The Switch

“Who names their band Tool?” David asked from his perch on the back of the couch. I’d told him sixty-four times not to sit there.

“Apparently Maynard Keenan,” I said, smiling. I shooed him from the couch, which was really no worse for wear. David plopped down next to me instead. Apparently our conversation wasn’t over.

We did the dance often, the questions, the answers, and the switch. Sometimes he would ask, sometimes I would, but we would always end up where we started, at him rolling his eyes. Often the questions were easy ones, but every once in a while he threw me a curveball.

“Where do babies come from?” he asked last night. I pretended not to hear him. “Where do babies come from?” he repeated, louder. David’s ten, and can outlast a zombie in who can stare the longest without blinking.

“Well, they come from pockets in trees, like baby kangaroos in pouches,” I said. “When mommies and daddies go hiking in the forest, they can take them out and name them whatever they want. Once the babies have names, they belong to the mommies and daddies. Before they have names, they still belong to the trees.”

He pondered the idea of arboreal humanoids, but shook his head slowly after a minute.

“No. Way,” he said. “Trees are too rough. The bark would hurt the babies.”

“That’s what sap is for,” I told him. “It keeps them warm and protects them from the rough bark.” Continue reading “The Switch”

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Sign Language

The sign by the pool says, “No diving under five feet,” and I always wonder if it shouldn’t be six. I always wonder if no one should dive at all. But I don’t say anything. I don’t want to disturb anyone, even from getting a cracked head.

I sit there on the edge, staring at the sign, feeling drowsy because chlorine always makes me drowsy. I will probably drown someday if I stay in the pool long enough. Maybe I should have my mom check the box so I don’t have to swim anymore, like she did with gym class.

The others splash about in the deep end. The sign over there says, “Only with a lifeguard present,” and I imagine the skinny high schooler standing up and saying, “I’m present,” when he sees the sign. Of course he’s reading a book, it’s Moby Dick, but I don’t think that’s allowed. There should be a sign to tell him that.

“It’s your turn to swim, Thom,” Miss Myrtle tells me. Her hand is on my shoulder. I don’t like it when people touch me without asking. I don’t like many things, but Miss Myrtle smells like the beach, and I forgive her for it. It’s not enough to make me swim, though.

“Thom, we go through this every Thursday,” she says, when I don’t speak up. Continue reading “Sign Language”

Not the Swearing Kind

He had Tourette’s, but not the swearing kind. In fact, if you didn’t know him very well you wouldn’t even suspect he had any issues. If you looked closely, however, you might notice the trembling in his right hand, the clicking of his tongue slamming repetitively against the back of his teeth, or even the twitching of his left eyebrow in time with some hidden drummer in his head. It was at once both familiar and reassuring, but also supremely frustrating to him. It had only caused him real trouble twice in his life: the one time when he accidentally voted for Jill Stein, and the other when he wet himself at the urinal at City Hall. Both times had been quite embarrassing. He had vowed not to let either one happen again.

He was a tour guide at the Museum of Modern Art, one of the fifty white-jacketed walking encyclopedias of the history of painting, with some sculptural knowledge on the side. When he was on his feet, using his hands to gesture at the works on the walls, he sometimes forgot the shaking that consumed him at all other times of the day. It was as if the motion lulled his brain into a sense of comfort that nothing else could. He wished he were able to bottle that feeling and keep it with him all day long, but he knew it was as impossible as Easter on the Fourth of July. Continue reading “Not the Swearing Kind”

No Silver Linings

“That cloud looks like Mike Tyson,” Sheena said, poking me in the ribs.

She was always poking me in the ribs, but I had nowhere to go. We had been shoved together in the backseat for five hours straight, and if I thought she was annoying in a room, Sheena in the car was worse.

“That cloud does not look like Mike Tyson,” I responded without looking.

“You didn’t look!” she squealed. “Joey didn’t look!” she told my mom, who also didn’t look.

Honestly, I don’t even think my mom wanted to go on the trip in the first place, but Barry insisted on it. He and my mom had been together for two years, and I felt like he was pushing it a little bit, with those stupid family trips. Sheena was his kid, a little brat who never stopped talking.

“You missed the cloud that looked like Mike Tyson,” she said, pouting. Continue reading “No Silver Linings”

Pipe Dreams

The hood was life. We ate it, slept it, sucked it in like air, but that ain’t leave too much time for nuthin’ else. Hell, me and Ricardo ain’t even know there was no big world out there til we was twelve, and then what good it do us? Ricardo always talkin’ ‘bout movin’ on up, but we ain’t got no ladder, no stairs, not even no step stool cuz Bubba Jones took it last Tuesday and momma said we ain’t gettin’ it back.

“Y’all don’t got no prospect, ‘cept what the hood give y’all,” Seph Mason told me and Ricardo that summer we both grew in our wisdom teeth.

“Momma say sky’s the limit,” Ricardo told Seph. Seph backhanded him upside the head. Ricardo’s ratty Phillies cap flew off.

“Yo momma don’t know no better,” Seph said. “She always smokin’ that crack, make you have them delusions and shit. She wudn’t ever no good.”

Which is what everybody say about Ricardo’s momma, but I stay out of it. ‘Sides, we was gonna get a taste of that Jefferson movement ‘cuz our school got a field trip downtown next week.

“How you think they build them big buildings and stuff?” I asked Seph. He got out his crack pipe and lit up before he got to respondin’.

“They use slave labor, same as always,” Seph said, looking me and Ricardo in the eyes. His was bloodshot. Continue reading “Pipe Dreams”

Flash Fiction: Power

“You’re twins?” exclaims our new krav maga instructor, a feisty brunette named Kristy. It is a question often asked because we look vaguely alike, but not to the extent of twins.

“Yes,” I say, as I always do. I’ve gotten used to the incredulity, to the double takes when we walk into a room, side by side, or back to front, like in revolving doors.

We are indeed twins. Cromwell is older by six minutes, but he is not the boss of me. In fact, he is timid where I am forthright. He is complicated where I am simple. He is everything I am not, and I fulfill the same role for him.

He was born in 1989, while I arrived in 1990, an oddity indeed, but not as rare as you would think. Out of the four million babies born in the U.S. in 1990, five hundred and eighty of them were born on January first. At 12:03 in the morning, I joined this group.

“Ohhhh! Fraternal,” she says, as they always do once they’ve realized I’m not joking.

“No,” I say, calmly, measuredly. “Identical.”

And of course we do look somewhat alike, but you can see the brain cells working overtime to try and put the pieces to this puzzle together. Because while in the womb Cromwell took the position of power. Continue reading “Flash Fiction: Power”

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