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.