Read Boys in Gilded Cages Online

Authors: Jarod Powell

Tags: #meth addiction, #rural missouri, #rural culture, #visionary and metaphysical fiction, #mental illness and depression

Boys in Gilded Cages (6 page)

BOOK: Boys in Gilded Cages
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Hey, little brother,”
Jack said with his best poker face.


Follow me,” Nathan said
playfully. He briskly walked behind the shelf, and Jack followed
him. He looked up and down the short aisle, and peered around it.
Nathan was not there. He became frightened.


Nate?” He
shouted.


Nate?”

 

Home was both a soft place to land for Jack,
but a painful place. It felt as if ghosts lingered. Jack imagined
the ghosts of the trailer park’s murdered drug dealers and hookers
floating from trailer to trailer, magnifying the home’s bad
energy.

As Jack watched his mother asleep in the
ratty recliner, he observed a military documentary playing on The
History Channel. Thelma woke after a few minutes of him standing
over her sleeping body, as if she noticed impending danger.


How was work?” Thelma
said, groggy.


It was okay,” Jack
said.


School go okay?” Thelma
asked, seemingly uninterested.


Yeah,” Jack said. “I
didn’t go to history class. I had Ms. Luptas.

Thelma’s expression hardened a bit. “Yeah,
she called.” Thelma scooted over to make room for Jack. “Come sit
by me.” Jack sat on the arm of the chair, but Thelma pulled him
closer. “It’ll get better babe,” Thelma cooed, stroking Jack’s
hair. You’ll grow out of it.”

Jack looked embarrassed.


Wanna watch something
else?” Thelma asked. Jack was silent and sullen.
“Heard from your
dad?” Thelma asked, desperate to get something out of her
son.

Jack, with his trademark distant look, said
somewhat harshly, “I saw Nate today at work.” Thelma froze, and her
eyes widened. 
“You saw Nathan again?” Thelma had a look of grave
concern.


Mmhmm.” 
“You miss your
brother?” Thelma asked with genuine concern in her
voice.


I don’t know,” Jack
said.
“You don’t know?”


No.”

Thelma was trying to get information without
seeming like an interrogator, or worse, a therapist. “You just…try
no to think about him?”

Jack blinked. “Maybe. I don’t know.”

Thelma got up, and handed Jack the remote
control. “Here. Why don’t you watch something else? I’ll make some
popcorn.

Jack doesn’t turn the channel. Instead, he
gazes at the black-and-white historical military documentary, not
really watching it.

Thelma popped popcorn in the outdated
microwave. Her chin trembles started small, before a cavalcade of
silent weeping washed over her face. Even with her back to Jack, he
knew she was crying. It didn’t occur to him, for whatever reason,
to ask what was wrong. Instead, his eyes dilated, his eyes rolled
back, and he fell asleep peacefully.

He awoke to a creaking bed coming from
Thelma’s room. Jack walked down the hollow-walled hallway, but he
inexplicably tripped. He looked back to see Nathan with his foot
mischievously out. Their eyes met, and the disdain and accusatory
feeling Nathan appeared to have filled the room. Thelma let out an
especially offensive sexual moan, and Jack reflexively looked
forward to see through the crack in Thelma’s bedroom door. He saw
two men, one of which was probably Frank, having sex with Thelma in
a most unconventional way. He looked back. Nathan was gone.

 

Petor could talk Jack into anything. So when
Petor said to Jack, “Let’s go to 7-11,” Jack knew that meant a trek
to find a five-finger discount. Pushing snack cakes down his pants,
Petor gave Jack a stern look. “Well?” He whispered. “I can’t hold
all this shit in my pockets by myself.”


I don’t have pockets,”
Jack said. A frustrated Petor grabbed handful of processed snacks
and stuck them down Jack’s pants. Jack resisted.

Officer Luptas noticed the playful scuffle,
and approached the boys. Petor notices. “Oh, hey, Luptas.” 
Jack
muttered a half-hearted, “Hello.”

Officer Luptas glared disapprovingly. “Let’s
cut the horseplay, okay?”

Jack looked down. “Yes, sir.”

