It is spectacular. My left brow adorned in a black coat, shimmering with the kind of royal indigo that could make the South Pacific become green-eyed. Along the outer rim of my eye socket, where the tip of the brow meets my temple, there rests upon a mighty black and blue throne an inch long, red laceration. It didn't take much time for it to swell up, leaving me to resemble the famous fatherless sailer with a speech impediment, sporting an anchor tattoo on his arm, living off a strict diet of spinach. Only one of those things are accurate in my case, and I’ll let you make your assumptions while I explain how my face went from pale white, to red, white and blue. It takes a lot of work to make my face look like the sexiest American Flag that has yet come into existence. It’s a rather long and drawn out explanation for a rather short - and for the most part, unpleasant - story.
Earl is a kid who I swear to God he has the worst name - with the exception of my own - and the hardest knuckles you never want to come across. His own girlfriend won't even hold his hand. It’s not like they’re meaty or anything, on the contrary, more like someone stuffed a baseball mitt full of sticks. In all honesty, I feel kinda bad for the guy, to be cursed with skeletal, corpse-like paws for hands and the uncanny resemblance of a baboon must be awful. The poor kid must have an aneurysm every time he catches sight of his own reflection. How he has a girlfriend and I don’t - at age seventeen that’s life’s greatest mystery. I mean, the guy’s name is Earl, for God’s sake.
Well, anyways, back to the tale of my battle scars. Don't get me wrong, I love a good tall tale, but the way I figure it is that if I tell this as a “you should see the other guy” type of thing, I’ll end up in more trouble than I’m up for tolerating.
The truth, in all of it’s crappiness, is that I was making fun of an actual baboon - or ape, I should say - we were being lectured on in science. And as it just so happens, good ol’ Earl was behind me in the lunch line at Subway during midday break from school. I can’t blame him for thinking I was jabbering about his lousy mug, you could say “urinal” and he’d think you were referring to him. Like I said, though, I can’t blame him, it’s a lousy mug.
So Earl seizes his opportunity , he follows me back to the school courtyard. It’s like crossing paths with a bear cub, I crossed the line - his made up line, I might add - and now I’m just waiting to be mauled by the mother. Or what’s better yet, a ticked off Earl Bañer. Halfway back to the courtyard I broke a sweat and decided to trash the five-dollar-foot-long in the nearest can I came across as the nausea began to set in.
We were about a block away when he closed the gap between us. The kid smacked the side of my face, but not with much force. Earl wanted to pick a fight, the thing is… The only thing that the guy is good at picking is his bigger-than-life nostrils. Those gifted fingers, you know? Nobody ever wanted to fight Bañer... not because of the muscle, because of the bones. Acne claimed his skin, but I’d take that kid’s overgrown pores over his skeleton-fists any day of the week.
Nevertheless, his knuckles met my face and my face hit the asphalt. He walked away and cussed his victory to himself. I laughed as quietly as I could - his body, bones, skin and all the rest of him hit puberty. Well, all but his voice, which cracks about as often as the sidewalk I’m forced to take on my way home.
I rolled onto my back and let the blood on my lower lip and forehead dry under the blazing, West Coast sun. I didn’t go back to school. That’s probably a poor choice on my part since rumors spread about as quickly as summer fires. Fortunately, the thing about summer fires and rumors are 1. they have a starting point and 2. they can be put out, replaced, and manipulated. I’m just not in a very manipulative mood. My poor face got the crap knocked out of it and looks almost as bad as Bañer’s… Almost.
I had to wait on the doorstep for my mother to pull into the small driveway, which is unfortunately proportionate to our lemon of a car. And that is saying something since we don’t have a driveway. We have a beat up, overgrown, ant-infested curb. By the looks of it, the Prius can't take much more of this drought, the tires are worn raw, much like the whole left side of my face. By the time mom calms down enough to scold me and excuse my unplanned absence from school, I’ll still be picking rubble out of my skin.
“A gladiator has to wear some battle scars, Karen.” It ticks her off every time I address my mother by her first name.
“And a nerd has to wear his glasses before he decides to pick a fight.” I roll my eyes as she stretches my eyebrow and dabs the scrapes with a damp cloth. “And quit calling me Karen.” I wince as she pounds the rag once against the side of my forehead and goes to the sink to refresh it.
“Quit calling me ‘nerd’. I am no nerd” she looks at me, unamused. “I’m a geek.”
“Well, whatever the heck you think you are, you are no gladiator.” It’s silent for a minute as she walks back over to me as I sit on the table, my palms helping me lean forward to meet the cold washrag. I hate that she’s babying me, but I’ve had my fill for fights today, and I really don’t feel like losing again. “You are lucky, though, I’ll say that.” She finally says, making a duck face at me. I don’t know why she has a tendency to make faces, but if I have learned anything; it’s not to make fun of your mother.
