As soon as Peter reaches the bottom of the back door steps he knows there’s a fight going on. He can hear furniture being banged about, screaming and dishes or something breaking. At first he thinks his father Arnold must be back. He listens. It’s Mom and Alex. He creeps up the stairs and through the back door window he sees Alex trying to keep the kitchen table between himself and Mom, who’s trying to bat him with the old chair rung, her spanking stick. The kitchen’s in shambles with food, magazines and dishes strewn over the floor.

“You ain’t gonna get me.” Alex shouts and he feints Mom over to one side and makes a dash for the hall door, but he slips on a magazine. Mom grabs an ankle, bringing him down but a quick kick to the side of her head frees him and Alex retreats back behind the table.

“Wait till I get you, you little sneak. You’re going, to get it like you never got before.” Mom pushes the table slowly in front of her, maneuvering Alex into the corner by the fridge where he’s trapped. “How do you like that, you little thief?”, she says as she starts swatting him with the rung again. Alex grabs the broom to protect himself, and they momentarily rest catching their breath.

Peter’s astounded, he’s never seen Alex put up such a fight before. Usually he struggles and kicks a bit at first but then takes his spankings quietly. And Peter, if he’s home, usually stays out of sight around the corner eagerly listening and counting the number of times Alex is smacked. He would get excited and smile to himself and maybe whistle a happy tune for Alex to hear. The most smacks Peter has ever counted is nine, that was the last time about three months ago. And he’s always disappointed when they stop. Today he figures he’ll watch through the window.

Suddenly Alex has the other end of the rung, it’s a tug of war and when he lets go of it Mom falls over backwards. Alex seizes the chance scooting under the table, but Mom gets him around the neck and then they both slip in a puddle of milk with Mom landing on top of him. “Cuntass.” Alex screams as she flails away at his legs, but his squirming and kicking make her job difficult. Peter’s enjoying the show from his position of safety. Mom tries to turn Alex over while retaining her headlock, but a hard elbow to her ribs makes let go. Alex almost gets away again but she manages to grab him from behind and pull him down to the floor into a scissors grip around his hips. Wrestling is one of Mom’s favourites on TV, and Klondike Karl, whose specially is the flying scissors, is her favourite star. Somehow during the scuffle Mom loses the rung so she holds him across the chest with one band and tries pinching him with the other until Alex gets hold of some hair and yanks.

“You beast!” she screams and starts awkwardly punching, but Alex gets hold of her hand and bites hard on her wrist. “So that’s how you want to play. Well…” She digs her teeth into his neck.

“Bitch!” Alex grabs her hair with both hands this time and yanks, yanks, yanks as hard as he can and gets in some good elbow blows too. He partly frees himself as they roll over on the floor, smudges of blood appearing on their clothes, but she still has him in a scissors grip. Then during a lull Mom notices Peter watching through the door, and they both stop fighting and lie there panting heavily. Peter enters hesitantly.

After a moment Mom, somewhat embarrassed but making sure to retain her hold, says to Peter, “You should see what the little monster did. I sent him to the store with two dollars for cigarettes and he tells me he doesn’t have any change.”

“But you didn’t tell me not to spend it and it was only forty cents.” Alex protests.

“But not just that,” Mom’s voice begins to rise, “he’s been stealing the change I keep for the bus, over a dollar was missing from the jar.” Peter still has three of the five quarters he’d ’borrowed’ that morning in his pocket. “And he lies, lies, lies.”

“But I didn’t take your bus money.” Alex insists.

“Liar, thief.” Mom shouts. “I spoke to Mr. Cheung at the store and he says you were playing video games there.”

“But that was other money I had.”

“That’s what you say.” And she starts batting him on the head with her free hand.

“Bitch, cuntass, whore.” Alex tries to ward off her blows. “Dad says you’re a real whore.” Mom stops momentarily. “And the way he talks there’s something funny about Petey too.” She resumes her labours and tries squeezing violently but mainly tires herself. Finally she gets Alex restrained so he can’t do anything, but then neither can she. “Fucking cuntass, let me go.”

