Half-Kid by Mike Itaya
Someone’s got to piss in the pudding, so I figured it might as well be me. The only thing I was good for was being good for nothing. A pestilence, I cast dreariness on the merriment of others; a prepubescent boogeyman, I’d lose my head about once a week and unspool until someone stopped me; a vile farter, I expelled ill, oppressive vapors that ruined chapel services, church potlucks, and the checkout line at Walmart. “What did you eat?” people asked.
I was a shithead kid.
I yanked cats’ tails, ripped off cubby holes, and told innumerable half-truths even I couldn’t set straight. A lot amounted to frame jobs, pinning blame on patsies, citizen of the week material. I was not well liked. My peers, Darwinian hold-overs and booger archaeologists, called me “half-kid.” Bastard of a broken home. Apostate. I played Kick the Can by myself. I’d sit out behind the school for hours, then walk home at night when I got hungry.
It was the ‘90s. I was tenish. My aunt, Tina, and I were bedded down in a one bedroom rathole in Mobile, Alabama—a place Rand McNally called “the asshole of America.” I had a sleeping bag and permanent residence on the futon. I lived on burnt toast and fetid cold cuts. I loved The Mickey Mouse Club and sometimes felt like it loved me back. At school, I called Mouseketeers “shitheads,” but in bed at night I wanted to be one so bad that my heart ached. I sent a membership card to Disney, but something must have gotten lost because I never heard back.
Aunt Tina told me to expect the worst, because that was on the menu. She worked at a China Fun, a vaguely ethnic restaurant where the dining room doubled as an after-hours dance club named Los Chicos. Tina would fraternize, and later fornicate, with men she’d served Orange Beef only hours before.
My mother was dead. My father was long gone—so far out of the picture that there weren’t even photos to burn. The only evidence was me. Pressed for details, my aunt explained, “He’s probably in Panama City. Or Biloxi. One of those cities that collect chickenshit men like aluminum cans.” It was funny to miss those complete strangers, my parents, but I spent years hoping to find them in the heavens, the endless black where the stars disappeared. I’d play hooky on do-nothing-days, wishing the world to go dark.
One Christmas, my aunt gave me a toy trumpet, which sounded even worse than I expected. I took the shitkicker to the alleyway, set it on fire, and attempted to summon the Devil. Infamy arrived, of a different note—namely firemen, police, and the super. After they hosed my molten trumpet, everyone stared. They wanted to extinguish me too.
Most times my aunt would survey the collective damage of the day, make comic exhortations to the Lord, then beat me like a sour egg in a cake mix. Afterwards, she’d pour straight whiskey and pass out in the recliner. I’d sit on the couch sipping Wild Turkey, watching TCM, listening to hard boiled zingers that seriously pissed off the nuns when I later repeated them.
Catholic school—I was a charity case, a token shitbird admitted as a good works write-off—was a drab place of ill humors and frightening religiosity. A raw, puritanical fear undercut everything: literature, sports, and a Hamburglar poster the nuns tore down. They even ran the bathroom like a total institution, right down to pliability of the toilet paper. “What did you eat?” they asked.
The nuns were big on JV scare tactics, promising Hell and Purgatory, with all the fixins’. I said to them, friendless, motherless, my swatted bottom swollen like a beefsteak tomato, “Ha. What else you got?”
The nuns didn’t fuck around. I was always getting my assed kicked in the name of the Lord. Just for kicks, they ruler rapped your knuckles. Flipping the bird was a tender, two-handed operation. I made the big time on day one, when I wrote, “Saint Joseph Guzzles Dongs,” on the homeroom chalkboard. Imagine how that went over. From then on, they’d roust me if someone farted in another county. I was the fucking fall guy for everything wrong since Golgotha.
It was a classically awful adolescence I was rather enjoying.
And I knew the opprobrium of strangers. People who scowled at me from kitchen windows and rocking chairs. People who’d been retrograde voters since the Civil War. People who sniffed suspiciously at foreigners and fat-free cookies. I was subjected to gasbag tirades and the old boy philosophical showstopper—the five alarm fart. Lifelong Mobilians, the reanimated dead, sat around slow-sucking the marrow from conversational loops on football and Fox News, as though either thing would avert the slow-blooming apocalypse, save them from the mushroom cloud, cure their diabeetus.
My aunt had come from old money that dried up in the 80’s OPEC troubles. Her parents and cousin lived in nearby Pascagoula, eating butter sandwiches in a historic home they could barely keep the lights on in. Except for one ugly reunion when my grandparents never looked at me (“What did he eat?” my grandparents asked), my aunt kept her distance. “Better to wait tables,” my aunt said. She thought it was easier being poor, having once been rich. Eating butter sandwiches five nights a week, I had to take her word for it.
Most days it was just us, except the nights she brought home weak-willed men she’d strong-armed into melancholy sex. Self-possessed and barely forty, my aunt was considered “a lush catch,” especially by happy hour alcoholics, but I was a dealbreaker. Eligible men would take one or two looks at me, say “Problem Child,” then head for the hills. Mostly, my aunt spent the small hours haunted by bed bugs, with only Billy Mays for company. I would lie on my pallet, separated from the infomercials by a plasterboard wall. We spent unhappy nights and immutable years, alone together. Buried alive.
The worst of it was when my proximity practically made me a participant in the sad sex. One time, I threw a Converse All Star at the wall: it broke through the plasterboard and nailed my aunt’s drunken date in the face.
But Tim was alright. He’d sit around, telling me stories while I kicked him in the shins. Tim worked as a vet tech, but mostly he radiated loneliness. He clung to us with a desperation that reeked of cat wine and pathos, and soon enough, Tim joined the expansive club of men who used to date my aunt. Later on, I caught him rooting through our garbage like Doc in Back to the Future. Tim looked at me, his face frozen in disbelief, uncertain of the world and how he felt about his place in it. The last time he came around, he gave me a book, Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes.
I was mad on Indians. I knew about teepees, maize, arrowheads, and intertribal beefs. I gave people Indian names—the fat, sulfury rector who came over for dinner was “He Who Turds the Worst,” though I wasn’t blameless in that arena.
“What did you eat?” the rector asked—even though we’d just eaten dinner together.
“Let it turn to something else,” I said. The three of us were watching Red Dawn on the futon, my bed.
I liked imagining myself grown up, living out on the plains in a teepee, where no one bothered me, where no one knew my name.
At school, we’re presenting family reports, and some of the kids have gone all out. Heirlooms, stories, parentals. A businessman, policeman, and fireman were there—people I’d previously encountered in a semi-professional capacity. The nuns ordered us by one of those reverse alphabet deals, so I’m dead last. They’re going to crucify me. They’re going to bleed me, then give me an F anyway. They’re going to make me get up there and talk about my dead mother. My deadbeat dad. My wanton aunt.
When they call “Thomas Adams,” I go to the front and survey the audience. I know they’re judging me, so I stand there judging them. I look them over and wonder if there’s anything worth liking. They want to hear about old families brought low by scandal and dissipation. So when it was my turn, I read them this.
Mike Itaya lives in southern Alabama, where he works in a library. His work appears or is forthcoming in Oracle Fine Arts Review, The Airgonaut, Bending Genres, decomP Magazine, Queen Mob's Teahouse, Heavy Feather Review, The Lindenwood Review, Belletrist Magazine, and Déraciné Magazine.
Be sure to check out our exclusive interview with Mike on the Orson’s Publishing blog.