Friday, November 7, 2008

He sits at home and continue to drink. He sits alone and continue to drink.
It finally dawned on him, his hopes and dreams… It dawned on him, no one is coming. He wants to scream and rage. And cry. He would, the rest he could only see himself doing and doing no good. Try as he might to fight it, the loneliness just ate away at his heart and mind until he simply fell over where he sat
And the glass in his hand, falls from his hand. He’d never see love again.
It would kill him and still no one is coming.

Happy Birthday

By
Colby Cuppernull



In the morning the rain fell in bursts and there were no clouds, only the sun shining on the wet grass and the sky blue and empty over the brown mountainsides. Ethan woke to the sound of the rain slapping the road and through his bedroom window he could see the large drops dimpling the dirt driveway. His first thought was that he did not feel any different. His second was to wonder if the rain had ruined the day. He rose stiffly and dug in the top drawer of his dresser until he found his bathing suit. In the bathroom he brushed his teeth and found a large beach towel in the back of the linen closet. He rolled it tightly and laid it over his shoulders. There was an orange tube of sun block behind the bottles of shampoo and mousse but it was light in his hand, greasy still from the previous summer and nearly empty.
There was a knock at the door and he wiped his hand off on his shorts and opened it. His grandmother stood leaning against the wall, still wearing her nightgown and robe but holding a cigarette so that the smoke trickled up her forearm. She wished him a happy birthday and stood for a moment without a word, watching him brush his hair and rub a small circle of sunblock onto his hairless leg.
“You should wait and put that on when you get there,” she said. “It’ll wear off.”
Ethan snapped the lid shut and put the tube on the sink. “It’s empty anyway.”
The old woman stood up straight and took a long drag on her cigarette. She blew the smoke out smiling and raised her eyebrows. “Do you feel like an old man?”
Ethan rolled his eyes and shook his head no.
“What time is your Dad supposed to pick you up?”
“He just said the morning.”
She did not say anything and he grabbed his toothbrush and ran his thumb over the bristles to dry it.
“You’re spending the night?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“When will we have your cake?”
“I might be back tonight. But we can do it tomorrow too.”
The old woman stood still in the door and watched him moving about the small bathroom, arranging his things and looking over everything to be sure he hadn’t missed something.
“Is Toby going?” Ethan asked.
“He says he doesn’t want to.”
Ethan shrugged and fidgeted with the odds and ends he had lined up on the sink. His grandmother stepped forward and reached an arm across him to tap the ashes from her cigarette into the sink. She turned the faucet and let the water take them down the drain.
“You don’t have to go, you know.”
Ethan did not look up from his gathering but nodded his head. “I know.”
“You don’t owe him anything.”
She waited for the boy to respond but he did not. She stood up straight and tried to catch his gaze.
“Hey,” she said and waited for him to look at her. “If at any point you want to come home, if you don’t want to be there anymore, just call me, okay? We’ll come get you.”
Ethan nodded. She waited a moment longer before leaving, hugging him and saying, “Happy birthday, Bub.” She closed the door behind her.
***
From where he stood balanced on the rock wall that divided their yard from the next, he could see the road bend and drop below the line of the horizon. No car approaching and no movement to disturb the wavering of the air above the steaming pavement. They waited in their bathing suits and their sandals, wearing old tee shirts and long, sun faded beach towels rolled and draped over their shoulders. Jimmy sat silently with his legs hanging over the wall and bouncing off of the piled stones. From time to time he fingered a pebble out of the dirt and flung it at a chipmunk darting out of the crevices. Ethan stood and watched the road and when he caught himself waiting he turned on his heels and picked his way over the uneven rocks, balancing with his arms straight out at his sides. He walked up and down the wall, the division between their yards. On one side Jimmy’s garage and the glinting bits of decades-old glass that shimmered in the dusty driveway. Just beyond it his house, where they spent so many of their days watching the Expos and rooting for the other teams. On the other side was their grandmother’s home and a brown rectangle of deadened grass where a trailer had been, where Ethan had lived with his parents before his father had left. He stumbled now on a loose stone and regained his footing, pacing back toward Jimmy, who sat bent over his knee, scratching a spot in the dense brush of hair on his shin.
“What did you get?” Jimmy asked. He did not look up from his leg.
“Nothing yet.”
“How come?”
“My mom wants to wait until I get back.”
“I thought we were spending the night.”
Jimmy looked up and let his leg fall back over the side of the wall. He squinted in the sun as he sought out his cousin’s face.
“I don’t think that she really thinks he’s coming.”
Jimmy turned his eyes to the wall.
“Gram’s making a cake,” he said.
Ethan nodded.
“My mom says she owes you thirteen spankings.”
Ethan laughed. “Bullshit she does.”
“Where’s Toby?”
“Inside.”
“He’s not coming?”
“Nope. Doesn’t want anything to do with him. He’s hiding out in the back of the house with Mom.”
Jimmy sat up straight and pulled on the ends of the towel, stretching his neck back and closing his eyes to the sun.
“Why are you going?” he asked.
Ethan did not answer.
Jimmy leaned back and looked out over the damp yard. “All I care about,” he started, a broad smile growing on his face, “is seeing Pam Macy up on that lifeguard tower. I swear to God if I could just have five minutes…”
Jimmy stopped and smiled to himself. He scratched again at his leg.

