Authors: Blair Mastbaum
An era over
Dead leaves drop; hard to find that
I pull into Clay’s driveway and I hear Sharky barking from the backyard. I didn’t have to think to drive here. My arms pulled at the steering wheel and shifted gears and my legs pushed on the pedals while I sat, virtually unconscious and strangely content. I catch a view of myself in the truck’s side mirror and see a bit of uncertainty in my face. I squint my eyes, suck in my cheeks, and puff out my lips like a tough punk rocker. I hold my breath and turn off the engine. It rattles and makes some clicking metal quirks and adjustments while it cools.
The neighborhood is lit by odd dark blue light. It’s still and quiet--Sunday evening quiet. It’s hard not to be seduced into by haze, but I have something I need to do, someone to be.
I stare at the house. Low eaves shield it from the light, like they’re hiding it. I jump out, slam the truck door, and walk up to the front window. I look at my reflection in the glass. My skin’s tan and I look more substantial wearing Clay’s T-shirt and shorts. The porch light makes a shadow in the grass behind me.
I imagine it’s Clay’s spirit watching me, possessing me, guiding me. I adjust my posture, hold my stomach in, my shoulders back, and puff my chest out. I widen my stance and lower my center of gravity, like I’m standing on a surfboard riding a monster wave. I imitate Clay’s conniving, smirky smile. “Hey, brah. How’s da waves? Big rights out at Sunsets. Killer, brah.” I reach out to the glass and touch my lips in the reflection. I do the complicated surfer handshake. I’m him. I nail it. “Eh, dude, howzit?” I watch my lips form the words. I consider sneaking through his window, but he wouldn’t do that. Sneaking around’s more my style. I feel Clay begging me to use all the freedom and confidence he has.
I walk to the front door and hear movement somewhere in the house. I clear my throat and think of Clay. “Hey. I’m home.” I hear my fake, deep voice bounce off the walls inside the house. Sharky runs up to me with his ears back, not barking. “Hey, boy.” I lean down and pet him down his back.
Susan walks out from the hall with a smile on her face. “I thought I heard you two drive up, Sam.” She thinks I’m Sam. Fuck.
I open the screen door and walk in. The house is all lit up and it smells clean and fresh. The dog-like scents of Clay have vanished. I replace them with my own dirty camping nature musk. I have to bring balance to the house. It needs it.
She needs it.
I give her a kiss on her lips, like Clay does. It makes the same smacking sound that Clay’s kisses make.
Her eyes pop open wide. She’s surprised I’m so forward. She thinks of me as shy. “Where’s hammerhead?” She looks out the door at his truck. She sees no movement. She checks a moment longer, then looks at me. Her brow lowers, concerned. She strokes her long hair with her hand and holds it back.
I stand and smile at her, trying to be cute in all the ways I can think of that Clay uses. I hold my head down and stare up at her with sad-looking eyes. I scratch my stomach, raise my T-shirt up, and stroke my chest gently with my hand, like I’m too sexy, even for myself, to be around without touching.
She looks at me strangely. “You two didn’t get into a fight, did you?”
I cock my head sideways. “No, I just couldn’t wait to get back to see the hottest woman in Kaneohe, that’s all.” I smile nervously and sort of salute her, in a really jerky, exaggerated, overly masculine way. That didn’t work.
She laughs, a little charmed, then gets serious. “Where’s Clay?” Her forehead wrinkles. She looks me in the eyes. There’s a bit of protective mother tone in her voice.
“In the woods. He’ll be home in a couple days. Don’t ask. Spiritual quest.”
“Clay on a spiritual quest? Are you sure everything’s all right? Are you OK?” She looks sweetly at me, which makes me want to use all the energy I have, jump up and down, strip naked, jerk off.
I flex my bicep and look down to see how it looks and reinforce the tough look on my face by gritting my teeth so my jaw muscles swell. I stretch, drop my backpack on the floor, and examine the veins in my forearm.
