Sunday, January 21, 2007

My Nemesis

Red Teller was seven when his brother Colin left for the Congo. After much frothing from his panicky father, Colin agreed to book a return flight for 3 months later, exchanging his “where-the-road-takes-you” Marlboro Mantasy for continued use of the family Dodge.
Mr. Teller’s fears were reflected and magnified through the convex carnival mirror of Red’s seven year old mind. The stories he recounted to his lunchroom council of third graders bared only a passing resemblance to the letters received from Colin; the thin narrative frames of Colin’s postcards were insulated by the fictional fatty deposits of Mr. Teller’s evening tirades. Only the bulky Nick Canache challenged the presentation, declaring Red a “white trash gaylord” and securing a slice of pizza to his cheek.
Caboosing the train of woes that was the six o’clock news (and fueled by the dark coal shots of whiskey lined up on the coffee table like penguins), Mr. Teller’s rantings regarding his son’s safety would escalate to tea kettle proportions, nightly. Whenever they finally eclipsed Matlock, Mrs. Teller would pop his lid with something like, “Richie, they all have cel phones over there now!” (for Mrs. Teller, cel phones were the clearest distinguishing factor between good republicans and anarchists).
“Deb, you just don’t understand how far one of them will go to get his hands on the White Man’s Magic (this was one of numerous references Mr. Teller made to various episodes of Ramar of the Jungle).” Every concern for Colin that his father was able to articulate (because most he wasn’t) seemed riddled with caricature - wildlife became “beasts,” God was pluralized, and Africans werewolfed into “savages.”
Two days following Mr. Teller’s speech about the White Man’s Magic, Colin was killed by “savages.” A week later a fraction of him, sent to the family in the form of three photos in a manila envelope, was presented as evidence – from the second knuckle of his four remaining fingers down to his left wrist, where a bulky compass/watch, given to him by his Aunt Rena on his 21st birthday, still fervently testified its location.
The family and the house it inhabited donned a cloak of famine-like travesty. They slumped through the stages of depression together and vastly apart at the same time. The neighbors and friends shuffled through the stages of consolation notably out of sync with the grieving, exasperated by the poor reception their meatloaf dish had received, and eager to arrive at the party of Life Goes On where they could whisper to each other in mock reverence, “I just feel so bad for the child!”

