“Just be patient, Otis,” Ma says. I ignore this and keep tugging her long, blue skirt. She isn’t having any of that. Ma kneels down and gives me a look that says, ‘back-it-up-Buster-I-am-not-messing-around-right-now-also-I-saw-you-put-those-chocolate-eggs-in-your-pocket-they-better-be-back-on-the-shelf-in-three-two-’
I hate errand days.
Ma turns back to the green beans, muttering about prices that are ‘through the roof,’ and how the fat man is ‘robbing her blind.’
I’m very hungry by the time we finish the shopping and the little man in my belly is pinching me. Sometimes I like to imagine that he looks like Mr. Lagharty from next door and that he stomps around my belly throwing newspapers at the crows.
I want dinner immediately when we get home, but Ma says I need a bath first. I go upstairs and run the water, but I don’t go in. I wait just long enough that Ma won’t be suspicious and then I slink back to the kitchen, feeling only slightly guilty.
“Is it almost dinner?” I ask Ma.
“Did you clean behind your ears?”
“Is it dinner?”
“Just be patient, Otis,” she sighs.
“Where’s Jordy?” I want to know.
“Set the table, Otis.” She slops something horrifying onto a plate.
The belly man hisses and says the word I’m not supposed to say but sometimes I do when no one is listening. I pretend to enjoy it so I don’t hurt Ma’s feelings.
Ma doesn’t talk at dinner. She never does when Jordy’s out. She thinks I don’t notice. I do. I notice these things.
“Will you play army men outside?” I ask her when she’s done washing the dishes.
“It’s too dark, you can play in the morning.” Ma says.
“Will you play tomorrow, though?”
“Who’s going to do the chores if I’m playing with you?”
Ma makes me wear the scratchy pyjamas to bed because she hasn’t gotten around to cleaning the other ones.
“I just need one more glass of water,” I tell her.
“You’ve already had three, you’ll wet yourself.” Ma snaps. The vein on her forehead is about to pop.
“I’m not tired.”
“Yes, you are.” Ma says and shuts the door. Only I can’t sleep because my neck is itchy and the blankets are twisting me into a knot. I wait and listen for Jordy’s boots to crunch down the driveway. Only they never come.
Ma is acting funny when I go down for breakfast. I know this because she has cooked my sock in with the eggs. I move the laundry basket off the counter and away from the frying pan.
“Where’s Jordy?” I want to know.
“Eat, and then go play.” Ma says. I notice around her eyes are quite red and I think now is maybe not the best time to tell her that my egg smells a bit like burnt foot.
“Will you play with me?” I ask her.
“Not now, I have to go out.” She’s all in a huff and running around the room like her head was chopped off, stuffing pens and loose coins into her purse.
“Ma, where’s Jordy!”
She stops for a moment.
“Jordy has to go away for a while.” Her voice is squeaky.
“He did a bad thing.” Ma’s chin wobbles. “I left a message on Mr. Lagharty’s machine and asked if he would come over and watch you. Don’t growl, Otis. He’s doing us a favour.”
“When will you be back?”
“Later,” Ma says and I’m not sure she realizes that she’s wiping down the counter with my pillow case.
“Later when?” I want to know.
“Just be patient,” Ma sighs and pushes me out the door.
When she’s gone, I line up my army men along the front porch, carefully, two finger spaces apart. Then I load up the slingshot Jordy doesn’t know I took with rocks and bits of bro-ken glass from under the steps. “Just be patient,” I tell my men as they wait in line to die. I’m wondering if Mr. Lagharty ever got Ma’s message because he hasn’t come over to watch me and he isn’t in his yard screaming at the crows or cleaning the hats on his little garden gnomes. I do not like playing army men by myself. I can’t do the voices the same way Jordy can.
Oh, please don’t kill me. I’ve got a lasagna in the oven! My parakeets will die!
I kick the porch because I’m angry at Ma for leaving and I’m angry at Jordy for doing a bad thing and now I’m angry at my dumb toe for hurting a lot. I say all the bad words I know be-cause no one is around to hear them and I stomp across the yard, growling at Mr. Lagharty’s gar-den gnomes. That’s when an oily little voice slithers out from the darkest part of my head and makes me load up my slingshot. I let the rock go. There’s a sickening crunch and the face of the purple hat garden gnome falls off.
For a moment I feel the most alive ever.
But then I start to get a rotten hole in my belly and I drop the slingshot. Drums go off in my ears and I’m panicked because Ma’s head will explode when she finds out. I tear across the yard and up the steps. I did a bad thing and I’m crying all the way down to my socks until I real-ize the water on the floor didn’t come from me. Ma left the tap on and now there’s a puddle where our kitchen is supposed to be. My thoughts pile on top of each other, all fighting to be heard, and all I do is stand in the water with cold feet getting colder.
“Mr. Lagharty, are you home?” I scream through the mail slot. “Mr. Lagharty! MR. LAGHARTY! I’m having a ‘mergency.” I wait but I don’t hear anything. I try the handle and the door is unlocked. The house is yellow inside and smells like the eggs I had for breakfast. Mr. Lagharty is fast asleep in a puffy chair. I poke his neck with my little finger but he doesn’t move. The belly man stabs me with his cane and reminds me to feed him and I wonder what Mr. Lagharty has got in his pantry. I find a big tin of sweets and I eat them all even though they make my tongue sticky and my mouth dry. Mr. Lagharty is still sleeping in the puffy chair and I’m starting to get a bit anxious because when I put my hand in front of his face I don’t feel any air come out. I shake him as hard as I can and scream down his ear but he doesn’t move even one inch. And now I’m very worried because he is dead and I wish I hadn’t beheaded his gnome. I wait in a knot in front of our house until Ma gets back. She says a bad word when she sees all the water, and her nose gets all sniffly. I go real quiet because Ma’s are not supposed to cry.
“Mr. Lagharty really isn’t having the best day,” I say to Ma in my smallest voice.
“Well, neither am I.” Ma huffs. She slams her purse down on the counter.
“Except that Mr. Lagharty might be winning on account of the fact that I think he is dead.”
“Dead?” Ma says and her eyes open really wide. And so I explain the ‘mergency, and how I went to ask Mr. Lagharty for help, and how the door was open, and how I waited for him to wake up from his nap, but he never did. Ma runs and gets the phone and tells the ambulance people to zip over quick. They pull up in our driveway with the flashing red and blue lights and I get to tell them what happened. Except I don’t say the part where I beheaded the gnome. Then Ma and I gather every towel we own and soak up the puddle. The floor is moldy and brown in some places but I think that is not the biggest problem of today.
Ma says that Jordy got into a tight spot with some bad people and now he has to ‘lie in his bed.’ Sometimes though we can see him if his behaviour is good. Ma says we are allowed to be sad for a while but eventually we have to ‘pick up our socks’ and get on with it. So I ask her how I am meant to do that if she keeps cooking them in with my eggs. Ma looks at me for a sec-ond and then she laughs, which means I start to laugh too. And we don’t stop for a real long time.
Haley Magrill is a Canadian writer and student at the University of British Columbia. She has previously published a short story entitled “Comatose” in Flash Fiction Magazine and “You Unloved Thing” in Mojave He[art] Review.
Image via Pixabay