Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Boy Needs his Father...


Once my mom tried to leave my father. She packed up the car while dad was passed out somewhere and the moment I got off the bus she told me to get into the car and we drove off. I was 12. Matty was three and wouldn't stop talking and asking questions and Mom only ignored him and it drove me crazy. Even as it was happening, I knew we'd go back. Even as it was happening, I was resenting her. Because we would all have to go back. She could never really leave him.

I had a cracked rib and it hurt like hell and that was why we were going. Dad hadn't done it on purpose; that man drunk in the house was like a gorilla. He didn't really mean to make a mess, but he always did. I had recently started thinking of ways to minimize the severity of the bruises, the breaks in my mind. It was actually easier for me to get over it, to get to sleep when I thought of things this way; that dad wasn't really violent, he was just careless. He was just clumsy. I considered myself to be pretty damn mature thinking this way.

Mom looked at me sideways a lot as we drove. I could tell she felt good about herself doing this: she felt brave. She felt free, like, yes, she could make this decision on her own. She could be a mother bear.

I opened up my grandfather's copy of Capital Punishment and looked at the page with the illustration of a person being dissected alive. I wondered why they stopped administering punishments like that. If you had asked me then, I would have said that I understood why the world was going to shit. I would have been completely sure. If anything, people were doing even more horrible things to each other than they were five hundred years ago, and the punishments were less severe? More humane? Please.

Mom told me to put that book away. She cringed, said she couldn't believe I was reading something like that.

"I'm going to have to talk to your grandfather," she said.

We made it all the way to Roanoke Rapids before it got too late and stayed in a Hampton Inn. I was awake and reading the whole drive even though Mom tried all through South Carolina to get me into conversation, asking me about every damn thing she could except for Dad. She would do anything to avoid a fight. Mom drew the curtains like we were on the run from the mob and it made me laugh out loud, the obvious fear in the action, because I was picturing dad waking up on the floor. I was imagining him getting up with his head splitting open and finding no one around to get him his morning Bloody Mary besides his employees. I laughed at the thought that she could ever be afraid of him, the bumbling fool. I thought of my father like that quite a bit. I still do sometimes, the rare occasions he crosses my mind.

Matty slept the whole way to the motel, then kept sleeping as mom unpacked, actually hanging up our clothes in the closet, folding our jeans and putting them in the dresser under the TV. Like we were staying. Like this was our new home. She made coffee from the package and used the little machine that came with the room and drank and drank and made more and stared at the TV with all the lights off. I was under the covers with Capital Punishment and a flashlight but I could hear Judge Judy, Judge this and that, and all the other shows celebrating the misery of other peoples' lives. It made her feel better. For a while I was just pretending to read, my eyes buzzing like insects in their sockets and my brain couldn't take any more of those little illustrations, those lithographs from the seventeenth century that still remind me of cruel middle school distractions in ballpoint pen. Judge Judy made me feel better too, though I wouldn't concede that to my mother.

She used to say, "a boy needs his father. You just do."

I fell asleep I don't know when, having at some point actually but my book aside and marking my page with a fast-food receipt I found on the floor of the car. As I woke up and looked at the book I realized that what woke me up was a burst of TV audience laughter. Mom was watching a show where two men were talking over a fence, a set that was supposed to be outside but clearly wasn't. She wasn't laughing at the funny parts, it was like she couldn't even hear them. She sat in the upholstered chair near the door, her hand on the receiver of the hotel phone, her eyes huge and wet in the TV light. She was smoking a cigarette and next to her sat an ashtray stuffed with butts. The curtains were opened partway and the window was cracked, the cool air outside dragging the smoke out from the end of the cigarette like thread from a spool.

Mom looked at me, then back at the TV.

"What time is it?" I asked her. I really didn't want anything else from her.

"Almost three," she said.

Her eyes were glassy, unblinking one minute, then squishing shut, oozing out tears the next and it was like she had been saving up her weeping for this moment so that I had to share in it.

"I did this for you," she said, "you know that, right? You believe me?"

"Yeah, I believe you," I said to her. But I didn't say anything else because I didn't want to turn this into a conversation. So I rolled back over and as soon as I did this she started crying and I could hear it and I knew I was meant to hear it. It would only get louder if I ignored it.

"I just miss him," she finally said, "I miss him so much."

"I know, Mom," I said, my voice muffled by the pillow, by my own indifference, "my ribs really miss him too."

Sunday, September 12, 2010

At the Soup Kitchen


I get out of the house like it's on fire and start driving. I smoke with the window rolled down and I know it's a rental and I was told explicitly by the woman behind the desk "obviously, there will be a fee assessed," as if she knew by the sight or smell of me that I needed to be told. I will probably have to pay some exorbitant tack-on fee as a penalty. I don't really care. I cannot simply smile, shake hands and pretend like things are okay, can I? Won't that be the same as handing over to him some vital organ with a big, fat smile on my face? What if I say, 'you know what, dad? Things are fine, you're a great guy now"? How do I know he won't clap his hands and laugh that circus clown laugh of his and say, "gotcha!" 

I could kill. Anyone and anything.

The soup kitchen is a squat brick building next to a catholic church and I can remember vaguely that it was not here when this was my home but I cannot recall what was in its place. A parking lot? A gas station?

Inside is a large cafeteria-style room with checkered linoleum floors, halogen lighting,a kitchen at the far end with a serving window. There is a line of people leading up to and running alongside the serving window, their steps toward food as sluggish and belabored as steps towards death. The place smells of bleach and canned vegetables, hot dishwater and body odor. Behind the serving window I see three or four young guys, all in t-shirts and white smeared aprons, dishing out spaghetti and diced carrots. School lunch. Not one of them looks like what I am expecting of Matty. None of them have my mother's red hair, my father's height and the breadth of his shoulders, his blue eyes hard and cold as a precious stone on someone's finger. I cannot remember what Matty looks like outside of my own imagination; whose eyes, whose hair has been passed down to him.

And then he comes out through the swinging door, peeling a pair of vinyl gloves from his hands and looking around. He is tall, like my father, like me, but even from a distance he looks like my mother, like the pictures of her I have kept with me all this time, pictures taken before I was born, before so many things happened to alter her appearance. He has dad's strong chin and mom's dark red hair, a dark red belonging to a shiny car, rusty, almost like blood. It is parted and swept across his face like a strong wind has blown it that way, the smoothness of it nearly pretty. Nearly effeminate. He brushes it out of his eyes and then those eyes find me. 

