Friday, January 30, 2015

Glass by Michael King

A mysterious figure looks longingly into an apartment full of children playing and fighting; by Michael King.

Marcus is my favorite. He's seven. He sits at the table, folding a paper airplane, his shoulders hunched, his face flushed, his eyes watchful, haunted. His older sister just chased him around with the vacuum. I think she was calling it "the suck machine." Her name is Molly - she's twelve - and I might as well introduce Chucky and Samantha too. Twins, I believe, and a year or so younger than Marcus.

Chucky likes to watch. He doesn't like to get into trouble. His eyes dart about, taking everything in, belying his lax posture. One long-toed foot on the arm of the couch. The other almost touching the floor. Chin to chest. I like Chucky. A lot. But his backbone is a limp noodle when compared to his older brothers. And Samantha - well, she's just useless. She prefers to sit in a wooden chair, directly in front of the television, her mouth open. Probably something wrong with her.

As for Mom, who knows? Often she leaves Molly in charge and returns frazzled, frumpy-looking in her clothing, and short-tempered with the boys. She usually takes her rumpled backside straight to bed after the kids go down. It's hard to say what she does. At times she's dressed like a bank teller, at others a stripper. But she must be making a decent wage. I suppose she could have a housing voucher, but I doubt it. As apartment complexes go, at least out here in the Midwest, this one gets an eight out of ten.

The combination living room/dining area is wide with a high ceiling. It is connected to a long kitchenette that is rarely cluttered. The many lamps and adorned walls reveal an eye for art and symmetry, but the cheap, grey apartment carpet, a favorite of landlords, spoils the overall effect. Though certainly cheap, the carpet is clean, seemingly spotless.

As rambunctious as these children get, I have never seen them eating or drinking anywhere but at the table. They never forget to wipe up their messes before they go about killing one another. They know better than to dirty the place. I can't help wondering if the mother beats them when the blinds are pulled.

Aha! The paper airplane Marcus was making just hit Molly in the back of the head. She was standing behind Useless, picking her pants out of her rump and smiling at something on her smart phone. She yelps, spins around and tells Marcus that if he does it again, she'll tell Mom. But I think the boy has had enough. He rips out a sheet from a spiral notebook and starts to fashion another plane, his tongue visible at the side of his mouth. He throws it, but his sister swats it away. She slips the phone into her pocket and towers over him, hands on hips, and yells into his obstinate face. Sneering, he dashes off to his bedroom and slams the door. He returns to the table a moment later with multicolored sheets of construction paper.

The look on the boy's face enthralls me. A spiteful fire smolders in the dark caverns of his eyes, and I can see one of his jaw-muscles twitching, beating like a tiny heart. There's so much life and light inside him. Unlike me. The feet in my shoes long to step nearer, but I am practiced at stifling urges; I remain as still as the cool night and the window made mirror I hide behind.

Suddenly Marcus calls for Molly. The girl turns and is hit squarely in the forehead by a paper airplane. The victor pumps both fists in the air, and Chucky cannot contain a chuckle. Samantha, of course, seems oblivious. Marcus, as if drawn toward his fuming sister like a baby's chubby digit to a candle's flame, moves around the table. He points a finger and barks laughter. Molly feints with her shoulders, grabs Marcus's bony arm and slaps his cheek. Hard. Sobbing, the boy scurries back to his bedroom and what's left of my soul plummets within me. I wish the boy's tears were acid and that they'd burn little holes in the floor. I wish his hands were hammers and that his anger were older, riper, and ready to fall. But wait. Are those tears in Molly's eyes? How dare she?

As a pang of warmth surges through me, I clench one first at my side. Her tears. She's turned a corner, a child coerced into adulthood, penetrated by the heft of lessons she'd have trouble accepting even if her age were doubled, tripled. She has thrown stuffed animals and rubber balls and yo-yos and has wielded a plastic baseball bats, but as far as I know she has never struck anyone with the flesh of her own hand. She wipes a forearm across her face and then hardens her expression. She rips up the rest of the construction paper, clears the room of airplanes, and then she pushes the debris into the trash can at the far end of the kitchenette.

