he flipped the page on his manga.
Daniel replied, “I don’t care. I never wanna see that guy again.”
Mrs. Buck rubbed the side of her head as she said, “Daniel, I don’t know what’s going on, but he just wants to talk to you is all. I think he’s just gonna give you yer last pay check, alright?”
Daniel shook his head, “tell ‘im to keep it.”
Joseph stepped forward and interrupted, “hey c’mon be cool, Miss Buck. If he really doesn’t wanna go…”
Mrs. Buck folded her arms and said, “You know, your mother also gave me a call. She said she wants to see you at home right away.”
Joseph hung his head and groaned, “¡Aye chingado!” as he dropped the basketball and walked out of the room.
“You watch it!” said Mrs. Buck as Joseph walked down the hallway, “don’t think I don’t know what that means!”
She turned back to Daniel and said, “Now I’m through asking you. You need to march your behind right on down there and explain to Mister Gein why you want to quit your job or no TV or video games for a week.”
Daniel’s voice got all shaky, you know the way little kids do when they’re about to burst into tears. He clenched his trembling fists which were still in his pockets as he said, “I don’t care what you do. I’m not goin’ back there.”
Mrs. Buck sighed as she knelt down and put her hand on Daniel’s shoulder. She put on a convincingly sympathetic smile and said, “Look Daniel, I know these past couple a months have been tough on you and Josh. But you gotta’ lighten up. You’re never gonna be happy ‘til you learn to trust people.”
Daniel pulled his hands out of his pockets and looked up at her with those puppy dog eyes as he began to plead, “But he tried to…”
Mrs. Buck put her finger on his lips before he could continue. She put both hands on each of Daniel’s shoulders in a way that reminded him of his mother whenever she was trying to explain to her boys that their Dad would be spending yet another Christmas in Afghanistan.
“Now listen,” she said, “I’m not saying you have to work for him anymore if you don’t want to. But he was nice enough to give you a job, so I think at the very least you owe him an explanation as to why yer quitting, okay?”
Daniel looked into Mrs. Buck’s eyes for a moment and suddenly felt incredibly sorry, like maybe he really was in the wrong after all. He looked at the floor and rubbed his nose real quick before he nodded his head.
Mrs. Buck smiled the way all mothers do when consoling their kids. She hugged Daniel and said, “Now that’s a good boy.”
Even though Daniel hated it when Mrs. Buck called him a “good boy”, you know because it kind of sounds like she’s talking to a dog and all, he did like it when Mrs. Buck gave him a hug. It was the closest thing he could think of to hugging his real mom. Daniel remembered when he and Josh first came to Mrs. Buck’s house. They were both a little worried after a few bad experiences at some of the other homes, but when she smiled and hugged them both Daniel knew that this place would be different. Even a thousand Isaac’s couldn’t ruin this for him.
Daniel put on an old white t-shirt before he went out to the garage to get his bike. Joseph was still standing out there as Daniel wheeled his bike to the driveway.
Joseph walked up to him, hands in pockets as he said, “still makin ya go?”
Daniel sighed as he nodded his head.
Joseph spit on the ground before replying, “That’s pretty shitty, man. Lemme go with you. He won’t be able to do shit if it’s two of us there.”
Daniel pushed his bike to the edge of the driveway as he said, “Naw, it’s alright. I’ll stay close to the door; I won’t let ‘im get close enough to try anything. Besides, I don’t want you to get in anymore trouble with yer mom. What’d she want anyway?”
Joseph shrugged his shoulders and replied, “No sé. Prolly jus wants me to clean the litter box or somethin’. I hate havin so many cats.”
Daniel held his right fist out to Joseph as he said, “Alright güey, I’ll hit you up when I get back.”
Joseph bumped his knuckles against Daniel’s (you know the way Black people do when they’re saying bye to each other sometimes) as he replied, “Cool güey. And don’t think I forgot about our game, either. It’s on, after you get back.”
