Hit and Run – 12

“Don’t put the lies on me!” Margaret began, but Lou refused to let her interrupt him now that he was finally describing the truth.

“Oh, come on. Admit it, Margaret. Thinking I had some tragic event in my past, or wait, even better, a tragic flaw somewhere in my own genes that a dead twin inherited and lived out to the bitter tragic end, rather than me – thinking those things made you look at me twice. Three times. But when you get down to it, the human condition is the same for everybody. We’re all either hit and run victims or slowly dying of chronic mortality.

“After the first story it just got harder and harder to tell the truth. I was going to cop to it, the very next time we met for a date, but you were so insistent on hearing about Joey. Suddenly you were interested in him, and really by extension, in me. The tragic survivor who’d lost the identical twin he was nothing like but boy were they close.”

“The factoids about twins and genetics?”

“Googled,” he admitted. “But the postcards are real. I did actually collect them in the dreams of making a Grand Tour.”

“You, not Joey,” she spat the words.

“Me, Joey, it’s the same thing, you mean you still don’t get it? Whatever you want to name Joey’s hopes and dreams: if I made them up, I realized something over the course of doing that. They’re all mine. My dreams, my hopes, my wishes for a life I didn’t have. You helped me see what I really wanted to be, but never had the courage to go after. Margaret, I changed my life because of you and because of Joey both! I even planned on buying us tickets for a Europe trip, the one I told you Joey always planned to go on, but more importantly the one I might have liked, too!

“Fuck me,” he cursed violently. “I’ve gone along being so content to be safe in a normal, middle class life. I like this life. I want a decent paying, steady job, and a partner to love. The house with the white picket fence. A shaggy dog, and the tire swing for the kids strung up in the back yard. All of it.

“I want all those things,” Lou repeated. “But thinking about Joey made me think about all the other things that might be out there, too.”

“He doesn’t even exist!” Margaret shrieked. “He’s a figment of your imagination! Worse, he’s based on a stuffed elephant.” She stuffed her keys back into her coat pocket and grabbed her purse. “I’m going to Ginny’s. Pack your things while I’m gone. I don’t think I want to talk to you or see you for a while.” Margaret made a wide circle around the part of the room where Lou stood, and the door clicked shut.

Lou crouched, picking up the fallen postcards on the floor. Carefully Lou collected the images. What he’d told her was true. In the course of constructing a more and more elaborate lie about an identical twin, who died, Lou had listed all of the qualities and personality traits he secretly wished were his. Oh, not the tragic genetic defects, of course; but even those had become precious. They had set his imaginary doppelgänger apart and made him special.

In the embroidering of their story, his and Joey’s, Lou had slowly inhabited that figure. At first he’d worried about convincing Margaret, afraid the deception would be noted. But she fell in love with him as the surviving, desolate half. Little by little, Lou did more than imagine himself in the role. Lou dug around in the dirt of his nonexistent twin’s grave. Out of the Petrie dish of that humus he rewrote his DNA code, twisting the strands anew.

What would you be if you could be anything? If you could rebuild your past, your family, the developmental arc of your genetic arrangement, what would it look like? Lou had dived into the conundrum and slowly constructed a human being who was still himself, boring, dull, predictable, good enough but not spectacular; and yet, so much more than the sum of his parts.

Lou retrieved the last postcard from underneath the coffee table. Lost in thought and regret, Lou shuffled them together and dropped them in a pile. God and Adam looked up at him, hands stretching out to meet.

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.

Click here for my author page to purchase my books.

 

Hit and Run – 11

Margaret surprised Lou by silently allowing him to go back to her apartment with her. His hopes she’d let the topic lie were dashed as soon as they were in the door and had taken off their coats. She crossed the room without speaking. Margaret kept her back to him. She paused in front of the sideboard and pulled out a large manila envelope.

Margaret flicked a quick wrist. Flip. A post card of an Algarve fishing village sailed through the air of the room and landed at Lou’s feet. She gave her wrist another vicious flick. Flip. God and Adam skidded through the room and glanced off his shoulder. Flip. Hadrian’s wall in northern England crashed to the floor. Flip. The believers at Mont St. Michelle landed hard on their faces down under a chair. Flip. Flip. Flip. Lou was attacked with a blurred fury of paper, but he made no move to ward it off.

