Then Lou’s stories simply dried up. Margaret realized she’d need to prompt him to tell her more about his dead twin. Margaret tried to just enjoy Lou, sans shadow, but whatever they discussed would compel her to ask him about the lost brother. At first she was tentative, afraid to raise unhappy memories. But Lou welcomed her questions. Margaret merely had to pose a new query and Lou gladly launched into a lengthy story.
He warmed again to the topic of his dead twin. His confidences became more intimate and rambling, the conversations shifting like sand before Margaret could ask anything further. Joey’s dim, elusive form shimmered renewed with the next conversations.
“How did Joey deal with always being sick?” she asked.
Joe didn’t deal with it. He never adjusted to his death sentence. When he became a teenager, he began to fight back. After enduring a childhood dictated by pills and shots and special foods and what he could and couldn’t do, Lou’s brother went on both a mind improvement and body building kick. It was amazing.
Joey spent his time in the library leafing through every magazine in the school racks. Being weak meant he perused anything to be found in print. The other kids basically left him alone; even the bullies went out of their way to avoid him. Joey was a pariah because kids are even more superstitious than adults. His peers looked at him and were scared just being near someone so sick might make it catching.
His fragilities didn’t stop him from attempting to do what he wanted. Joey was the 90-pound weakling, desiring to recreate himself. Or Arnold Schwarzenegger, wanting to build a perfect body from scratch. Joey never did steroids, though. He was on so many delicately calibrated medications that when Joey got healthy for a short while, a magic period of hope, he refused everything except aspirin.
“Remember the Bazooka Joe bubble gum wrappers?” Lou said. One of them advertised a booklet Joey could send away for, ‘How to transform yourself from a 90 pound weakling into a muscle mass.’ Okay, the booklet was a joke, and Joey recognized the joke immediately, but that booklet was merely the start. He started following more serious bodybuilding manuals. He got hold of an old Air Force exercise booklet, which began with 5 girlie push ups a day, working up to 50-75 real push ups, the ones complete with clapping hands between each push up as you lift off the floor. Joey didn’t actually get that good at them. But, he changed his body. If his limbs still twisted, he managed to gain a significant amount of control over his motor functions. Once he felt as if he had his physical body slightly more in his power, Joey turned next to improving his material environment.
Joey sat in the school library for hours. He hid there during recess and lunch periods, but the sounds of everyone out on the playground came through the open windows. Hearing the sound of other children shrieking was bad, and as Joey listened he tried to imagine it came from children somewhere far away. When he did see them the distance apparent between what they could do and what he could not was too terrible. He would perch at the dark wood of the windowsill, holding himself upright and steady with one hand as he watched. Children in groups skipped ropes, chased balls, played tag. The teacher with recess duty wore a light jacket and an expression of endless weary patience. He or she sometimes called out across the tarmac, “Hey! That’s enough of that, Loreen!”
Unseen and unimportant, from the high window Joey observed when the teacher rushed to the aid of a fallen child or broke up a playground fight. He hated it. Watching reminded him that no one would ever need to run to prevent him from doing something he shouldn’t; watching only reminded him that he couldn’t run.
Joey moved to a table where he could sit with his back to the windows. Determinedly Joey closed his ears to the cries of his peers playing outside the walls and forever beyond his ken.
Eventually Joey made his way through all of the school magazines. He began to take the bus to the public library. After school Joey sat among the adult publications where he felt less excluded. Around him sat members of his home city’s increasing homeless population, noisily turning pages and keeping a careful eye on their oversized bags of belongings. There were a few students, or grown ups coming in to claim the copies of recent novels they had put on hold, and every so often a class of younger children arrived for reading hour. Otherwise though, Joey could feel like he was simply another library user, ageless and without handicaps.
At the school library Joey had pored over National Geographic Kids, Odyssey, Ranger Rick, Highlights for Children, and Boys’ Life. He took that same determination and perused the magazines he imagined his mother and father would each read if their time hadn’t been taken up with his care. This was when he discovered adult magazines with their endless advertisements for write-in contests, coupons to win prizes, and teasers to learn more about great deals. Joey flipped pages hunting for things to win, things to present to his parents. Joey wanted, Lou said thoughtfully, to present them with distractions from the nonrefundable item they’d brought home from the hospital: their youngest son and his damaged body.
NOTES: ©Jadi Campbell 2012. “Hit and Run” is the first chapter of my book Broken In: A Novel in Stories. This story will run all month. Broken In and my other novels are available at Amazon as paperbacks and eBooks.
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