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 (8 page)

BOOK: Boys in Gilded Cages
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Father Redmond preached about forgiveness.
It was, for the most part, useless.

 

Jack didn’t listen to the words. He just
closed his eyes. His hands trembled.

 

Jack had visions of Christmas while he
closed his eyes. He saw his father, pushing him in a swing. He
didn’t see the series of men that came and went. He didn’t see the
beatings. He didn’t see the money on the dresser. He didn’t see the
drugs. He saw shiny Christmas bows. He saw happy birthdays. He saw
his mother rocking him to sleep.

 

Eric nudged Jack. He came out of his
self-hypnosis. “Go up there!” Eric said. And so he did.

 


In lieu of testimony,”
Father Redmond announced, ”Jack would like to sing Thelma’s
favorite hymn with some men of our church.”

 

Jack shuffled over to the microphone at the
pulpit. He looked out at the crowd. A few dozen sets of empty eyes.
“Um...my mom used to sing this to my brother. I hope I do it
right.”

 

Jack sang in a squeaky,
mid-adolescent rasp:


God be with you till
we meet again;

By his counsels guide,
uphold you;

With his sheep securely
fold you.

God be with you till we
meet again.


The swell of the backup
singers, a quartet of elderly men, all but overwhelmed him. But
still, he kept singing:


Till we meet,
till we meet,

Till we meet at Jesus'
feet,

Till we meet, till we
meet,

God be with you till we
meet again.


Jack saw Nathan appear in the
crowd. Nathan analyzed Jack. As Jack looked closely, he could see
tears welling in Nathan’s eyes. So he kept
singing:


God be with you till we meet
again;

When life's perils thick confound you,

Put his arms unfailing
round you.

God be with you till we
meet again.


Till we meet, till we
meet,

Till we meet at Jesus'
feet,

Till we meet, till we
meet,

God be with you till we
meet again.

Jack took a breath, gazed
out at the crowd, and they were silent. Some women were dabbing
their eyes with tissues, but in the forefront of Jack’s eye was
Nathan, who stood up and gave a patronizing standing
ovation.

Jack looked Nathan right
in the eye, and watched his body evaporate into the next
dimension.

It was over.

After the reception, Eric
brought Jack outside. There was a car Jack didn’t recognize, with
Jack’s belongings from his mobile home inside. Also there, Thelma’s
urn, which was apparently snuck there by Eric.


What is this?” Jack
asked.


Get in,” Said Eric. Jack
obeyed.

Eric turns the engine over
and starts driving.


Where are we going?” Jack
was getting anxious, but Eric was silent. Jack repeated himself.
“Mister Eric, where are we going?”

The waking drive was
excruciating. Jack stared out of the passenger side window,
transfixed on its reflection, going into a familiar trance. Visions
projected themselves onto the window, lulling him to sleep. Nursery
rhymes soundtrack the ride there, as images of Thelma flash before
him. Random images. 

His mother as Marie Antoinette, smashing the
guillotine. 

Thelma as Ann Boleyn, removing her necklace. 

Thelma
burning down the Cue ‘n Brew, gleefully singing the nursery rhyme
Jack used to fall asleep to as a boy as she poured gasoline all
around her, maniacally laughing. 

Thelma pointing a gun at the
car. 

A loud, subconscious gunshot woke up Jack. 

The car
stopped.

We must be here,
Jack thought.
But where
is here?

 

Eric and Jack sat at the edge of the water,
a muddy pond that not even the biggest sinner in the world would
see fit to be baptized. The urn – Thelma’s remains – sat between
them.

 

After a meditative silence, Jack asked Eric,
“Why are we here?” Eric didn’t look at Jack.

 


Jack,” Eric said
mournfully, “You’re gonna have to stay here for a
while.”

 


Why?” Asked Jack. Eric
stared at the water, the ripples moving faster.

 


Son,” Eric said, “This is
a moment of honesty. I need to know, from the bottom of your heart,
if you know what happened to your mother and her friend.” Jack
stiffened and looked at the water.

 


She…um…she…I
don’t…”

 


Stop it,” Eric snapped.
“Tell me. I can protect you. I just need to know.”

