The Most Natural Thing In the World

1

Tim was two years older, had a better bike, and knew the streets.  It was all Shya could do to stop himself from yelling out, from telling him to wait up, but he knew it would be useless.  Instead he pedaled faster, feeling Tim’s flathead screwdriver bump rhythmically against one sore, aching leg, and two Mercedes hood ornaments bump against the other.  The dark streets were slicked with rain, though it had stopped, and the streetlights shone from both above and below, a tunnel of dull yellow light they passed through almost silently, the only sounds their wheezing and the warm buzz of their tires.  It was 2 a.m. and they were headed home.

Tim disappeared around a corner almost a block ahead, and Shya eased his crank, thinking he’d finally been ditched.  They were out of danger, and he was sure he could find his way home from here, but still, it stung, Tim’s disappearance, and Shya felt deflated, the remaining strength in his legs evaporating like the sweat on his face.  He sat on his seat and, for the first time since they’d been chased out of Shilshole Marina, coasted.  The air was dense and salty—he’d been living in Seattle over a year, and he still wasn’t used to the air—but he dragged it greedily into his lungs.

“Stop!” someone shouted.  “This is the police!”

He knew right away it was Tim, but he stopped his bike and put his hands in the air, just happy he hadn’t been left.  “I’m clean, man, I’m clean,” he said.

Tim rode up beside him and grinned.  His long, narrow face supported stiff, blond hair that topped his head like an eraser.

“Got you,” he said.

“Please,” said Shya.  “I totally knew it w—”

“Whatever, maniac,” said Tim.

They straddled their bikes in the middle of the street.  Tim had pegged Shya as a liar long ago, after he’d made the mistake of telling Tim how, on the last day before his move, his whole 3rd grade class had raised him up over their heads and carried him outside.  “What are you, some kind of hero?” Tim had said.  Shya didn’t know how to explain why this hadn’t seemed so strange in his little hometown.  Why you didn’t have to be a hero to be treated like one.

“Anyway, that was close back there,” Tim said.  “That guy was fucking pissed!”

“He chased us for, like, the whole parking lot.”

Tim guffawed loudly.  “I would have too if I saw two kids fucking with my Maserati.”

Tim took out the hood ornaments he’d been carrying.  He had two BMWs and a Cadillac, but the real score of the night—of the summer, really—was the strange bent pitchfork that meant Maserati.  They looked at it in silence, in awe.  Shya had never even heard of Maseratis before, but it hadn’t taken more than one glance to see how special the car was.  He’d found it wedged between two Ford Explorers, lying low like a prowling cat, and had waved Tim over, who’d practically drooled all over its silver paint.  At the time, it had seemed only natural that Tim take it, though he hadn’t found it himself.  Watching him work the screwdriver under the flat steel gem, Shya had felt proud, for both finding it and for giving it to Tim.  Now that he looked at it, though, being turned over in Tim’s hand far from the scene of the crime, he couldn’t help but feel that it was rightfully his.

“What’d you get?” Tim asked.

Shya showed him the two Mercedes pieces: respectable, but certainly not rare.

“Nice,” said Tim, pocketing his crown jewel.  “Solid additions to any collection.”

They rode off, more slowly now, doing circles in the empty street and bunny hops up each curb, and Shya thought of the time they’d met.  It was around this time last year, right at the beginning of 4th grade.  Tim’s mother brought him over—the two of them lived alone in a small brown house down the block—along with a basket of fruit and single-serving cereal boxes.  It had been late but not too late, and Shya’s parents had invited Tim’s mom to have a glass of wine.  “Just a sip,” she’d said, and pushed Tim forward a little, telling him to introduce himself.

Shya and his little brother Connor took him down to the unfinished basement playroom where boxes sat, lonely and unpacked, and they told him a little about Maine.

“Did you have a girlfriend?” Tim wanted to know.