When I look him square in the face I see all the endowments that I never received from my mother; fierce green eyes and a smile that comes easy, round cheekbones that compliment the square jaw of my father. Even the lightness of his step came from her, I can tell. I am not expecting him to hug me but he does, squeezing me once and then stepping back before I have a chance to return the embrace or reject it. He smiles but tries to hide it, like there is something taboo or vulgar in the expression.

"Mom told me you were coming by," he says.

"Yeah, I thought I'd come see you work."

"It's not exactly work," he says, "I mean I don't get paid."

I realize that he is nearly my height, his shoulders nearly as broad as mine. I had been expecting a child, maybe an almost-adult still clinging to the skinny awkwardness of adolescence but here he is and practically a man. Even his hands are scarred, well-used. But he is nervous, I can tell and underneath his polite exterior I can sense that he is making up his mind about something; about me. He is deciding if he should be rude, if he should be stingy with niceties; if the desire to be hostile and unforgiving is even still valid. He is deciding, much like I am, if he still has the right to be angry.

"Even better," I say, "it's good of you, doing this. You should be proud."

He shakes his head, and I see this little half smile, like his mouth hasn't completely decided to show such an expression, like half of him is trying to suppress it, to keep a serious appearance. This reminds me so much of my father than I cannot look.

"Service for service's sake," he says. 

"Right," I say, "Of course." 

My mother used to drag us to the catholic church, the one right next to this building, when dad was having a bad day, a bad week. She would even dress in black, I mean, come on, it's like the woman already saw herself as a widow. I look at Matty and suddenly remember him sitting beside me, his young face glaring up at the ornate, gilded artwork, the towering image of Christ in his most gruesome state, just staring, like he understood it. I could never really look at it for very long before it started to get to my stomach, before I started having that feeling you get right before someone grabs you from behind. It never seemed to bother Matty. He would stare at that thing the whole time, not even playing with the little toy cars he had stuffed his pockets with.

"You're not a believer," Matty says now, with nothing but fairness in his voice, "it's cool." |

Then he turns back toward the serving window and gestures towards me but doesn't look at me. One of the other guys mouths 'what?' and then nods, waves a dismissal. Matty unties his apron and says, "you smoke?" then goes towards the double doors that lead to the street. I follow. 

To the right of the door is another line of people waiting to get in, to get a table and Matty takes a sharp left around the side of the building, leading me into a narrow alley between the soup kitchen and the church and I tease him, saying, "do born-agains smoke?" 

He laughs as he smacks a pack of Camels against the heel of his hand.

"We're all a work in progress, man. I'm not the one doing the miracles."

He hands me one and then a lighter but doesn't offer to light it for me. Then we make small talk and it's positively agonizing. He has been volunteering here for two years, off and on. 

"Off and on?"

"Well I got busted for underage consumption at a party, and got stuck here for community service but I met Father Lawson and he's actually a pretty good guy so I kept coming. And dad thought it would be good for me to stay busy. But then I went to Camp Warren for a few months and Lawson said he'd take me back whenever I got out." 

"Camp Warren?" 

"Yeah. It's a fancy-pants juvenile facility upstate."

"How'd you end up there?" 

He pauses, squints at me and asks, "mom and dad didn't tell you this?" 

"I don't talk to them, remember? Least of all about you."

Matty seems satisfied by this so he continues. He says he was drinking way too much, peddling some painkillers that the FDA had never even seen before but the judge let him off easy because the church was willing to pay for him to go to a private facility. Mom and dad were grateful, and are still in the debt of the church. 

"So I keep volunteering." 

"And that's when you took to Jesus? When you were locked up?"

"Jeez, you make it sound like prison," he says, "I mean...yeah. That's when I came to know the Lord."



"Nothing, just...isn't that exactly what happened to dad, too?"

"Yeah, I know it's weird. But that's the way it happened." 

I think this over, looking over my brother with unabashed curiosity. I can't stop looking at him, trying to identify what of my mother he still has, what of my father. The  more I look, the less I understand. 

"You of all people should know how desperate a person can be on the inside," he says. 

"Hey, I was actually in prison." 

"That's what I'm trying to say." 

"And I wasn't in there for doing something wrong."

"You threw a guy in front of a moving car."

"You know about that?"

"Everyone knows about that." 

"Still. That wasn't the same thing."

"Right. Because you were a big hero."


"No, man, I mean it, I'm not trying to bust your balls. Dad's told me all about it. First in Michigan, you save a woman from getting hit by a car, and the town gives you a medal. Then in Texas you save a woman from getting raped and they throw you in jail for it." 

"I didn't save her from anything."

"Still sounds pretty noble to me." 

"If it's all the same to you, I'd rather not talk about it." 

He throws his cigarette down and nods, sticks out his bottom lip and says, "fair enough." I am already done with mine, having smoked with more speed and desperation than he. Matty makes no motion to go back inside.

"So mom and dad told you about the trip?" 

"A little bit," I answer, "sounds exciting."

He nods and shrugs. "Yeah," he says without enthusiasm, "it's a pretty big deal." 

"You don't seem that happy about it."

"Oh I am," he says with renewed vigor, "it's just a lot of responsibility. You know, being The Light of the World.

I chuckle and don't try to hide it and thankfully, Matty doesn't rebuke me for it. He tosses his cigarette and crushes it underfoot. Once the embers are all out, he picks it up, then mine as well. He holds them loosely in one hand.

"So do you go to a shrink?" he asks. 


"Do you?" 

"I see a court-appointed psychologist."

"You sound like dad after he started seeing Rusty every week."

"Who's Rusty?"

"Head pastor at the church. He's alright. He actually used to play for Kansas State but he had an injury and started drinking...had a pretty bad time before he became a Christian."

"So why didn't you ask me if I go to bible study every week?" 

"Oh, you definitely don't have the Lord in you. No offense, or anything, but after a while you can tell. I're not a christian, are you?"

"Definitely not." 

"So is your shrink a total government hack, or what?" 

"No, she's cool. She plays it straight and she doesn't take bullshit."

"She? Is she hot?" 

"She's sixty-three, man. But she could probably kick my ass on a bad day and she could definitely kick yours." 

"Yeah," Matty smiles, "that's kind of hot." 

"There's the Matty I was expecting."