 

Jack wept softly. Eric didn’t look at Jack,
and Jack didn’t need to say anything. He had just confirmed it.
Finally, Jack said solemnly, “I need to dump the ashes.”

 

Jack takes the urn. His hands tremble. Eric
hesitates at first, but after a moment he puts his hands over
Jack’s to stabilize the urn. Together, they dump the ashes into the
water – a chalky stream of pewter dust, floating with pond
ripples.

 

The two men sat there, watching the ashes
ever so slowly dampen, then turn to mud, and camouflage into the
murky, polluted lagoon. Jack shivered.

 

Eric slowly moved his gaze to Jack, and in a
burst of unbearable memory, Jack sobbed so hard it appeared he
might bust his temples wide open.

 


I’m sorry,” Jack said
through messy tears. “I’m sorry.”

 

Eric stood up, and picked up Jack to embrace
him. Jack shook uncontrollably, put his head on Eric’s chest, and
began sucking his thumb, all the while crying oceans of tears.

 


It’s our fault, Jack,”
Eric whispered into his ear. “It’s all of our faults.”

 

The next morning, Eric drove home. He left
Jack to sleep on the air mattress he bought for him, and didn’t say
goodbye. He had another vehicle waiting for him in Overland, which
he drove home, leaving Jack the clunker the drove there, with a
full tank of gas. 

On the way home, Eric picked up a pack of
cigarettes, and halfway home, he lit one – his first in ten
years.

 

He entered his home, and his wife and
children were at the breakfast table. Ms. Luptas looked at Eric
with sad sympathy. Eric didn’t say a word.

 


Is it done?” Ms. Luptas
asked.

 

Eric looked at Ms. Luptas for a second. His
family was home – the family he built for the world to see. Without
answering the question, Eric went to the bedroom and shut the
door.

 

The rest of that day was peaceful. There was
nothing to be heard, except silence.


 

II.




 

DARYL, THE BOY WITH THE DEMON IN HIS
BRAIN


 


It starts with him
surrounded by women. Naked women, all with tiny little flaws so
they seem real. One is the same age as his mother. One has stretch
marks on her ass cheeks. One has a mole by her left nipple. They’re
all on the grass outside the red barn sometimes. Or they’re on the
beach outside my aunt’s trailer in Malibu with his friend Scooter
watching. Scooter has that stupid look on his face – the same look
he gets when the boy smokes the last cigarette, or beats him at a
board game.

He’s rubbing the old one’s rib cage while he
kisses another girl’s neck. The old one’s skin is kind of taut.
Like, you could imagine her as a young girl, her spunk diluted by
age and her routine perfected by experience. His fingers make
little circle motions all over her belly and to him it feels like a
cashmere blanket.

As he starts to feel the brunette’s mouth
around his cock and he gets closer to finishing, there’s a tingle
in his tailbone. Well, not really a tingle, it hurt. Not like
stabbing pain or anything, more like a prick or a hypodermic
needle. It moved up his spine and after it reached the next
vertebrate, the pain dissipated below, but became stranger and
stronger upwards, rushing north.

As he reaches the point where the orgasm
becomes inevitable, the pain becomes excruciating. It rises up to
his head and explodes like one of those county fair games with the
mallet and the bell. He comes all over his bed sheets, and in the
mess of sweat and semen he wallows and squirms in a frantic,
excruciating explosion of pain in his head. You can’t imagine how
bad it hurts, like his skull is splitting in half and the halves
are being pulled their separate ways, but his skin is resisting and
keeping his head in one piece. It wasn’t like a throbbing migraine.
He pretty much heard the explosion between his ears, like his brain
had been building up heat in the microwave.

Before he would lose his eyesight, he’d
quickly put on his pants and wipe his hands on the jeans, and hold
back his scream by holding his breath until he could run out of my
room.

His sight would then go black and his body
would throw itself onto the floor, sometimes giving his unruly head
more punishment with a smack on the wood. He’d hear his mom scream
in confusion and fright and his father’s silence was even more
audible. What’s wrong with him, his brother would shriek. He’s got
the demon inside him. He’d hear his mom regain her composure. Don’t
say that, she’d tell him. Go get him a pillow and some of those
Tylenol 3’s.

