The Same Story
Our house was big, red brick, with off-white walls that watched over us while we slept, while we prayed for our souls to be kept, while we shared bath water and bunk beds and the secret of the back closet we will die with and never reveal. Paradise. 1987. Cows and corn stalks and Phillies baseball. Cow shit and dry feed corn and Mike Schmidt, more specifically, if you really feel like bothering us with the goddam specifics. 1987. Iran-Contra and the Cold War and Reaganomics. Everything was overpriced but baseball cards and penny candy and our house because it sat too close to a chicken hatchery, which only means something if youve been to a chicken hatchery. At night, hundreds of baby chicks are disposed of in a big blue dumpster and the lid is closed until they suffocate together and die and wet rot like infected mucous and you smell them decomposing through your bedroom window and their desperate unorganized chirps give you nightmares until you burn down a different hatchery in a different town 12 years later and you try explaining all this to the district court judge but he doesnt care or doesnt understand or the last defendant just told him the same fucking story.
But that first night, after youve been fingerprinted and photographed and youve dressed in to the county oranges and been placed in a holding cell, and youve claimed your spot on the cement floor underneath the payphone beside a drunk hillbilly and a Mexican who doesnt speak English or know why hes there, and youve taken a shit beside both of them, and youve made your phone call to your momma begging for bail, and youve refused the cuisine, soy burger, no bread, mixed veggies, a box of raisins, and sugarless tea, and you finally get called upstairs to settle inside your cell, only then will the chirping stop, only then will you sleep soundly.
I was 13 the first time I stood on the kitchen table and took my clothes off and rubbed baby oil all over my body in front of my brothers video camera. I was flat-chested with bony hips and there were dark freckles all over my shoulders and chest where my tits should have been and a strawberry shaped mole on the left side of my belly button. Sometimes his friends came over and paid him to watch and I let them, he let them. My brother used to make sure they never touched me until one day when they offered him more money and then I let them, he let them. Their breath always smelled like Old Milwaukee and their hands felt rough and calloused when they rubbed the baby oil into my neck and shoulders or placed their hands gently around my waist while I rubbed it over my chest and down across my stomach, but they were all shy, virgin boys, so thats where they stopped until they gave my brother even more money and then I let them, he let them. But that wasnt the beginning.
We left Louisville two weeks after Daddy died and spent all summer digging for dinosaur bones at the bottom of a dried up creek in the backwoods of Dowagiac. Dirt and rock and large picks and small picks and trowels and measuring tape and bruised skin and bloody bandages and blisters There were never any fucking bones. She was such a stupid bitch, Sherry was, I wanted to tell her that there were no dinosaur bones in Michigan, that people would dig and sift for a hundred more years but nobody would ever find them, that the movement of glaciers back and forth scraped away the layers of rock that contained all their remains. And erosion, you stupid cunt, what about erosion? But I believed in her then, I loved her, or maybe I just didnt know shit about paleontology, so I kept digging.
It was a little yellow pop up tent made for two. We built fires and roasted frogs and crawfish and waded knee deep in Dowagiac Creek hunting carp with sticks carved into spears then took turns cutting leeches from our bare skin when we made it back to camp. At night we slept side by side, sweating into each others pores and counting stars and watching them fall while we made wishes that wouldnt come true.
Lying beside us in the tent was a loaded .22 rifle she kept wrapped in an old wool blanket next to the flashlights. Some nights I heard snakes coil themselves around the strong branches of maple trees, and wolves grow massive claws and fangs by the magic of a full moon, so Id unwrap the blanket and rub the barrel of the gun against my cheeks and chest which should have made it safer to sleep but didnt. Sometimes I slept the other way, with the side of my face pressed against Sherrys chest, listening to her heartbeat. I counted them when I couldnt sleep, when I thought about Daddy helping me use the gun to scare away rodents and chase wild turkeys through the green grass of Kentucky. Sometimes her heart beat too fast or too slow or sometimes not at all. Sometimes I shook her awake so it would beat again. Shed push the back of my head harder into her breasts and kiss the top of my head then Id fall asleep.
Sherry slept naked every night. Her skin was dusty. Always dusty and sooty and silky and soft and the dust made me sneeze into the back of her hair so I washed it for her every morning after the sun rose and she cooked us eggs and pancakes on a thin slice of sheet metal overtop the near dead fire from the night before and we ate while the chickadees and juncos sang and the silence of southern Michigan came to life all around us. By the end of the summer her skin became my skin, her breath and blood and breasts and bruises and black rings around her eyes, all became mine.
All the neighborhood kids waited for the school bus on a small cement slab at the bottom of the first big hill on Blackhorse Road. My mother made me scrambled egg sandwiches on wheat toast every morning for breakfast before I left for school. Then one morning she didnt. One morning she was sleeping in the front yard with her shirt unbuttoned and her pants pulled down around her ankles. I didnt know what to do about breakfast.
I snuck into the corner store, beside the bus stop, and stuffed a box of cream-filled doughnuts into my backpack. I waited to eat them until I got on the bus and sat down beside Amanda, the only retarded girl in our school. She always wore long blue jean skirts and white blouses and my older brother Eric said she had three titties instead of two and shed let anybody touch them who said please. When I asked her if I could touch them she said no unless I shared my doughnuts with her every day from now until the end of the school year. I told her Id give her two right now and thats the best I could do because after tomorrow thered be no more cream until the farmers made more milk, and that was good enough in retard logic. I handed her the doughnut and slid my hand up the front of her shirt. Creamy drool dripped from her mouth to her skirt.