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Chapters 4, 5 and 6
by Branden Hart
What my father won't tell me is where he keeps his porn.
This was long before he left.
"If you want to know about sex, read a book," he yells through slurred words and the aroma of malt liquor. "They've got books about stuff like that in school"
Not in our school, I tell him.
"So make friends with some older boys. Ask them. That's what a boy’s friends are for."
What my father won't tell me, I decide to find out for myself.
After he's gone, they let me go back to the apartment. I'm sixteen now, and that's old enough for even that bit of autonomy. "Give him time," I overhear one of the case workers saying, just right outside of the distance adults think they have to get so kids won't hear their conversations, just inside the distance she truly needs to be.
I go to the closet in the living room. Inside, under mounds of old clothes and packed boxes, I find the slab of whitewall that had been removed so many years ago, I'm assuming to hide what was inside from my mother.
What was inside fit on a film reel that he kept in his bedroom. After my mom died, we used to watch home movies on that reel and sit up in bed. He would drink beer. That was back when he might drink a six pack of beer a night, get smiley and happy, and sit with his arm around me, telling me he loved me. That we would be alright, that things would change, that see, he wasn't even hitting the hard stuff, just enough beer at night to help him relax.
Just two months later, when my father wouldn't tell me where he kept them (insert aroma of Wild Turkey), when he wouldn't talk to me about sex (insert the smell of Mad Dog 20/20), I spent my two hours between when I got home and the earliest he ever stumbled through the door looking for them. I found them, without incident, underneath the boxes where he kept my mother's things.
This afternoon, I found them where I had left them the last time I used them. Underneath the boxes, which were now underneath all the clothes my father had become to thin for. I used to think his skin just melted into his clothes when I was younger. I was old enough to know now that it was the alcohol that absorbed every part of his body.
I put one of my favorites on the old newsreel. Two men, one woman. The men were fucking her hard. I knew that much, because the woman kept saying it. “You are fucking me so hard,” she would say as she spit on her hand and wiped it on the other one's penis, dick, whatever, same thing, and started to jerk him off. I knew she was jerking him off because he said how good she was at jerking him off. I'm pretty sure what I was doing right then as the film spun and clicked and clacked beside my head was jerking off, but I wasn't sure if it made a difference since I didn't have a girl and another guy there, or a girl and a girl, or two girls and a guy, or two guys, or any one of the myriad other assortments and arrangements of partners I had seen on these films, my outlet to the world of fucking.
It was all I knew, because I had no friends to ask about it. People treated me like I was invisible. I was quiet, I kept to myself, and there were other people to pick on. The geeks, the dorks, the fags, they were all more valuable fodder than some kid who walked in the door weird every now and then. The fags and dorks walked around weird all the time. No use picking on the guy with the quirks.
I sufferred this shit in silence, anger welling up. The anger was fueled by not being able to go to some guy I knew, some guy I called a best friend, who knew me, who cared about me, who loved me as a friend, and say, “Hey man, do you know what making love is?”
What about fucking?
Because I do. I hear the people on the pornos I watch talk about it all the time. I can tell you about them, if you tell me something.
This is the kind of friend that would say sure in a heartbeat, say lay it on me, what do you want to know, my big brother's told me everything!
And I would say, what's sex? Because that's the thing I hear people at school whispering about the most, gigling about, talking about after seeing the new couple walk down the hallway, holding hands. I would see people watch them, “Do you think they're having sex?” and giggling, and I know it has something to do with what the people on the pornos are doing, but it's the one word I never hear them say.
My art teacher tells me it has to stoppp. The threes threes threes. They have to stop. They have to stop. They have GOT to stop.
I tell her with the way she's talking, it sounds like my quirk is catching.
This is from the day when I meet Mr. Granger.
She sighs and tells me to follow her. We march down to the school office and she signs me in, then says she has a class to attend to and leaves me there. The secretary tell me I'll have to wait, he has a scheduled appointment, and I say that's fine. I've been waiting my whole life. She gives me the very funny look I've become used to and I smile and wait politely, patiently.
In about an hour, after kid after kid walks out around me, some through the office because its a good shortcut, some to see the principal, or one of the three vice principals, and even after that, when the halls are calm again and the final bell for third period has sounded, finally Mr. Granger calls my name. His blue eyes peek out at me from behind horn-rimmed spectacles, which I immediately notice need cleaning very badly.
"Well, let's see here. Miss Finney seems to think you may have an addiction to the number three."
I laugh. I tell him Miss Finney has an addiction to ignorance.
Despite my expectation of scowl (a variant of “You know better than that you little smartass”) he laughs softly and smiles.
"Well, she does think she knows a little more than she really does, in some cases, though as a teacher, she is extremely competent. Why did you walk through the doorway three times when you came into my office?"
"It's a quirk I have."
He writes this down.
"Right, I understand that. But why do you do it?"
I shrug, frustrated.
He writes this down.
"You see, your identifying this as a quirk is fine and good, but identification is a far reach from explanation. I want to know what compels you to do it."
I shrug again. "I don't know what to say, it's a quirk, I just feel I need to do it. Like breathing, or taking a shit."
He writes this down.
