ix months living second to second, hoarding weekly allowances, shouldering extra chores like Atlas, scavenging for bottles in the greenbelt until the sun bursts like an ostrich egg on the hills and the hound up the street bellows him home to dinner.
Day after day, week after week for six months of hard labour, time and pennies funneling down into a treasure trove he packs into a plastic bag from Mr. Grocer and ducks by his parents screaming to hop a bus striped orange like a creamsicle, heart cracking ribs with each pothole, in through the doors of Consumers Distributing, up to the counter, standing on tiptoes to jab a finger at page one forty-six of the catalogue, the clerk nodding like a priest at Vespers, disappearing through a passageway, returning an eternity of seconds later with a cardboard rectangle, money swapped, treasure for treasure, then the long ride home, the box cradled like a baby on his lap, deciphering the hieroglyphs, secret words and hidden meanings, this crossing only a psychopomp could love, finally home, past his parents howling, up the stairs, to dump the cardboard on the rainbow shag carpet, cutting the tape with a box cutter like he’s defusing a bomb, and out it comes in a rainfall of foam and plastic, the sum of fifteen million seven hundred and sixty-eight thousand grains of sand rattling and piling and crumbling through the hourglass. Him, here, now.
Black and grey rubber. Four fingers and a thumb. A glove.
It slides on easy. Made for him. Crafted and tempered in some factory in the far east. He plugs it into the grey slab and hits the power stub. He makes a fist, strikes a pose, like in the advertisements plastered all over his walls. His parents shriek like the Furies downstairs. He plays with power. For two minutes. Stretching into five. Reaching for six. Then, he takes the glove off, drops it on the bed. Disappointment wells up inside him like blood. Half a year gone, and his parents will roar straight on to Christmas.
fter two weeks, the yelling had stopped. The fight had settled into a low, slow radioactive cloud. Meals were taken in silence. Eye contact, when made, left third degree burns. Obscenities, no longer spoken, were still telegraphed by the banging of doors, the rolling of eyes. They no longer slept. Sleep was for the dead and the forgiven.
The original insult went unremembered. A careless word. A missed date. It didn’t matter. The event had only been a money laundering operation for the real crime: their hearts were broken.
The days mounted. The fight was a kidney stone that would not pass. The pressure built like the marshalling of infantry at the borders, until one Saturday morning at the breakfast table, someone sighed at an ill-advised moment. Offense was taken. Violence seemed imminent.
At that precise moment, their front door was kicked in and a pantheon of garishly coloured bears entered the kitchen. Small bears, walking upright. Their stomachs were painted with strange symbols, like gang tattoos.
She screamed, he shrieked. They ran through the house, tossing chairs and bookshelves behind them, scrambling upstairs. But the bears pursued them relentlessly.
They cowered on the bed, together, as the knob rotated one way and back the other and the door swung inward slowly, whining on hinges. The bears filled the doorway. They seemed to glow, like the phosphorescence of deep underground caves and unspoken things. They thrust their distended bellies forward and beams of light exploded from them, washing over the two people on the bed. Burning their clothes, ruffling the sheets.
When they awoke hours later, naked and entangled, they were alone. The house was quiet. He pulled her close, she burrowed up under his chin. They were so close. Like the universe before the bang. Waiting to drift.
he holds the roll of bills bunched tight in her fist. Like a strong wind would be all it would take. Her savings gone like that, tumbling across the pasture. The address is right but the place feels wrong. Empty fields, a barn drooping like a sick dog, the paint on the farmhouse left or leaving. Not the kind of place to start a family. She shuts the door on the sedan and walks up the humpbacked drive.
The doorbell chimes like a death rattle through the house. Nobody answers. Nobody ever answers. Eyes shut at night, all of her bunched up into hoping. She has enough stored inside her to bring this whole place to life. She bangs on the door, ready to cave it in if she has to. Somebody yells for her to come round the back.
She follows a trail of busted and broken paving stones around the side of the house. A fat man sits in the shade of the porch. He pours her a glass of lemonade and smiles. He has a small black tooth and she tries not to look at it.
