CHAPTER ONE: THE WALL
Looking out the old wood sash window from his bed, all Peter can see is the Wall, the pale pink, drop siding wall of the house next door less than three feet away ... and part of a window, Mr. Hickss window, the neighbours lodger. Sometimes Peter thinks he can see Mr. Hicks watching him through it for he hardly ever closes his curtains. Peter has studied the Wall for more than three years, ever since this became his room when his older brother Tom made his own pad in the basement with centrefolds and Harley Davidson posters. Peter cant remember when the Wall was freshly painted but he can recall when there were only three small patches where it was peeling; below the window where it was rotten anyway, where the two boards butt at the far left and by the big broken blister, Tom said he busted it because it bugged him. Now all except the top three boards below the eaves are peeling, revealing a dirty, ruddy brown colour beneath, which is gradually taking over.
Three years ago when Peter had scarlet fever, and missed half of grade four but still passed, the brown advancing from under the windowsill had almost joined up with the growing patch where the two boards met. When he was better he had scraped through a connection with a knife but some of the paint had been stuck solid and it had been hard work, and he almost fell when the knife slipped. Hed also tried to scratch his initials in the pink but it had chipped and he couldnt get them even. Instead he had wet his finger and rubbed JPS in the grime and the smudge of green moss that grows on the upper boards. Two years ago when he had the chicken pox, the patch from the big blister almost reached down to where the boards joined and hed scraped that through, but two more patches had started and later, after hed had pneumonia, hed scraped through more connections but more patches started. And after the last time, measles, he had estimated, using one of his pocket calculators and measuring, that over thirty percent of the pink had peeled. And when it all goes back to brown, when its taken over everywhere, that will be it, the end. And sometimes Peter reflects what an interesting life hes had - all those diseases.
This time he has sinusitis and bright lights bother him. When Mom comes in and turns on the light to give him some milk or a snack, he pulls the covers over his head. It also means he wont have to kiss her. She tries to talk to him but she always seems to say the same things, Peter doesnt give a damn whats happening on Dallas or General Hospital. She pats and hugs him anyway and he wiggles and makes a few sounds which she interprets as affectionate. However he likes it in the evening when if nothing is on TV she comes in, puts a cloth over the lamp and plays checkers with him. Everything is so boring this time, boring, boring, boring. He hasnt even minded the couple of times his kid brother Alex has come in to say hello, as long as he doesnt tease him, but hes glad not to see Tom.
And even though it hurts his eyes he watches the Magic Minutes on sunny days when the beams find their way between the narrow gap of the eaves and the Wall is illuminated with a rising and narrowing band of light, and the brownish patches look like bloody sores on a striped pink skin.
To be honest, most times Peter doesnt mind being sick. He doesnt have to go to school of course, not that he doesnt like school, he does, and he likes most of his teachers, especially Ms. Candice. Shes his home room teacher and Peter gets her for Social Studies, English and Guidance, and she lets him doodle in class because he gets good marks. What Peter doesnt like is going to school, being at school and most of all coming home from school. Its nowhere near as bad as it used to be, but you can never tell. There was the time Peter knocked over the aquarium at school and told the teacher that little Bobby, the kid they call Runtass, did it and the teacher believed him. Peter arrived late and ran home from school for the rest of the week. Peter is most scared of the boys who hang around the Schoolside Confectionery, three in particular who sometimes take his money and who used to always corner him and make him cry. They never have to give him more than a tap, and sometimes they just have to run charging up to him.
If he cant get away and he thinks he might get hurt Peter is prepared. If theyre really going to do it to you, you got to lie on the ground and scream. Like you have to do that, they wont hit you if youre crying hard enough already. And sometimes you can run and they wont catch you even if they can. They just call you names. One kid, I told him I was almost dying already and that if he hit me held be a Murderer. And I got this spot near my left armpit thats a birthmark. I havent used it yet but I could tell them its Cancer, and that its really all over me, and that if they hit hard it will rub off and theyll get cancer too and die.
