6.12 / October 2011

There are Places to Reach that are Equal and Violent

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And he has a pet rat, Ratty, who he holds up against the window so the front slant of his hairy face is pressed against the glass. See? he says to Ratty. Outside the squirrels are leaping from tree to tree and children with shorts and sandwiches are watching the squirrels or throwing balls, and they are all good at throwing balls or wearing shorts or leaping. The boy pulls the rat back from the window and looks him hard in the face. You don’t have hair on your tail, that’s why, the boy says.

The boy is learning about communism in school. He’s learning the basics of a few political ideologies, but he likes communism best because it seems both fair and violent, and it’s hard to see how two things are better suited. Plus, he loves Fidel Castro. The man knows what he wants and takes it from the bad people so that everyone is the same, and he has this tremendous beard. Nobody can say it’s a bad thing, the boy thinks, nobody. He will now call his rat Fidel.

He watches the squirrels go about their business: picking up nuts or flicking their tail or leaping or nibbling or holding strangely still until there is some disturbance, and then madness, leaping, a scattering flurry out and away from one another towards different trees, the leap to the trunk, the tight cling and circle, body pressed close, rounding the horizon, little grippy paws, until the movement is stilled. Cling to something tight enough and it will save you, the boy thinks.

Cling to something tight enough and it will save you, the boy tells Fidel. He looks at Fidel again, thinks of Fidel. Thinks of equality and fairness. The boy is just beginning to grow hair in his crotch -he has six or seven of them, still sort of soft-but he cuts them off and finds the toolbox full of glue varietals.  He smears Gorilla Glue on the little hairs, holds Fidel in his other hand, and attaches the hairs to Fidel’s naked feet. One for the tail too. Hold still. Stiller. They aren’t sticking well so the boy retrieves the bra strap he keeps with his underwear, holds the hairs to Ratty’s feet and wraps them with the pink strap. He needs more hairs.

The boy goes into his dad’s bathroom where a thin lawn of hairs cascade over the two sinks. He collects them with a sweep of his hand and deposits them into his pocket. A few are stuck to his fingers and palm. He wipes the hairs onto his face, planting his own little garden.

The boy puts Fidel in the inside pocket of his coat and heads outside, down the street, past other houses full of children and pets. The boy practices making his lonely eyes into the windows. Once, when he made his lonely eyes in front of a house that had grandparents over, a grandma came outside and handed him a piece of pie to take with him. He hates pie. It isn’t sweet.

As the boy passes the Church, he looks inside and sees his dad practicing for the town play. His dad always says it differently. Community theatre, he says on the phone and to the mailman. The dad is onstage in overalls, sashaying diagonally up and back, and touching the choreographer, Mrs. Jasper, who was also the boy’s health teacher, just under the boob when he passes.  Sometimes all the boy can think about in the entire world is boobs.

The boy gets to the end of the street and takes a left, then quick right. He’s at the edge of a great lake that goes blue and smooth forever without any discernable horizon, so he finds four meaty sticks to tie into a square, which he does with the bra strap and some old fishing line he finds, and then takes off his tube socks and ties them across the square to make a hammocky interior for the boat.

Where the Wild Things Are isn’t real, the boy knows, but Cuba is real. There are places to reach on the other side of the water. The boy needs to get to Cuba, or more accurately, needs to get Fidel to Cuba where he can be more than he is instead of here where his ratness makes him so much less. Here there is inequality everywhere, one sort of creature better than another sort of creature, but in Cuba you can fight with sticks or swords and at the end everyone gets a sandwich.

Fidel doesn’t hold still well. The boy takes off his T-shirt and wraps Fidel into the middle and unties one end of the tube socks so he can knot the t-shirt into the middle before he ties the socks back to the other end. Here we go, the boy tells Fidel, and they walk into the water towards Cuba.

******

The boy collects the hairs from his dad’s sink with a sweep of his hand and deposits them into his pocket. A few are stuck to his fingers and palm. He wipes the hairs onto his face, planting his own little garden. The boy’s dad walks into the bathroom. He stares at the boy. What’re you doing? the dad asks. The boy stares down at the sink. You want to be a man? Is that it? the dad laughs. No, the boy says. What then? the dad says. He’s wearing his overalls and has rouged cheeks. Nothing. It’s for Ratty, the boy says. The dad huffs out air. Fucking rat, he says, then fucking weird ass kid.