When the maroon station wagon pulled into the driveway the sun was hanging high above them and their cheeks were pink and just starting to sting. A stone popped under one of the tires and the engine rattled with the change in gears. The engine didn’t stop and no one emerged from the car. In the front seat a woman sat with her arm dangling out of the open window. She wore dark sunglasses which covered most of her face. Her hair was dark brown and pulled into a tight pony tail. She looked young and bored and she tapped her fingers on the side of the passenger side door and cracked the gum she chewed. The boys looked at each other. Neither of them recognized her and they climbed into the backseat without saying a word.
Jimmy brushed aside a stack of newspapers and slid across the seat. The vinyl was hot and burned the backs of his thighs. He hissed and rocked his weight toward the door, lifting each leg in turn from the hot seat and trying to find a way to sit so that his legs were not exposed to the burning. The woman did not look away from the dashboard when Ethan pulled the door shut. His father lifted his chin and looked at him in the rearview mirror.
“Where’s your brother?”
“Inside.”
“Well go and get him.”
“He doesn’t want to come.”
Jesse held his eyes on the boys in the backseat for a moment, watching them in the mirror. Finally, he dropped the gear shift and threw his arm over the woman’s shoulder and craned his neck to back out into the road.
“Fair enough,” he sighed. “He’s missing out.”
When they were on the road the boys rolled down their windows and let the rushing air cool their skin. It roared in their ears and the woman in the front seat kept lifting her hands and pushing back the little wisps of hair that danced like windsocks over her face. She let out an annoyed sigh every time and kept moving in her seat to avoid the air. For a long time no one spoke.
“This is Erin,” Jesse finally announced, shouting to be heard over the rushing air.
Ethan and Jimmy nodded, but the woman did not turn around. She was dressed nicely, in a pair of jeans and a light yellow shirt with buttons up the front, the last few of which were left undone so that from a certain angle the edge of her tan bra could be seen.
“So where do you want to go, birthday boy?” Jesse yelled. “Anywhere you want.”
“We could go to the pond,” Ethan said.
“What?”
“The pond!” Ethan shouted.
The woman turned her head and looked at Jesse. He dropped his eyes from the mirror and laid his elbow on the edge of the window. “Really?”
Ethan did not answer.
“Why don’t we go out to Burlington or something?”
Jimmy looked at Ethan and flicked his eyes at the towel in his lap.
“Does that sound good?” Jesse called back.
Jimmy bounced his knee and stared at his cousin. Ethan looked at him as if to ask, “What do you want me to say?”
“That’s fine,” Ethan shouted.
Jimmy looped his towel around his neck and tugged at the ends. He looked out the window.
“They got a hotel out there we can stay in,” Jesse shouted. “They’ve got a pool and a hot tub in the back. You guys can hang out there all you want. We’ll go out to the mall and then I’ll take you over to the toy store; you can pick out anything.”
Ethan stared straight ahead and when he looked up from the back of the woman’s seat Jimmy was staring at him with a sarcastic grin on his face.
They hit the highway and drove east toward the Vermont state line. No one spoke and the only sound was the wind through the open windows and the clicking of the pavement beneath them. At one point, Jimmy gently flicked Ethan’s knee with the back of his hand. Ethan sat up and Jimmy raised his eyebrows and tilted his head toward the front seat where Erin sat. The wind rippled her shirt and the thin yellow fabric rose and ballooned away from her skin. She sat with her head leaned back and resting against the door, exposing the long curve of her neck and the soft skin of her chest. Jimmy leaned toward his window so that Ethan could scoot over and see. Ethan slid slowly over the seat, careful not to draw attention to his movement, and when he’d gotten beyond where the seat could block his view he saw what his cousin was looking at. Each time the wind caught her shirt in just the right way it lifted it away just enough so that Jimmy had a clear view of her right breast. Her bra was lace and tan, and as she was sitting it was loose against her skin so that the pink edge of her nipple was clearly visible.
Ethan looked at Jimmy who sat grinning with his elbow out the window and his head resting on it, never taking his eyes from her dancing shirt. Ethan looked again and waited for the shirt to move. She was only a little older than some of the girls who had baby sat him a few short years ago and she was beautiful. He watched her chest move up and down with her breath and felt bad for doing so. He slid back toward his own door and watched the other cars along the highway.