We both laugh and try to drag it out to avoid the uncomfortable silence that will undoubtedly follow. But it comes, like a cold gust of wind it comes and leaves nothing between us but more questions. And Matty is the first to ask. 

"Do you talk to her about what happened?"

"You mean...what happened here?" 

He is not looking at me. But he nods, suddenly, in his timidity, losing all the years and all the strength I had just attributed to him.

"Yeah," I answer, "I do. I talk to my shrink about that."

Mom says Matty wasn't always like this. She says yes, he is a perfect gentleman. She says he is responsible, mild-mannered, helpful and understanding. He is patient and obedient; docile even. But she says he wasn't always like this. 

I sit at the butcher-block table in our family's kitchen--not the hotel; I would prefer to stay out of the ruckus that is the preparation for tonight's Christmas party. I wasn't exactly asked beforehand if I minded coming home not only to my family, but to a house full of strangers each with a thousand questions that will no doubt all be the same, but when Mom finally did ask me, it was moot, since the invitations had already been handed out, the arrangements made. Canceling would have caused a scandal. So here we are, Mom preparing gallons of cole slaw in our kitchen because the hotel kitchen is completely overrun with extra helpers. 

"Matty was such an angry adolescent. I mean, for years. We didn't know what to do with him. Eventually we had to send him away. It was the only thing to do." 

"So what is Camp Warren? I mean, it sounds like a boot camp." 

"No," she says, smiling with a warmth I find odd given the topic, "it's like a safe haven. There are all kinds of young people that are sent there. I mean, young men. Just young men." 

"Still sounds like a boot camp." 

Mom rolls her eyes, poises a large knife above a head of cabbage but stops. 

"Yes, Matty needed discipline. But it was more than that. You know it was more than that." 

"So what did Dad do? I mean, it's not like Matty's problems sprung from nowhere." 

"Your father got involved. They had family sessions every week. At first, Matty wasn't very cooperative. He wouldn't come see us on visiting days, and during the sessions, he would just sit there. It was impossible. He hated your father for putting him in there." 

"Why did you? I mean, what specifically, made you decide to put him away?"

"Well, first there was the drinking. Your father put him on a strict curfew, but Matty kept breaking it. He was making good grades in school but they started to slip; he wasn't showing up, he got suspended for fighting." 

"All of this at the public school?" 

Mom nods, starts chopping. I watch her closely, the meticulous way she protects her fingertips, the speed with which she can chop and the orderly little strips of cabbage that fall to the cutting board after each stroke. I remember a time when Mom wasn't even allowed near a sharp object. I remember it well. 

"Your father had put his name on the waiting list for the Christian Academy before all of that got started. Conrad, the head of the upper school, said the wait time was maybe a year, less if a space became available. But with everything that was happening...let's just say they were more than a little reluctant to let Matty in. So your father had a meeting with Conrad and a few other people and Conrad agreed to put Matty at the bottom of the list, which would delay his entrance but not take him off completely, if Matty could get some real help. The public school was about to expel him anyway; he was impossible.  But then one day dad found him laying in bed with all of his clothes on. He was soaking wet and all scratched up, filthy. He was ranting about a ghost, about a house in the woods."

"So what was wrong with him?" 

"Lord Almighty, he was completely strung out on something called...DMT? Not having a good time of it, I would say. He was like a fish out of water."

She says all of this with complete nonchalance. No more rattling, no more wringing her hands, pulling out her hair, no more screaming over the voices in her head. No more downing pills and red wine. I should be happy, should be comforted or even elated, but instead I am disturbed, and then guilty for admitting to such a feeling. She chops up more carrots quickly and expertly, though I am nervous for her fingers.

"He'd been talking about the house before, though. That was the weird thing. We all just thought it was another of Matty's stories to scare the crap out of the younger ones. But then that day...even if it was just that Matty believed it was there, it was scary enough. He had said something about seeing an old house out in the woods past the park, a falling down old place, way off the path." 

"So, is there one?" 

"Well no, sweetie. There was your great-grandfather's plantation house but that got torn down same time the carriage house did."

"What carriage house?" 

"The house your daddy was born in." 

She stops chopping and doesn't look at me when she speaks. 

"The house your grandmother died in." 

The memory, like so many others, presents itself to me as if it's new information; for the first few seconds it really seems like I am hearing this for the first time. But I know this already. I know about my grandmother, the baby that came after my father, the baby that killed her and then died right away, like its short life had been created for one horrible purpose and only one purpose. I know all of this. I've just forgotten. 

"Oh," I say, quite stupidly. 

"Yeah, honey, I mean, I was only six years old but I remember going to the demolition like everyone. Nobody could believe your grandpa would want to tear down his family's home. I mean, honestly, it was falling into disrepair so I can understand he wouldn't want to incur the costs..." 

She chops up three more carrots and then starts on the onions, tired of talking, tired of rehashing. I have only been here a few hours, and already she's tired. 

Thank God, I think. 

"You Know Where She's Buried"


"Mom said you wanted to see me?"

The old man is sitting in his wing chair by the window, holding the respirator in his lap, not over his face. Every time he breathes you hear things move in his throat, maybe even deeper.

"Yes, yes," he says, almost cheerful, "yes I do, step into my office." 

The room smells so much like a hospital that you can't even believe it's your own house. You can't believe this was once your brother's room. Your grandfather's essence has taken it over, and somehow it seems that the room is dying, not him. His hair has lasted him longer than most men, staying dark and thick long after other men his age were considering toupees, accepting baldness and exposed, spotting scalps. Now it's all gone, after only a few sessions of chemotherapy, which are no obsolete, pointless. He wouldn't accept them anyway. Even when the doctor said he could make it for another six months, maybe a year, Mathis sat up straight and said he would rather go out naturally, with some dignity. You immediately admired him for this and you still do, even though he looks like an infant born prematurely, shrunken and hairless and wrong, his teeth all gone and dentures long ago rendered as pointless as the heroic measures your parents have tried to push on him. Somehow, he still looks dignified. He looks like death is supposed to look. 

there's just the one issue. it will have to come up sooner or later. you sit on the edge of the bed and feel even stranger here, since you and he both know he will die here, in this bed.

"So what's up?" you ask, "how are you feeling?" 

"Right as rain, son, right as rain."

He puts the mask over his face, breathes deeply, takes it away again.

"I was hoping you could fill me in on my funeral arrangements," he says.

This almost sounds like another language, a language you have not heard or dared to speak. Then you realize what he has just said and all you can come up with, all the response your clever, smart-ass little brain can muster is, "what?" 

