My left arm didn’t do what I told it to, though sometimes I yelled at it in my head. I said, “Come on deadbeat, move!” or, “Let’s go Tiger Towels! Let’s go Tiger Towels!” Because that’s what Dad yelled at the TV. Sometimes he cranked the lever on his chair so the footrest disappeared, then he pointed smack in the middle of the screen and told me to look.
“Look here, boy,” he said to me. “A real man!” He jabbed the TV with his finger on the forehead of a face that looked like an ogre’s—with one eye all bulgy and one eye all squinty, and a neck like that big mattress-roll in our stairwell that wouldn’t budge. Sometimes these ogres’ beards were like knife-slashes down their cheeks, and sometimes they crouched with heavy bats, ready to swing. They were always adjusting their grip, and it made me ashamed to look at my own body—my pajamas sagged.
Mom wouldn’t take my book down from the top of the fridge until I did my exercises. She said the exercises would even me out, but I hated them. My left hand didn’t squeeze like I’d tell it to, and the bands I pulled on were made from gross rubber tubing that smelled like the thingy Dr. Finney shoved up my nose to test my lungs. Mom stood over me as I pulled. I stared at her ankles rolling toward each other like they were melting on her feet—and I tried to keep from wincing. I wanted a face like a man’s. I wanted my left arm to look like my right, because my right had a muscle dent in it, but maybe one day it would bulge like Hammerin’ Hank’s.
There was this picture of Hammerin’ Hank with a huge vein bulging in his arm, and the bat is broken and all flying in two pieces because he hit so hard. Dad wouldn’t let me touch it. “Eat ’em up!” he yelled at the TV. “Eat ’em up!”
The Tigers lost that night, and Dad knocked over the folding table. Mom yelled, “The carpet!” I was on my stomach between the couch and the wall where there was this wallpaper bubble I popped, and underneath where the plaster is soft, I wrote the biggest word I knew: Hem-i-par-e-sis.
I was reading my favorite book, The Trumpet of the Swan, but I stopped when Dad got so loud and was stomping. He shouted, “Fucking Christ!” And then “You!” and then a word I didn’t know, and then there was a cracking sound. Mom seemed to swallow something before she ran out. I waited until the chair squeaked, which meant Dad was sitting again, then I scooted into the bedroom. Mom was curled there in the blanket with her hair sticking to her neck.
“Come on,” I whispered to my left arm. “Come on.” And though my hand was flimsy, when I placed it on her shoulder, I felt strong.
fiction poetry "fact" photography