Not If I See You First
“Yeah—” he begins, but Aunt Celia interrupts.
“Please don’t call him that, Parker. I’ve asked you before.”
“He likes it, don’t you, Little P?”
“It was my idea! Right, Big P?”
“He won’t like it later, and by then it’ll be stuck.”
“The day he asks me to stop calling him Little P, I will, that’s a promise. I only call him that at home so if anyone else hears it, it won’t be from me.”
“It’s just … it just doesn’t sound … It’s not appropriate.”
“Your concerns have been heard,” I say lightly. “Go on, Little P, tell your story.”
I expect a pause for everyone to have an eyebrow conversation about my defiance but Petey can’t hold back and jumps right in describing how a fishbowl in his class got knocked over. The fact he’s excited doesn’t necessarily mean the fish survived—it could have gone the other way and he’d have told the story in pretty much the same tone.
While Petey describes the drama of saving the tetras in chaotic detail, I map out my pork chop with short stabs of my fork and dull knife and then saw the meat away from the bone. I’d caused a minor uproar when they first moved in because after I cut my food I don’t switch my fork to my right hand for each bite. This is a concept that (1) had never occurred to me, (2) is common etiquette supposedly, at least among people who still obsess about things like this, and (3) is something I find utterly bizarre. Even stranger was how Aunt Celia not only disapproved of this, and my dad for letting me do it, but also had some half-baked notion of stopping it. Uncle Sam saved us from the most ridiculous argument imaginable by saying the way I eat is how they eat “across the pond.” While this didn’t make it optimal to Aunt Celia, it somehow made it legitimate enough for her to let it go and save face. It was my first glimpse of what it would be like living with Aunt Celia under my roof.
I’m on my bed with my laptop, reading with the help of Stephen Hawking’s voice. I rarely read actual braille books and only occasionally use a braille terminal. A lot of the time I listen to audiobooks or browse the web with text-to-speech software, and what better way to learn stuff than hearing it from the smartest guy in the world?
I’m on my nightly Wikipedia crawl, enjoying the irony of reading about cuckoo birds. They lay their eggs in other birds’ nests and then those birds raise the cuckoo chicks as their own, like nothing odd is happening. In my house it’s the other way around.
My phone rings with Sarah’s ringtone: quack quack quack …
I disconnect my earbuds from the computer and plug them into my phone. “Hey.”
“Hey,” she says. “Any fires tonight?”
“Nope. Just a few sparks when Aunt Celia told me again to stop calling Petey Little P.”
“It’s a terrible nickname.”
“Not appropriate, she said.”
“You know that’s Celia-speak for she thinks it’s perverted, and it is. He’ll hate it later when he figures it out.”
“Jesus, Sarah, he’s eight. And if you think Little P means his dick, then Big P—wait, never mind. Should have thought that through.”
She chuckles and it warms me. Sarah hardly ever laughs.
“Sheila still not talking to you?”
“No change there. None expected.”
“My theory’s holding; I figured she’d steer clear.”
“I’m not the best one to show her around anyway. I can’t point out much and I doubt she’s interested in how many paces it is from the cafeteria to the nearest bathroom.”
“True. How’s Molly?”
“Not sure yet. I’m hopeful. Probably won’t be a disaster. Ask again later.”
“Sure thing, Magic 8 Ball.”
“Okay, tell me what you know.”
It begins, our nightly recitation of what was observed and inferred throughout the day. My list is always much shorter than Sarah’s of course, since she’s the eyes of this operation and I’m the mouth, but no one can deny that when I shoot it off, it’s very well informed.
We used to be systematic, working through the day class by class, hallway by hallway; now we jump around without missing anything. She describes what people and things look like and I list times and places and describe voices and sometimes sounds and odors so she can zero in on who I’m talking about to get a visual and other info later. I tell her about D.B. from Trig because I suspect he’ll be a pain and I might need more tools to deal with him. I mention the calm voice that shut down D.B.’s heavy jock voice and how it sounded familiar yet still not anyone I knew, like how listening to someone with an accent sounds like the other person you know with that accent even though they have different voices.
During a pause where I expect Sarah to jump in, she doesn’t. I let the silence go to see how long it lasts. After a few more seconds I know something’s up.
“I’m waiting for you to tell me about it.”
“You really don’t know?”
“That voice? You don’t know who it was?”
“Do you? You weren’t even there.”
“Kay was. She said she was ready to hold up her math book like a shield but you were smooth as glass.”
“Kay said that? Smooth as glass?”
“Of course not—it was Kay. She had verbal diarrhea for five minutes. Do you want to hear all that instead of my perfect three-word summary?”
“It was Scott.”
“Scott? Scott? It didn’t sound …”
The floor vanishes. My stomach twists and I’m falling and I slap both hands on the bed and push my spine into the headboard.
“His voice changed,” she says. “Last time you heard him was in the eighth grade. He was only thirteen.”
We’d talked about how we’d know some of the immigrants from Jefferson—quirks of geography had us going to the same elementary and middle schools but different high schools. Some of them had been on my shit list before but my list is so long I wasn’t worried about a few old names reactivating. Somehow all this didn’t include realizing Scott Kilpatrick would be one of them.