A young boy realizes he isn't alone.
by: simple spider
The temperature sat at just over one hundred degrees. Harsh rays beat down relentlessly on the dry, parched earth. In the shade of their front porch Russell and Timothy sat on the edge of the shadow, too tired to do anything but watch the world burn.
“What color is the sky?” Tim asked suddenly.
Russell looked up at the sky. It was a clear day, but off to the west a group enormous white puffy clouds, cumulonimbus he thought they were called, drifting in their direction.
“ You there?”
“It’s blue, Tim. But why ask such a-”
“It’s not a stupid question!” said Tim.
“I didn’t say it was stupid. Who cares anyway?”
Tim just shrugged.
Russell stared at his brother, watching as Timothy sat on the very edge of the top step, hugging his knees, a defiant frown etched into his round face. Tim hardly ever spoke, at least not until he was spoken too, and it was this forwardness that surprised Russell more than the actual question. Tim was a listener. He kind of had to be.
Russell closed his eyes and stretched out on the cement porch. It felt cold against his back, even in the heat. It made him think about the wet sand of Johnson pond. It’d been a long time, but he could vaguely remember the last time he’d been there, images of the sun reflecting off the water, green reeds sticking out above the surface. He smiled. He opened his eyes and the smile quickly faded.
Their yard wasn’t exactly a yard. The grass was dead and clung to the house in jagged brown patches, after twenty feet or so it was simply dirt and red clay, cooked into dust by the sun. He looked at Tim and shook his head as he cast another glance at the clouds moving in from the horizon; he hadn’t noticed before but they really were huge.
“What’s your favorite color again?” Tim asked
Russell grunted at this next question making no attempt to reply.
“I think it was blue. Right? See, I remember.” Tim said.
Russell sighed. He looked around at the porch. It was ugly or perhaps dead was a better description; it was a cement extension attached directly to the foundation of the house. Between the two brothers, down the center from under the front door, there was a jagged crack that split, not only the porch, but the whole foundation upon which the house was built. Russell thought that one day, and perhaps soon, the rift would split the whole house in two.
The wooden railing fared no better. Old and badly maintained, several of the posts were missing. Those that remained were no longer a soft sky blue, but a mix of gray and brown, splintering at the ends. The burning touch of the sun had faded the posts, along with the walls of the house, giving everything a washed out yellow tint. .
“Russell,” Tim said, “you’re not much of a talker.”
Leaning against the wall Russell closed his eyes ignoring Tim completely. In the distance he heard the song of a couple of blue jays calling each other for whatever reason. He opened his eyes and watched as they flew across the yard, darting after one another, rolling through the air carelessly, as they fought over a piece of straw. Russell frowned.
“Did you lose your voice?” Tim asked.
Russell responded with silence.
“Hey, I know you can talk,” Tim said.
Russell grunted and loudly scratched the back of his neck. He glared at Tim and gave him the finger. He closed his eyes again. Tim was lucky.
“Remember the pond?” Tim asked.
Russell frowned. God he was being insistent today!
“No! It was two years ago, Tim!”
“So you do remember!”
Russell let out an exasperated sigh. He looked at Tim, still hugging his knees, rocking, ready to pounce a god knew what. He did remember.
“Can you feel the water? The sun hits it just right in the summer, it kinda glows. I really like it. You understand what glow means?”
Tim shook his head no.
Russell scratched his chin.
“It means that the rays from the sun hit the water and it scatters the beams.”
“What does that mean?” Tim asked.
“Well, the light, uh, kinda moves on top of the water. It mixes with it, until the surface shines with the most spectacular blue you can imagine, its great! Most ponds are an ugly murky sort of green; you know, slimy, thick, and nasty. But on a good day this one is different. Get it?”
Again, Tim had simply shaken his head.
“Uh, well,” Russell thought for a second. Just how the hell could you describe a color? He sighed. “You ever climb into bed right after mom has put on a fresh set of sheets, Tim? Remember the way that smells? And laying out on the grass when it’s not so damn hot and feeling the wind blow over you, think of that.”
Tim simply stared up at Russell and nodded with a confused look on his face.
