Douglas & McIntyre
Glass Boys

Book details:

August 2011
ISBN 978-1-55365-797-2
Paperback - Trade
5" x 8"
304 pages
Fiction
$22.95 CAD

Awards

  • "Glass Boys" longlisted for the 2012 ReLit Award

Douglas & McIntyre

Glass Boys

A novel

Excerpt / Additional Content

Chapter 2

Something was stuck down there, something decaying, and the sour smell sat in the sink, billowed up whenever Lewis turned the tap. Shining his flashlight into the hole, he saw a slick black lump just before the pipe curved, like an eyeball, blinking every time water dripped over it. He had poured a half quart of bleach into the drain, rinsed with hot water, but once the stench from that dispelled, the rot crept back. This was his brother’s fault, he knew. Rather than scraping a plate, Roy would press the bits of fish and brewis, corner of bread down through the opening. Lewis had seen him do it. More than once. And now, he was going to have to take the pipes apart.

Wrench in hand, he slid underneath the sink, started to tap and twist. Something kicked at his leg, and he craned his neck, saw a pair of loose jeans, fabric cross-hatched with guts and grime. A pair of worn boots, tongues hanging out. He eased his head around the sink, edged out onto the floor. And there was Roy, standing there, his youthful face grinning, cigarette clamped in his shiny teeth, cheeks and nose burnt a deep red from the morning spent out jigging fish. Nellie, his dog, stood behind him, her wet snout jammed into the crease of fabric just behind Roy’s knee, sniffing.

“You got to be a plumber now, too?” Roy said, smoke flickering as his lips moved.

“Stick your nose down the sink. You tell me what I got to be.”

Roy laughed, took a step backwards. “That I won’t, then. You can have it.”

“Well, it reeks to high heavens.”

“I’m sure you’ll put it to rights. Now, get your arse off the floor and come and have a drop with me.”

Lewis came to his feet, let the wrench drop onto the countertop, gestured towards Roy’s hands, the two paper bags, twisted at the opening. “Where’d you get that?”

“Morley.”

Arms folded.

“Now don’t you go getting all uppity. Morley made me swear you’d leave well enough alone.”

“He did, did he?”

Roy laid both bags on the table, stuck his smoke in an overflowing dessert dish, then crunched down the paper to reveal two label-less bottles, crystal liquid. Plucking one up, he ran a slow hand down over the glass. “Christ, what magic he don’t do with a bucket of potato peel.”

“What else did he say?”

Bottle opened, Roy reached into an already open cupboard, retrieved two tumblers. “He says you should be keeping an eye on those vagrants wandering ’round. There’s got to be some of those you can dog.”

“We don’t got no vagrants ’round here.”

“Well, you know, you can make sure those lassies don’t be wearing their skirts too long. Can we make that a law, Lew? Skirts no longer than,” he held his hands a foot apart, top to bottom, “no longer than that?”

“I don’t think so, Roy.”

“Worth a shot, Constable Trench.” He winked, filled the glasses with swift practiced pours. “But seriously now, Lew-Lew, I was talking to the fellers just the other day when we was fixing the cribbing up under Morley’s stage. And they’re not all that keyed up about some young fart bringing change.”

“I can’t help that.” A squirt of anxiety darted through Lewis’s stomach. He knew, even before Roy opened his mouth, that once he returned home, everything would be different. That the faults beneath his feet would shift, and he would be standing on new ground. His role in Knife’s Point was clearly laid out, but the tactics he should employ were cloudy. Hard-nosed and they would hate him, laid-back and they would spin circles, until he was out there alongside them, salting the very fish they stole from the sea.

“You knows how the crowd was when the Ranger’d pass through.”

“Yeah.”

“And now, you. Having gotten the nod from some paper sorter up along. Not really much sense.”

“What do that mean?”

