It was Sunday, summer, hell-hot, and I headed to Grandma’s cottage to pick up some tools I had stored there; Grams let me know that Bill, her second son, was squatting there while waiting out a drunk driving penalty—with no wheels and no apartment. I knew his slippery grip on ownership—he had a habit of “adopting” other people’s stuff, claiming it was his. I didn’t want any trouble later.
I thought he might be sleeping in late, so I could just sneak in, grab my stuff, and disappear unnoticed. Grams had been keeping him in food, and Grandpa drove him to his landscaping job each morning at seven, that is, when he could persuade him to get up. Bill was always in trouble, but my grandparents always came through for him with whatever he needed—money, a lawyer, and bail. I figured this time he would probably never leave their cottage. He’d be their fixture, their forever child. He was 51.
Earlier in the spring, he was shacking up with a woman named Pam and cut off his toe while mowing the grass, drunk and angry. They broke up soon after, and my grandparents set him up in an apartment in Andersonville, a nearby town. It was always something with my uncle. The mysterious rest-area bathroom arrest, kicking the neighbor’s basement window in, the girlfriend’s black eye. One time he lost a drag race and burned his Chevelle. Let’s just say his wiring is off. Honestly, he kind of scares me.
Now Bill teeters ‘cuz, as you might guess, toes are part of how we get balance. He teeters deliberately, drunk or dry, in an exaggerated, strange, choreographed walk, a walk he maybe thinks conceals the trauma, the accident, the stupid thing he did. But it’s also a menacing lurch.
It was Sunday, like I said, he was home, and the doors were flung wide open in the garage and the cottage. He was tinkering in the garage, half-bagged already at 10:30 a.m. A well-used weed trimmer was scattered in pieces over the bench. He turned to face me as I walked in, removing his mesh baseball hat, baring his thinning, shiny, sweaty head. He was Rock Hudson-handsome beneath a sprawling gray nest of unkempt beard. You’d hardly know. Topping six feet, with long steel-hard arms, he was a fearsome sight.
His toolbox sat adjacent to the greasy workbench. For a person seldom sober, he was remarkably organized—every driver and wrench had a place and a scratchy, ball-point blue label scrawled on the studs. I saw my tools also had a new place, he’d already assimilated them into his new world. Playboy, Easy Rider, and other rags open to naked sprawling girls wrinkled by the moisture in the air sat on one side of the bench. On the other side, there was a metal Band-Aid box full of pot and a Zig-Zag book. On the floor sat a blue greasy Coleman cooler in a leaking sweat pool. It was a man place, one I didn’t care to linger in longer than necessary.
“Want a Bud?” he asked.
“Naw, too early and too skanky,” I grinned. “Came to pick up some tools.”
“No problem, he said,” as I eyed the walls, feeling disappointed he had already ‘organized.’
“This is my T-square,” I said, lifting it off the nail on the stud. “It’s for drafting,” I added, noting the new addition of spattered white paint.
“Oh, I thought that was mine,” he said.
“Nope, look, art stuff,” I replied, pointing to the Alvin label, hoping everything wouldn’t have to be negotiated. Then I eyed my red toolbox in the corner. I grabbed it and placed it on a clear corner of the bench, and then came the deafening on-off bleep and screech of a siren, and I turned to see a cop car barreling down the overgrown driveway. It stopped abruptly in front of the garage, tossing gravel and dust into the air. Two blue men, state cops, got out of the car with hands on their guns. They swaggered to the threshold of the open door.
“Bill Bader?” asked the older one with the deep auburn hair and fat jaw.
“Yup,” said Bill in an overly charming, almost-friendly voice.
“We have a warrant for your arrest. You have the right to remain silent…”
There was a stillness, like the dead air before two bucks charge at each other. I cringed at what was about to go down, but then Bill surprised me and said, “No problem officers. I’ll completely cooperate.” He was embarrassed, but somehow, his weird head twisted the arrest into something it wasn’t.
The nosey neighbor Mel was inching through the yard towards the east garage door, stealth as a plump, hunting cat, and I felt humiliated and ashamed as I often had when rumors and stories about my family would come up at school. Mel was always gossiping, nosey, irritating.
The cops stepped towards Bill, who then lurched towards me, suddenly, grabbed my shoulders, and pulled me into his body in an impassioned embrace—yes, like a lover, and laid a long, hard, wet, stringy kiss right on my lips—not the kind you give to your kin, He finally released me, and in his warmest, most charming voice said, “I love you, honey. Everything will be just fine.” I was made into his surrogate girlfriend in a shocking mini shit show for the cops.
Bill’s voice was smooth like a National Geographic narrator’s voice, describing the behaviors of beasts with measured curiosity—so polished it somehow rendered the scene normal as a lion ripping a gazelle’s throat on the Saturday re-run. Nature has its cycles.
Shocked into silence by the incongruities, I stood paralyzed and un-protesting as the handcuffs clicked. I watched the cop palm the top of Bill’s head as he crouched into the backseat, his long legs were jammed into his chest. I wondered what he had done and if the thing would be bad enough so that they’d keep him longer this time. Like long enough for him to get dry, long enough for Grams to rent or sell the cottage, long enough for me to finish high school without another friend’s parents interrogating me about my family, long enough to disappear from the collective memory of high schoolers. What might school be like without hearing another snide lunchroom comment? I wanted him to disappear long enough that women could forget him and breathe easy, long enough that the neighbors, too, could let down their guard, and lastly, long enough to let my grandparents off the hook.
The police car slowly backed around and creeped along the overgrown drive like a slow-moving dream. Shaking, I staggered to the paper towel roll on the bench and wiped off my mouth, wondering how I’d tell Grams. Then came Mel, “Is everything okay?” she asked in her fake-concerned voice. “It’s none of your fucking business,” I said, slamming the garage door in her face.
Koss is a queer writer and artist with over 150 publications in journals such as Diode Poetry, Gone Lawn, Bending Genres, Cincinnati Review (micro), Prelude, Five Points, and others. They were included in the 2020 Best Small Fictions anthology, Kissing Dynamite’s Punk Anthology, and won the 2021 Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Award for My Therapist Sez. Koss received BOTN nominations in 2021 for poetry and fiction from Kissing Dynamite Poetry and Bending Genres. Find links to their work at https://koss-works.com.
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