The Boys, they call my brothers in the neighborhood,
or Those Boys. The Taylor Boys. Sometimes, Mom calls them Thing One
and Thing Two, like in The Cat in the Hat. Those bad boys. Nobody
has brothers like my brothers, kicked off the school bus, barred
from JC Penney only allowed one at a time in the corner store, where
we go to buy Momís cigarettes with a note please sell Billy,
Matty, Kimmie two packs of Marlboro Red. Mom likes the hard box
so they wonít get squished in her purse. Mostly she sends me for her
cigarettes because the boys are never around. Theyíre always off
getting into trouble.
Iím old enough, twelve, to know my brothers arenít
really that bad. Thereís worse trouble they could get into than
playing doctor behind the chicken coop, even worse than making bombs
to throw at passing cars. Their bombs might smell bad, but rotten
apples and stagnant water from the grape arbor, all wrapped up in a
baggie, never hurt anyone. Mom says they try her, but she says I try
her, too, and Iíve never gotten kicked out of anywhere.
Right now, sheís in there crying, but I canít figure
out why. No one got sent home from school with a note, or bit the
teacher. Itís been a long time since Matty showed Angel Gustino that
condom. I donít know where he got it, but I have my ideas. Probably
he swiped it when we went to Woolworthís with Gram one Sunday. But
Iím not sure. Weíre still allowed in Woolworthís, all of us and Gram
takes us every Sunday so Mom can go to church, can ask God for help.
Momís been crying since we walked home from school
yesterday. We walk now every day since the boys got kicked off the
bus, and I almost like it, except for getting sent right out again,
for cigarettes. She stopped crying long enough to give me the note,
the same note we re-use every day that she keeps under the phone the
rest of the time, so itís easy to find.
Please the note says all folded up in my pocket
while I walk up the road, not getting dirty or talking to any
strangers. Please I whisper when I walk past the church.
Iíve tried hitting the boys so theyíll stop making
Mom cry. I popped Matty one in the nose, which I shouldnít have
done, the way it bleeds with the slightest touch, but I wanted him
to know I was serious. Mom crying is serious. This isnít the first
time she started. Once, Aunt Cathy even took Mom to see a doctor
because she couldnít stop. The doctor sent her back home with some
pills. Aunt Cathy told Dad the doctor said he sent Mom back home
because she had the three of us to take care of, but Mom started
right back up again, after wiping her face and telling Aunt Cathy
she was alright so she would leave, go back home to her own kids,
and I wanted to bring Mom one of those pills fast with some water.
Instead, I went up to the corner to get her more cigarettes and left
the brown sack on the table with the cigarettes and the note and all
her change even though she said I could buy myself a Milky Way for
walking up there, or a Reeseís. After a minute, I heard her fish in
the bag for a pack, and breathe out the smoke. That was the day I
hit Matty in the nose, and when I came back from the store, I made
Matty take off his t-shirt before there was too much blood. Mom
doesnít need to worry about a bloody t-shirt, too.
Right now, the boys are being good. Theyíre on the
back road with the frisbee, throwing it back and forth at each
other. At each other, not to each other. Itís a game they invented,
taking turns throwing the frisbee at each otherís feet, knocking the
white gravel out of the sticky black tar to use in their bombs.
Theyíre always together and never want to play ball or shoot hoops
out back of the church anymore or run races down the hill, even
though you get to going so fast you feel like youíre flying when you
run down that hill, even though I let them win sometimes, so theyíll
want to race again. Sometimes, I get one of the neighbor kids to
race me, even though most all of them are forbidden from playing
with the Taylor kids.
Iím not going to hit the boys today, neither one of
them, even though I want to hit something, want to hit something
bad. Dadís going to get out the belt when he gets home, to teach us
for making her cry. It wonít matter that we were good today. So, Iím
not going to hit my brothers. What Dad does later will be enough.
The thing is, what I donít understand, is how me
sitting here, reading all day after school can make her cry just as
hard as when Billy got suspended. She looks at me, here in front of
the window, watching the boys so she wonít have to worry and reading
one of the stack of books I bring home every week from the
bookmobile, and she shakes her head and starts again. Iíve only ever
been in real trouble myself once, and I had to punch Jerome that day
on the school bus, he said the boys werenít really my brothers, or
that Matty wasnít, that he is really Gramís, which is silly because
that would make him my uncle, and Iím older than Matt, older than
Matt and Billy who are ten and eleven, so close that when they were
little people thought they were twins, but not twins. They donít
even look anything like twins, Matt big as a eighth grader and Billy
short and skinny as a stick. Itís not easy having famous brothers.
If I hear her, Iím going to stop reading, but right
now, sheís in there, curling that phone cord around her wrist so
tight her hand looks white from the doorway, like sheís not getting
any blood to it, and I hope she smokes another cigarette soon, so
sheíll unwrap the cord to tap one from the pack.
I donít think Mom could make it without her
cigarettes, not through another day, and I wish she could reach God
on the phone instead of Gram and Cathy and Mary, my aunts. Then she
wouldnít have to wait til Sunday. Cathy and Mary listen good but
they always have to hang up to cook supper for my cousins, and it
makes me sad to listen to her talk to Gram, I just canít take it,
Mom I hear Mom say, day after day between cigarettes.
This is one of Momís cigarettes I have now. Dad
smokes Pall Mall which are just for grownups, you can tell by the
pack. I donít really feel better when I smoke, but I keep trying. I
figure if they can make Mom feel that good, good enough to stop
crying, then theyíll make me feel better, too. I keep this one
hidden behind my book in case she were to come in here, and I think
it helps me to concentrate, keep an eye on the boys so they wonít
get into any trouble. Probably, cigarettes are like sex. I didnít
like it the first few times Matty stuck his fingers in me, but Iím
used to it now, and it probably isnít even a sin, since heís not
really my brother.