They spent two hours at the mall while Erin tried on clothes and shopped. The boys were embarrassed to be walking around in their bathing suits and sandals. Groups of girls their age gave them strange looks when they passed.
“I feel like a fucking dipshit,” Jimmy said.
They had asked if they could walk around and meet up with Jesse and Erin when they had finished. They wandered the mall uninterested in any of the stores, simply walking to pass the time. Jimmy watched the girls and tried to get Ethan’s attention when he saw one he liked. He did so in ways he thought subtle, and every time a girl’s eyes darted quickly to them and away with one of Jimmy’s elbows or coughs Ethan felt ashamed. Eventually they reunited with Jesse and Erin at the food court where they ate an almost completely silent meal of greasy pizza.
“Have you ever been to an Expos game, Uncle Jesse?” Jimmy asked.
Jesse nodded and grunted, chewing his food quickly so that he could answer. “Couple times.”
“How far is it from here?”
“Just a couple of hours.”
“Too bad they suck,” Jimmy said.
Jesse laughed. “That’s why you go see them when the good teams come.”
“Who have you seen?” Ethan asked.
“Who’d we see, hon?” Jesse turned to Erin.
She had pulled the cheese off her pizza and was pressing her napkin down on top of the crust, sopping up glowing orange grease.
“I don’t know.”
“The Dodgers,” Jesse said. “The Dodgers, the Giants, and the Cubs.”
Jimmy put down his pizza. “You saw the Cubs?”
“Sure. Couple of times. Just as bad as the ‘spos for God’s sake.”
The boys looked at each other.
“Is that your favorite team?” Erin asked. She held up the greasy napkin with two fingers and dropped it like a handkerchief onto the brown tray in the center of the table.
“I don’t know,” Ethan said.
“You ever been to Chicago?” she asked.
“No.”
No one said anything.
“When do they play them again?” Ethan finally asked.
Jesse shrugged and picked up his pizza. He chewed it quietly and took a sip from his soda.

