He drug his bag of candy behind him, the pillowcase staining on the ground as the damp slowly soaked into the fibers of the aging cotton. Tyler Whishaw knew his parents were arguing again, he could hear it in the driveway. The shouts echoed through the house and he knew Mrs. Matchkens would be watching from next door. She always watched, like she enjoyed it or something. The snap and crack of the whiplike insults shot back and forth between his parents and he had to admit to himself that it was impressive to hear, their insults were fairly decent on both sides.
The wah-wah sounds of the shouting adults came through the walls, the trombone-like sound versus the piercing trumpet of his mother’s wail bleeding through the walls to the outside. The bitch (it was a word his father liked for her) was wailing her head off. Every instinct in his body was shouting at him to just go to Billy’s, to see if he could spend the night again, but he had school in the morning and Billy’s mom would drive him home and that would be embarrassing. He sighed, pulled his pillowcase up, and slung it over his shoulder. The red tights of his superhero costume actually stretched under the strain, he could hear them. He trudged up the porch steps and opened the door.
“Goddamnit, Allen, is this all you want?” his mother shouted.
“This is fine!” Allen Whishaw snapped. “What is there about Colorado that isn’t here?”
“Shit, there would be mountains and more money and a little pot now and then,” Carrie Whishaw screeched, “so I could take the edge off every time you fuck up and lose another job. What did you do, did you try to screw the boss’s wife again? Or did you scream at another boss because you can’t take the pressure of reality?”
Tyler stopped listening. It was always like this, his mother always on her dad about not being able to keep a job because of his temper and his clothes and her money, it was just the same thing over and over again. They drove him crazy. His dad was always blaming his mom for what happened, his anger unable to even be articulated well and it always descended into ranting and raving. Tyler tried to ignore as much of it as he could, his ability to get a word in edgewise had not been effective as of yet, so he usually just watched or went to his room. They did not bother to consider that he was in the room listening or watching them.
“I don’t care what the job is, the money we would spend moving would drain us,” His father roared. “Carrie, listen baby, we can’t take the hit.”
“We’d be taking it easier if you didn’t paint yourself orange every other week, Nacho Man.”
Tyler’s father was one of the vainest individuals he had ever met. Crisp suits, several hundred dollars apiece, and meticulously groomed hair adorned the body that was, indeed, orange from the spray tanning he regularly partook of. Carrie Whishaw was always careful to point this part out when he returned from it because not only did he spend her money on the procedure but he stained her furniture with it, furniture she had bought or inherited when Gamma Knowles had died.
Ignoring his parents and feeling a rumble in his gut, Tyler crossed the kitchen to the fridge to see if there was anything but candy. He was sure the rumble had to do with how much of the chocolate, nougaty goodness that he had already consumed but he still wanted to put something settling on top of that. He opened the crisper, the fresher, and the freezer and eventually decided on lemon-lime soda and a little bowl of grapes to settle his stomach. He got his favorite glass down from the cupboard, a weird old thing his dad had gotten when they had gone to Universal. It had a shark movie logo painted on it, and he had always liked that. He filled it with ice from the freezer and got the soda out of the fridge. A loud tssst sounded as he unscrewed the cap and poured it over ice. His parents did not skip a beat, the sound not even eliciting a glance as the bubbly liquid fizzed over ice. He poured carefully, tipping the glass as though pouring a beer, and let the level build. It came out perfect, with just a little foam at the top because he liked his foam mustache when he drank it.
“Oh yeah? Well you’re a filthy fucking cocksucker,” his dad said evenly. The venom had gone out of his voice, replaced by shock and pain. “You’re a cocksucker, you’ve been running around with that Mexican from church!”
His mother opened her mouth to speak but Carrie could produce no words, her jaw working up and down silently as she tried to formulate a response. Tyler looked back and forth between them, his eyes jumping back and forth as though watching a tennis match, and he tried to comprehend what he had just heard. Carrie was a lot of things but she would never cheat on his father, would she? She hated Allen with a passion, had for most of Tyler’s life, but she had some standards, or so he had thought. Surely she would never take a lover.