Maybe I should tell people Ive got cancer anyway. I bet ld be the only boy in school with cancer, that wouldnt be a very big lie because Ive had so many other things. But then if you really had cancer theyd put you in a special ward and celebrities like Jerry Lewis would visit and raise money for you, I think especially if you get leukemia cancer. And they have all these special trips, like you get to go to Disneyland, and you get a big birthday early, like Ive never had a big party, or Christmas ahead of time with lots of expensive presents. But then you have to die mostly, last years Timmy died, I read it in the paper, but think of all the things you get!
Getting sick and getting hurt are almost opposites to Peter. The discomfort of illness he bears surprisingly well and he has no unusual fear of the doctors needle or even the dentist. Illness has often plotted his life in welcome ways. It brings him attention and sympathetic people to his side, and avoids other problems. Its only his body that gets sick. Like your body isnt the real, real you, its the mind. The mind is the computer that controls things and it cant get hurt like the body can. Peter likes his mind but wishes he had a bigger, stronger body with more hair, or maybe a bionic one that wouldnt feel pain. Useful as it is the body can get hurt and feel pain, and the pain dissolves the separateness of the two and it hurts the real him. The mind should keep the body away from pain, and other than that Peter doesnt think much about his body, its health or keeping it clean. That is why he doesnt play sports or ride bicycles or swim or do a lot of other things. Getting hurt, especially getting hit by people destroys the world he tries to live in, leaving him miserable with only the consolation of his mother. Peter would make an exception for his penis, its fun to play with and he likes it, but its not one you could boast about.
But this time being sick is so boring. Peter likes to read about things, about science, about building things and sometimes sci-fi stories. He has three copies of Science Digest, the Omni issue with the pictures of Jupiter, a pile of old National Geographics, Popular Science and a Colliers Encyclopedia with only two volumes missing. And his Aunt Agnes gives him her old copies of The Readers Digest, which keep him up to date on general issues. And of course theres Moms movie and TV magazines. But because light bothers his eyes he cant read or draw or do his usual things, he can only look around his dimly lit room. A complete set of diagrams for the U.S.S. Enterprise, pictures of space satellites, rockets and weapons, plus what he believes is an original 2001 movie poster decorate his room. Or he can stare at the shadowed Wall.
Peter likes to draw and design super weapons, planes, tanks, submarines and giant spaceships, and sometimes whole planets, and having wars. He has twenty seven small plastic model spaceships, almost all of which Mom found for him, and four big ones he designed and made himself out of cardboard, tape and covered with aluminum foil. The latter are armed with H bomb missiles. Like H bombs could end everything, absolutely everything just like that, everybody getting zapped all at once. The idea seems more heroic than tragic. But even just cities, Peter usually thinks of Russian cities, but then American cities have more tall buildings, whole cities getting zapped! .... Wow! It isnt just the blast and the mushroom cloud that excite him. Like things burst into flames and people disintegrate, barbecued to dust in seconds, and farther away people start to rot and their eyes fall out, like instant leprosy. Peter has seen a movie about the effects at Hiroshima. Lately however, Peter has been tending to favour the N bomb because it just kills people and leaves the buildings. You wouldnt want the CN Tower, the Empire State Building and all those cathedrals destroyed would you?
