EVER since Dad and Rochelle threw me out I have been staying with my sister and her family. Marty doesn’t want me living inside the house proper so I sleep in the garage. He says he wants me back here so I can keep an eye out for the sons of bitches who broke in and sawed the handlebars off his motorcycle.

It’s a good thing nobody tried ripping off his shingles that way he’d have me sleeping on the roof.

Vicki told me I should count my blessings. “There’s plenty of people who got it a lot worse than this. People in Europe are living in drain-pipes with flies crawling all over their faces. They’re eating cardboard and bathing in their own spit. Over in China they have to sleep standing up in muddy ditches. This here,” she said, spreading out her arms to indicate majesty, “this here is nothing to look down your nose at. You’re living like a king. Look at everything I’ve done for you.”

I looked at the carpet remnants she had laid upon the concrete floor for use as a bed, and at the table she fashioned by placing a board on top of the grill. For decoration she had nailed up a poster picturing a baby orangutan sitting behind a cluttered desk, up to his neck in paperwork. The poster reads “One of these days I’ve got to get organizized.”

I used to think that Vicki had something going for her but now, when I ask myself how I ever got such a notion, I shrug my shoulders and chalk it up to my past ignorance and youth. I was maybe ten years old when Vicki decided, out of nowhere, to join her high school chorus. She auditioned and was accepted, just like that. I can recall listening to her practice all alone in her room, holding a stick of deodorant in place of a microphone. Her voice was nothing special but she never allowed that fact to dampen her spirits. “I’m very much into music. I’m so much into the whole fucking entertainment industry that it practically scares the life out of me. I’m destined for something big, some-thing bigger than the both of us. Something huge.” I watched as she stood before the mirror, brushing out her hair and challenging her reflection. “You are a winner, at the top of your game. You call the shots, nobody but you.” She would then change her clothes three or four times while discussing her future and all the records she would release. I would observe her, lying on the bed with a stuffed animal and see that as a record cover: Vicki, The Early Years, orPlayfully Yours, Vicki! I had it all worked out.

I figured that, once her career took off, Vicki would go through several managers before turning to me. “Please, Chug. If you want me to beg I will. I need you now because, damn it, you’re the only person I can trust.” As her manager I would ac-company her on all of her concert engagements, where ordinary people would approach her, thrilled and nervous, their faces shiny with admiration. Vicki might sign autographs and pose for snapshots but with the understanding that none of these people could ever be her true friends, only her fans. After a concert we would be led out of the stadium to a waiting tour bus equipped with a refrigerator, bathroom, and comfortable seats that fold into beds when you’re ready to call it a night. Vicki would curl up in the seat beside me and whisper, “What do you think of the way I performed ‘Love Don’t Stand a Chance’? Honestly, Chug, what’s your opinion?” Then I would tell her, honestly, taking her fragile personality into consideration. First I would mention that her hair and makeup looked really great. “That satin poncho is a knockout!” I would highlight all the positive aspects, and then, very gently, I might say, “Perhaps at tomorrow night’s show it would be a good idea to hold the weeping until the end of the concert.”

Vicki would nod her head and remove a small notebook from her tour purse. “Good idea, Chug,” she would say. “Excellent suggestion.”

The band members would twist in their seats, trying to read what she had written down but Vicki, feeling their watchful eyes, would hold the notebook tight against her chest. They would know damned good and well tomorrow but tonight it’s just between Vicki and her brother. And that is what I had al-ways planned to be, her brother. Not in order to grow rich I never really thought of that. It would be her idea to make me her manager not mine. Of course I would often be surrounded by enthusiastic crowds of people asking, “What’s she really like?” That would be fun, sure, but only for a little while. I would never have used her as a ploy to get my name in the papers or to put out a record of my own. Far from it. That’s some-thing our father would try. He talks like he can smell money from a distance of five miles. He’ll see someone wearing a tweed cap and driving a sportscar and say, “Now there’s a guy with something in his wallet.” That, to me, is like seeing someone on crutches and guessing they have a problem with their leg. Any idiot can do that.