She strokes his hair, knowing he is awake.
Don’t worry, she whispers firmly, keeping the cracks in her voice
smooth. I’ll crush it into your soda. You won’t have to swallow
them whole.

His vision always comes back after about
three hours. Usually he just naps the time away, and when he opens
his eyes, the black becomes a gray fuzz with purple polka dots
floating around the walls, congregating around any lights that
happen to be on, spritely little UFO’s orbiting around the lamp
shades and the television.

He feels a slimy heat around the back of his
head, which leaks through the pillow and is really gross. His mom
comes in with some type of sweet cake or candy bar; something with
sugar. Every time she has a look as if he was zapped by lightning
or had a stroke and might not be here much longer and she wants to
savor the moments she gets with her patient.

Does it come on suddenly or does it build?
She’d ask, and the mere mentioning of the headache embarrasses him,
so he usually don’t say anything. Is it a throbbing or is it kind
of like a burst? Is it sensitive to light? He closes his eyes and
she turns off the lights and the fan. I’ll turn on the
air-conditioning, she says, closing the door behind her.

His bike is hard to ride in the gravel, but
he makes it work. Usually he rides home on a flat tire or two for
about half a mile. Fatty Greer is always sitting on his mom’s porch
swing, sweating and smoking a cigarette. Hey, Wire! He yells out.
What up, Greer, he says.

You hear about Hopper?

Nah, what about him?

He’s your cousin. You don’t know?

I never talk to him

But still.

No.

He got arrested, Yo.

For what?

He tried to kill his dad, Bro. He said he
was fuckin’ him while his mom was at work, but nobody believes him.
Prolly lyin.

How do you know all this, Fatty?

I was standin’ out here when it happened,
bro. When he got arrested, I mean. I mean he lives right over
there.

Fatty lies a lot, so who knows. He gets on
his bike and Fatty stalls him. You got a couple of flats, bro.
Wanna come inside?

And do what, he tells him. Got any
Kool-Aid?

Fatty didn’t, so he bailed. He drives past
the Cruz house—Marcia and her grimacing parents. They’re a Cuban
family that runs some white dude’s mulching company. Sometimes he
stops and talk to Marcia, but he’s running late.

The drive to the doctor is always quiet. His
mom don’t know what to say, I guess, and he’d rather stare out the
window. He sees people being happy, playing in the sprinklers,
people yanking the leashes of their hyperactive dogs, being
boisterous assholes like nobody’s watching what they’re doing. If
he happens to lock eyes with someone, they use the split second
they have together to look away, like he’ll start a fire with his
mind if they keep their eyes fixed to his. If he unfocuses his eyes
the weeds and the trees become a big stream of blur, discolored but
one with the sky. He’d learn the value of doing this later on in
life, but eventually he’d forget how, even when things whiz by so
quickly.

His dad thinks he barfs pea soup. He caught
him padding the headboard of his bed when he stumbled in, tripping
on the brown bag of nails in the doorway. His dad looks at him and
keeps stapling, probably more staples than he needed. He’s
nervous.

What you doin’, Dad?

Just some precautions, he says.

I’m fine, you know. You don’t have to do
that.

Just in case. He pauses.

Don’t worry, his dad tells him, fluffing the
pillow. We’ll have you up and purring like a kitten in no time.

That night his dad put the extra Bible
stolen from a hotel room on the night stand.

The padding on the headboard was way
conspicuous as he tried to sleep. He kept his head turned up to
analyze it for the first few hours till his spinal chord felt like
it might snap, then he kept it in his memory as he stared at the
poster of some anonymous Sports Illustrated model.

His cousin Bayda tells him about dreams she
has. Sometimes they have zombies or ghosts or something scary, and
sometimes they are full of mysterious religious shit, like Jesus
comes to her in a field of light and tells her not to have sex
before marriage or smoke pot or whatever. He don’t really like her,
but he likes listening to her talk. She’s real smart about some
things, and fantastical in her delivery. It’s hard not to like her,
kind of.

BOOK: Boys in Gilded Cages
12.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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