They crossed the parking lot on foot to the toy store and in spite of Ethan and Jimmy’s protests that they didn’t really have to go, Jesse insisted.
“Don’t you want a present?” he asked. “Seriously, just pick out anything you want.”
The store was full of parents pushing kids in oversized yellow carts or slightly older children running around with Nerf footballs and packaged GI Joes. When they walked through the front door Jesse and Erin sat on a bench by the bathrooms.
“We’ll wait here. Just come get me when you figure out what you want. Anything.”
The boys walked away, turning their shoulders to pass through the lines of parents and stopping suddenly to dodge scampering kids.
“Anything you want, big boy,” Jimmy said.
“Shut up.”
Jimmy picked up a Barbie and held it out to Ethan. “I think I found it!”
Ethan didn’t look and Jimmy tossed the box onto a shelf.
“What are we supposed to do now?” Jimmy asked.
“I don’t know, pick something out.”
“What?”
“Beats me, but I can’t just tell him to screw off.”
“So that chick is his girlfriend now?”
“I guess.”
Jimmy shook his head and whistled.
“Not too shabby.”
“Have you seen her before?” Ethan asked.
“Nope.”
“She must not be from Mineville,” he said. “Where do you think they met?”
Jimmy grabbed a yoyo from a wire bin and started to fling it around. The string got tangled and he put the mess back into the bin.
“He probably met her out here or something.”
“What’s he doing all the way out here?”
Ethan shrugged and dragged his hand along a shelf of model cars. “How should I know?”

They walked until they found the boys’ section. The shelves were filled with cars and action figures and fake weapons. Jimmy picked up packages and laughed at them while Ethan apathetically looked through the Star Wars figures. He picked a package up off of the shelf, a scale model of one of the jets, and handed it to Jimmy.
“What about this?”
“This?”
“Yeah.”
“What are you eight?”
Ethan snatched the package back and tossed it onto the shelf. “I don’t know. What the hell am I supposed to get?”
“Don’t they have any sports stuff?”
“Probably.”
“Just grab a baseball mitt or something. A football.”
“He took me all the way to a toy store. I can’t just get a football.”
“Why not?”
“I don’t know. It seems ungrateful.”
Jimmy did not respond. He just stared at Ethan and Ethan looked away. He suddenly felt angry and just wanted to be home.
“Let’s just grab the goddamn football and get out of here,” he said.
At the checkout counter the girl asked Jesse if he wanted gift wrapping and he looked at Ethan. Ethan shook his head and Jesse told her no. He paid for the football with cash and handed Ethan the bag.
He slapped Ethan on the back and said, “Happy birthday, kiddo.”
Ethan thanked him and followed him to the car.