Our father would be the first in line, hoping to cash in on Vicki’s success. He would want his own album or a guest appearance on a television special and Vicki and I would have to spend many long hours explaining that, despite what he may have read in the magazines, it really doesn’t work that way. After the way he has treated us it would be both entertaining and embarrassing to hear him say, “But a lot of people just sort of. . talk through a song. All right, OK, maybe I can’t ‘sing’ but I sure as hell can talk, can’t I? C’mon kids, you know I can pull it off. Get me a record, just one. One record for your old dad. I can make it a hit, you know I can. One hit record for Daddy.”

Vicki and I would watch him beg. Then we might call in a few record executives and watch him beg some more.

“I could do ‘The Man in My Little Girl’s Life,'” he would say. “There’s all kinds of songs you can do without ever actually having to sing.”

“Oh?” the record executive would say. “Name a few others.”

Our father would massage his forehead. “Well,” he’d say. “There’s a lot of them, a whole hell of a lot.”

In my mind Vicki and I stand in the doorway watching our father beg for a recording contract. I figure that, to keep from laughing, I will have to bite the inside of my cheeks. Blood will rise up in my throat that same bitter taste you get after absentmindedly holding a coat hanger in your mouth. Afterwards the record executive will take Vicki and me to lunch at a steak restaurant, where we will recount every moment of our father’s pathetic display. “You two are the goddamned salt of the fucking earth,” the executive might say, slicing into his twice-baked potato. “But that father of yours, Jesus Christ, what a.

Then Vicki and I would touch hands under the table, hoping that he might come up with the perfect word. I had this all worked out in my mind.

In her second year of high school Vicki dropped out of the chorus because the teacher was an asshole.

“I’m still into music like you wouldn’t believe,” she said. “But that son of a bitch Yelverton can kiss my rosy red you-know-what if he thinks I’m going to stand in the back row and take part in his bullshit Glen Campbell medley. I don’t need that shit and I practically told him that right to his face. I just about said, ‘I don’tneed this bullshit.’ I was going to say, ‘Who the hick cares about some lonely asshole stringing up telephone lines?’ I don’t need this kind of bullshit in my life because I’ve got a career to think about. Hell, Chug, I can write my own goddamned songs and you better believe I will.”

She decided to drop out of school altogether because it was too much bullshit and, being a night owl, she hated the hours. She thought she might get herself a job in the music industry. She said it as though there was a thriving music industry in our town. Shortly after dropping out of school Vicki and Dad engaged in a violent argument when one of her boyfriends accidentally set the living room sofa on fire. I sat on the edge of the bed and watched her cram clothing into paper bags. “The day I allow that baldheaded bastard to smack me with a bag full of frozen chicken wings is the day I die,” she said, pausing to soothe the bruise on her forehead. “I don’t need this kind of bullshit in my life, not anymore. This bird is taking wing. I am out of here, friend.” She acted as though there was an airplane in the yard, the pilot tapping his fingers against the face of his watch, waiting. “The next time you hear from me I’ll be in California. California or Reno. I’m going to a place where people don’t have to live up to their necks in bullshit. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time,” she said. “One hell of a long time. Yes, sirree, Vicki has definitely met her quota of bull-shit once and for all. It’s time to grab the bull by the horns and say, ‘Adios, bullshit.’ Hand me that clock radio, will you Chug? Your sister is fucking out of here.”

It turned out that Vicki did not leave for Reno or California but, instead, for Ginger Treadwell’s. Ginger was the boyfriend who had set the sofa on fire, an older redheaded guy who lived three blocks away in a basement apartment he rented from his mother. Every now and then I would go by to visit her but she never came over to the house or phoned as she didn’t want to see our father. “Tell him I’m a model and a stewardess and never know where I’ll be from one day to the next. And tell him they’re making a movie of my life story and they want Boris Fucking Karloff to play his part.”