Shya hadn’t had a girlfriend, not really, but there had been a girl.  Hannah Evans.  Hannah had just been a friend until the summer before they left, when he’d begun to feel something different about her.  Something more.  And when he’d seen her holding hands with a new kid on the first day of school, he’d suffered so much that at recess he fell down during touch football, pretending injury, just so he’d have an excuse to cry.  Of course, he didn’t tell Tim any of this.  He just shook his head.

For his part, Tim made Seattle sound like a playground without rules.  Shya listened politely, not knowing what to believe, while Connor, three years younger, kept looking over at Shya with wide eyes, as if needing confirmation.  But what did he know?  Connor was on his own.

“It’s crazy out here,” Tim said.  “We usually wait until the parents are asleep and then sneak out, go riding, drink some beers.  Do you like beer?  Miller Highlife all the way.  There’s a crew on the block.  The twins, Jeremy and Josh, and Olivia and a slut named Becky.  Becky’ll give you a hand job for ten bucks.”

Connor began to look scared.

“Cool,” Shya said.  He’d never had a hand job.  Not even by his own hand.

“What’s there to do down here, anyway,” Tim said.

Shya shrugged, and nodded at a box he knew had some games in it.  Tim opened the box and started pulling board games out—Chess, Scrabble—mocking each one, until he found a set of darts.

“Where’s the board?” he asked.

“We didn’t get the board,” Connor said, suddenly animated.  “In Maine, Dad drew a target on a piece of wood.”

“He did, did he?” Tim said, sneering.

Shya suddenly grew angry at his younger brother.  Why did he have to open his fat little mouth?  They weren’t in Maine anymore, and it didn’t matter what the hell they’d done there.

“I got an idea.  We’ll be the targets.  But instead of hitting them, you have to miss them.  Get it?  Connor, why don’t you go first.  C’mon little man, just stand against the wall.”

Shya saw that Connor’s face was red, and thought that if he didn’t do something quick his brother would have a fit.

“I’ll go,” he said.

He stood against the wall—unpainted sheetrock scarred with rough patches of putty—and spread his arms and legs wide.  Tim stood on the other side of the small room and took aim, but Shya didn’t look at him.  He shut his eyes.  He didn’t want to see Tim’s expression, he didn’t want to see the darts leaving Tim’s hand, he didn’t want to see the ugly, unfinished room, but most of all, he didn’t want to see Connor.  He heard the dull thud of darts hitting the wall and waited for one to pierce his leg, or his arm, or his chest.  He thought of a time in third grade when he’d reached down to pick up a pencil he’d dropped, but had reached down too quickly and stabbed himself in the palm.  He’d drawn his hand slowly back from the floor, the pencil hanging from it, gently swaying, and had sat quietly until, a couple moments later, his seating partner Susan had shrieked and he’d been sent to the nurse.  But here there was no shriek and there was no pain, and eventually the dull thuds stopped.

“Your turn, Mainiac,” Tim said.

Shya reached down and plucked the darts from the wall.  Unable to help himself, he glanced at his brother while switching places with Tim and found him startled and pale, though nowhere near tears, as he’d thought.  He seemed pensive, remote.  Tim splayed himself out against the wall, but didn’t close his eyes, and it seemed like a threat, somehow, like he wanted to catch Shya in the act.  He suddenly wondered what would happen if he accidentally hit Tim.  Would Tim beat him up?  Would Tim’s mom sue them?  He felt a small knot form in his stomach, but raised his arm nonetheless, not wanting to back out.  Miraculously, however, before the first dart had left his hand, Tim’s mother called down from the top of the stairs, saying it was time to go, and Tim sprang from the wall and was gone.

 

When they got back to their block, Tim continued on and Shya peeled off down his driveway. He dropped his bike and climbed up the tree to his roof, where he stood for a while looking out over the city.  Their house was only a couple miles from downtown, but between the two stood a large hill called Queen Anne that blocked out everything but the flying saucer shape of the Space Needle, which glowed and hovered on the horizon like an alien scout.  Are the humans friends or foes?  It would find out and report back, and then there would be war.

“Hey,” Connor whispered from the open window.  “Can I come out?”

“Do whatever you want,” Shya said.

Connor slid through the window and sat beside him, shivering in his underwear on the cold, wet roof.  Connor played mostly alone, making elaborate roadways for his Matchbox cars in the backyard and collecting fallen branches from the Monkey Puzzle tree next door.  What was his secret?  It was impossible to talk to him, so Shya had stopped trying.  It just made him mad: Connor’s large, trusting eyes, his blank expressions.  Sometimes he’d make him cry just to get some emotion out of him.

“Sometimes I sit here and think about all those people,” Connor said, looking out at the expanse of city, the windows twinkling like moonlight on water.  “What do you think they do?”

Shya was getting tired.  The thrill of the chase was now drained from his body, leaving only his sore muscles and parched throat.  He stood up and lightly hit his brother on the back of the head.

“Sleep,” he said.  “They sleep.”

 

Shya stood at the curb and watched people unload a U-Haul truck parked halfway up the street.  It was Friday evening, after dinner, and Tim’s mother was out, chatting with the new family, laughing loudly like Tim.  Shya wondered whether she’d given them a fruit and cereal basket too.  She hadn’t visited his house again, and the only time he’d heard his parents talk about her, his dad had vetoed his mom’s suggestion to invite her over.  “We don’t have enough wine,” he’d said.

Jeremy and Josh appeared from behind the truck on their bikes and stopped on the sidewalk.  The twins actually lived in a big house some blocks north, in a nicer neighborhood.  Shya hadn’t ever seen it, or even been invited to, but Tim liked to talk about how amazing it was, how nice the stereo was, the size of the TV.  How there was all kinds of junk food in the pantry and how their mom didn’t care what you ate.  Shya walked up the street.  It had been a sunny day, but it had quickly grown chilly as the sun began to set, and he wore an old green windbreaker he knew the twins would mention—they always made fun of Shya’s clothes—but he didn’t really care.  He’d learned to toughen up around them, laugh along with their jokes.  It was good just to be known.

“Hey, guys,” he said when he reached them.

They turned and acknowledged him, thankfully too preoccupied to comment on the jacket.

“Have you seen her?” said Jeremy.  He was the bigger one, the meaner one, though they both had the same small eyes and short brown curly hair swept back from their foreheads with hairspray.

“Tim’s mom?”

“No, dickface, the girl.  The new girl.  She’s totally fine.”

Shya shook his head.

He remembered the day, shortly before leaving Maine, when Hannah had stopped him in the hall and given him a folded up piece of paper.  “It’s for good luck,” she said, “on your trip.”  She’d kissed him on the cheek and walked down the hall to her class, leaving him to stand there dumbly with a slight tremor and sweaty palms.  He’d carried that note around for almost two days before opening it, alone in the woods behind his house.  It had three words, surrounded by hearts with tears running out of them.  We’ll miss you.

The thought of this note made Shya sick, and he tried to push it back down inside him, to focus on the moving van and Tim’s mother, who was now walking over to them,  now tripping on a hose.  We’llWe’ll miss you?  What did it mean?  Who was we?

“Hey, boys,” she said.  She was wearing a pink and white striped blouse that fell open to reveal a dark green bra.  Jeremy and Josh snickered, but Shya was grateful for the distraction.

“Where’s Tim,” he asked.

She rolled her eyes.  “On the phone with his idiot father, who had better, I might add, be paying for the call.  I don’t want to see any phone calls to Phoenix on my bill this month.”

Tim’s father lived on a golf course.  At least, that’s what Tim always said.  A golf course with a water fountain in his back yard.  Tim’s mother started complaining about how often Tim was on the phone, and Shya looked up at her, both focusing on her and losing focus at the same time.  She was a beautiful woman, actually, or had been once.  He could see that.  She always wore bright pink lipstick and a single gold chain around her neck.  Shya’s own mother never wore lipstick, or even necklaces, though she had some.  He felt a nudge in his side, and followed the twins’ gaze to find a girl, about their age, standing in the front door of the house.  She was tall and thin, with long black hair pulled back into a pony tail.  Her skin was very pale, almost blue, and Shya wondered if she was even American.

