by Sean Padraic McCarthy
Carla shimmied out of her jeans and held a ruffled skirt up against her midriff. White with black polka dots. “Don’t look,” she told Jack.
But Jack did. He sat on the bed, his back against the wall, and flicked his cigarette in the small tin ashtray. Carla had stolen the ashtray from Monticellos, but she said it didn’t really count as stealing because it was piece of shit anyway, and besides, their pizza sucked. Jack could hear her little brothers fighting in the room next door. A thud against the wall. Maybe a head. And then the little one, Bradford, was crying. He was going to tell. That’s all Jack ever heard him saying, he was going to tell. The little one was eight, the older one, George, twelve.
“I’ll never get away with this,” Carla said, taking a step closer to the mirror. “My legs are too fat. Don’t ya’ think?”
“I thought you didn’t want me to look?”
“Well, you can ‘kind of’ look. Just don’t ‘look really.’” She bared her teeth for the mirror, turning away from Jack, giving him a full view of her ass. A bubble butt. That’s what people had always called her—Bubble Butt—and she said she hated the name. Her panties were red striped and cut high on her thigh, and her skin was pale to the point of transparency. She did have big legs, but they didn’t stand out. They just seemed to go with the rest of her. Not that she was big. She wasn’t. Maybe five foot two, with a skinny little waist and not much of a chest. But because of her ass, her legs seemed okay. She had scratches on them today though, down by the ankles. Long, thin red lines, almost looking as if she had been mauled by a cat. But the scratches were too perfect to have been from a cat. Three on each ankle, completely straight and spaced evenly apart. Jack thought about asking about them, and then changed his mind. The chances of Carla giving him a straight story were slim to none. She almost never did.
Jack dragged on his cigarette again. He could smoke in the room as long as her parents weren’t home—they both smoked constantly, and would never notice the smell—and Carla kept the ashtray hidden under the bed. Her parents were out getting dinner at a steakhouse—cafeteria style—down the street, and Carla was babysitting, waiting for them to get home. More often than not, Jack waited with her, but he never showed up until after her parents left.
“Is Kevin coming out tonight?” she asked now, still looking at her reflection, holding up something else. This one, a yellow shirt. She didn’t look good in yellow—she was too pale.
“I didn’t talk to him,” Jack said.
“You should call him.”
“I don’t want to call him. If you want him to come out, you can call him.”
“Come on, Jack. Don’t be lame. The more the merrier.”
Jack looked at her again. “What did you bite him for last night?”
Carla walked over, still in her underwear, took his cigarette, took a puff, then waved at the smoke. He could smell her perfume. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Jack raised his eyebrows. “You were giving him a blow job, and you bit his dick.”
She shook her head, handed back the cigarette. “No way. Is that what he said?”
Jack nodded, Carla giggled. “He wishes,” she said. “What else did he say?”
“He didn’t say anything then,” Jack said. “Not then. He just went running, yelling, up the driveway. I wasn’t sure what the hell was going on until he confirmed it later on the phone.”
“Well, he’s making it up. First off, I’m not about to blow anyone. That’s gross. Second off, if I did, what the hell would I bite them for?” She scrunched up her nose. “That must kill. Don’t ya’ think?”
“Dick Sawyer said you did, too,” Jack said. “He was sitting right next to you.” And he had been—front seat of his Blue ’74 Mustang—and Dick had been hysterical. Dick Sawyer was in love with Carla. Madly. He had christened his car after her—making everyone laugh behind his back—and he had even tattooed her name on his forearm. And this was 1984 when nobody was getting tattoos. Not in high school, and not in Massachusetts. They were illegal still in Massachusetts and you had to travel out of state, crossing the Rhode Island line, to get one. Dick could do that because he had a car. He had paid a bundle for the car, and redid a lot of the body himself.
“That kid is going to be ruined for life,” Jack said to Carla. “I bet he’s cutting his wrists as we speak.”
“Well,” she said, “that would be kind of romantic if he wasn’t such a dork. If he was cool, I mean. But when a dork dies, they’re still a dork. They’re just a dead dork. And that’s kind of worse, don’t ya’ think?”
“It’s always worse to be dead,” said Jack.
“No, kidding. He’s such a loser. What was he watching for anyway? He was probably getting off or something. Pervert. He’s such a pervert.” She shivered a little. “It gives me the chills. I wonder how much he jacks off? I bet he does it all the time.”
Jack nodded. “And when he does, he thinks of you.”
