by Adam Rose
Scott thrust his arm into the compost heap. The smell was sweet. Worms writhed in his hand. “Hold the can steady.”
Earlier, I poured a just-opened Folger’s into the kitchen garbage. We didn’t know much about recycling when Carter was president. Scott scraped five worms into the can. He was a year older and had a square head like Frankenstein’s monster. Ruggles’ wet nose shoved itself between my shins. Ruggles was Scott’s family dog. She was white with orange splotches. Every kid in the neighborhood imitated her bark. An exaggerated R and O sound, mixed with an ignorant notion of what deaf people sounded like, produced Ruggles’ bark.
Issue #93 soundtrack: The Cush "Summer's Gone"
“We only have a couple hours before my dad’s back.” Scott sounded nervous. He sounded nervous because he knew our time for fishing was short. He had to be back in his driveway deeking by the time his dad pulled in.
Deeking is a term for hockey practice. It’s taking shots on every corner of the net over and over and over. Scott was a mediocre hockey player, and his dad demanded greatness. (I made the mistake of blocking three of Scott’s shots a few days ago.) His dad called him over to the stoop, clenched his shoulder, and said he had to practice through dinner. I remember sitting down to Mom’s shepard’s pie, the corn and ground beef mingled with homemade mashed potatoes. From across the street, I heard the puck hit the planked backstop every 20 seconds.
I was a skinny kid but ate like I had a tapeworm. The complaint came out before I could stop myself. “Why do I have to take out the garbage? Jenny didn’t have to do anything.”
Luckily, Dad was only on his second brew. He wasn’t afraid to use his belt if necessary, which was at least every other day. Yesterday I received the belt for calling Jenny “fat.” Dad was four Michelobs deep, so it didn’t take much for him to unstrap his waist and give ten. I was used to it except when he was really pissed and didn’t grip it from the buckle’s end. Mom was more of a slapper.
I look at pictures of her and Dad from their teens and see two rough and tumble hoods. Mom wore a white jean jacket, and Dad had his hair slicked back in a ponytail. They sat on the hood of an old blue Plymouth with bottles strewn around the burnt grass. Their stares into the lens dared you to look back.
Now I rubbed my bruised shoulder. Scott took out a box of Nerds. “How much you pay?” I asked.
“You got ripped off. I can get ‘em from Spag’s for 22 cents.”
Scott opened the orange side first and wrapped his mouth around the hole. The box’s contents shook down his throat. “Can I have some?” I cupped my hands. He poured me a small handful; some of them were wet from the saliva he left on the cardboard hole. Red and orange Nerds glommed together with too much of a spit shine.
“We going?” Scott was already on his chrome Mongoose. I hopped onto my green girl’s bike. Dad got it at the flea market and told me it counted as my birthday present. It'd had a flower wicker basket on the front, but I ripped it off. You could still see bits of pink in the bolts under the handlebars. I colored them with a black marker, but it washed away when I got caught out in the rain. My birthday was four months away.
“Last one there’s a rotten egg,” I said. I peeled out, kicking up dirt in Ruggles’ face, and sped down the driveway. We rode by the house with Roman columns out front. When we were younger, the older kids in the neighborhood had us believe that house had statues of snakes that rose out of the ground with red laser beam eyes. I shook my head at our stupidity but gave the house a respectful look as we rode past.
We slowed down at the shitty little park near the center of town. Three high school dudes were kicking the crap out of another guy. I recognized the guy kicking the kid on the ground in the balls. It was Andrew Goodspeed. He had a fresh mullet and a half-smoked cigarette behind his ear. The kid getting beat down was Roger. Roger was gay, but nobody, not even Roger, would admit that. A young mother with two little kids in tow ran over and stopped the beat down. The guys giving the beating actually paused long enough for Roger to get up and run into the woods. We kept riding.
The sun beat over the white gazebo in the center of town. There were hardly any cars, and you could still hear the low buzz of crickets in the nearby fields. Nobody was lying in the grass or sitting on any benches. People never did back then. The only time the park was filled was for the 4th of July. The Masons would get a band together, and the town would shoot up some fireworks while we hung around on blankets. It was the only time Mom brought out the picnic basket.
Scott took a Moxie out of his backpack and handed it to me. I hated Moxie but was thirsty and it was the only soft drink Scott’s dad allowed in their house. I have politely drunk more Moxies than I care to think about. They taste like medicine mixed with black licorice and ginger ale. Even the can was ugly-- orange and white with a little blue castle under the name. It looked like a can of beer. Our thirsts quenched, we continued riding.