After the obligatory scolding, Officer
Luptas regained his friendly demeanor. “How you boys doin’?”


We’re good,” Petor said,
anxious for Luptas to leave.


Yeah?” Luptas chuckled.
“How’s your daddy doin’, Petor?”


He’s good. Working a
lot.” Petor was tapping his foot by then, which law enforcement
typically recognizes as a “tell.” Luptas ignores it.


Hey, Jack? Can I talk to
you over at the table for a second?” Luptas asked with care, even a
tinge of sympathy. Jack looked at Luptas nervously. Petor tried to
contain his laughter, thinking Jack was probably in trouble for
smuggling the packaged baked goods.

The two make their way to a corner table,
which was covered with crumbs from the fried chicken and donuts
sold at the convenience store. Jack sits down, sweating a bit and
folding his hands. Luptas smiled at Jack endearingly.


Don’t worry. You’re not
in trouble.”
Jack looks at Luptas, waiting for an explanation.
“Okay,” he said.


Did you see your mother
last night?” Luptas asked, looking serious.


Yeah,” Jack
said.

Relief washed over Luptas. “Okay,
good.”
“Why?” Jack asked.


Well, you know my wife is
your speech teacher, and…uh…” Luptas shuffles his limbs, searching
for the right phrasing. “This is kinda hard, knowing you and your
family for so long, so I don’t want you to take offense to my
offer.” 
“What offer?” Jack asked, more puzzled than before. Luptas
sighed, and rubbed the back of his neck, trying to prepare himself
for delivering the news. “I almost had to arrest your mother last
night. She got into a spat with her boyfriend…uh, this fella…”

Jack rolled his eyes. “Frank. I’m sorry.”

Luptas looks shocked at the apology. “Don’t
be sorry, Jack! It’s not your fault.” Luptas leaned in closer and
spoke quietly. “Anyway, this guy’s got kind of a reputation as
rift-raft. I just want to make sure she made it home okay last
night. And I want you to have my card...”

 

Luptas looked at Jack with pity, and
extended his card to Jack. Jack takes it, and Luptas clasps Jack’s
hand. Jack looks somewhat startled.

 

Luptas spoke fatherly to Jack. “It’s got my
cell phone number on the back, okay?” Jack nodded.

 

Luptas clasped Jack’s hand more tightly. “If
you need anything at all – if you need anything at all – or if you
need me to pick you up, or if you need to crash at me and my wife’s
house, whatever – if anything goes wrong at home, I want you to
call me. You and your mama can trust me. Okay?”

 

Jack was extremely uncomfortable. “Okay,
Sheriff—


“
You can call me
Eric.”

 


Thanks, Mister
Eric.”

 

Later that day, Harris and Jack decided to
get high at Jack’s place.

 


You sure she’s cool with
it?” Harris asked.

 


She doesn’t care,” Jack
said.

 

Entering the house, Harris stops in the
doorway.

 


What?” Jack
asked.

 


Your house is a total
sty, man.” Harris said with slight disgust.

 


So?” Jack
said.

 


Where’s your hot-ass mom
at?”

 


Shut up!” Jack said
sternly. “She’ll hear you!”


Wake her up for me!”
Harris said, gyrating his hips. “I’d fix her up real
good…”

 

Jack punched Harris in a snap of hostility.
Harris was taken back. “Ow! Out of bounds, Hypno!” He rubbed his
arm.

 

Jack walked down the hall to Thelma’s room.
It was empty. The bathroom was also empty. He looks back at Harris.
“She’s not here?” He asked. He popped a smashed snacked cake into
his mouth.

 


She’s not here,” Jack
said.


Want a ding-dong?” Harris
asked, mouth full of imitation chocolate.


The next morning, the boys stood at their
usual spot to catch the bus. Jack looks across the field, and sees
Nathan bending over, picking dandelions, as the boys talk in the
background. He sees Jack and shoots up abruptly, waving
over-enthusiastically; almost like he’s doing it sarcastically.

 


Hey, big brother!” Nathan
says.

 

Meanwhile, the boys recognize Jack’s trance.
“Uh-oh, he’s at it again,” Petor says. He snaps his fingers.
“One…two…three!” Jack comes back to the present. The boys
laugh.