When she ran out of Joey’s postcards Margaret stood clenching her hands open and closed. “Was it fun? Stringing me along like some little kid believing in Santa Claus? Or was that the Easter Bunny, some rabbit being pulled out of a hat by you, faking me out, making me believe in magic when it was all sleight of hand? When it was all lies?”

“Margaret,” he begged. “Listen.”

“To what? More stories about Joey? Jesus Christ Lou, I listened to you talk about a stuffed toy!”

“You listened! For the first time since we’d started dating you were actually interested in what I had to say. You listened to me, you heard what I was saying for once! Because when I talked about myself, Lou, good old dependable predictable boring Lou Bocci, you couldn’t care less.” Lou’s body was shaking. “I know you were thinking about breaking up with me, because I’m not shiny enough. I know the signs warning when someone’s getting bored. All this bullshit about how you women want to be equal, you’re as good as any guy, you can do the same jobs we can and earn the same incomes, you don’t need us to survive! Well, that part’s certainly true. But you still want a shiny-armored knight, or at least some pinch of romantic scenery. Gondolas in Venice or a barge on the Nile.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Margaret almost shouted the question; somehow her voice remained level.

“You wanted to be carried away, sail off starry eyed down some river. Women need to drown in a sea of love. Oh, my love was real enough. Is. But the package it comes in, me, that’s not flashy enough. My last three relationships broke up for no reason whatsoever, just, ‘It’s not going to work, let’s end it while we’re friends.'” Lou’s arms waved as he angrily mimicked a female falsetto.

His anger faded as quickly as it had come. “Margaret. About Joey,” he said in a low voice. Despite herself Margaret quieted, still eager to know what he was going to reveal next. “It wasn’t planned. You kept asking me about myself, my past, I knew you were genuinely curious, but I knew too I’d better come up with something to keep you interested in sticking around. By the third time you asked about my childhood, I knew the question to follow was going to be, What time can I drop off your things back at your house?

“I’m so…not interesting. I’m just a guy with a decent job who follows hockey in the winter. Haven’t I always been good to you? Treated you right, followed all the rituals? I brought you flowers, waited until you gave me the signal to make the next moves.

“Being normal, a decent human being trying to do his best just isn’t enough anymore. We guys somehow fall short because we’re decent. So, I faked it.” Lou raised his chin and stuck it out at her, defiant. ‘Tell me more about your life,’ you said, and really what you meant was, ‘Can’t you be a little more interesting or special?’ To give you what you really wanted from me, I made something up.”

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.

Click here for my author page to purchase my books.

 

Hit and Run – 10

Margaret and Lou were in love with one another, deeply so, the night they went to dinner in the city at JJ’s. The restaurant was packed, and they had to wait although they had reserved a table. It didn’t matter; they had drinks in the bar and laughed as the bartender bantered with his customers.

Food at JJ’s was always worth a wait and when it arrived the meals were perfect. Margaret’s meal began with spaghetti with white truffle sauce, while Lou ordered the homemade squash ravioli. He talked while he ate and his girlfriend listened, happy to give her full attention to the divine flavors of simple cheese and pungent mushroom. Lou ordered another carafe of the house red wine while amusing her with the story of Joey’s invented secret passwords. “He’d read all these old fairy tales of princes trying to enter secret caves or transformed into toads and needing a password to change back. He thought the old tales were lame.

“‘Open sesame?’ Joey said. ‘Sesame? How about, Open ambergris? Or what about a tongue twister password, now here’s one the wizard won’t ever figure out! How about something like Lonely lovelorn laddies’ lips lie, and lay luckless ladies low.’ God, Joey could be a moron.”

Margaret choked on her wine. “Enough already!” she said when she stopped coughing. Margaret was wiping tears of laughter from her eyes when a voice interrupted.

“Lou Bocci? Lou?”

Lou and Margaret looked up from their pasta bowls. An attractive woman their age in a business suit stood in front of the table smiling widely. “I thought it was you!”

