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Authors: Adam Rapp

Little Chicago (4 page)

BOOK: Little Chicago
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On the TV a man with a cat face is screaming. He punches another man several hundred times. It makes me think that your body can be trained to be invincible. But first you need muscles to start that kind of process.

I wonder when I will get mine.

Did you see the hail? Cheedle asks.

I saw it, I say.

Unusual for October, he says. Some got into our room. I scooped it into a plastic bag and put it in the freezer. It's good to keep samples of such things.

Cheedle has black hair like me. Ma says Cheedle and I got the Black Irish but Shay just got the Irish.

Why didn't you go to school today? he asks.

There was a fire, I say.

I usually don't lie but under the circumstances I feel this is necessary.

The last lie I told happened several months ago. I was talking to a Foot Locker salesman about my shoe size. Once I started I couldn't stop.

What size you got? he asked.

Nine, I said.

That's an awfully big foot for a kid like you.

I have a disease, I told him.

I'm sorry to hear that.

I take medicine to control my growth juices.

Huh, he said.

It went on and on. Twelve lies in a row.

I think this happened cause I couldn't afford the shoes anyway.

It felt like sledding down a hill and letting go of the sides.

Cheedle keeps typing and says, It's good that things burn. The ash enriches the soil.

Whenever I ask him about the novel he says the same thing.

How's the novel coming? I'll ask.

It's coming just fine, he'll say. My hero is in the throes of a dramatic crisis to which there is no foreseeable resolution.

I imagine being raised by a Wisconsin grizzly. It would be hard cause of claws and other bear parts. I hope he is taking all of this into consideration.

Cheedle says, The other day Robert Blyleven saw the Smudge Man.

Really? I say.

The Smudge Man is this half monster that lives in a sewage hole in Hamil Woods. They say he is caked with mud and that he plays the violin. They say his violin music hypnotizes you and that he uses it to lure you down to his hole so he can eat your brain.

Hamil Woods is on the other side of that creek that I fell in. They say that there are deadly water moccasins in this creek but I didn't see any. The creek joins Hamil Woods with the woods behind our house. Unlike Hamil Woods, the woods behind our house doesn't have a name. There's the corn field with the dead Ford Taurus and several scattered pop cans and bicycle parts. A few months ago there was a kitchen sink out there. I walked over and looked at it and there was a sponge stuck to its side. Three days later it was gone. In the summer the field is full of garter snakes and other hard-to-see animals. Once you cross the field there's nothing but trees.

The Ford Taurus just sits out there like it's waiting for something. It's brown with a rusted door.

Where'd he see him? I ask.

Cheedle says, By the Softball diamond. His sister had a soccer game and he had to go back to the bleachers to get his backpack. He said that the Smudge Man had his violin and everything.

Did he play it? I ask.

According to Robert Blyleven, no.

Lucky, I say.

Cheedle says, In Art Therapy it became a heated discussion and Jan had us draw our own version of the Smudge Man. I drew him wearing a three-piece herringbone suit and wingtip shoes because I like to think of him as a former trial lawyer. The fallen man. A great literary archetype.

Who's Jan? I ask.

She's our new teacher. She insists that we call her by her first name so as to promote a feeling of egalitarian impartiality.

I have no idea what he's talking about but that's the way it is with Cheedle. There are certain words he'll sometimes use that make me feel like I should never talk again.

On the TV the guy with the cat face jumps several feet in the air and does a flip. When he lands he kicks a giant kung fu beast in the stomach. The giant kung fu beast has silver teeth and he tumbles over a cliff and lands in the sea.

On the other side of Hamil Woods, by Al Johnson's house, there's a bunch of power lines that hum. If you listen to them long enough it's like they're praying. For some reason I can't get the sound of those power lines out of my head.

Is Shay home? I ask.

Not yet, Cheedle says.

It's funny how he has to wear glasses. They're huge and shaped like TV screens. I think he strains his eyes from too much reading. He keeps a book near his bed called
Anna Karenina.
It's so thick it makes me tired just looking at it.

Later I knock on Ma's door.

Come in, she says.