Daniel laughed as he mounted his bike and said, “I’m countin on it,” his right hand was only shaking a little bit as he sped off.
Daniel rode his bike down the street, slower than he usually rode which is understandable given the circumstances. He stopped at an intersection the kind that doesn’t have a real stoplight but just one of those stupid yellow flashing things hanging up on a cord. It was there as he waited for the cars to pass that he decided to listen to his mp3 player once more. You know, one problem I have with prose work is its limitations when it comes to describing music. I know you’d probably like to know what Daniel was listening to as he was on his way to confront his boss, but if I just said “he was listening to The Roots” it would sound pretty boring, wouldn’t it? And it’s important you know; the type of music a person listens to or even what type of Hip Hop they listen to, because there are all different kinds. Like whether someone listens to Thelonious Monk or Duke Ellington, or I guess since it’s in the 2000s whether they prefer Kid Cudi to OutKast, actually I don’t think Kid Cudi was doing a whole lot in 2008 and even if he was, Daniel probably wouldn’t be the type of person to listen to him. And you know, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with listening to Ellington instead of Monk either (there’s definitely something wrong with you if you prefer Cudi over OutKast but I won’t get into that). There’s just a difference in style is all. If this story were taking place about fifty years in the past, Daniel would be a Thelonious Monk type of person while Josh would be more of a Duke Ellington kind of guy. Isaac would probably be listening to Elvis or Buddy Holly or something. Actually I’m not sure what Isaac would listen to, probably whatever’s popular among “mainstream” America at the time. Joseph would probably invent Death Metal just to piss people off (he is a skilled guitarist despite the accident with his hand) and the Mexican girl from across the street would probably listen to Billie Holiday, but that’s a different story. I’m rambling. I guess I could tell you the lyrics of the song Daniel was listening to, but that still doesn’t quite work if it’s not in context. I’ll tell you what; you’re near a computer aren’t you? Go to youtube or something and type in “The Roots Rock You” and have yourself a listen (and then go to the store and buy the CD because you shouldn’t be stealing music, you freak!). It’s a song off of the “Phrenology” album and you should see a picture of a head in profile with little pictures all over it or something. I’ll recite some of the lyrics so you know it’s the right song. Ready? Let’s go.
The last car that drove by was radiating a heavy bass sound so loudly that you could even hear the voice on the speakers shout the word “Gucci!” if you were standing on the sidewalk. Daniel didn’t hear it of course, because he was listening to the voices on his earphones shouting, “We will rock you…We will Rock You! We will Rock You! We will Rock you! We will Rock You! Come On! Rock You! Come On! Rock You!!! Check it out…” You may be wondering just what kind of ten year old listens to The Roots old albums in 2008; well Daniel had been listening to the Roots since he was two years old. One night he was sick and couldn’t sleep, Daniel’s father put the crying child in the back seat of the family car and drove around the block a few times thinking it would calm him down. When that didn’t work, Abram turned on the radio and put in a CD titled “Things Fall Apart". He switched to track number ten and a song called “Act Too (Love of My Life)” came on. By the time Common had finished his verse, Daniel was fast asleep as a newborn Roots fan. Daniel listened to other music as well. He listened to his Linkin Park CDs fairly regularly (especially the one with that “Bleed it Out” song on it), he owned both of Kanye West’s pre-Graduation albums or “the good ones” as Daniel called them and he began listening to Rage Against the Machine after his father got locked up; oh and also a few CDs by that rapper who wears that metal mask from the movie Gladiator (what’s that guy’s name again?). But this particular playlist was the only one which Daniel always listened to right before football and basketball games because they gave him a real energy boost before he played (and he certainly needed all the energy he could get at that moment).