"I know that father of yours," he points with the oxygen mask between two fingers, the same two fingers that used to hold his cuban cigars, "I know he's gonna try and pull some move to have me buried in that damn church graveyard."

"It's a beautiful piece of land, Grandpa," you say, then you choke on what you're about to say because you're about to say that hardly anyone's been buried there, that it's brand-new and he has his choice of plots. He could be buried right next to the live oak tree if he liked.

"I wrote it in my will--"

"Please Grandpa..."

"I wrote it in my will," he says again, louder this time, "I wrote it down that I wanted to be buried next to your grandmother. I want to be buried next to my wife."

"Oh yeah, Grandpa? And where exactly is she buried?"

You immediately regret your tone, though you have been through this before, all of you have. Stubborn old man, refusing to see reason. Your mother and father have long ago thrown up their hands. Now the old man looks at you, squinting his myopic eyes and pointing again with that damn oxygen mask.

"You know where she's buried," he says, his voice low, conspiratorial.

"Grandpa, come on. You have to stop saying stuff like that--"

"You know where she's buried! You've seen it!" 

"See, Grandpa? That's why your will isn't worth anything, because it's full of crazy talk! Your lawyer said so!"

"So they're not going to bury me next to my Nina, then?"

"No, Grandpa. There is no grave. There is only an urn. She was cremated, remember? She's been on a freaking shelf in the living room for years!"

"Cremated my ass," he mutters.

He replaces the mask, coughs a horrible wet cough and lets the mask drop to his lap.

"Your grandmother was never cremated. She's buried next to our house in the woods. I don't even know why we're having this conversation. You've seen it. You've been there; you've seen the house you said so yourself."

"Grandpa, no. I'm not doing this with you, okay? It's a waste of time and there isn't any time left to be wasted."

He looks at you with those eyes of his, watery and soft like raw oysters in his withered skin. He doesn't blink.

"So you're letting them win, huh? You're letting them tell you what's real and what's not? You're letting them tell you you're crazy?" 

"Maybe I was crazy, Grandpa. I don't know. I just know that I can't go back to thinking like that anymore. No good ever came out of it for me and it won't for you either. They're going to let mom and dad decide where you go if you keep this up and then not only will you not be buried next to your make-believe house but you'll be buried wherever dad wants you to be buried. If there's another place you'd prefer, you'd better say it now."

The old man cusses under his breath and coughs again. 

"They can let me rot for all I care. I have one request and if they're not going to let me have it, then fuck them all."


"And fuck you too. I'm not going to sit here and be called crazy, least of all by you."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"You get locked up in a looney bin for six months and you come out all filled up with Jesus like you're a totally different person? Just like your father, you're both crazy."

"We've found the Truth, Grandpa. You're about to die and you're laughing at the people trying to ensure the salvation of your soul. That's what's crazy."

"I'm not letting you anywhere near my soul. You'll just toss it in a drawer like all the others in your collection."

"Here we go again..."

"You think you're so special because you fall on your face and apologize for all the bad things you've done? Guess what. It doesn't change anything. It doesn't change who you are on the inside and it doesn't change your father. He's still the same man he was he just can't live with himself and the things he's done." 

"And what's he done that's so bad, Grandpa? What's he done that God can't forgive?" 

He glares, seeing right through you, hie eyes lighting up every ounce of doubt you've got until it's all you can feel, all you can believe and he says, "see what I mean? Crazy."

"Dirty Old Grandpa"


They say he's not well enough to come out of bed. Not today, at least. But when I get up the stairs and to his doorway, I see that he is sitting up in bed, doing a crossword puzzle, holding his oxygen mask over his face with one hand. The room smells like plastic and antiseptic and deep in my brain I miss the smell of cigarettes that I used to associate with him. I miss the smell of cuban cigars. I miss the ashtrays piled high around their house, the bitter smell characterizing the room. But in my immediate consciousness, I do not miss any of these things. I have long ago eradicated that emotion and even recalling what I know of this place is a task. Best not to think about it too much. 

Issuing from the CD player in the corner is familiar music, booming piano complete with the buzzing and clicking that mark an old recording. Something spanish maybe? 

Grandpa smiles and opens his arms, thin and shaking under his flannel pajamas. He is missing teeth and his grin is a macabre vision. I lean down to embrace him and I am surprised by his strength, the hardness of his arms that is not the hardness of bone. He pulls me down so that I have to kneel by the bed, he pats my back and lets me go. 

"What is this?"

"Lecuona," he says, complete with accent, "Poetico." 

"I remember," I say, "Spanish?" 

"Cuban," he corrects.

"You don't look so sick," I say.

I take my place in the chair by the bed, moving a stack of books: Ogden Nash, Poe, Wordsworth. There are more around the room, this room that used to be mine. 

"Hope you don't mind me moving in," he says. 

He folds his glasses and the newspaper and puts them down beside him. His eyes look like something congealed in their sockets, blinking but unseeing. Everywhere things are bonier, more discolored, more gnarled than when I last saw him, his hands all twisted with arthritis, marred by liver spots. And there is the smell, worse than the antiseptic and the plastic, the lingering smell of shit and decay that seems to characterize the nearly-dying. 

I tell him, "not at all. I'm happy to see you make good use of this old room."  

He folds his hands, relaxes, says, "tell your dirty old grandpa what you've been up to." 

I race through my past like shuffling through a deck of cards, contemplating what to tell him. Hustling? Prison? Scratching out a living for two years in some kind stranger's trailer out back? No, I decide. I'll focus on the positive. So I tell him,

"Actually, I just finished an adult film." 

He laughs that toothless, wheezy old-man laugh and slaps me hard on the knee, asks me what it's about. So I tell him in the film, I play a plastic surgeon who travels to Africa and risks his life to reconstruct the vaginas of mutilated women. The women of this particular tribe are so amazed by their ability to enjoy sex that they no longer want the men of their tribe; they want only me. So I spend the first half of the film reconstructing clitoral tissue, and the second half getting my dick polished by a tribe of big-breasted African women. 

I tell him it's socially conscious. Not for everyone. Grandpa laughs and starts to cough, I start to get worried. But then he says, "I'm glad I got to live to see this day." 

I cannot tell if he is thinking about the watch; if he even remembers it now. I cannot tell if he is thinking about the last time we saw each other. But he has never asked me about it; never brought it up in all the years since I left. It's always just been our secret, indicated only in a sideways glance and nothing more. 