After a minute of inconclusive struggle Mom orders, “Peter! Hold him. Grab his legs. I won’t let him get away with this.” Peter tries rather feebly, he’s afraid of being kicked and he doesn’t like touching people anyway, so when Alex’s resistance makes him hold on tight it becomes too much and he has to loosen off. “Forget it Peter,” Mom breaks in, “get the strapping tape, it’s in the second drawer down on the left where I keep the hammer and screwdriver.” Peter dutifully fetches it and tries to give her the roll. “No silly, start it, pull the end loose.” Peter finds the end and pulls out an inch. “No more… lots more… more still… Now wrap it around his wrist.” She manages to hold one arm still where Peter can reach it. “No more than that… Now the other… and pull them together tight… That’s it.” And Peter follows instructions while Alex between curses, makes faces and sticks his tongue out at him. Peter’s glad it’s over, or so he thinks. “Now his feet, Peter.” She orders loosening up on her scissor grip. Alex kicks out, dangerously Peter feels, and he retreats. “Peter, you’re hopeless. Here, you just hold his head and chest, careful he doesn’t butt you… That’s right… You take over, I’ve got his legs now… And just see he doesn’t move around too much.” Peter has to hold tight again. Feeling Alex’s warm, sweaty, struggling body against his own would have been too much for Peter except…

“You’re Mummy’s little helper, aren’t you Petey boy?” Alex sarcastically hisses in his ear. And for once Peter’s anger finds an outlet in power, and he holds on tight, even thinking of ways he could pinch or hurt Alex. “And I bet you took the bus money, didn’t you Petey?” Peter retains his grip but is trying to think. Science class was interesting today. It’s real neat the way amoebae multiply by dividing… And dividing fractions is interesting because you divide them by turning them around and multiplying them… And the Russians have launched a new manned space satellite… and… And Peter notices that Alex is getting real hair on his forearms too while he has none at all.

“Peter. Peter are you listening? I said get down there and sit on his legs.” Mom has finished taping his feet and ankles together. She rolls Alex over and half sits on his shoulders. Peter nervously squats down on his ankles. “Hit your mother will you? and kick and bite? And look at the mess you made… and my Wedgewood plate! I’m going to teach you a lesson, you lying little thief, that you won’t forget.”

“I didn’t do it. It wasn’t me,” Alex pleads. Mom picks up the rung. “Fucker, cuntass fucking whore.”

“You watch your tongue young man.” She prepares to strike.

“Fucking Whore, that’s what you are.” Alex makes it rhyme.

Mom trembles to strike but hesitates, and then with a look of spiteful determination says, “We’re going to do this properly - the way it should be done. Peter. Pull down his jeans.”

“Do I have to?”

“Peter. I am in no mood for impertinence from you or anyone else.”

“But Mom…”

“Peter… Do as I say. He’s not too old to have his pants pulled down.”

Peter tugs half heartedly at Alex’s jeans. “I can’t Mom.”

“Well undo them Silly.”

Peter reaches under and starts fumbling, Alex’s wriggling doesn’t make it any easier. “Petey’s a fairy, a faggy little fairy.” Alex begins to chant. Mom slaps his head to stop him and Peter finally has some success.

“No. Right down to his knees.”

Peter resumes his efforts. “Having fun Sissypants?” Alex comments and Mom slaps him again. At last they’re down and Peter notices that Alex has fine golden hairs almost up to his buttocks. He leans back on his brothers bound ankles and can feel him squirming beneath.

