In another life, that might seem normal, might seem like exactly the place for a fifteen-year-old boy with nothing better to do. Maybe in another life, I'm someone else, and I'm not somewhere else, caught between who I want to be and who I am, unwilling to chase after one and unwilling to kill the other.
In another life, I'm someone else.
But life isn't a fantasy, and I'm not the boy with photos of his family tacked up onto the walls of the house. I am not the boy who got tucked into bed at night. I am not the child with too much free time and plenty of things to do with the nervous energy in my palms. I'm a crownless king, a joke walking, a boy with blood in his past and on his hands and a line of barbed wire wrapped around my throat.
In this life, I stare at my ceiling and wait.
I wait because there's nothing better for me to be doing, wait because the pain I know is about to come is the only thing that I know besides anger—and pain, every so often, is easier than anger.
Should I be angry? He's drunk at 10 o'clock in the morning, cane swinging, fist pounding on the door. Sometimes, he goes on binges for days, just disappears and then comes back home smelling like rotten beer and iron, dried blood on his shirt. It's never clear to me if it's his or not, but I bank on the idea that most of the time it's not.
Surely there'd be some obvious injury on his somewhere if it was.
I don't know.
But the blood's not really the point.
Or maybe it is? Maybe blood is everything; after all, it's the only reason I'm here in this god-damned god-forsaken house in the first place. It's the reason I'm here, where I know what a series of nights will be like, where I know exactly what kind of horrors I'm going to have to endure.
"Open this door!" My grandpa shouts from behind the wood, bangs on it a few times before jiggling the lock again. "Why the fuck is this door locked?"
I roll my eyes and make effort to move.
"Open the fucking door Rai!" He shouts again, continues his banging. "OPEN THE FUCKING DOOR!"
I inhale, roll out of my bed. I slept in my jeans again, so they're crumpled and disgusting but I don't give a single fuck. Sometimes I wish that I did, but I don't, and I'm working on turning that sometimes into never. I stroll over to where he's still jiggling the doorknob, twist the little key in its lock and walk away. He keeps banging for a few more moments, not realizing.
"You have NO respect!" He goes on. "NONE!" He finally tries the knob again, realizes it's open and the door comes flying into my room, knocks into the wall behind it so sharply that I'm sure the dent there is going to be even worse.
I've stopped bothering with fixing it.
If he wants to put holes in his house, I'm going to let him.
"The fuck are you thinking, boy?" He says, barreling towards me. I can see the unsteadiness, smell the telltale stench of old beer wafting from his clothes and his breath. I thought by now I'd be desensitized to it, but even still, now, it kinda makes me want to vomit. "You're gonna wear those fucking rags to school again, huh?" He says, watching at I sit on the edge of my bed and shove my feet into the same dirty pair of canvas sneakers I wear every other day. "Fucking dirty," he continues, leaning on his cane and flicking his hand at me with the other.
I don't flinch anymore.
I shove my things into my backpack, toss a stray book that I bothered to pick up into it and the flannel shirt I'm going to want to put on the second I step out of the house. I'm standing at my full height now, a good three inches taller than this hunched over man in front of me, but he thinks himself big and I know exactly how small I am, and the two put together gives him twice the strength I'll ever have so I don't just step right past him.
"You have no idea what I've done to build this country! What I've done to protect it! No sense of responsibility, no sense of what it takes to be a man! You have no sense of authority, n—’"
It’s the exact same speech he’s been giving me for the last five years. At this point, I know it by heart.
So I join in.
We finish in unison and he grabs me by the front of my shirt, shoves me against the wall.
"I'm the fucking authority, boy. You hear me?" The beer on his breath is almost nauseating. "I'm in charge here."
"Yes sir," I reply, deadpan.
The look of shock and anger on his face when I shove him away and walk out the door is nothing new.
Snow never really knows when to bite his tongue. I've known this about him my entire life, which is why I'm usually the one who has to fight his fights for him, because if I didn't, then no one would.
And then Snow would turn up in a ditch somewhere or other and I'd have no one to bitch about this small town with, so maybe I'm really doing it for my own benefit. Who knows. He's never asked why, and I've never offered a reason other than somewhere along the way we decided we were brothers.
I'd love to see you try and prove I'm that selfish.
Honestly? I have no idea what other evidence you would find. I'm sure there's something out there.
Like maybe you'd find evidence from that night I stuck holes Mike Perez's bike tires because he asked Ruby to the school dance before I could work up the nerve to do it and then rode around down shouting it at the top of his lungs. Maybe there's something there tying me to that.
Not you, that's for sure.
But anyway, like I was saying, I fight a lot of Snow's fights for him, selfish reasons or whatever aside. Kids like to make fun of him because his parents are poor enough and dumb enough that they thought naming there kid after the guy who fucks us all everyday would be something that got him respect, but instead hungry kids take their anger with President Shithead out on local deadbeat Snow instead. Sp fists fly, and Snow can't take a punch, so I let them land a couple in my stomach before calling them cunts and spitting in their faces, knock my elbow into their nose until it breaks, again, and get the principal threatens to suspend me, again.
So far he hasn't done it yet.
I'm sure I'm running out of chances, and one of these days they're gonna call my Grandpa down to the school building, but I have a feeling that will just get me more sympathy votes, so fuck it.
I'll keep calling them cunts and taking punches to the gut.
"You showed those fucking idiots," he says to me again, tossing a bottle of cheap beer at me. He's lounging on a rotten couch in the middle of an overgrown cornfield, sipping his warm beer. Neither of us knows how the couch got there, but it's been there since the first time we found it, when Snow rode us around on his bike, me standing behind him, balanced precariously.
I catch the beer he throws at me easily, crack it open and take a sip.