Monday, April 28, 2008

Chapter 16: Balm

Magician's Merger

by Xenophon Hendrix

Chapter 16

Dad didn't say much on the short drive home. I just sat and thought. Now, at least, I understood what had Carol all worked up. One, the fight with Al had hurt my reputation. To the majority who hadn't had a clear view of the action, it looked as though I had run away, rather than the truth that I had shown Al mercy. When Al bragged that he'd kicked my ass and I hadn't bothered to correct the impression, most people assumed it was true. Aggravating the other two erroneous conclusions was the fact that I was bigger than Al. Two, I had a large vocabulary, and I was willing to use it. That immediately made my masculinity suspect. Three, in the lunchroom when I had abruptly halted our argument, Carol assumed that he had intimidated me rather than that I was trying to avoid the attention of the lunchroom ladies.

So when I flipped him off, he concluded that someone who was lower than worm shit was challenging him. He couldn't let that stand and keep his reputation as a tough guy, could he? Then, of course, when I fled and then hid behind my friends, that annoyed him even more. He was eleven or twelve; he didn't necessarily consider that my actions were the only ones that made sense given the odds against me. I was an effeminate coward and needed to be shown my place.

Tonight's fight ought to do wonders for your reputation, at least, thought Ursus.

I suppose I should be willing to tell whoever asks what happened.

It probably wouldn't hurt, and it might keep the young savages off your back and out of your way.

Do you think the loss of face will inspire Carol and his buddies, and Don, to attack me again?

Do you think they're that crazy?

You’re the one with centuries of experience. I'm asking you.

Well, a basic principle is never to do one's enemy a small hurt. But we put a big hurt on those guys. Let's hope they're afraid of you now.

Hope?

One thing I've learned is that individual humans are contrary and unpredictable. Mobs tend to follow certain patterns. Individuals, however, can do things for reasons that are hard to guess or understand.

Dad pulled into the garage, and we got out. "Damn, there's blood all over the seat," Dad said. Oops. Neither of us had thought to put something down. "I'll have to get that out before it sets."

As soon as I walked in the back door, Mom said, "How badly are you hurt?" Dad started collected cleaning supplies.

"I'm scraped up in a lot of places, and I'm probably bruised all over, but everything seems to work."

She looked at Dad. "Why in hell didn't you call? I was worried sick."

"Where was I supposed to find a phone?"

She noted what he was doing. "What are you looking for?"

"I need to get blood out of the car seat."

The kids started gathering around. Mary started to bawl. Apparently, someone had given her a ride home. "I didn't want to leave you behind, but you told me to, and I was so scared that they were going to hurt you…" and so on. Hearing Mary, Susan started to cry, too. It looked like Charlie might start in next.

"I'm all right, everybody." I opened my arms, and Mary rushed in for a hug. "You did the right thing," I said.

"Don't get blood all over your sister," Mom said.

I ignored Mom for a couple of seconds and then pushed Mary away gently. "Sorry, Mary, you better go soak your shirt."

"Go into the bathroom and take off your clothes," said Mom. "I want to see how badly you're injured."

"I can take care of it myself," I said.

"I want to take a look at you."

"Please, Mom, let me do it. It's embarrassing."

"I've seen your bare ass a million times since you were born."

"Please."

"Have it your way, you little shit." She headed for the laundry room. "Wait a second." She came back carrying an armful of clean rags. "Put these down so you don't get blood all over the bathroom."

I noticed Dad escaping into the garage as I escaped into the small bathroom. I put down the rags and took off my clothing. I doubted if any of it was salvageable, even as play clothes. I climbed into the shower and started cleaning out my scrapes. Given the speed I had been going when I wiped out, the scrapes weren't that deep. I assumed I had the protection spell to thank for that.

I was indeed bruised all over as well as scraped. The soap stung. Ursus encourage me to scrub well and get out all of the grit. The water had a red tinge as it swirled down the drain.

Using a rag that happened to be an old towel, I dried off and dug the first-aid supplies out from under the sink. Given that the family had five kids, we had lots of patching material. I put antibiotic salve over everything that bled, and then bandaged myself up, using gauze for the bigger wounds.

I hadn't brought any clean clothes in with me. "Would someone go get my pajamas, please," I called. Mom shoved my pajamas through the crack. I pulled the bottoms on.

