This is a list of things I won't talk about with Dr. Ben. Whisker White. Age 8.
2. What happened at Grandma and Grandpa's
3. Dad's female friends
4. When Haley said she was dead
5. The time the Bad Dog ate my privates
6. Someone Else's Stockings
7. What Uncle Meldrick told me
8. When I found the kittens
9. Ice cream and cake
This is an exercise to explore Whisker's reluctance to share during one on one discussion. He explained at some length there are a number of topics he does not wish to broach and I thought it prudent to request they be put into writing to create a paper dialogue. I will continue this writing technique with the purpose of developing further revelations.
Signed: Dr Benjamin Coker
Co-Signed: Whisker White
When I think about Grandma Schiller, there are a number of things that instantly spring to mind. She was not a tall woman, and for part of my very early childhood, what many would call overweight. It never showed in her face, however, and her boobs were small for someone her size. Just her stomach and bottom were big, and some in the shoulder area. She kept her hair short and up, what I likened to a crown of broccoli, but puffier. She smiled easily, too much so, and bent over backwards to make you feel at ease, which often times did just the opposite. Hers was a life of carefully crafted lies and illusion, meant to replace reality with something akin to overdressed mannequins in a storefront window: perfectly hollow.
When I visited, trips to the bedroom were frequent for me. It was one that had old people written all over it; from the tacky bedroom set to the flimsy clothes on thin, wire hangers. None of these things held any interest for me, except Grandma’s upper-right-most dresser drawer. It was stuffed with breath mints and chewing gum like a pirate’s treasure chest. My particular favorites were the Velamints, which only came in two flavors, but were silky smooth in my mouth and made my breath feel cool when I inhaled. Mom was quick to curse on the handful of times she caught me rifling through the drawer’s contents, but there were dozens of others she didn’t and I took only enough to not be missed.
Grandma, on the other hand, wasn’t like that. While I was convinced she never knew, it wouldn’t have mattered if she did. She took a special joy in making sure she gave me the things Mom didn’t want me to have, both because the twinkle in my eye produced one of her own and it was a fine way to undermine Mom’s authority. She’d just laugh it away with a wave of her hand, but Mom never took it any way but personal. I became something of a pawn in their relationship in which Grandma saw that I had whatever I wanted and Mom did her damnedest to keep it from me. In those days, it only made me want to spend time with Grandma over Mom. Kids aren’t always built to pick up on the nuances of advanced alcoholism.
It did have its perks, however, if you could call it that. At least, that’s what I told myself while stuffing my face full of little powdered donuts in the back bedroom. I was starting to feel a little queasy, but that only made second stomach howl with glee. There were only two left, and I packed my cheeks full before I could talk myself out of it. Grandma kept the cupboards, and in this case, the refrigerator, stocked. Grandpa was diabetic, but he had Tab and an assortment of chips and pretzels to sate his junk food monkey. The cakes and donuts and pie and ice cream were for everyone else; children, grandchildren, neighbors and guests. Every day had the potential for a gala event, and Grandma prepared for that possibility in the same fashion doomsday survivalists stocked basement and backyard bunkers.
Then I felt it: intestinal distress.
There wasn’t a kid my age who didn’t have at least one fantastic pants crapping story. Most of them centered around too many funnel cakes at Cedar Point or no rest stop in sight road trips. The prospect of loading my Underoos at Grandma’s, without the undeniable added cool factor of some rare disease or bout of Asiatic flu, didn’t make for good storytelling to my eight-year-old mind. I got to my feet, knocking over a half glass of Pepsi in the process, and yelped with despair. My first thought was to run for paper towels, but another gurgle reminded me there were more pressing matters.
I rushed to the bathroom, pushing the door, with some effort, shut behind me. The long, narrow room yawned before me, the front of the toilet peeking out from the edge of the vanity at the opposite end. I wasn’t sure I would make it, all but running with my pants unzipped and halfway down my legs. Second stomach barked at me as I pulled my Underoos down and sat all in one motion.
I fiddled with my bracelet as I sat there, realizing it was past needing washed; the colors were fading, dirt and grime in between the threads. I frowned, thinking back to when Mrs. Greer first gave it to me: those eyes, her smell, the way her skin against mine gave me shivers-- the good kind-- and how I hadn’t seen her again since that day. The stories varied, from extended vacation, hiatus, to things less encouraging. I knew what it meant and it was confirmed the morning I woke to find it sitting on the shelf next to my bed like before.