“Ruby!” Lou’s chair scraped as he stood up. Lou and the woman known as Ruby hugged each other tightly.

“This is my fiancée Margaret. Margaret, this is Ruby Warner. We went from nursery school all the way through high school together. Sometime in there we lost track of each other! Ruby, how the hell are you!” Lou beamed at her, delighted. “This was my best, best friend at age 4!”

“So she knew Joe!” The words were out before Margaret could stop them. She couldn’t help it; it was so exciting to meet someone who’d actually known Lou’s magical, tragic twin.

Ruby looked at her and frowned. “Who?” Then her face cleared. “Oh, do you mean, Joey?”

Margaret felt bad; his dead brother was probably a taboo topic between Lou and his friends from back then. “Yeah. You know, his brother,” Margaret said fumbling; but she saw Ruby knew whom she was referring to.

Lou grimaced and mouthed a “no” at her.

Ruby poked Lou in the ribs. “Brother?” She looked back over at where Margaret sat. “Lou told you he had a brother named Joey?”

“I’m sorry,” Margaret tried again as she flailed for words. “But. You know, his twin. Joe, who died. I’m really, really sorry; I didn’t realize talking about him was off-limits for those who knew him.”

“A twin, who died?” Ruby repeated incredulous. She began to laugh. “Oh, I get it! When we were little kids Lou’s favorite companion was a stuffed toy he got when he was born. It was a pink elephant he named Joey. God Lou, you dragged that raggedy thing everywhere! I thought you were going to have a nervous breakdown when your mom finally took it away from you!

“So Joey morphed into a twin brother, eh! That’s great!” Ruby poked him in the ribs again, this time more gently. “Don’t be so embarrassed, dude. I promise I won’t reveal anymore of your secrets.”

Softer now, she turned back to Margaret and went on talking. Behind Ruby stood Lou. His face had gone absolutely white, like the ghost of his non-existent identical twin brother: Joey, who had just exited the restaurant for good.

“Lou is the most decent, normal, kind person I’ve ever known,” Ruby said. “I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. There’s nothing weird about Lou. This is one great guy,” she pounded Lou gently on the bicep, “and I’ve missed him terribly since we lost track of one another.”

She frowned a little as she looked at her old friend. “But I don’t want to intrude on your evening! I didn’t mean to interrupt.” She studied Lou’s pale face more closely, began to say something, and reconsidered.

She gave him a placating please-forgive-me-for-embarrassing-you smile. “I need to get back to a business dinner; I’m here to sign a contract. We’re just waiting for the bill, and then we’re heading to the bar for a nightcap to celebrate. Here,” she said, and handed him a business card. “Call me,” she ordered, “so we can catch up and you can give me your contact info. I had no idea you lived in the area! Margaret, it was great meeting you.” Ruby shook Margaret’s hand and gave Lou a last tight hug.

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.

Click here for my author page to purchase my books.

 

Hit and Run – 9

That night they sat in his back yard drinking beers as Lou tended the grill in his methodic way. He had a system, checking and giving the sausages a quarter turn every minute or so. Lou stood and clicked the tongs rhythmically open and shut. It was a desultory summer night and they talked lazily, enjoying the warmth from the last rays of the setting sun. Once the sun set it would be colder. A covered salad and plates and silverware were already on the picnic table and Margaret got them two more beers. Lou measured out the time with his tongs, waiting for the next question to come.

Lou was surprised at how penetrating that question turned out to be. It took him off guard. “Weren’t the two of you ever jealous? I mean, you and Joey were so close, much closer than I ever was with my sisters growing up, that’s for sure. But didn’t you ever feel any jealousy or sibling rivalry?”

She waited for an answer but he didn’t say anything for a long minute. Idly she looked up from her beer. Lou stood on the grassy verge at the grill, metal tongs hanging limply from his right hand. He’d closed his eyes and as she watched something rippled through his body.