Carla stuck her tongue out. “Yuck. Don’t say that. That’s disgusting.” She made a choking noise, rolled her eyes a little, and put her fingers to her throat. “Oh, my God. Oh, my God. I think I’m going to be sick.” The histrionics continued for a minute or so more, and then she was at her closet, bending over—her ass high in the air—getting some shoes. Jack felt himself starting to respond. Tried to clear his head. If that happened, and she noticed, she would tell everybody. He had no doubt. It didn’t matter how good of friends they were. It would be all over the place—“He was watching me get changed, and he got a hard on, I swear to God.”
He wondered if she was a virgin. She always insisted she was. Said she was staying that way until her eighteenth birthday. Jack had asked her who she planned on having sex with on her eighteenth birthday—it was still a year and a half away—and she looked at him like he had six heads. “Whoever I’m going out with, you retard,” she had said. Then she hesitated. “It will probably be Kevin. I bet it will be Kevin.”
Now she pulled on some black pants. Capri’s. Flat black shoes. “Black makes you look thinner,” she said, “and white makes you look fat. That’s why I never wear white. Do you remember I let you and Sheila have sex in here?” She was looking in the mirror again. Jack remembered. Sheila was a friend who drove a big yellow Oldsmobile, getting her license the day she turned sixteen and a half. She had blonde hair, long, dark eyelashes, and dressed like Madonna. A bow atop her head. Jack loved her for a little while, and he had loved her completely that day. His first time, and everyone knew. “That was gross,” Carla said. “All it smelled like was sex in here for like four days. I’m lucky I didn’t get busted. I probably would have if my parents didn’t do it so much themselves. Even if they noticed the smell, they would just think it was coming from them. It smelled just like my father’s stuff. I thought I was going to throw up.”
Jack laughed. “What?”
“I mean it. He leaves it all over the place. Napkins, handkerchiefs, dirty condoms. It’s disgusting. They’re like a couple of animals. Pigs. Do you ever picture your parents having sex?”
“Well, that’s good. You shouldn’t. It’s gross. Parents aren’t supposed to have sex. Especially not the way mine do it. It’s like porn movie central in there. You should hear some of the noises coming out of that room.” She shivered a little. “And then they have the suitcase full of tricks. The Magic Suitcase. Gross. I can’t believe some of the stuff they have in there.” Carla had shown Jack the suitcase before, and he couldn’t believe it either, not on a number of levels. Couldn’t believe that they had it, couldn’t believe that she was showing it to him. He always figured that older people, parents, still did it, but not with anything like this. Handcuffs, flavored body creams, a spiked dildo, and something that Carla told him was a “pocket pussy.”
“What the hell do they call it that for?” Jack had asked.
“How should I know?” she said. “I guess you carry it around in your pocket until you feel a little randy, and then you go into the bathroom and have your way with it. Can you picture my father in the bathroom doing it with that little rubber thing?”
Jack couldn’t, didn’t want to, and he wondered why Carla would want him to. Why she would bring it up at all, expose her father like that. Jack figured that if his father was doing anything even remotely close to that, the last thing he would want was for his friends to find out. Even if his father still looked at Playboy, he wouldn’t want people to know. Wouldn’t want to embarrass him, embarrass himself. Besides, he figured the last time his parents had even had sex was eleven years earlier—his youngest brother was ten. Any time after that was out of the question. What was the purpose? They both went to church every Sunday, and his mother said the rosary and listened to Mass on the radio. That was pretty embarrassing in itself—no one listened to Mass on the radio, he figured, unless they were like ninety.
Carla had held up the spiked dildo. It looked filthy. Grime, or something, maybe something worse, smeared between the small plastic spikes. “He calls this one the tickler,” she had said, giggling.
“How do you know?” Jack asked.
Carla went back to the mirror. “Because,” she said, averting her eyes. “You can hear them. I told you that. You can hear everything in this house, the walls are so thin. Just listen to those retards next door.” She looked back at Jack. “One night I swear she was doing it to him.”
“Yeah, with one of those strap on dicks or something like that.”
“That’s disgusting,” he said.
“No kiddin’. The whole thing is disgusting. They’re disgusting. It’s like new stuff comes in the mail every week.”
