My father moved in a whore and her son when I was at work. My clothes were folded behind the couch. I saw their suitcases. They were in the kitchen talking. I walked into my room, sat on the bed and looked around at his things. My father walked by and looked at me. I asked him what had happened. He threw me disgust. I walked into the kitchen where they stood. She was a fat brunette, high hair, her fat feet crammed into pumps. Her face was whiskey and batter and trade. Her son was skinny, long hair in the back and wired on speed. My father walked in.
“Jeff. This is your new family. Billie and Brett.”
She gave me a slimy nod. Her son tilted his head back and stared me down. I looked at my hands, walked into the bathroom and ran the water. My palms were bloodied from a spill on my bike riding home from work, working double shifts to save for a car. My father rushed in and slammed the door. In the mirror he asked me why I was being so rude. I kept washing my hands. He asked me again. Through the mirror I could see that he had been up for days. I could see that he had just met her at the bar, and I could see him moving their suitcases up the staircase into our apartment. To my left on the counter I saw a clear vanity bag containing make-up, hair brushes and a small glass pipe. I looked back to the sink. He caught the side of my head with a solid right. It echoed in my skull and left my ear ringing. The hit knocked me into the wall. I resumed washing my hands. He told me that this is the way life was, that if I didn’t like it, to pack my shit and get out. He closed the door quietly. I collapsed to the floor and held my ear with both hands, coming up with blood on my palm. The pain was incredible. I washed the ear, walked back into the bedroom and sat on the bed. It occurred to me that this would be the way it was. I walked into the bathroom and grabbed up my things. In the living room I saw her chopping lines of cocaine on the coffee table. They watched the blade and nothing else. I sat back on the bed and began putting the things my father had missed into one of my pillowcases.
I heard the whore whisper to her son to come talk to me. He walked in and stood over me while I sat on the bed. He nodded down to me and curled his lip back.
“What the fuck are you doing in here?”
He was sweaty junk. His lower jaw orbited his skull, and his eyes were disgusting. My father and the whore appeared in the doorway, and my father smiled. In his smile I saw terrible things. The whore yelled at her kid.
“Brett! That is no way to treat your new brother!”
He ignored her and twitched, “I asked you a question, faggot.”
I looked at my father. He told me I had to fight my own battles. Her son nudged my shin with the toe of his sneaker.
“Get out of my room.”
My father laughed. He said that if he were me he’d get out of the room before Brett taught me a lesson. I asked him if he’d lost his mind. He was unresponsive. Her son flipped his fingertips against my sore ear and told me to get out again. I stood up and punched him in the teeth. A few slipped back. He fell into the closet doors, and they fell off their tracks. It was loud. My father came for me. I ducked him and her son was up, hand over bloody mouth. He had tears in his eyes. My father had fallen behind the side of the bed. He was grumbling threats, and trying to stand.
I caught her son with a left this time, in the throat. He fell back into the closet and screamed like a girl. His mother came at me in a blind rage. I kicked her hard in the crotch. She stumbled back and dropped in the hallway. I felt a hand on my shoulder spin me around, a flash of meaty knuckles and my lights were turned out.
I woke up hours later. My head was pounding. It was dark in my room. I was under the covers with my shoes off. It occurred to me in the dark that I had turned seventeen the day before. I sat up and walked into the bathroom. The place was pitch black. I flipped the light on.
The whole area above my eyebrows and down to the center of my nose was dark blue and kidney shaped, like a dark birthmark. My neck was stiff. I touched the bruise. Shockwaves of pain rolled around my head. There was the clear vanity bag to my left. In a cup in the medicine cabinet sat a plastic cup with dentures at the bottom. I walked into my room and put my shoes on.
Through the bathroom light I could hear them passed out in the living room, down from days of speed. I watched the room from the doorway. My belongings were no longer packed behind the couch. In the bathroom I lifted the dentures from the cup and crushed them under my heel, returning the crumbs back into the cup. They floated there. I closed the medicine cabinet.
Out in the living room I stepped over my father on the floor. The other two were sharing the couch. She was sleeping on top of her son. I was heading across the street to the store for aspirin. Outside sat my belongings in a duffel bag next to my bike. I wondered why they hadn’t been stolen. We didn’t live in the hills. I closed the door. My father jumped up and locked the deadbolt.
I wheeled the bag on my bike across the street. The Sun was coming up behind the supermarket. I placed my bike and my bag next to a register and found a bottle of aspirin and a jug of water, a candy bar, some medicated cream and a box of gauze. When I went to pay my wallet was empty. I had three weeks’ pay in there. Both of my pockets were empty. The lady at the counter asked me what happened to my face. I told her I had just been mugged. She pointed out that my tooth was chipped in half. I felt it. My upper lip was swollen and my front tooth was chipped. I hadn’t noticed. Since she’d mentioned it, it hurt to breathe in. I left the store empty. My sister lived six miles west, in an even worse part of town. It was still hot in Phoenix. October meant nothing. The bag was without straps, and I had to stop every few blocks to balance it on the frame. I walked my things to her house.
She was at work and the kids were in school. She had three kids from three separate marriages, living in a two bedroom duplex in Glendale. I didn’t want to walk into her work looking like I did. I hopped her fence and fell asleep under the trampoline.
I woke up sweating from the heat of the black rubber. I found a corner of the yard and threw up. Under a palm’s short shade I went through my bag and found my Walkman far at the bottom. I played my music until my batteries went dead. I thought of ways to get my four hundred and sixty-two dollars back from my father, though I knew it was spent already. I laid my head on a pillow of shirts and closed my eyes. Since the sudden death of my mother, he was bound for what he did. The pain of his chemical life was easier for him than dealing with his guilt for treating her like dirt, for ignoring her. Only thing was he still had a son. I wanted to hate him but I couldn’t. I thought about my mother reading her bible from her chair under the big lamp. She was with the faith but never once pushed it on us. I thought about the old man now, a husk of waste on the floor, while I tasted my vomit and blood. My throat grew thick with bile and I leaned to my side and let it go on the grass. The Sun reached through gaps in the palms and gripped my swollen eye. It burned with tears but my eyelid wouldn’t open for anything. I covered my brow with a shirt and remembered back to my old life, to my mother reading the word, and my head burned beneath the sky that was once full with stars, which was now bright with sickness while I tried to breathe. All of nature’s passions spent, all of her god’s forgotten grace descended and rotting, the failure of his plan and the bloody tears of war-torn angels. All the mysteries of children lacerated.
Excerpt/beginning of Breath Upon A Burn