When she broke up with Ginger she moved in with Shane Lambson and then with Drew Hodges, who had a job driving a special bus for crippled people in a hurry. She was living with Drew when she met and fell in love with Marty Manning, a mechanic for the special buses. They dated in secret until she discovered she was pregnant. When he heard the news, Marty lifted his tool box over his head, threw it across the room, and asked for my sister’s hand in marriage. Vicki accepted. She said that, with Marty, she felt as though she had woken from a long coma of waste and unhappiness. She wrote a song about it and delivered it at the wedding while Marty accompanied her on drums. He wore a brown tuxedo at the ceremony but removed his jacket for the demanding solo. I couldn’t hear a word of Vicki’s song. Later on, at the reception, Marty made a speech, telling everyone just how much this new baby meant to him. He knelt down and toasted my sister’s stomach, saying, “This lady has given me the greatest gift a man could ever want a new beginning.” He choked up for a moment and then tapped his glass against Vicki’s stomach, sloshing punch on her corduroy wedding dress.

It was puzzling that Marty Manning would make such a big production out of this when he already had one New Beginning in his past, a five-year-old daughter he never saw or spoke to. He claims he would love to spend time with Amber but can’t because the child’s mother is a manipulating ball-buster and a four-star bitch. He said he wanted this baby to be the real thing so he set to work, getting everything ready. He put a bigger sink in the kitchen and made a carseat by sawing the legs off a padded chair. He put locks on a few of the cabinet doors and had Vicki’s cat put to sleep. His mother had told him that a cat’s instinct is to sneak into the crib and suck the breath out of a newborn baby. It broke my sister’s heart but she went along with it. “I have to look toward the future,” she said, emptying the litter box for the final time.

I told her she was crazy to let him put her cat to sleep. I said, “Marty sucks, not Sabbath.”

Marty was sucking the brains right out of my sister’s head. He had her turn the dining room into a nursery. There is a decent-sized spare room down the hall but that is where Marty keeps his drum set and his weights, and he says it is off-limits because it is his domain. He was really banking on a boy but told Vicki to paint the dining room orange just in case. I visited her on that day and wound up painting the room myself while she drank three cans of Tab and asked me questions about Dad, what he was up to with his new girlfriend and how he can stand such a ball-busting four-star bitch. I had just stopped by, curious to see her. I didn’t know beforehand that I would be working and I wound up getting a lot of orange paint on my good shoes. Now they are no longer my good shoes, and every time I lace them up I think back on that day when we didn’t know anything about the baby waiting to be born. I imagined myself in the future, telling the grown child that I once painted the nursery orange but that it wasn’t my idea. I didn’t know if the child would be a boy or a girl. Maybe it would like me or maybe not. Maybe I would have gray hair or perhaps I would be bald on top like my father. Who can say what the future holds?

When she was eight months pregnant Vicki lost her job dispatching buses for crippled people because she had to sleep a lot and couldn’t make it to work on time. She had someone else punch in for her but they caught on when the buses didn’t show up and paralyzed people had to wait in the snow for hours on end. Marty told her not to look for another job until the baby enrolled in the first grade. He had spoken to his mother and said he didn’t want anything like those latchkey children. To hear him tell it the Latchkeys were a tough family who lived in his mother’s neighborhood and threw rocks at passing cars just for fun. Marty thought he had everything under control.

The baby, a boy named Marty Jr., was born on Thanksgiving Day. Vicki said it was symbolic because Marty Jr., like a pilgrim, was a newcomer to this strange and wonderful country. Also, being a Sagittarian, he would be quick with numbers and get along well with just about everyone but Capricorns, Leos, and Geminis. She tried her best to look on the bright side but still she turned away every time the nurse tried presenting her with the baby, fidgeting in its blanket.