"Let me take a look at you before you finish getting dressed." I opened up the door, and she inspected me. "Pull up the legs." She shook her head. "I heard you beat the hell out of the boys who did this."

"Yes."

"Good. The little bastards deserved it. Your supper is staying warm in the oven." She took a look at the floor. "Damn it! Those were school clothes."

Dad was already at the table eating. I had a seat and Mom put a pork chop, scalloped potatoes, and stewed tomatoes in from of me. As I ate, I again told the story in full detail, leaving out only Ursus and the magic parts. Everyone was at the table listening. Dad told what he saw, and then Mary.

"What in hell do the cops think they're doing?" said Mom. "You were clearly defending yourself."

"They didn't believe my story."

"It sounds damn improbable, but if you say that's the way it happened, I believe you." Thank Bog, Mom believed me. She knew how much I hated lies. I had been that way as far back as I could remember. We had long ago reached the understanding that if she wanted me to keep up my practice of never lying to her, she had to respect my limits when I told her that I didn't want to talk about something. I got up and hugged her. She looked surprised, but pleased.

"Why didn't you tell me those boys were laying for you?"

"I didn't want you to tell me I couldn't go to Kirsten's anymore."

She shook her head. "I--" She interrupted herself and looked thoughtful. "I guess I might've done that. I worry a lot about you kids."

Talking about Kirsten reminded me. "I should give Kirsten a call. I'm sure her dad told her I was all right, but she probably would appreciate hearing it from me."

"Go ahead." That time she used her approving tone of voice rather than the uninterpretable tone that was her norm.

"Hello, Mr. Kennedy, this is Arthur Powyr. May I speak to Kirsten, please?"

"I'm afraid not, Arthur."

"Oh. I guess you've already told her that I'm OK. I just thought she might like to hear it from me."

"That's a kind thought. Arthur, you seem like a nice boy, but you've been in two fights over the last few days, and one of them was a bloody mess. I believe you're living a life that's too dangerous for my daughter's safety."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that I am forbidding her to see you outside of school. In any case, she is very young to have a boyfriend."

"Oh."

"May I speak to one of your parent's please?"

"OK"

Mutely, I handed the phone to Mom. I wasn't going to cry. I wasn't going to cry. I wasn't going to cry. I walked past the living room and into the hall.

OK, tears were running down my face. I wasn't going to sob. I wasn't going to sob. I wasn't going to sob.

I walked into the big bathroom and locked the door. My heart felt like someone had mashed it up like raw meatloaf and shoved it down into my guts.

I knelt in front of the toilet and began throwing up. Then I started to sob. Then I threw up again. In between heaves, I head Mary yell, "I sounds like he's throwing up."

I kept retching and sobbing until the point of dry heaves. When my body quit trying to puke and the tears dried up, I rinsed my face, washed out my mouth, and brushed my teeth. Ursus didn't try to think anything at me; I just felt his support. My other two consciousnesses felt like they were dying.

I opened the door and looked. No one was in the hall. I looked in my room. My brother's weren't there. I collapsed face down in my bed.

I few minutes later, I heard Mom say, "Dad went out and bought you some ginger ale." Mom was an avid believer in the stomach-settling powers of ginger ale. I sat up. She gave me a glass and then sat beside me.

I took a sip. She said, "It's too bad that you had to go through that so young." I didn't have anything to say. I felt totally wrung out. We sat together for a few minutes. She rubbed my back a little and said, "If you want to talk, I'm here."

I nodded, and she left. I drank my ginger ale. After a while, I crawled under the covers and slept.

I woke up about five in the morning. I put on a robe and slippers and headed downstairs. I quietly practiced guitar for a half-hour and then started in on my homework. I kept up the routine of spending ten or fifteen minutes of every hour on guitar, but by 8:30 I had everything done that I knew about except the damn term paper, which I couldn't work on because Mr. Dean had my note cards.

I went upstairs. "How are you feeling?" asked Mom. The other kids were watching cartoons in the family room. Dad, who had stayed home from work that Saturday, was watching with them. He liked some of the classics.

"Like someone yanked my heart out through my rectum."

"You have a way with words."

"I come by it naturally."

She made me some poached eggs on toast, another sovereign cure.

