MAY 2008

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A Good Trip
By Andy Henion, Apr 16, 2008

Wesley, the lieutenant, was examining his battered comrades when enemy scouts appeared, three strong and fresh bodied. The leader, a wiry specimen with a ponytail of platinum hair, approached the LT while the others bug-eyed the horror before them: missing limbs, scorched flesh, skulls exposed. Despite the platoon’s collective misery, Wesley thought it unconscionable the enemy had made it this far, this easy, and he met the leader’s gaze with contempt.

“Where’s your mom?”

A peculiar question indeed. Looking over his equally odd uniform of leather jacket and holey denim trousers, Wesley wiped the wetness of battle from his upper lip and held his tongue.

“Looks like your soldiers need a bath. You cut them up on purpose?”

Wesley squinted at this so-called leader of men, thinking, You’re next, parasite.

“The hell, kid. You talk?”

“State your name,” Wesley said. “And rank.”

The three men laughed.

“Crazy little coot,” said the leader, and lifted Wesley by an armpit. “Get out of the mud, kid. Come inside and keep us company.”

He made the mistake of turning his back. Wesley identified the weak spot, a trouser hole on the back of the knee, and pounced. His plan: wound the bastard and in the ensuing commotion bolt for the woods. For Wesley had looked into those soulless orbs, smelled the whiskey on his breath, and knew he would not make it out of the trailer intact.

His timing true, he latched on and tasted the warm, salty fluid. The ponytailed man yelled and bucked, sending Wesley face-first into the muck. Teeth bared, black eyes afire, the leader cocked his fist but regained his senses at the last moment and jabbed the air between them.

“Fuckin bit me!” he said, twisting to inspect the damage: a line of blood running down his calf. His colleagues were doing a poor job suppressing their laughter. Amid the mirth, Wesley hauled himself up and headed for the woods only to be collared after three steps by a tattooed subordinate.

“Bring him inside,” the ponytailed man said.

Wesley’s guard was a big man, nearly a head taller than the other two, with all manner of colorful characters running down his muscular arms and up his neck. Two inky teardrops stained a cheek. Smirking, he placed a hand on Wesley’s back and guided him up the backstairs of the trailer. He smelled also of alcohol, yet his fingertips hinted at sympathy, and despite his dominating presence Wesley pegged him as ally.

“Grab a seat and I’ll get you something,” he said.

Wesley turned instead for the bathroom.

“Sit down!” barked the leader, and Wesley did as he was told.

“Mark, relax,” said the tattooed one. “The kid’s scared.”

“Yeah? I could have fuckin rabies and he’s scared?” The leader, this Mark, was the dramatic type, waving his arms and stretching his face as he spoke. Wesley recognized him from the black and white trailer two rows over, near the basketball court. A real champ, this one: always out in his driveway smoking cigarettes and fixing his motorcycle while the other adults were working.

The leader narrowed his eyes at Wesley. “You have your shots?”

Wesley knew the answer but kept mum. His mother said he was good at pushing buttons and that’s what he did now, pushed this Mark’s buttons.

“Goddammit,” he said, and went off down the hall. “I need some peroxide.”

The tattooed man said his name was Gush and handed Wesley a wet towel. He sat down as Wesley wiped mud from his face. The third man, stocky with an array of facial silver, pulled a six pack of beer from the fridge and placed it on the table. Without a word he took two of the bottles into the living room and settled down in front of the TV. Crossing his boots on the coffee table, he flipped through the channels until he found some talk show participants screaming and threatening one another.

Wesley was cleaning his forehead. He said, to this Gush, “Are we related?”

Gush folded his hands on the table. Despite the fake tears, he looked content, seemed content, as if nothing could faze him.

“And why would you ask that?”

“You’re a big guy, like me. Deep voice. Hanging earlobes. Same aura.”

Aura?” he said, and laughed. It was the first disappointing thing he had done.

Mark emerged from his mother’s bedroom with a smile. Wagging his eyebrows as he approached the table, he leaned over and whispered in Gush’s ear and placed something in his hand. Then, with barely a look at Wesley, he grabbed a beer and joined his colleague in the living room. He was limping slightly, and through the hole in his jeans Wesley noticed a square of gauze already shaded pink.

Gush put whatever it was into his mouth and opened a beer.

“It's a good trip,” said Wesley.

Gush smiled, drank. “My friend,” he said, “ain’t too good at secrets.”

“You’re going to see tie-dye rabbits now. A talking vagina.”

Beer shot back out of Gush’s mouth. He coughed and wiped his lips. “Damn, junior, where do you get this stuff?”

Strike two. Wesley despised such terms as junior, little dude, half pint. They were as unimaginative as they were patronizing.

The door opened without a knock and in came Jenya, the sophomore from across the street, and Alec, the dropout. Jenya watched Wesley three or four nights a week and her idiot boyfriend almost always tagged along. Her style of babysitting involved banishing Wesley to his bedroom and screwing Alec on the floor. They would smoke pot, watch movies and, if time allowed, go at it again. Though initially disgusted by the flagrant activity, Wesley had become increasingly interested in the sounds coming from the living room—so much so that he would bury the buffoon’s used condoms deeper in the trash on the off chance that his mother find them and terminate Jenya’s services.

Jenya looked around at the strangers, then to Wesley. “Oh,” she said. “The bus came already?” It was clear they had planned a quickie.

A heavy silence followed. The intruders were leering at Jenya the way men did, in her miniskirt and white tanktop, and Wesley felt a rush of panic that something terrible would ensue, that Gush wouldn’t intervene, worse yet that he would participate, but then the third man, the one with the facial piercings, said, “Little Alec’s in the house!” and the two bumped fists and Alec and Jenya took a seat on the couch and Jenya sat very close to Alec with her knees locked and Wesley could tell she was relieved.