In the depictions of his twin who died, Lou willingly spoke in detail about sores that refused to close, the insidious subdermal spread of haematomas, all the strange symptoms that manifested themselves and either joined the litany of things wrong with his brother, or else vanished as abruptly as they appeared. But Lou deliberately avoided talking about the darker widening spread of another congenital disease Joey had: jealousy. It was a fatal condition festering in Lou, too, the inevitable sibling rivalry impossibly squared and cubed to proportions that could fill a room but never be acknowledged. Joey might be incurably ill, but the real elephant in the room was their shared envy. When the boys hit their teenaged years, the fights became ugly and bitter with a resentment that was never far away in either of them.

It seeped into the peaceful moments. Every once in a while they would be in the middle of doing something great together, something only possible because Joey was ill and the boys were able to hang out all the time instead of following normal kids’ routines.

Joey would stop whatever they were doing. “You can stop being the perfect big brother anytime, you know,” he’d say. “Go live your own stupid life. Stop waiting for me to die, so that your life gets to begin!”

Lou denied it, inventing all sorts of protests. “You ass, you’re my brother, the only one I’m likely to get. I didn’t get any say in whether or not I had a brother – or whether I would have picked you.”

“I hate you!” Joey yelled. “You only take care of me because you have to! Go play baseball without me! Like I even care!”

Lou wanted nothing more than to strike his twin, but of course he couldn’t. Instead he laughed, and his voice held a scraping metallic rasp. “Screw you, Joe. I can’t go anywhere, because you’re my stupid, sick, perfect little brother. Everyone loves you best!” he yelled back. “You get all the attention! Every little thing you do is perfect, and you never get punished for anything! The little tragically doomed perfect child. Wouldn’t it be great if a brain tumor or cancer or some congenital disease wormed itself into my cellular make up?”

They had just finished lunch down in the rec room. Joey swept the half empty potato chips bag by the side of his brother’s plate off the table. His thin profile turned bright red. “I’ve had blood tests since the day I was born! Let’s trade places, shit head. You sit in the wheelchair; you go to my physical therapy appointments twice a week!”

Joey stabbed a finger at his twin. “No wait, better yet, take pills with meals and go lie in the hospital for more scans.” The small blue plastic container holding his afternoon medications followed the chips onto the floor. “You know what? You can have people whisper when you walk by the hallway, or let people’s little kids point at you in stores and ask Mommy, what’s wrong with that little boy?

“Idiot!” Lou spit at him. “People point at me anyway. Idiot! I get to hear everyone talk in low voices whether you’re there or not, because I’m the kid stuck with the sick twin brother at home! I’m not even sick, but I get the special treatment right along with you. Don’t you dare tell me about how lucky I am.”

The rage inside filled him up. Lou knew exactly how normal he was. It was exactly that normalness his brother envied, the fact Lou could race around bases and play a mediocre tune on a saxophone. Joey didn’t have the lung capacity for brass or wind instruments, and sports were out of the question.

But Joey got all the attention. Everyone treated Joey special because he was born with a death sentence. Each year their birthday cake had both of their names on it in frosting. Lou could swear the candles always clustered by his brother’s name, because who knew how many more years he’d be around to eat another birthday cake? His schoolwork was always praised, and he was Mr. Clever.

Lou understood an implicit message that said the one thing special about him was that he was totally, completely, but really totally completely average. And that was supposed to be the greatest thing in the world, just being an average, ordinary son… while in secret Lou knew Joey’s condition was the most special thing in the whole universe. It made him unique, it set him apart, and Lou was jealous.

Lou would lie in his bed unable to sleep, feeling the guilt residing in his gut. He knew he shouldn’t be envious of his disabled twin, and his jealousy was wrong. Each time the feelings were followed by sardonic inner commentary. “Is this sick, or what? Oh no, that’s right, it’s Joey who’s sick!” Lou couldn’t even feel unique with his darkness.

He opened his eyes and slowly refocused back on where he was standing in his yard. Lou removed the sausages with short jabs of the tongs. “Sibling rivalry? Were we ever jealous?” He stabbed at the grill one last time and pushed Margaret’s plate roughly across the picnic table at her.

“Jealous? Only all the time. You want to hear about jealous?”

Margaret sat without moving and listened while Lou poured out decades of anger and anguish about his dead twin. She knew the last outburst was directed at Lou the adult, and not himself as a boy with a twin brother doomed to die.

