The boy on the porch is me. The dog on the porch is the family dog. We’re waiting for the cue to act out our necessary dramas, but no one’s watching. A bird shits on the family van. That’s a good enough cue for me.
I roll up a dollar bill and pretend to smoke it. This is what my father does when he’s anxious—puts paper to his lips and sets it on fire. My mother drums the edges of things—chins, teeth, shoulder pads, basket handles. The dog scratches at the door for her own reasons. She’s anticipating all that’s about to be said and it’s making her nervous.
I say, “Girl, chill,” because I don’t want that door to open yet. It’ll mean they’ve read my letter, so they’ll know with certainty what they already know with uncertainty. The two of them in there, turning the paper over and over like, “Is this it?”
Yes, this is it. Your eldest son likes other sons. Isn’t it wild? He kissed the boy next door in a humid cloud of mosquitoes. Because summer is the heat of it, the swell of certain organs. Blood is in the air on tinted wings.
My mother opens the door and just stands there. How can she just stand there? She’s holding my letter over one cheek like a church program turned geisha fan. She says, “Come on in so we can talk. It’s hot out here.” She waves her face to emphasis this. The dog is already in and up the stairs, away from us. She can’t stand to hear words for which she has no trained response.
I come in, noting the exits like it’s my first time in this part of the house, the dining room we only use when company’s over. There’s a pen in reach if things should get ugly. I’ve only ever stabbed a pumpkin, but I imagine it’s all the experience I’ll need.
My father tells me to sit, so I sit. The dog sits too, upstairs, because even though it’s unbearable, she’s listening anyway. I can hear the snag of her toenails on the carpet. The expectant panting. What next? What next?
My father says, “OK. Just. . .OK.”
He puts his hands up like he’s being robbed, and I know he has nothing else to say. But my mother’s not having it. Her face transforms into a nightmare ghost face. There is bread baking. A scented candle is lit. The laundry is tumbling, hot and sweet, in the dryer. There’s something hitting the metal walls, click, click, click, like a loose button. I will spend my life avoiding these domesticities. If I ever see her make that face again, so help me.
I reach for the pen. It’s a pen from my father’s job, but a nice pen, one with polished wood and real metal fittings. I try to recognize myself in the shiny clip, but it’s all a blur, another ghost face I hate.
My mother’s lips crack unwilling as crab legs. “This is not OK, honey. Tell your son this is not OK.” She expects the white meat of an argument, but my father just puts his hands up again, this time like a stretch before a dance.
My mother looks at me like I’m betraying something she put into work at my birth 15 years ago. She drums the edge of the table. It’s something she does often, but this time it sounds urgent and tribal. This is where she relinquishes her control, where she releases me to wander the world in search of a mate.
“Fine,” she says. “You’re free to live this sinful life.”
The phone rings. It’s my brother needing a ride home from soccer practice. My father hurries to leave us. I open the exquisite pen and write on my hand GOD HELP ME, PLEASE.
The dog comes downstairs, as if on cue, and waits at my feet. I say, “Come on, girl, let’s take another walk.” I take the pen with me just in case I come across anything that needs stabbing.
To my mother, I say, “I love you, even though this has been harder for you than it should be.”
She slaps me to mark me, so potential mates will know what I’ve gone through to reach them. Her face becomes hollow again. I try to swipe her with my father’s pen, but she snatches my wrist and unscrews the skin so blood rises in a speckled band. Another mark. She unlocks her fingers and throws my arm across the threshold like a viper. I follow it. My mother slams the door behind me, drumming her forehead against the closed space. The dog is in the front yard, sniffing, already, for a lead.
This way. This way.