FICTION PREVIEW

whaledog

Jessica Lanay


"Burning" by Mark Villegas (Credit: TAYO Issue Two)

"Burning" by Mark Villegas (Credit: TAYO Issue Two)

 
 

Georgia summers remind me of wild dogs.

One minute they can be strolling lazily down the street. The next they would show you their gums and start hollering at you, their tails pricked straight up in the air. That’s how they let you know they aren’t to be fucked with. The first heat wave always fills my mouth with longings for tastes like peaches, watermelon, and blood oranges, things that drip when you bite them. Lavar and I would pass the summer sticking our fingers into the fruit salads momma left in the freezer, putting something cold in our mouths.

Momma works long hours at the hospital. During the summer I only see her early in the morning dressed in her scrubs. She wakes me up, gives me directions and then pauses with my chin between her curled index finger and thumb. She studies me with her brown eyes with the blue circle around them then she bunches her thick mouth together to make her thinking face before stroking my cheek, kissing my forehead and leaving.

“Call the police if someone comes up on the property.”

She says as she runs out of the front door. Sometimes she is at the hospital until the next day.

Today after she left, I was angry. Lavar lay on the hard, brown-carpeted floor in the small square living room. There is an old couch with big cushions, a TV, and an armchair. We haven’t had a coffee table since Lavar opened up his chin on one when he was smaller. He flipped through the pages of his dinosaur book. His skinny arms and legs looked like burnt up little branches in the long white t-shirts we wear around the house to keep cool in the summer. Something about the way Lavar swung his ashy, long feet while lying on his stomach, in his dead world of bones and dinosaurs made me mad. I began crumbling up corner after corner of the newspaper I took off the front porch. I balled it up with spit in my mouth and shot it through an old straw left on the kitchen counter. He didn’t move. It seemed he never did.

Momma always makes me run, jump, cut, stir, and fold. I always ask her why Lavar never has to help and her answer is to let him be—he is too little to handle big jobs—boys don’t like to do this stuff anyways. I didn’t want to learn or do the stuff she and my aunts did either. It wasn’t that long ago that she started letting me know the difference between my brother and I. I had not noticed it before, just the parts I had seen when we took baths together stood out to me, and our ages. But I did not see why momma was all of a sudden making me do things differently. I was getting into trouble for playing too rough, dirtying my cloths, sitting with my legs open. She did not want me outside as much; I couldn’t play fight with my boy cousins anymore.

Sometimes I felt like that scene from Star Wars. Lavar was the big fat alien thingy and I was chained to him, feeding him grapes or some shit. Lavar and me watched that tape until momma brought home the DVD player with the complete Star Wars DVD set. She also brought the Land Before Time, which Lavar ran into the ground until just the music made me feel like it would give me nosebleeds. Besides Star Wars the only other tape is an aerobics one and no one remembers where either come from. Now the tapes sit dusty on top of the TV.

This summer I am happy that momma is mostly gone, so she can’t bother me. So I can be off on my own without her making me believe I am something I’m not. Not saying that I’m a boy—know better by now, but I don’t want to be whatever her and my aunties are. I am learning to cuss from the construction workers building up houses all around us. The land we are on belonged to a great uncle who grew peaches and pecans. The trees are still all around us, still dropping fruit, which falls to the ground and leaves behind the smell of alcohol. It was something when momma bought this land. She finished her nursing degree when I was around seven. She took all that money she was making now, walked into a lawyer’s office and slapped the money down. She fanned it out just like she did with the cards when she plays spades with my aunties.

Our house was built up like a too big shotgun house. Door in the front, door in the back, four bedrooms, two bathrooms off the long, dark hallway; a living room and a dining room and of course a kitchen. Before we were living in an apartment that smelled like weed. There were always lots of teenage boys strolling through the parking lots. They never went to work and they talked to grown women and sometimes to me. Nothing nasty, just asking me how old I was and about Lavar, one time one of them showed me how to hold a football and throw it. Momma always told me to never get off my bike, to stay on and hold onto it no matter what happened. Momma was real worried about getting me out of there before I was twelve. Twelve was her age for that and I didn’t quite get why. Later, when my cousin Sally got pregnant I thought it might have had something to do with my momma thinking I would do the same. We were out of the apartments by then, living on the new land. Momma spent a lot of time on the phone with my auntie, talking with sounds and throwing in an occasional, “Well you gotta watch them when they start they rag.” She would look over her shoulder at me when she said this and I would make faces at her. I guess I was a little stupid; it did not occur to me that the rag was something beyond my control.


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