By Sikivu Hutchinson
What would have been my life is blackness. But here I am on my skateboard. Kick, ride, kick. Black as the rhythm of stones being thrown against a car bumper or respirators sighing in unison, marking time in intensive care. It is me against traffic. Faceless boy. Nameless face. A stick figure watching the preeners lolling toothily into their car side mirrors, the press-on nail texters smearing out the seconds between red light green light, the dandelion yellow school buses idling out the last twenty minutes before the school bell rings and a blitzkrieg of jeering children descends.
The first time I heard boys laughing they were playing the dozens about punk-faced ‘fags’. The punk in B6 who they said walked like a princess. The punk in the cafeteria who spoke all proper and shit. The punk who brought a lunchbox with the daintiest fairiest of pink in the logo. Batted his eyes. Undressed us with each blink as we stormed the urinals in the bathroom. Pirouetted and spread his arms out wide, lissome as Bambi. I was ready to join the punk conspiracy, to surrender to them, waiting outside the gates of the playground with a pack of Red Vines for anyone who’d let me in. I could read their lips against the thrum of the dodge ball, feel the savage smash of rubber on the asses of stragglers caught in the fifth graders’ gladiator pen. I willed myself into the middle of each game, snatching the ball from a third grade piglet, tongue green with jawbreakers from trick or treat.
The tall one with the Hello Kitty keychain has been my nurse for the past few days. From 6 am to 6 pm we’re united in smell, arthritis cream under her fingernails, tomato juice on her breath filching into my sweaty white hospital sheets as she soldiers through her routine, noting each new arrival, the hushed parade of doleful relatives, the mothers doped up, zombified, bereft after the furor of delivery.
Every misshapen infant skull is part of her queenly dominion. She measures and sizes up and scrapes off dead skin, the room a blur of lumpy wriggling pustulous bodies. And when no one is looking she takes my foot into her hands. Sucks each toe clean as a finger-licking wishbone while snow piles up all around us in plastic drifts. As a child in Minnesota snow season was her most treasured memory. The glee of pushing her baby brothers on their sled, plying them with snowballs, a blow to the head for each sin they’d committed by 7, an ice bomb to the occipital for being dirty blond little princes to her mousy brown drudge.
All my dodge ball boys circle jerk for snow. Dream of pummeling each other into snowy oblivion. Dream of coming out French kissing; their cub tits hardening beneath their Laker jerseys. In the Southern California drear, the endless drear of newborn June, none of them have seen snow. But I have, and now I will be their secret envy. I will be picked first, allowed to cut in line, to have my pick of ice cream, to get dibs on the biggest scoop with chocolate sprinkles. Send my drippy valentine to the nurse as she suctions fluid from my belly button, readjusts the tubes taped to my nose, diddles the gilt K-mart cross in her pocket, gives me her God’s blessing in a gin-soaked whisper. She’s been hitting it, hitting it all night in her studio apartment over the twenty four hour Laundromat on Berendo. Hitting it as the talk shows bleed into vibrator infomercials. Hitting it as the test pattern prattle of the morning news crests and she starches up her uniform, burning it into the ironing board. Our Lord art thou in heaven, fucker of little children, hallowed be thy name.
They taped a name to my bed. First name, last name, all mongrelized letters in Martian code. When I tried to pronounce it all I got was a glub of old amniotic fluid, underwater spit that the nurse dabbed quickly from my mouth.
A boy on the playground has the same name. Initials are NK. His mother comes to pick him up after school. I slide into the backseat with my Red Vines and my ruff and tuff lunchbox, nodding brightly to his boasts about winning the candy drive, acing the new video games his friend Antoine lent him, wondering if he’ll notice me after all these weeks of obedience. In school he is tender wriggling meat on the spit of the big girls prowling the lower grade playground for virgins to bounce water balloons off of. Because his ride comes every day like clockwork he’s the mama’s boy, her double, her twin; look, they have the same squint when they shit. Sitting here I see the symmetry to the backs of their heads. His picks up where hers left off. He is her when she fell from her tricycle, stole candy from the corner store, darted out into the middle of rush hour traffic on a triple dare, bit the hand of the nice family man with the blue eyes who likes to jerk off in the ashtray of his car right when the last bell rings. The crumbs of her DNA make a horseshoe birthmark on the side of his neck, crackling through each dark tendril of hair, bequeathing the code that will make his hairline recede in ten years at the height of his prancing studliness.
We watch the kids swarm the 7-11 with fistfuls of quarters for hot Cheetos, aisles ablaze with Friday afternoon emancipation. They hoist Cheeto bags over their heads like big game, brushing by the church boy predators tricked out in Jesus bling looking for someone to mate with. I lean into N’s ear, his right lobe is all baby oil and pea soup and the musty smooch of the family Cocker Spaniel sprawled dutifully across his bed. We roll through the number streets to his house, past the dead still of men clustered on porches in jobless midday communion. Past the check cashing places, the body shops, the blinding kindergarten bliss of the crowded public pool. He’ll invite me up to his room to watch cartoons, be my hope to die, my refuge for one full episode. I’d go anywhere with you, I croak, blowing dandruff from his bony shoulders.
Last night I took a crap for the first time. A good sign, a robust issue, an imperial stool, the visiting team of specialists said, jotting the miracle down on their clipboards as they made the rounds through our gurgling colony of in limbos, swapping bets on who’d make it out alive to taste the clear blue, to see the sunshine unfiltered by the grates of hospital windows, to revel in the stench of the first fuck, feel the highway slithering under them on a cross country drive. To grow old enough to fear death and start the fool’s bargain.
–You’re a perfect angel, the nurse whispered to me tonight. She ran down her checklist one last time before the end of her shift, avoiding the downward sag of my gaze, my purple lips puckering full tilt. Her head is cocked, listening for rush hour traffic as I flatline past on my skateboard. Kick, ride, kick.