We took a side street and passed Rosetti’s drugstore. I wanted to go in and see what comics were on the spinner racks but knew Scott would have a hissy fit. Last week, the Beyonder beamed every Marvel super hero and villain to “Battle World” for the showdown between good and evil. The Beyonder was a white dude with curly black hair. He wore a white jumpsuit and white shoes. It was the first time the idea of omnipotence came into view for me. Of course, when I asked Father Michael about it after church, Mom smacked me on the back of the head and dragged me out to the car. She hot boxed the car with her Pall Malls while giving a lecture on blasphemy.
We hit North Street and booked down it. I took my hands off the handlebars and raised ‘em like I was on a roller coaster. The smell of fire hit my nose. Someone was burning leaves. I slowed down. Love that smell. So sweet. The smoke was rising from the backyard of a pale blue house with six orange and red birdhouses hanging from an oak.
We hit the dirt road that led to the pond and decided to walk the bikes. Scott’s pole wobbled like an antenna. I forgot mine, so we’d have to take turns. I didn’t mind. The pond was perfectly still. A couple of dragonflies hovered near some cattails. I wondered if the fish would like dragonflies as bait.
“How many worms we got?” I asked.
Scott looked into the can. “I don’t know… maybe 15. Beats buying ‘em.”
“What bait shop you go to?” I asked.
“Dundle’s,” he said.
“How much they charge?”
“I don’t know… think a buck for 20.”
I shook my head at this. “You can get 25 for 50 cents at Ike’s.”
“Whatever.” Scott grabbed a stick, lobbed a stone in the air, and swung. He missed. I laughed. “Eat it,” he hissed. Silence.
I cleared my throat. “You hear about Tony?”
Scott squinted at the water through the pines. He sighed. A blue heron swooped into the pond without a splash. “Punched his dad?”
“Yeah, he got a smack for talking back or something, but this time…”
Scott’s eyes searched for the heron. He held his breath for the bird, wondering when it would come up for air.
We let the bikes crash into some tall grass. I looked up at the pine trees and worried about ticks. The only cool thing about getting a tick was lighting it on fire in the bathroom sink. Mom and Dad encouraged it. It was the only time they handed me a pack of matches. Mom said, “It’s the only way to be certain. Flushing ‘em won’t do the trick.”
I always wondered about that. Did she mean they’d come back up from the sewers and hunt us down? Or that they’d cling to some floating turd for dear life, eventually making their way back to shore, finding their families, and telling the tale of their journey back in the safety of their pine-needle homes? The survivor’s shadow would fill the tree knothole as he lowered his voice for dramatic effect. “They didn’t use a match.”
The tick kids would shake their heads and say, “Idiots.”
Scott had me hook the worm. It wriggled between my fingers. “Feels like it’s sucking my blood.”
I handed the baited hook to Scott. He flicked his wrist. His first cast off was pathetic, so I told him so. “Lame.”
“Fuck you.” He cast off again, and this time it landed 12 feet out, a decent cast. A handful of water bugs skated across the surface, trying to outrun the tiny ripples from his baited hook. I was impressed with his one-handed unwrapping of a Bazooka Joe. He popped it in his mouth without offering me a piece. “You can read the comic,” he offered.
I took the strip to read his fortune to him. The comic had Bazooka Joe and his friend, Mort with the orange turtleneck up to his eyeballs, a poor man’s Jughead. Little black raindrops shot out of Joe’s head in surprise when Turtleneck was picked up in a limo. The fortune was lame, so I made up a better one. “Your balls are bigger than your dick.” The wrapper floated until I hucked a rock at it.
Scott got wicked pissed and said I wouldn’t get the rod until he caught a kiver. They were all junkfish, inedible sunfish…all bone but we called ‘em kiver and pronounced it “kivah.” After ten of the longest minutes in my life, the rod bent. Scott slapped me in the shoulder with the thrashing fish. Its mouth made a small O, sucking in oxygen.
Scott didn’t enjoy the monkey bite I gave in response. My knuckle pinched a good hunk of his triceps. “Truce!” He unhooked the fish, threw it in our bucket, and added some water. The water looked like iced tea. The fish did a quick spin, searching for an exit, finding none.