But I think he will ask. Before this is all over, he will ask.

I ask him how mom has been and he says, "why don't you ask your father?" but laughs since he knows as well as I do that trying to get a straight answer from my father is like trying to get pussy from a nun. Then he gets serious and he says that she's been doing fine, that she has been doing fine for a few years, ever since she and my father became christians and all. 

"Do you really believe it?" 

"Believe what?" 

"That they're, you know, born-again." 

Grandpa shrugs.

"Hell if I know what that means. Your guess is as good as mine."

"Well, do they seem changed?" 

"No one really changes," he says, and he seems to be scanning his memory, taking an inventory of his experiences, every drop of wisdom he's got before coming to an answer, "they just think they do." 

He says I know that as well as he does. 

"But," he adds, seeing my frustration, "if I didn't know your father any better, I would believe in his conversion one hundred percent." 

I give him a wry smile, trying to pull, pull, until the truth comes out, shiny and squirming like a fish from under the rocks. 

"But you do know him." 

He smiles back, proudly displaying his rotting teeth, the black inside of his mouth.

"Oh yes," he says, "that I do." 

Grandpa doesn't really want to know what I've been doing. He thinks he does, but I know better. He's in no state to hear of the jail time, the dead-end jobs, the desperation and the loneliness that has been my life since I left here. He doesn't need to know about all the women, all the loss. He doesn't need to know about Elena. Not her. When I was young, my grandfather had this game, a game designed to stimulate my imagination, which was the only real thing I had protecting me from my father. My grandfather had tried to physically intervene, to threaten, to expose. But it didn't do any good. My mother and father were a good team, my mother was too much of a victim to do anything but protect my father. And she did it well. 

So when grandpa asks what I've been up to, I pretended, just like I did when I was ten. He would ask how school was, and I would tell him, depending on my age, that a stampede of elephants had destroyed the gymnasium, that I painted a mural in art class of the Pelopennesian war and an art dealer gave me a check for a million dollars for it. I would tell him that I crawled inside the grand piano in the music room and found my own secret wonderland, my own Oz. I would tell him all kinds of things and he would listen. Then it was back to the real world, back to my father. I suppose if I really look back, grandpa could have done more. But I don't like to think of it that way. I don't have enough time to think of him like that. I guess you could say my grandfather made me a good liar. The consummate liar that I am today. 

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Break-In


You met her by chance through a friend, a kid you knew at the public school who was a couple years older than you. He said he knew how to get some good smoke; medical-grade shit. 

"Get those little rich kids high," he said, referring to your classmates.

"They're not really rich," you told him, but it didn't really matter. They're different from the rest of the kids you knew, different from you. So one day in August there was a festival and you and your friend took a little walk into the woods right when it started to get dark, when the crickets and the frogs made a sound almost as suffocating as the humid summer air and you walked until the music of some crappy bluegrass band from Blacksburg had faded, replaced by that suffocating orchestra. You always loved that sound, the vastness of it, the way it could swallow you whole. 

She came towards you on the path from the opposite direction with a tall black kid named Kevin, whom you assumed to be the connection your friend had told you about. But Kevin just stood there as your friend started to talk to the woman, who introduced herself as Rae and looked at you a little too hard before saying, "hey, you're Gabe Hurt's little brother, right? You look like him." 

You didn't have to answer, but you did. You said, "people don't really say that. I mean that we look alike." 

She invited all of you to her place, an apartment above a bar on main street and you didn't want to leave. Not ever. It was cool and it smelled good and some part of you wanted to lay down in her bed and go to sleep until the weather turned cold. You sat there like a tag-along, watching her dig through her cabinets for gallon zip-lock bags. You felt the weight of the money in your pocket and couldn't wait to get rid of it. She dropped a bag containing a little more than an ounce on the table in front of you and then laughed a little bit at your shock and amazement. She called you "kid" and still does. Then you all got high and from that moment you were in love with her. Sometimes you wonder if she knows--if she knows volumes of things that you don't, that you may never know. You think it's safe to assume she does. 

You started seeing her once a week to pick up bags from her, sometimes more often depending on the demand. You made a lot of money from the public school kids and some from the White Chapel kids and you gave Rae her cut and she never once called you by your name. You started to look forward to your weekly visit to her little apartment and the more you went the more nervous you got to be around her, afraid she would see your feelings and worse, make fun of you for having them, laugh and dismiss them as the insignificant fancies of a teenage boy. She would never consider them to be of the epic, historical importance that they truly were. 

Once, a few months after you met her, you went into her apartment without her permission. Without even her knowledge. You knew she was working at the hospital, that she wouldn't be home for hours, but you knocked anyway and somehow you felt by the way the door rattled in the frame when your knuckles rapped against it, that it was unlocked. You opened it and it was like the first time a girl ever undressed for you. It was the same rush, and you said "hello?" to the empty apartment, listening hard. You opened her fridge, her kitchen cabinets. You studied the labels of jars and cans as if they were healing tonics from across the world or at least gourmet, sophisticated foods you had never heard of. You fingered through her DVDs, memorizing every title and storing it away as some vital piece of information about her that helped to make up a more complete picture. You stared at her bookshelf for what felt like hours. 

When you pushed open her bedroom door you started to get hard and you felt ashamed and yet you didn't leave. You even pictured her in your mind, a nightmare image, coming in and realizing in horror that she had left the door unlocked, you pictured her frozen in the doorway with maybe a bag of groceries in her hand that she would no doubt drop exactly one second before charging at you and ordering you to get the fuck out.

Still you didn't leave.

You looked through her closet, ran your hands over every piece of clothing hanging there, you smelled some of it. You looked at all of her shoes, what seemed like dozens of pairs all piled in the corner along with high heels you could never imagine her wearing or having a reason to wear. Then you came to her dresser and saw the very top drawer open and you knew that it was her underwear drawer and the warm, pulsing feeling in your crotch became almost too much to bear and you wanted to reach into the drawer so badly, just to touch with one finger, maybe two. But you didn't do it. You didn't dare even reach.