The song switched to a short twenty five second number from the same CD which was titled with nothing more than seven distinct exclamation points. As the wild music blared away in Daniel’s ears a young man on the opposite side of the street was walking along the sidewalk. He had red cornrows, a black hoody and a gray wife beater with dry blood staining the collar and chest. The kid squeezed his nose as blood trickled from it and oozed its way down his neck as he said, “God dammit! Those fuckers didn’t have to hit me twice.” The young man had disappeared by the time the song was over and the next one came on.
Daniel came to a stop in front of a building with a heavy industrial garage door and white sheet metal paneling as the voices on his earphones sang, “tell ya one lesson I learned…if you wanna be somethin in life…you aint gonna get it unless…you give a little bit of sacrifice…” He kept his bike on the sidewalk for a moment and stared at the building, the white sign above the main office door had the words “Gein Roofing and Flooring” painted on it in big red letters above the store’s phone number. Daniel waited for the voices to finish singing, “ooh sometimes before you smile you got to cry, you need a heart that’s filled with music…if you use it you can fly, if you wanna be high…” before he turned off the music player and returned the earphones to his pockets. The cat with a dead mouse feeling was slowly returning making it feel like someone had collected a bucket full of those brown June bugs which show up all over North Texas during the summer time and poured it down the back of Daniel’s shirt. He entertained the thought of turning around and going to Joseph’s house, but he knew he would never be able to avoid Mr. Gein completely. Besides, part of him was anxious for the chance to tell Mr. Gein everything he truly thought about him. It’s not very often when a kid gets to curse at an adult without getting into trouble and believe you me, they want to. I know I would if I were a kid and not just a bunch of words on a piece of paper.
Daniel stepped off of his bike and wheeled it across the gravel driveway, resting it against the side of the building before he walked over to the utility door. The fluorescent lights were on inside the shop but there were no workers to be found. Daniel stood with his back pressed against the metal door and his left hand on the knob as he looked around the room. Seeing no sign of Mr. Gein; Daniel turned the knob and was about to go back outside when a familiar voice said, “Daniel? Is that you?”
The office door on the opposite side of the room opened up and Mr. Gein stepped out.
Daniel looked toward him and growled, “What do you want?”
Mr. Gein held both hands up in that simple way that reminded Daniel of his Dad the night the police took him away. He remembers Josh crying his eyes out that night as he held his big brother’s trembling right hand, the patrolmen screaming and cursing at their Dad as they held him down and cuffed his hands behind his back.
Gein took a small step towards Daniel and said, “I wanted to apologize for what happened back at the house. That was wrong of me.”
Daniel yelled, “Stay away from me!” as he squeezed the door knob.
Mr. Gein stopped and sighed, saying, “Look, you have every right to be mad at me.”
“You’re fuckin’ sick!”
Mr. Gein nodded his head as he took another small step closer. He said, “Yer right. You’re absolutely right, I am. And I realize that now. I just wanted you to know that you did nothing wrong. It was completely my fault.”
Daniel still had his back pressed against the door but he was now holding the knob with both hands. He did his best to keep a straight face, which he did by the way, but his trembling hand and heaving chest were all that Mr. Gein needed to know that the boy was terrified out of his mind. Daniel tried to speak without his shaky voice as he said, “I’m quitting.”
Mr. Gein nodded his head again as he reached into his back pocket. He said, “I know you are,” as he pulled out a white envelope, “that’s why I stopped by the bank on my way back. To pick up the money I owe you for this week.”
Daniel looked at the envelope Mr. Gein was holding out in front of him before he ordered him to, “toss it on the floor!”
Mr. Gein smiled a little bit and said, “Um…okay,” as he kneeled down and slid the envelope across the concrete.
It stopped about six feet in front of Daniel’s shoes. Daniel looked at it for a moment and then back up at Mr. Gein before he said, “Back up!”
Mr. Gein’s smirk grew as he slowly backed away, all the while holding his hands up passively.
Daniel took a few steps toward the envelope and reached out with his trembling hand, but he quickly drew it back when he looked at Mr. Gein again and said, “More!”