Jack slept alone that night. He was woken by
the phone ringing. The answering machine picks up. It was Thelma,
calling from where ever she may have fled.

 


Jack...I love you...I’m
with Frank, we took a little getaway. Don’t know when I’ll be back.
Keep the house clean, and there’s cash in the top dresser drawer.
Bye!”

 

In the fog of sleep, Jack recognized his
mother’s voice, and walked over the answering machine. He tried to
play back the message, but there wasn’t one. It was either erased,
or part of a dream.

During Jack’s morning shower, he sang. He
sang whatever came to mind: A hymn, a Taylor Swift song, whatever
was in his head. He sang pitch-perfect; flawlessly. He heard a
rustling. He peeked his head out of the shower curtain. Nathan sat
across from him, on the closed toilet, smoking a cigarette. He lets
were crossed. His foot twitched, and he looked indignant.

 


You’re faking it. Why do
you do it?” Nathan asked.

 

Jack shut the curtain. “Do you mind?”

 


You know all the words,
Hypno. Maybe you should sing everything you say.”

 


Don’t call me that,
Nathan.”

 

Jack finishes his shower. When he leaves the
shower to towel off, Nathan is no longer there. There’s a knock on
the door.

 

Jack wraps a towel around his waist, and
answers the door. It’s Officer Luptas. “Heard you singing. You were
always the best little singer, back in your church days.”

 


Thank you,” Jack said.
“Juice?”

 


That’d be real nice,
thank you, Buddy.”

 

Jack pours a glass of juice and slides it to
Luptas.

 


Jack, the reason I’m here
is because the tavern called the station. Your mother hasn’t shown
up to work for a few days.” Luptas waited on Jack to show
emotion.

 


Yeah, she’s out of town
with, uh…”

 


Frank,” Luptas said. Jack
nodded.


“
You talked to her last
night?” Luptas asked.

“No. She left a…the answering machine,” Jack
said.


What time did she call?”
Luptas asked.


“
Dunno,” Jack said. “It
was late.”

 


How’d she
sound?”


“
Drunk,” Jack answered.
Luptas laughed.

 


Probably having a good
time, huh?” Luptas asked. Jack shrugged.


“
Do you mind if I listen
to the message?” Luptas asked.


“
It’s not there anymore.”


“You deleted it?” Luptas became more intensely
inquisitive.

 


No.”

 

Luptas pondered for a moment. “Machine do
it?”

 


I guess so.”

 

Luptas pursed his lips for a moment. Then he
went back into character and let out a chuckle. “What kind of
machine you got?” He asked, chipper. “Ours messes up a lot too. The
wife got it at the Goodwill. Looks brand new, but I guess the
previous owner donated it for a reason.”

 

Jack simply nodded. There’s a pause.

 

Finally, Jack said, “I don’t know. Came with
the phone.”

 


She didn’t sound
distressed or anything?” Luptas asked. “Nothing funny, was
there?”

 


No.”

 


Okay. Do you have a
relative or someone you can stay with?”

 


No.”

 


Where does your brother’s
daddy live?” Luptas asked.

 


He lives in Pittsburgh,
but he was supposed to visit Springfield on his way to Kansas
City.”

 


When?”

 


Was supposed to come last
week.”


“
He never came?” Luptas
asked.

 


No.”

 

Jack looked uncomfortable. “He might be
there now. It was a trip…um…work…”

 


A business trip,” Luptas
said. Jack nodded. “Well, Springfield’s just a stone’s throw to
Hawthorn,” Luptas said. ”You haven’t seen him?” Jack shook his head
no.

 


You try to call him?”
Luptas asked.

 


I don’t know where he’s
staying at,” Jack said.

 


No cell phone?” Asked
Luptas. Jack shrugged.

 

Luptas sighed. “Well, like I said before:
I’ve known you and your mom for a long time. Me and her went to
school together and everything.” Luptas leaned closer to Jack. “I
think a lot of her. When I come over here, it’s not because you’re
in trouble. Okay?”

BOOK: Boys in Gilded Cages
6.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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