When has learning ever stopped me though?
“I was clocked on the side of my head, how’s that lucky?” I complain as she becomes less gentle with the rag.
“Lucky” she says, really emphasizing the word a bit too dramatically, “you didn’t need stitches, dimwit.” She pulls away from my face and smirks. Now we’re back to banter as usual. God, I love when I get the opportunity to talk back.
“Dimwit? That’s your play, huh?” She smacks my upper arm with the rag and decides to flop it into the sink with purpose. She plants her palm on the side of her torso and biases her hip; mom-attitude.
“If you needed stitches, you’d pay for it.” She snaps, removing her hand from her hip and unraveling a bag of bread to make our usual toast. We have it every night. It’s our pre-dinner toast, our toast to dinner.
“Well, since you’re the one that pays my allowance, technically, you’d pay for it.” She shoves the bread into our fancy toaster, the fanciest thing in the house, and turns back towards me, leaning against the sink. I count down in my head; ready… aim… fire.
“Okay, wiseguy.” She cocks her head, her dirty blonde hair sweeping across her back and gathering over at her left shoulder. I can almost feel the lecture coming on, like hearing a distant thunder - the rain is about to pour. “1. I dictate your allowance, so if you think you can haul your skinny butt all of the way to town every day and actually land a job with a nasty cut on your forehead and raggedy, beat up clothes to pay your own way, be my guest. And 2. I mean you’d pay for it. If you had to get stitches, I’d make em’ worth it.” She grins and puts up her dukes, trying to come off as threatening, but only seeming playful.
“Abuse!” I yelp, flopping onto my back, the hard tabletop greeting the curve of my skull. I have hit my head way too much to possibly be any more sane than my mother… That is a scary thought. My hands fold onto the bottom of my ribcage, rising up and down with every breath, and I just stare at the ceiling for a few seconds, my head reminding me that I am in pain. I accidently let out a groan, the headache churning my stomach, and she noticeably softens her voice.
“I could say the same thing about you living with me for the past fifteen years.” She pricks up an eyebrow at the exact same time the toast jumps up. I wipe my hand down my face, ignoring the immediate migraine the motion causes from the salt on my fingers licking my newly cleaned wounds. Karen, I mean, mom has spent the last fifteen years trying to convince me she has supernatural powers. She keeps showing me these articles and news reports of mothers lifting trucks and busting through walls to protect or save their kid. But my mom is a whole new kind of crazy, I have to call her bluff as often as I can so she doesn’t go off trying to stop runaway trains as a new profession. But she seems tired today, acting completely like her (don’t tell her I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt or any sort of compliment) wonderful self. Like I said, though, she’s worn, and so am I.
“I don’t beat up Karens - yes that’s plural - for no good reason. And Karen, the past fifteen years have been abuse-free on your end as far as I’m concerned.” I’m not even looking at her anymore, my eyes are sore from straining themselves just to see the sink where she is still preparing toast. I can hear the butterknife smothering jam over the gritty, golden brown bread.
“Oh, trust me, my dear.” She says with an over exaggerated sigh, the kind that gets on my nerves and she knows it. “Living with you; it’s been quite the abuse, mentally and emotionally.” Queen of sarcasm, she is. All of my energy suddenly evades me, and I have no interest in talking any longer. Not even to insult her.
“That’s good to hear.” Where’s my friggin’ toast? I don’t even want a real dinner, I’m so drained. I continue lay on my back with my hands over my face.
“Honey, take a prozac or something, you’re killing the force.” She had to bring up the force somehow. And no, I do not need a prozac, just so you’re aware. “Eat your toast, slacker.” She plops the plate down, dead center of my gut, knocking the wind out of me. “I’m going to work on some bills. I’m in my bedroom if you need me.” As if I hadn't guessed. Bills are one of her many jobs and there are only a few rooms in the house. You enter through the laundry room, into the kitchen which serves as a dining and family room, followed by her room, a bathroom, and attic. I’m convinced there are dead bodies up there or something bogus like that.
I’m near certain that there are bodies in the attic... she’s one hundred percent certain that she is a descendant of Darth Vader - which isn’t possible anyhow since the movie takes place a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. I figured it’d be best not to crush that hope, it’s the craziest hope she has, but she deserves it. That and I find her insanity amusing. Too many people think that she does fine without a shred of faith, that she somehow doesn’t deserve that sort of fool’s paradise - my father being one of those people.