Mr. Gein replied, “Okay okay,” as he continued to move backwards, stopping only when he bumped into one of the work benches behind him.
Daniel grabbed the envelope and opened it up, tearing his stare from Mr. Gein for just a moment so he could count the money inside. He didn’t even have to pull the money out of the envelope to tell that there were way more twenty dollar bills than there should have been for just one week’s worth of work.
Daniel held the envelope up and glared at Mr. Gein as he asked, “What is this?”
Mr. Gein smiled and said, “It’s your weeks pay, plus a little extra.”
Daniel glanced at the money again and said, “There’s five hundred dollars here!”
Daniel shook his head and said, “You think you can just pay me a bunch of money and I’ll forget what you did? What…what you tried to do?”
Mr. Gein took a few small steps forward and said, “Daniel, you gotta understand. It would be better for the both of us if we just kept quiet about this. Think about it. You don’t wanna have to move to another foster home do you?”
Daniel did not say anything, but he simply looked back at the envelope one more time before looking at his boss.
Mr. Gein continued, “There’s no guarantee, you and your brother will be put in the same home if you get moved again.”
Daniel shouted, “You don’t talk about him!”
Mr. Gein pleaded, “I’m just saying. You need to think about how this will affect other people. A lotta people depend on me and my business, Daniel. Not just the people who pay me to fix their houses but also my wife and kids and all of the people who work here.”
Daniel crumpled up the envelope and crossed his arms as he said, “the people who work for you, do you act that way with them?”
Mr. Gein cried, “No!”
Daniel said, “what about yer wife or your daughters, huh?”
“Of course not!”
“Then why me, huh? Why’m I so special?”
Mr. Gein looked sort of dumbfounded when he said, “I…I don’t know, you’re just so…” He let his arms fall weakly at his sides as he looked into Daniel’s eyes and answered, “You’re a great kid, Daniel. You’re smart and you’re …you’re talented and strong and you’re…you’re…” he sighed once more before he said, “You’re beautiful.”
Daniel cringed, the sound of the word making him feel all grimy the way he did back at the house.
Mr. Gein continued, “I’m sorry, but it’s true.” He began to move forward as he said, “I love you, Daniel.”
Daniel took a step backward and yelled, “stay back!”
Mr. Gein stopped and said, “I do. And that’s why when I think back to the house. How I behaved and how scared and confused you must’ve been, it makes me feel…horrible. I’m really sorry but you gotta realize I could never do anything to hurt you.”
Daniel glowered at Mr. Gein for a moment, mouth hanging open as he slowly began to shake his head. “No,” said Daniel as he crumpled up the envelope, “no I don’t believe you.”
Mr. Gein held out his hand and said, “Daniel I…”
Daniel yelled, “And I aint takin your money neither!” as he threw the envelope to the floor. His hand wasn’t shaking in the slightest.
Mr. Gein sighed once more and said, “I know there’s nuthin’ I can do to make up for what happened at the house. But I think we’d both feel better if you took the money.”
Daniel yelled, “You should be in jail for what you did, you faggot!”
Gein’s eyebrow twitched as he clenched his fists and said, “Don’t…don’t say that, Daniel.”
Daniel continued, “I fuckin’ hate you!”
Gein took a step forward and said, “Pick up the money, Daniel.”
With both fists clenched at his sides Daniel took a step forward and yelled, “No! I don’t have to listen to you no more!”
Gein had never seen Daniel behave in such a way, or any other child for that matter. For a moment he thought that he might have been intimidated if Daniel were just a little bigger.
Gein took another step forward and raised his voice as he said, “Pick it up!”
“I said No!”
Gein was practically screaming in Daniel’s face when he yelled, “Pick up the damn money!”
Daniel screamed, “Fuck you!” as he swung his right fist toward his former boss.