“Wow,” he said.

Jeremy punched him.  “Shut up, freak,” he whispered.  “She’s Tim’s.”

The girl gave a little wave, and both Jeremy and Josh waved back.  Tim’s mother turned around and said, “Hi there, Katya!”

What kind of a name is Katya, Shya wondered.  And how did Tim have time to get her, or have her, or whatever, when she’d only been here for an afternoon?  It seemed to Shya that there were still rules to the city he hadn’t learned, or even been allowed to know.  He’d almost been beat up at recess near the end of the school year, just for catching a kickball.

“I’m going to go get my bike,” Shya said, and jogged back to his house.  His father was sitting on the front porch, reading a book and smoking. He barely grunted as Shya passed.

“Going out for a while,” he said, and went through the house and down to the basement, where he kept his bike.  Connor was in the playroom making a long line of marbles along the floor.

“Don’t touch my marbles,” Connor said, spreading his arms out over them and scowling up at him.

Shya pretended to kick at them, and his brother called out to their mother, “Mom!”  But she didn’t hear.

“Marbles are stupid,” Shya said, and took his bike outside.

It was getting dark and the street lights were flickering.  He rode up the driveway out onto the street and saw that Jeremy and Josh had been joined by Becky and Olivia, who lived the next block over.  They always smiled nicely when he saw them, and though they seemed to make the twins meaner, he liked having them around.  He rode up to them and said hello.  Olivia would be going to the same school with him next year, and though they never really spoke of it, it had given them a kind of secret bond.

“Hi, Shya,” she said.  “Nice jacket.”

Shit.  He’d been in such a hurry he’d forgotten to change out of it.  He looked down at it and shook his head, trying to think of some defense.

“Gosh, yeah, it’s super,” said Jeremy.

“Shut up, Jeremy,” Olivia said.  “I’m serious.  It’s retro.”

Shya fell a little bit in love with Olivia right then, but it only flashed and disappeared, because at that moment Katya emerged from her front door and walked slowly down to the sidewalk where they stood.  She was beautiful, like an adult.  He smiled stupidly at her until one of the girls introduced them.

“Shya, Katya. Katya, Shya.  Congratulations, you both have weird names.”

“Correction,” Josh said.  “You both have girls’ names.”

Jeremy gave his brother a high five, but Olivia stamped her foot.

“Will you two ever leave him alone?” she said.  “You’re such major jerks.”

“Nice to meet you,” Katya said.

“Where did you move from?” Shya said.  “I’m from Maine.”

Katya laughed a little, though sweetly, as though he’d given her a compliment.

“I’ve been to Maine,” she said.  “It’s lovely there.  We’re from New York.”

There was a thick silence, and Shya suddenly felt ashamed that he didn’t have anything more to say.  He wished that everyone else would disappear, even Olivia, and that he and Katya could talk a little about Maine, about how things were different there.  Maybe she’d even understand how a class could raise a boy over their heads and take him out to the car because he was leaving, how that could happen and not be weird.

Then he noticed something in her hand.  It was the Maserati hood ornament.  He felt a flutter in his gut, and she seemed to notice, but before either of them could say anything, Tim screeched to a halt on his bike in the middle of the road.

“Yo,” he said.

Olivia and Becky, having only moments ago come to Shya’s defense, were suddenly leaning up against the twins, pressed against their bikes and rocking into their shoulders and arms.  The twins looked at Shya and grinned, and before Shya knew what was happening, they turned slightly and began to walk down the street.  Tim had snuck around in a heartbeat to Katya’s side, and now the six of them were walking up the sidewalk, arm in arm.  Not knowing what else to do, Shya began to follow, but Tim looked back and, seeing him, left his bike with Katya and skipped over to him, grinning.

“You can’t come,” he said.  His hair was perfect.

“Oh,” Shya said.

Tim moved a step closer and in a lowered voice explained, “Three and three, you know?”

