Authors: Chris Lynch
Dog Eat Dog
Y LIFE HAD COME
to seem to me like a combination deal. As if I were at the beach and there was a wicked undertow
I didn’t know how to swim, so I couldn’t get out of the damn water to save my life. My sadistic brother, Terry; my neighborhood; my parents—my parents owning a bar was like Jack and Mrs. Ripper running a cutlery shop. These were the undertow, the factors I could not alter, that would hold me down forever if I didn’t break loose.
But the no swimming part, that was me. That was nobody’s fault but mine. I finally got a date with Evelyn of my dreams and I showed up wasted. Who was to blame there? Sully, who turned out to be more reliable, more loyal than I ever realized, who turned out to be more friend than I deserved, Sully and his family took me in when I couldn’t go home again. I said thank you by setting their house on fire. Who would I blame for that? Terry had gotten me so twisted up with hate that I began acting just as disgusting and ignorant as he did in an effort to prove I was better than he was. More than once already I’d flashed on the thought that I could kill him, without regret, if that would settle everything for good.
And Toy, who was there so many times when I needed him. Toy, to whom I was running one more time for a solution. What did I do for my friend Toy?
She was his mother, for chrissake. Why couldn’t I hold that thought when I needed to? What is the matter with a person who acts the way I do? And is it curable?
These were the thoughts that swirled through my head as I lay where I did not belong. But they all instantly shrank away next to the size of my new problem. My own father was medium big, and Sully’s father was scary big, but when my eyes opened and Toy’s father, Carlo, was standing beside me casting a shadow over me and Felina and the nightstand, my fibrous little body went rigid as an ice pop. That’s what I must have looked like to him too as he whipped back the covers to expose us naked on his bed. Felina was cool, waking up gradually, stretching and purring, coiling back up again all curve and caramel on the white sheet. I was her opposite, petrified, laid out straight as a number 1.
He was a hairy mountain of a guy, with a black beard and a black leather cap, and when he spoke it made the bed vibrate.
“Who we got here, Lina?” He didn’t sound all that concerned about it.
“Company, Carlo.” Neither did she.
As I lay there waiting on my fate, the two of them chatting across my body, I found out something about myself. When I get totally, out-of-my-mind terrified, I get a furious erection. Right there, like a centerpiece, it sprouted into the middle of the conversation. Which probably didn’t help anything.
Carlo grabbed me by the hair. Again not angrily, but with a growly sense of determination.
As I was leaving the bed, I did not know what was going to become of me. But for one instant, it didn’t matter. I reached out my hand on the way by, lightly placed it flat on the smooth, buttery skin of Felina’s belly, and let my fingertips ski across her, as he pulled me away. Just to save it, to keep it all for a bit.
“Say good-bye to company, Lina,” Carlo said as he hauled me out. She waved.
Carlo yanked pretty good as he towed me along. It hurt, and I was scared, but I was grateful. Whatever he did to me, I was still glad it was the husband, and not the son, who found me.
He dumped me, nude, on the sidewalk in front of the house, then went back inside without bothering to beat me. Felina whistled from the window, dropped my stuff down, and disappeared again. Three people walked by one at a time and none seemed to notice me dressing on the sidewalk.
I was at the O’Asis, my parents’ bar. I was supposed to be working, but I was sleeping at a table, holding my mop. The tapping at the front window woke me. It was really more of a porthole, and made of green bubble glass, so you couldn’t tell who was out there. I opened up anyway.
“Those the clothes you were wearing Saturday?” Sully asked, holding his nose. “Change before you go to school, will ya? And where did you sleep last night?”
I looked at my clothes, only now realizing that I’d been wearing them for two days straight. I wore them to bed when I set the house on fire, wore them to Felina’s, and put the same rags back on while standing on the sidewalk. All this while carrying several changes of fresh clothes right there in my bag.
“I didn’t sleep last night,” I said. “I had a lot of adrenaline, so I walked instead.” A smile came to me as I recalled it, where I got that adrenaline. Once again, I had lost track of the point, that it was Toy’s
I was celebrating. Sully was a gift, showing up here, now. He was the only one I could tell, and I couldn’t wait.
“So, how was
weekend...?” I began slowly.
By the time I’d meandered my way to the point of the story, Sully’s mouth was hanging wide open. I reached over and closed it up for him.
?” he asked in a desperate whisper even though we were the only ones in the place.
“I said, I sl—”
? You did it with
I let him answer himself now. All I could do at this point was giggle anyway.
“Jesus, Mick, what are you gonna do? I mean, congratulations and everything, but what are you gonna do?”
I held for a second, then exploded, jumped right up out of my chair. “I think I’ll... climb the Matterhorn, swim the English Channel, wrestle an alligator. ...”
gonna happen sooner than you think, bub.”
“I want to do it all. Today. C’mon, Sul, let’s go tip over some Subarus, right now.”
Finally, he caught some of my enthusiasm as I flailed around, dancing with my mop as I cleaned the floor. Sully lightened up some, but still he was concerned.
