A short lilt of uneven steps, with peeling paint and exposed wood, fell from a large porch that was awkwardly attached to a large house. Behind the house, a garden, disorderly and unkempt, encircled a large dilapidated shed. In front of the shed, a stretch of yellow, brittle, and dry grass was separated from the house by a narrow garden and a cracked concrete pathway. The property was surrounded by high, riotous lilac bushes that, in the spring, bloomed purple, white, pink and the perfume was everywhere. By summer’s end, the bushes were only dark leaves and, from the street, only the very top of the house could be seen.
Desmond and Derek sat with their elbows on the steps and their shoulders pushed up towards their ears. They stared over their outstretched legs and sneakers at the cracked pavement where ants busied themselves. Desmond wore a red T-shirt and red shorts with three white stripes on each leg. Derek wore a white shirt with dark blue three-quarter sleeves and cut-off jeans. On his shirt, Garfield lay exhausted and the caption underneath read, “Take this jog and shove it.” Between the chubby boys, there were two large pop bottles filled with water.
Desmond was the first to speak again. “Where are they keeping them? Are they at someone’s house?”
“Are you kidding?” Derek’s eyes widened. “Imagine. If someone’s Mom found them, they’d be in so much trouble.”
“I guess.” Desmond brought his right thigh closer to his body, putting his foot on a step. “Where’d they get them?”
“A construction site, I think.” Derek rubbed his chin. “They’re hiding them in the Rockies.”
“They’d kill us.” Desmond shook his head, without moving his eyes from where he was looking. “For sure.”
“Only if we steal them or rip them or something.”
“If they find out we even know about them, they’ll kill us.”
“How will they know?” Derek turned towards Desmond. “Don’t you want to see them. I do.”
Desmond shrugged his shoulders and he took hold of one of the bottles. “Are we going to let rests or do we have to keep drinking?”
“I don’t know.” Derek picked up a bottle by its neck. “How about no taking lips off? You can rest but only if you keep the bottle up and your lips on.”
“We’ve got to find them today.” Derek slapped the top of his left thigh. “It’s our only chance. Ever.”
“I thought we were going to have a rematch.”
Derek looked at the bottles, pursed his lips, and then twisted them over to one side. “Ok. But, let’s go look after.”
“I don’t know.”
“Come on.” Derek pushed Desmond on the shoulder. “It’s our only chance to see them. We’ll go after this rematch.”
“I don’t know.”
“Come on.” Derek pushed him again. “It’s our only chance, why not?”
Desmond watched the ants. He couldn’t think of any reason that would make sense to Derek.
“We’ll go after our rematch.”
“Do you promise.”
“Yeah, I promise.” Desmond turned towards Derek. “Who goes first?”
*Derek pushed through the hole in the chain link fence and dropped into the weeds. Desmond followed. The prickles of the weeds scrapped his legs and grasshoppers flew up from all sides. Underneath the trees, the weeds didn’t grow as high and there was some grass. By the edge of the cliff, a few yards away, there was only dirt and rocks. Desmond looked at the big yellow-orange government buildings that were across from the parking lot at the bottom of the cliff. He heard the cars on Carling avenue. Derek held his chin with one hand and his elbow with the other and tapped the ground with his foot.
“Where do you think they are.”
Desmond pointed to the left where the trees and bushes were thickest. “Probably in there. Not many people go back there.” He motioned towards the path along the concrete wall to their right. “If we go over there, it’s only the path to get down and there’s nowhere to hide anything.”
Derek went first and Desmond followed. The trees and bushes were thick enough that the street almost couldn’t be seen. A little way in, a space opened up where the grass had been flattened and they found a cardboard box.
“I bet you in there.” Derek pointed at the box, as he moved into the flattened space.
“Come on.” Derek looked over his shoulder at Desmond. “What are you waiting for?”
“If we leave now.” Desmond slowly rubbed the top part of his right arm with the palm of his hand. “No one will ever know we were here.”
Derek raised his hands above his head and let them drop against the sides of his legs, sighing in time with the movement. “No will ever know. Stop being chicken.”
“I don’t know.”
“I’m looking. Do whatever you want.” Derek squatted in the grass, opened the box, and pulled out a handful of magazines. “Oh, wow, there is a whole bunch of them!”
Desmond stepped forward. “Ok. But quick. Before someone finds us.”
*Derek was the first to speak again. “The Wizard of Oz pictures were funny, eh?”
“Yeah.” Desmond tugged at the inside lining of his shorts, as he walked.
“Do you think they were the same actors, as in the movie.”
“That movie’s really old.” They entered the wide shadow of an apartment building. The air was cooler. “I don’t think so.”
“It’d been neat, if it was the same actors.” Both of Derek’s hands went into his pockets and his shoulders bunched up and rolled forward. “What’d you think of the pussies?”