They say a few nice things and when he asks for the money she gives him it to him. The bills wadded with the sweat from her hands. The quiet desperation of last resorts and rites. He takes a long time filling out the certificate. He waves it when he’s done, to dry the ink. It even looks legitimate. The more she stares at his tooth, the more she feels like she’s tumbling backward into darkness.
He leads her through the furrows. The field not fallow here. The soil rich and dark. Fronds of cabbage, still young, the leaves curled inward, keeping things hidden.
At the far end of the field, he leans down and grabs hold of an iron ring set in the ground. The door comes open with a puff of dust. Concrete steps leading down into darkness. The stink of cabbage. And then the sound of crying. Small forms wriggling down there in the darkness. Potato faces, dabs of eyes. All of them reaching out. Pick me, pick me.
t’s like hitting puberty. Everyone around him blossoms into his or her true self: tall, cool, beautiful. All that potential that’s been boiling inside just explodes. Transforms them.
That guy gets to be a Trans Am, that chick is a fully-loaded pink convertible, even the weird smelly dude who sounds like a throat cancer survivor gets to be a giant tape-deck. Ten years ago it would have been lame, but retro is in again. Sure, there are all those foreign exchange students that nobody talks to, but at least they get to become dinosaurs. Giant, world destroying lizards.
And then, or course, there’s the big guy. The one they all look up to, crowding around to tune into that deep sexy baritone. He gets to turn into an 18-wheeler. It’s hard not to feel inadequate.
It’s all about the touch, the power. Everyone’s got it. Everyone, except for him. He never got his growth spurt. His acne won't let go. So, he lurks in his mother’s basement, playing Tunnels & Trolls and dreaming about bigger things.
High-speed jets and tanks and construction vehicles and he gets to turn into a microscope. Like something from a lab. He can’t even move. He has to nag and whine until one of the dump trucks comes and picks him up. It’s enough to just make you want to turn grey.
e pops the cap on the plastic garbage can and dumps the contents on the carpet. Several small plastic figurines tumble out like dead bodies. They’re pink. The kind of pink that toy companies always associate with the colour of human flesh, only it’s more like the Pepto-Bismol his mom used to force down his throat when he got tummy aches.
He examines each one carefully, between thumb and forefinger, lining them up on the carpet like little soldiers. To the uninitiated, they might look identical. The same strange fins on their head, the same clown-like lips and wrestling underpants. But each one has minute differences. A cocked elbow, a change in texture around the pectorals, a particular slant to one eye.
He remembers the trips to Woolworth’s to buy them. Wading downtown through snow to get there. Holding each garbage can container up to the light, trying to peer through the opaque material and see what treasures lurked inside. Daydreaming all the walk home, holding mom’s hand, about what new figurines he might find.
He pulls a glass jar out of the closet. One by one he takes the old figurines out, holding them next to the new ones, comparing. They are mostly repeats, but he does find one he hasn’t seen before. Four arms, one with a shield, another with a sword.
He puts this one in the jar with the rest. The extras he’ll bring down to the basement later and toss in the Rubbermaid container with all the other repeats.
He holds the jar up. He has two hundred and thirty-two originals now. Only four left to get the whole set. His mom used to buy them for a few bucks. Now he sifts through online auctions for hours, paying fifty bucks a pop for unopened containers to be mailed to him delicately from all over the world. He doesn’t know what he’ll do when he has them all.
He tried to get the kids to play with them. The way he used to for hours. The things scattered all over the house, turning up in every cupboard and cranny, his mother yelling at him to just put them away for chrissakes. Going out into the neighbourhood to dump them on humpbacked asphalt driveways and trade with his friends.
But his kids aren’t interested. What do they do, they ask. What are they good for?
And he has no answers. They don’t do anything. They don’t have any vehicles. Their limbs aren’t poseable. You can’t dress them. There are no epic storylines. They were just a bunch of unusually small creatures. They just were. He has no answers. Maybe the world has run out of imagination.
Remember when you were a minipop, and you saw that film, you know, the one you loved that never had a sequel? Well, let's say it did. And it was just like you imagined it, only a little bit worse.