Authors: Trish Cook
AUNT SARAH SAT IN HER PRIUS UNTIL I ACTUALLY
opened the door to my house. Sometimes I like this—it’s a stupid little gesture that helps me feel like I’m cared for. Other times—like that afternoon—I find it kind of annoying. I mean, I’m sixteen years old. I’ve had my own key to this house for seven years, and it’s not like Dad’s going to change the locks.
Still, Aunt Sarah didn’t drive off until I actually turned my key in the lock and waved at her.
I could tell something was wrong as soon as I walked in the door. Dad was wearing his we-need-to-have-a-Serious-Talk face.
I was immediately reminded of the last time we had a Serious Talk, which was over a year ago. Dad had finally discovered the reason his computer was running so slow, and instead of just going,
Oh, somebody’s downloaded some rather large video files,
and let me just delete them to free up some memory,
he had to go and actually
them. And then he had come into my room for a Serious Talk.
“Listen,” he’d said, “it’s not like I didn’t have a stack of
under my bed when I was your age …”
“Still got ’em? They’re collectors items—we could like sell ’em on eBay and probably—”
“Dec—” Yeah, to most people, “dec” is a slab of wood behind the house where you sit out and grill things and the parents get buzzed on margaritas while the kids play capture the flag in the yard. To me, it’s my first name. Short for Declan. My parents were—well, Dad is, and Mom, of course,
, because every verb about Mom is in the past tense—big fans of Elvis Costello, who looked like a kid who gets a swirlee in the locker room. I mean, I’ve been dodging bullies for ten years, and I look at the guy and
want to give him a swirlee. And his real name is Declan. And so’s mine.
“Dec,” Dad had said, “I don’t still have them. The point is this: it’s not like I think it’s some great sin to look at dirty pictures. Or, in this case, movies.”
I knew it was wrong, but I just couldn’t stop myself. “How’d you enjoy
The Ass and the Curious
“You know—wait, is that really what it’s called?”
“One of ’em, yeah.”
Dad had worked very hard at that point to suppress a smile. Eventually, he won. “Anyway, it’s not that that’s so terrible on its own, and it’s not like the death metal is so awful on its own, though I really did think you outgrew songs with Cookie Monster on vocals when you were about five”—he had given me this sly smile, like,
Hey, isn’t it funny I don’t understand a thing about the music you love?
I had just glared at him. “And it’s not like the incredibly violent video games are so bad on their own, but put all this stuff together, and it makes me really worry about you.”
“Because, Dec, it just doesn’t…It’s all so…It’s all so bleak. Antiseptic phony sex scenes, guys screaming about demons eating their flesh, and hours and hours in front of the TV pretending to be a sociopathic killer. It just—geez, Dec, there’s a scary amount of rage on display here.”
I’d just looked at him. What could I possibly have to be enraged about? I was, at the time, a freshman boy, the lowest possible form of life in any high school. I had been desperately horny, and not into either sports or drugs, which pretty much cut out the two major avenues into the pants of eligible girls. Oh yeah, and my mom had died in a car wreck while driving me to soccer practice when I was nine. I was in the backseat and didn’t get injured. I can’t really say I walked away without a scratch, because they tell me the EMTs had to pull me, screaming and crying, off my mom’s body. So I didn’t walk. But I really didn’t have a scratch.
At least Dad had never blamed me for that. Or, anyway, I never thought he did.
“So, listen, Dec,” he’d said at the conclusion of last year’s Serious Talk, “I’ve talked to your aunt Sarah, and we’ve agreed that you’re going to spend Saturday nights over there and then go to church with her on Sunday mornings.”
“Church? Church? You’re kidding, right?” I had heard my dad talking to his sister Sarah after mom died and saying that any God who’d take my mom away wasn’t worth getting out of bed for on Sunday.
“No, Dec, I’m not. I want…I feel like I’m not doing a great job—I mean, I bought you the games I’m complaining about, right? I want you to have some female influence in your life, and yeah, I do want you to go to church, even if you hate it, so it’s not all demons and killing.”