Certain small, ugly creatures are considered adorable and cute. Take, for example, the baby orangutan pictured on the poster that decorates the garage wall. Nothing about this animal is pretty to look at but he doesn’t seem to care one way or the other. When an orangutan catches his reflection in a pool of crystal-clear water he doesn’t take the time to get depressed about his looks. Instead he just goes about his business, eating leaves and examining the heads of his friends and family, search-ing for mouthwatering fleas. A creature is cute as long as it has mournful eyes and lives in the woods. An ugly person can’t be carefree like the animals. From what I’ve seen on television, animals will mate without regard to who has a glossier coat or the longest whiskers. I don’t get the idea that apes turn down dates. They might talk but I doubt anyone’s feelings get hurt in the process. I could be wrong because I am not a scientist. I suppose that some ugly babies can grow up to be OK-looking but I doubt this will be the case with young Marty Jr.

When he was first born my nephew looked like a doll. A doll made of raw hamburger meat. Most babies come that way but it was a lot worse with Marty Jr., who remained raw and blistered after repeated washings. His features continue to look handmade and richly textured. Vicki tried convincing Marty that babies age and grow into their faces. She said his ruddy color meant that he would tan easily later in life.

“He’ll be a lady-killer,” she said to Marty. “Just like his old man, a four-star lady-killer.”

Marty wasn’t buying any of it. This child was clearly not what he had in mind and he regarded it as if it were an oversized turd. His mild curiosity was replaced by disgust and, finally, anger.

“I can tell you’re the daddy because he’s got your eyes!” a nurse made the mistake of saying to him.

Marty waited until she had taken the baby away before calling the nurse a bitch and repeating “NoI’ve got my eyes.Me I have the both of them.” He pointed to his face and accidentally stuck his finger into his left eye. When Vicki offered him a Kleenex he brushed her hand away, knocking her water glass to the floor.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Vicki repeated these words until it was just a noise. Marty turned his back to her until an-other nurse arrived with her dinner tray. Marty ate everything but the pudding.

When I first laid eyes on Marty Jr. I understood that he would need to develop a winning personality ASAP so, after he was re-leased from the hospital, I quit school in order to help Vicki take care of him. To be honest I probably would have quit anyway so, when Vicki suggested it, I was grateful to have such a formal-sounding excuse. The only person I miss is my English teacher, Mrs. Colgate. She told me to keep in touch and to “read, read, read.” I called her once but hung up when she answered the phone crying, “Curtis, listen. For the love of God, Curtis, I can explain everything.”

Carrying a baby had worn my sister out. After her week in the hospital she decided that now was the time for Vicki to start thinking about Vicki. This was the time for her to reevaluate and work off the weight she had gained while eating for two. How she worked it off while watching fourteen hours of television a day is anyone’s guess but it worked! I would arrive in the morning and spend my day taking care of the baby: changing and feeding, putting him down for naps, giving him a bath, laundry I did it all.

“Teach him to cry only during the commercials,” Vicki would shout from the living room whenever he began to fuss. “He needs to spend more time outdoors, that’s his problem. Take him to the grocery store and let him look at the meat.”

I stayed at the house until the baby was put to bed for the night and then I returned home to my father’s place at around nine-thirty in the evening. By this time he understood that Vicki was neither a model nor a stewardess. He wasn’t invited to the wedding but didn’t seem to mind, saying, “She’ll invite me to the next one.” He expressed no interest in Marty Jr. “I’m too young to be a grandfather,” he said, brushing the sides of his head, the top bald and gleaming.

During Marty Jr.’s nap time I straightened up the house and made a list of the things we needed: clothing, formula, diapers, shampoo baby things. I carried the list to Vicki, who would keep her eyes fixed on the television and say, every time, “Bring it up with the Bank of America,” which meant Marty. And I hated asking him because he always treated it like a loan, implying that I still hadn’t paid him back the twenty dollars I hit him up for last week.