"I understand you are probably upset right now," he tells me, "but if you wouldn't mind, I take offense to the words fuck, shit, piss, pussy, cunt, dick, cock, or asshole." He looks up from writing. "I'm not partial to tits, or any other variants on breasts."
As if everything else isn't a variant of something it isn't.
What about damn and hell? I ask him.
"I can get into trouble for even mentioning those words, let alone forbid their use. They are tied very deeply in religion," then he stops, remembers something, and begins writing again, "and it is my job to stray as far away from that as possible when talking to you kids."
“How do you do that?” I ask him.
“Write while you’re talking. How do you separate those two functions?”
He shrugs, then starts writing again. "I don't know. How do you not know why you walk through the door three times?"
“You ask that as if the answer to both questions are the same.”
He shrugs again—this time while he's writing. It doesn't affect his output. "Maybe it is," he says, and then, with grave finality, closes the notepad he's been writing in and says, "Listen. I've seen your scores on the Iowa tests. They're good. Have you ever had an IQ test before?"
I shake my head.
"Would you be willing to take one?"
"Good. I'll have to clear it with the State, since they are technically in charge of you now, but I'll arrange it. In the mean time, tell me about your parents? About your father. How are you holding up after the loss?"
There is a whirr of the fan in the distance that I just notice. It makes an unsteady tapping noise that I can easily divide into threes if I concentrate hard enough.
"I said how are you holding up?" asks Mr Granger after the third set of threes weighs down the silence between us too much.
Solid, I tell him, somehow dividing my mind between my counting task and his question. I'm holding up fine, two three, six, two three...
There is a language besides English that I am fluent in. It's spoken in every country in the world, and I assume on any other world in the universe where people say things in front of people they don't want them to hear. It's called Hushedwhispers.
It took me longer to learn Hushedwhispers words than it did to learn English, mostly because the words in Hushedwhispers aren't spoken at all sometimes. It's a language of nodding heads, or arching eyebrows, or clever smiles. It's a language of deception. There is no Hushedwhispers-to-English dictionary; don't look. It is a language you have to learn on your own. And you only have a chance to learn it when people are talking about you in Hushedwhispers. It's hard to tell sometimes. My trick is to find two people talking in Hushedwhispers and walk toward them, concentrating on the face of the person looking in my direction. If that person looks to me quickly then goes back to the conversation, I don't have to worry; I’m not being talked about. But if he or she smiles, goes out of his or her way to say hi to me over the shoulder of the other person, or moves the conversation to another location, I can be guaranteed that the conversation is about me.
You get better at it as you go along. The first few times you try this, the people will move away. Make sure this isn't because you're creeping them out. Don't stare at them, just make obvious attempts to gain attention. Look repeatedly over a small period of time—you'll always catch someone's eye. Smile a little, just a friendly, how-do-you-do-sorry-didn't-mean-to-stare-I-was-zoned-out smile, and then see what happens.
Of course, none of this will be necessary once you begin to understand your name in Hushedwhispers. The audible language of Hushedwhispers is, in its English equivalent, composed primarily of hard sounds made with the tongue, for example, 'S' or 'Ch'. Don't expect to hear this right off; it is very muffled and hard to detect. But slowly, the more you listen to conversations in Hushedwhispers, the more you understand. Pretty soon, words will come together. They may sound like English words, but if you spelled them out phoenetically you would see they are quite different.
When you can hear and understand Hushedwhispers (nobody actually speaks the language) you have to learn the other 'words/phrases/sentences' used commonly in Hushedwhispers. An eyebrow arched in your direction, combined with the correct Hushedwhispers translation of your name, means either "That guy over there" if you are not acquaitances with the people talking, or "[Insert your name here]. Look, he's sitting over there." Arms up in the air in a shrugging motion can mean "I don't know" (or variation); "I don't know what he was thinking" (or variation); "I don't know why in the hell he did that" (or variation); "I don't know who the fuck he is" (or variation) and so on.
When you have reached a casual listening level, you can begin listening to conversations for extended periods of time, as long as you look natural and occupied around the people in dialogue. I like to carry one book for pleasure, at least one piece of homework to work on, and a pad of paper. You can carry more, but the rest of my bag is filled with handi-wipes, antibacterial soap (I keep it in a glass jam jar), and Kleenex. I need those things more.
Because I can't forget, you can't forget, that nothing in my life at that point is a priority, NOTHING, except remaining clean, pure, through physical cleansing, as well as careful evaluation of and repetition regarding the events of any day.
With all the other shit going on here, it may seem like that's in the background sometimes.
And sometimes, for small fleeting moments, during a sitcom you like, or when you're talking to someone, or when you're doing something mindless, like a crossword puzzle, it is. But only for a second before it comes screaming back, and you chastise yourself when you realize all the things you're going to have to go back and do again because you didn't do them in threes that time, or didn't wash your hands before picking up the soap, or you touched your eye with a finger that clearly brushed up against the backside of a man in the elevator seconds before, and how the hell are you supposed to clean out your eye?
And on and on. Throughout the day. Always there. It becomes a friend. But not all friends are good for you.
You have to remember, you are seeing a rare few moments where my mind gained a little solitude from Friend. And even then, as I look back, I'm doing some fucked up shit. But not as fucked up as what I'm doing right now.
My girlfriend, who I shot in the head from point blank range no less than five minutes ago, just coughed.