“The what?” Desmond looked at Derek who was already looking at him.
“You know, where the guy’s willy goes in. Into the girl.”
“That’s what it’s called?” The left side of Desmond’s face bunched up. “Like a cat.”
“Yeah. You never heard that before.”
“It’s a dirty version. Like fuck for sex.”
“Not so loud.” Desmond checked over his shoulder to see if any older people were close enough to hear. He leaned closer to Derek. “Why do they call them that?”
“Because they’re hairy, I guess.”
“Yeah, I guess.” Derek shoved his hands into his pockets. “So, what’d you think of them? The magazines?”
“I don’t know.” Desmond’s shoulders went up in a shrug.
“Well, did you like them?”
“I don’t know.” Desmond dropped his shoulders and scuffed his shoe at a pebble. It scuttled away off the curb into a sewer. “Yeah, I guess.”
Derek scratched his left thigh. “I’ve seen dirtier pictures than those though.” The apartment’s shadow ended and the sun made Derek squint. “I like them.”
“I thought you hadn’t seen them before either.” Desmond looked at Derek out of the corner of his eye. “That’s why you wanted us to go see so bad.”
“I haven’t seen those magazines before but my Dad has a whole bunch.” Derek indicated the stack’s height with both his hands. “One time, when he had to work when I was staying over, I found them. Most of them were dirtier than those, too.”
Desmond looked at Derek. “What sort of pictures were they?”
“I don’t know.” Derek didn’t look at Desmond. “Dirty stuff.”
“You know, like dirty.” Derek squeezed his shoulders up towards his chin and he held his hands out. He made a weird smile and looked at the ground. “Real dirty stuff. Maybe, I’ll show you sometime.” His body fell out of its awkward shape as he turned to climb the veranda of his house. “I’m going to watch Three’s Company. Do you want to come in and watch, too?” Derek turned on the top step and looked down at Desmond, waiting on the sidewalk.
Desmond looked up, pushed his tongue through his teeth, and made a face. “I hate that show.”
“It’s funny.” Derek hopped down three steps and sat. “I like it.”
“It’s the same story all the time.”
“Really? I think it’s funny.” Derek motioned towards Desmond. “You know, Mr. Roper.”
“Mr. Roper is stupid.” Desmond crouched to tighten the Velcro on his Kangaroo sneakers and jumped up again. “Do you want to play Star Wars after supper?”
“I thought you were going to visit your Dad.”
“He called my Mom and said he was too busy.” Desmond put the ball of his foot on the lip of the bottom step, to the right of where Derek sat, and pushed.
“I can’t do anything after supper.” Derek’s hands went into his pockets, his shoulders pushed in towards his chin, and then fell forward. “Mom wants me to stay in and watch TV with her.”
Desmond leaned forward, balanced on the edge of the step, and then fell back onto both feet. “Ok.” He jingled the coins he had in his left pocket.
“You can watch TV until she comes back, though.”
“Three’s Company?” Desmond threw his left hand forward from his shoulder in a kind of a wave, he rolled his eyes, and looked away to the right. “Forget it.”
“No way.” Desmond kicked the bottom step with his toe and looked to his right, at the Orange Crush sign over Rami’s store. He jingled the change in his pocket again. “Can you get my bottle for me?”
“Why don’t you come in and watch TV with me. We can watch something else.”
“Nah.” Desmond looked at Derek’s shoes. “I’m going to get some chips and Coke and go home.”
Derek’s eyes fixed on a spot in the pavement. He rolled over and crawled up the steps to a standing position, with his back to Desmond. “Just a second.” The screen door slammed behind him.
“Here.” Derek held out the small Coke bottle from the crack made by the screen door. Desmond climbed the steps to get it.
“See ya.” Desmond took the bottle, turned on the ball of his left foot, hopped off the third step from the bottom, and turned towards Rami’s.
“Don’t forget to hide the drinking contest bottles, so no one steals them.” Derek’s head stuck through the crack in the door. “Those new big ones are worth sixty cents.”
*The door opened and closed with a jingle. Rami was on the phone. He nodded and winked, as Desmond held up his bottle.
At the end of the canned food aisle, where the video game was, Desmond put his bottle with the rest that had been returned, and waited to see the game’s high score. When the high score was displayed, the three letters next to it were still Desmond’s: DAB. He smiled and spun the paddle as hard as he could, turning away from the game.
Desmond pushed up the Coke cooler’s lid with one arm, got on tip-toe, and leaned into the dry cool air. He pulled a bottle out of its row, looked carefully at the cap, and then put it back. He did it again. And again. Then, he stretched as far as he could, to the very back of the cooler, and pulled out another bottle. The colours on this cap fit the picture in his head perfectly. He let the lid drop with a thud of cool air and Desmond headed towards the front of the store. He stopped at the rack where the chips were clipped up and ran a finger along the plastic bags until he found Hostess Barbeque in a paper bag and took it.