And then you heard a noise from downstairs, a noise that had absolutely nothing to do with you and you ran. You ran even though it hurt like hell and you nearly fell to your death from the steps and you kept running until you were in the safe, cool shade of the woods far off the path where you could fall on your face in the earth and breathe it all in and forget the smells, all that smells that you had just stolen so effectively, so carefully and yet only by luck. Only because her door had been left unlocked. You unzipped your pants and started to jerk off but all you could picture was that sight of her coming in, the sight that bag of groceries dropping to the floor even though that bag of groceries didn't even exist and never will and the more you imagined the worse it became, the more clumsy and useless your hands became and you couldn't think of her without fear anymore so you got up and went to the creek and you knelt and doused yourself like a sudden fire that must not spread and you doused and doused with that freezing cold water and then it was all gone and you felt so relieved, like some holy rite had been performed and something evil had been forced out at least for the moment. 

Even then you resented her for it, you felt she owed you, that you weren't responsible nor would you ever be for whatever actions that may come from these feelings, these feelings she gave you, forced down your throat like a horrible drug. You couldn't be blamed for what you did, for what you might do, for what may happen when your self-control finally collapses. It hasn't yet, thank God. But it will. And when it does, it will still be her fault. 

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Fatted Calf: Hot Springs

Your brother finally let you come along with him to the hot springs when you were barely eight, the same year he left.  You had gotten in your first real fight at school, and you had won. Gabriel said that your decision to win was crucial, and that your entire future with women depended on it. He said it like you were his business partner. Mom was making dinner in the kitchen, slamming things that didn’t need slamming. Gabriel hung from the kitchen door the way mom always told him not to, and you couldn’t hear everything she said but you caught “just like your father” a few times, and then you stopped listening.  Dad had been away for a while, "drying out" as mom called it. This wasn't the first time. Gabriel advocated for you to your mother, told her you felt terrible, guilty, ashamed, even. She didn’t even pretend to believe him. Gabriel told her you needed to talk, just to talk. She said to be back by dinner even though it was already getting dark. 

Gabriel was almost eighteen and had been in more fights than you could count on two hands. He looked like your father, his stern features always looking a little like stone despite a scar that crossed his eyebrow, an ugly wrinkle in his ear and a slight hump in the bridge of his nose, which had been broken twice and, as he said, earned him a few notches on his belt. Gabriel had never taught you to fight, had never said more than ‘make sure it’s for a good reason,’ but there was something about the pain in your fat lip, the soreness in your knuckles from hitting someone, really hitting someone, that felt good, and not because it was right. Tyler Fairbanks’ face had felt like dough against your knuckles. Like it would break if you hit it hard enough. Like you could choose not to hit hard enough. 

You had nagged Gabriel incessantly to go to the hot springs. Nagged in a way you were ashamed to mention now that you were old enough to be invited. You didn’t think he would have ever let you go with him if you hadn’t won that fight. You asked him if there would be girls there and he shrugged and said maybe. You asked him if there were good fish too and he asked you where our fishing poles were. You asked him why his friends weren’t here, and he smiled, said it was just going to be the two of you. 

You and he walked up the gravel slope that you were still too young to climb without stumbling a little bit, past the Liminas’ house. Their oldest son had died in a wreck right at the end of their driveway. Right where you were standing. That kid would have been a year older than Gabriel if that asshole hadn’t come around the curve doing something like eighty. Could have driven into the house killed the whole damn family. Gabriel looked a little sad as we walked by. You guessed he and the kid knew each other but you didn’t want to ask just in case he said yes and then things got awkward and the whole experience would be ruined before it even started.

The slope was steep and you would have slid clear down it to the lake at the bottom if Gabriel hadn’t been in front of you, holding one arm back towards you. He stopped suddenly, as soon as you were right at the edge of the woods where the rocks began and the undergrowth became tangled and would rip your clothes if you tried to climb it. Gabriel got to his knees slowly behind the Wall of Thorns, (which is what it seemed like to you), pulling on your arm, knowing you wouldn’t ask any questions. You didn’t have to ask anything. You heard them from over the barrier between you; their voices so soft they didn’t even sound like voices, splashing off into open space. Gabriel didn’t let go of your arm, so you knew not to move. He was already smiling, already just as excited as you were. He held the both of you still for what seemed like the longest time, just listening, then put one finger over his mouth as he got up to his knees, then up to his full height. You mimicked him as perfectly as you could. 

They were more than you had dared to think about, the curves of their bodies full and smooth in the bleaching moon. They stepped carefully and nervously into the water before sliding in, sighs escaping them that seemed like a call. They went under and then came back up, their breath like moaning in the quiet, their hands smoothing over their dark hair streaming down. You thought about Tyler Fairbanks for a moment and then told yourself not let him in on this. Not even for a second. You thought about dad, but then looked at Gabriel who was grinning like a dumb bastard and nodding his head to some beat you couldn’t hear. Then he looked down and reached around in his pockets for something. You almost wanted to tell him to pay attention, to keep his eyes on the prize, but you didn’t want to question his leadership at a time like this. He was, officially, the coolest big brother ever.

He flicked a lighter and you smelled the burning paper, then the slightly bitter smell you recognized. You had smelled it on him before. You had smelled it on dad. It wasn’t like your dad’s cigarettes, which smelled just plain disgusting. And Gabriel was enjoying it much more than you had ever seen anyone enjoy a cigarette. You weren’t sure where to look, so you looked back at the girls. They were laughing, calling to each other, swimming with their bodies arcing out of the water and then back under. They were more confident when the water covered them, even though they were all girls, even though their bodies were the same. 

Gabriel leaned back against the roots of a pine that seemed to have grown around his body. He was lost to darkness except for when he blinked and the sheen in his eyes was lost for a moment before returning. 

He wiggled the joint at you and all you could see was the ember, like a glowing bulb.  “Have some of this,” he said.  

You pretended you had done this fifty times, pulled in only a little so you wouldn’t cough and give yourself away. 

  “So,” Gabriel said, and a long sigh escaped him that I could see floating in the air a few seconds after. “So tell me about this fight. Who was the guy?”

  “Tyler,” you said. “Fairbanks. Assclown.” 

  Gabriel laughed. “Fairbanks? Tyler Fairbanks? You fought a guy named Tyler Fairbanks? How hard could it have been? Was it even fair?” 

  “My lip hurts.” 

  “Of course it does. But come on. What’d he do, slap you?”

  Gabriel handed you the joint and you were nervous for your lip. You closed your eyes until the feeling went away. 

  “I wish I had some scars. He didn’t even give me a black eye.”

  Gabriel laughed and tapped the joint. A few sparks fell down into the needles and you watched them, afraid there wouldn’t be smoke. 