This was around the time my father’s girlfriend, Rochelle, moved in. Rochelle works as an old waitress and always has money in her purse, a roll of bills the size of a hair curler. When she returns home from work she acts as though she has just walked across the burning desert in her bare feet and has cactus thorns dug deep into her heels. “Now it’s my gaddampt time to get waited on,” she says, dropping her pocketbook on the kitchen chair and limping off to the living room to put her feet up. She yells at my father, “Change the gaddampt channel and bring me a caffee.”

My father yells at me, “Change the goddamned channel and bring Rochelle a coffee.”

A remote control would not have solved the problem. Rochelle needed a full-time slave. Every now and then, during one of my trips to the kitchen, fetching her this or that, I would open her purse and take a little something for Marty Jr., just a few dollars here and there for diapers and formula. It was easier than asking Marty and I felt that Rochelle owed me something for my many hours of service.

The baby got by but still there were certain things that cost more than the few dollars a day I was able to provide. Special things, such as a rabbit-fur jacket that caught his eye one afternoon in a shop window. I wrote these things down as they came to me and posted the list on the refrigerator, where Marty would be forced to notice it. A few days before the baby’s first birthday I was in the dining room when I heard the sound of paper being crumpled. Then I heard Marty call out, “What was that shit on the refrigerator?”

Vicki was on the living room sofa and answered him saying, “What shit?”

Marty said, “You know what shit I’m talking about.”

Vicki didn’t say anything.

“You know I can’t stand to have shit taped to my refrigerator.”

Vicki said, “No, sir, I didn’t know that.”

“Well, you know it now, don’t you?”

Vicki said, “I guess I do.”

For his birthday I decorated with balloons and bought Marty Jr. a store-bought cake and a stuffed E.T. with some of Rochelle’s stolen money. The cake he threw up. The E.T. scared him until I blacked out its keen eyes with a Magic Marker. We celebrated by ourselves as Vicki and Marty chose to spend their Thanksgiving with someone named Cuff Daniels, a guy Marty used to jam with. For his birthday they gave their son a wish-bone from the turkey they had eaten. Vicki carried it home in her purse and it was covered in lint.

As Christmas neared I made another list and worked up the nerve to approach Marty man-to-man about the gifts his son deserved. Marty regarded the list for a moment before folding it in half. He told me that Christmas is just another day as far as a baby is concerned. He folded the list again, explaining that, as far as he was concerned, Christmas had nothing to do with spending all your hard-earned money on bullshit gifts.

“Christmas is in here,” he said, pointing to the spot where he thought his heart might be. “It’s on the inside, where it counts.” He folded the paper again and again until it was the size of a matchbook, all the while telling me some story about the time someone’s Christmas tree caught their house on fire and he found a roll of quarters in the ashes. The money had melted into a lump and he used it as a paperweight until some asshole stole it off his worktable.

For Christmas Marty bought himself a motorcycle, brand-new. He gave Vicki a helmet, unwrapped. He just handed it to her. The two of them rode off to Cuff Daniels’s house and brought the baby another wishbone. This one still had meat on it and was ice-cold from riding in Vicki’s pocket.

For the first few months Marty parked his motorcycle in the dining room nursery. He would take it out for joyrides and guide it back into the house, where he would lay newspapers on the floor and tinker with it. Marty understood that enclosed exhaust fumes can be fatal so he was always careful to raise all the windows while the engine was running. It was a nuisance as I would turn my back for a moment and discover the baby sitting on the greasy newspaper with a wrench in his mouth, the cold air steaming from his nose.

I bided my time, waiting for the day Marty would park the motorcycle in the garage rather than forcing it up the front steps of the house. I knew the day would come and when it finally arrived, a Thursday evening in early February, I sneaked into the garage with a hacksaw. It took me four hours in the dark but I did it: I sawed off both the handlebars. I also filled the gas tank with Dr. Pepper, but Marty is so caught up in the handlebars he still hasn’t noticed it. The next morning, when Vicki told me what had happened, I acted shocked. She led me to the garage, where she pointed to a scattering of metal flakes on the concrete floor.