I had been so angry I was actually speechless, which rarely happens. “And you know, I mean, Dec, it’s important for you to know that porn isn’t real. I mean, they’re really having sex, but that’s not what real sex is like. Real sex is—”
“Dad, I swear to God I will go to Aunt Sarah’s house and spend the night and go be the minister’s helper if you will promise to never, ever tell me what real sex is like.” I mean, who wants to hear that from their dad?
Well, son, when your mother and I used to hit it …
No. Not what I want to hear at all. Ever.
Dad had paused, looking like he was thinking about getting mad, and then he’d smiled. “Deal.”
So that’s how I came to spend weekends with my aunt Sarah, the minister at First Church, and her partner, Lisa. And how I got a job as the First Church sexton. That sounds a lot more interesting than it actually is. The sexton is actually the church janitor. So I go and sweep up the parish hall, dispose of the mouse corpses that collect in the kitchen, set some new traps, maybe rake some leaves, that kind of stuff. And the whole time, I try to figure out how I can ever say, “Yeah, they call me the sexton, ’cause I’m bringin’ a ton of sex.” Which doesn’t even really make sense, but it amuses me when I’m doing the parts of the job that are less interesting than rodent disposal.
And I guess Dad’s evil plan of a year ago kind of worked. After spending around fifty weekends at their house and three afternoons a week doing sexton stuff at the church, I now think of Sarah and Lisa a lot like real parents. I love them and they bug the shit out of me. I still listen to death metal, I still play M-rated games where I deal death and destruction, and I still look at porn.
I am now a high school sophomore, but no closer to getting to see a real girl naked, so I have to make do with digitized fantasy women, or scenarios my own fevered imagination cooks up about Neilly Foster. It sounds like a cheesy song or something, but this girl is so hot I think maybe it should be illegal. I only ever see her at lunch and in the halls—she’s a junior, after all—which is good, because if I had any classes with her, I would probably fail. I once saw her eating a Popsicle in the caf and had to go home for the rest of the day.
Too bad she goes for jocks and muscleheads, which means I have exactly the same shot with her as with anybody I download on Dad’s computer. There are decent girls who go for the stoners, too—bad, dangerous-looking girls, some of whom look like they might just find it interesting to introduce an innocent like myself to the mysteries of the flesh.
But here’s the thing. The dildo who killed my mom was driving under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, and a couple of prescription medications. I guess it was a hell of a party.
So it’s hard for me to think of the normal high school drinking and drugging as harmless party activities. I have a pretty hard time keeping my mouth shut about what weak-minded idiots people who get wasted are.
I don’t get invited to a lot of parties.
But I do have some friends, though I guess they’re really more school friends than home friends—the kind of people you sit next to in study hall but never call on the weekends. And I have my weekends at Sarah and Lisa’s house, and I’ve got my metal (Did you know the coolest black metal comes from Norway? True fact!) and my games, and I choose to believe what my dad tells me—that once I get to college, girls will go crazy for a smart guy they can have a conversation with. It’s hard to think about suffering through another two years of high school to get to that, but I’m comfortable enough, I guess.
Or I was, until I walk in the door—a year after our last Serious Talk, during which time I had vainly hoped that we were through with Serious Talks forever—and I see Dad wearing that face.
“What?” I say as soon as I see him.
“Declan, we need to talk.”
Oh shit. The full name. It’s never good when you get off the nickname basis. I just look at him. “Well?” I say.
“Declan, I…I don’t know how to tell you this. It’s kind of a…I mean, I certainly never expected…Well, as we know all too painfully, life hands you surprises. But you know what I’ve found out? Not all the surprises life has in store are bad ones. Sometimes you think you have things figured out, and then,
Things change.” He looks at me like he’s just said something.
“Dad, what the hell are you talking about?”
“Declan, I’m getting married.”