  “All in good time, dude. It’s good to lose a fight sometimes. Keeps you from becoming a big-shot.” 

  “I don't want to be a big shot?”

  “No way. Big shots are full of shit. Everyone’s gotta lose sometime, you know?”

  It was heavy. So you didn’t talk for a while and it seemed that Gabriel liked the silence. You asked him if the girls would get pneumonia swimming around like that. 

  “They’ll be fine,” Gabriel said. 

You waited again. Gabriel had a way of making you quiet if he wanted you to be, without even asking you to be quiet. You felt the pleasant thumping rhythm in your head, and you patted your hands on your knees without making much sound even though you didn’t know the song you were thumping to. You were stoned. 

  “But the girls like it, right?" You asked after a while. 

  “Oh yeah.” He nodded and you saw the side of his face in light and dark, the shadow that cut into his cheek, turned his jaw into a black line. His face didn’t look like it had been mashed in even once. 

  “They say they don’t like it,” he said, “they say women don’t like blood and gore like men do. My ass. They love to see a man bleed. They look for it.”

  You nodded like you understood, trying not to think about a generous bosom in a soft blue sweater, a cooing voice above my head and a heartbeat against my face. 

  “The quicker you learn that, the better off you’ll be. If some dude isn’t kicking your ass, some woman will do it just to hold your head in their lap when it’s all over.”

  Gabriel was licking the tips of his pointer finger and thumb, squeezing the end of the joint, really taking the whole orange bulb and crushing it between his fingers like it was nothing. He put the joint, whatever was left of it, you couldn’t see, in the breast pocket of his shirt. It was your dad’s flannel shirt, one of many tokens he always gave him when he went away. He didn’t say anything for a minute and you were afraid that was the end, that his voice had receded into the silence and the darkness and you realized suddenly you had forgotten all about the girls. You had been looking, but also looking at something beyond them, something that made their white bodies turn into blurs with no distinction between them. You were both looking now, blinking slowly and you thought maybe the silence wasn’t so bad. 

  “But there’s something”…Gabriel said, shaking his head. He said, “just something…about the way they look at you. The way they ask you if it hurts…” he sucked at his teeth, spit back into the woods away from you and the girls. “It’s pretty great,” he said, and you believed him.

  You nodded, not too much. Just what you thought was enough. You liked the way Gabriel laughed. Like he was certain of something. 

  “It’s comin, little man, don’t worry.”

  You were thirsty. You were about to die you were so thirsty. But you didn’t tell Gabriel that. 

  “So this Tyler Fairbanks. Did he start the fight or did you?”

  “He started talking about things he shouldn’t have, so I asked him to be quiet.”

“You asked?”

  “Yeah, I did,” you said. “Honest. Asked nicely. But you know how some guys are.”

  Gabriel nodded and it was the first time we really agreed on anything. 

  “He was talking about dad.”

  You think you said it because it was so dark, because this might be the only time you could say it out loud and not have to see someone’s face when you were doing it; not see Gabriel’s face, when he always loved dad a little less than you did. You always knew. 

  After a second he asked, “what was he saying?”

  “Saying his dad used to play Hold ‘em with him at the Bull and he didn’t play fair. Wouldn’t let anyone know his tells. Said it wasn’t right for a guy to win that much.”

In the darkness you heard Gabriel laughing hard, gasping, slapping his leg. You saw him lean back against the tree, the side of his face a white blade in the light. 

  “What? What’s funny?”

  “You fought a kid over that?”

  “Yeah. It was dad.”

"And dad's a drunk. How do you know he isn't a cheat, too?" 

He was looking at you through the darkness, waiting for you to say something. When you didn't, he sighed and said, "Look, kid. I'm not saying I'm not proud of you. But you gotta pick your battles, you know? Only fight for yourself or for something that's really true."

  “Well what did you get in all those fights for then?”

  You heard your voice trembling, and the darkness itself seemed to be quivering in the tears that were bubbling up in your eyes. You hoped Gabriel couldn’t see them but you knew he could hear you, so angry you were crying. 

  “You okay, little man?”

  You held your breath and tried to hide everything. 

  There was a sound, a snapping of branches, closer and closer, and then a click, clear and decisive. 


  “Just stay still, Matty.” 

  It was Gabriel’s voice but different, like he had to force it to sound familiar in the dark. 

  “Shut up, both of you,” said the third voice, an older one. Trembling more than yours. Angrier. “You’re trespassing, you know that?” 

  The voice sounded a moment away from screaming, like it would be screaming if it could breathe. 

  “We don’t have to scare the girls, do we?” the voice said.

  You turned towards them but couldn’t look. You couldn’t think of their bodies with cold metal and bullets so close. 

  “Sir,” Gabriel said, and you heard leaves rustling. When the older man spoke again, the rustling stopped.

“There’s nothing but woods and water around here. I can tell the police you were breaking into my house and I shot you. I could tell them anything I want.”

You heard Gabriel’s voice after a patient breath, starting to reason, maybe to beg, and then his voice cut off by a cracking sound, a sound that reminded you of your fist hitting Tyler’s face, the way it echoed, sharp and clear against the hallway walls. Gabriel’s head jerked sideways, and all you could see was the smear of his face as it cut through the light and then back into the shadow. There was another sound, a packing sound, and a groan from Gabriel’s body that sounded like an animal. It was so dark. You couldn’t see. You still couldn’t see. 

“Stop,” you said, reaching out towards Gabriel. He should have been right there. You wanted to scream, to panic. But you didn’t want to scare the girls.

  The pounding sounds stopped and the pointed gun was in front of you, a clear, white line in the dark. You could imagine him putting it to your head. You could feel the twitch right before he pulled the trigger, the pop of your pitiful skull and the spilling out of your brains. 

  “Quietly,” the man said, and he was moving backwards as if he had no fear of stumbling. "Come with me.” 

“Sir,” you said, like Gabriel had tried to, “we know Mr. Limina. He lives right over there.  We used to know his son.” 

As you said it, you wondered if any of it was true.

“Then you should know we don’t have kids around here anymore.  You should know that. And if we did, he wouldn’t be down here in the woods spying on these girls. He’d be man enough to go down and introduce himself, wouldn’t he? You should be ashamed to say you knew him.”