Their outdoor meals grew cold. “God,” Lou said, staring at Margaret with hatred when he finished talking. “God. You have no idea how jealous I was. And Joey was jealous right back.

“But the crowning moment when it was clear to me exactly how not special I am, was the day of a neighborhood picnic. Dad had just finished describing the last round of hospital tests they’d had to take Joey in for. The drunk down the street said, ‘At least you two still have Lou. He’s totally normal, right?’

“‘Yeah, Lou’s a good kid,’ was all my dad said before he turned away. When they saw me standing there listening, they changed the subject.

“That’s me in a nutshell: a good kid.”

Lou leaned across and grasped Margaret by both shoulders. He kissed her, hard, and bit through the cloth of her light sweater. She felt the sharp edges of his teeth press against the skin of her neck, just below her jaw line. “Ouch!” she gasped. It hurt, but she put one hand behind his head and grasped his hair to pull his mouth back up and over her own. He shuddered and bit down on her lip, and she welcomed the pain.

That night Lou made love to her as if he was trying to climb out of his own skin away from the released memories. His earlier admission hung in the bedroom, somewhere up by the ceiling. Like an angel or a poltergeist, the ghost of someone dead but not gone, it hovered. Joey’s spirit looked down and watched them.

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.

Click here for my author page to purchase my books.

 

Hit and Run – 8

Lou showed up at Margaret’s apartment one afternoon with a bag wrapped in yellowing paper.

“What’s this?”

He held the package out, insistent. “You know, you’re one of the few people I’ve ever talked to about my twin brother.” His voice stumbled a little bit over the last three words. “The other day I was cleaning out some old boxes, and I found this. I thought, because you’ve cared so much about all my stories about him, well, I wanted you to have it. You’re the only person who’s ever really listened.”

Margaret pulled off aged butcher paper to reveal a stack of laminated post cards. The top one had a photograph of the Eiffel Tower. Parisians wearing red or black berets slouched underneath the building’s lacy metal work. She shuffled through the rest of the post card stack and saw they were all from European cities.

Some were major cities with iconic images. On the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling God was prepared to touch Adam’s limpid figure. A British bobby waved a nightstick from the front of Buckingham Palace as a double-decker bus turned a corner. Bavaria’s Neuschwanstein castle rose in wintry German snows.

Other cards were from places less familiar, or ones Margaret had only remotely heard of. Men in Swiss lederhosen blew 15′ long wooden horns as impossibly high Alpine peaks soared up into the skies in the background. The geometrically tiled turrets and arches of the Alhambra palace stood in graceful rows. Margaret knew Budapest city in Hungary, but she’d never heard of the mineral baths of Marianske Lázne in Czechoslovakia. She did recognize the card was from before the country’s Velvet Revolution and peaceful divorce.

All of the cards were blank.

“When Joey died and we finally got around to organizing his things, we found these in a drawer. He’d collected postcards of places he was going to go visit. Not getting to go was the beginning of the end.” Lou saw Margaret’s stricken face. “Not literally, of course,” he added quickly. “Just… All that damned curiosity! It’s such a shame his body held him back. With the rest of us, it’s just fear that stops us.”

Margaret found herself nodding her head, agreeing with Lou. “You’re right! I used to say I’d like to go traveling, but I never did. It’s just something I put off for someday. You know, hearing about your brother makes me want to get off my butt and go start really living.”

Lou hugged her. “Yeah, but then life hits. Real life gets in the way.”

Margaret began to share deeper parts of herself. She took Lou out to Scupper Lake and told him about her long talks with her sisters. After walking around the lake they sat on the edge of the pier. Margaret had a handful of flat rocks. As they talked, she idly skipped them one at a time at the lake. Without exception they skimmed a long ways before finally sinking. “Here,” she offered, holding the ones that were left out to Lou.

He refused to take them. “I’m no good at that. But,”

“Joey?” she offered.

Lou nodded. “Joey got really good at it one summer! Christ, he sat at the edge of a pond in his wheel chair and practiced for a week without stopping! The great thing about being terminally ill is, no activity you can do is too small or insignificant.”

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.

Click here for my author page to purchase my books.

