dinner—and we fought. I choked him. He pulled my hair. Neither of us
wanted to punch, so we didn’t. I just called him a pussy, and he turned
red and told me, “Fuck you,” before he stormed up Faucet Street.
At home, my brothers and I were in trouble. Chris had stayed home
from school again. Jonny was mouthing off. I was leaving things around
the house. Mom was tired, she told us, had a headache, and wasn’t in the
mood for bullshit. No dinner. Get the fuck to bed. So we marched to our
“Can’t wait to live with Daddy,” Chris said loud enough for her to
hear. “Least he feeds us there.” Then he threw his fist to his lips, smiling.
“Debbie cooks,” I said, because this is what we did. Partly to test my
mom. Partly to pretend, among each other, that we didn’t care. I knew
that mentioning Dad’s girlfriend, overtly comparing the two, might
change our circumstances.
Mom hated Debbie. She hated her so much, in fact, that she refused to
call our pajamas “pj’s” (which is what Debbie called them), and insisted
on “jammies,” despite how ridiculous it sounded. Sometimes when we
talked about Debbie, Mom attempted to be better, nicer, in a kind of
“Wish we lived with Debbie,” I said. Those walls were paper thin.
We lay around making fart noises under our armpits, laughing,
shelling out comments to the walls, until, finally, Mom burst into the
bedroom with a belt and started whipping us with it, shouting again to
go to sleep.
When we finally turned out the lights and Mom left, slamming the
door, we lay in the darkness, breathing heavily.
It was impossible not to laugh.
Jonny farted, and we lost it again. I fell off the bed with a thump,
holding my stomach. I don’t even know what was funny. But we were
boys, each a year apart and hungry and used to sleepless nights.
When Mom came back in, she charged at Chris, who until then had
been making more comments than any of us. She grabbed him by his
hair and dragged him into the hall, smacking him in the mouth.
At first we laughed at him, but she wasn’t easing up. Jonny and I followed them out. We called lightly for her to stop, to let him go.
Chris had this long, dark hair that fell equally down the sides of his
head into an early-’90s bowl cut. He used to stand in front of the mirror
for so long, soaking it with hairspray and mousse, combing it into perfect swoops in the front. In the hall now, my mother had handfuls of it.