“There,” she said, aiming with her cigarette. “Those are the shavings.”

When Marty came home from work he did the same thing, led me to the garage and pointed out the shavings. He told me there was no use in calling the police seeing as they’ve had it in for him since day one. Marty said he would solve this crime himself, one man, on his own. He said he couldn’t say for sure but he was practically certain that Cuff Daniels had something to do with it. “Good old Cuff,” he said. Then he spit on the con-crete floor.

Things went along like always until the next week, when Rochelle caught me taking money from her purse. Normally I could always tell where she was as I could hear her moaning, sometimes actual words and other times just sounds, like a weary motor. She must have held her breath this time. Maybe she suspected something was up. I turned around and there she was.

“I wasn’t taking your money,” I said, rolling up the bills and replacing the rubber band that held them. “I wasn’t taking it, I was just. . counting it. You’ve got thirty-seven dollars here. Boy, that’s a lot of tips, thirty-seven dollars.”

Rochelle stood in the doorway with her fists in the air. “Not but twenty minutes ago I had forty-one dollars,” she said, hobbling closer toward me. “Do you expect me to believe that the rest of my money got tired of being cooped up in that packet-book and decided to walk off on its own and explore the world? Is that what you expect me to believe? Is it? Because, let me tell you something, Mister, I can’t stand a thief.”

She brought her fist up against the side of my face. “Somebody needs to box your ears, Mister, and it might as well be me because if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s a thief, a lazy, sneaking thief.”

She kept hitting me, her voice rising until my father came from the bathroom and pulled her off of me. After listening to her side of the story he calmly placed his left hand on my shoulder and, with his right, punched me very hard in the stomach.

“That’s what he needs,” Rochelle said, “someone to box his ears. Thief! Liar.”

Just like Vicki before me, I packed my belongings into paper bags. At the time all I felt was shame and regret not for taking the money, but for my pitiful lie that I was just counting it. I know how I must have looked at that moment, washed out and sneaky and stupid. I should have said I was collecting for services rendered and stood my ground. I should have predicted my father’s punch. Should have, should have. I spent the night in the woods behind my father’s house thinking of all the should haves. That night I should have packed a sleeping bag.

The following morning I presented my case to Vicki, who said she’d bring it up with Marty when the time was right. I spent the next two nights in their backyard before he decided I could stay in the garage. It doesn’t have any heat but at least it’s dry. I ran an extension cord in from the house so now I can choose between having a lamp or the broken TV, which has sound but no picture, just a snowy gray screen that I find I can’t take my eyes off.

Marty Jr. can walk now. He can even think. If you point and say, “Bring me the book, Baby, bring me the book,” he will do it. When you ask, “Where’s Big Bird?” Marty Jr. will toddle over and pound on the TV set, hoping to drive him out. He’s not stupid far from it. Soon he will speak and I have been working to coach him. Everything I touch I hold up and name in an instructive tone of voice. “Cushion,” I’ll say. “Ashtray.” “Can opener.” I do this only in the daytime, when Marty’s not around. Last Sunday, at dinner, he started making fun of me. He picked up his fork and turned to the baby saying, “Douche Bag.” Then he pointed at me and said, “Dip Shit. Dip Shit.”

Marty Jr. clapped his hands together and said, “Dishyt, Dishyt.”

I thought Vicki and Marty would never stop laughing. They patted Marty Jr. on the head, and he said it again: “Dishyt.” It burned me up that he might turn on me like that. He said it once more while I was putting him to bed and I took the meat of his thigh and twisted it between my fingers.

