One summer afternoon Kyzer sat alone in his room. It was maybe three o'clock.
Kyzer was eight. He stayed at home all day alone in the summer: both his parents
worked. In the morning, as they were rushing 'round getting showered, getting
dressed, drinking coffee, eating toast, eating fruit, rushing out the door, late, always
running late, he'd be sitting in front of the tv eating his bowl of cereal. After
they'd gone he'd get up and go to the kitchen and – it was one of his chores –
get all the breakfast things cleaned up, wipe down the counters and put the dirty dishes in
the sink. Then sometimes he'd go outside and weed the garden, maybe water it too; and
maybe after that he'd have some other little job around the house he'd be expected to do.
If he worked hard he could get all his chores done quick and sometimes he even had fun; he
liked taking care of things, watching things grow, for instance, in the garden –
tending the crops, as he liked to call it as he looked down at the plants. He
liked to pretend he was a farmer and that each plant he looked after, whether it be bean or
carrot or melon, represented an entire field of the same, and that altogether his garden would
be enough, come autumn, to feed the entire town.
Sometimes after that he'd read. He'd wander out into the backyard and lie in the
hammock, head hanging over the side so he could look down at the book flopped open there on
the grass, or maybe he'd sit on the steps of the porch, knees drawn together, back hunched,
staring down at a book in his lap. Or he might go to his room. His room was
large with a small alcove off to one side where his desk stood along with a few shelves
that housed things like his collections of unusual rocks and coins, also a model of the
human skeleton, a praying mantis's old eggcase and a dead butterfly or two. The main
part of the room was a big box basically, with yellow walls and orange curtains at the
window. Occasionally these rustled or fluttered, thereby marking the passage of some
passing breeze – and the room breathed in sunlight, long streaks of it flashing over
the floor. The carpet was a swirl of tans and browns, flecked through and through with
gaudy threads of red, yellow and orange that glistened and sparked when hit by the streaks of
sun. The air was warm; he could hear the sound of the television set he'd left on
downstairs. Sometimes in the afternoon he would take the yellow summer blanket that
lay folded at the foot of his bed and drape it over his head, letting the bulk of it fall
back from his face to trail behind him. Two edges of the blanket he held tightly under
his chin to keep it in place. He liked to walk around his room that way sometimes,
slowly, holding himself very erect. He didn't imagine himself to be anyone special,
didn't pretend that the bright yellow blanket was a helmet or a crown or even hair.
He just liked to feel the weight of it pulling back on the skin of his face, the bones of
his neck, as it dragged along the carpeted floor.
Or maybe in the afternoon he'd drag out his beanbag chair and sit on it in a special
way. The chair was as big as he was, and it was also yellow. It was big and yellow
and round and covered in a smooth cool vinyl with seams running down its sides, and it was full
of not beans of course but tiny balls of styrofoam that made it very soft and cuddly to sit
in. But sometimes instead of sitting in it he got on top and straddled it. Then
he'd look all around him and pretend that it was a giant egg he was sitting on, and that he
was waiting for it to hatch. What would come out he didn't know. A giant bird he
supposed. Or a dinosaur.
Or sometimes Sam came over. After his morning chores were done, during one still,
empty moment of a summer afternoon, the phone might ring, and it might just be Mum of course
checking up on him but it might be Sam, asking if he could come over or would Ky like to
come to his house. When Sam came over they usually played games for awhile, card
games or puzzle games, and the summer when they were eight they sometimes made a game of
rolling down the stairs in sleeping bags. The sleeping bags, part of a whole stack
kept by Ky's family for when they went on camping trips, were made of a slippery green fabric
that zipped up the side, was padded on the inside and lined with thick flannel. And
the game was to lay the sleeping bag out on the floor, crawl inside and squiggle your way down
to the very bottom, zip it all the way up, then begin to push against the zippered end until
you were sliding and slithering your way out the bedroom door, across the landing to the top
of the stairs. You might feel the first lip of the first stair – and the sudden
empty space beyond – with your hands or arms or even your feet, but you never knew quite
when that might happen. Sometimes you'd be rolling inside the skin of your slithery bag
and you'd begin to drop before you even had time to realize it; either way you were soon enough
rolling thumping bumping bouncing down the stairs, hoping you wouldn't crack your head as
you fell. Then, funnily enough, as soon as you got to the bottom and crawled back
out, you somehow wanted to climb to the top of the stairs and do it all over again.
