938 Words for Mike Danko
Before his eighth birthday, the child had grown weary of the world, so he stacked his toys inside his sister’s closet—the real metal dumptruck, the Lego set, the Cleveland Indians miniature baseball bat with Toby Harrah’s signature, and even the dual racers and their electrified track. As he was done with the world, he was done with the toys, as well, dumb symbols of the vaster complicity in which he’d refuse thereafter to be called an accomplice. He felt good about it; he felt liberated, and asked his mother not for his usual four p.m. peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but for peanuts themselves and a short glass of whiskey, neat. “I want to be mean like Father,” he told her. “It’s time to face up to this monstrosity.”
His mother showed little concern. She was a social worker, after all, a Woodstock attendee, and had wept the evening Sirhan Sirhan shot Robert Kennedy. Long before the child was born, she knew the world had gone to shit. She also knew that, although the boy was more mature than most seven year olds, he’d likely gag on the smell of the Jack Daniels before getting any in his mouth. That didn’t turn out to be the case. He drank it down then asked for another. “Nope. One per day. That stuff’ll put hair on your chest, and I don’t want to have to explain that to Mrs. Steamboat at open house.” The boy munched his peanuts and decided to ask Mrs. Steamboat out for a date the following Friday. It didn’t matter to him that she was married.
Father came home from work at six as usual and, after hanging his suit jacket on the banister, sat down to read the Plain Dealer before supper. “I’m dying for a drink,” he said to Ann Landers, and once again to Sheldon Ocker the sports columnist, before Mother arrived in the family room carrying a short glass of Jack and a bowl of salted peanuts. “Long day at the office. That bastard Connor got the Philips contract. The fucker. Probably gonna buy another condo in Clearwater. Thanks, Honey. I needed this.” He drank. He crunched the ice between his molars, which made the boy cringe.
“But I’m dying, too,” said the boy to his father. “I’m dying because the world is a terrible place and I want no part of it. I resigned from the world today.” It was a proclamation. It was a manifesto. It was true, but neither Mother nor Father seemed to pay attention. She was tending to dinner—a three-cheese lasagna, garlic bread, and a salad—and he was engrossed in the astrology. He was a Taurus and his mistress a Libra. Would they ever be compatible? Would they ever have a life of their own in someplace not called Cleveland? He wasn’t sure. He was lost in her creamy thighs when the boy said, “The world’s replete with scoundrels and you top the list, you motherfucking drunk.” That got Father’s attention. Well-placed ire’s an effective communicative tool. “Also, I’m gonna get Mrs. Steamboat pregnant on Friday night.”
They worried about the boy, that’s true, but there was another napping in the upstairs bedroom, a girl who was silent and never did unusual things. She’d eat her lasagna puréed later and burp obnoxiously while the boy was trying to sleep. She was the pride and joy, and although the boy had contemplated on more than one occasion on sticking her little belly with sewing needles, so far he had refrained. “What are we going to do with this boy?” asked Father. “You think he needs counseling?” Mother was straightening dish towels and thinking about Jimi Hendrix, Ethel Kennedy, and Bobby Seale. Father was lamenting the lack of dessert. “Besides the boy, a piece of chocolate cake would nice from time to time,” he announced. He considered taking the Pontiac out to the grocery for an Entenmann’s coffee cake and pausing on the way back home for a glance at his mistress’s bedroom window, but it was getting late. Soon they’d all be turning in. It had been a long day.
The boy—in bed for fifteen minutes—drowsed himself to sleep by thinking of Mrs. Steamboat’s bra—which had been visible through her blouse that day—and the face of Leonid Brezhnev. Both were equally important. Both signaled the world’s unfairness, its edging toward some undeniable, implacable, inevitable brutality. In his dream, Mrs. Steamboat’s name was Mrs. Dreamboat and Brezhnev was eating barbecued chicken with President Carter somewhere down in Georgia. As he dreamed improbable things, his mother and father made love in the master bedroom while the baby slept with un-puréed strands of mozzarella between her little teeth. It was May 11, 1977, and the Indians were tied with the Milwaukee Brewers in the bottom of the seventh at Municipal Stadium, but no one cared except Sheldon Ocker—and maybe even he didn’t care.
The next day—a Thursday—dawned pink with streaks of worldly promise in the sky. Lake Erie gleamed. The city hummed, and the Terminal Tower appeared insurmountable as the boy stared at it from the school bus. The world, unfortunately, was still there, and he was in it. He was in it, and he would be until he at least turned ten. That would be a turning point; that would be Mrs. Steamboat walking through the parking lot of M.L. King Elementary School and not breaking stride when he called. That would be, for him, the beginning of the end of the world, but he had conquered it already.
Carl Boon is the author of the full-length collection Places & Names: Poems (Nasiona Press, 2019). His writing has appeared in many journals and magazines, including Prairie Schooner, Posit, and The Maine Review. He received his Ph.D. in Twentieth-Century American Literature from Ohio University in 2007, and currently lives in Izmir, Turkey, where he teaches courses in American literature at Dokuz Eylül University.