The only real upside to spending so much time with Grandma and Grandpa Schiller meant I wasn’t sleeping-- or not sleeping-- at home. Which meant I wasn’t trying to sleep next to it. I didn’t even like to think about it, let alone talk about it. And who would I talk to? The last person I told tried to help me and all but disappeared. The teachers and even some of the kids at school talked about her like she was still there, but I knew better. I knew what it meant when she took it away from me thinking it would be my first step toward getting better. It wasn’t about that so much as getting rid of what made me do bad things. I only wished it were as simple as putting a candy wrapper in the trash or grass stained jeans in the clothes basket.
Mom took it better than I did, Mrs. Greer leaving the school.
“They probably sent her to one of those sex rehabs.”
If that were true, I hoped it didn’t mean her sex would be gone forever. I was still a little fuzzy on the intricacies of such unions, but between the kids at school and, in no small part to Grandpa, a healthy dose of late night HBO, I was piecing it together at light speed. Mom tried to corral my viewing habits with her patented twisted up face and promises of swift retribution, but that was stuff for tit clutchers and bawl babies. I knew Grandma would let me watch pretty much whatever I wanted and Grandpa made it clear, usually with a grunt, he didn’t care. There’s no feeling quite like being eight years old with carte blanche to do as I pleased. With so many options, it was one I barely slowed down long enough to relish.
Even with this shift of power, Mom’s hold on me did not lessen. Where Grandma found a way to give me more freedom, Mom used another to keep me in check. It was for my own good, she’d tell me, often between curses. She had this way of standing, legs locked, feet apart, butt pushed out and shoulders set where it looked more like she was ready for war than parenting a little boy.
I would come to find out life at Grandma and Grandpa’s was a never ending war.
l opened the bathroom door far enough to notice Mom standing right outside. I couldn’t yet see her face, but I could tell from her posture I was in trouble. My stomachs did a little flip flop thing as she pushed the door open the rest of the way and clamped a hand around my wrist, dragging me out into the hallway and marching me into the spare bedroom where my still overturned pop glass left a darkening stain on the rug.
“Did you make this mess?”
“I had to go potty.”
“I told you to be careful in here.”
“It was an accident.”
Mom got down on her knees in front of me and looking into her face I could see traces of her mascara starting to run. Her lips pressed together in a flat line that quivered at the edges.
“I need you to be a good boy while we’re here, honey. We all want you to feel comfortable, but you must remember you are guest in this house and there are rules to be followed.”
Before I could reply, my gaze wandered to the doorway where I saw Grandpa standing there, forearm over his head and pressed against the topmost part of the molding. He had a funny little smile on his face, eyes pinched almost closed, but gleaming behind his thick black rimmed glasses.
“Everything okay in here?”
Mom stood straight up and put herself in front of me before heading for the door. Grandpa moved just far enough out of the way to let her squeeze through.
“Fine. Whisker just had a little accident.”
His head tilted back just a bit as he looked upon me, upper lip twitching into a smirk.
I felt a tingling itch where I pee.
The bathroom again.
It was hot and muggy and filled with banks of steam to the point I couldn’t quite see where the walls were. Dad stood over the sink, naked except for the towel around his waist. His little bit of a stomach hung over just enough to hold the towel in place and I followed the moles on his back like a road map. I lifted a hand to trace them with my finger when Dad’s metal razor clanked against the edge of the sink.
Sound carried funny in that bathroom.
I hadn’t seen Dad in several weeks, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. He said he had a lot going on with fixing things around the house by himself. When Mom and I unofficially moved in with Grandma and Grandpa, Dad decided he needed to get the house ready to sell just in case. It didn’t make much sense to me, but it’s the story Dad gave and Mom stuck with. I already felt like I knew where things were headed. Mom and Dad never were very good at selling me their fibs.
I watched Dad’s face in the mirror, waiting for him to see me and wink and let me know everything was okay, but he was busy moving his mouth so his cheeks were flat enough to shave. The longer I waited, the clearer it became not only would I not get the reassurance I wanted, but Dad didn’t have any to give. I backed away from the sink and the steam almost made him disappear. I could still see the towel on his hip, the dark hair of his armpit, an elbow. The razor clanked again.