His favourite idea of all is the ultra thin, miniaturized death ray camera gun hes designed which he could hide in his shirt pocket, and he could aim it at a person or anything and ZAP them, and nobody could tell he did it. The remote controls would be in his right hand pants pocket. He would zap all the tough boys at the Schoolside store, all the kids who teased him and called him a sissy, and the big time crooks and Communists, and aliens from outer space. And it would be really good as you could do it slow and watch their faces while youre doing it, and gradually turn it up, and then down a bit and up again until the final zap. But for some, like girls who just occasionally make fun of him, he wouldnt give them a full zap, just a few zipzaps which would leave them in pain for a while, and for some of the boys who werent too bad maybe he could reprogram the gun to give them black eyes or broken arms. Id do that to Tom a lot and sometimes to Alex, on the ass to make him be good. I figure by watching you could learn to tell when people are getting enough. And Id really zap the Paki at the corner store, just because he caught Mom taking things doesnt mean he has to be so nasty to me. And Id really zap Mr. Hicks and all the other queers, and maybe even Arnold the next time he comes home. But he wouldnt zap Mom, or Aunt Agnes because of the Readers Digests, or Ms. Candice. Peter wishes his death ray camera gun were real.
"Can I come in?" Mom calls through the door. Peter makes an affirmative sound. "Peter, look what Ive got for you!" Peter pulls the covers over his head although the cloth is still draped over the lamp. She turns the light on, Peter peeps out and she bands him a plastic model kit for the U.S. Nautilus nuclear submarine.
"Thanks Mom." He glances at it and puts it aside, hes sure he already has one exactly like it. Maybe he could pass it along to Alex like he does with other toys he doesnt want although Alex has plenty of his own. Peter has a closet full of toys and games, most of which he thinks are too juvenile, and she keeps bringing him pocket calculators, he has five cheap ones, when a home computer is what he wants, because thats what the future is all about.
"You know they charge fourteen ninety five for these models now. I would have got you the Dungeon Master book you want so, but they were right by the cashier. She just stood there pushing back her cuticles when there were no customers around. Youd think theyd have them do inventory or something useful when theyre not busy ... And oh, let me show you what I got for myself." She pulls out an exotic blue sequined evening dress. "Of course Ill never get a chance to wear it anywhere, and it is a bit long, but its so nice to have ... Oh, and while I was at Eatons I got you a pair of Jordache designer jeans, Im sure youll like them although they may be a bit big, but Tom could never get into them. I really didnt have much time, and Ill cut down one of your old pairs and in a few months they should fit Alex.... And oh," she reaches in her bag again, "I got something else for myself ... See? Chanel No. 5. I do prefer the old standbys ... Here, let me put some behind your ears."
"I dont know Mom... Alex might smell it and..."
"Oh dont be silly. Itll be gone by morning and Im sure lots of boys wear perfume nowadays. Why the things you see in magazines these days, all these punks with those awful mohawks, boys with striped hair and makeup, and theres even some who hang around the Harbour Centre mall." Peter reluctantly lets her put some perfume on him. "Oh, and I got some more of that Russian caviar you adore so much at the Gourmets Corner, and a tin of truffles for me and two Toblerone bars for Alex .... And I thought it would be nice if we had another candlelight dinner, why its been ages since Ive done any real cooking. I was thinking of just the four of us, although I cant really count on Tom, and I could bring out that five hundred dollar Irish Linen tablecloth. Wouldnt that be nice Peter? Ive been dying to use it."
"Yeah Mom, and you could use that crystal stuff too."
"Youre so right Peter, and we could have 7-Up and pretend its champagne, even though theyre not quite the right kind of glasses."
"And Mom, you could wear your new dress!"
"Youre right, I could, but I think Ill just keep it to try on sometimes. That way it will always be new."
"Can I see you in it?"
"Why of course Peter." She gives him a peck on the forehead. "And oh Peter, guess who I saw down at the mall just as I was buying the new TV Guide? You know Robert Clothier? He plays that nasty funny man, Relic, on The Beachcombers, but he was all dressed up in nice clothes and I couldnt be sure." The Beachcombers is one of the few programs they both like. "Its on tonight, isnt that a coincidence? And I thought if your eyes are better maybe you could watch."
"Sure Mom." Peters eyes are feeling better.
"And oh, Im getting the cablevision hooked back up again Monday, and you wont have to watch all those dreadful preachers on Sunday morning."
And a few days later after seeing Dr. Grantz, Peter is back at school.
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