 

Hit and Run – 6

He entered magazine contests and it didn’t matter what the prizes were. Mrs. Bocci was the first housewife in their neighborhood to own a brand new Maytag dishwasher. He won an extra dryer, which his parents passed on to their aunt and uncle for Christmas that year when his newest cousin was born.

He loved the surprise of each free gift. Sur-prizes, he called them. Joey sent away for samples of things just for the hell of it. He had the time; what else was he going to do with all those hours stuck sitting in his wheel chair? His family received the first volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica. A through Androphagi. He kept Mom in perfume and the rest of the family in soap and shampoo. Any time a new product came out, such as the first mint toothpaste, Joey ordered it. The Boccis were always the first ones on the block to try any of them.

His past time took on epic proportions. They didn’t just have free food samples to try. Joey ordered free animal feed samples too: packets of birdseed. Hamster food. Gold fish pellet food. Pouches of cat food and dog food, even horse feed. His parents finally told Joey to stop with the animal feed already; they couldn’t even have any pets because of the danger of allergies or infection from scratches. Joey’s dad donated it all to the local animal shelter.

It didn’t stop there. Once or twice a week the mailman delivered a package containing free items with company logos. Joey would read about a new product being promoted and bing, the coupons were clipped and filled out and in the mail before anyone could stop him. The Bocci household received free tote bags, baseball caps, tee shirts and socks and other products. Actually his parents didn’t try to stop him from sending away for those items once they realized how much money his obsession was saving them on clothes.

Joey’s hobby embraced the airways. The radio advertised promotional giveaways for new stores (a raffle for a bottle of whiskey from a new liquor store chain, which he couldn’t enter because he was under age), tickets for a theater opening downtown. He won a ride in the local weather helicopter – and because he couldn’t fly because of air pressure and collapsing sinus issues, Lou and Mr. Bocci went in his place. Now that was cool!

Here the tale ended abruptly, the silence Margaret’s cue to ask questions. It didn’t matter what she asked, really, as long as it gave Lou an idea of what she wanted to hear about next. “Was he persistent or just incredibly lucky?”

“Margaret,” Lou explained patiently, “no one was ever stupid enough to call Joey lucky. But yes, he had a run of luck where it seemed like the Universe was giving him a break to make up for the crap cards he’d been dealt just by being born. He really did have fun entering contests and winning stuff.”

“What’s the coolest thing he ever won?”

Lou frowned. “I just told you: the helicopter ride. At least to me and my Dad it was the coolest,” he amended, yielding to the apologetic look on his girlfriend’s face. “And he won fourth prize in a contest for a new Pontiac. My parents took the cash from that one and put it into savings bonds. That money helped put me through college.”

“It was okay with Joe? He didn’t want the money for himself?”

“Well,” Lou said slowly, “by then his lucky streak was running out. Joey hid it from the rest of us. He’d started getting weaker again instead of stronger… He didn’t have a whole lot of time left. And I think he was trying to win money and prizes for us to make up for the gap that would be there after he was gone.”

Margaret sighed and hugged her boyfriend. “Jesus, Lou. How could your family stand it?”

Lou shrugged. “We didn’t get calloused or anything, but it wasn’t like any of us didn’t know the end was coming. We just kind of… went on as we had been. What else is there to say? Joey was the glue for a broken situation; it was broke from the minute he was born. He was the glue holding the entire family together in spite of everything.”

“I just think, I mean, I can’t imagine how you all dealt with it.”

“Margaret, I never cease to be amazed at what people just deal with when they have to. How did my family deal with stuff? We just, did. Until we couldn’t any longer. When Joey went in the hospital the last time we thought it was temporary, just more of the usual batteries of tests. When his doctors found the tumor I think everyone knew that this was going to be it.”

“At least you all had each other. Your family was so strong!”

He looked at her with a strange expression. “Babe, that’s the whole point of what I’ve been telling you. We weren’t strong. Joey was! We were people he was supporting through his illness. The only thing we had in common was the DNA connection. Joey was never related to anybody I could figure out, not really, unless it was some kind of genetically defective super hero who hasn’t been invented or born yet.”

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.

Click here for my author page to purchase my books.

 

Hit and Run – 5

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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