Kenny Brockman arched his legs after opening the slide door out to the back porch. Nora, the family Shiba Inu, could make her way out to the yard under the mid-morning sun through the portal that Kenny made with his arched legs in his boxers and flip-flops.
Kenny walked outside and sat down in the metal chair next to the slide door to see what the clouds were up to today. He relied on raising his eyebrows just to keep his eyes open – fall allergies were coming this year with a vengeance. He was still waking up; he usually slept in during the summer when there was nothing to do except look at the clouds for a while before he would go inside to make lunch. All of his middle school friends were going to different high schools and didn’t interest him. This morning, all Kenny could think about was how badly he wanted school to start and how he wished his ex-classmates would finally text him back. He didn’t want to go into high school with absolutely no friends, but his chances for preventing this were looking slim. Watch out, freshmen, here comes Kenny Brockman.
He thought to himself, why can’t I do something productive for once? His growing stomach showed the signs of his sedentary summer spent behind his computer. He squinted up at the clouds and could only think about how he wished he could be up there in that partially cloudy sky. He couldn’t decide if the cloud above his house looked like an atom bomb or a blimp. He took a picture with his smartphone, as he usually did when he found something interesting take his eye.
Kenny called for Nora as he opened the screen door to go back inside. Nora leaped onto the porch at full speed, tracking piss-slicked dandelions and grass into the sunroom. Kenny let it slide just like he let the slide door slam. Now Kenny’s step-father was awake on the couch, and his crusted eyes embedded into his dark circles opened up an empty glare that shot straight through Kenny’s eyes and soul. A game show played on the muted television.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to wake you,” Kenny muttered. It took Clyde Sales a moment to wake up, and a mumble left his parched lips. It sounded a lot like “too fuckin’ early.” Kenny avoided eye contact and looked at the painting of a vase full of daffodils above his step-father’s disheveled head of balding black-and-grey hair. Clyde painted it, and Kenny hated it. He liked the photograph of the deer in a grassy field better that used to hang above the couch. If only the painting could come to life, fall, and knock him back out, Kenny thought. It was Saturday, so Kenny expected his step-father to be hung over or still drunk.
“You got the time, bud?” Kenny could see Clyde’s spittle shoot into his patchy stubble from his slurring lips in his peripherals. Clyde struggled to get his finger and thumb to the corner of his eyes, where a thick layer of crust lay.
“It’s eleven-thirty. I just let Nora out.”
“Were you outside in your underwear?” Clyde began his half-hearted search for his glasses.
“Yeah, Clyde, you know the neighbors can’t see behind the house.” Kenny did not break eye contact with the daffodils. Clyde stayed in the corner of his eyesight. He did not blink.
“They can see through the bushes, Kenny!” Clyde scowled at him as Kenny broke eye contact with the painted vase and made his way to the pantry in the kitchen. “They can see right through the bushes.”
Kenny barely heard him mumble ‘bushes’ the second time he said it. He gripped the side of the pantry, spit out his mucus into the trash can, and stood on tip-toes to grab a paper plate from the top shelf. Clyde smacked the pillow next to him away and shoved a hand down the crevice of the cushion to his right.
“If they say anything to you, tell them I was about to swim,” Kenny said as he set his plate down on the island-counter and opened the fridge.
“Still, Kenny, you’re being ind-” He paused to think about what he was about to say to Kenny. Never mind, he didn’t care. “Indecent. Your mother wouldn’t approve.”
“Mom’s gone ‘til January.” Kenny grabbed the plastic container of leftover steak from the fridge that Clyde grilled last night. Clyde got up from the couch, revealing his spit-and-vodka stained polo and jeans, as well as a bruise on his left elbow that jutted out like his gut. He rubbed it as he wondered of its origin.
“You think she would want to hear that you sit on the porch like a redneck?” A stifled laugh came from Clyde as he violently flipped one of the cushions.
Kenny put the steak on the paper plate, and sent it into the microwave for a minute.
“I don’t think she would want to hear that you drank for another hour after Harrison left last night, especially considering that you both already finished a bottle of vodka with your steak.”
Kenny leaned against the microwave and watched his step-father stumble and lose his balance, only to catch himself as he gripped the adjacent coffee table, still in search of sight.
“Wow, really?” Kenny looked at Clyde with eyes wide and aggravated.
“Where’s Josh, Kenny?” Clyde found his swaying balance and flipped another cushion.
“Well, Clyde, Josh did what he does every Friday when you get drunk. As soon as you whooped out the Smirnoff with Harrison, he hopped in the truck and left.” I don’t know why you always drink more after your friends leave, otherwise you wouldn’t have so much trouble finding your glasses, Kenny thought.
Clyde fumbled for his glasses, still hiding behind his drunken ego that masked his feeling of shame. He drank because he hated living alone all of the time, with two boys who weren’t his own, while his wife had been in Iraq since the beginning of the year, but also because he felt ashamed to be in his own skin. Ever since Clyde’s mother passed away a few years after his father had, Clyde felt ashamed to be living as a rich artist. He hadn’t earned any of the money that he now had, and the only outlet he had sought for to showcase his work was a local annual art fair that almost never accepted his pieces. He saw himself as a living label with what could barely be called income. His situation was his justification. He found his glasses tucked into the crevice of the couch cushion that lay under his pillow.
“Well, where’d he go off to?” Clyde asked Kenny.
Kenny sat down at the counter as he watched his father stumble his way over, gripping the granite-carved edge of the island counter until the bathroom was in blurred sight, even with his glasses on.
“It’s different every Friday, I couldn’t tell ya where he went or where he is now,” Kenny replied as he took his steak out of the microwave as it beeped. Another mumble left Clyde’s Smirnoff-stained lips as he walked into the bathroom, holding his ears against the intrusive beeping of the microwave. Kenny could smell the foul, metallic smell of stale vodka and cigarettes, the odor encompassing Clyde’s very being from three feet away. Kenny took the paper plate-steak lunch to his room, evading the sound of his step-father’s piss hitting and missing the toilet water. Nora followed the smell of reheated meat and Kenny prepared to keep his door locked until sobriety found its way to Clyde’s head. Finally, Kenny was downstairs.
Maybe a blimp would drop an atom bomb on their house and Kenny and Nora would be free from their three-hour-or-so prison. That, or Clyde would fetch another bottle to kill the hangover that would come in the afternoon. The latter seemed more likely to Kenny.
Stumble to the door. Turn the handle. The bright sun that had shined down through the ceiling kitchen windows had activated Clyde’s hangover. Just as Kenny had predicted, Clyde wasn’t about to accept his self-induced ailment, and this one was killer. Clyde grabbed the two Bud Lights left in the fridge and began his retreat to his downstairs studio. He walked through the extravagant living room of overpriced fake flowers and his grandmother’s grandfather clock behind the dining table, which he had shipped from Quincy, Illinois from a relative who held it shortly after his mother died. He no longer wanted that clock that depressed him when it sounded every fifteen minutes, but he kept it because if he didn’t, it would mean to dishonor his family.
He gripped for dear life to get down the stairs, which led him straight to his studio, where he spent all of his intoxicated hours drawing, painting, or smoking. Smoking was the choice of here and now. Clyde sat down in his brown leather burn hole-decorated recliner and slipped a cigarette in his cigarette holder. He reclined, and he leaned to grab his wooden side table to drag it closer with the tips of his fingers. His framed art history degree shook behind him as the recliner repeatedly hit the wall with each of his attempts to lean to his left. The table had carved legs that resembled horse legs and the bottoms were hooves. It was a haul just for him to bring it closer to himself with just his fingers, and it left hooved engravings in the ash-stained and burned carpet. The mumbles began. Kid doesn’t know shit. ‘Bout time I can be alone. Mom wouldn’t give a shit.
Finally, with the lighter in reach, he lit his cigarette and watched his still-muted television from last night, which was now showing a soap opera. He cracked a Bud Light. His drunken head-rush-impulse told him to immediately go get his sketchbook instead of lunch, and he got up too fast. Before he knew it, his ashtray was on his face and his cigarette was put out by his own burnt palm. He didn’t feel any of it – his judgment was clouded. Covered in sweat and weary from dehydration and the alcohol, the choice of here and now was to pass out.
Clayton Crook is a Sophomore pursuing a BA in Fiction Writing at Columbia College Chicago. He was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and grew up in Belleville, Illinois. Aspiring to be writer and screenwriter, he now lives in the South Loop in Chicago, Illinois.