She's lying in bed with her clothes on. It's like she's camping without the tent.

Hey, I say.

Hey, Blacky, she says.

Are you sleeping? I ask.

Just resting.

Are you cold?

No, she replies. Why?

You're wearing your shoes, I say.

She says, I'll take em off later.

Her room is dark and there are books all over the floor. I think Cheedle got the bookworm thing from Ma. She usually stacks the ones she's read against the wall next to her bed, but now they're all scattered like there was an earthquake.

Her green technician's uniform is hanging over the knob on her closet. Once I snuck into her room and put it on. When I looked in the mirror I made a muscle.

Are we gonna eat? I ask.

She says, I'll make some eggs later.

Okay, I say. I could go get some other stuff, too.

She says, That's okay, Blacky. Thanks for offering.

I think about walking to the White Hen Pantry and stealing a Little Tonio microwave burrito. Shay has done this many times. When Ma sends us out to get milk Shay always comes back with one in her pocket. Sometimes she'll eat them cold.

Ma says, Would you get me my creams, Blacky?

I go to her dresser and get her eczema creams. There's change and makeup everywhere. Once I put mascara on my eyebrows. It made me look mean and Hispanic.

In the mirror I can see her in bed. She's still trying to not cry.

I go to the bed and hand her the creams.

Your neck is bleeding, I say.

I know, she says.

Maybe you should put a Band-Aid on it.

I'm okay, she says. It's just on the surface.

She opens her creams and starts to rub them into her neck. It mixes with the blood and makes everything pink and tender-looking.

When she is finished she screws the tops back on the tubes and places them on her stomach.

Then she finally turns to me.

Her eyes are puffy and red. They look like they'd be hot if you touched them.

Ma says, So did you and Wendy have a good talk today?

I say, Who's Wendy?

The woman from Children's Services. Ms. Wolf.

It was okay, I say.

She's a nice person, Ma says. When I worked at Children's Services she always invited me out to lunch.

Then we don't say anything for a minute. You can hear cars going by outside. It sounds like the ocean at the movies.

Ma blows her nose into a tissue and says, It's been a long day, huh?

There is a saliva bubble trapped on her lips.

Yes, I say, and pop the bubble with my finger.

Ma wipes her mouth with the tissue. Then she scratches her neck and the blood starts again.

She says, We'll be okay, okay?

I nod.

I have a double tomorrow. I need to rest, she says, and starts rubbing her eyes.

Some of the blood gets smeared and it makes one of her lids go pink.

She says, I'll come out in a little while and make some eggs, okay?

Okay, I say.

Give me a kiss.

I kiss her on her cheek. It tastes like salt and rubber.

Ma says, See you later, okay?

Okay, I say.

I close the door and go out to the kitchen.

Cheedle is cooking Dinty Moore beef stew in a pot. Only one of the burners functions properly. The oven doesn't work either but a few weeks ago Mom did something ingenious. She brought Shay's old Betty Crocker Easy-Bake Oven up from the basement and now we use that. Cheedle can make just about anything in it. Once he made lasagna and scalloped potatoes.

We'd use the General Electric microwave with turntable cooking, but I accidentally poisoned it by leaving a spoon in a Cup-o-Noodles. Now it just sits on the counter like a pet.

Cheedle says, Want some stew?

No, thanks, I say.

It smells thick and spicy.

He stirs the stew with a wooden spoon. I'm being weak, he says.

I say, Weak how?

According to Anna Beth Coles, Ernest Hemingway said you should always write when you're hungry.

Who's Ernest Hemingway? I ask.

A great American novelist slash boxer slash hunter, he says. He lived in Paris during the Depression and wrote about the Spanish Civil War and bullfighting.

I imagine fighting a bull. It comes at me a hundred miles an hour but I jump out of the way just in time. The crowd throws money at me and a band plays loud music.

Cheedle says, Hunger is a state of mind.

He kills the flame and scoops the stew onto a plate.

Meat and carrots and potatoes.

I suddenly realize that I'm so hungry it feels like there's wind blowing in my stomach.

