After a prolonged absence from the world of blogging, interspersed with a few lonely little poems, I am delighted to be back (despite one final exam looming on the Wednesday morning horizon). This is the first part of a completed short story that I'm planning to post in sections, but God knows how many times I've said that and not done it, so let's see how it goes.
I watched them: the scavengers, the nameless boys. They arrived in Three Roses one day in June, hanging out the back of their mother’s pick-up truck. No father around. They were all bare arms and dirty faces, dragging suitcases into the clapboard house right across the street that we thought was going to be bulldozed, kicking beer bottles away from the door. Their mother stood on the porch gently crunching the glass with her shoes, as if she was curious about what glass was made of. Then she cried. My mother stood at the kitchen sink, hands beaded with glistening suds, and, watching, mopped her brow with the dry part of her arm and said, “you be nice to those kids, now,” because we were a liberal neighbourhood.
There were four of them: the oldest, Jacob, was nineteen; the youngest, Cameron, just five years younger than him. Matthew and Ethan were sixteen and seventeen respectively. We found out from one of my father’s friends that their mother’s last name was Miller. For the first week they lived there, I never spoke to them, but one night at home I heard them shouting, rattling doors and crashing dishes and calling: Ma! Ma, come on! My father shook his head sympathetically and I held my fists in my lap until the noise stopped. I wondered if someone would come out of the house, but nobody did. When I went to bed, I pretended to be one of them. I laid in the dark stroking my arms and imagining them bare and sticky with sweat.
I was fourteen that summer – notionally the same age as Cameron – but I was an only child, used to those deserted months when I never saw any of my friends. I stayed inside a lot reading books of the encyclopedia, because I wanted to be a scientist. I was also intensely private from my parents, and would become hysterical if anyone touched the door handle while I was in the bathroom. Sometimes at night I locked my bedroom door and closed my curtains and examined myself in the mirror like a tumour. Once I even made a list, in order or preference, of all the different cosmetic procedures I would have when I was older, starting with the removal of this scar I had down the inside of my left leg from a time I fell off a bike when I was nine, and ending with my teeth, which were crooked.
On Sunday, the boys came to church in ironed shirts. Afterwards, when I was done talking to some of the girls from school about where the boys came from and how come they were here, my father gave me money to get myself some soda. I saw them in the car lot, sitting in the dust. I called over hello, partly because my mother told me to be nice, and partly because I was pretty confident around boys, since all my cousins were boys and I was the oldest. They squinted back at me from between cars.
“Where you going?”
“Get soda,” I said.
“You mind if we come with?”
They got up slowly and came over, all skinny with their sleeves rolled up. I watched them and pretended not to watch them and felt the sun throbbing hot on my scalp. They were as different as new candles or strips of coloured ribbon: shiny and smelling of soap, like something I had loved and then forgotten.
“So, you live right across from us, huh?”
I told them yes.
I would have told them anything.