He stopped as if he was out of breath and when he looked down towards Gabriel you saw the sagging skin of his face, the deep black line of his mouth.  He might have been waiting on you to say something, but you didn’t. You felt like everything inside of you was about to come out of every opening. He let the shotgun drop to his side like a withered limb and told you to get off his property and to take your hophead brother with you. You waited until you could barely hear his footsteps and then crawled over to Gabriel. He was flat on his back, a horrid splash of red on the right side of his face. It glowed in the white light. He moved his right arm, scraped it against the pine needles, opened his mouth and murmured something but didn’t open his eyes. You put your hands around his face and said his name. You told him we had to go and that you couldn’t carry him. When he went still you stopped speaking, as if you were bothering him, then watched the rhythm of breath in his chest until you were sure it wasn’t going to stop. 

You were afraid of tripping, of falling down the slope all the way to the water. You were afraid of startling them. But you crouched down until my ass was nearly on the ground and went down carefully, digging my heels into the dirt. When you were still too far away for them to see, you called out ‘excuse me’ like a gentleman would if he were asking for a match from a woman on the street. You liked the way they jumped, the way they ducked down into the water and clutched their breasts, their heads swiveling on their long necks. You said you needed help and you liked the way they asked you to come out where they could see you. 

Gabriel would have been proud. Maybe even jealous of the way you handed them their clothes and respectfully turned your back while they dressed. He would have enjoyed the way they gasped when they saw him, dropped to their knees and touched his face, the way their hair fell onto his mouth as they listened for breath, held you to their still-damp bodies and said in soft voices, “oh, you poor things. You poor little things…”

The Fatted Calf: Do You Know What These Are?

Even thinking about the trip, about the year-long quest we were embarking on to evangelize to the godless masses, I was bored. Dread, not excitement. I was sitting at a dinner thrown in my honor. In our honor, and my legs were asleep, my back was aching from sitting and I was tired of smiling and saying thank you, thank you, yes I'm really excited...

Believe me, when I signed up for this trip, things were different. Everyone was different. Rusty gave a dedication about the young armies of God with the Word as their weapon. He nearly cried he was so excited and moved. He called us a "mark of God's goodness to the world." He called us righteous and brave and he hugged and kissed every one of us. 

Everyone is wondering where Matty is but no one is saying anything, everyone hoping that no one will notice, though we all do. I keep looking over at the Hurts, as does everyone, and I can see Nathan furiously texting under the table, thinking no one can see just how frantic he is. I wouldn't have thought anything was really wrong until I saw his face. He has already gotten up twice during Rusty's dedication and and once before that and now he isn't even bothering to get up. The problem is, of course, that Matty is part of the presentation. He is supposed to, in five minutes or less, present the slideshow he put together of all the senior highlights. So now Rusty is sitting back down with Marta and Nathan is standing, responding to the three or four seconds of silence that pass in which everyone is waiting for something to be explained to them. He stands up, clearing his throat too many times, bearing his panic with stoic grace, as usual, and he grips the sides of the podium, continually indicating the massive projector screen behind him, staring blank and blue at the waiting audience. Prolonged eye contact is making him nervous he is starting to lose it, his mask starting to slip. But he smiles in this nearly bashful way and says, "my son got stuck in traffic on the way back from a football game in Greenville today...he was very excited about showing this presentation and I'm honestly sorry to steal the honor from him but, hey, the show must go on, right? So here it is, Matty's gift to the youth, to the church really, for what he has called, in his own words, "the most important year of his life." I hope you enjoy it." 

He signals to phil, the A/V guy in the back of the auditorium and then steps out from behind the podium, acknowledging the silent sympathies of the audience with a "what can you do?" sort of shrug. He makes it back to his seat and Cecilia touches his shoulder and then they lean into each other and whisper as the presentation begins. The lights go down and a Michael W. Smith song begins, soft piano and acoustic guitar, as the words WHITE CHAPEL YOUTH 2005 spins onto the screen, superimposed over the first image. It is a picture of us, all 17 of us, smiling in front of the soupkitchen where we volunteer as a general practice, on Sunday afternoons. This particular picture was taken on a Sunday shortly after Matty's return to us, when all of us were over the moon about his rebirth. He is right in the middle of the crowd, giving a peace sign to the camera. Next is an array of photos; us dancing with the mentally and physically disabled wards of the Mary Campbell center, us at the water park, us giving out Easter eggs at the pediatric ward of the hospital, us rebuilding a house in Texas after hurricane Rita. The crowd oohs and aahs accordingly. 

Then an image occupies the screen, something too close up, too zoomed in to see clearly. Under the image are the words, in a dripping red font typically used for Halloween, the words, CAN YOU TELL WHAT THESE ARE? 

All I can see is a blur of pinky-peach. 

Splashed onto the screen is the giant face of Jamie Whitaker, her eyeliner hanging in ugly crescents under her eyes as she drunkenly blathers on about her reluctance to go to Japan because of the availability of horse meat. Her speech is so slurred it's actually alarming. She cusses like a sailor. From somewhere behind me, Jamie shrieks and ducks down in her seat. Michael W. Smith is still playing.

The original flesh-colored image returns to the screen, clear this time, and my heart stops beating, just for a second. Right away I recognize Rodney, Cassie, Alex, Jared, Bethany, Jessica, Amber and Hunter, all of them staring at Stephanie and Elizabeth with their shirts up, flashing their small, perky breasts, their faces stretched in ecstatic toothy smiles. Cameron is behind them, his eyes wide and dilated, giving two thumbs up. Everyone in the crowd gasps, some people actually cover their eyes. The fathers look away, then start looking around, trying to figure out who to blame.

The rest of them in the photo are all guilty of their own sins: bottles of beer, bottles of liquor, big blunts and even if they're not holding something incriminating, they're in the picture, so the damage is done. In a moment, the image disappears and is replaced by a shaky video of a door opening, a dark room illuminated by camera light, a surprised and naked Rodney and Cassie in bed, clawing at the covers, Rodney stumbling out and yelling at the camera to "get the fuck out of here!" 

Finally, the women are covering their faces, putting their heads down. Someone is yelling to turn it off, turn it off, for God's sake. From the corner of my eye, I see Rodney bolt, then Mr. Maddox stand up and walk out as quickly as he can. My mother takes my wrist but does not stop watching, waiting for the other shoe to drop. I must be on the video, too, right? It's just a matter of time.

But I'm not. That I know for sure.

By the time Phil gets out of his chair, licks the barbecue sauce from his fingers and gets to the controls, it is too late. The video is over, the question answered in those horrible, dripping red letters: