M.E. in Trouble
M.E. told me this story and he swore it was true, nothing but true, and made me hope to die I wouldn’t tell anyone but God. We were hiding on his roof after Joseph P. said he would beat my brains in, after M.E. beat on him and Joseph P. fell down and we made a run for it. Anyone driving by M.E.‘s house could look up and see two boys all bruised and torn jeans, lying there, too tired to do much except wait for his dad to find us. We stared at the sky until I thought we might fall into space, and I lifted my less-painful hand and swore. He said “That was too easy for a liar like you” but he told me anyway.
M.E. was in his pajamas, setting up his racing cars in his room when the noise downstairs died down to nothing. He looked up and heard what wasn’t there: no dad slamming doors, no stepmother going at his sister Lucky, no sister Lucky outside his window yelling numbers with each jump-rope slap. M.E. dropped his cars and leaned over to see into Lucky’s room: it was a wide-open mouth, no bed, no rug, only thumbtacks and white shapes on the walls where posters should be. The quiet filled the room and his lungs, the quiet pushed him straight out, and in the hallway the windows shook like tissues and the walls breathed, go, go, and he did. M.E. skidded around the banister and three jumps down the stairs out the front door in time to see his dad and stepmother shoving suitcases into the station wagon. He yelled from the porch, what? where?, but his dad kept on rearranging suitcases and even furniture, all disappearing into the back of the car. M.E.’s stepmother looked at her watch and then at the sky. M.E.’s sister Lucky stood by the open door of the station wagon with her Barbie, and bounced its Barbie feet across the car. M.E. wished someone had told him earlier they were leaving so he wouldn’t have set up his cars. He stood on the cold steps in his bare feet, and his father and stepmother turned and put up a hand each and their mouths shouted nothing.
M.E. could see their mouths open but couldn’t hear because of the noise, a snapping noise like when he went swimming and he had to smack his head until his ear popped. He yelled back but they kept waving, waving him away, keeping him on the porch. His stepmother took Lucky by the arm and pushed her into the back seat. Lucky spread out and smiled at M.E. and shook her Barbie at him—all the back seat to herself, no brother poking at her! Then everyone was in the car, and his stepmother’s hair flew out the open window like small hands waving as the car went backward into the street and down the street and away.
In M.E.’s house the lights were blazing and the curtains tied shut. The TV was on so loud he thought maybe it was a party. A surprise, all for him. Instead a man with a huge face stared out at the TV room and above the drowning water noises the TV man laughed. In the kitchen he heard a bang and M.E. ran in to catch someone. But there was no one, only the empty cabinets knocked open and the refrigerator buzzing. The top of the stove lit up with flames, FOOMP. M.E. jumped and shouted Motherfuck! and when no one yelled about the language he shouted it again and again, and that is when he saw the eye.
It was down the hall when M.E. saw it, in a mirror over the company-only couch. In the mirror it looked like a drawing of an eye, like a balloon with an eye painted on it—but then the eye closed and opened. Its stick lashes slapped down and rolled back, and it slid past the mirror and was gone. The stove lit up high again, FOOMP, and M.E. went straight for the stairs. He heard something brush against the wall behind him, a dry raspy thing, and he shouted the best curses he knew and tore upstairs and into his room. He slammed the door and locked it and remembered how the door doesn’t lock anymore ever since his dad punched it open. All he could think was to hide under the bed, but he could only half-fit. He laid under there with his legs and feet out in the room shaking and he listened to it slide and screech against the banister. It scratched at his door and at least, he thought, when it got him he wouldn’t have to see it. He heard the door open and something dry and cold settled on his foot while its breath whistled in and out and he was so scared, M.E. says, that he fell asleep.
M.E. woke up in the morning in the same spot with his still-shut-hard head aching. A cold hand clamped down his foot and pulled and he yelled. “Try sleeping on the bed for once,” his stepmother said. Then she was out the door, shouting, “I’m not making breakfast all day so get down here.” M.E. had a slow, careful look around the bedrooms, the dresser drawers filled and Lucky’s stupid posters all over. And downstairs was Lucky at the table and his dad in the yard smoking a cigarette. He waited for his stepmother to say “Sorry about leaving you with a monster last night,” but she only stood over the stove and cursed at the burned butter and Lucky sang “You’re a Grand Old Flag” until M.E. told her to shut it.
The worst part, M.E. told me, is that he saw it. Even with his eyes shut, he knew. It went straight into his head because it wanted M.E. to see how scary it was for the next time. And up on his roof, he drew it in the air, his shaky finger looping its balloon head, open mouth, eyes rolling; he drew its dead arms and sick floating legs, and I wish he hadn’t.
M.E. has a plan. He’s waiting for the next time it comes and his family leaves him. Next time he’s not going to run and hide his head. M.E.’s going to call me as soon as his parents get near the car with their suitcases; if it's not me who picks up he will hit the buttons on the phone and that way I’ll know. If someone at my house says, “Why are you pressing buttons and not speaking?” I’ll know it’s M.E. and I will run over with my knife. Because, M.E. says, it doesn’t think there are going to be two boys, and not two boys with a knife, and especially not two boys with a great knife like I have. And when his family creeps in early the next morning with their suitcases, whispering, is it done? we’ll be there with the thing dead at our feet, and his parents will be so ashamed they’ll leave us alone to live there, nothing will come at us again and if it does, I have my knife.
I keep my knife with me, so when the call comes I don’t waste time. If the phone rings and my brother says, “Hello?” and hangs up, I ask what did he hear—but he always says nothing. And then he says, “You got a date with your girlfriend M.E.?” and wheezes his hyena laugh until I throw a couch pillow at him and he jumps me. My brother thinks M.E. makes up stories, not this one because I didn’t tell, but other stories M.E. has told.
My brother doesn’t understand that “story” doesn’t mean “not true.” It’s like how I tell my teachers my mom is dead, when actually she moved to Florida and we don’t know her number. Or that time I found a head on the beach, rolled in seaweed, the blue rotting head of a man. I told M.E., I told my teacher and my grandmother, and I told the policeman who walked me across the beach. We slipped on the wet rocks and the foam and the policeman kept saying how lying was dangerous. It was here, I told him, it was here. I got a long stick and knocked over rocks and stopped to dig, to show him I meant it, it was here. He was telling me like I didn’t know, like I couldn’t say what was real and what was not, but he didn’t know what was real. He couldn’t say until he saw.
It was getting darker and the tide coming in. The policeman put his hand on my neck which made me jump and I shouted and he said stop. We were right there before the big rocks, where the seaweed covers everything so you can barely walk from sliding. And there in a chain of seaweed ringing the water, there was something humped over, black-knotted and shining. I said here, I got my stick, I poked it, here, and it rolled over, here. The policeman shouted, grabbed at me, pulled my face into his chest and he said don’t look, and he thought I was crying but I was laughing, because I said it was true and it was true and he saw it was true, and I held on to him while the tide and everything roared.