Cheedle sits at the kitchen table and starts eating.

I use a clean pan to fry two pieces of bologna. Al Johnson used to do this. He also used to take me to Hardee's and Jack in the Box.

But the fried bologna was his specialty.

After I eat the fried bologna I take an egg and crack it into a glass and drink it raw. It tastes like warm snots and I can feel it ooze into my stomach.

I saw this movie called
and that's what that guy did. It's good for vitamins and nutrients.

Later, Ma comes out of her room and cooks me some scrambled eggs with Velveeta cheese. She is sleepy and her hair is matted and oily.

Cheedle is in our room making his brain bigger with books and puzzles.

I don't tell Ma I already ate the raw egg and fried bologna. I just pretend I'm still starving.

The heat from the burner makes her eczema act up and she scratches while she cooks. Sometimes Shay catches her using the spatula and lets her know. That's fuckin gross, Ma, she'll say.

Ma burns the scrambled eggs a little but she mixes in just the right amount of cheese.

We sit together while I eat.

The kitchen light buzzes like it's got a brain.

After a minute I say, I left my Nikes at Al's.

Well, Ma says, we'll just have to get you some new ones.

I say, I need em for Gym tomorrow.

Ma rubs her face and says, What about your old pair? The ones with the big laces?

You threw em out, I say.

I did?

Yeah. I wanted to keep em but you said they stunk. I can't play dodgeball in my Sunday shoes.

Ma says, Maybe Shay has an old pair you can use.

Her foot's bigger than mine, I say. Coach Corcoran'll make me play in my socks.

Well, you'll have to make do until we can afford another pair, okay?

I say, Okay.

Then we are quiet. You can hear a car alarm going off somewhere in the distance.

I finish my eggs and Ma starts rubbing her eyes. When she's tired she rubs them so much it's like she's got an allergy.

After a minute I say, So is Al in prison?

Ma says, No, Blacky, he's not in prison.

Where is he? I ask.

He's in police custody.

Is that like jail?

She says, I'd rather not talk about it right now.

Before I take my plate to the sink Ma reaches her hand up and puts it on my cheek. Her fingers are warm and moist.

She says, School tomorrow, huh?

I nod.

Then she kisses my hair and goes back to her room.

She left the refrigerator open when she put the eggs back but I don't tell her this.

I will close it as soon as she shuts her door.

When we go to bed Cheedle falls asleep before me. I figure his brain must get tired from being a genius.

A major problem with me is that I have this thing about the dark. If the lights are out and Cheedle falls asleep before me I feel like I'm going to drown in my bed. It's a peculiar problem. There could be anyone in the room with me. It could even be a baby. If they're awake when I'm awake I'm okay. But as soon as I hear them sleeping I start to panic. This happened a couple of times with Tayshawn Van. Ma would come in to get him and I'd start to panic as soon as the door closed.

Hey, Cheedle, I say.

But he has already gone under. I can tell by his breathing.

Hey, Cheedle, I say again, but it's no use, so I get out of bed and climb the ladder and stare at him in the top bunk.

There's something perfect about Cheedle. Our black hair looks better on him. Like it's meant to be black. Mine looks like a mistake.

I shake Cheedle's shoulder and he opens his eyes.

Hey, I say.

He says, Hey.

I just stare at him. His eyes are so big they look like Ma traded his regular ones for the eyes of a stuffed animal. I know he has a hard time focusing without his glasses. I wonder if he can see me at all.

What do you want? he asks.

I want to teach you how to kiss, I say.

Oh, he says. Interesting.

So open your mouth, I tell him.

Cheedle opens his mouth and then I put my lips on his.

We don't move.

His spit tastes clean and sweet.

I pretend it's Mandy Valentine's mouth and I press a little harder. Mandy Valentine's in my Social Studies class and she has the biggest breasts in the sixth grade. Once I had a dream that she unscrewed them and threw them into traffic. I woke up with a sharp need to urinate.

After a minute I take my mouth off.

That's how you kiss, I say.

Okay, he says.

So don't forget it.

I won't, he says.

BOOK: Little Chicago
12.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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