Carla’s father, Don, kept his hair cut short, and despite a round, hard belly, he was in okay shape for someone who smoked and drank as much as he did. Short-legged and barrel-chested, he said he did a hundred push ups and two hundred sit ups every morning. That’s all you need to do, he had told Jack once, the short end of a filterless Pall Mall dangling from his lip. He likes you, Carla had told Jack more than once. Don was all military, going around every weekend in a lime green T-shirt, fatigues, Jack boots, and on occasion the camouflage cap. But he wasn’t in the military full time—he worked at a bank—he was only in the Guard, one weekend a month. Regardless, he always had the dog tags on—just in case he got shot while denying a mortgage application, Jack figured—and he took it all very seriously. His buddy, The Sergeant—Jack didn’t know his real name, had only heard to him referred to as The Sergeant—came over on weekends and they would drink Falstaff Beer and shoot the cans off a tree stump in the backyard with a bibi gun, taking turns giving the firing orders as if the can were facing the squad.
“I’m surprised your mother lets him use that stuff,” Jack said to Carla now.
Carla went to her turntable. A blue plastic thing, that you would guess belonged to a small child. She put on her Duran Duran album. Rio. “Oh, she’s as big a pervert as he is,” she said. “Maybe bigger. She certainly is fatter. The fat cow.” Carla hesitated a moment. “If I tell you something,” she said, “will you promise not to tell anyone?”
“Sure,” Jack said. Carla was always telling him things that he had to promise not to tell anyone, but he always had the feeling that the hope was more that he would. She liked being the center of gossip, he thought, liked people talking about her. She sometimes had scratches on her wrists like she did today on her ankles, but when Jack asked once her how she got them, she at first said she couldn’t talk about it, and then she had said she got caught in some thorns. Picking blueberries down the street, she said. Then about three months back she started walking with a limp and confided in him that she had cancer—he hadn’t heard anything more about it, so it had apparently cleared itself up—and then she had had a twin that died at birth, and then their friend Kate had recently got an abortion after getting drunk and date raped by two brothers who lived next door to her. Tommy and Jimmy Fisher. Jack had been talking about Kate a lot, just prior to that one, starting to get a crush on her, and when he confided in Carla, that was when she had told him there was something he needed to know. Each piece of news had devastated him until he had finally let Kevin in on the news about Kate, and Kevin nearly fell on the ground laughing. “Tommy and Jimmy Fisher raped her, huh?” he said, when he caught his breath. “Those geeks? Yeah, that’s happening.”
“I mean really promise,” Carla said. “Like not tell anyone. Not even Kevin. Especially Kevin.”
“What would I tell him for?”
“He’s your best friend,” she said. “That’s what he told me. You two are best friends. And you told him about Kate’s abortion.”
Jack didn’t respond.
“So, do you promise?” she said again, now turning, looking at him.
“I said I did.”
Carla took a breath, forced a tear from the corner of her eye. “My mother is not my real mother,” she said.
“She’s not, huh?” Jack asked.
Carla shook her head. “No. My father had a girlfriend before her. She was beautiful. She was a model. After she had me, she went out to California to look for work, and we were going to move out there to be with her once she did, and then she disappeared. He didn’t hear anything for three weeks and then they found her body dumped over the side of a cliff. She was murdered.”
Jack just nodded. Carla looked just like her mother, just a hundred pounds lighter with bleach blonde hair. Her mother’s hair was dark and short. The face was the same though, nearly identical. “And you believe that?” he asked.
“Of course I do,” she said. “That’s what he told me. Why would he lie? I think that’s why my mother doesn’t like me. She resents me or something.” She forced another tear. “I just wish I had known my real mother. I’ll never know her. Do you want to see a picture?”
Jack lit another cigarette. “Sure.”
Carla went to her dresser drawer, pushed aside some socks and underwear, and then brought forth a small black and white photo and handed it to Jack. A blonde with a sixties style hair do. Cut at the shoulders and pulled back with a headband. It looked to have been cut from a year book. “She was beautiful, wasn’t she?” Carla asked.
Jack nodded. “She was. She doesn’t look like you though.”
Carla snatched the picture back from him. “Fuck you, Jack.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Why?”
“Because. You’re saying I’m not beautiful.”
“I didn’t say that. I just said she doesn’t look like you. She looks like Marilyn from The Munsters. Or maybe the mother on Family Ties, just a lot younger.”
Carla made a face and started to giggle. “You’re disgusting. Now, you’re hot for Meredith Baxter Birney. I’m telling everyone. You want to do it with old ladies.”
There was more noise from the room next door. More screaming. Crying. Then the door flew open, and the little one was standing there—face red, streaked with tears.
