May is short story month, and in celebration I’m posting a short story I wrote years ago and published in an online journal, Bareback Lit. Unfortunately, the story can no longer be read on that site.
It’s a strange little story that plays with how we identify ourselves and each other, and how we lose and find ourselves in those identities. It’s not a story to “enjoy,” but I hope you find it interesting.
LOOKING FOR BOBBY
By Deborah J. Brasket
Bobby is bad. Just turned seventeen, he’s big and mean with hands the size of basketballs. Not that he plays basketball. He likes the clean, straight edge of a razor or knife better.
Bobby is loose. His long sharp bones seem to hang in his tight skin; and when he walks, he dances.
Now he runs. Behind him the drugstore, the cop, growing smaller and smaller. And the sun, the morning sun, soft on his back. Before him races his long, clean shadow, his sharp legs slicing through the sidewalk like knives through butter. He smiles at the image, then turns, darts down an alley. With a quick glance behind him, he spreads long, powerful hands on the top of a wall and scrambles over. Dropping lightly, he pauses, crouched and coiled. His small dark eyes sweep up and swallow the neat back yard, the little house before him. The screen door gapes open like a black hole and he springs for it, entering. He jerks the door close behind him.
“Out boys! I told you kids to stay outside for awhile!”
The house is dark and steeped with strange, mysterious odors. Bobby hesitates, his breath big as watermelons and hard to swallow. A taste like blood. Soon his hard, dark pupils grow soft and fat with the darkness absorbed. All around him rush shapes, objects, unfamiliar. Bobby jumps.
“Greg! You hear me? I mean it now. Just git on outside!”
Slowly, stealthily, Bobby approaches the open doorway and the voice behind it. He places his hand on his hip pocket, feels the hard shaft within, and then swings forward to fill the doorway.
The room is draped against the light. Only the glow of the TV and the woman’s pale skin can be seen. She sits curled in the corner of the couch, plumped up like a big pillow, one bare leg tucked childishly beneath her. Bobby grins.
The woman glances up, annoyed. Her round eyes grow rounder as she takes him in. “Where’s Greg?”
“I dunno no Greg. You just sit quiet little mama and you won’t get hurt.”
“Me sit quiet? That’s a laugh! You’re the one making all the noise!” Her plump legs unfold and she pads toward the TV, turns the volume up. “Sorry, but I’ve been waiting all morning to watch this. Go ahead and sit down though. It won’t be long.” She smiles, curls up into a ball again on the couch.
Bobby flicks a wet tongue over his lips. Smart ass, he thinks. He strolls over to the TV and yanks the plug from its socket. Now there’s no light but hers.
“Well, that’s a fine howdy-do! Guess I do watch too much TV, though. That’s what my husband says anyway. Thinks I spend all day parked in front of the tube. As if I had the time! But those soaps. You watch them once and you’re hooked. All those lives running out every which way. And you got to ask yourself–how will it all end? You never can tell which way a life will turn, can you?”
She sits now on the edge of the couch, elbows on knees, her wide pale face caught between the palms of her hands like a moon among clouds, watching him as he stands there with the plug in his hand.
“It’s all right now. You can sit down. I won’t bite or anything.” She winks. “I can see you need to rest a spell. How ‘bout a Coke?”
Bobby flings the cord away and springs to a crouch, whipping his knife out in an instant where it lays now in his hand like a living thing.
“Who you think you talkin’ to, woman?” he says, eyes narrowed to slits. “You see this here?” He turns the blade so that it catches a stray beam of light, making it dance in his hand. “This here’s my own special baby. My very fine and lovin’ lady. She do anything for me. She like nothing better than to decorate little ladies like yourself. So you sit there real quiet-like and don’t get her riled none, hear?” Bobby’s feet move, restless, beneath him. The knife feels like a fish, cold and slippery, in his hand. And this woman like a deep, round pool.
The woman gives a startled little laugh. “My! You’re quick-like, aren’t you! You remind me of my brother. He was wild like that and all. Always springing out at a body! And look what’s come of him!”
Bobby snorts. “Lady, I may be a number of things, but I promise you this, I ain’t nowhere near like your brother!”
“Why sure you are! Look at you. You have his mouth—— corners all droopy, like his smile fell down, I use to tell him. He never did like to hear me say that. No sense of humor. You don’t want to turn out like him, though.”
“That a fact?” Bobby says. “So? Just what happened to this all-bad bro’ of yours?” he demands, curious.
“0-h-h-h, you wouldn’t want to know,” she assures him, shaking her head slowly, her round eyes gripping his and never leaving his face.
Bobby’s knife slips from the light as he feels the room moving back and forth beneath him. He gives his head a shake as if to free it. With an effort he lifts his knife.
“You one crazy woman, you know that? Why don’t you shut that fat face awhile. In a little bit, I’m gone, and you ain’t never gonna know I was here at all. See?”
“Oh no you don’t!” she says firmly, rising. “You can’t stay here one minute more with that knife in your hand. Heaven’s! You’re not that much like my brother! The mouth maybe, and the funny way with your feet like you’re going to fall flat on your face, and your eyes. . . maybe. But no,” she adds decisively and strides past him toward the front door. “This won’t do at all. I have two little boys to think about. Why, if they should come home now and see you here like this . . . why, I don’t know what they’d think! It’s bad enough on TV. But in their own home?”
She opens the door, holding it for him. The light on the lawn is dazzling, rising in waves of green. The sidewalk lays across it like a white-hot poker.
“Go on, now. Go home where you belong. Take a nice long nap. You’ll feel lots better.” Bobby steps out into the light and shakes himself free from the cloying darkness.
“Git, now!” she shoos him away with the back of her hand. “And for heaven’s sake, put that knife away! Remember what I told you about my brother!”
Bobby shoots away from her touch like a bullet.
The noon sun is hot and intense upon Bobby’s head as he slows to a walk. He studies his shadow laying in a fat, round puddle at his feet, fishes it for lost images of himself. That crazy broad! He tries to laugh but can’t quite manage yet, can’t quite figure out how she failed to know him. But he imagines how he’ll hoot when he tells the others. Tells them how this crazy fat lady mistook him for her brother, tried to sit him down and feed him hot chicken soup and cookies for lunch. They’ll get a kick out of that one! For they know him well. Even the young ones know all about ol’ Bobby and his dancing, blinking blade!
He feels better now and begins to run, his knife reaching out before him. He feels his blood pumping through his veins, pumping so fine and fast it would like to cut loose without him.
He’s almost to the corner when he hears a sound behind him.
“Freeze! Hold it right there!”
Bobby grins. At least the Man knows him. He stops and turns. The sun dancing on his knife blade seems to leap from his hand like a fish.
Slowly Bobby slips into the pool lying like a shadow at his feet. The splash is the sound of gun fire. Cool, cloying arms reach up to grab him, pull him under. He breaks loose, struggling for the surface, for the light, for some forgotten image.
Lying in his own dark puddle, Bobby looks up to see the fat sun wink. And close its eye on him forever.