By Bradford Philen
Downstairs in the TV room, the WRAL weatherman Bob Debartly, whose head is about as big as a watermelon, is talking about Hurricane Federico. Dad is sprawled on his lazy-boy recliner. Two IVs are plugged into his left arm, both are murder red, and I can’t ever tell which is sucking blood and which is pushing in. The dialysis machine is beeping and thudding like it always does.
“How much y’all win by last night?” Dad says.
“How many hits you get?”
I should tell Dad about the perfect bunt I laid down the third base line in the second inning so Mike Poole could get to third and Brandon could get to second, but Dad always used to say swing like you mean it. “Walked three times,” I say. “Scored twice.”
“Dang, Dickie. You couldn’t get a hit against that rag-muffin squad?”
I should tell him I’m quitting baseball. “It’s not my fault they can’t pitch,” I say instead. “Walking is the only sure way to get on base.”
Dad looks at me, eyes bloodshot. “Well, reckon you’re right. It’s just not as pretty is all.” The machine goes crazy for a minute, beeping and breathing and vibrating, and Dad adjusts one of the knobs. He’s the only reason I still play ball.
Mom’s car isn’t in the driveway. I grab a pack of Pop-Tarts and a glass of orange juice and go back upstairs to play Call of Duty 2. I shoot the shit out of Nazi Germany for a while and then Dad calls for me and I go back down. His breath is sweet and sharp and wet and a bottle of Jim Beam is shoved at the back of his recliner.
“Son,” he says, “can you change this out?”
His waste bag is full and gross looking. I unplug the plastic tubes, and the bag of human waste feels ready to explode. Dad mumbles he’s going to bed soon. It’s not even noon.
I walk upstairs to the blue bathroom. After you do it a few times, it’s like anything else in the world. I set the plastic bag of piss and whatnot in the sink and pull on the rubber gloves from the cabinet that’s stock full of any and everything medical. Mom even puts condoms in there: a box of LifeStyles “ribbed for her pleasure.” I don’t know if she left them there for me or what, but that’s not a conversation I’m going to have with her. Once I put the gloves on, I pull the cork from the bag and pour it all down the toilet. I’ve only had a spill or two.
Stacia texts me then. Hey.
I text her back. Hey.
There’s a pause and I know she’s writing something either good or bad, and then I get the message: I think you’re so sweet, Dickie, it’s just…
I don’t have to read the rest.
I text Doug: Mall?
A few minutes later, Doug texts back: Inception at 1:30?
I’ll be in the driveway.
It’s funny how people only care about stuff when they have to. The Outer Banks always gets hit with hurricanes, but folks out there know how to deal with it. The least they do is board up their windows. In the driveway, I look up and there’s not a cloud in the sky. Our neighbor is mowing his grass.
When Doug pulls in the driveway, I get in his car and the weather guy on the radio says, “Hurricane Federico will be just a little summer shower by the time it hits Wake County.” Doug changes the channel then and later, when we’re almost at the mall, he says, “you’re coming to the party tonight, right?”
I nod yes and then say, “You’re not worried about the storm?”
He shakes his head. “Hell no,” he says.
We eat pizza at Sbarro and then walk through the mall. The hallways are wide, the floors fake marble, and the warm yellow of all the fluorescent lights makes me yawn. We pass Victoria’s Secret and the model on the poster ad is staring at me: green eyes, dirty blond hair pouring over her tits like a waterfall, she’s on the floor, bored, lying there in her red thong. I see Ophelia from math class—we’ve been in the same math class since fifth grade. She’s sifting through a pile of panties at a sale counter. Everything is pink in there. Ophelia’s wearing baggy sweatpants and our Athens High hoodie, but really she’s got firm thighs and a nice, gushy booty. I know because she’s caught me staring at her in gym class before. I start to get a semi, and then Doug says, “You bring any booze?”
“You bring any booze for the movie?”
I shake my head no. “Tonight, man,” I say.
He gives me a look.
We’ve each seen Inception at least three times. We don’t talk about the ending, but Doug knows already how I feel about it. The last time we saw it, we were stoned off some skunky weed Doug bought from a Mexican kid at school. I told Doug I thought Cobb was dreaming it all: his kids there in the back yard on the clean, green grass.
“That’s why the top was still spinning,” I said.
“Dickie, what the fuck are you talking about?”
“If he wins, what’s the point of the movie?”
“Jesus Christ, Dickie. Stop being an asshole. You’re just high. DiCaprio wins. He beats the bad guys. Sometimes, it’s just that simple.”
After the movie, we walk through the mall again before we leave. I feel like an idiot when we pass Victoria’s Secret and I stare in there looking for Ophelia. It’s been at least two hours. We make our way out and Doug drops me back at home. “See you tonight,” he says.
There’s still no sign of a storm, and mom’s car isn’t in the driveway. Inside, the house smells like a sewer and Dad’s machine is screaming. I hear him in the kitchen. “Dad,” I say, “what—”
“Nothing, Dickie,” he says, “Damn it. Ain’t nothing wrong. Go on to bed.”
“It’s five thirty,” I say. I walk into the kitchen and see how frail Dad is. His shirt and pants are soaking wet. “Dad, why didn’t you wait for me—”
“I ain’t waiting for nobody, son. Nobody and nothing.”
I move to him and he sort of pushes me, but I ignore it and throw his right arm around my neck. On the kitchen counter there’s vomit and in the sink the tubes and the plastic waste bag. The tubes were stripped out. Dad’s mumbling fuck this and fuck that. I walk him to his lazy-boy recliner, but it’s just as soiled as his pants so I walk him to the guest bedroom downstairs where he’s been sleeping. I lie him down on the bed and take off his pants and shirt. He’s choking now and I hate his breathing on me. His briefs sag on his hips. I slide them off and he’s all shriveled down there. I try not to look, but his one nut is just sitting there, like it’s waiting for some other body.
His clothes are on the floor and Dad’s naked and snoring on the bed. I get a cloth from the bathroom and wet it and wipe him down and dress him in a pair of nurse’s scrub pants the Hospice people gave us. I find a long-sleeve flannel and button him up and try to tuck the covers around him.
Mom comes home just as I finish cleaning up the kitchen. She’s still in her Zumba clothes. “Richard,” she says, “are you burning incense?”
“Dad had an accident,” I say. “I’m going to Doug’s tonight.”
She walks to the living room and I meet her there. We’re facing each other. The swoosh of the ceiling fan above us. She gestures to the recliner. “Why didn’t you clean this up?” she says.
I swear the damn recliner is drooling feces. “That?” I say.
Her body slants and the distance between us swells. I picture her at Zumba, moving and bouncing in her tights that are too tight and skimpy for a soon-to-be widow and I get even more mad. “Mom,” I say, “what the—”
“Richard,” she says.
“Mom,” I say louder.
She starts waving her arms and breathing heavy like she’s drowning or something and she starts saying all the stupid, shitty things she says when she gets shitty with me.
I hate her now.
“I cleaned him up,” I say, “and the kitchen too. That recliner smells like shit. It smells like—”
“Goddammit, Richard!” She says.
I quit it then.
So does Mom.
We’re quiet and barely facing each other.
The fan drones, but the stink doesn’t move.
I want to tell Mom it’s about the worst thing in the world to always feel lonely, but then we both hear what sounded like Dad falling. She runs to the room and leaves me with the recliner.
Outside, it starts to rain.
“I’m taking the car, Mom,” I say. “I’m staying over at Doug’s tonight.” I don’t care if she hears me. I grab the extra set of keys from the wooden key hook that reads HOME.
The wind is blowing hard now, the raindrops like lead.
Debartly and the others got it all wrong. It’s not even midnight but I can’t tell for sure because the light on my watch doesn’t work. I’m in the kitchen pantry of Doug’s house with Ophelia, and she’s wearing some sort of see-through skintight pantyhose. I move my hands up and down her thighs.
“Don’t go so fast, Dickie,” she says. Her voice is sweet like cheese cake.
I slow down. Try to relax and all, but it’s tough because I don’t know how much time I have. The storm outside sounds like it’s on the other side of the pantry door even though Doug lives in Lochmere where all the houses are made of marble and granite and sturdy hardwood and the grass is always trimmed and there’s not a stray leaf or limb anywhere in the yard.
“That’s it,” Ophelia says, and her breath on my neck makes everything get heavy and hot, and then she goes, “yeah, just like that,” like she wants me to taste each syllable.
How we got here in the pantry is Hurricane Federico broke the big bay windows in Doug’s living room. Before that, it was like every other party at Doug’s house: cases of beer and liquor bottles on the kitchen counter, drinking games going on—something like Thumper or Quarters, music blasting out everything. Then the storm rushed in and broke the windows and everyone cursed and ran through the house to find a safe place. Someone yelled, “Get to a durn bath tub. That’s where it’s safe, y’all.” I grabbed Ophelia’s hand and we dove into the pantry.
“What do we do now?” I said.
She giggled. The wind rattled the door. We could hear glass shattering, and then I started to sort of touch her and she didn’t stop me.
We’re safe, the only thing is I have to piss. I almost say something to Ophelia, but she says, “Dickie Shoemaker, tell me a secret.”
It’s so dark in here, even Dad wouldn’t be able to tell that Ophelia is black.
“Come on, Dickie,” Ophelia says, “tell me something no one knows. Pretend it’s our last night alive.”
I’ve never been with a black girl, but I know I can’t say that, and I can’t think of any deep, dark secret worth telling, so I say, “your brother would kick my ass if he knew we were in here.”
She sucks her teeth and sort of stiffens for a second, but my hands are still moving on her thighs. “Mike’s not like that,” she says.
“He doesn’t look over me like he’s got to beat up any boy who talks to me. He’s just my brother.”
“Unh-unh,” I say. “You can’t get with your teammate’s sister in the closet.”
I feel her start to feel me. We’re leaning in between shelves of canned goods and extra things that Doug’s mom must have bought in bulk at Sam’s Club.
“What do you mean get with,” she says like she’s messing with me, and she’s really feeling me. All this while the wind is whirling and the rain is hammering the roof, and I have to piss. “We haven’t even kissed,” she keeps on, “we’re just in the pantry waiting out the storm, right?”