“uh, amazing…” Tim said as a big grin spread over his face, “that was the gayest thing I’ve ever heard.”
Russell could feel the hot sting of embarrassment pulsing through him. Without saying a word he snuck up behind Tim and pushed him into the pond.
Russell smiled as Tim let out a high pitched scream; it reminded him of the girls that always got killed off first in the slasher movies. Tim wildly swung his arms out in front of him. A look of utter panic on his face.
“Dammit, Russell!” said Tim.
“That was great! I think you were closer to pissing in the water than swimming in it!”
He reached out and pulled Tim up onto the bank. Without warning Tim threw a wild punch hitting Russell in the face. At first Russell was too shocked to notice the pain slowly engulfing his left cheek. Little baby Tim had actually attacked him.
“You little shit!”
Russell slammed Tim on the ground. He jumped on top of his stomach and took great pleasure in grinding his fists into the softness of Tim’s belly. It felt good not having to keep the kid gloves on for once. When Tim started to cry it only made Russell smile and punch harder.
“Stop it! Russell, stop it!”
As the bluebirds continued to chirp in the distance, Russell opened his eyes, watching as the clouds, now a dark gray, over take more of the clear expanse of sky. A storm was coming.
Couldn’t Tim understand? A pang of loneliness gripped Russell’s chest. He thought about hitting Tim in the face for no reason. That was one thing that would still be fun. He wondered if Tim would still fight back.
Trying to clear the worries from his mind Russell got up and went into the house. The furniture was dust covered, as was everything else: clothes, papers, and half-eaten TV dinners littered the floor and what Russell assumed was a second couch, but he couldn‘t remember what the house looked like clean. He tried to picture it, but nothing would come. The carpet was an uneven light brown, but it was originally supposed to be white, he could tell because the corners near the walls were still white.
He took care not to wake his mother as he snuck by her door. The pills she took made her sleep through the afternoon and at night she was usually pulling a shift at the hospital.
Russell peeked into the room of the sleeping woman. Sometimes in the late afternoon he would come and sit beside her, watching her while she slept. He liked the sound of her steady breathing. It was somehow comforting. He tried to remember what it felt like to be held in her arms when he was younger, but like being caught on the tip of his tongue the memories wouldn’t come, maybe that was because there weren’t any. She worked, smiled, and slept; occasionally she took them bowling. She seemed to be eternally tired. It was strange, but Russell thought she looked best asleep.
He looked at the picture of his father, a small 3 by 5 that she still kept at the back of her night stand. He did this often, hoping that someday it would mean something to him, but the tiny man remained nothing but an image; light brown hair, smiling as he sat atop his Honda motorcycle. Russell had black hair. It wasn’t a face to love or hate. It may as well have been a sample picture to fit the pretty from, for all he knew it was. He wondered if it was really his dad. He liked motorcycles.
Stealthly he walked into the kitchen and pulled out two sugary treats from the bottom of the ice box. Had his mother changed or had he simply began to notice who she was? Had this house always been this worn out? A strange feeling welled up in his stomach, as if a cold hand was inside of him. It stopped at his chest taking a firm grip just below his lungs. His heart began to beat faster.
“Here,” Russell said bluntly as he handed the Popsicle to his brother. The screen door made a hissing sound behind him.
“Thanks.” Tim said.
Russell smiled as the flavor hit his tongue: Blue Mountain Blast. Kool-aid would always be the best. No matter how hard Food Lion knock offs tried they would never match it! He closed his eyes and let the flavor roam over his tongue.
Beside him Tim suddenly let out a strange grunt, spitting blue juice all over his shoes. He started rolling on the concrete laughing. His body contorted at odd angles as he rolled from side to side. Tears were streaming from his eyes.
“What’s wrong with you?” Russell shouted. “are you nuts or something?”
“Mah…maybe.” Tim managed to gasp out between fits of laughter.
Russell sighed and squeezed his brother’s shoulder, his heart however, continued to pound frantically.
“Were you…worried about me just now?” Tim asked.
There was an awkward moment of silence before Russell responded. “Fuck you, you little spaz! And get up off the porch before the Bakers start to stare!”