“Bradford, shut the door, you little pervert!” Carla screamed. “I’m trying to get dressed!” She picked up a shoe, a pump, and threw it at him. Spinning end over end. The heel got him square in the forehead. Bradford’s hands shot to his face, and he started to wail louder. Carla marched over, pushed him out and slammed the door, bracing her back against it, legs slightly spread and slightly bent for support. She looked kind of sexy like that, Jack thought, standing there in her panties. “The two of them are sickos,” she said. “I catch them looking in my windows all the time, trying to see me get changed.”
“I think you hurt him,” Jack said.
“Tough luck,” she said. “He deserved it. The little puke.” The door heaved a little behind her, the other brother talking now. Saying Bradford was bleeding. “Put a goddamn Band-Aid on it, George,” Carla shouted. “What do you want me to do about it?”
“I’m going to tell Mum and Dad you were naked in there with Jack,” George said. Bradford was still crying, now louder.
“I’m not naked, and neither is Jack,” Carla shouted. “I’m just getting changed—you little loser! Now go away! You say anything and I’m going to slam your fingers in the kitchen drawer again!”
Jack got up off the bed and snubbed the cigarette out in the small tin ash tray. The smoke drifted slowly to the ceiling, circling and dissipating as it did. “We better check on him,” he said. “You don’t want him to bleed to death or anything. Then you’ll really be in trouble.”
Jack found the little boy behind a chair in the living room. George was trying to get close to him, to look at the wound, but Bradford would claw at him each time he did. He had one hand on his face, blood running down through his fingers.
George stood up, eyes wide, looking worried. “He won’t let me near him,” he said. “I think he’s got a hole in his head.”
Jack crouched down. The chair was in the corner by the fireplace, and the little boy had his back to the wall. Jack always wondered if they ever used the fireplace. There was never any wood, not even in the winter, and no ashes. Bradford didn’t swing at Jack, but he didn’t take his hand away from his forehead either.
“That must kill,” Jack said to him.
“It does,” he said, sniffling. “It hurts.” Bradford looked like a small Carla with darker hair and a buzzed cut. They all looked alike, near exact images, except Bradford had very big ears. Or maybe it was just the hair cut.
“You want me to clean it up?” Jack asked. “That way it might not look so bad when your parents get home.”
The boy pushed himself further behind the chair. “No! They’ll kill me!”
“Shut up, Bradford!” Carla shouted from behind him. “What the hell are they going to kill you for? You didn’t do it.” Jack turned. She had pulled on a pair of black sweat pants, the string undone, the pants hanging low. He could see her navel, and she had lit a cigarette herself.
“Mum said next time he gets hurt she’s going to beat the crap out of him,” George said. “She said she’s tired of him getting hurt all the time.”
“She’ll kill me!” Bradford screamed. He was crying harder now, louder.
“Well, maybe if we clean it up good enough, she won’t notice,” said Jack.
“Oh, she’ll notice,” said George. “She notices everything. She’ll notice that you two were getting sexy in there, too. It wouldn’t have happened if you two weren’t getting sexy.”
Carla hauled off and belted him, open hand, across the side of his head. “Shut up, George, you little queer! We weren’t doing nothin!”
George winced. Rubbed his head. “Tell that to Dad.”
“I’m not going to tell him nothing, and neither are you,” said Carla. She was quiet a moment, seeming to think. “Listen. If you promise to keep your mouth shut, I’ll get you some of his Doritos. I know where he keeps the key.”
Jack turned and looked at her. “The key for what?”
“His snacks,” she said. “He keeps them all locked up, so he won’t have to share them.”
“Dad’s not a very good sharer,” said George.
Carla came over and crouched beside Jack, her leg pressing up against his. “Bradford, come out of there, so we can get you cleaned up. We can make something up, and make it sound like it wasn’t your fault.”
“It wasn’t my fault!” he squealed. “It was your fault!”
“Back off, Bradford,” she said. “If you weren’t such a little pervert and didn’t come barging into my room, I wouldn’t have had to throw the shoe at you. You made me do it.”
The boy still had his hand covering the wound, but the blood looked to be coagulating and drying in streaks, one down along his nose, another around his eye, and one on his cheek. “He was in there with you,” he said, looking at Jack. “And you didn’t have pants on.”
“That’s because Jack doesn’t care about that stuff,” Carla said. “He’s not a pervert.”
Jack looked at her a moment, raised his eyebrows. He wondered if she ever even noticed him looking at her. Whether she cared.
“He likes to get sexy,” George said from behind them.