Shya nodded solemnly, and watched Tim return to the group.  Katya looked over her shoulder and smiled, but then walked on with the rest of them, as if they’d been doing it all summer, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Shya rode the short distance back home, stunned.  His dad was still on the porch and grunted again as Shya passed.  He brought the bike around back, pulled it through the basement door, and threw it down.  Then he walked into the playroom where his brother had now lined up not one, but two rows of marbles, perfectly aligned down the center of the floor, and kicked them.  Too surprised to speak, Connor looked up at Shya and then down at his demolished order, then back up, and opened his mouth.  But before he could call to their mom, Shya slapped him across the face.

“Go ahead,” he said.  “Cry to mom, you baby.”

He turned and left the room, springing up the stairs.  He raced through the house past his mother, trying to get to the second flight before Connor’s inevitable blustering fit, and he almost did.  He walked up to his room, and listened to his brother’s sobs, to the choked and stuttering explanation of what happened, to his mother’s attempt to understand, to her asking, “But why, why did he do it, what did you do?’ until she understood that there was no reason.

He slammed the door to his room, and listened for his mother’s soft footsteps as she climbed the stairs.  She stood outside his room for a long time before speaking.

“Shya,” she said at last.  “I know you’re unhappy.  I know you’ve been going through a lot.  We all have.  But you’ve got to stop taking it out on your brother.”

She paused, perhaps waiting for a response, which he did not give.

“I’m not going to tell your father about this, or you know what would happen.  But please stay in your room for the remainder of the night.  Your brother will be sleeping with us.”

The footsteps went back downstairs, and then he heard something about ice cream.  Shya thought about the little place they used to go in Maine, the place by the water, he couldn’t remember the name.  They’d both get bubblegum ice cream, which even now sounded terrible, and long after their cones were gone their mouths would still be full of big, purple globs of tasteless gum, their jaws sore from chewing.

After he’d calmed down, Shya went to his dresser and opened the bottom drawer, lifting out the sweaters.  On the bare, unfinished wood lay over two dozen hood ornaments.  Cadillac, BMW, VW, Mercedes, and even stupid ones like Buick and Chevrolet: the rule all summer had been to never come home empty handed.  Shya grabbed as many has he could put in his pockets and wedged himself through the window and onto the roof.  His family was planning a trip back to Maine before school started, just for something familiar, to see friends and family.  His mom was making it happen even over the financial protests of his dad.  It was “crucial,” Shya had heard her say more than once.  He took out one of the ornaments, a smooth BMW disc, and hefted it in his hand.  When he got to Maine he was going to call up Hannah, he decided, and ask her to be his girlfriend.  He took the blue and white disc and reached way back and hurled it as hard as he could southward, toward the city, then listened.  It didn’t break any windows or hit a car, at least not that he could hear.  He would take Hannah on a walk, and he would tell her about life in the city, and he would hold her hand.  Maybe even get a hand job.  He threw another ornament, this time Mercedes.  Still no sound.  He didn’t care if she already had a boyfriend or not; once Hannah understood that he’d been around, that he’d seen the world, she’d be sure to go with him.  He looked at the Space Needle, the alien scout.  Friend or foe, he thought.  Friend or foe?  He took out another thin metal disc and reached as far back as he could, reached way back until his arm was stretched to the limit and his body was twisted and coiled like a spring.

Photo Source: Richard X




Giving = Loving. We are able to bring you content such as this through the generous support of readers like yourself. Please help us deliver words to readers. Become a regular Patreon Subscriber today. Thank you!
Share.

About Author

Shya Scanlon is the author of the poetry collection In This Alone Impulse and the novel Forecast. His work has appeared in Mississippi Review, Literary Review, New York Quarterly, Guernica Magazine, and others. He is co-editor of the journal Monkeybicycle, and Fiction Reviews Editor for The Nervous Breakdown. He received his MFA from Brown University, where he was a recipient of the John Hawkes Prize in Fiction.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: The Issue of Brotherly Love

%d bloggers like this: