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Authors: Adam Rapp

Little Chicago (5 page)

BOOK: Little Chicago
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Then I continue staring at him. I want to kiss him again but I feel something cold and small turning in my stomach. I almost throw up but I make fists and swallow hard.

Go back to bed, Cheedle says.

I feel too slow for my own good.

He adds, If you're scared I might recommend reading
Anna Karenina.
You can use my booklight.

Then he closes his eyes and falls back to sleep like nothing happened.

In the bottom bunk I use Cheedle's light and start to read. After a few minutes I put the book back under the bed cause the names of the characters are too long and I keep getting stuck trying to picture what they look like.

Every time I close my eyes my head starts spinning.

Al Johnson's face is bigger than a pumpkin.

I get out of bed and go knock on Shay's door.

I think maybe I heard her come home while I was reading. Our house is very small and you can practically hear everything.

Once Shay punched the wall and made a hole. When Ma told Al Johnson he laughed and said, Pretty good for a girl. Then he put stuff in the hole and it got hard like cement. Ma was supposed to paint it white to match the rest of the wall but she never got around to it. Now it just sits there on the wall like an eye.

After Shay punched the wall Ma grounded her for three days. When Ma walked away Shay said, Fuckin walls are made of toilet paper.

Shay doesn't answer so I knock again.

After a minute I open the door.

Her curtains are blue and sluggish-looking. I figure she's in Rockdale smoking marijuana and fooling around with those skateboard guys who have the pierced faces.

Ma tries talking to her about stuff but Shay says she's got her own rules. I wish they would get along better.

Once we went bowling at the Galaxy Lanes on Jefferson Street and things seemed okay. Ma and Shay kept laughing cause they both threw nothing but gutter balls. Cheedle brought a book to read but even he bowled. He had to use both hands and he acted very serious. Every time he finished his frame he would go right back to reading.

A few weeks later I tried to get everyone to go bowling again but nobody had time.

Ma said, Maybe next month, Blacky.

Shay said, I got too much goin on right now.

Besides, it made my arm so sore, Ma added.

It was like they forgot how much fun it was.

Shay's room smells like cigarettes and air freshener. Her dresser drawers are hanging wide open so I go and close them. It's funny how there are very few clothes inside. I think it's cause most of them are scattered all over the floor.

I look in her closet for gym shoes but all that's in there are a pair of old black combat boots and empty packs of Kool cigarettes.

After I leave Shay's room I decide to go outside and get some air.

When you walk through the living room the floor creaks like a funhouse. I'm convinced that this is somehow related to the toilet paper walls.

You can hear the power meter buzzing on the side of the house. You used to be able to hear crickets, too. During the summer sometimes you can't tell what's the power meter and what's crickets.

Considering the hail I think it's pretty gutsy for the bugs to be out.

I walk around to the back of the house. There's a bunch of weeds growing near the hose hookup. Once I found a dead bird there. Its leg was twisted and something had bitten its head off.

A few days later I had a dream that the bird had my head and I could fly.

The moon looks small and sewn to the sky.

The backyard grass looks like hair. When I get strong enough Ma wants me to start using the hand mower.

Till then we'll just let it go, she says.

Till my body grows I will be thin and wimpish.

Sometimes I think I must have cancer cause I have very few muscles. Ma says I get that from my dad. He was small when he was little, too, she says.

But then he grew big enough so he could break stuff.

Including Ma's hand, which happened twice.

Once he did it by smashing it in the silverware drawer. Ma had to wear a cast and Cheedle and Shay and me signed it a hundred million times.

The leaves on the poplar tree are almost all gone now. I wonder if the hail has anything to do with this fact. I look for the cat from this morning but he's not there.

The swing set was put up when we were kids. It's orange with patches of rust. The swings are missing and now Ma uses it to beat the rugs. We have one rug in the kitchen and one in the bathroom. Currently the rug from the bathroom is hanging over it. It looks droopy and sad. It's supposed to be yellow but it's sort of green now.

Ma uses my old Wiffle ball bat to beat them. Whenever she comes back in the house she seems lost and out of breath.

Once after beating the rug from the kitchen she went straight down to the basement and didn't come up for the rest of the night. When I checked on her she was sitting on the floor, holding her wedding dress. I think she pulled it out of a box.

Hey, I said.

It was like she was sitting in a puddle.

She said, Hi, honey.

You okay? I asked.

I'm fine, she said. Go back upstairs, okay?

There are all sorts of things in those boxes in the basement. Once I found some pills in a little orange bottle. I showed Shay and she said they were Ma's and that they were for depression and mental illness but that Ma stopped taking them cause they were making her butt big. Shay said, Vain bitch should keep takin em.

I'm in front of Ma's window now and the breeze is making her curtains flutter.

Ma, I say to her, everything's gonna be okay, okay?

It surprises me how loud your voice can get when no one's listening.

We'll go bowling and stuff, I say.

The house next door is even smaller than ours. Mrs. Bunton lives there and she's got a poodle named Pierce that she talks to like it's human. She's so old I sometimes think she's a walking dead person.

You can see little bits of hail on Ma's windowsill.

Her bed is so huge it makes her look small like Cheedle. Her creams are still on her stomach and I worry that she'll roll over and squish them.

Ma, I say again, but she can't hear me cause she's asleep.

She forgot to take her clothes off and she's still wearing her shoes.


In school I feel like people can see inside me. Like all my veins and tissues.

In Life Science I sit behind Anne Meadows. Her hair is so blond it makes you wonder about stuff. In Art I have tried to paint this hair several times but I never get it right.

I always make the hair without a head cause I don't know how to paint faces yet. Al Johnson taught me how to draw them with charcoal pencils but using a brush is much more difficult.

Soon you'll do faces, Miss Haze told me after class one day. That's the next step, Blacky. Faces.

Anne Meadows' hair always winds up looking like wood or clothes. Or it's too orange cause I don't mix the paints right.

Once Miss Haze asked me what it was and I told her it was hay.

Nice effort, she said. Keep trying, Blacky.

Anne Meadows has a box for her pens and pencils and I admire her organizational skills.

I also admire the fact that she wears Ralph Lauren shirts and smells like Clairol Herbal Essences shampoo.

I have written Anne Meadows this note. I carry it around in my pocket every day. I often take it out to check and recheck it for spelling and grammar errors.

I am happy to say that it is an error-free note.

It says:


May I have your phone number? I would enjoy discussing various subjects with you. I have time if you have time.

Blacky Brown

I saw her looking at me once. She was making a face like she was hungry. I shared this with my good friend Eric Duggan and he said she probably was hungry and not to get too excited.

I have been tempted a million times to drop this note in her box.

It's hard being a coward. It makes you wonder when you will grow out of it.

Is it a body thing or a mind thing?

Suddenly Mr. Prisby asks me if I can repeat what

When I open my mouth I have to close it right away cause I have this feeling that my teeth are going to fall out.

I don't know, I say. What is it?

He looks at me for a moment and shakes his head.

Then he says, John, do you know?

John Sellers says, It means of, relating to, located in, or involving the thorax.

John Sellers has perfect hair and carries a Palm Pilot M500 in his pocket. I see him using it often and I'm sure he will go far in life.

Did you catch that? Mr. Prisby asks me.

Yes, I say.

He says, You know where the thorax is, right, Blacky?

The throat, I say.

I don't realize that I'm touching my throat when I say it.

Please pay attention, Blacky, Mr. Prisby says to me.

Sorry, I say.

There's a see-through fake human standing next to the chalkboard. You can see his organs. Mr. Prisby calls him Dave and often pretends to speak to him, and the girls on the left side of the room always laugh.

He'll say, What's a herbivore, Dave?

He'll say, Hey, Dave, I forgot my lunch money, wanna lend me five bucks?

Everyone laughs cause Mr. Prisby is a master of comedy and he has been known to give extra credit to the ones who laugh the most.

When the passing period tone sounds, Mr. Prisby asks if he can have a word with me.

Blacky, he says, may I have a word with you?

One of the girls from the left side of the room makes a face like she is going to laugh.

I approach Mr. Prisby's desk.

He wears glasses with black frames. The lenses are so thick they make his eyes look far away.

He looks up at me with his hands in a triangle.

Is everything okay, Blacky? he asks.

Yes, I say.

Are you sure?

I'm sure, I say.

You seem like you're in outer space today.

I'm not, I say.

I'd really like to see you bring that C up to a B in here.

I will, I say.

I'd like that very much.

Me too.

And I'm sure your mother would.

I nod.

Then Mr. Prisby says, I think you have a lot of potential, Blacky.

Oh, I say. Thanks.

Teachers talk about potential like it's a jar of pennies.

He says, Your paper on the cats in New York City was quite thorough. I was very impressed with it.

Thanks, I say again.

I'd hate to see you lose that momentum.

Me too, I say.

My paper focused on three cats in New York City who jumped out of windows due to urban stress. One of them landed on a gate and was fatally punctured. His name was Socks and he was a Blue Russian.

Mr. Prisby starts playing with a pencil.

I just stand there like Dave the See-Through Fake Human. I wonder if he ever feels ashamed for not having any skin or clothes.

Mr. Prisby says, How are you feeling, Blacky?

I say, I'm okay.

You look a little faint.

I'm fine, I say.

Is everything okay at home?


Let's concentrate a little better in class, okay?

I say, Okay.

Very good then, he says. I have to set up the film projector for my next class.

He gets up and crosses to the back of the room.

I want to move but I feel stuck again.

You better get to your next period, Mr. Prisby says, his back to me now.

Okay, I say.

I have to hit myself in the thigh to get my legs to move.

While he's setting up the film projector I reach into Dave the See-Through Fake Human's mouth and take out his tongue.

I don't know why I do this. I have nothing against Mr. Prisby or Dave the See-Through Fake Human either. My hand just sort of does it on its own.

The tongue feels cold and useless in my palm.

I am tempted to take a kidney or a lung too, but that would be too obvious, so I put the tongue in my pocket and leave.

In Gym we play dodgeball.

Like usual the sides get split up unevenly.

Steve Degerald and Evan Keefler are on the same team. I am not on that team and this means pain.

Steve Degerald shaves his head and pretends he is in the Marines. He'll sometimes shout Semper Fi! for no reason. Once he did it in Language Arts in the middle of an SRA test. Semper Fi! he shouted and threw his fists in the air. Miss Cosgrove looked up but nothing happened.

Last month he walked up to me in the hall and said, I'm gonna stab you someday, Brown.

I said, Why?

Cause you're weaker than a girl and that makes you a toad. All toads need to be eliminated.

I have never done anything to deserve this but that's the way it is with Steve Degerald.

He is such a superior athlete that he can catch a dodgeball with one hand and throw it back in the same motion. Sometimes he throws it so hard it makes the bleachers echo. He's got huge arms and hair on his testicles.

I know this word cause Mr. Prisby taught it to us one day in Life Science.

These are Dave's testicles, he said, pointing to the nut area. Testicles are the male reproductive organs, he continued. They're also known as testes.

There are only a couple of kids in the sixth grade who have hair on their testicles and Steve Degerald is one of them.

Evan Keefler's got hair on his testicles, too, but it's nothing to brag about. It looks more like mustache hair than testicle hair. It's so straight I imagine him styling it with a comb.

The trick to dodgeball is you have to get the ball so you can throw it and pummel the other team.

I wanna see some good play out there today, boys! Coach Corcoran says while setting the balls on the midcourt line. Strategy and team play!

He smiles and his teeth are sharp and gray.

Before the game starts all players on each side must have one part of their body touching the bleacher wall. This is a rule that is enforced at all costs. If Coach Corcoran catches you cheating there are pushups and the Monkey Drill. The Monkey Drill is where you run back and forth and touch all the lines on the basketball court.

BOOK: Little Chicago
3.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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