I don’t say anything, just keep moving my hands slow like she told me to, and then she says, “Who’d you get with last, anyway?”
“Stacia,” I tell Ophelia. It’s a lie I’ll get away with.
“You got with Stacia Spelling?”
I pause and then I move my head in close to her neck and nibble on her ear lobes. “Yeah,” I say. “I mean not like that.”
“You just fooled around with her?”
I say mm-hmm and there’s a weird mixture of smells—Ophelia’s citrusy perfume, rolls of toilet paper, and packs of Nabs, all while the wind’s still howling.
Our heads are nuzzled up real close to each other and Ophelia starts to play with my hair. I’m kissing all over her neck.
“She’s all right, I guess,” Ophelia says.
I don’t say anything.
Ophelia’s still rubbing me and she likes how I’m nibbling on her and then she keeps on about Stacia. “I mean, she’s nice and all, I guess, I just never thought you—”
I stop Ophelia because I don’t really care and I push my lips on hers, and then she draws back like she’s looking at me, but our faces are still close enough to kiss.
“What is it?” I say.
“Nothing,” she says real soft, like she’s whispering, and I can taste her breath, and then she brings her lips back to mine and we make out while we’re still feeling on each other. Our teeth clink, but it still feels good.
Ophelia’s lips are juicier than any orange I’ve ever eaten. She sucks on my bottom lip like it’s a lollipop, and I’ve never had a girl kiss me and do like that, but I hope every girl I ever get with from now on does like this. I try to suck on hers the same way and then the thunder rumbles so hard I can feel it in my chest.
She draws back. “You know I saw you looking at me at the mall today.”
“When?” I say like I don’t know what she’s talking about.
“Today. You were there with Doug.”
I hold her a little tighter and say, “I was there.”
“You were watching me?”
I sort of laugh and go back to kissing her. I try to suck on her bottom lip again and then I drive my tongue all through her mouth like it’s telling her how bad I want her. Our tongues bang and slap at each other back and forth.
“Dickie Shoemaker from math class, you’re a freak, huh?” she says. “Watching little ‘ole me buying panties—”
I kiss her hard again. “Which ones did you get?”
We both laugh and I try to forget about peeing, but it’s starting to sting.
“You think you’re going to find out tonight?” she says and she’s teasing me.
“I hope so.” I slide my fingers higher up her thigh and play with the seams of everything. I reach through to her skin and it’s soft and smooth. I’m moving, going closer and closer. I kiss her harder and harder, and I can’t hear the storm anymore because I have to piss so bad, but all I can think about is tearing off the panties Ophelia bought at Victoria’s Secret.
She starts to play with my belt buckle, like she wants to unbuckle it and then she stops. “Dickie,” she says, “is that your leg shaking like that?”
“Are you—” she says, and then we fall.
I couldn’t hold my stance any longer.
Ophelia laughs. There’s more thunder. We’re sprawled on the pantry floor and it’s pitch black. My legs feel like there’s a million needles sticking in them. They fell asleep. My legs. They just gave out. Ophelia was ready and all and then I fell and I can’t explain how I always fuck shit up.
“Ophelia,” I say.
“I have to pee.”
I feel her giving me a look.
“There’s a hurricane going on outside, remember?” she says. “Everyone else is in the bathroom anyway.”
It’s stinging so bad I can’t hold it anymore.
“Wait,” she says then, “I have an idea.”
“Let’s find a bottle.”
We stand and rummage the shelves. She finds an empty two-liter plastic bottle. “Here,” she says.
I take it and turn, then unbuckle and unzip my pants. My hard-on went soft already. It’s still raining and thundering. I try to get the head of my Johnson as close as I can to the tip of the bottle without directly touching it. The bottom of the bottle gets warm and then my piss pees and pish-es everywhere.
“Gross,” Ophelia says, “you’re so loud.”
All I think to say is, “what’d you expect,” like I was trying to be funny.
When I finally finish I twist on the cap and put the bottle on the shelf behind me.
I move to face Ophelia and I wish she was straddling my leg and I was nibbling on her ear lobes like before and Ophelia moves to face me too and grabs hold of my waist like she’s going to hug me, but it’s sexier than a hug.
“Ophelia,” I say. “I got it.”
I feel her all over me. “Yeah,” she says. There’s a giddiness in her voice.
“I wish my dad would go ahead and die.”
She breathes, and I notice her exhale is real heavy, just as heavy as the truth I just told her, just as heavy as my piss in the two-liter plastic bottle on the shelf behind me, just as heavy as the wind and rain outside. She reaches up on her tippy toes and kisses me on the lips, but it’s not a kiss like you put on someone you’re getting with in the pantry closest during a hurricane.
“Dickie,” she says, and it still feels like she’s exhaling, like she’s doing that for me.
I don’t say anything. I just keep hold of her, and then I say, “I hope Federico tears it all down.”
“Don’t hope that,” she says. “Come here. Kiss me, Dickie. Come on.”
We kiss then, and I can tell she’s trying to get us where we were before I had to stop to piss. The wind’s getting louder again, I can feel it.