And They Are All Crucified
Everyone in the World is Christ and They Are All Crucified.
He wants to call them coolies because he found the word himself. The smaller brother, Warsane, used a child's dictionary he'd memorized to decide on the term. Warsane says to his sire, to his thick-waisted brother, "I'm sick of 'em callin' us those names. You too, right? Coolie is a hard worker. Let 'em choke on coonskin if they don't call us coolies, Right Daddy?"
Warsane and Gilroy are shining the Cragars on the '78 Camaro. The car is on blocks so the polishing and rubbing they do on loose tires, no axle holds them. Warsane is rolling one of the tires away from the house trailer where all four perpetually lean when not being shined. The trailer sits on a small knoll that breaks toward the fishless pond. On the bright blue horizon a string of Angus switch their tails at the few flies that remain after the first hard frost. From the front yard, the cattle in the distance appear to Warsane to look the size of flies; he thinks it's weird that cattle can look like flies. He remembers the time he took a dazed one and put it on his nose. He laid back and let it crawl up the bridge until it looked enormous in his vision. As he rolls another tire toward his father, he feels confused by the difference distance can make. Little Warsane is also confused why people say his daddy is his brother; he wants to chew on those people who call him a 'bastard son of hell.' But its when some man he doesn't know in town pulls him aside mockingly and tries to explain to him that his mother is also his grandmother that makes him feel trapped inside a dark space with no exit. When Warsane asks about the mother-grandmother puzzle, Gilroy says, "It just means your mother was grand, that's all." It is fall. The brittle leaves of the poplars and sycamores crunch under their boots when they circle the tire rim, now flat on the ground, shining the chrome to mirror with cheesecloth and big dollops of lard.
Gilroy is on the Sippy Diet. He is dipping soft bread in an old margarine tub of thickened milk cream; he chews each bite with the hope that the diet will repair the ulcer that has eaten a hole the size of a dime on the inside of his gut. When Gilroy found out about his ulcer, after waiting in line at a free clinic near Detroit, he told Warsane he was fine and explained the Sippy Diet by making it seem that the bland meals of milk, cream, alkaline powders, cereal and eggs were just a set of staples which they had to rely upon, what with their desire to get the car up and running. Gilroy said in his soft, raspy voice, "War, son, that Camaro is gonna be beautiful. It'll look like its riding on four full moons when its all done. But that takes money and eating real simple'll help us get it done faster." Warsane smiled when Gilroy told him about the sacrifices they would make for the car, and with his hunched, bantam back hobbled over to Gilroy and gave him a tight hug, barely able to get his thin rail arms around Gilroy's barrel chest.
They are quiet now though, as they usually are when they use animal fat to buff the silver rims enough that they can check their faces for a new whitehead. Gilroy knows he passed on his skin condition to his son; he sometimes secretly surveys Warsane's delicate chin and during those times feels confident that the perpetual small tribe of spider-egg-like pimples which cluster around where a cleft should be are just like his own. It pains Gilroy to know that his son, now fifteen, will endure the bad skin for another twenty years, maybe more Gilroy thinks; after all, his pimples are still going strong, no end in sight.
Warsane asks Gilroy , "Daddy, I have some of that?" He points to the plastic bowl of cream. Gilroy smiles and musses Warsane's bristly hair. He lovingly repeats his son's question and motions for Warsane to stop shining and to sit down. Gilroy brushes away the leaves and small twigs from an area for Warsane. He hands Warsane the bowl and takes the waxy rag from the boy's bony fingers. It's his fingers that make Gilroy ache sometimes; they are so much of what the boy is: thin, unsure, slightly bent and twitchy. For a few moments the boy eats without any sound at all. Gilroy watches him with a stream of memories flitting around in his head. He recalls the first time he held his son, after his and the boy's mother was pronounced dead in the delivery room. Warsane was little but in tact; pink and quiet, with petite tufts of blond hair on the crown of his very soft head. Gilroy watches his son nibble the pieces of white bread and recalls also the day Warsane first said "Daddy." He wonders still if it was the right choice: did he choose to tell the little baby boy the story of 'daddy' versus 'brother' for himself or was it indeed in the best interest of a child with what the doctors termed 'significant developmental delays?' He tells himself he was only twenty, that he was nearly a child then too. But as always when Gilroy examines this part of their lives he comes to believe deeply that what he is called makes no more difference than calling the moon 'moon' or the dawn 'dawn.' His love for Warsane is as simple and true as anything in nature.
It is getting late; the crows flashing past overhead, landing at the edge of a lion-colored field of wheat stubble, cast generous shadows on the grass. The air is becoming chilly, preparing itself for another night's pristine frost. When Warsane wakes up and sees hoarfrost like crisp icing on the combed over fescue he says, "Daddy it snowed, it snowed!" He said it to Gilroy just this morning and as Gilroy watches Warsane finish off the bowl of cream he pulls the boys collar up to shield him from the brisk air, and he knows in the morning the boy will say the same thing when he sees the frost. Gilroy has explained the difference to Warsane who then, for a few days last fall called the frost 'tiny snow.'