Rami raised a finger, and smiled, as if to say, “Just a second” and Desmond put the Coke and chips on top of the counter. Rami spoke Lebanese into the phone. Desmond looked at the Ottawa Citizen and it had a big picture of Brian Mulroney and his wife on the front. They were smiling and each had an arm up in the air. Balloons and confetti fell all around them. In big black letters, it said, "Landslide."
“Back already.” Rami reached back to hang up the wall-phone, without looking to see where it went.
“I won another free Coke.” Desmond put his hand into his pocket and pulled out a little piece of round rubber.
“What?” Rami plucked it from Desmond’s outreached hand. “You’ve already been in here twice today.”
“This is my sixth in a row.”
“You’re a lucky little kid.” Rami poked at the cash register, it made crunching noises, and the price of the chips popped up in its little window. “I’m going to have to charge you tax, you know. I have to even for free bottles, too.”
“I know.” Desmond slapped his coins onto the counter.
Rami scrapped each coin one by one with his index finger into his hand. “It’s all there, champ.”
“It’s not luck.” Desmond put his hands into his pockets. “I figured out the colours.”
“Colours, eh?” The coins clinked as Rami dropped them into the tray of the register.
“On the cap.” Desmond took hold of the Coke bottle and tapped the cap with his right finger. “All the caps have colours on them.” Rami slammed the register shut and moved to the counter. “If red is by the ‘C’ and blue is by the “E’, it means it’s a free one.”
“No it doesn’t.” Rami crossed his arms. “The colours don’t mean anything.”
“Do too.” Desmond tapped the bottle again. “It’s my sixth in a row.”
“It’s probably a shipment with lot of free ones.” Rami smiled and shook his head. “That’s all.”
“This is a free one.” Desmond clunked the bottle on the countertop. “For sure.”
“Let’s check, then.” Rami took hold of the bottle and, with the opener tied to the counter, pulled the cap off. He took a pen from the ledge on the register and scrapped out the little piece of rubber inside the cap. He laughed, dropped the cap-liner on the counter, and wagged his finger at Desmond. “You are a lucky little kid.”
“No, it’s the colours, for sure.” Desmond took the little piece of rubber, checked to make sure it was a winner, and put it in his pocket.
“A lot of free ones were probably in the delivery. That’s all.” Rami stepped back from the counter and folded his arms. “I’ll ask the driver about it.”
“No, don’t. They’ll change the colours, if they know someone figured it out.”
Rami laughed and pinched a few strawberry jellies between his fingers and placed them on the counter. “Get out of here.”
“Thanks, Rami.” Desmond pocketed the candy. “But, don’t tell, ok.”
“Go.” Rami’s eyebrows raised in pretend anger and he pointed to the door with his finger.
The bells jingled, as Desmond pushed open the door. He stood on the store’s step, took a big gulp of his drink, hiccuped, and enjoyed the burn of the soda on the back of his throat.
*“Tammy, Tammy.” Desmond made more kissing noises. A meow, followed by a thud, came from the kitchen. Tammy padded into the room, blinked sleep out of her eyes, sat, and wrapped her tail around herself.
“Tammy.” Desmond crouched, stretched his hand out towards her, rubbed his fingers together, and made more kissing noises. “Come here.”
Tammy fell on her side, rolled onto her back, and squirmed into the carpet.
Desmond’s body drooped and he sighed. “Fine. I’ll come to you.”
He crawled over to her. He rubbed the fur on her belly and she began to purr. Desmond lay flat on his back beside her, looked at her, and patted his stomach. Tammy’s purring rattled on but she did not move. Desmond looked at her and patted his stomach again. Tammy purred some more.
“Jeez. Come here.” Desmond rubbed his stomach with a short brisk movement. “Tammy, come on.” Her purring faltered and she remained on her back where she was.
Desmond got up on his elbows, made a face at Tammy, and took hold of her under her front legs. Her bottom legs kicked as she came off the ground. Desmond moved to where the sun fell through an open window. He lay down on the carpet so the top part of his body was covered in sun and placed her on his belly. He held her there and pet her until she purred again. She folded herself up and settled onto his chest.
Her purr was happy and she was warm on Desmond’s chest and belly. A long deep breath went out through his nose. He closed his eyes and it was not the usual pitch black but a greyish yellow instead because of the sunlight on his face. A cool breeze blew through the window. Tammy’s claws went in and out, lightly pricking his skin, as he pat her. He rubbed the short hair on the top of her nose and she closed her eyes and turned her face away from his finger. From the side, the shape of her mouth made it look like she was smiling. He stroked her back and she looked at him again. The shape of her mouth looked like a frown. With his other hand, he pushed her ears back flat and it made her look like Bugs Bunny.
