Jul/Aug 2000 spotlight

Proof Through the Night

by Eric Bosse

When I sprinted out of the house into the back yard, Dad was on the patio cursing his charcoal grill and Mom was stretched out in a lawn chair with a paperback romance in her hands. I leapt over the sack of fireworks by the picnic table and made an end run around the grill.

"Mom, Mom! You ain't gonna believe this."

She slid her pink plastic sunglasses to the top of her head. "Marky, don't use ain't."

"Ronnie's doing something in the basement." A bottle rocket whined through the twilight sky from the other side of our block. "When can we light the fireworks?"

"After dark, babe. What's Ronnie doing?"

"Come see."

She brushed away my bangs. Her skin was ice cold from the glass of sun tea she sipped all day long. "Tell me what Ronnie's up to."

Dad swatted the grill with his spatula. "Godammit!"

Mom shot a smile at Dad. "Oh hit it again, Jack. That'll light it."

"Shut up, Evelyn."

"Shut up yourself." She set her book down on the patio and raised her eyebrows at me. "You always have to stir the poop, don't you?"

"Not always."

"Well, what is it?"

Dad went into the shed.

I whispered, "It's a woman thing."

"Oh." She bit her lip. "Well, I'm a woman, so you can tell me. And stand up straight." She pushed back my shoulders and gave me a soft smack on the cheek. "Girls won't chase a boy with bad posture."

"I don't want 'em to chase me. Come inside."

Mom rolled her eyes and swung her legs out of the chair. When she stood, the cottage cheese on the backs of her legs had a criss-cross imprint from the chair's woven straps. Her little blue veins looked twisted and broken.

I followed her into the house, to the top of the basement stairs. "Go quiet, Mom."

She frowned and slipped out of her rubber-soled sandals. "Quiet as a mouse, babe." Holding her hand, I led her down the steps far enough to peek into the basement.

We kept a carpet down there, an old orange and brown one that used to be in our living room. On the carpet, an olive green sofa faced the corner. In the corner, our old black and white TV showed a rerun of Gilligan's Island. On the screen Mary Ann pleaded with a cannibal to let her and Ginger go free.

And in front of the television, with an American flag wrapped around his hips as a skirt and one of my mother's white blouses tied at his belly button, my twelve year old brother Ron moved his body and lips exactly as Mary Ann did. When she shrugged, he shrugged. When she put her hands together and waved them in the air, he did it too. When the scene shifted and Ginger took over—seducing the cannibal with her curves—Ron cocked his head and listened, just like Mary Ann.

We watched him until a Kool-Aid commercial started. Mom dropped my hand, stood, and walked down the stairs.

"Ronnie, what on Earth are you doing?"

Ron whirled around. His face turned as white as the blouse. Mom slapped him. A slap from Mom didn't really hurt.

"You're a boy, Ronnie, not a girl. Where'd you get that flag?"

"I found it in a box."

"Oh my God." Mom stumbled back and collapsed onto the sofa. "Dear God, forgive us."

Ron pulled the flag from around his waist and tried to hand it to her. "Mom, I'm sorry." He was wearing his cutoff shorts.

Mom stood right back up and pulled the flag from Ron's hand. "Do you have any idea? This is the flag they used for your Grampa Stephen's funeral."

Ron shook his head.

"What were you thinking, mister?"

"I don't know."

"Don't I-don't-know me, you little pervert. Where did you get that blouse?"

"From your laundry basket."

"Take it off."

Ron untied and unbuttoned the blouse.

"I've seen a lot of things in my day, Ronnie. A lot of things. But I've never, and I mean never, seen a little boy who wanted to dress up as Mary Anne."

From my perch on the stairs I said, "Bad taste, Ronnie."

Ron glared at me. I stuck my tongue at him. He took off the blouse and handed it to Mom. He was so skinny his ribs showed like a UNICEF child.

Mom shook her head. "Ronnie, why on earth would you do this?"

I said, "And why would you choose Mary Ann over Ginger?"

Ron shouted, "Marky, if you don't shut up—"

"Leave your brother out of it."

"But, Mom—"

"Now go to your room and don't come down. And count your blessings that Daddy didn't catch you."

Ron marched up the stairs. As he passed me I smirked. He punched me in the shoulder. I didn't mind because I knew I'd get to light his fireworks too, but when I saw that Mom had witnessed the punch, I winced. My mouth opened and no words came out, just a pathetic squeak.

"Dammit, Ronnie, that's it!" She pounded her foot into the floor, but the concrete under the carpet didn't make a sound. She screamed, "Get back down here this instant before I tell your father!"

As Ron returned to the bottom of the stairs, she shouted, "Do not, under any circumstances, hit your brother again for as long as you live!"

Just then Dad came in from the patio and said, "What the hell is going on in here?"

Mom told him everything.

Dad said nothing. He grabbed Ron by the hair and led him to the car. I could hear Ron pleading as Dad slammed the door and started the engine. The car backed out of our driveway and disappeared up Fountain Street. Standing there, watching the tail lights fade away, I lit my first sparkler. The white light flashed on Mom's face. She looked at me in a way I had never seen before, as if something were my fault. As if I were a spy.


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