Tiff Holland ~ Castling

I don’t remem­ber how old I was. I think it was the sum­mer between fifth and sixth grades. I don’t remem­ber Tony going to Erwine Middle School, although there was a boy there with dark hair and a big nose who car­ried a brief­case to class and remind­ed me of Tony. Mostly, I remem­ber Tony because of his sis­ter, Angel. She was the girl my broth­ers got caught play­ing doc­tor with. I’d caught them first and not said any­thing, but the par­ents fig­ured it out after she got a hor­rif­ic rash on her pri­vate parts because the boys had used poi­son ivy leaves for ban­dages fol­low­ing their exam­i­na­tions. I nev­er asked if the boys got rash­es, too, if Angel got to be a doc­tor as well as a patient. I just nev­er for­got her because I know my youngest broth­er had such a crush on her, at least accord­ing to my moth­er, and when he came out, Mom remind­ed us of Angel’s rash as some kind of proof. It couldn’t be true. If he were gay, how did Angel Difeo end up scratch­ing all between her legs with pink dots stain­ing every one of her t‑shirts from the calamine lotion. As for Tony, I couldn’t imag­ine him play­ing doc­tor with anyone.

Every day that sum­mer, at least accord­ing to my moth­er, Tony showed up at our house and rang the bell, which twist­ed from side to side instead of being some­thing to push like all the oth­er hous­es, and sound­ed like a bicy­cle bell, and I’d answer it and go out to the sun porch.

Hello Tiffany,” Tony would say, the only one of my class­mates who called me by my full and hat­ed name.

Hello Tony,” I would answer, and we’d sit at the patio table with the hole in the mid­dle for the umbrel­la that had long been lost not that it mat­tered. We’d tried the table out­side when we’d first got­ten it, Mom all excit­ed about din­ing “al fres­co” only to find it and all the chairs sunk into the Spring grass at odd angles.

After the greet­ing, Tony would take the chess set out from under his arm and set it up, and, accord­ing to my moth­er, we’d play with­out speak­ing, Tony box­ing it back up after we fin­ished until the next day, week­days only, of course, when he’d show up again at rough­ly the same time, and we’d switch off from the day before, who­ev­er had been black play­ing white and white play­ing back. Before he left each day we’d shake hands.

Goodbye Tiffany,” Tony always spoke first.

Goodbye Tony,” I’d answer.

He’d let him­self out the sun porch door which was often miss­ing the glass from the win­dow part from all the abuse the door we kids inflict­ed on it, run­ning from each oth­er to escape a pound­ing and get­ting caught at the last minute, the glass bro­ken by a des­per­ate hand or sur­prised fist. For a while, my father thick­ly caulked a piece of plexi-glass into place and paint­ed it the same baby-shit yel­low my father paint­ed every­thing after my moth­er told him yel­low was her favorite col­or with­out spec­i­fy­ing shade. Or maybe she did. The door was slow to relax back into place on its tired spring and always let out a twangy sigh. I’d already be inside by then, as Tony crunched up the grav­el dri­ve to the back road. I have only a vague rec­ol­lec­tion of any of this. I remem­ber the sun porch per­fect­ly, the red brick, the screens on two sides, the lit­tle black stove with its shoe that sat on top of a blue table my moth­er said had belonged to my father’s moth­er. I remem­ber all the met­al doo-sick­ies that were meant to attach storm glass in win­ter, although my father nev­er put it up. I remem­ber a few games of chess and have no idea whether Tony and I spoke or not. He didn’t say much, and nei­ther did I back then. Tony was very smart, eas­i­ly the smartest boy in the neigh­bor­hood, and every­one always told me I was smart, too, and both of us always had “our noses in a book”. I’m rel­a­tive­ly cer­tain our moth­ers were behind the games, how­ev­er many of them there were.

I’d always won­dered what hap­pened to Tony. I remem­bered him pri­mar­i­ly from the day he got so angry in Mr.Freeder’s class that he turned red in the face, stomped over to the coat clos­et and retrieved his lunch­box, but not his coat, and left in the mid­dle of the day, all with­out say­ing any­thing. The class grew utter­ly silent, and we heard the sound of his shoes strik­ing each step on the way down to the first floor. We all gath­ered at the win­dows, like a scene from a movie, to watch him make his way home down Main Street with his head down and his arms mov­ing mechan­i­cal­ly in per­fect tem­po with his legs, as a light snow began to fall.


Tiff Holland ‘s novel­la-in-flash Betty Superman was pub­lished by Rose Metal Press. Her work has recent­ly appeared in Corium and Elm Leaves Journal. She has work forth­com­ing in Frigg.