I want Matty to be my brother I want all of us to
live here together forever even though Dad told Gram last Sunday,
youíll have to take him back. Matty swears he is my brother, and
he should know whose kid he really is, right? Heís been here as long
as I can remember, we have pictures of the three of us, together in
the basement when the boys were real little, two and three maybe.
The boys in the red wagon Gram brought Matty for Easter one year,
and Billy and me with chocolate smeared all over our faces from the
baskets she brought us.
I made Matty touch me because just once, I wanted to
have him to myself, away from Billy. Just once, I wanted to be part
of The Taylor Kids. Usually, people donít even mean me when they say
The Taylor Kids, and I was jealous, too, I admit it, of Angel
Gustino. How could Matty show a perfect stranger a condom when me,
his own sister, his flesh and blood has never seen one?
Click, click, click, Dad goes down the hall.
Itís five-thirty. He is home from work, wearing his dress shoes with
the thick heels, the noise they make like Momís pumps only deeper. I
look out the door when I see him on the porch, his shoes louder on
the bricks, sharper, and then down the hall. He has his suit jacket
over his arm and his vest is unbuttoned, hanging from his shoulders
like the saloon doors in a western.
I put out my Marlboro. I listen when he closes the
door to the kitchen where Mom has been on the phone now all
afternoon. We never close the door to the kitchen. I forgot it even
closes, and then it clicks.
If he goes, I go, I hear Mom say as Dadís shoes
move back and forth across the room. The tile in there is orange and
his shoes are shiny and black and I think of Fred Astaire when I
Theyíre driving you crazy, he says back.
I think of the thin nylon socks he wears underneath,
the way they could slide across that floor. It would be a smooth
ride, but Dad keeps his shoes on. I canít make out what heís saying,
even though his voice keeps getting louder. Now sheís crying again.
The door opening.
He doesnít have the belt in his hand. He has Mom.
Heís helping her up the wooden steps with his belt still on, still
buckled around his waist. Sheís moaning softly when he sets her on
the bed. He turns the light on and I can see the flowered wallpaper,
roses, that always give me the creeps when I lie in there with her.
I go to bed with her some nights, when sheís waiting for Dad to come
home from his second job, and she doesnít want to be alone.
He helps her lie down with all of the roses looking
on, open-mouthed but not saying anything. He leaves her alone with
I wait until heís gone to curl up beside the door. I
listen for her breathing, and then when itís dry and even, I head
I look around for Billy and Matty, but theyíre
nowhere in the yard, gone from the street. Iím tired of reading. Iím
tired of smoking. Dad has a ladder laid out against the house. Heís
changed into jeans and a green t-shirt with a pocket for his smokes.
He must not be going to his night job today. Heís cleaning out the
gutters, pushing big glovefuls of leaves out of the grooves with one
hand, holding the ladder with the other. I stand right under the
ladder, and I can see the soles of his tennis shoes, all
Goddamn kids he says, plucking a six inch maple
sapling from the muck and tossing it down. I want to ask him if Mom
is going to be alright, but then I start thinking how easy it would
be for him to fall.
He sees me and yells down, donít bother your
mother! Right as I give the ladder a good shove. He comes down
quick, nothing like TV, not slow motion at all. His Pall Malls hit
the ground, and then he hits the ground with a umph and the
ladder cracks on top of him. He closes his eyes for a minute before
he tries to get up while I donít run and donít try to help. When he
canít do it himself he says, from the grass go get your mother,
more tired than angry which is what I expected him to be, and then I
run, and then she calls the ambulance since she canít drive, and the
ambulance takes them to the hospital.
Dad isnít allowed to go to work for two weeks, maybe
longer. He broke his clavicle. His shoulders are all tied up in a
figure eight, like a big white bow. Theyíre in the living room now,
smoking, and the boys are at Gramís since Mom is busying taking care
of Dad. It seems quiet here without them, without even the sound of
the frisbee bouncing off the road.
Dad canít do anything himself, not take a bath or
even get out of that chair without help. When he wants up, Mom gets
under the arm on his good side. Sometimes, she yells for me to help.
Donít pull on him Mom tells me, and I kind of
push from the back. All week theyíve been in there, watching tv
during the day. I bring them bowls of chips and cokes and Mom
explains the soaps to Dad.
Devon, she says, needs an operation and
Amanda has amnesia.
Dad pretends not to listen, but he stops chewing at
the sound of Momís voice, and I know he hears what I hear, how clear
she sounds, how sure. The room is all warm and close and smells of
smoke, which has settled over them like atmosphere. She puts a
pillow under his bad arm and every few hours she shakes a percodan
from the brown bottle and gives it to him, waiting beside him with
the water glass until heís swallowed. I know he knows I pushed him,
that between the plucking and the ground he saw me, underneath him,
that second he was part of the air, but he doesnít say anything to
me, just gives me a be careful look when Iím helping him up.
The first time I touched him, he flinched.
Iím heading to the store now for their cigarettes. I
have a new note, because I have to get Dadís smokes, too. Please
sell Kimmie a packs of Marlboro and a pack of Pall Mall, the
note reads, and on the other side thereís a list: milk, bread, coke,
pound of chip chop. It shouldnít be too much to carry. I think Iíll
get myself a Reeseís. Iím going to take my time.