Fiction by Philip DuPertuis
“Make sure you’re back by nine,” his mother told him “and remember to tell Scott’s mom thank you for letting you be at their house.”
“I know ma,” he replied staring at his remaining beef stroganoff, “is it alright if I go get ready now? I don’t want the guys to wait for me.”
His mother looked up from her plate to his dad who shrugged his shoulders and went back to eating with a grin on his lips. Philip’s younger brother silently watched as he got up from the table.
“He lives two blocks away and you guys are just eating chips and salsa and watching a movie.” She said following his shifting eyes as he took his plate gingerly to the sink.
“I know, but I just don’t like being late.”
Philip ran the tap and waited for steam to rise before rinsing. There was a pause, and he thought for sure that she knew what was planned for the night. “How does she know everything?” he asked himself. He set the clean plate down on the counter and opened the dishwasher. Its springs creaked. He pulled out the bottom drawer and put in the plate and fork.
“Is it clean?”
“Yeah ma.” He pulled his voice up in an effort to transfer optimism and gayness to her decision.
“Go ahead,” she said craning her neck around, “just remember…”
Philip took off running up the stairs. “I know ma!” he yelled trying to hold back the frustration in his voice.
“How come he gets to go out by himself?” Philip’s brother quietly asked God, it seemed.
“You’ll get to go out by yourself when you’re his age,” she consoled grabbing Bryan’s hand on the table, “besides, he doesn’t get to go trick-or-treating tonight and you do. Imagine all the candy you’ll have that he won’t.”
Bryan’s eyes lit up, his mind imagining a candy pile that stretched from its inspection pile on the kitchen table, through the roof and up to the clouds. “I’ll share with him though,” he tilted his head like a benevolent king, “if he’s nice to me.”
“That’s very nice of you. Will you share with me too?” She batted her eyes.
“Mom…” he whined playing along.
“Fine, dad and I will watch The Great Pumpkin all by ourselves and you can eat candy all by yourself in your room.”
He sat for a second, seriously considering his options.
“Okay, I’ll share,” he said smiling and sadly batted his eyes back at her.
In his room Philip stood in front of his dresser mirror and considered his costume. He knew traditional ones were out. He had made the mistake the previous year of showing up as a ninja, while all of his friends dressed in baggy jeans, big t-shirts, and scary masks. He was still amazed that they hadn’t disowned him right there. They acted like incompetent ninjas all night, jumping out of trees and chucking candy like throwing stars at him as punishment. Strangely it made him feel loved and accepted.
Over the last year he felt that he tried extra hard to fit in. He found the easiest way was to make them laugh. He had a quick wit, and made good use of it by making fun of everyone and everything near. He wasn’t aiming to be the funniest one, just to divert enough attention away from his own inadequacies. Certainly tonight would be about someone else. He had put in his time.
Philip zipped up his black Guess jeans, slipped a big white shirt over his torso, and slowly put his mask on. He walked to the switch and turned off his room light, switched on his stereo, which began to play Nirvana. Grabbing a candle and a book of matches he made his way back to the mirror. He could hear himself breathing in his mask, and felt condensation cool and sticky on his nostrils and upper lip. The mask was brand new and the rubber smelled like poison and stung his sinuses. He struck the match and lit the candle, illuminating a pumpkin head with a twisted smile filled with rotting teeth.
He stood there listening to his own breathing, and thinking about how scary he looked, and what his life would look like after all this. He wondered if he would be in college and where. He wondered if he would still be going to church or whether he would loose his way after living on his own.
He wondered if he would have a wife, and maybe a kid, and be poor. He wondered if he would still love John Williams’ scores and books about the rural south. He wondered if the guys would laugh at him in a good way or a bad way tonight. He wondered if he would have to choose to watch a scary movie, or worse, a dirty movie at Scott’s because his parents weren’t home. He wondered if there would be any girls there. His ears and cheeks began to get warm.
There was a soft knock on the door. Philip quickly took of his mask, blew out the candle, and turned on the room light. He opened the door slowly and only wide enough to stick his face through. His brother stood in the doorway wearing a baggy ninja costume.
“Have fun tonight brother,” Bryan said shyly.
Philip let go all the air from his lungs.
“Is that it?” he replied annoyed.
Bryan turned and disappeared down the hall.
Philip closed the door battling feelings of guilt.
“Why does he always have to bother me?” he muttered under his breath resting his forehead against the door jam.
He threw his head back and let out a deep breath. He turned, went to the window and waited until he saw his brother and parents walking down the sidewalk holding hands in a chain like elephants on parade. He felt a weight in his chest, but decided to ignore it, noticing that it was only seven minutes to seven.