Bent Bad (excerpt)

Here’s an excerpt from a novel I’m working on.  It’s called Bent Bad.  I hope you enjoy it.

Bent Bad

The young boy with dark blue eyes, almost black, was playing in the kitchen when the phone rang. His mother answered while his baby sister played in the playpen. He watched as his mother’s face contorted in a strange way, but he couldn’t discern her emotional state. All facial expressions were the same to him. She dropped the phone. It bounced sharply against the floor and came to rest like a rubber doll, the cord a useless umbilical. She rushed to the living room to turn on the TV. Soon she heard the words, “President Kennedy is dead.” The boy watched her go limp and fall to the floor. He went to her with a look of curiosity and stood over her.

“Mom, wake up,” he said. “Wake up.”

His sister, still too young to talk, sensed her mother’s heartache and began screaming. The boy went over to the playpen and shouted at her to shut up. She stopped screaming and whimpered instead.

When his mother didn’t wake the boy went to the dining room and dragged a chair behind him. It made a skidding, irritating noise on the linoleum. He pulled the chair up to the sink and filled a cup with water. He spilled much of it as he maneuvered off the chair and returned to the living room, nearly falling in the process. He carried the water to his prostrate mother. He knelt down and poured the water into her half-open mouth. She choked and then revived. Momentarily disoriented she looked up at her son, sat up, and held him to her. He stood stiffly as she hugged him. Remembering the tragedy she broke down in tears, hugging her rigid son until he pulled away. The woman’s daughter screamed in the playpen. She went over and picked her up and soothed her. The little girl quieted down but she still sensed her mother’s pain.

Three days later, as her little daughter napped, the young boy’s mother was sobbing. Her body heaved, wracked with grief so searing it appeared she might throw up. She wrung her hands like a magician as she plopped grief-stricken on a chair in the living room. She stared listlessly at the grainy images on the black-and-white TV screen. Tears formed tiny pools in her lower eyelids, holding there for a moment in seeming defiance of gravity before spilling down her cheeks. Her body slumped as though she’d died sitting there; her arms drooped like large noodles and resting in her lap. She held tissues in her fists and dabbed at her eyes. The unimaginable had happened. The unthinkable made real.

Moving toward the living room slowly from the spotless kitchen, the boy pulled his Radio Flyer wagon behind him to investigate the unfamiliar sound of his mother weeping. The wagon held a single toy, The Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz. It was his favorite. In the center of the Tin Man’s chest was a heart-shaped button. When he pressed it, it made a whining sound. He moved toward his mother as he would a distant relative, someone vaguely familiar but not to be trusted. He stopped before reaching her. She was sniffling as she watched the screen. She held up several tissues and dabbed her eyes. He turned and looked at the TV and saw a flag-draped coffin on a big wagon with wooden wheels and pulled by a team of white horses. Soldiers walked on either side of the wagon. The camera panned the crowd. Everyone was dressed in black. Women wore black veils covering their faces. He heard drumming, a steady cadence. The boy sensed that someone important had died.

Now, as he watched his mother cry again as the clip-clop of the horses pulled the wagon and the coffin, he walked up to his mom and pressed the button on The Tin Man. It made a cat-like, wailing sound. When she didn’t take note of this, he pressed it again and again until she looked down and caressed his face. He pulled away from her. He didn’t like to be touched. He’d rather be beaten than touched. The boy, then four, retreated to a corner of the room and played in the half-light between shadow and sun. He pulled the red wagon around and around in a small counter-clockwise circle, an unconscious mimicry of the horse-drawn carriage on TV. He figured his mother needed to be alone with her sorrow, and he didn’t like to be near her when she cried. The Tin Man toy lay on its stomach. He liked it that way—protected from harm and looking inward. The boy was that way too. He had to keep distance from everything and everyone near him. It was his way. It was the way he moved through the world.

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