My fist trembling, I take a deep breath to steady myself and stare at the closed door of Marcus' bedroom. I have a hunch he isn't finished yet. When he completed the last airplane, I noted his treatment of its tip. He licked his thumb and forefinger and pulled on it several times. I don't think the forehead is good enough. I think he's wanting a softer spot. He wants to punish the old bigmouth for years of tyranny.

I knew it. Marcus' head pops out the doorway. He calls to Chucky, who sits up and scoots forward on the couch. The two exchange a serious of hand-gestures like nothing I've seen. Smiling, Chucky leaps up and runs into the room. Molly bellows after them that they'd better be good.

A few seconds later, both boys emerge with an armload each of paper airplanes. They advance on Molly, chucking their weapons as quickly as possible. She starts toward them, ducking, smacking airplanes. King Kong, the monster. Soon the barrage is over and Molly pushes Chucky aside.

But she's laughing. She's laughing and tickling Marcus, who is trying hard not to smile. Chucky, regaining his balance, whoops and jumps onto his siblings, bringing them down. I grin as even Useless joins in the fun. My shoulders lower, my hand relaxes and Molly's tears enter, flooding into me, overfilling me with a giddy sadness. I wish I could cry. I stagger forward, reach out and touch the glass. Chucky looks up and stares at the pale hand in the dark window and possibly at the hazy form of the man-child behind it. He screams. I retreat into the trees as the group draws in on itself. No doubt Marcus will be the first to try to break away and move toward the window, but maybe Molly will grasp the back of his shirt. As a single, hot tear trickles down my face, I whisper my goodbyes.

10 comments:

  1. the idea is certainly creepy, but I see this as somebody carrying around a lot of sadness, regarding a child. he finds himself drawn to the innocence of children playing, mourning what might have been.
    it´s very well executed and a very interesting idea

    Mike McC

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  2. I felt that there was some really good atmospheric writing in this piece, but personally I needed a little bit of a clue or innuendo to give me a glimpse of where the observer was in his/her world? Well done for creating such an unsettling narrative, and leaving the reader wanting to know more,
    Ceinwem

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    1. thank you for reading. heading to read one of yours now.

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  3. Hi Michael, I enjoyed reading this and felt like a fly on the wall equal to the narrator watching the children grow. At first I though this was leading to something sinister but you did create moments of emotion and sadness from the watcher. Then it struck me ( I might be wrong, I get struck often) this was the estranged father watching his children grow, his children that he is not allowed to be near...just my thoughts. A well executed story that left many points to ponder over.

    James McEwan

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  4. I'm with James and Ceinwem - the narrator leaves the reader guessing as to his/her (its?) identity. I even toyed with the idea that this is through the eyes of a child's innocence, or the line we cross before we let go of Peter Pan. But I couldn't put a finger on it.

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  5. did it say "serious of hand gestures" yesterday. Dude I wanted to try each character on. I am narcissistic like that. Consider this my paper plane. ps.......I still smiled, creased my large forehead and felt disappointment and joy.

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  6. a serious series of hand gestures. good stuff indeed. thanks for reading.

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  7. I enjoyed the POV of the narrator. Thanks for sharing!

    - Jen Basch

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  8. This is a seriously creepy story and I admire it a great deal. You tell it well with beautiful detail and apparent sympathy for the very strange narrator. Now I feel like I should go take a shower. Or something.

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  9. As others have said, this is a creepy story. I too envisioned the narrator as a weirdo watching kids play. But maybe the narrator is an estranged parent or an old family friend. I like the way question of the narrator's identy is left up to the reader. However, if that was not your intention, I would like to know a bit more about the mysterious peeping Tom.

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