“Ya, maybe we can tip a couple on the way to school, but we have to get going. To
. You remember school, dontcha, studley?”
I started mopping much more slowly as things began coming back to me. Damn, school. School seemed so... small now. Then something bigger occurred to me. Where do I go
school? I’d traveled a million miles the last couple of days and come back to find the same old problems, only worse.
Now it was my turn. “What am I gonna do, Sul?”
He walked to me, took my mop away. “First, you’re gonna change your clothes.”
“But I mean later. Where am I gonna go?”
“You’re gonna come home with me, right?”
“What’s that, a joke? You gotta know what happened.”
“Ya, I know,” Sully said, picking up the mopping where I’d left off. “But he said you could come back.”
I had already half stripped, and was pulling fresh clothes out of my bag behind the bar. “Your dad? He said I could come back?”
Sully waved me off like I didn’t know anything, which was turning out to be pretty true. “He ain’t nowhere near as mean as he makes out. As a matter of fact, he said he never actually threw you out in the first place. He was just a little angry about you burnin’ his house, went downstairs to get his gun, and when he came back you were gone.”
I was at the sink, splashing water into my armpits. “Jeez, sounds like I overreacted then, huh?”
“Ah, he wouldn’t’ve shot ya. Just woulda waved it around and yelled a little,” Sully laughed. Then he got a shade more serious. “Truth is, you owe me for this one.
got him to let you back. I kicked his ass. ...”
“Did I say kicked? Sorry, I meant kissed. I kissed his ass to let you back. And it tasted like shit, too, so you better appreciate it.”
I did. And he knew I did, so I kept my back to him, stayed at the sink washing and grinning to myself. This may have been the only thing that could have pushed Felina out of my mind for a minute. Sleeping back at the Sullivans’ again was suddenly more exciting than sleeping anywhere, with anyone, else.
“The kicker is that you don’t have your own place anymore, Mick. You’re banned from the attic. Gotta stay with me now. That okay?”
This time I turned around dressed and somewhat cleaned. “Ya, Sul,” I said. “That okay.”
“Cool. Listen, we’re gonna be late, so let’s wrap it up. What’s left to do?”
I pointed to a bucket of rags and Tilex, then pointed to the bathroom. “You do in there. I have to scrape the floor back here.”
Bravely, Sully went into the bathroom. There was a three-second beat, and he came back out again, gasping. “Oh
,” he said, marching behind the bar and handing me the bucket. We switched jobs. “One of these days you’ve got to stop shittin’ on me, Mick,” he grumbled.
By the time we got to school, Sully had relaxed. But now I was tense.
“Okay, let me put it another way:
It was an excellent point. Toy wasn’t just big, and tough, and a pretty serious guy. There was something unknown about him, that you didn’t
to know, to realize you didn’t want him mad at you. And there was the other thing, the rightness of him. You knew he’d never do something like that to somebody else’s mother, and that was what stung even more.
I swallowed hard, a loud gulping swallow. I had to just go about my business, like any other school day, that’s all there was to it.
Automatically, I went to Evelyn’s homeroom and waited outside for her.
“This one too, Mick?” Sully said, gesturing inside to where Evelyn was already seated. “Jeez, once you start, you’re an animal, aren’t ya?”
He was just a buzzing in my ear as I stared at Evelyn from the side. She looked neat and proper and all smart again, as far away from me as she was back at the beginning. I felt a huge acidy hollowness spreading in me as I watched her, and I felt stupid for being there. She must have felt me watching, because then she turned.
As Evelyn got up and came my way, Sully moved away at the same speed, as if they were two opposite magnets.
“Hello,” she said.
“Hello,” I said, thinking this was a nice start.
She shook her head. “How do you feel? Are you sick at all?”
I toggled my head around, taking stock, getting a feel for myself. “No, I’m okay. Thank you for asking.”
“That’s good. I have to go to class now.”
“Wait,” I said. “Ah, about that y’know, mistake I made...”
“That’s far enough, Mick,” she said. “We don’t have to have this talk. You’re a decent enough guy, I think, way down in there somewhere. But you have a lot of work to do. You have...
problemas. Tu sabes?
We’re not talking about a mistake. We’re talking about things that are deep in you. As of right now, we’re not quite right for each other. Maybe later. Okay?”
She reached out and grabbed my hand, pulling the fingers apart like breaking a wishbone. I hardly felt it.
“Mick? Mick, your face doesn’t show me anything. Are you okay?”
“I’m okay,” I said, though I wasn’t. This should not have hurt me at this point, should not have surprised me. But it did, and it did.
She seemed, from her expression, as if I had spooked her. She waved Sully to come and get me. “You’ll be fine,” she said as Sully came up from behind and grabbed my shoulder. “Summer is almost here, and that’s going to be a new world. The summer is refreshing, the summer is hope. You never know, with the summer. We’ll see, Mick, okay?”
Somehow, through the powerful weirdness of my confusion, I had turned her. Sully was ushering me away and Evelyn was staying there in the hallway, talking to me. “You just take it easy, Mick. Let’s take it as it comes, all right? We’ll talk. You rest. Summer will be good.”