Gein was ready this time as he caught the boy’s wrist with his left hand. Daniel swung his left fist, but Gein caught that one as well. He lifted Daniel up by his arms until he was almost eye level with the boy and he then pushed him, or pressed him rather, with his back against the wall.
Daniel shouted, “Lemme go!” as his boss folded his arms into an X pattern and pressed them against his chest.
Daniel tried to kick him again, but Gein pressed himself against Daniel leaving the boy barely enough room to move his legs.
Gein laughed as he said, “Keep struggling, yer just gonna hurt yerself.”
Daniel tried to twist himself free as he growled, “Get off me, faggot!”
Gein shook Daniel, hitting his head against the metal wall as he yelled in his face, “You shut the fuck up! Now, here’s what’s gonna happen! You’re gonna take that money and then yer gonna go home and forget this ever happened!”
To which Daniel replied, “I’m callin the cops!”
Gein laughed and said, “Oh go ahead. You can use my phone if you want. Who d’you think they’re gonna believe, huh? Me or some lil…nigger…foster kid? Ha! You’re less than a piece of shit as far as their concerned.” Daniel tried his best to keep a straight face but his lip was trembling as Mr. Gein spoke, “I’m friends with the chief of police. We go to the same church, hell our kids are on the same god damn softball team!”
Gein laughed in a way that reminded Daniel of the villains from those old cartoons he used to watch. Gein laughed even more when he saw a tear roll its way down Daniel’s left cheek.
Gein said, “All I gotta do is make one phone call and tell him about how you assaulted me back at that house. Hell, that lamp you broke is proof enough!
Daniel cried, “You can’t do that!” To which Gein laughingly replied, “Yes I can! I can have your little ass sent away to ju-vee tonight!” Gein moved his face closer to Daniel’s, his breath rife with the scent of Corona Light as he smiled saying, “And if you’re locked up, there won’t be nobody around to keep an eye on that cute little brother of yers.”
With his boss pressing his arms against his chest it was difficult for the boy to breathe, but through choppy breaths Daniel managed to say as best he could, “if…if you ever come near him…”
Gein cut him off saying, “you’ll do what, huh? Look at you.”
There were even more tears trickling down Daniel’s cheeks. Gein rubbed the tears away with his thumb, the sandpapery skin scrapping across the boy’s face as he said lowly, “I could do whatever I wanted to you right now, ya know?” He moved his hand slowly down from the side of Daniel’s face, almost caressing the side of the boy’s neck like he was petting a cat while he whispered, “I can make you hurt in ways that’ll give you nightmares for the rest of your life. And your brother too, I’ll make him cry and beg and you won’t be able to do nuthin to stop me. You’re useless.” Gein grabbed Daniel’s throat and squeezed it slowly until the boy began to cough and gasp. As Gein watched Daniel struggling to breathe he smiled and said, “Maybe I’ll let him watch the two of us together. Who knows, he might even like it.”
The room seemed to be getting darker to Daniel; everything was falling out of focus like his eyes were the lenses on a pair of binoculars which desperately needed adjusting. Gein’s voice, menacing though it was, seemed to be miles away when Daniel heard him say, “Now, if you don’t want me to finish what I started back at the house, you better be a good little boy and pick up that money.”
Just when Daniel thought he was going to pass out, Gein released his grip around his throat and set him gently on the floor. Daniel stood there for a moment coughing and wiping the tears away with his fist. Gein nudged Daniel in the shoulder and said, “Go get it.”
Daniel kept his eyes on Gein as he walked over to the crumpled envelope lying in the middle of the floor. He reached down and had to feel around the cold concrete before his fingers found the mashed up paper. Daniel picked it up and began to walk over to the door but was stopped when Gein grabbed the boy’s chin and said, “You should really smile more often, ya know. You’ve got such a nice smile.”