They roll the tires, gleaming now like silver pinwheels, back in place at the side of the trailer. Gilroy begins to feel a familiar pang of desperation in his chest. The worker from the county will be out in two days to interview him and Warsane again. They have been on what the young woman calls her caseload for less than a year now after Warsane cut the tip of his finger off with a steak knife while Gilroy worked at the welding shop outside of town. Even though Gilroy had told Warsane to use the plastic cutlery he buys monthly at a convenience store, also outside of town, the boy said he was making his daddy a nice meal and wanted to set the table with fancy things. Gilroy couldn't find the strength needed to punish Warsane and after they returned home from an all night med clinic, Warsane's index tip back in place with six stitches, Gilroy sat down at the kitchen table and ate what was supposed to be a sausage and tomato omelet. Warsane watched his father eat the cold egg wrapped around bologna and sliced apples so intently Gilroy thought the boy was going to burst. Gilroy said as he stuffed big bites of the omelet into his mouth, "That's about the best thing I ever had, War!" The apple slices crunched, uncooked, and the bologna reminded Gilroy of what salted plastic might taste and feel like in the mouth, but even with the finger incident and the inedible food a smile spread across Gilroy's face as Warsane asked, "You want Kool-aid? I made Kool-aid too Daddy."
It is dark now; the only light around them is the radio tower just fifty feet behind the trailer, strobing red flashes out in perfect syncopation. Gilroy and Warsane can see the red light blazing across the windows of the trailer, but it is such a common sight they never look up from their supper to give a double-take. Their plates are full of macaroni and cheese, tuna helper and globs of pre-made chocolate pudding from a deep tub. Gilroy decides to prepare Warsane for the visit the next day. He says, "War, the lady from the county is coming again. You remember her don't you?" Gilroy looks at Warsane, who has his head turned down toward his plate, intent on rounding up the stray macaroni he does not want to get pudding on. Gilroy repeats himself, "War? Did you hear me? The lady from the county is coming back again?" Warsane does not seem to notice or hear his daddy. Gilroy reaches across the table and gently lifts the boys head, his hand touches the pimply chin, red and swollen from Warsane squeezing it after his shower, before Gilroy had called him to the table. Warsane looks up and smiles at his father. Gilroy cups the delicate chin of his child in his hand; he wipes the ring of chocolate from around the boy's mouth with a napkin.
"Did you hear me War? About the county lady?"
Warsane, smiling says, "Yeah. She'll be back again."
"Yes, she will and remember it's okay to tell her what you want okay War?" The boy becomes distracted again and begins to fiddle with his plate, swirling the tuna helper into conical shaped piles.
In bed, after he's gotten Warsane read to and tucked in, Gilroy lies in his own room, on a fold out couch, and listens to the sounds of the trailer. Every so often the furnace kicks on and forces warm air up from the vents along the baseboards. In the kitchen, the refrigerator cools the leftovers loudly, like a welding machine firing up, thinks Gilroy. A couple of late two-seaters rumble overheard in the dark sky and Gilroy wonders if from up there they can see the trailer and if the radio tower's red lights look like the devil's eyes to them too. He adjusts his pillow and squirms around on the couch to get comfortable. He is hot, but keeps the trailer at the temperature Warsane likes. He closes his eyes and tries to feign sleep to hurry the process along. But, as is always the case, the night, right before drifting off, brings Gilroy a flood of memories he'd soon not have to think about. He sees himself and his dead mother being arranged on a carpeted pedestal at the photography studio in the town he left after she was dead and Warsane was born. His mother had been a real estate seller, mostly representing the small run down residences that belonged to dead elderly parents or the droves of asbestos factory workers who got cancer, died and needed the shack they'd been able to buy over thirty years sold for what amounted to the price of a new car. She felt she needed an advertisement in the local paper, spelling out her services and had arranged a photo shoot with her son for the photograph that would accompany her small ad. Gilroy was fifteen. His mother laid out what he was to wear for the photo; the outfit consisted of a pair of black slacks and a sweater vest worn over a pink button down. For several years the ad ran in the paper continually, while Gilroy marched through the post-puberty years, changing his looks with a dark shadow of beard by the time he was seventeen, but in the paper he was forever a smooth faced, grinning boy.
Gilroy tries to concentrate on some more sounds, but keeps getting interrupted by that photo of himself and his mother, before, he thinks, she took him on the weekend that would change their lives and make Warsane his son. He rolls onto his side and begins to bite the corner of his pillow case. The scenes from the weekend in a cabin his mother was supposed to be surveying as a property to be listed are swirling around in his head. He bites harder at the pulpy cloth between his teeth; the taste of chlorine and fabric softener numb his tongue. He sees himself at the over-sized kitchen island in the cabin, peeling garlic for an inexpensive pasta dish he'd learned to make in home-ec class just two years before. His mother is in his head dancing to a Bob Seger song she swore was straight from the devil himself. Gilroy hugs the pillow tighter; his hands are balled up in fists at his eyes, teeth now nearly tearing into the pillow. For an instant there is relief; a deep sonorous thump from the furnace shutting down brings Gilroy out of his sweaty recollections. He sits up and begins to cry. But in the dark confines of his narrow room it comes again at him like several socks up side the head. He sees his mother as if she is on a split screen tv. One side is her when she was younger, hair down around her shoulders, whispering in his ear that she loved him, all the while loosening the little silver buckle of a bronco buster on his size 12 Levis. On the other side of his head, where he is now slapping at his temple, he sees her readying herself on the island in the cabin's kitchen, peeling her thick underwear to one side, coaxing him to be a man and do what a good boy should.