Mom glares down at the helplessly exposed Alex. “If you ever behave like this again I’ll REALLY give you a beating… This is for your own good.” she adds solemnly, and slowly but forcefully begins thrashing his buttocks with the rung as Alex swears, curses and struggles futilely. Peter feels some relief at last. And then with each blow Peter feels tingly and presses himself down harder to feel it better. Like riding a horse maybe? He watches in fascination and sees, inches before his eyes, welts redden and rise, from the soft white skin. But it goes on and on, Peter never thinks to count. Specks of blood appear and splatter and Peter sees the Wall with the pink paint and the ruddy brown taking over. Alex’s curses and struggles cease but Mom keeps on beating him grimly, almost mechanically. Purplish blotches expand where the welts overlap again and again.

“Can’t we stop Mom?” Peter pleads. His excitement has turned to fear, and a growing terror. “Please Mom.” He removes some of his weight from the limp body.

“Not until I’m finished Peter.” She gives him four more blows on the thighs which she has ’neglected’. “There,” looking at Peter, “that should do it.”

Peter blankly gazes at the bloody mess in front of him with a mixture of not only fear, shame and some pangs of guilt, but also envy for Alex’s fortitude and perhaps some pity. He can hear Alex whimpering quietly, he leans over trying to find the ends of the tape and says, “Sorry.”

“Fuck off.” It’s partly a plea.

“I was only trying to help.” Peter apologizes.

Mom returns with the scissors and cuts him loose. “Now go to your room Alex.”

Peter dejectedly sneaks out the back door. He feels the remaining coins in his pocket and takes them out. He looks at them briefly and decides to throw them away, but the first one lands in a pile of old lumber where it would be difficult to find later so he changes his mind. Peter hides himself in the old garage by the lane, sits down and cries. And he cries and he cries. Why did Mom beat him so much? And he knows it was mainly because of the bus money and he cries some more. “Faggy fairy.” I’m no fairy. But then he remembers the funny smooth skinned man that he’d seen at the Theatre Coffee Shop whom somebody had said was a ’homofrodite’. He checks his forearms and legs for any real hair and then buries his head in his hands and cries some more.

Perhaps an hour later Alex walks into the garage. “What are you doing here?” he demands. The bruises on his head and neck are darker now, but otherwise he seems his usual if surly self.

“Nothing.” Peter mumbles.

“Well GET OUT. Tom and me are gonna fix it up for a bike workshop. And we don’t want no sissies around… or thieves either.” Peter leaves quietly and looks for another place to sit and cry.

Eventually Peter wanders up to the highway and disposes of the remaining two quarters in the Asteroid machine at the 7-Eleven. He gets his lowest scores ever. It’s as if the machine is rejecting him too and he leaves before any kids might see him and the tears begin to flow again. And then he sees Balbir walking towards him and he has to turn around and take the long route home. He manages to control his sobs by the time he gets there. Barely nodding at Mom and Alex who are watching TV and sharing a big bag of taco chips he shuts himself in his room.

After an initial outburst he doesn’t cry very long. Soothed by the warmth of his bed and the affection of his pillow, his mind is mercifully liberated by fantasy. If you had asked Peter what it was all about he would have said: “It’s about this new starship I designed, and it’s bigger than the Enterprise and it has all these new weapons and is capable of annihilating whole planets and we could use it to repel alien invaders and destroy their evil galactic empires.” The present episode contains certain small but interesting details. And I could invent a melt down ray gun. Instead of getting blasted they’d just turn to jelly, and shrink and get distorted and end up as a puddle like in that movie on TV, only there it was some organism from outer space that did it. And, if you could stop it half way and they turned solid, you could keep them as little sculptures. They’d look like modern art, especially the aliens. And I could do it to those kids at school, maybe not Balbir, and the store boys. And I bet old man Hicks would look good done half way. Peter toys briefly with an earlier invention of his - miniaturizing ray gun. Deep in his heart or some pedantic recess of his mind he feels the idea is not very scientific but he still likes it, because for people, think of all the things you could do to them and the fun you could have.