“I admitted to that,” she whispered, “in therapy with you. How…how dare you bring it up. In front of our son!” She shouted this last, suddenly realizing Tyler was in the room. They turned to him, almost simultaneously, aghast at the realization they had said such horrible things to each other in front of their son. Then Allen’s face began to twitch, the corners of his mouth fighting a manic smile. “Allen, how could you even say that to me? Especially after Bailey, Helen, Amber…”
“Oh, fuck you,” Allen came back at her. “Two out of three of those were before we were married. Before we were even dating for chrissakes.”
“If I could have finished the list there would be significantly more in the ‘before we were dating’ column,” she growled.
Allen looked at Tyler, a small gleam of hope in his eyes. Tyler popped another grape. “Kid,” Allen said, “do you know what you’re mother did?” Tyler cringed, hoping he did not get more details. Hearing his father call Carrie Whishaw a ‘cocksucker’ was more information than he had needed to know. “Kid, she took a job in Colorado.”
“Oh,” Tyler said, “that’s not bad.” He popped another grape.
“What are you talking about?” his father groaned, “it’s awful. Our life is here, your friends are here, this is the way things are and the way they’ve been. Why do we need to change it, let’s get back to the way things were here when we were happy. Remember that?”
Tyler opened his mouth to speak but his mother cut him off. “He doesn’t remember that,” she sneered, “because we never were. We haven’t been happy since we were dating, Allen, and you maybe even longer than that.”
“I’ve never been ok with your cow-ass, hogging blankets and fucking spics and…”
“What?” Carrie cried. “What did you call Timoteo?”
“You heard me, I called the asshole a ‘spic’.” At his last word Allen raised air quotes. “I called him that and that’s all he is. You wanted me to call him something else, you should’ve fucked someone else. Try a black guy next time cause I gotta say, ‘jugaboo’ is a lot more fun to say than ‘spic’.” Tyler munched on his grapes, still looking back and forth between parents and hoping he would get to feel uncomfortable again, longing for confusion, because anything was better than the understanding he was left with. He had heard his father use those names before – at the grocery store, at the drive-thru bank, at the movies. His father was cruel and this was a constant, but he had reached a new low by putting it all on his son.
“I said nothing,” Carrie whispered as tears came to her eyes, “when you bought a new car. I said nothing when you showed up that morning a couple of months back after being out all night. You smelled up smellin’ like Christine Parsons’s pussy, that shit was all over you. Hell, I said nothing when you got fired today. I picked you up, I put up with plenty of it for years. So why, the hell, can I not just get some dick on the side and be ok for a few fucking minutes?”
“Because, bitch,” her husband said, “you ain’t bringin’ none of that ‘South-of-the-border’ shit with you. I have standards to maintain, and you know they come over with diseases.”
“Diseases? Oh, your imagination is more important to you know? You don’t have to keep bullshitting me Allen. Fuck off. They turned back to Tyler, their mouths open.
The space was empty, occupied by an empty bowl and a half-drank glass of soda. Tyler had grown tired of hearing of his parents’ indiscretions, had grown tired of the angry fighting and the ankle-biting, and had walked out. Allen and Carrie went up the stairs, the whole time hurling accusations of who said what and who drove their son to his room. They mounted the second floor landing and turned together, in sync in their hatred for the first time.As they reached his door Carrie reached for the knob and Allen continued walking. The latch had been thrown and the door only opened about three inches or so. Neither parent saw this and ran face first into the chesnut door that used to be a prize possession of Carrie’s, having found a large plastic baggie of army men for her son and happened to see the ink on the way out.
The knob rattled but would not open. Tyler had locked the door, his patience worn thin and his desire to pack uninterrupted. He had opened a blanket, filling it with two pairs of socks and a spare change of underwear, a toothbrush, and his eyeglasses box. He tied it in the top and put it in his backpack, shoving and twisting until he was able to get it shut. Outside his parents were rattling the knob, his father’s fist bashing on the door while his mother continued to break down in tears.
He looked at the window. A frost ws settled over it, but he had his coat and mittens so he should be ok. The thought of walking clear across town to Aunt Frieda’s house was intimidating but seemed worth it. He vaguely thought back to the advice his uncle had given him when he was nine years old.
“Dude,” the man had always said, “if it gets tough just bail.”