Carla spun her head around. “George, you say that one more time, and I’m going to lay you out flat! I swear to God! I don’t care if Dad grounds me or not, I’ll kill you!”
“He’ll do more than ground you,” George said, “if he knows you’re getting sexy in your room. Dad doesn’t like anyone getting sexy in the house besides him.”
Jack thought of Mr. Flynn. He started to laugh a little. Sexy. It just didn’t fit. Couldn’t fit, despite all his toys and magazines. There was nothing sexy about him, about any of it.
They brought Bradford to the bathroom, and Jack wet a face cloth and tried to wipe gently at the cut. Bradford pulled away, screamed, and started to sob again.
Carla was in the bathroom with them, checking her face in the mirror. “If you get blood on that face cloth, make sure you wash it out good, or he’ll smell it, and then that will be it. I’ll be grounded for the whole fucking summer, and that son of a bitch will have me scrubbing his van and licking his boots.”
Jack held Bradford tight by the forearm, giving him a rest before he wiped again. “Licking his boots?”
“He made me do that once. His army boots. He refers to himself as the King, and says we’re all his subjects. That’s what subjects do, he said, lick the King’s boots and beg for mercy. He was pretty drunk; otherwise, I don’t think he would’ve made me. It was either that or getting grounded for a month, so I said ‘Fuck it,’ I’ll just lick his boots and get it over with.”
Jack looked at her a moment. Tried to picture it. He wondered if she were telling the truth or if it was all just another story. “Was your mother there?” he asked.
“She said I had it coming. I forget what I did. I think I tried to wear his army hat to school or something. It was Combat Rock day.”
“You stole ten bucks from him, too,” George said from the hall. “That’s what he was really pissed about. You stole ten bucks.”
“He thought I did,” said Carla, “but he couldn’t prove it.”
“It doesn’t matter if he can prove it,” said George, “if he thinks you did it, you did it, that’s all that matters.”
Jack wet the cloth again and lightly dabbed around the wound. It started to bleed again. “I’m just getting the stuff that’s dried up,” he said to Bradford.
“Maybe if I put some make-up around it, they won’t notice it,” said Carla. “I bet that will work.”
“I’m not wearing make-up!” Bradford squealed.
“You’ll do whatever I tell you to do, you little twerp,” Carla said.
Jack looked up at her again. “I think he needs stitches. I remember my little brother got a cut like this, and he needed stitches. And my parent’s don’t take you for stitches unless they absolutely have to.”
“No way!” snapped Carla. “Are you kidding me? I’ll be dead. We can do something for it. Bradford, if I put make-up on it, you won’t even feel it.”
“No!” he screamed. “It will kill!”
Carla pulled out another cigarette and lit it with her small plastic lighter, a picture of the Marlboro Man dressed in red emblazoned on the front.
“Well, then we have to stage an accident. We can tell them you were trying to climb up on the roof and fell off the side porch or something. Or you tripped going down the side stairs. We can say you tripped over George’s sneakers or something.”
“You’re not saying he tripped over my sneakers!” George called out.
“Shut up, George!” she said. “Dad told you to put them out there because they stink so bad, so he can’t get mad at you for that. He’ll have to get mad at himself.”
“Dad doesn’t know how to get mad at himself,” said George, “and if he does, he’ll take it out on us. No way.”
“Well, we have to do something,” said Carla. “I can’t get into anymore trouble than I’m already in.”
“What are you in trouble for?” Jack asked. It was the first he had heard of it.
“Last night, you moron. I thought he was going to kill me.”
Jack tried to remember what time they dropped her off. He was pretty sure it was before curfew, so that wouldn’t be it. And she wouldn’t have told him about Kevin, that went without saying. So maybe she got caught drinking. But if she got caught drinking, why would she have invited him over today, saying they could go after her parents came home? It didn’t make any sense.
“If I want any chance at all of getting out tonight, everything needs to be perfect when they get home; otherwise forget it. I’m just hoping he’ll be drunk and in a good mood. If Kevin is out tonight, and I’m not, I’m going to be pissed. He’s so fucking hot, it’s not funny.”
“Then what did you bite him for?” Jack asked.
“I didn’t bite him,” she said. “That would kill. He must’ve just made that up.” She giggled a little. “Or maybe it scraped against my teeth or something. I have a wicked small mouth.” She bared her teeth. “See?”
“But I thought you said you didn’t do it at all?” said Jack.