“That’s their words, not mine.” Roy sat, legs straddling the back of the chair, and Nellie followed, lumbered underneath the table, turned and turned, flumped, lay her jowls on Roy’s boot. In one fell swoop, he grabbed his glass from the table, emptied it into his mouth. Visual shudder, slishing sound through lips pulled back over pink gums. Nellie stirred, opened a single eye, tucked her muzzle underneath her paw. “Christ. That’d rip the hair off the rabbit,” he hissed. Fingers dove in around his scalp, pulling black curls.

Lewis smirked, took the chair across from him, laid his palms on the table. “Or, the rabbit off the hare.”

“Even better.” Roy knocked a glass towards Lewis. “Now, go on with you.” When Lewis hesitated, Roy looked upwards, growled playfully, “Christ Almighty, Lewdy-Lew. Don’t be telling me you can’t do nothing illegal in your own home. I means, if a growed man can’t be breaking the law under his own roof, then where can he?”

“Shut your trap.”

“But you got to see what they’re saying. Most of them knowed us now since we was youngsters. Pissing in the grass.”

“You’re still pissing in the grass, Roy.”

“Yeah, yeah. They just don’t want you counting snares or following moose around or telling them what sort of stuff they can or can’t cook up in their cellars. Rushing in with your guns blazing.”

Roy laughed, emptied his glass again. “That sort of thing.”

“Ah.” Lewis sighed. One more go, he thought as he looked at the temptation near his fingertips. One more go before I settles in. Then he lifted the glass, dumped the works down his wide throat. Audible gulp. In only moments, once the shock glided out through his flesh, he sensed that familiar tickling, a door creaking open, cavernous thirst hiding below. Deep and difficult to get in under it. He tapped his glass for a refill. “I don’t know, Roy, my son. I don’t know.”

“’Nuff yammering. You’ll make your way. We always got on fine.”

A second swig, smoother entrance this time. “I’m apt to be bored out of my tree.”

“That’s what we wants, Lew-Lew. That’s what we wants.” Leg cocked, Roy struck Lewis in the thigh with his stained boot. “You got her scald, my son. Hauling in a wad of quid for doing shit all. Good on you, if you asks me. Should’ve done it myself, but I idn’t that smart.”

“I wants to do a good job.” Lewis clanged his tumbler on the table, and Roy filled it again until it rose at the brim. Leaning forward, lips touching glass, he slurped Morley’s offering, let it coat his mouth, preserve his tongue. Several more swallows, and the questions that prodded his hackles were leaving. Flaked away, old paint in summer sunshine.

Roy pushed his nose with the heel of his hand, emitted a sound like a knife cutting through cabbage. He went the sink, snorted again. “Besides,” he said and spat. “They takes what they can. That’s human nature. Grab after the bit of elastic in my fucking underwear if that’s all I had to give.”

Effortless, old-time laughter erupting. “If some poor fuck was after your underwear, if they could manage to snap it off your dirty arse, they should be locked up, keys tossed in Grayley River.”

“Only be so lucky,” he replied, turning the taps.

“Christ, Roy. The pucking fipe is off.” He wiped his mouth. “Fucking pipe.”

“And?” Roy clomped back to the table, topped up his glass again, spilling colorless liquid over the wood. He took another cigarette from the pack hidden in the roll of his T-shirt sleeve, stuck it behind his ear. “Look at you,” he said, slurring slightly. “Coming back with a paper, some boots, and enough airs to burst a pig’s bladder.”

Lewis grinned, and smacked the table.

“Here’s to that.” Roy raised his glass, clinked Lewis’s harder than necessary, liquid spilling over his hand, wetting his wrist. Starting with his palm, his tongue trailed up and over the back of his hand. Then he bent down, slurped the spill from the table.

Lewis blinked once, twice, then grinned again. His brother was older by less than a year. Thinking back, he couldn’t recall ever really being apart from Roy. Since they were children, they had trudged through the world together, occupying the same space. Complementary shadows, Lewis’s leaning slightly towards the orderly, Roy’s towards the thrill of upheaval. They were loved, too. Loved more than most, he knew. He remembered Sunday dinners, and he and Roy were always fed first, offered up the most tender morsel of meat or an extra scoop of cream on their pudding. Once, after receiving a thin scrap of bone-riddled fish, their father stared into his plate, shook his head, said, “Do you want to know when ’twas clear I was in for trouble? When ’twas clear you two gaffers had made off with her heart? Let me see.” Picking bones from his teeth. “Two of youse, Tit and Tat, now, in your cribs, sticking your hands down your drawers, wiping shit on the walls. Do you know what she did? Your mother?” Shaking heads, wide eyes, mouths stuffed with food. “Washed your fingers off, and told you fellers what lovely pictures you gone and made. Pained her, it did now, to clear it off the wall. Pained her, I tell you.” “Saints preserve us,” she had cried, swatted the back of his bald head with a damp cup towel. “What garbage you don’t get on with! And language! On a Sunday.”

Their father lived a hard life, with an abundance of drinking and harmless carousing and gambling. Even with the trouble, he never allowed a cross word to curdle the air, and Lewis could not recall a single time their father’s open palm kissed their oversized heads. Their mother tolerated it all, would only throw down her hands, shake her head, giggle over the foolishness of boots pushed onto the wrong feet, brandied fruitcake jammed into a pocket, thick eyebrows burnt clean off.

As soon as Roy could stand, he was down on the stage, kicking guts into the heading hole, rinsing fish in the dipping pan. Midget amongst the fishermen, he would grapple a fish, cart it over and spread it out on the boughs, douse it in salt. Mimicking hand motions. Learning how to flick. Back and forth, every season, every year, until his body was sinewy, teenaged shoulders broad and brown. Sips here and there, but the first time they offered him a mug, Roy swallowed like an awakened baby, comical desperation. Once he dozed off, they poked him underneath a flake, in the triangular patches of shade, curled on his side so he wouldn’t choke on his own vomit. Common phrase bestowed upon him, “You’re your father’s son.” Roy worked hard to verify that appraisal.

Not that Lewis didn’t like a drop. Only his binges were far less gritty than Roy’s, and Lewis rarely left the stool where he drank, mostly kept his consumption within the hours of darkness. Roy placed no such limits on himself, and in recent years he had developed a reputation for falling whim to his stomach, giving free rein to his wandering feet. “Gut on two legs,” he was often called. Any given time of day, folks knew Roy might be banging on a patio door looking for a slice of molasses bread, or stealing the few scraggly tomatoes tied up in the garden, or dozing on the steps of The Good Fryer waiting for someone to drop a chip. Occasionally, people let him in. Sometimes they left him, and sometimes they carted him home. The afternoon Lewis was leaving for training, he passed his neighbor wavering along the road with a loaded wheelbarrow, Roy’s splayed body being the contents. “Bringing him back, is all, now.” Resting on Roy’s stomach were two blue platters, one turned upside down over the other. The neighbor had noticed Lewis staring, said, “That’s nothing. Roy never got to his bit of stew. Missus took pity on the poor bugger, sent it along.”

Lewis looked across the table at Roy, shook his head as Roy licked the outside of his glass. With a teasing scowl, he said, “Someone got to try to fix you, my son.”

“Only thing that’s going to fix me, now, is a good woman.”

“And where’s you going to find a woman willing to take on that type of labor?”

“What type of labor?”

“You, that’s what.”

“They be lining up once I puts my sign out.”

“Yeah, clamoring for cruel and unusual punishment. She’d have to have some awful strong stomach on her.”

“Some broads go in for that.”

“The only broad that’s going to fall for your charms, now, is Nellie.”

“Oh, yes,” Roy reached down, rubbed Nellie’s head with vigorous strokes. Leaned and poured an ounce into Nellie’s water, and she hoisted her fat trunk off the floor, clicked a few steps, lapped. “That’s all you’ll be having, too, Miss Nellie. Don’t you be looking for more. We’re the ones wants to be slobbering around on all fours. You’re already there.”

“How come is it,” Lewis said as he glanced at the tools in front of the sink, “that you’ll borrow something broken just so you can fix it, but you can’t do a tap ’round the house?” Head leaning towards the drain.

Roy crossed his eyes, cracked the second bottle. “Who needs a woman, Lew-Lew, when I got you?”

***

The runt. Where was the goddamned runt when there was work to be done?

Eli Fagan looked up, scanned his fields, the grassy backyard. No sign of the child. Then, as he continued to work, the hammer came down onto his thumb. He cursed, threw the hammer, squeezed his pulsing digit inside his fist. Bloody Christ. All morning he’d spent hauling old felt strips from the roof of his barn, and now he was trying to get proper shingles in place before the rain arrived. But the work was hampered by the afternoon heat—the shingles were sticking together, and he could see his boot prints in the softened asphalt. His shirt clung to his sweaty back, salt blinded him. Made his hands unreliable. And now, because of the godforsaken runt, his thumb wanted to explode.

He didn’t ask for the runt. The child came with his wife. Eli had married her quickly, and there had never been any mention of a boy. She said he must’ve known, but he didn’t. Unless he’d been so inebriated over the course of their courting, he failed to remember. No matter how much warm whiskey was skipping through his veins, wouldn’t a man remember something as significant as that? A child? He decided his wife had tricked him, and that should not surprise him. After all, his wife came from Split Rock, a crotch hole of a town an hour north of Knife’s Point. There were sayings about the quality of girls from Split Rock, crude sayings, and Eli wouldn’t repeat them. Cursed himself for not heeding them. Cursed himself for rushing headlong, letting his infantile desire for a warm meal and soft flesh overpower him.

Spending every day on a farm, Eli knew what was normal, what was right, and that boy was about as unnatural as a beast with two assholes. He watched his wife taking care of him, bathing his scrawny body and scraping a comb through his feather hair, and the very sight of it made Eli twitch. When she fed the child honest meals, smaller servings of what actually appeared on Eli’s own plate, well, that made him angry. Eli sensed there was something bent inside the boy’s head, and he had to insist by way of a few smacks that the boy never look him straight in the eye. When his wife once stood behind the boy, hands on his shoulders, and said, “He is your son, now,” Eli reached for a junk of wood, threatened to strike her. Frightened her enough to shut her up. There was no way in hell he’d take on that boy. Make him a Fagan.

Eli sat back onto the roof, wiped his handkerchief across his forehead. He felt the urge to put his throbbing thumb into his mouth, but wouldn’t dream of actually doing it. During the summer months, it was tough to get much good out of the boy, but if Eli hollered loud enough, knocked him between his shoulder blades a few times, the boy occasionally carried a few pounds of his own weight. Lately, though, the boy had been disappearing. Every afternoon that was halfway fit for working, he was nowhere to be found. At first, he’d wander off for fifteen or twenty minutes, and Eli would assume he was lingering in the toilet. He was prone to that. Or hidden around the side of the house, chewing on a large wad of paper stuffed into his cheek. He was prone to that, too. But nearly three hours had passed since he saw the boy jamming two halves of a sandwich into his face at once. And Eli very nearly went after him then, put the boots to him, for such a brazen display of gluttony.

Eli stood again on the roof of his barn, one leg up, one leg straight, put his uninjured hand to his eyes to block the sun. “Boy!” he hollered. “Boy! You get your skinny arse up here.” But the runt did not appear. He did discover his wife, though. Through the open door of the house, he could see her yanking open cupboard drawers in the kitchen, sliding stuff off the counters, slamming the drawers shut with her hip. He hated that, the mounds of hidden clutter. Could feel it when he walked into his own home, orderly on the surface, dirt beneath. He called to her. “Hey, Missus! Hey!” She glanced up, quickly slipped out of his line of vision, and Eli watched the door creak closed as though a ghostly hand was pushing it.