She watches my whole muscle act, which I immediately feel stupid for doing.
I nod a couple times. “It’s just, you know, I’m kinda pissed off. This fascist world. It won’t leave me alone. Gets inside my brain.” What am I saying?
“I know what you mean.” She lets me off the hook and nods at me with a smile.
“Yeah.” I walk over to the TV and turn it on. A motocross motorcycle rally comes on. I imitate the noise of the engine and hold my arms out like I’m riding one over a big dirt ramp.
She watches me and examines me as I move around her, like my head might pop open at any time and a big-toothed blue monster might spring out of my skinny neck.
I feel scrutinized, picked apart. I scratch my leg and dick.
“Does he have enough food?”
.” I accidentally sound pissed off. I hide my face by leaning down and tying my shoe. I secretly look up at her face.
She comes alive, like she’d forgotten her lines and just remembered them. Her expression completely changes from worry and concern to all knowing and clever. Her posture changes. “So, how was it?” she asks pleasantly, rocking back and forth from one foot to another, like she’s excited to hear about the trip.
“Weird.” I’m scared that she’s figuring me out, that she’s about to ask what the fuck I’m doing here and why I’m acting like her son. It must be sorta scary. He’s not here. I’m here, acting like him. I wonder if she thinks I murdered him and left him in the forest to rot. Do I seem tough enough, brave enough to do something that psycho?
I look down the hallway. I’m drawn to Clay’s room. I walk toward it in steady measured and assured long strides, but I wish I could run. His scuffed-up wooden door with stickers on it looks like the entrance to nirvana. Every instinct I have tells me to go there. I shove open the door and slam it behind me.
I hear Susan close the washing machine lid and start the wash cycle.
My body relaxes. I was holding my breath the whole time I was talking to her. My neck and shoulders are tense and pained after flexing for so long. I lock the door and fall back on his bed. I got away with it. I feel conniving, slippery, and untrustworthy. I feel bad trying to pull this on her, but I’m following my instincts and they feel important. My identity is pliable. I can just choose a new me and stick with it.
Clay’s rubber slippers are carelessly thrown on the floor. Letters and photos and shit are sprawled-out all over the floor.
I crawl over to them. I try not to look too closely at Tammy’s face and expression in the photos. I’m afraid if I look into her eyes, she’ll beam Clay out of me, take him away like only a scorned girlfriend could do. I throw the photos into the trashcan.
Susan knocks at the door.
I quickly hide the rest of the evidence by shoving it under the bed. I resume Clay’s surferboy posture. It feels familiar already. I imagine her storming in and screaming, “What the fuck is going on? Why are you acting like my son?” I have to do an impeccable act--a perfect Clay. “Yeah brah,” I practice quietly. No, he wouldn’t call his mom “brah.” Ma, Mommy, Susan? I should be slightly cold and sort of annoyed by her attention. Here goes. I squeeze my throat with my hand to make my voice sound rough. “Yeah? What’s up?”
“Are you hungry? I’m making dinner. I’d love your company.”
What the hell is she doing? She’s going along with it. Is she insane?
“Uhh, I don’t know.” I picture her standing outside the door, waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for me to say, “Yes, please, that would be great,” in the stupid kiss-ass way that polite pretty boy Sam would.
I hear her outside the door, breathing, waiting, creaking the floorboards. Come on, leave! Please. You’re making this harder than I want it to be. “Are you spying on me?” I hear her shift her weight.
“Every move.” She sneaks away, leaving me with the horrific implications of what she just said. Does she know? Is she playing this like a game? Is she devious like me? What the hell did that mean?
I’m too embarrassed to ask. I’d have to break character. I go over and sit down on Clay’s bed and envision him in here before we left and what he’d be thinking:
My lizard’s gone. That sucks. Fuck, it’s a mess in here. I need some money. Where’s my pot? Oh, yeah, it’s in that drawer.