“I did. I just meant if I did do something like that maybe he thinks that’s what would happen. But I wouldn’t do that anyway. I’d probably gag.” She stopped to think a minute. “I know,” she said to Bradford. “We’ll get a hat, and you can pull it down over the cut.”
“No!” said Bradford. “I won’t be able to see!”
“You will, too, you retard,” said Carla. “The cut is on your forehead, not on your eyes. Don’t move.” Carla went to her room and brought back out her Scally cap. She never wore the cap around Willington, but Jack had seen her wear it when they had taken the train into South Boston to visit her grandmother and great grandmother. She went in to visit them under the guise of doing errands for them sometimes, but was usually really just going in to steal some money from their pocketbooks. The great grandmother was in her nineties and legally blind, and the grandmother was continuously lost in a haze of cigarette smoke. I’m going to cry so bad when they die, Carla had told Jack, but maybe they’ll leave me a whole bunch of money or something. The hat, she said, you could wear around Southie, and she was technically from there, but you couldn’t wear it around Willington or you’d be a geek.
Now she pulled it down tight on Bradford’s head and took a step back. “There,” she said, “You can’t even see it. Now don’t move from the couch—I don’t want it to start bleeding again. You better not get any blood on the hat, you little shit.”
“What if Mum tells me to take a bath?” Bradford said.
“She probably will,” said George. “Saturday night is bath night.”
“Just tell her you like to stink,” said Carla. “You wouldn’t be lying, you stink all the time anyways.” She froze then, and turned her eyes to the wall. “They’re home,” she said, and right after she did, Jack heard the van door slamming shut.
Carla snubbed out her cigarette and started brushing the smoke away. “Jesus Christ,” she said, “I didn’t think they’d be home so early. Jack, sit at the kitchen table,” she said, “if we sit at the table, we’ll look like we’re innocent. And he likes you. If you’re here, and he thinks we’re being innocent, maybe he’ll let me off.”
“Likes me?” Jack said.
“Yeah,” said Carla. “He’s always saying that. My mother, too.” She smiled. “They think you’re a nice boy.”
Jack could see her parents outside on the driveway, the mother bending over to check on her flowers and the father stopping on the side deck to light a cigarette. He opened the door and held it open with his foot for a moment, looking about, scanning the neighborhood. There were shouts from somewhere down the street. Then a horn blaring from the convenience store parking lot on the other side of the small woods behind the backyard. A radio was playing somewhere, too. It was nearly dusk, the town coming to life. Carla’s mother was still down on the driveway. He always enters first, Carla had told Jack. He demands it.
Mr. Flynn stopped just over the threshold and looked at them sitting at the table. Looked at Jack.
“Well, well, well,” he said. “Look who’s here. Don Giovanni. You came over after all.”
Jack waved a little. “Hi, Mr. Flynn.”
The man just snickered a little, the right side of his mouth curling up just slightly. And then he went to the refrigerator, leaned over and peered inside—counting, Carla had once told Jack. The first thing he does when he gets home is count his beers. Falstaffs. The only reason he drank Falstaff was because he liked the red, white and blue flag on the label, she said. It gets his patriot up, she said.
Mr. Flynn slid the cans around a bit before pulling one out and shutting the door. His wife, Chickie, was in the house now, too, but she hadn’t said anything. But that wasn’t unusual. She usually didn’t speak until her he gave her the clear. Wide-eyed, she stared at her husband in what seemed to be a curious cross between fear and awe. Don had his back to Jack and Carla now. He opened the beer, the can popping loud in the silence, and then he sighed. “Who was smoking in here?” he asked.
“Jeez, Dad,” Carla said. “Jack was. He has permission, I told you that.”
Jack shot her a look. Felt his face going red. It wasn’t that he cared so much if her father thought he was smoking in the house, what he cared about was Carla saying his parents gave him permission. He didn’t want the Flynns to think his parents were that stupid.
Mr. Flynn turned. Looked at him, then looked at her. Sipped his beer. “They let you smoke in your house?” he asked.
“No, Mr. Flynn,” said Jack.
“But you think it’s okay to smoke in mine?”
Jack didn’t answer.
“What else do you think is okay to do in my house?” he asked. “When I’m not home?”
“Nothing, Mr. Flynn,” Jack said.
Jack swallowed his breath. “Nothing, sir.”
The man sipped his beer. Then he pulled out a cigarette, sparked his lighter. Exhaled slowly, the smoke curling from his lips and rising to the ceiling. “So this is what you do when we’re not home? You sit at the table and what? Stare into each others eyes? Think about all the things you could be doing if you weren’t such good kids?”