Daniel pushed Gein’s hand away who by then was laughing in that villainous tone once more. He was still laughing when Daniel opened the door and stepped outside. Daniel pressed his palms on his face, wiping away the tears before he stuffed the envelope in his pocket and mounted his bike. He could swear he heard that laughing voice echoing in his ears as he sped off down the street. Daniel took a different route home. It was a bit longer, but this one would take him through the alleyways between the low income businesses and the housing projects where no one would be able to see him. He didn’t really feel like having anybody look at him at that moment. About halfway down one of the alleys, Daniel realized that his whole right arm was shaking so he dismounted his bike and decided to walk wheeling the bicycle alongside him down the trash filled asphalt. He kept thinking about Gein’s fingers and how they felt like the stingrays in the tank at the Sea World down in San Antonio where he and his class once visited during a field trip. He could still feel those stingray hands wrapped around his aching neck, the scent of that stale beer breath lingering in his nostrils. Daniel stopped in front of an old building that had been ruined in a fire about eight months ago that the city forgot to demolish.
Daniel gritted his teeth and squeezed the handlebars of his bike until his hands started to hurt as he thought about what Mr. Gein had said. The words “weak” and “powerless” appeared in his mind, seared across his brain. There was a dead cat lying in the concrete next to the chain link fence on the opposite side of the building. Daniel stared at the cat for a moment and began to think about the living room at that big brick house again, picturing those hands with stingray fingers creeping up his right leg beneath his shorts. Daniel pushed the bike toward the fence with all his strength, screaming as he did. The bike rolled past the cat and crashed into the fence before falling over. Daniel only stood there for a moment, breathing heavily with his fists clenched at his sides. A few seconds later he ran over to the wooden door at the back of the ruined building and punched it with his right hand with all the force that he would have given to his former boss had he not stopped him. The punch sent a dull pain through Daniel’s knuckles, but that didn’t stop him from punching it again with his left fist, then once more with his right. He kept throwing blow after blow into the cheap wooden door, mumbling incoherent curses as the skin on his knuckles shredded and bruised. He drew back his right fist far behind his head and slammed it into the door once more with enough force to leave a deep impression in the decaying dry wood. The last punch sent a wave of pain through Daniel’s hand but he did not pull away, not at first. He just stood there for a moment with his right fist pressed against the door until his breathing gradually returned to normal.
When Daniel finally managed to calm himself down he fell to his knees and opened his fist, staring at his hand for a moment as the skin in the center of his palm turned red. He couldn’t even feel his bloodied knuckles, not through the throbbing pain in his palm. Daniel gently pressed the back of his right hand and another wave of excruciating pain rushed through it. He whimpered for a moment as he pulled himself to his feet, feeling much the way he did after Isaac had beaten his eye closed that one time. Daniel walked over to the fence where his bike was lying. He stopped for a moment and looked at that cat once more.
You know reader; there’s something in the way of things, something you can never see directly but you know it’s there from its footprints and reflections. It is something that is either beautiful or hideous depending upon which angle you are observing it from. There isn’t a name for it, but anyone who has seen it knows exactly what it is. It is that thing which can make a man take his own life, or it can make an even more desperate man decide that they want to live. It is what turns ordinary people into heroes or villains like in comic books (or one of those stupid mangas that Isaac likes to read). You could see it in a homeless veteran sleeping on top of a heated air vent, a little girl’s doll lying alone in an empty playground, a plastic bag floating around in the wind in front of a brick wall or, in Daniel’s case, a dead cat lying in a deserted alleyway. Now you can’t ask a person who has seen this thing to describe it, Daniel certainly didn’t have the words for it. Even I, an omniscient disembodied voice, am not capable of describing this thing that Daniel saw. But he saw it, nonetheless and he knew at that point that something had changed. He stared at the cat for a moment longer and then he began to laugh.