A few weeks after I moved in, Marty caught the baby making a long-distance call. It was just dumb luck he punched in some numbers and made a connection. When Marty took the phone out of the baby’s hand, he found himself speaking to a woman who kept saying, “C’est toi Julien?. . C’est toi?”

Marty thought the baby had dialed China. Vicki said it sounded like Hawaii to her.

Marty said, “Hawaii, China, or Puerto Rico, what the hell difference does it make? I’m the one who’s stuck paying for it and, in case you haven’t noticed, I am not made of money. Is that what you thought, that I’m made of money?”

Vicki said, “No, sir, I do not.”

Marty Jr., on a roll, gurgled and dialed 911.

The next day Marty placed all the telephones in high places, where the baby couldn’t reach them. Then he went out and got himself a dog. A puppy might have been nice for the baby but Marty brought home a full-grown Doberman, a used dog given to him by a guy he works with. Jamboree has a bullet head and a stumpy tail, like a big black thumb smeared with shit. I think perhaps the previous owner trained him to be unpleasant. I’ve seen that in a magazine before, men with thick pads around their arms, provoking dogs to attack so they can qualify for high-paying jobs patrolling department stores and car lots. Jamboree was here only two days before he took down Playboy, the neighbor’s old basset hound. Poor Playboy didn’t know what hit him. Marty took the body and set it in the street, hoping his owners would believe Playboy had been hit by a car.

Right, Marty, a car with teeth.

Jamboree shouldn’t be allowed on the street, even on a leash. Everyone but Marty is afraid of this dog. Even cars speed up when they see him on the sidewalk. During the night jamboree sleeps on a pad beside his master’s bed. Vicki told me that she no longer drinks fluids after 9:00P.M. as she is afraid to leave the bed and risk going to the bathroom. Jamboree has already bitten her once, nipped her when she tried to remove an ashtray from the mattress. Marty tells her that jamboree can smell her fear and that she has no one but herself to blame for being a coward. Vicki asked him what her fear smells like and he said it stinks like a carton of milk left out in the sun for five days to a week.

“Where’s my champ? Where is he? Where’s my boy?” Marty will ask, and jamboree will come kneeling before him, the stump of a tail moving back and forth, hitching for a ride.

After he leaves for work in the morning, Vicki and I coax the dog into the spare room and shut the door. Then I take the baby out of his crib and carry on about my business. We can all hear jamboree passing time in the spare room, whining and scratch-ing at the door. At first I was afraid Marty Jr., curious, would open the door but he’s smart; he knows what’s in there.

My fear smells like damp wood, so I built Marty Jr. a playpen. I made it myself with my own two hands. When Marty returns from work he lets the dog loose and I set Marty Jr. in his pen, where I hope he might be safe. Jamboree circles around, trying to get at him but Marty Jr. is smart and knows to keep back from the bars. He stands in the center of his pen, watching. Once in a while he’ll throw something over the top. Last night jamboree ate E.T. The dining room floor was littered with tufts of plush fur and Styrofoam BBs.

This morning I set Marty Jr.’s crib atop a platform a dining room table I found in the neighbor’s trash pile. I stood on a chair and settled him in, thinking he might marvel at this new perspective. “Look at you,” I said. “On top of the world.” He cried then and when I went to comfort him he grabbed my hair and didn’t let go until I popped him across the face. I tell myself that it’s not his fault, that things will be different when it’s just the two of us on our own. And it will be different. I found the place where Marty hides his money. There’s close to three hundred dollars here, enough to take the baby and me to Florida, where it’s warm. We can camp out there, live in the woods until I get a job. Marty would have the national guard on my ass if I were to poison his dog, but I don’t think he’ll care one way or another if I take off with his son. And Vicki she might think about it for a week or so, and then she’d let it go, saving it up for a year or two down the road, when she’ll turn to the person sitting beside her at the tavern and say, “Did I ever tell you about the time my very own brother ran off with my fucking baby? Did I?”


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