Eli crouched, opened his fist, saw a purple mess beneath. Took a knife from his pocket, flicked open the blade, steadied his thumb and stabbed the nail. Pressed and twisted. Blood seeped up through the slit, and the pressure released. He would lose the nail, no doubt about it. He sighed, licked away the blood, and then something caught his eye. In the slanting afternoon sunlight, Eli spotted a trampled line of grass. A paler green of bent blades. Leading across the backyard and into a clump of overgrown dogwood bushes. A sure path, and Eli knew he’d find the runt at the end of it. Probably wasting time, playing in the stream. Fury made him light-headed. He dog-crawled backwards off the roof, lumbered down the ladder, and made his way across the yard. Followed the narrow trail into the coolness of the woods. Towards the tinkling water.

***

Minds stunned by the contents of the second bottle, decency dissolved and replaced by something visceral, something that wanted to hunt. The boys were out, Lewis no longer reluctant, slogging behind Roy and his straying stomach. His gut on two legs. With wobbly strides, they waded through Wilf Stone’s field of vegetables, leaving a trail of torn cabbage leaves, uprooted heads. Once his legs were freed, Roy toppled headlong into the spindly potato stalks, and as he righted himself he tugged on a plant, beige globes popping out from the soil. Plucking one up, Roy jammed it into his mouth, crunched down on raw potato, dirt, and pebbles.

“That’s theeevery,” Lewis slurred as he fell hard on his knees.

“’Tis, Cunts-stu-bul.”

Swaying, Lewis jabbed an authoritative index finger in the air. “Let you off with warr-ing,” he managed before he sat back, slapped his thigh, mouth hanging wide open, soundless laughter banging about against his teeth.

Sprayed beige chunks, hands gripping his knees, crumpled over. “C’mon, Lew-see, ’ress me. Ah-ress me.”

“That I ’llows, you l’il fucker. T’row you slammer. Swallowa key.”

Lewis lunged forward, coiled his arms around Roy’s legs, and the two of them tripped, rolled, crushing the fluffy tops of a row of carrots.

“Fuh you-self.” Roy yanked a carrot from the earth, held it like a dirty dagger, pretended to stab Lewis in the neck. Then, bit the tip, sputtered, “Whassup, Doc? You’re a ’appy wabbit?”

Lewis curled onto his side. Joy pulled all of his muscles inwards, and for a moment he imagined he was a caterpillar, enormous godly finger stroking his belly. Oh, so good it felt to be free. Free. Just for these instants, floating high above newborn responsibility, toes skimming the surface of sober expectation. Just he and his brother and all this foggy air and blurry horizons and spin-top antics. Angling his cheek, he stuck his tongue out the side of his mouth, edging, edging, touching. Soil coating his lips, and he exhaled. The earth was still there. Still beneath his cheek. Strong and ready for when the whirling stopped, when his body would once again be at rest.

“Up and out,” Roy bellowed as he booted Lewis in the back. “Needs find you lass. Kiss that. Lips’s softer an dirt.”

Lewis swiped the specks from his mouth and cheeks, crawled onto all fours, then up again, lumbering forward. Side to side, gravity drunk. Up on the gravel road, they rolled along in the heat of the late afternoon sun. Roy’s chest was bare, his shirt lost somewhere along the way. Limping, one boot now missing, black sock sliding down over the pasty skin of his heel.

“You smell sum-um?” Nose rooting the air above him, huffing, nostrils flaring.

Lewis swaggered alongside him. “Sssmoke.”

“Meat. Burning. Meat.”

“Chri. Some nose on. Jus’ smoke.”

“Gone, buddy. Starved. Eat my fuckeen boots.”

“Only got a one.”

“Tongue the tongue.” Eureka moment, and Roy struck Lewis with his fist. Lewis faltered, righted himself. “Lez go.”

“Nuts, my son. I idn’t go Eli Fagan’s. Apt to shoot you come through the woods. Say you fuckin’ moose.”

“Ah, c’mon. Nab a bite him.”