You know how sometimes you’ll be at work or in the car or maybe sitting at the table having dinner and all of a sudden you’ll remember something funny you read or saw on the internet or something. You start to giggle a little bit. The giggling grows and grows like a match being held against the edge of a piece of paper until you’re laughing so hard that you‘re practically in tears. Yeah, well that’s what was going on here only Daniel had no idea what it was that had triggered the laughing fit, but he laughed anyway. If for some odd reason you happened to be strolling down that alleyway at that moment you would’ve seen some little kid with tears on his face, laughing his ass off at a dead cat and you’d probably think to yourself, “Okay, this kid’s clearly insane. Better walk away before he bites me or something.”
Daniel was still chuckling as he retrieved his bicycle. He pushed the bike with his left hand while examining his right. Every time he tried to make a fist, the pain in his hand would radiate from it once more. He could barely move his first two fingers without his eyes tearing up. Strange; though Daniel’s hand hurt like you wouldn’t believe, it never once shook, not even the tiniest of tremors. He returned to Mrs. Buck’s house some fifteen minutes later. Josh was in the driveway wearing his blue and Green Dallas Mavericks Jersey with the number 41 on the front, the same jersey he childishly believed had helped him make most of his jumpers. He took a shot at the goal above the garage, the ball scraped through the chain netting around the hoop just as Daniel wheeled his bicycle inside. Josh ran to where the ball had landed while his big brother walked over to the front steps of the house and sat down.
As Josh picked up the ball he noticed the depressed look on Daniel’s face while he stared at his right hand. Josh scraped the ground with his foot real quick before he looked over at Daniel once more. Holding up the ball Josh said, “Wanna play Horse?”
Daniel shook his head, as he pressed his thumb on his palm once more.
Josh, looking somewhat disappointed replied, “I’ve been workin on my free throws.”
Daniel looked up at his brother and said, “What’s yer average?”
Josh slapped the ball and said, “I’m at seven for three right now.”
Daniel smiled briefly and then looked at his hand again.
Josh walked over to the steps and said, “I’m tryin’ to get at ninety percent by the time school starts.”
Daniel rested his hand on his thigh as he said, “Lemme see.”
Josh moved back to the middle of the driveway and took a shot. The ball fell through the hoop once more without touching the rim. Josh walked over to the edge of the grass where the ball had rolled to. When he turned around he saw Daniel walking toward him with a weird look on his face. Before Josh could say anything he was caught in the warm yet somewhat awkward embrace of his big brother. It was the kind of hug you got from a big, lively woman who greets everybody by hugging them even if that person doesn’t want to be hugged. But it was weird because Daniel didn’t say anything as he did it, plus it was really sort of a half hug because he had to be careful not to touch Josh with his right hand.
Josh let go of the ball and said, “uh…Daniel?”
To which his brother hastily responded, “I love you, Josh,” half sobbing as he spoke.
Josh’s watched the ball rolling to the edge of the driveway and coming to a stop in front of the door before he patted his brother’s back and said, “um…thanks…I love you too, bro.”
Daniel released his brother and rubbed his eyes with his left hand.
Josh stared at him for a moment with his eyebrows raised. A second later he asked, “Are…we in trouble or somethin?”
Daniel shook his head and said, “Naw Josh, we aint in no trouble. I’m not gonna let nuthin’ bad happen to you, I promise.”
All of a sudden Josh got this really sad look in his eyes, you know the way a kid looks when they don’t get that Christmas gift they really wanted or something like that. He looked at the ground and started rubbing his right arm.
Daniel asked, “What’s wrong?”
To which Josh replied without looking up, “That’s what you said before they took us to Grapevine.”
Daniel put his left arm on Josh’s shoulder and said, “Yer safe now, aintcha?”
Josh looked up and said, “Yeah but…”
Daniel cut him off, “but nothin. It was my fault, what happened there. I was bein stupid, but I’m never gonna make a stupid mistake like that again. I promise.”
Daniel walked toward the garage as he said, “go ahead and keep working on yer free throws, I’ll be inside.”
Josh watched his big brother as he reached for the knob with his right hand, paused and then turned the knob with his left before stepping inside the house and closing the door behind him.