“Dad,” said Carla, “Come on. Jack’s like an honors student. He’s even planning on going to college and stuff.”
Mr. Flynn snickered. “College, huh?”
“He’ll probably get, like, a scholarship,” said Carla.
“A scholarship for what? Messing around with underage girls?” He gestured with a nod of the head towards Carla. “Getting into her pants? They give scholarships for that now?” He rolled his eyes, whistled. “Wow. Wish I had known that way back when. I would have been humping everything up and down the block, ain’t that right, Chick?”
Mrs. Flynn nodded. Eyes still empty.
Jack felt his limbs going tense. His blood pumping. You never knew where this type of thing could go with Mr. Flynn. Whether he was serious or not. He could turn it into a joke. There was always the hope that he would turn it into a joke. And Jack believed Carla when she said he liked him. It had always seemed that way anyway.
“I’m hoping to go for psychology,” Jack said. He could hear George and Bradford arguing behind him now, turning up the television.
“Psychology?” said Mr. Flynn. “Well, that’s interesting. Maybe you can analyze me. Maybe you can tell me what I’m thinking.”
“I haven’t studied it yet, sir.”
“But after you do, you think then that you’ll be able to tell me what I’m thinking?”
“Well, why not? Isn’t that what psychologists do? Don’t they tell you what you’re thinking?”
Jack clenched his fists, anxiety rising. “I think you’re supposed to tell them, sir.”
Mr. Flynn dragged again on his cigarette, placed it back in the ashtray. He seemed to slip away a minute, lost in thought. “That’s good,” he said. “That’s good. So, I guess I should tell you what I’m thinking then.” He locked his eyes on Jack. “I’m thinking I don’t like smart ass little punks feeling up my daughter. Sticking their hands in her pants and smelling their fingers.”
“Dad!” Carla said. “Stop!”
Her father ignored her. His eyes still tight on Jack, he gestured to his wife. “Chick?” he said. “Get exhibit A.”
Mrs. Flynn hurried from the kitchen, returning with a pair of jeans. Jack recognized the jeans; Carla wore them often.
“Hold them up,” her father said, but his eyes hadn’t left Jack,
Mrs. Flynn stood in the middle of the kitchen and lifted the jeans, turning them around with not a word from her lips. A game show assistant. Jack could hear breathing—Bradford and George, peaking around the divider wall.
“How do you explain this?” Mr. Flynn asked.
The seat of the jeans were covered in grass stains and soil. Jack hadn’t noticed that the night before, but it was dark, and he hadn’t been looking for it. He remembered Kevin and Carla rolling around outside the car for a bit at one point, and then in the front seat. He remembered something like jealousy simmering inside him, but nothing he was feeling was coming very clear. He liked Carla, he was attracted to her, but there was something not right about it, something off. She turned him on, but she didn’t seem touchable for some reason. He didn’t want to touch her. Why didn’t he want to touch her? he wondered. There were plenty of other girls he fantasized about all the time, but he spent most of his time with her, and he usually didn’t want to touch her. Instead, he let Kevin, worrying in some ways that he would take her away from him, and in some ways worrying that he wouldn’t. He remembered wanting to tell them to knock it off, but if he did Kevin would start pushing him, looking for a fight. It often came to that.
“I can’t,” Jack said to Mr. Flynn.
The man hitched his thumbs under his belt, adjusted his pants. “So, ah, what? The two of you were having races, sliding down the hill? All in good fun, right? All innocent? You want me to believe that?”
“I’m just saying that I don’t know what happened.” Jack looked at Carla sideways, trying to get a read on her, wondering why she hadn’t told him about the pants, assuming it must have already come up earlier in the day, wondering why she had still invited him over, but Carla just had her chin down now, looking at her fingernails. Pale pink.
Mr. Flynn stepped forward then, closer to Carla. “Weren’t you with her?” he asked, and as he did, he reached out and gave her an open palm to the forehead. Carla’s head snapped up, but she said nothing. Jack looked at her, at the red welt where she had been hit. Mrs. Flynn was still holding the jeans high. Jack wondered how long she would. Maybe a day, maybe more. He figured her arms must be getting tired.
“I was with her,” Jack said, “but we weren’t alone.”