******

The boy has a gap so wide between his front teeth that most people think he is missing a tooth and he has a pet rat, Ratty, who he holds up against the window so the front slant of his hairy face is pressed against the glass. See? he says to Ratty. Outside the squirrels are leaping from tree to tree and children with shorts and sandwiches are watching the squirrels or throwing balls, and they are all good at throwing balls or wearing shorts or leaping. The boy pulls the rat back from the window and looks him hard in the face. You don’t have hair on your tail, that’s why, the boy says.

The boy is learning about communism in school. He loves Fidel Castro. The boy’s watched Fidel’s face on TV and it gives him these swollen feelings. Though the boy gets to see Fidel’s face often, he doesn’t get to hear his voice much because his father is practicing his lines and songs and needs the TV quiet. Oh What a Beautiful Morning, his dad sings while the TV switches to pictures of a baby killer whale in a giant pool. Ratty stirs inside the boy’s backpack. He is making scratching and wheezing sounds, clawing against one corner of his bag. Why can’t Ratty learn? Psychopath, the boy says towards his backpack, because that is a new word he’s learned and he likes how it makes you do an angry sort of spit when you say it.

Things have come far enough, the boy decides, there are times where we just need war. He leaves his house with his backpack and walks down the street practicing angry faces into the windows. Twice, some boy from school threw cherries at him from a tree house when he walked by practicing angry.  He didn’t eat them.

The boy knows that rodent’s front teeth never stop growing because of the hard things they gnaw. In this, Ratty and the squirrels are the same. He takes a left and then two rights and arrives at a park where no children play because it’s near the house of some man who touches people, the teachers say, but the boy goes and thinks war, war, war and feels old for knowing how equality and violence work together. He has a piece of bread in his backpack and a Cuban in his heart.  The boy rips little pieces from the bread and tosses them towards the squirrels. They are frightened. He pulls Ratty from his backpack and sets him down on the ground. Go be a squirrel, he tells Ratty. Ratty sniffs. He picks Ratty back up and then tosses him a few feet so he’s closer to the squirrels.  He decides Ratty’s new name will be Mean Squirrel.

The boy feels selfless and full of freedom. Mean Squirrel doesn’t move. The squirrels continue their rush or stare from the curve of the trunk and this is all rude behavior, it’s well known, nobody is working towards equality and so the boy looks away and begins telling jokes: what’s black and white and red all over? Knock knock who’s there Mickey Mouse’s underwear, and then, since he can only remember stupid baby jokes, he says bad words over and over: blow job blow job blow job asshole penis boobs titties, but still Mean Squirrel continues sniffing and standing and the squirrels continue their ignorant stares and the boy realizes. He knows. The problem isn’t them. It’s him. He knows what to do. He picks up a rock. His hand moves towards his face. He brings the rock hard against his front teeth so they can all be equal.

******

The boy practices making his lonely eyes into the windows. Once, when he made his lonely eyes in front of a house that looked empty, he realized it wasn’t empty only when there was a flurry of movement inside and he was staring at owl-white boobs. Sometimes all the boy can think about in the entire world is boobs.

As the boy passes the Church, he looks inside and sees his dad practicing for the town play. The dad is onstage in overalls, sashaying diagonally up and back, and touching the choreographer, Mrs. Jasper, who was also the boy’s health teacher, just under the boob when he passes. He can hear his father singing Oh What a Beautiful Morning and decides to go around to the back doors of the Church to see if he can get inside. The boy pulls Ratty from his jacket and holds him up to his mouth. In some places, the boy whispers to Ratty, people eat squirrels.

The boy reaches the back of the Church and the doors are locked. He walks around to the front and the curtains have been pulled over the windows. He can’t hear his dad anymore. The street is quiet. He slides his back down against the front of the Church and pretends to pull a sandwich from his pocket and pretends to nod towards all the hungry creatures to join and pretends to break it into tiny, equal pieces. I am Fidel Castro, he tells Ratty. You will call me Fidel. Equal pieces for everyone, the boy says. Ratty crawls along his leg.

The boy falls asleep against the Church and wakes up in Cuba where all the women have impossibly long, skinny triangle boobs, like traffic cones, that force them to joust one another as they pass on the street, eating sandwiches. There is blood everywhere and rats look the same as squirrels and the people are happy.


Though she grew up among Redwood trees and hippies in Woodacre, California, Tessa Fontaine now lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama with kudzu, feral cats, and railroad tracks. She’s the nonfiction editor of Black Warrior Review. Her work can be found in Creative Nonfiction, The Normal School, Brevity, and a chapbook entitled “My Poems” she stapled together in the fourth grade.
6.12 / October 2011

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