Authors: Keith Soares
For I Could Lift My Finger and Black Out the Sun
A John Black Novel
© Copyright 2015 Keith Soares. All rights reserved.
First electronic edition April 17, 2015
Original publication date April 17, 2015
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Edited by Christopher Durso
Many thanks to my wife, Layla, who gave me a huge hug when she finished reading this. Best review ever. Additional thanks to Dee Gazda, Bill Setzer, John Childs, Susan Clutter, Dan Halter, and Jeff Yeatman.
Dedicated in memoriam to my mom, Betty Soares, who could always save the day.
Also from Keith Soares
The Oasis of Filth
Part 1 - The Oasis of Filth
Part 2 - The Hopeless Pastures
Part 3 - From Blood Reborn
For I Could Lift My Finger and Black Out the Sun
The Fingers of the Colossus
(Ten Short Stories)
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Walter Ivory was a son of a bitch. Walter, the neighborhood nuisance. I knew my parents couldn’t stand the guy, and my sister and I were terrified of him. But I guess it came down to this: He never actually
much of anything, so it wasn’t like you could have him arrested or something like that. He was just a creep. He’d come around, like the time Mom and my six-year-old sister, Holly, were playing with the sprinkler. He stopped, hanging over our little iron fence, leering at my Mom, her shirt wet. Or when Dad was changing the oil of the car while I looked on, my head poking under the hood. “Oh you got a
to help you, finally, eh, Phil?” Walter said with a chuckle. He was the kind of guy who would look good with a black eye. Preferably one you gave him yourself.
One time we were having a cookout at our picnic table in the backyard, late summer. Dad was grilling burgers and dogs, and Mom had made corn on the cob and all the other stuff. Holly and I were setting the table. Holly was still tiny then, wearing some pink frilly dress. She had jet-black hair and pale skin, like Mom and me. People said our last name was appropriate for the hair alone: Holly Black and John Black, the kids with the inky hair, so dark it sometimes looked blue in the light. As I set plates and utensils at each seat, Holly walked behind me laying checked napkins.
Dad was at the grill when we saw him look up. Aimless as always, Walter Ivory was strolling along the sidewalk past our house again. Dad tried to look away, just let him pass, but Walter wasn’t like that. “Looks lovely!” he exclaimed from down the street, picking up his pace as soon as he saw the blue smoke of Dad’s grill. Walter was a tall, ropy guy with skin darkened by sun and grime from his job with the county road crew. He had apparently tried to clean up on this particular occasion. His dirty-blond hair was slicked back, and he was wearing a faded button-up denim shirt, but it was sort of like putting a shine on a turd.
Dad hesitated. “Uh... thanks,” he said. He gave Mom a look, away from Walter’s direction:
Dammit. This guy again?
She missed it.
Walter strode right up to our fence, directly opposite Dad, and stood shaded by a dogwood tree from our yard. Walter’s house was surrounded by a wooden fence so rotten that we expected it to turn to dust at any moment. On several occasions, he’d brought up our iron fence as evidence that we thought we were better than him. But not today. “Whew, it’s a hot one, eh, Phil? And you, slaving over that grill.” Walter dramatically waved his hand to fan his face, showing dirty, chewed fingernails. “What’re you grilling? Probably that ground sirloin shit, right? Not that ground beef I buy. You buy the good stuff.”
“Walter...” Dad began with a sigh.
“Nothing’s too good, too expensive for your family, Phil. You deserve it! You work
. You must be sitting at your desk for, what? Eight hours a day? Not me. I get 15 minutes to sit at work. Through a 12-hour shift. But I’ve got a
job, right, Phil?” He laughed an empty, vicious little laugh.
“Can you watch the language?” Dad said, pointing his spatula at Holly and me.
“I’m sorry. I am truly sorry. I certainly didn’t come down the street on this fine day to interrupt your family picnic. You’ve had a tough day today, Phil, and slaving over that grill in this heat makes it even harder. I understand.” He smirked. “But you can take it! You’re a tough guy, aren’t you, Phil?” He turned to my mom, standing there in a pretty polka-dotted sundress, her black hair pulled back by a red band. “He’s a tough guy, right, Andy? You like tough guys?” Phil and Andrea Black. Those were my parents. Although no one called my mom “Andy.” Not even Dad.
Walter winked, suggestively. Mom turned away. She gave Dad a sidelong glance with a tilt toward us kids that told him to get rid of this guy.