There was the sound of feet on the veranda, it startled Tammy, and her claws went sharply into Desmond’s skin. He jerked suddenly from the pain and she bolted away, into the kitchen. Down the long hall, behind him, mail pushed through the slot, and fell to the floor. The feet sounded away down the steps.
*The package was still where Desmond had hidden it. He was happy no one had found it. He looked over his shoulder and listened to make sure no one had come home. He didn’t hear any movement and the TV was off downstairs. Desmond stood up slowly, holding the package close to his body. He backed away from the drawer, keeping his back to the door. He took a pair of scissors from his desk, sat on his bed, and placed the package in his lap.
The hard package was made of construction paper which had been folded over and over again. There was two kinds of tape wrapped around it. Clear, wrinkly, scotch tape was over the beige masking tape. Red construction paper was visible in the gaps.
On the masking tape, Desmond had written, in thick black marker, "Top Secret," "Do Not Open!" and "Private." With his fingernail, he tried to find a spot to pick open the tape. He turned the package over to see if there was a spot on the other side. There was no loose tape there either. It was impenetrable and Desmond smiled.
He used the sharp points of the scissors to poke a hole in the tape. His finger pushed into the hole and he tore off the first layer of tape and construction paper. Underneath, there was orange paper. Under that, blue, and, under that, yellow. He unfolded the yellow paper and inside it, there was a small rectangle of white typing paper.
In neat printing, it said, "Joanna, I love you." He smiled but then his eyes began to burn. A song he heard on the radio all the time sang the same thing. When he heard it at night, waiting to fall asleep, it made him cry.
Desmond closed his eyes and saw a dark shape like Joanna turned around talking to him. At school, she sat in front of him and was one of the smartest kids in class. He couldn’t make a clear picture of Joanna’s face in his head but it was almost like he could see her. He loved Joanna and would never tell her. Never.
*Desmond lay on the couch with his hands and arms above his head, one leg stretched all the way out, and the other hanging over the side. The book, Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang, lay open face down on his stomach. He stared at the blank TV screen.
The curtains moved from the wind. He looked towards them, then at the big plant in the corner. He had won it in Kindergarten because he had remembered a lot of French words. He didn’t remember any of them now. He rolled off the couch, letting the book fall on the carpet, and crawled to the TV.
Underneath the TV stand, inside a tangle of wires and power cords, there was a computer. He pulled it out, untangled a wire and plugged it into the switch box on the back of the TV. Then, he untangled the power cord and plugged it into the wall. He turned the TV on, then the computer. He turned the dial to channel three and reached behind the TV to move the slide in the switch-box from "TV" to "Computer". He checked that the cassette player was connected to the computer and put the cassette for Frogger into it.
A grinding noise came from the cassette player as soon as he turned it on and Desmond hit "Stop" and "Eject" quickly. The cassette popped out but its tape was all twisted up inside the heads of the player. Desmond untwisted and untangled the tape and used his finger to tighten the tape back into the cassette. He sighed and threw the cassette down next to the player.
He stared at the computer’s keypad, then pushed on the letters, and made, "10 print dumb" appear on the TV screen. On the next line down, he made "20 goto 10" appear; on the next line, "30 end". Then, on the next line, he made "run" appear. He pushed the enter key and "dumb" appeared in the top left hand corner of the screen. Another appeared under it. Then another. Then another. They continued to appear until a complete vertical line on the left hand side of the screen had been made. The bottom "dumb" flickered. Desmond smiled.
He pressed the break/pause key and the cursor reappeared, breaking the vertical line. He retyped the commands and replaced "dumb" with "pussy". He laughed out loud at the line of words.
He retyped the commands and used "fuck" instead. As soon as the first "fuck" appeared, Desmond felt uneasy. The line grew very slowly and Desmond felt like someone was about to come home.
He quickly switched the computer off and shoved it back under the TV. He listened to hear if anyone had approached but no one had. He let out a long slow breathe and relaxed.
*The only light in the living room was from the TV and its dial clicked loudly, even though Desmond turned it slowly. He could barely hear the sound but it still seemed loud. Static hissed when the dial was between the channels and between the sounds of the clicks.
Most of the channels were black and white snow or bars and a high pitched tone. He turned the dial the whole way around before he found a channel showing a movie.
A man and a girl were in a dirty washroom. She took her clothes off because she was scared of him. She undressed all the way to her underwear. Desmond felt strange watching her do it. She stood in front of the man, shivering, and the man looked angrily at her. Her underwear was white. She was pretty and looked scared and unhappy. The man moved towards her and she moved back up against a dirty wall in a toilet stall. Then, a commercial came on.
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