By the time they arrived at the hotel the sun had set and it was too cold to swim. The hot tub was covered in yellow caution tape and there was a piece of paper stuck to it and flapping in the wind. “Out of Order.” Jesse and Erin checked in while the boys wandered around the pool area. It was dark but for the dim lights beneath the water. They cast eerie shadows on the bottom of the pool and caused patches of the dark surface to glow. The air by the pool was cool and the boys folded their arms over their chests and waited until Jesse waved to them from the lobby doors.
The room had two double beds, one for Ethan and Jimmy and one for Jesse and Erin. The boys dropped their beach towels on top of the dresser, and Erin put two bags she had carried up into the closet. The bathroom was in the front of the room just next to the bed and between the beds was a small table with a telephone and a remote for the TV. A table on the far wall under the window had a small blue binder with the room service menu and a list of television channels and pay-per-view movies. The long rectangular window was covered in a heavy forest green curtain that pulled away with a thin plastic rod. Ethan pulled the curtain part way open and looked at the parking lot.
“Could we keep that closed for a few minutes,” Erin said. “I’m going to take a shower real quick.”
“Oh sorry.” Ethan said. He pulled the curtain closed and sat down on the bed next to Jimmy.
Jesse was rifling through a duffel bag on the far bed, and in the bathroom they could hear the shower turning on.
Ethan watched his father toss a shirt onto the bed. “We should go for a swim,” he said. Jesse wrapped some things in a towel and tucked it under his arm. “That’s a good idea.” He smiled and looked up at Ethan.
“Do you think it’s too cold?”
“Nah. It’s perfect. You should go.”
Ethan looked at Jimmy and then back at his father. “You gonna come?”
“I don’t think so, bud. Too cold for me.” He stepped toward Ethan and tousled his hair. “Well what about the hot tub?”
Jesse stood up straight and ran a hand through his hair. He shook his head. “Not tonight.” He grabbed the remote from the table and flipped on the TV. He tossed the remote into Jimmy’s lap.
“You guys should order a movie or something,” he said. “Don’t worry about it. Just pick whatever one you want.”
Jimmy took the remote from his lap and started flipping through the channels.
“I’ll be right back,” Jesse said, “Erin forgot something.”
He opened the bathroom door and slipped inside, closing it behind him.
Jimmy looked at Ethan and started to laugh. He leaned back and propped himself up on his elbows, flipping through the channels and shaking his head with a dumb grin on his face.
“What?”
“Nothing.”
“What?”
“Your dad’s the man.”
Ethan took the remote from his cousin’s hand and turned up the volume on the TV. He started flipping the channels. There was no sign of Jesse coming out of the bathroom, and Jimmy stood up and moved to the table under the window. He sat down and started flipping through the room service binder. Ethan sat looking at the television but not watching it. He could hear Jimmy flipping through the pages and the sound of the shower. After a moment he started to hear different sounds. Jimmy sat up in the desk chair, a page stuck in his fingers mid-turn. He looked toward the bathroom and then to Ethan. A broad smile broke out on his face and he got up and tip toed quietly toward the bed. He took the remote from Ethan’s hand and muted the TV.
In the silence there was no doubting it and Jimmy elbowed Ethan and opened his mouth wide in a silent laugh. He dropped the remote back to the bed and stood. Every step he took was slow and he lifted his knees high, padding across the floor. When he got to the bathroom door he turned his head and leaned toward it, his ear hovering just over the surface.
“Knock it off,” Ethan hissed.
Jimmy waved an arm at him frantically. He mimed for Ethan to “shh” and leaned his head back toward the door.
In the middle of the room, Ethan sat and stared at the television. He could hear it and he tried not to listen. He could see out of the corner of his eye his cousin standing with his hands against the door, his head cocked to the side, smiling. A car alarm went off in the parking lot and continued bleating into the night for a few moments before the owner turned it off. Ethan watched the commercials on the television and felt a knot in his throat. When he looked up Jimmy waved for him to come over. He ignored him and took the remote up off of the bed and unmated the television. The sound rushed back into the room and Jimmy bolted upright. He put his hands on his head and waited for Ethan to say something. When Ethan did not speak Jimmy walked back to the center of the room and sat down on the other bed.
Ethan stood up and walked to the table between the beds. He was about to pick up the phone when the bathroom door popped open. The shower was still running and a gust of steam blew out and fogged the mirror on the wall opposite the door. Erin stepped out with a short white towel wrapped around her. She held it close to her chest with her hand and looked at the boys. Her hair was wet and dark and slicked back tightly against her head. She ran a hand over her forehead took a long deep breath. Ethan turned his eyes away as she walked across the room.
“I forgot my hair dryer,” she said, crouching down to unzip one of the bags she’d brought. Bent over the bag, the towel slid far up the back of her thighs and Ethan saw her wet skin and again looked away. She stood up quickly and scampered back to the bathroom with the cord dragging behind her. The door clumped shut, and Jimmy keeled backward, falling onto the bed with his arms spread out wide.
“Awesome,” he whispered.
Ethan could hear his father say something behind the closed door but he could not make it out. Just the sound of the shower and Jimmy laughing to himself. He picked up the phone and dialed his grandmother.