Something brushed against my arm and I looked to see the girl from before in the dress, but now she was wearing a brown corduroy jumper with a matching yellow long sleeved top and knee high socks. I couldn't see below her ankles.
She was taller than me, close to a foot, her hair long and straight, covering the sides of her face. She looked a lot like Mom, except for the eyes which were heavy-lidded, squinting. Her mouth formed a thin, bent line turned down at the edges and there was something with the way she looked at me that made me feel naked.
I took a step back, bumping into Dad, and the razor clanked down.
I watched the first drop of blood fall in perfect slow motion, fat and languid, quivering. When it splattered in the basin, my ears popped and everything sped back up. Dad's hand went to his neck and I saw another drop squirm between his fingers. The other hand gripped the razor, shaking, palm pressed hard against the edge of the sink. Two more drops.
Dad ripped the towel from his waist and pressed it against the wound. Then he turned to me, brow furrowed, and leaned forward.
A damp wave of tobacco smoke and cheap beer washed over me and I began to swoon. A hand clamped under my chin, pinching my mouth open, and I couldn't see the eyes through the steam on the glasses. The grasp was terrible and my jaw ached. I tried to squirm away, but my head wouldn't move with the rest of me. I felt hands on my back-- holding me there or pushing me forward I couldn't tell. I strained to see who was behind me, but their arms were too long. I knew in that moment it was useless to try and get away. My body went slack, but the grip didn’t lessen. The hands on my back were still there, and I could hear them mumbling something. It had a sing song quality, but I couldn’t make out the words. Part of me didn’t want to.
I realized the man standing in front of me wasn’t Dad, not anymore. Even at his age, he had some gray hairs, but the man before me was entirely gray. The build was similar, having been at least somewhat athletic, but the skin was sallow under the fading tan, and hung loose like a tapestry of crucified men, nipples bloated one eyed sea creatures. The razor wound was red and angry and looked like it was done with a knife and the way it followed the curve of the man’s neck in a satisfied smile made me think of a clown mouth. The thing between his legs unfurled itself from a dragon’s nest of wiry, dark gray hair and withered skin.
His breath was rank.
"Feel those teeth again I'll knock 'em the hell out.”
The mumbled words behind me spilled into nervous giggles.
I shoved little powdered donuts in my mouth straight from the fridge. With the way I was going, there wasn’t much chance there’d be any left to warm up and get soft again. Every chew lit my face up with pain, but second stomach had me on a mission and there were still four sandwich bags with green twisties of donuts left.
A chug of Pepsi fizzled up my nose.
It really wasn’t much of a breakfast, but it was almost time for school and choices were limited. Grandma wasn’t feeling well and Mom woke up late, so there wasn’t the morning feast of two kinds of eggs, meat, fried potatoes and toast I’d grown accustomed to. A hand appeared on the open door of the fridge, jostling the assortment of pickled vegetables, condiments and dressings.
“What ya got there.”
Grandpa was in his robe as was his usual attire, several days of growth giving his face a brushy quality. A crooked smile played across his lips, but the mirth was absent from the rest of his face.
I held a baggie up between two fingers, mostly empty.
Grandpa chuckled and shuffled around the edge of the door, brushing me aside with his hand. He stooped forward, pushing things aside, grunting to himself, and dragged something out from the back of the bottom shelf. With a sharp, fizzling pop, he tilted his head back and guzzled from a frosty can of Old Milwaukee.
I watched some dribble from the corner of his mouth and onto his pajama top and when he was finished, he wiped his mouth on his sleeve. He eyes slid down to me and his mouth twitched into that weird little smile.
He offered the can, lip still wet with foam. I’d only had beer once before, when Dad was drinking at a party a co-worker threw the previous summer. They had a huge ice chest full of it, and another, somewhat smaller one full of pop. There were fresh oysters and fire pit grilled corn on the cob with husks cooked black as the charcoal they used to sear their steaks. It smelled sharp, even bitter, and though my lip curled at the prospect, my mouth still watered.
I put the donut bag back in the fridge, still open, and took the can from Grandpa, feeling how the spot where he held it was warmer. I could hear Mom moving around upstairs and knew she’d be coming for me any moment. Grandpa cleared his throat and put a hand on my shoulder, a little too rough. I knew what it meant.
“Don’t forget those little mints or your mom’ll shit kittens.”
I held my breath and took the first gulp.
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