Cook Out

I wrote this one about 6 years ago.  Re-read it and liked it.

…and to top it off, there was a rapist at my barbecue.

My son pointed him out. The guy didn’t actually rape anybody while he was at the cookout, but he had a reputation.

The boys were in high school. She was thirty, and had invited them over to smoke pot and watch television. When it got late, she told them to leave. That was her story. The two kids, on the other hand, said that she wanted to fuck right on the floor.

One of those kids was at my barbecue. Tall, with bent shoulders and a big ugly jaw. He seemed goofy until you got too close to him. You’d think – what with his bad posture – that the he was shy or easily pushed around. Not so.

There he was – a criminal and a menace – at my cookout. People drank Coors Light while this maniac planned on beheading my wife and burning down my house.

Lurch wasn’t speaking to anyone. He drifted around the summer umbrella, sipping a Pepsi – just slowly bringing the can up to his lips. My son ran past him, clutching some red plastic thing.

“Hi, Cliff!” Jacques screamed.

Jacques had two Loud Voices: The Shout which he got from me; and The Scream, which he got from his mother. The Shout was a louder, more profound version of his speaking voice. The Scream was this high-pitched, womanly thing that I hoped he would outgrow.

Anyway, everyone at the party turned for a second. Lurch frowned; rolled his eyes around his skull, like a ventriloquist’s dummy.

I knew what Jacques, my son, was doing. He was making sure people understood who this kid was and what he had done. It might take all day, but they’d find out.

Lurch was called Clifton Manson. I’m not making that up. Between that and his creepy looks, it was obvious where the kid was headed from Day One. During his early years in high school – when he started getting really weird – people were calling him ‘Charlie.’ Cliff didn’t like that and let them know. That was the word.

Lurch or Cliff or Charlie or whatever looked to his Mother, who was My Wife’s Boss, and said… “How long are we staying?”

I wanted to kill the fucker. It wasn’t bad enough that he did those horrible things, but now he was making like normal people were somehow not up to his standards.

Jacques dashed out from under a table, one hand on his hip, dragging a piece of nylon rope. He twirled it above his head like a lasso, and pranced around the picnic tables.

“Hi, Cliff!” Jacques screamed.

He threw the rope on the ground and rubbed his hands together and fluttered his eyelashes. Yes, he fluttered his eyelashes. Jacques was twelve and he still hadn’t lost those girlish traits he picked up when he lived with his Mother.

About two years into our marriage, I joined The Air Force. I had told my wife about my plans when we first met. She didn’t think I was serious. I was 30 when I enlisted, which is unusually old for first-time military service. After I completed basic training, instead of her moving out to Colorado with me, which would have made sense, she stayed back east and got a place with her sisters. When I visited, they refused to speak to me. They looked after Jacques during my hitch.

By the time he was in the 3rd grade, Jacques was as big as most 6th graders. He was built like my wife’s brothers. Thick neck and lumpy shoulders and feathery blonde hair. At that age , Jacques was like a big excitable dog. Knocking over the furniture and scratching up the wallpaper. You’d excuse the roughhousing until, one day, he’d sink his teeth into you and not let go. After that, you didn’t really hang around him very much.

We kept him in the age-appropriate football team for as long as we could; watched him steamroll those kids – pushing through them; making them cry. One sucker got a concussion and it took months for everyone to figure out who to sue.

If he had to stand in one spot for a while, like in church, or in line at the movies, Jacques would actually jump up and down. He’d run in place, kicking his knees up, banging into women and rattling their purses. Plates and centerpiece wound up on the floor. Last year, my brother, Tommy, who made no secret of his dislike for Jacques, slapped him around until the boy hyperventilated. My wife, Linda, was so horrified that she moved out for the rest of the week.

My wife wrote letters of complaint – all purpose; to mail to the newspapers, city-councilmen or relatives she disliked. She did not collect slights or hold grudges. It was more like she imagined them with such clarity that she willed them into existence. When this happened, she had an appropriate missive at the ready. She moved her office into the attic and complained about the heat. I installed some air conditioners and she complained about the dryness. I don’t know if she liked being unhappy, but she certainly was comfortable. Any attempt to comfort her was met by petulant replies, stony silences or, on particularly energetic days, tears. A hood of despair would descend onto her face, and she would sob and tremble. I would hold her until she stopped. Fifteen minutes later, she’d be complaining about how no-one really knew how to fill the ice trays except her.

Anyway, Jacques fired himself like a cannonball into the rows of shrubbery lining the yard. We had long given up asking him not to do that. His being repeatedly stung by insects had little effect. He just would not learn. In its own perverse way, it was kind of impressive.

I watched Lurch leave the party and walk up the street. He moved like a big ape. Like a gorilla or something. He swung his arms back and forth when he moved. I hadn’t noticed that at the party. There were too many people around, but on his own, he took up a lot of space when he walked. He walked slowly – like he was calling attention to to just how slowly he walked. What an asshole.

I walked behind him and the fact that we were moving so slowly made me feel uncomfortable. It was actually really unnatural to be crawling along like that. Like we were treading through deep mud or something. Knee-deep. The sound frogs make. Knee-deep. Knee-deep.

What an asshole.

I moved up a little. Just a quick shuffle of my feet. Just to speed things up a bit. He turned quickly. The stoop in his shoulder disappeared. He was like a snake rearing up its head. Something supple suddenly becoming sharp and aggressive without really changing its shape. Merely its bearing. God, the kid was weird.

Manson and I looked at each other for a moment. His eyebrows wandered around his forehead for a moment. He smiled. I didn’t expect that. His face softened.

“Thanks for having us over.” he said. He was was soft. Feminine. Who was this kid?

“Then why did you leave?” I asked.

Manson’s face fell. An ugly blank dropped over him. I had pushed just the right button.

“See you around.” he muttered. He turned.

“I hope not.” I said.

Manson stopped. Not like a cartoon stop. Not like something you’d see in a movie. He just slowly turned. As natural as anything you’d ever see. Like a door swinging open or someone lifting themselves out of their car. Nothing forced. Just movement in space. natural.

“What’s your problem, man?” Manson grumbled. His voice had changed, becoming dry like a tomb. His mouth opened and the words just sort of fell out with no energy. He was used to people speaking to him like this, I guess. He’d come to expect it.

“What you did to those girls.”

That’s what I said to him. I knew it was only one girl. One woman. It came out ‘girls.’ I guess I felt like I was standing up for a whole lot of people. I guess I’ve always felt that way. Manson grimaced. He twisted his face around and shook his head. I was looking at his back as he sauntered away. He moved so fucking slowly that it was almost like he was daring me to say something. To do something.

“Hey, Manson.” I called.

He flipped me off. Without turning around. What an asshole.

Now, if I had known, I wouldn’t have done anything. The kid’s name wasn’t really Clifton Manson. His name was actually Roy Pine. He never raped anybody. He was going to college at UNH and studying to be a painter. He had played basketball and volleyball in high school. He was actually a pretty good kid. Kind of sullen, it seems, but a pretty good kid nevertheless.

Now, this Clifton Manson business was true. Clifton Manson had raped a woman, allegedly. It’s just that the kid at my party wasn’t Clifton Manson, as I had been led to believe. My son, Jacques, had decided to start calling the kid ‘Cliff’ and telling everybody at the party that he was a rapist. After a while, The Kid got sick of this and left. Unfortunately, I only found out about this later on, at the police station.

Like I said, Roy Pine, who I thought was Clifton Manson, had been a pretty athletic guy and was still in extremely good shape. I took a swing at Roy and Roy hit me and I went to the hospital. He broke my nose and I passed out.

In the emergency room, my Wife stood over me and cried. She rubbed the doctors’ shoulders and mentioned how difficult her life had become. Jacques wandered around the waiting area asking people if they had lost fights, like his dad.

I wondered about Jacques. He was a good kid. No he wasn’t. He was manipulative and cruel He was a smart kid. No he wasn’t. He was cunning. He had friends. No he didn’t. He just had varying degrees of enemies. He was my son. I hated him. I hated him like I hated my Wife and her brothers.

I could feel the blood swelling behind my eyes and they carried me into an ambulance. Roy beat me up on some guys lawn and the owner of the house called the police.

Years ago, I knew the men on the police force. Now, I didn’t. They were young men, now. Just out of the military. Mean and quiet. I didn’t know them. I couldn’t.

It was weird. Maybe I would get a divorce. Maybe I would move in with my brothers in Washington. Bainbridge Island. It was supposed to be nice out there, I’d heard. Lots of coffee shops. If I played my cards right, I would never see my wife and child again.

When I got out of the hospital, I would call Roy and I would apologize. Then I would give him permission to beat up my son and my wife. I didn’t know how he would react, but it felt right, somehow. It would free us both. Jacques would get pummeled, yet again, and learn nothing. He wouldn’t wonder why people beat the shit out of him every few years. He would see it as some kind of natural event, like a mudslide or a terrible rainstorm. It happened to everybody.

My wife would return to her sisters who would stare in horrified awe at the spaces where her teeth had been. It would give them so much to complain about. Years and years worth of material. Every dinner would be filled with moaning and tears. Perfect.

I often wondered if there had been some kind of Complaining Bomb Testing Site during the Cold War. The Army dropped Complaining Bombs all around the forests of Maine. Years later, people moved into housing developments built on the sites of the testing grounds. Their children grew up to be mutant complainers. People who could complain about anything at any time and feel completely justified in doing so. They could go to a store and win a 1,000,000th customer promotion – receiving thousands of dollars of free merchandise and they would complain about having to drag all the stuff to the car. They would be rescued from drowning by the most beautiful people who ever lived and they would complain about old high-school injuries being aggravated.

That’s how I got my second restraining order.

3 thoughts on “Cook Out

  1. And thank you again for the brief engagement of mind and imagination. I love the pictures you paint with this narrative style. It’s like this constant flow of information that continually morphs even as it informs me more and more of the nature of this bizarre world.


  2. Great story Guy. Even though it outside the scope of your writing experiment, this is one of the best yet. It has a level of polish that a piece gets after it’s been kicked around a bit. Thanks for sharing with us.


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