“That’s enough, Walter,” Dad said, wiping a wisp of his fading light hair out of his eyes. He didn’t quite have a comb-over, but it was close. It didn’t help that he was decked out in a light-blue dress shirt covered by a white apron on which a cartoon chef declared, “I’m
“Oh, sorry, tough guy.” Walter stared at Dad, clearly willing him to start a fight. Dad looked at him for a minute, looked at us, took a deep breath, and went back to grilling.
Walter grinned. Under his breath, he muttered, “That’s what I thought.” He muttered another word, too, even lower. But it was loud enough that we all heard it. A slur that made Holly, Mom, and me gasp with shock, and Dad instantly furious.
Holly slid over behind me. She seemed to be holding her breath. Her grip on my arm was tight, nearly painful. “Johnny…,” she said to me in a low voice, like a question, unanswered.
” Dad shouted at Walter. Whoa. He was pissed. “My kids are out here!”
Walter said... nothing. He just stood there next to the fence, looking at us. Smug, staring at Dad. He made a small huffing sound and nodded. A tense moment passed. Very low, very deep, Walter grumbled, “Any time, Phil.” And he stared.
Dad was boiling over. But Mom was there. We were there. He wasn’t a hotheaded teenager, or a witless adult like Walter, looking for trouble. What was Dad supposed to do? He just stood there. So Walter upped the ante. He turned back toward Mom, rolling his eyes. Walter was in a particularly good mood this day, it seemed.
tonight, Andy.” He let his eyes linger.
“My name is Andrea, Walter,” she turned away, and that made it worse. Walter’s eyes slid down her body.
Dad blew up, stalked to the fence. For a moment, Walter stood his ground, gleeful in his ability to push other people’s buttons. He even seemed to lean in toward the fence, awaiting Dad. But when my father reached the iron bars, Walter collapsed backward.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, friend! I mean no harm.” He mockingly cowered on the other side of the fence, grabbing at a tree branch and pulling it back, as if holding on to it for security. He stood there, waiting. That was the true Walter. A total coward when confronted. His toughness was directly related to whether he outgunned you, or how much he thought he could get away with, without the bravery of really doing anything. The fence helped him feel very brave, and the tree branch was an almost infantile gesture, like cuddling a teddy bear with teary eyes.
Dad stopped. I could see he was ashamed — in front of his kids, he’d been about to hit another person. He turned around and started back toward the grill.
And like a true coward, Walter released the branch.
It hit Dad in the back. His feet slipped in the mulch by the fence and he fell. He wasn’t hurt, but dirt and mulch clung to his otherwise pristine shirt and khaki pants. His apron, which Holly and I had given him, was streaked with thick dark stains.
“Oh, sorry about that, buddy! Have a nice night!” Walter shouted as he scurried down the street. Dad pushed himself up and gave one exasperated punch to the ground, but that only succeeded in splattering more dirt on his formerly clean clothes.
Mom stooped to help Dad as he tried to get up and brush off, while I just stood with my mouth wide open. In the commotion, it took us nearly a minute to notice the sound.
Holly was convulsing on the patio in a seizure.
It was snowing. I was eleven, and although the word was forbidden to me by my parents, I thought,
It was snowing. There were easily six inches already on the ground. It was a Friday, Dad was at work, and Mom had just gotten Holly and me out the door. School was canceled; the day was mine.
I turned to wave bye to Mom and Holly, and a moment of guilt passed over me. Holly, now nearly eight, wouldn’t be running through the snow. She sat in the special chair that half supported her and half constrained her, snowflakes landing on her hair, her clothes, at the side of her slack mouth. She hadn’t been the same since that day. Mom saw my eyes, read my thoughts. She gave me a melancholy little smile, but then shook it off. She waved me away. “Go,” she said. “Have fun.” I hesitated. But I was young, and heavy thoughts don’t weigh down eleven-year-olds for long. I pressed my forehead lightly against Holly’s for a moment. I think it was the first time I’d ever done it, but over time it came to be our little thing. Then I turned and ran into the snow.
I gasped for joy, running down the street with my thick winter coat blazing like a red streak, mittens — mittens, for God’s sake! — clamped to my sleeves, and I even had a knit blue hat jammed down over my mop of black hair, although I’d told my mom,
my head does NOT get cold!
I tilted my head up and opened my mouth, and the cool flakes of snow landed gently on my tongue and immediately melted. A gift. A gift from the heavens. A gift that, beyond all comprehension, would change the very course of my life.