As Alec and the pierced man caught up, Wesley heard the rattle of the old Suburban in the driveway. Gush was having trouble focusing, eyes wide and glassy. A less than ideal condition for the Jedi mind trick, no doubt, but Wesley knew his time was fleeting. He leaned forward and took hold of a forearm, fingers wrapped around a red-eyed demon.

“Gush, look at me now.”

The big man’s eyes met his. Wesley waved a hand in front of his face and said, in a soft but commanding tone, “You will take my mother tonight.”

“Beg pard?”

The hypnotic wave, slower this time. “When the time comes, it is you who will couple with the woman known as Lauren James.”

“You gotta be kiddin me.” He stood as Wesley’s mother entered the trailer with two other women. They were dressed in tight denim and leather, hair teased, faces heavy with reds and blacks. “Well look at this crew,” Lauren said playfully. Her attention then turned to the ponytailed man, as Wesley feared it would.

“Your fuckin kid bit me,” he said, pointing to his leg.

“Wesley?” said his mother, though she had but one child. “Are you home already?” She was an expert at diversion, Wesley knew. Whenever he inquired about the identity of his father she would launch into how precious Little Wes had been, despite his prematurity, or how the two of them were making it through without a goddamn shoulder to lean on, thank you very much.

Now his mother was in the man’s lap, arms around his neck, snatches of their conversation drifting over...lives in a movie...not autism, no...Atlantic City...Suburban’s all fueled up... The other women had paired off with their respective beaus, although from Gush’s body language Wesley could tell he was not pleased. His companion, stick thin with a wrinkled smoker’s mouth, had him pinned against the counter and was rattling on about a mutual acquaintance.

Wesley dragged his chair to the center of the kitchen, then climbed up and stood with hands on hips, legs apart. He cleared his throat. “Could I have your attention please?” His mother was glaring: Don’t push my buttons. But all eyes were on him and he wasn’t about to squander the attention.

“For the gentlemen of the room, a question.” Wesley raised his eyebrows and spread his arms wide. “Daddy?”

Lauren screeched and came off the man’s lap. Wesley said, “No? Perhaps one of you could shed some light.”

Screaming profanities, his mother was three feet away when he jumped down and tore down the hallway and into his bedroom. The last thing he saw was her streaming black hair as he slammed his door and engaged the lock. She rattled the cheap wood in its frame and called him a little son of a bitch and said he was grounded for a year.

“From what?” he snapped, but she was gone.

Wesley crawled under his bed and heard the bursts of laughter and animated conversation from down the hall. Lauren was explaining his behavior away. Get that kid on Letterman! one of the men shouted. Wesley fingered the DVDs he kept in his hideaway and considered his mother. She was always high these days. Liked to date assholes. Hopelessly irresponsible. But also generous to a fault, blowing much of her waitress salary on him. Wesley had a stack of movies to watch on his portable player yet the telephone had stood disconnected for weeks. Because of this, the assistant principal couldn’t call to explain that Wesley had left school on his own again, just walked out the door following an altercation and with his punishment pending.

As I’ve explained before, Miss James, we do not tolerate biting at Elmwood Middle School.

“Tolerate this,” said Wesley. It was the third time he had made the two-mile walk home in the middle of the day. A week’s expulsion was coming, he knew, and that meant a week alone. Even if his mother could find a babysitter, she couldn’t afford one. In fact, Wesley had never seen Jenya receive a cash payment and suspected her compensation came in the form of weed.

There were several feet of clearance under his old Salvation Army bed and here Wesley had created a covert world with a makeshift assortment of cardboard walls and masking tape. He selected a movie featuring an identity-stealing serial killer and skipped to the scene where he seduces the unsuspecting female cop. His pelvis began to grind against the floor at the sight of her heavy breasts. The breasts became Jenya’s, nipples poking through the thin white fabric, and his hips worked until his vision spotted and his heart felt close to rupture. Still, Wesley was left wanting. He was too young to ejaculate but old enough to want to.

Woozy, he let his eyelids fall and dozed. Ninety minutes later a rowdy chant of road trip road trip road trip jarred him awake and he was struck with an overpowering dread. He regretted raising his mother’s ire. He didn’t want her to go. He missed her greatly. No longer could he stay cooped in this room, in this cave, and so very carefully he opened his door and crawled down the hallway. At the backdoor he reached up and turned the knob and, hearing no break in the jubilation, slipped through, closing it quietly behind him.

Dusk had settled. In the cool spring air the goose bumps formed on his arms and he wished for his hoodie as he moved low and stealthily, a freckled ninja. He entered the Suburban through the tailgate, then crawled over milk crates and half-empty bottles of washer fluid and lay pressed against the seatback. Voices approached. Quickly he covered up with the old quilt, still smelling of suntan lotion, so that only his eyes and nose were exposed. Doors opened and the party crew piled in, laughing and hooting, and soon they were singing along to the radio as the old Suburban rumbled down the highway. Wesley blocked out their exuberance and thought of this: One glorious summer, his mother, clean and focused, had carted Little Wes to the lake, and there they had splashed about in the green water and tanned their bodies on the quilt and gobbled PBJs and handfuls of potato chips, and it was just the two of them.

Andy Henion lives in the Upper Midwest and has begun eating Activa twice a day to aid his digestion. His fiction has appeared in Spork, Monkeybicycle, Pindeldyboz, Ink Pot and elsewhere.

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