Tim rolled back up gasping for air, a big grin plastered on his face.
“You gonna tell me what that was all about?” Russell asked, slouching down by his side.
Tim gazed over in his direction. Russell hated when his brother did this. Tim’s eyes were deep, completely vacant, and probing. They made Russell feel exposed and the cloudy whiteness of his brother’s pupil-less eyes was downright creepy.
“I got it! As soon as I popped that thing in my mouth I got it.”
Russell looked at his brother. He wondered if he was delirious. It was pretty hot.
“You quit talking. I guess I’ve always wondered why,” Tim said.
Russell felt a hot rush of embarrassment pulse through his body. As usual, he didn’t know what to say.
“Blue. Never made a bit of sense to me…” Tim said.
Russell shifted his weight from one hand to the other. It was uncomfortable talking like this. Complete sentences were a dangerous thing, all too often they led to thinking.
“It’s not like I didn’t try to share it, but I’m no good a describing stuff. You didn’t care anyway.” Russell felt a familiar chill grip tighten in his chest.
“Jesus, how dumb do you think I am?” Tim asked.
Russell forced a laugh. “You really want me to answer that?”
“Those are blue birds singing out there aren’t they?” Tim asked, “And that pond, the water, it was blue wasn’t it? This Popsicle is blue too!”
Russell didn’t say anything but instead glanced up at the sky, now almost completely overcast.
“What’s your favorite color again?” Tim asked.
“Who cares? This is stupid…” Russell said. Why was Tim pushing this?
“Come on,” Tim replied shrugging his shoulders again, “are things so bad you can’t even answer a stupid question? I can tell that things aren’t exactly the way they ought to be, but the sky is still blue right?”
“Oh come off it, you’re blind! The word blue carries about as much weight with you as the word library does with me...or you for that matter.”
Tim grinned at him. “ Yeah and things keep happening and you’re still an ass…and I can’t see.”
“What’s it matter?”
“Because I’ve been thinking about it for a while and, well, I think I like blue too. Like the sky right?”
Russell looked up at the sky. The last rays of sunlight were being drowned out by the encroaching storm. The dark gray clouds hung low in the sky as a rumble of thunder resonated in the distance. The bright summer day would be little more than a memory in another ten minutes.
Russell rolled his eyes and sighed heavily. “Whatever, Tim, you’re just going off what I told you.”
“Yeah, and what’s changed since then?” Tim asked.
“Everything,” Russell said.
“I don’t think you’re seeing straight.” Tim said.
Russell cracked a grin. “And how would you know anything about that?”
“I dunno,” Tim said. He placed the Popsicle in his mouth and slurped loudly. “I guess I just feel it!”
Russell looked at Tim and laughed. He was actually making sense in a Tim sort of way.
“Whatever,” Russell said. It was all he could think to say.
Tim just tilted his head against his back in reply. His cloudy eyes looked up at the sky. It was nearly black, heavy with storm clouds ready to burst.
“You still like blue?” Tim asked again.
“I don’t know.”
As the two boys sat in silence a soft rain began to fall.
“Come on, Tim,” Russell said.
Russell went over to help Tim into the house, and as they turned to walk inside, Tim stopped and turned back toward the porch.
“What color is the sky, Russell?” Tim asked with a grin.
Russell thought for a second. He stared at Tim’s ridiculous looking face, cheeks pressed out, a huge toothy smile that begged for braces.
Russell genuinely smiled. He stared up at the dark grey sky.
“Blue,” he said. Technically it was, somewhere in the world.
Walking into the house Russell felt strangely relieved, lighter somehow. He turned on the tv; a soap opera was on. He hated these types of shows. But they only got five channels - it was all the same. Tim liked to sit right in front of the television. He, of course, loved the “stories.”
As Tim sat glued to the television screen Russell lay down on the couch and stared out the window. Eventually the show would be over and the rain would stop, the heat would cool down and time would pass. Perhaps as early as next week he and Tim could go out and lay in the soft mud around Johnson pond. Whenever it was time it would be their waiting for him. He closed his eyes and smiled, listening as the rain came down in sheets.