Gilroy tenses his whole body and dry heaves, yet he still feels a sense of penetrating loss at the thought of his mother being dead. He lies quietly in the dark and wonders, as he has so many times before, if Warsane would be any different had his mother lived. And it is that thought which stirs him to go look in on Warsane. At the bedroom door, Gilroy peaks around the corner at his son, who is balled up in such a tiny curl it looks as though he could lick his toes easily. Gilroy goes to the boy's bed and sits down. On the floor a two liter plastic bottle of Mountain Dew is on its side, cap loosely screwed on, slowly draining out yellow froth on to a woven rug. Gilroy smiles and puts the bottle upright, takes off his shirt and mops up the pop, dabbing and dabbing until the Hanes looks like its been peed on. Gilroy puts his hand under the tattered sleeping bag Warsane will not give up and has had since he was four. He searches the warm undercover, finds Warsane's hand and takes it in his; he puts the veiny, pale skin to his lips and kisses around the knuckles, presses the lax fingers to his cheek, trails them down under his nose. He thinks the boy's skin smells like brown sugar and allspice: an odor he cannot recall being without. The room is almost black except for a small goldfish tank that sits on top of a corkboard dresser. The fish inside are old; Warsane was barely five when Gilroy took him to a strip mall fair with decrepit rides and rigged games and paid a carnie twenty bucks so Warsane could toss a ring on an ear of corn and pick out his very own fish. Gilroy keeps holding the cold hand under his nose and watches the fish prowling back and forth along the greasy face of the bowl. The fish, and what Warsane won't stop doing to the fish, is the only source of tension between father and son. Gilroy has put his son in time out, grounded him; and more recently, taken to threatening the boy with leaving the Camaro on blocks if he catches him one more time feeding boogers to the fish. It started when Warsane first brought the fish home and no matter what Gilroy does he can just about bet that sometime during the week he will happen upon Warsane ever so slightly scraping at the inside of his nostril with an elongated pinky nail and flicking the mucous scales on the top of the water where the two bulbous-headed orange fish quickly suck them into their pulsing mouth holes. He thinks maybe the salty snot is what has made them so big, so hungry for more of the same. Gilroy watches the fish as they struggle to find space in the cramped tear-shaped bowl and he wonders out loud why he's never bothered to find the fish a more comfortable place to live out their days. The father falls asleep sitting upright, with his son's hand as light as a glove tucked under his chin for safe keeping.
In the morning, with the country radio station blaring background static in his room, Warsane is clueless to the fact that his father has once again watched over him. Gilroy is in the back bathroom, off the shotgun, shag hallway, shaving his dark stubble for the caseworker from the county. He looks in the mirror and flashes his teeth at himself like a braying horse might. He has cut several of the whiteheads off his chin and blood dots the shiny skin there like pinhead rubies. He wraps a towel around his stocky mid-section and walks heavy-footed down the hall to Warsane's room. The boy is standing before his dresser naked, his impressive penis like an eel, almost touches the top of the third drawer. With his head cocked to one side, Warsane is at it again, plucking things from his nose for the fish, who are swarming around the surface of the water, waiting for the goodies to fall into their small world. Gilroy feels a strong desire to jump on the boy and pummel him, give him a good thrashing for breaking the rules so defiantly. But the heaving in Gilroy's chest subsides; he calms himself by leaning on the door frame and watching his son like the boy is a character in a play. Warsane digs around in his nose some more; and in his enthusiasm to get at the deeper recesses crooks his elbow so quickly that it slams into the dresser, knocking the fish bowl over and spilling one of the goldfish out before he can set the bowl upright again. Water eases over the dresser top like it is a slab of shale on a river bottom. Gilroy watches as Warsane struggles to right the mishap; his pale nudity is ghostly as he scurries around the room looking for something, anything. The spilt fish flops over the dresser top, then skids off and falls to the floor, wiggling, arcing to be picked up off the shag. Gilroy feels like he might again slap at the boy, but instead walks slowly from the door jam to where the fish lies thinking it is drowning. Gilroy plucks the gold, squirming blur from the floor and tosses it back into a half empty bowl. Warsane is gathering up t-shirts from the floor when he sees his father. He drops the shirts and runs to Gilroy. As they hug, Gilroy watches the saved fish getting accustomed to its new, depleted home, and pulls his boy tighter.