I enjoyed the sensation for maybe seven seconds before my next great idea surfaced. I decided to run to my friend Steve’s house so we could pelt each other with snowballs. Racing past the similar rows of suburban homes, I turned the corner and slid to a stop. The road was empty; there weren’t even any tire tracks in the new snow yet. But something — someone — blocked my path: Bobby Graden. He hadn’t noticed me yet; he was tipping his head back, collecting snowflakes on his tongue, just as I’d been doing a moment before. He must’ve felt someone nearby, my presence. Slowly, he closed his mouth and swung his head downward, looking directly at me.
Bobby had the kind of big, animal look that screamed “elementary school bully.” So, thankfully, he didn’t disappoint, living up to his appearance in all aspects of life. You could be assured that any contact with Bobby would involve him trying to put you down, mentally, physically, or both. With me, it was usually physical. I’d probably been hit, slapped, kicked, grabbed, or shoved by Bobby more times than anyone else at school. Standing in the road in front of me, his messy brown twirl of hair becoming frosted with snowflakes, he started to grin. His teeth went in various directions, the perfect complement to his rat-like eyes and ruddy cheeks. In general, Bobby looked like a very large mole. I never mentioned this to him; I’d had enough bruises without inviting more trouble.
“Well, well,” he began. “What’s up, dopey?”
I looked to the side, gauging where to run to get away. I stepped backward with my left foot, scuffing the new snow.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa — where ya goin’, buddy? You just got here.” His grin got even bigger. I stepped back again. I didn’t bother to say a word; there wasn’t anything I could say that would change Bobby’s mind about anything. He came closer. I wondered for a second why my family seemed to invite bullies to bother us so much. In my head, I imagined those Sunday-morning panel shows that my dad watched, but instead of talking politics or the economy, they discussed the pressing issue of assholes in our society. I smirked.
“Something funny, John Boy?” Like all bullies, Bobby thought everything was about him, so he naturally assumed I was laughing at him. This didn’t improve his disposition.
I figured escape was my best and only option, so I dodged to the right and ducked. If I could just get past him, I’d run to Steve’s house.
Bobby didn’t bother being artful; he outweighed me by probably 30 pounds. It wasn’t David versus Goliath, it was David versus Godzilla. He simply reached out and put his hand on my hunched back as I ducked, and pushed. I fell face first into the snow in the middle of the street.
“Have a nice trip?” He laughed and grabbed the back of my coat to lift me out of the snow. “See you next fall!” He pushed me down again, puffing up a cloud of snow.
“Come on, Bobby, leave me alone!” My voice was muffled by a mouthful of snow.
He put on a mocking look of concern. “Where’s the fun in that?” If I could have, I would happily have slapped the look off his face. He grabbed my arm, raising me up as he twisted it backward. “Now where are you headed? To that other dork Steve’s house, I bet. You two are sweet on each other, aren’t you?” He pushed my arm farther until something went
inside my shoulder.
The pain made me snap. I wheeled and hit him directly in the Adam’s apple. He let go of my arm as he began spasming and coughing, clutching his throat in pain. I ran.
After only a moment, Bobby gave a harsh cough and shouted, “You’re
” He came after me, fast but silent, like he was gliding over the padding of snow. My heart raced and I ran toward Steve’s house, hoping to God he would let me in immediately, or maybe even his mom would be home. Turning the corner, I saw their white two-story house just down the block.
Bobby must have cut through someone’s yard, because suddenly he appeared on my right, cutting me off. I shot down another street to the left, now having no idea what to do other than run. Bobby was hot behind me. I zigged and zagged down side streets, headed out toward the main road, panting heavily.
“You can run all you want, little John! You’re not getting away this time.
I owe you one today!
” Bobby chuckled as he ran. He could probably run all day. I felt like my heart was about to burst. As we approached the main road, I could almost feel his breath on the back of my neck. I charged out across the road, through the carved tracks of the cars that had passed before.
His hand grabbed the back of my coat as we heard a loud
. Looking left, I saw a two-door red hatchback driven by a woman about my mom’s age. She looked like she was standing on her brakes as she snapped the wheel hard to her left, trying to cross the median without hitting us. Her car ignored her. The wheels, now turned sideways, became skis on the snowy surface and kept the car moving directly at us, eerily silent in the fallen snow. Bobby let go of my coat and started to dive back toward the curb. I stood frozen. The car hit both of us, sliding like a cherry-colored battering ram into our bodies. There was a double
as we collided with the front and passenger sides of the car. I don’t remember anything else about that morning.
Years later, I know what really brought us together. But at that time, you can see how it made no sense that Bobby and I became best friends.