Eight fish bumped into one another in the bucket. The sun wanted to set, and we could hear our mothers’ wails if we didn’t bike back for dinner. Scott dumped the fish back into the pond. They shot out of sight, leaving mists of sand like car exhaust. The clouds started to darken. We lifted our bikes from the sand. My chain came off again. I popped it back on, but now my hands were covered in grease and sand. Dad would make me use the industrial pink soap to scrub out the grime. Down in the basement, he’d stand over me, counting, until my hands were a raw red.
We wished we had a couple of mason jars. The ride home was filled with lightning bugs. They blinked like broken Christmas lights strewn on a warm breeze. Scott took his hands off the handlebars and stretched them into the air. I lifted mine a few inches but felt the seat wobble and went one-handed instead. I braced myself for a barrage of taunts. But Scott hadn't noticed because he was listening to the church bells ring us to seven. We were late for dinner, and Scott owed his dad an hour of deeking.
“You wanna work on the fort after dinner?” I asked.
“Might have chores,” Scott lied. A rounded asphalt curb, worn by fellow middle school daredevils, approached. We both got our three inches of air. Thud. Thud.
The center of town felt like it was in black and white. We could feel the aftershock of the seventh bell reverberate in our shoes. Rosetti’s Drug Store’s green neon light flickered us another invite to spinner racks filled with Spidey, Bats, Cracked, and Alfred E. Newman. Scott pedaled harder as we made the turn onto North Street. I tried to tempt him. “Heard this month’s Mad made fun of Back to the Future.”
Scott shook his head; I saw the sweat form on his brow. It told me where he had to be. Thinking about the drugstore was like connecting the dots in a He-Man coloring book. I remembered the sour apple Now & Laters in my bike pouch. The no-look unzip was all instinct, as well as the zero fumbling of two green squares, unwrapped, into my mouth. They brought me Scott’s full attention.
Scott’s left hand was out as we rode side by side. Old Mrs. Baril yelled at us to pay attention from her front lawn. Her two bassett hounds were sniffing each others' fresh shits. She wore a bright yellow hairnet with green polka dots. She felt protected by her white picket fence, and it made us feel safe enough from her to suggest calling her the Bride of Ronald McDonald.
Scott kept his hand out until our houses approached. I saw his dad leaning against the hockey net. Their upstairs window abruptly shut. It was Mrs. Williams, still in her white nurse’s uniform. She held a bag of frozen peas to her cheek.
Mr. Williams walked down their steep driveway as we pedaled in slow motion. The cracks in the sidewalk seemed to widen. Scott’s dad only had his wife cut his hair. His ears were bright red, and his neck looked angry. Mr. Williams' eyes squinted as he spat onto the bushes by the mailbox. His knuckles had a white grip on Scott’s hockey stick. Mr. Williams didn’t mind announcing his intentions in front of non-family members.
“Scott, let’s go. Time for the paddle.”
I stopped and slowly walked my bike across the street. My head was down, but I could see Mom in the kitchen window. She looked pissed.
Scott let his bike drop on his front lawn. He didn’t look back, and I knew not to say anything. His little sister, Beth, peeked from their living room window. Her bowl-cut-framed eyes watched as her brother came up the driveway.
Our golden lab, Sophie, lumbered up from the backyard and jumped up onto my chest as a light in Scott’s basement blinked on. The last Now and Later fell from my bike pouch and landed on an ant hill, slowly suffocating its tenants. Ten muffled whacks came from their basement. Scott didn’t make a sound as his mother screamed into a pillow from upstairs.
Adam Rose, a Boston native, resides in Los Angeles with his wife and two children. His short films have appeared on Atom Films, and recently, his short stories have been featured in The Casserole, Tell Us a Story, and Milo Review. Follow the author on Twitter.
Andy Fabrykant was born in Argentina in 1984. He studied filmmaking at the Film University of Buenos Aires, and he earned a master's degree in the Czech Republic at FAMU. Today he lives in Paris, where he has shown his artwork in five recent exhibitions. For more, visit the artist online at andyfabrykant.com.
The Cush is a psych-rock duo based in Fort Worth, Texas. Their new record, Transcendental Heatwave, drops later this month. The Cush have toured extensively throughout the U.S. as well as Europe, and shared the stage with artists such as The Sea and Cake, The Heartless Bastards, Broken Social Scene, Deerhoof, The Fiery Furnaces, Cat Power, Stars, Dead Meadow, Centro-matic, and James McMurtry, among many others. For more, visit thecush.com and follow the band on Twitter.