His current favourite however, which has starred in several recent episodes, is his shield piercing, anti-metal matter beam, at least that is what it had been up to the time they had to defeat the sinister Silicon Civilization of the sun planet Evilon, where it had to be reprogrammed to dematerialize all matter except living, carbon based organisms. It would leave the crews of the enemy spaceships floating naked in space to freeze to death. His mind gets caught up in a vision of space populated with orbiting, naked, frozen corpses. And there’s sure to be enemy spacewomen too. And if you could thaw them out and reprogram them… But he sees too many possibilities to concentrate on any one.

When Mom comes in later he tries to explain his designs to her, leaving out the ’naked’ business.

“Why I think you are very imaginative Peter. Maybe someday you’ll be an astronaut. They’re planning to send up a Canadian you know.”

“Yeah I know.” Sometimes Peter wishes he’d been born an American or even a Russian, because then you’d have a better chance. But then he remembers all the training and that, You don’t get a chance to zap anybody, and he becomes resigned to his nationality.

“And when it happens we’ll probably all get to watch it on TV.” Mom continues after a pause.

“That’ll be interesting, a Canadian and all that.” Peter feels twinges of patriotism for the first time in months.

“I hear they’re already looking for candidates… but they have to be over thirty.” she adds teasing.

“I don’t really want to be an astronaut.” He tries to sound confiding - there are times he really likes his mom. “I don’t want to be anything right now.” Peter almost says, “I just want to be.” but it doesn’t seem to make any sense to him.

“You don’t have to worry about things like that yet anyway. I’m sure you’ll find something, probably a profession. You’re so clever at so many things. You’re the only one with any brains, and you don’t cause the trouble the others do… Sometimes I just don’t know how I can keep going on, Peter.” She’s becoming emotional and sits down on the bed beside Peter, who dutifully responds with a look of concern. Mom takes his hand, forcing a smile on her face. “I’m so glad I came in to talk to you Peter. You don’t know what a trying day I’ve had with all that’s happened.” she sobs.

“You mean Alex?” Peter doesn’t want to bring up the subject.

“I just don’t know what to do. I try, and I try. I try to be a good mother to all of them. But it’s hard trying to do everything. It didn’t matter with Arnold at first, I didn’t know where all the money was coming from then. It was all fancy restaurants and home deliveries, and even maid service a lot of the time. I never even had any pots and pans until after Arnold’s first bust. Nobody appreciates it when I try to cook, although I must say Peter you like some of the things I make. And to try to be like a father to Alex - I’ve given up on Tom - to be firm and to have to discipline him. I don’t know, I just don’t know, I certainly don’t enjoy having to do that.”

“But Mom, why do you have to beat him so hard?”

“Do you think I wanted to? I had to force myself to do it, I always do. And today it had to be enough, it was like my last chance, I can hardly manage him anymore. Oh Peter, do you think I wanted to hurt him? … You think I want him turning out like Tom? … or Arnold?”

“But it made me feel bad.” Peter sobs. The tears are mostly of shame and self pity but Mom sees genuine concern.

“I know you feel sorry for Alex, he is your brother… but he’s so stubborn and willful… If only he’d just cry or scream. Like it isn’t done right if he’s still fighting you and you can tell he isn’t sorry. I sometimes think you could thrash him all day and it wouldn’t make much difference. He’s not sensitive like you are Peter. And he’s been a very well behaved boy, we had quite a pleasant evening.”

“But all he did was spend the change.”

“THAT, is stealing, and you’re forgetting about my bus money.”

“But it was still only stealing.” Peter wants to minimize his own offense.

“Isn’t that enough? And from his mother? And he lies, lies, lies…. And you saw what he tried to do to me, kicking and biting and all that foul language.”

“But Mom, you steal.”

“Peter, that’s different, I have a family to support. I don’t know how Welfare expects us to survive on seven hundred dollars a month… And think of all the nice things I’ve got for you, and the colour TV I bought. If we didn’t ’save’ in other ways, we couldn’t have afforded it.”

“I understand… sort of.”

“Goodnight Peter.” She kisses him on the forehead. “You are such a sensitive child.”

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