After I got dressed, she said, "Because of your heroic battle yesterday, we are sticking around in case the police or someone calls, instead of going shopping. I'd still like to have your Christmas letter, though." I got out a sheet of notebook paper:

Dear Father Christmas,

I have been a confused, surly, pugnacious, sarcastic, and rather obtuse boy this year. Everything considered, all I deserve is clothes. Bearing in mind both my recent growth rate and propensity toward fighting, I suppose that is just as well.

If you can see fit to give me some small thing extra, I would truly appreciate a spare set of guitar strings, and maybe thumb and finger picks.

Sincerely Yours,

Arthur Teagan Powyr

PS: Mary has been very good this year. Please make sure she receives something nice.

I stuck the letter with transparent tape on the designated part of the dining-area wall and headed back downstairs. I was about to pick up my guitar again when I heard, "You little shit, get over here."

I walked over to the bottom of the stairs. Mom was looking over the half-door at me. "What in hell kind of Christmas letter is this?"

I just shrugged at her.

"I know for a fact that never in your life have you given two shits about clothing. If I want you to look nice, I have to tell you what to put on."

I shrugged again. "I feel like eel gleet." Mom was the daughter of a fisherman, and as far as she was concerned, eel gleet was one of the worst things in the world. I wasn't entirely sure what it was, but I knew it was slimy.

My statement appeared to calm her down. "Oh. I'll leave this out. If you get feeling better, go ahead and add some things to the bottom."

"OK." I didn't think I was going to be feeling better any time soon.

Mike and Terry came over and were sent down. The evening before, they had come over for our after-supper guitar practice when the police were still questioning me. Mom had told them what she knew, and they had called later, when I was puking up my guts, to find out if I was all right. Mary had given them a fuller version. Of course, now they wanted to hear it all in my own words.

Conscious now of the value of getting a reputation, I told them in graphic detail. I knew they would spread the word.

"Man, you grabbed his nuts?" Mike asked.

"I was desperate."

"Wow, you beat the crap out of four guys," Terry said. "Are you sure you didn't use a bat?"

"I swear."

"That is so cool." They spent some time enthusiastically congratulating me. I had to show off my battle wounds.

"You know," I said, "the police might want to interview you guys to confirm that Carol and his buddies were chasing me the other day."

"We'll be glad to tell them what we saw," Mike said.

"It totally sucks that you can't leave your house," Terry said.

"I think I can go into the yard, too," I said.

"Maybe Kirsten can come visit you in your captivity," Mike said. "That would sure make the time pass quicker."

That hurt like a punch. "Her dad said she can't see me anymore."

"What? Why?"

"He said I get in too many fights."

"Shit. That sucks donkey dick." I now had to endure several minutes of commiseration.

They left after a while but came back in about fifteen minutes with their guitar and Danny, who didn't have babysitting duty on weekends. He had brought his harmonica. After he heard my retelling of the events of the day before, the four of us tried to make music for the next couple hours.

Danny played the melody. Mike, Terry, and I tried to accompany him. Both Danny and Ursus had suggestions about good chords for the harmony. The guitarists, unfortunately, couldn't keep up with the chord changes, but we eventually arrived at the trick of each guitarist playing alternate measures so that the one not playing had time to get his fingers set. The guy who didn't have a guitar during a particular song helped keep time by tapping billiard balls together.

Danny knew a large selection of folk songs, from Novi Orbis and from England, Scotland, and Ireland. All of my various family members came down to listen at one time or another as we went through them. Finally, those of us on guitar had our fingers hurting enough that we had to quit, even though said digits were rapidly toughening up.

My three friends wanted to get to work on Danny's pedal car. (Drawing up plans? We laugh.) I gave Danny money for bike paint. Dad said, once we were all upstairs, "You guys don't sound too shabby." I knew most of the credit belonged to Danny, but we clearly were making progress.

After they headed out, I observed that although I had a gaping hole in my chest, life was not without balm.

2 comments:

rabababa said...

It isn't too hard to guess that Kirsten and Mrs. Kennedy will have something to say about Artie seeing Kirsten. Or maybe Kirsten will start to visit her very good friend, Mary. Fred doesn't stand a chance with this.

rabababa said...

Typo: "Ursus encourage me to scrub well and get out all of the grit."

"encourage" should be "encouraged."