Two weeks after the funeral, the strangest thing happened: a package arrived at the battered house, addressed to Red, from Colin. Twenty minutes before Red stepped off the bus, his mother saw it in the pile of mail by the door. When Red walked in, she had yet to exhale, yet to touch it. In contrast, Red was hardly incapacitated by its presence. On the contrary, it fit snugly into the string of surreal events that he’d found himself in, and he excitedly scooped it up and examined the quilt of colorful stamps that covered it.
In the box Red found a letter. Mrs. Teller read the hobbled English aloud, “My name Fidele. You brother Colin stay with my family for weeks before he leaves for west coast. He buy this gifts for you and ask me to send. Be Gola.”
Wrapped in a purple cloth Red found the jaws of something large. Before he knew what he was doing, he’d brought the box into his room and propped up the teeth on his nightstand. He half expected them to say something. When they finally did, it was an hour past his bedtime and his eyes were adjusted. He watched the jaws open and shut three times before they said, “Red. Red. You awake?”
For some reason he was more shocked to hear Colin’s voice than he was to see a set of unclaimed canines talking on his nightstand.
“Don’t be afraid. I’m coming back to see you.”
“Aren’t you dead?”
This last question hung in the air unanswered until hours later when Red fell asleep. The next day, Red opted not to tell his parents about his talking teeth and instead consult the lunch room council. Tory, Steven, Michael, and Perry were speechless. Nick Canache, who Red had thought was out of earshot, leaned over from the neighboring table and punched Red in the arm, “Douchebag.”
When a set of chicken limbs arrived a week later, wearing the same patchwork of stamps, Red’s mother threw up. Not on the box, but in the kitchen sink. There was no letter, but it was addressed the same. Before she could do anything drastic, Red ran the claws up to his room and put them in his dresser drawer. His mother never even came up the stairs that night – she’d vomited out the last of any feeling that was in her.
“Red. Red. You awake?”
“I’m coming back to see you.” Again, the conversation halted on those words, and inside his drawer the chicken claws clicked and clacked and scratched the lining. Red rose twice to observe them moving, but they would not be caught animated. He spent the night watching the windows while they tapped out a marathon of Morse code.
This time in the lunchroom, Red presented the chicken legs for everyone’s inspection. Nick Canache accused him of buying them from Mexicans. The way he put it, associating with Mexicans was a bigger insult than the insinuation that he was making things up. It should be noted that Nick appeared to either be in the midst of or completing puberty. So Red, and his entire 3rd grade class, stayed mute.
Three days later when Red got off the bus there was a third package. The arrival of gifts from his dead brother had officially become routine, and this time Mrs. Teller participated with a mouthful of grapes, the box of leopard ears held at dirty diaper distance.
Two days later, when Red unwrapped the eyes of a cow (or something with eyes just as large and milk), his mother was napping. He quietly took the eyes up to his room and sat on his bed, nudging them disgustedly with his pinky. He couldn’t wait until evening.
“Colin! COLIN!” he demanded. The eyes turned towards him in their watery sockets. The teeth yawned.
“Hey, stop yelling.”
“Colin, can you see me?”
“Of course I can see you, dufus. I told you I was coming back to see you.”
Throughout the last week, Red had tallied up hundreds of questions for Colin about his whereabouts, about Africa, about life after death. None of those questions could squeeze past the words that he now blurted out, “Nick Canache doesn’t believe you’re coming back.”
The eyes lolled left and right.
“Red, you need to do something for me.”
Red was unsure if Colin had heard him. There seemed to be a faulty connection he battled when talking to his dead brother through the facial extremities of wild animals.
“RED, you need to do something for me.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to go get mom’s sewing kit. And I want to make sure no one sees you.”
“Well no one’s home anyway,” he said in that snide tone a child takes when the boundaries of authority recede momentarily. He returned less than a minute later, bouncing through the door, clumsy with curiosity.
For the next two hours Red received a crash course in taxidermy from his fragmented brother. The final product was far more disturbing than what he’d started with. What was once a rather large Winnie The Pooh bear was now a fanged, dough-eyed Frankenbear, flexing its claws incessantly and twitching it’s asymmetrically-installed ears. One of the giant eyes stared ever upward (slightly handicapped from where Red had accidentally needled it). Once he had finished flexing his new personification,
Colin turned to Red and was shocked to see fear writ large on his seven year old face. The bear’s motley features pulled together into one big wound.
“Put me in the closet. I don’t want you to see me like this. Put me in the closet, please,” he said curtly.
Later, Red lay in his bed imaging life with his new stuffed brother. Will he be able to go outside? Will he eat and go to the bathroom? What happens when Mom and Dad find out? To his own surprise, these and many other fitting questions were replaced by, “Colin, Nick Canache doesn’t believe you’re coming back.”
And from deep in the closet it finally answered: “Red, bring him to see me.”

Officer Canard didn’t say so but couldn’t help but notice that it was as if someone had attempted to give the dresser organs of its own: a head in the top drawer, heart and lungs below that, intestines where the once clean pants lived, and hands and feet in the bottom drawer. He wasn’t sure what was more disturbing, the macabre filing of a child’s body parts in a dresser, or the fact that his parents weren’t hysterical. The truth is, the ghastly murder of their one remaining son did not shock them - it fit snugly into the string of surreal events that they’d found themselves in. When Officer Glenndale extracted the head from the top drawer, both parents were finally shocked. It was not the head of their son Red, it was someone older. Someone rounder. And, unlike any expression Red had ever worn, the look on that head said, “bite me.”

18 minutes later, while the four officers catalogued every inch of Red’s room, Mrs. Teller found the envelope from Colin in the pile of mail by the door. It was postmarked June 14th, the day Colin was killed. Inside was a photo of Colin and Red, making monkey smiles out of orange peels and waving from the jungles of Africa. Scribbled in blood on the back were the words, “Wish you were here.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is wild. Well written.