After they'd done that for awhile they'd probably go over to the woods which was very big
and close by. And the woods, once you'd been swallowed inside it, was everything.
It was green and brown and black and orange and yellow, and sometimes even blue or purple or
rose. It was dirt and moss and boulders and fallen trees. The air was thicker
here, and the light in it took on a greenish hue from the leaves, and when they got to the
bottom of the ravine where the creek was it had more bugs in it too. They spent most
of their time in the woods turning over rocks, looking (like spies) to catch ants and worms
and beetles in the act or, when they were down by the creek, for sandy-colored crayfish
darting backwards, pincers up and ready, for the glistening flash of a salamander with its
expendable tail. Sometimes they might just sit for a few minutes by the creek and
talk or think. At a certain point there was a path that led back up the side of
the ravine; it came out at the end of a short cul-de-sac: that's where Sam lived.
One time Sam had gone up the path a little ways, he was standing just above Ky and Ky had
his back turned, and suddenly he heard a zipping sound and when he looked over his shoulder
he saw that Sam had his weanie out and was peeing, and he was trying to pee on him.
He jumped right back and managed to get out of the way of most of the spray but there was one
thin dark streak down the side of his pant leg. Ky shouted at Sam and asked him what
he'd do that for, and Sam laughed and said he didn't know why and still he was squirting
water and trying to pee on him. Ky told him to stop it and Sam finally did, but
he was still laughing when he zipped himself up and he was still laughing as he ran up the
side of the ravine. Ky stayed down at the bottom by himself for awhile until the streak
of pee on his pants had faded some. Then he clambored up the path onto the street.
He wanted to find Sam, he wanted to yell at him some more.
Sam wasn't there; the street was deserted. The air was dry up here after the woods,
almost dusty on his tongue, and the sky was very shiny and bright. Ky stood outside
Sam's house, scowling up at the windows, but he didn't want Sam to think he wanted to
see him, so he didn't wait long; instead he turned his back with a huff and went home.
It was at the end of this cul-de-sac where, sometime later that summer, some of the older
boys of the neighborhood started teasing Ky. He'd be down at Sam's house, playing,
maybe the two of them would be throwing a ball around or riding their bikes up and down
the street and suddenly these older boys would come by. And Sam would immediately run
inside his house but whether Ky ran towards the house or towards the woods – and he'd
tried to do both many times – he never escaped, was always trapped. He was the
one they wanted; after their first failed attempt they ignored Sam. After they'd
caught him they might stand in a ring and bounce him back and forth between them, then
maybe a couple of them would grab him and pick him up; they'd hoist him high up on their
shoulders and carry him up and down the street – they might even break into a
run. This was scary but it was scary in a way that was almost fun. Kind
of a thrill ride. A scary thrill ride. Finally they'd put him down and then maybe
a couple of the other boys would pick him up, one grabbing his feet and the other holding him
by his hands, and they'd walk him over to the edge of the ravine like that and under the
shadowy trees begin to swing, swing slowly, they'd begin to swing him back and forth, back
and forth, up and down and higher and higher, and no matter how many times they did it he
always thought that this would be the time they'd really let go and he'd go flying
over the top of the gully, go sailing flying falling bumbling crashing tumbling down and down
the ravine over rocks and tree roots to the creek below . . . Back and forth, higher
and higher they swung him until
Stop! he'd holler.
Then they'd set him down and put him on his feet again and they always got a big laugh out
of the way he wobbled around at first and then just as suddenly they'd lose interest, their
fun would be used up and they'd go swarming off like a pack of young dogs to see what other
trouble they could get into – and Kyzer would be left standing there alone, all alone,
feeling dazed, feeling baffled, feeling the strangest mixture of anger and insult and
excitement churning inside him . . .
Then followed the days of exercise.
~ END ~