I go over and get the bag and roll a joint. I kick back on the bed, fling my shoes and shirt off, and light up. I stare at the posters:
one is trippy. I
make a movie like that. I’m hungry. I
go out. I need some cash.
I walk out of Clay’s room and look for Susan. I walk slowly, arrogantly, and confidently. I spot her through the doorway to her bedroom. A talk-radio show is blaring from the living room. I clear my throat, clench my fists, and walk in.
She’s setting up her easel and sorting tubes of acrylic paints, the kind that Jared uses to paint his Japanese action heroes and bloody shark bite victims.
I’ve never been in her room. The door is usually closed when I walk past it. I can smell her flowery perfumes and essential oils. This room’s like Clay’s womb. There’s perfect soft light and big ferns and the bed’s covered with a Tapa pattern bed spread. It’s the same fabric as the pair of Clay’s boxer shorts he wore at the campsite. Maybe she made them for him. In that case, I should have made fun of them even more. That’s probably why he’s sensitive about them. I wonder if the new hippie boy Clay would care or think it’s cool that his mom made his boxers. “Hi.”
She backs out of the closet and stands up, like I scared her. She’s different in her room, like maybe I am in mine. She’s more complete, more expressed by the things around her. Clay’s influences don’t affect her style and grace in here.
“Hi. What’s up?” She always says that to Clay, when he doesn’t talk or has a weird expression on his face, or looks especially happy or sad or pissed off.
I sit on her bed and rub the soft comforter. This is the place where he was made, maybe even the bed she and Clay’s dad fucked in to make that one sperm join her one egg to make such a peculiar creature. Maybe a little of Sonny’s sperm remains, resistant to washing off, and I could harvest it, make a new Clay in a test tube, so he can have a fresh start, a new body and mind. It would give me a second chance, too. I scoot up and lie back on the pillows.
“Take your shoes off on the bed.”
Oh, my God. That felt real. She’s my mom. I kick my shoes off and rest my head back. I flex my arm muscles. “Can I have some money? I’m really craving a plate lunch.” I wait patiently and attentively for her response with the right amount of pressure and guilt-provoking neediness in my eyes.
She grabs her macramé purse thing off the floor.
I want to tell her to stop, not to give me a cent. I don’t deserve it. I’m not her kid. I’m a freak imitation psycho boy who should go the fuck home.
She pulls out her brown leather wallet.
No! I can’t believe it. She’s going along with it.
I don’t feel so radical anymore. It sucks. I get off the bed and walk over to her make-up mirror, which is a weird thing for her to have. I stare at her with the most babyish, pathetic expression I can muster. I turn to the mirror and flex my whole torso as much as I can and look down at my dick, which is making my shorts puff out. My arms are like toothpicks. My chest is practically concave. These shorts are too big for me. I look ridiculous.
She must think I’m insane.
What the fuck am I doing? I feel incredibly stupid. How could I have thought I’d get away with this?
She must feel my insecurity, my fear.
I feel exposed.
She must think I’m an embarrassment. A hormonal catastrophe.
I feel her looking at me in the mirror. I avoid her eyes. How can I get out of here without her noticing? I need to escape.
She’s seen the whole act.
I’m just Sam. I’m a stupid little kid trying to look tough in her son’s clothes.
She’s seen this whole breakdown I’m having.
I want to die. I want to disappear and never come out. The glass should shatter on the mirror.
She’s going to laugh at me. She’ll think I’m a fraud, a faker, an impostor, not even capable of being a man.
I have to face this. I look straight into her eyes. I want to flip her off. I want to scream, “fuck you, bitch.” I think I might burst into tears.
She doesn’t look away from me, but I can tell she’s mortified to see me all revealed and pathetic. She stands up and opens her wallet, like nothing happened. “How much do you need, Hammerhead?”
Oh, my God. Clay’s nickname.
. She just saved me, rescued me from eternal embarrassment.