“What was it then?” her father asked. “A little group sex? A little orgy?” Mr. Flynn put his hands out in front of him, as if grabbing someone by the hips, and began thrusting back and forth. “A little gang bang?” Carla made noise. Something between a gasp and a cry, and her father’s hand shot out again, this time catching her on the side of the head, throwing her chair off balance. The legs came up for a second, then landed back hard on the floor. Jack jumped up, and Carla started to cry.
“Jesus,” Jack said.
Mr. Flynn tapped himself on the chest, both hands, tips of his fingers. “You want a little, tough guy? That what you came over here for?” He wet his thumbs and then assumed a boxing stance. Chickie lowered the jeans and took a step back closer to the counter, giving him some room. “Come on,” he said.
“I came over here to keep her company while she was babysitting,” Jack said. “That’s it.”
“I’ll bet you did,” said Mr. Flynn, now bouncing around on his toes. “I’ll bet you were keeping her all sorts of company.”
“Daddy, stop,” Carla cried. “It wasn’t, Jack. We’re just friends.”
“That’s not true, Dad,” George called out from behind the divider wall. “They were getting sexy in the bedroom today, and Carla had her pants off!”
“George!” Carla shouted. “Shut up, or I’ll kill you!”
“You were getting sexy!” he yelled again.
“We were not! You don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“She split Bradford’s head open with a shoe, too, Dad, when he walked in on them with their pants off!”
Mr. Flynn started moving around the kitchen, bouncing on his toes, the dense scent of beer, cigarette smoke, and cologne pervading the air around him. “Not enough last night? Figured you come back here and seal the deal? In this house? Under my roof?”
Jack didn’t move his eyes from the man, following him left to right, nor did he move his hands. His blood was rushing, his thoughts spinning, and he knew as soon as he moved his hands it would give the guy an excuse to swing.
“You going to defend yourself or not?” Mr. Flynn asked.
His wife pulled a pack of cigarettes off the counter, put one between her fingers. “I think he’s just a coward, honey. Maybe you should just leave him alone. Cowards can’t help themselves.”
“If I want your advice, Chick,” said Mr. Flynn, still moving.“I’ll ask for it. I know how to deal with cowards. I’ve been dealing with them for twenty years at the barracks.”
“I’m not going to fight you, Mr. Flynn,” said Jack.
“Oh, no?” he asked. He bounced a step closer to Carla, his eyes still on Jack, slapped her again, this time the chair slipping, her head flipping sideways and hitting the table. The chair slid out completely from under her and went skidding across the floor. Carla landed on the floor. She lay on her side, her hand on her ear, and her eyes shut tight.
Jack felt his hairs standing on end, his muscles taut, and his heart beating faster. Carla began to inch her way out of the kitchen.
“Still not going to fight me?” the man asked. “Not going to defend your girl? That the kind of yellow you are?” He turned towards her then, raised his foot and gave her a kick to the ribs. Carla screamed, and he raised his foot to kick her again.
Jack’s vision blurred. No figures, no objects, only colors. His mouth tasted of metal. He yelled something—he wasn’t sure what—and then he ran at Mr. Flynn.
For the fraction of a second, he didn’t think the man saw him coming—he was still focused on Carla—but then, seemingly without looking, he came up with a roundhouse just before Jack got close enough to hit him. Jack went backwards, landing upon his own chair, bouncing off it and hitting the floor. He rubbed his jaw, his head spinning, and then started up again. Mr. Flynn was again in boxing mode, bouncing about.
Jack took a swing, the man ducked, and then got him with an uppercut with his right. Two hits to the jaw. Jack swung again, grazing the man’s ear, and then Mr. Flynn got him in the belly. Jack leaned over, gasping for his breath, and Mr. Flynn grabbed him by the shoulders and threw him to the floor. He pinned him then, holding him down with his left palm flat on Jack’s chest, and his right fist posed to strike.
Jack thought he could hear Carla still sobbing. He saw a shadow moving about above him, and he assumed it was her mother. Her father’s face was now purple red, his eyes bulging, the whites spotted with yellow. Jack saw two of him for a moment, but then he pulled him back into focus. Jack felt his jaw aching and swelling. He could taste the blood in his mouth, rusty and warm.
“Nobody touches her,” the man whispered through clenched teeth. “Do you understand that? Nobody.”
Sean McCarthy has new work either recently published or forthcoming in december, Glimmer Train, The Sand Hill Review, REAL: Regarding Arts and Letters, The Ledge, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Greensboro Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal, and Sou’wester. His novel, Where the Birds Go to Die, was recently named a finalist for both The Black Lawrence Press’s Big Moose Prize and the Autumn House Press Fiction Prize.