[Read “Five Shots,” an earlier selection from Kevin Sampsell’s recently published book of stories, A Common Pornography.]
My mom had served up a hundred hot dogs and someone hurt his hand with a firecracker. My mom often volunteered to help with my fifth-grade outings.
Summer vacation was just an hour away.
All the kids got on the bus to head back to school from our trip to Sacajawia Park. Mom was missing. I asked my teacher and she said she didn’t know where she was.
Driving up Washington Street on the bus I noticed smoke billowing up from somewhere in my neighborhood. Seconds later I was yelling at the driver to stop. I saw the fire fighters spraying at the flames that came out of my bedroom window. The driver said he wasn’t allowed to let me out. When we got back to the school, a friend’s mother drove me to my house, which was badly burned on the top and on the sides by our upstairs bedrooms. My mom had left the field trip early and was there watching.
The cause was unknown but I heard someone imply that my older brother Mark was home from school, smoking pot. (I’d seen him and his friends smoke pot once and thought it looked cool; there was this twisted glass thing they used.) We stood outside watching. Nobody was hurt. My dad was in the alley screaming something like “Fuck the world!”
It seemed like a lot of people were watching the house become wrecked with fire and water, and when they grew bored of it, they went back home.
After the house fire, when we lived in the small dirty apartment on Alder Street, there was a ten-year old girl named Laynee who lived with her mom in the apartment above us. Her mom was never around. Whenever Dad wasn’t rebuilding the old house, he was hanging out with this little girl. They’d watch TV, go for walks, and play games together; things he’d never do with my brothers or me. Matt and I were curious what the deal was. They seemed to be keeping secrets. I even remember Laynee going to Mass with us once. We suspected Dad of being a pervert. (Even before Laynee, we noticed how he would always stare at young girls.)
We began following them on their walks and watching them through the window curtains when they would watch TV, sitting close together on the couch. Even Mom sensed something and acted tense whenever Laynee was around. The whole family, except Dad, of course, began to secretly hate Laynee. We’d sometimes split up with walkie-talkies and spy from the bushes or trees that lined the alleyways and ditches of our neighborhood. I don’t think we were jealous of them, but on some nights we’d lie in bed and hear sounds from upstairs. We wondered what was inside her heart.
The toughest kid at our school was named Chongo, and he was a short but muscular Mexican who always seemed to be suspended or doing Saturday school. He lived in the pit of this valley that ran alongside a long irrigation pipe. The pipe was connected to the ditches surrounding our neighborhood and it had a flat surface on top lined with flimsy 2×4s. For some reason, we always called this pipe “the floons.” My friends and I would often have races on the floons. There was an element of danger whenever we did because there were big gaps where you could fall through and go into the dirty water. And if we went too far down the floons we’d be dangerously close to what we called “Chongo Country.” Other kids had told us that if you got a good look into Chongo Country, you’d see all sorts of stolen bikes and bike parts in his weed-filled yard. When Chongo had his shirt off, they said, you could see a tattoo of Pontius Pilate across his chest. We never dared to look.
One of my first girlfriends had braces and thick glasses and was not thought of as pretty or anything acceptable. In fact, even though I told some friends I had a girlfriend, I made sure no one saw her. I was sixteen, she was thirteen. When I had my first car I’d go to her house. It was nice and big, with a tennis court in back. I would pick her up and we would drive around and then make out somewhere. Her breath was always unpleasant; and she had stuff on her braces, like she never brushed her teeth. Still, I went out of my way to spend time with her and was jealous once when she told me about an ex-boyfriend, an eighteen-year old who had his own apartment, where he wanted her to suck his dick once. It was a story she told me once with an “I can do anything to you” tone of voice.
Another time when her parents were gone, we were in her basement. We took our shirts off on the couch. I ran my fingers over her small chest, feeling the nipples, no bigger than pimples. We stood up and slow-danced to a radio song. I picked her up and put her on the pool table. We stared at each other. “Do you want to know something I haven’t done before?” she asked. I asked her what it was. “I’ve never had anyone kiss me upside-down,” she told me. She kicked the cue ball off the table.