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how the hell do you understand life when everyone bleeds the same?

Chapter 1

One Time

One Time

One time when me and Eddie were trying to get this cow to eat its own shit, we put a pile of it mixed in with some hay and we fed it to the cow and the cow ate it and Eddie was laughing but when he fell out of the hay loft it was a long way down and he broke his arm.

It was because of that, but not because of what we did to the cow, that Eddie’s Mom said we couldn’t play together anymore because Eddie always got hurt and I didn’t. Eddie’s Mom is old like some people’s grandmother but she’s really muscley and her front tooth is broken and she kind of whistles when she talks. She’s pretty mean sometimes, and Eddie says she hits him with his father’s belt for being bad but his father never hits him or back talks her either, plus he never wears the belt anymore. Eddie’s Mom wouldn’t let me come up on the porch after Eddie broke his arm, but then Eddie got so boring being at home all the time in his smelly cast she said I could come over as long as I helped Eddie pick beans first, so we got a big white bucket from the shed and I had to do most of the work because of Eddie’s arm, but I said then I get to be Captain Zemo when we get back to the submarine and he said no, but when I hit him with the bucket and we started throwing dirt balls, I won. I hit him in the eye and we knew that Eddie’s Mom would say he got hurt again and I didn’t, so we took the bucket and we filled it pretty fast, but Eddie was saying his eye hurt and it was red and swollen, so when we got to the end of a row and the bucket was full, we stopped and swam and ran to the tree house that was our submarine. Eddie went first up the ladder, first even though he had a broken arm and he couldn’t open all of the portholes. I decided to climb up the rope from the tire swing and then shimmy down the branch and sneak attack the enemy gorillas that were holding Eddie prisoner. Pretty soon we were tired and I got hungry so I told him I had to go home. We had roast beef and potatoes but my little brother threw up on the dog—he was always throwing up and me too sometimes when I smelled it, but not so much anymore.

So the next day me and Eddie were laughing because he put shaving cream in his mother’s curlers and she couldn’t figure it out. She was mad but she didn’t really know if it was him because he just poured a whole bunch of stuff all over the place and made it look like maybe an accident. He always does that.

When it was time to go eat lunch, my parents were fighting again and Frances came to get me. Frances takes care of my little brother Colin because he’s always getting sick and she’s a nurse in real life, but she’s not my babysitter I don’t need one she’s my friend. I love Frances. Frances is wicked cool, she buys us donuts and when my mom and dad are fighting and they need the whole house to themselves, she comes and gets us in her blue Thunderbird. She let me drive it once in the parking lot where she lives. She has lots of neighbors, and I like it there even though she lives in a big ugly brick building. Plus there’s a pool down the street with a slide and we can go on it. Frances makes us hot dogs the way I like them, not the way my mother makes them, and we get real ketchup. Sometimes my brother Colin gets sick and they have to take him to the hospital and my parents fight, but when Frances comes it’s just me so she doesn’t take me to the swimming pool, but she makes me hot dogs anyway.

But one time when me and Eddie were fighting these aliens that were in some milk crates behind the chickens and we were pretending they had us pinned down on all sides so we couldn’t get out but we had a flamethrower, we heard sirens and an ambulance come down our street so we hopped on our bikes and we rode super fast to my house, but when we got there my mother was already in the back with the lights on and the siren going and they drove away before I could say good-bye.

Mrs. Mumbles from next door who works at the post office, and my dad says she mumbles on purpose, she sent Eddie home and took me to her house for dinner, but it was fish sticks I don’t really like and she made me eat cabbage too. I felt pretty bad sitting in her kitchen because she kept saying you poor boy, you poor boy and rubbing my head, you’re so sweet, you poor boy, but all I could think of was I didn’t like fish sticks and about that time me and Eddie threw rotten eggs in her garage for no reason. They really stank because the chickens didn’t hatch and when we threw them against the cement wall sometimes blood came out of them and sometimes a baby chicken that never hatched and it stuck to the wall for a second before it fell.

Frances drove me away in her Thunderbird, said I was going to stay with her and her husband just for a while. He was nice but he was scary. He had huge hands and major muscles and he laughed so loud, but my mom told me their son had to use a wheelchair because he dove into a pool that wasn’t deep enough so I felt sorry for him. I didn’t see their son but there was an old wheelchair and I felt sorry for Frances and Mr. Frances.

The next day we ate fried chicken because Frances said I couldn’t keep eating hot dogs. Mr. Frances said he could teach me how to fish, but I told him I already know how because my dad and my brother and me, we go fishing sometimes before school, and Mr. Frances laughed and said that I could teach him then. When my mom called she said Colin was really sick so I had to stay with Frances for a few more days but in the morning Frances put on her white nurse’s uniform and went to work without me. I had to eat cereal with Mr. Frances all alone, but he put strawberries in it and I liked him. He taught me how to tie knots that can lift a whole ship up out of the ocean and then he told me that farts explode if you put a lighter to them, but I was too scared to try it and I didn’t have to fart anyway, so we made grilled cheeses for lunch with the bread toasted first and then fried in butter. Then he showed me how to make a chain with beer tabs and he kept giving me new ones to weave into it and then he took a nap snoring loud while I played trucks on the rug. When Frances got home I showed her my beer tabs and she yelled at Mr. Frances and smacked at his head while he was in his armchair, but he just laughed real loud. She said, See what I have to put up with? I’m everybody’s Momma, and then Mr. Frances put his hand on her behind and she slapped his hand away but she was smiling.

When the phone rang it was Mr. Frances that answered it this time and then he gave the phone to Frances and told me I should sit down and he opened a beer can and gave me a new tab. Then Frances started whispering and then praying dear Jesus and then she started crying. Mr. Frances held my hands in his one big hand and he stared into my eyes until I blinked. I said what’s wrong, is that my mother, and he said yes there’s bad news and Frances came over and told me Colin died at the hospital and she held me pressed against her white nurse’s uniform and I cried really hard. Mr. Frances was quiet but Frances was crying with me and she kept crying louder until it was like singing it was so loud, and she pulled me close to her body and I cried louder too until I couldn’t anymore.

When we went to the funeral Eddie’s Dad put his hand on my shoulder and then on my dad’s shoulder but he didn’t say anything. Eddie was really quiet except when he cried a little bit, and he wouldn’t go up to the coffin. Eddie’s Mom wouldn’t look at Frances when she came over to us, and then she told my mother I’m sorry about your little retarded boy, and my mother started to cry again and I was so mad I didn’t know what to do, but Frances pulled me away when Eddie’s Mom said, Try not to be too sad, God takes back the ones that are broken.

Later, our house was so full of grownups I rode my bike to Eddie’s. We were throwing rocks at the tractor. You could hear them hit the sides through the trees and back again across the field, but then we heard gravel and we saw Frances driving to my house in her Thunderbird. I said I better go, Frances is coming, and Eddie said, Why’d you let that nigger in church, and I said, What do you mean? He said, Why’d you let her into your church, she’s a nigger, my mom says you shouldn’t let niggers into your house or your church, why’d you let that nigger into your house? and I said She’s not a nigger and he said Yes she is, she’s a nigger, and I said I didn’t know, I didn’t know she was a nigger, she’s not a nigger, she’s Frances.

When I stopped hitting him Eddie was on the ground because I hit him really hard with my Captain Zemo fist and he was crying and I was crying because I really wanted to punch Eddie’s Mom. She called my brother retarded and Frances said never use that word.

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Ciaran Cooper

Chicago, USA

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