Something in Lewis alerted him to the fact that staying away from town was a wiser choice, and he did not protest. Trailing close behind his brother, he tumbled down over the embankment, across the mucky ditch and through the woods. His limbs burned with boozy ammunition, face unaware of the damp whipping boughs. Roy like a banshee in the near distance, loping along, swinging from low lying branches, body flying through the cool air. One bare foot flashing in the shadows, stomping onto slippery exposed roots, soft moss.

They were about to pull off the greatest heist ever. Lewis could picture it all, and he could barely contain the electricity that had crept into his marrow. First, enter yard, then wrestle man, steal meat, bound off into the woods, canines clamped down on juicy reward. But before Lewis reached the edge of the woods, Roy had already burst out of the brush, and into Eli Fagan’s backyard. Panting, Lewis stopped, wrapped his arms around the bubbly trunk of a fat spruce, laughter firing out from his cannon chest, legs weakening, as he watched Roy charge towards the smoking barrel where Eli stood. His bloodshot eyes watering, his diaphragm hiccuped inside his chest, and he leaned, tried to catch his breath.

Sensibilities smashed, the brothers were unable to clearly see what was happening in this backyard. They did not notice young Garrett Glass’s face, the pink welt that caused his left eyelids to kiss, purplish bruise that spidered out from his cheekbone. Or that Eli Fagan’s wife was holding her diminutive son firmly by the straps of his wet overalls, and that he fought her, writhing, gnashing his teeth. They did not see her catch his wrist, twisting, his knees buckling until he squatted down, subdued, on a worn hump of grass. They did not heed her face, lips pale, eyes numbed and drowning inside their sockets, how her rake hand leapt to cover her mouth when Roy and Lewis appeared at the edge of their yard. They failed to see the fragments of broken black plastic, the shards of glass from a shattered pickle jar, lying in the grass near Eli Fagan’s feet. Or that he was stabbing his arm into smoke and flame, poking, poking, deep into the rusting barrel with a sharp kitchen utensil. They did not know he was deafened by the crackling, the snaps and pops, and they never sensed the depth of his anger, how it cranked his shoulders up, how it enabled him to drive his hand into ripping fire without feeling a single pinch of pain.

Arms flailing, an exchange of some sort when Roy reached Eli. Lewis could not make out what was being said. The words, after bumbling across the yard, were distorted and watery. As Lewis watched, the two men seemed to embrace, hold each other for a moment, like old friends. But when Lewis caught sight of Eli’s face, it was hot poker red. And then Eli shifted, and Lewis saw Roy’s face, his features pulled back in a strange sort of smile. Then, an altogether different sound showering down from up above. A sound a young deer might make, if shot, but only wounded. Lewis scanned the woods, then looked towards his brother, whose head was arced backwards now, searing cry erupting from his mouth. Hands to his bare stomach, and brightness tumbling from somewhere beneath his fingers.

Mind shocked sober, body slower to respond, Lewis stumbled across the yard, falling forward, knuckles grazing spots of grass, then gravel. He caught his brother as he collapsed, back bowed, pinning Lewis to the ground. “Jesus Christ. Help him,” Lewis tried, but the phrases were trapped beneath his tongue, sounding nothing like they should. Thin liquid poured down over Roy’s abdomen, belly button filled, fish-stained jeans soaked, soil drinking. Lewis cranked his neck, looked this way and that. Eli and his wife were gone, and Garrett, the boy, was beside the barrel, eyes slit by smoke, trying to hook something out with a serving fork. Hugging Roy as best he could, Lewis tried to whisper into his ear, “Shush, shush. Someone’s coming for you. Someone’s coming. Going to be alright.” Wrapping his arms around Roy’s waist, Lewis moved his hands over his brother’s muscle and skin and thick pelt of fat. As he gripped, two fingers slipped into a hot opening in Roy’s flesh. He’d located the source of the rapid blood loss. Lewis pressed hard, tried to plug the hole. But it was a useless consummation.

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