CHAPTER FIVE: HOMECOMING AND GOING
A couple of weeks later Peter comes in the back door after school and notices Mom quietly working in the kitchen. “Peter, your father Arnold is back.” she states flatly. Peter looks at her but says nothing. It’s been almost a year since Arnold was last home and that was for only three days, three anguished days that left Mom battered and broke, and the house in shambles. lt was also when Tom got his Stretcherciser and Arnold gave Alex a pellet gun. Peter, he’d thought himself lucky, had the measles, ‘The Polka Dot Kid’ Mom had teased him. Aunt Agnes had come over for a few days after to help Mom straighten out the house and take care of him. The last that they had heard was that Arnold was in jail in Winnipeg.
From by the hall door Peter can hear Arnold and Tom talking drunkenly in the living room. Cautiously Peter steals into the hall and sits just out of sight around the corner of the archway. He slowly stands and peeks around through the bead curtain at them and quickly resumes his sitting position to digest the image o[ this man with hairy hands and three days stubble who is his father. Peter is caught between an intense curiosity and fear. He knows he can easily make it back to the kitchen and out the back door or through his bedroom, if he has to.
“And this dude who done in the crazy Indian I was telling you about, you should have seen him, Orik was his name, said he was Serbian. Anyway this dude hasn’t a hair on his body, not even eyebrows, but like I said he was built like a brick shithouse, and he had this snake tattoo… The tail starts with a curl on the top of his head and it comes down around his neck and body, and you know what, it comes out between his legs and the snake’s head is tattooed on the end of his cock. I stayed away from him.” Peter, despite his fear is fascinated by Arnold’s description of Orik.
“How long were you in there Dad?” Tom asks.
“Six weeks. This dumb legal aid broad, she only came in to see me twice, all she got me was remands, remands, but when the guy finally got out of hospital some buddies persuaded him to drop the charges.” They both laugh.
“Ready for another Tom?” Arnold cracks two beer with a Bic.
“So you’re all free now.”
“Free as they come son, free as they come, and things are going to get better mighty quick. No more heavy shit for me… I met this older dude back in Winnipeg, and he’s had a lot of time to think, and he’s got a scam you wouldn’t believe. He’s found the money tap, and we’re gonna turn it on, and it can’t fuck up and even if it does you’re not looking at much.” Arnold takes a drink and looks groggily about the room. “You know something, it’s been a long time since we all been together.” Arnold is becoming booze sentimental. “That’s what I want, all of us together. Like you’re my son, my flesh and blood.” He puts a hand on Tom’s knee. You don’t know what that means to me Tom. Like this is my HOME.” He pounds a fist on the table for emphasis. “And you’re my SON and we’re gonna have a good life. You wait and see. We’re gonna have a nice house, a fancy car and MONEY.” He opens another bottle. “And I’ll be home all the time. Like this is a FAMILY.” He pounds the bottle on the table. “All of us, even little bastard Petey, like we’re all gonna do it.” He pauses. “I’ve just got to get my end together.“
“Dad, it’s great to have you back.” Tom picks up one of the half empties, “We know you’ve had a hard time. And you know we all love you. I wouldn’t have anyone else for a dad.”
Arnold is touched, he looks ready to cry. “Tom… Tom, I love you too. I know I haven’t been the dad I should’ve. It’s been tough all round, but it’s gonna change… Like I been saying… I’m gonna make everything up to you, and Alex and the family, like I know things have been rough for you.”
“Not all that bad, Dad, not much class but… Hey! Did I tell you I’m getting a bike, a Harley! an old police issue Harley, needs a bit of work. Alex is gonna help me. The guy says he wants twelve big ones, but I think I can swing it for nine.”
“Great. I’d love to see it Tom.”
“Remember when you had that chopper and you used to take me for rides? Remember the time you took me on that run out to Long Beach and we wiped out and scared the shit out of those campers?”
“Oh God yes, let me see, you were only ten at the time.”
“I pick it up next week sometime, we’re gonna strip it down and I’m gonna get everything chromed, all the casings, the swing arm and the front forks… And something else I didn’t tell you, I got my driver’s license, a buddy lent me his car… And you gotta see the leathers I got for two fifty. And pretty soon I’m gonna get a truck. Not bad eh?”
Alex, just home from school, bursts in and rushes to his father. “Hi Dad!”
Arnold grabs him by the shoulders and lifts him high. “How’s my boy?”
“Jist fine Dad.”
“Long time no see. Anold sets him down and vigourously feels his shoulders and runs his hands down the outside of his legs grabbing them. “You’re getting to be a sturdy little guy… Let’s see your muscles.” Alex smiles, tosses off his windbreaker and flexes his biceps. Dad approvingly feels them and gives Alex a playful smack on the bum. Alex beams delighted. Holding him by the shoulders Arnold pulls him close to his face. “Yeah, you’re my boy, aren’t you?” Alex nods and grins. “My flesh and blood… And I hear you gave your mom a bit of shit.” Arnold glares at him with exaggerated sternness. “Well I don’t like that. You don’t lip your mom, understand?” He finishes off a bottle, Tom is dozing and Alex stands contritely silent. “Yeah, you’re my boy.” and Arnold gives a playful poke in the belly to Alex who is beaming again. “And you’re a tough little guy.” He leans forward in his chair. “Different stuff than our friend Petey, eh? I bet he still bursts into tears when you look at him. Think we should send the bastard to hairdressing school?” Arnold laughs at his own joke, and Tom momentarily wakes and sniggles. He takes hold of Alex by the shoulder. “Different stuff… You’re my seed,” he shakes the boy, “aren’t you?” Alex nods and grins. Still sitting Arnold makes a move to slap the boy’s face, stopping less than an inch short. Alex does not move or blink, and a smile of satisfaction crosses the father’s face. “Different stuff eh?” He raises his hand again, this time spinning the boy’s head around with a hard backhand slap across the cheek. Alex calmly grins and his father smiles proudly. “The Right Stuff.” A second slap almost unbalances the boy who still manages a grin. Once more Arnold raises his hand, Alex looks trustingly at him, Arnold stops. “You’re my boy all right.” and he reaches out and pulls the boy into his lap and hugs him. Alex grabs his dad around the neck and kisses him. The father holds the boy close, not wanting him to see the tears in his eyes. “You’re MY BOY.”
Peter who has been watching begins to cry too. He can’t understand what he’s heard or seen but he feels that there’s some magic there, he cannot share. Envy and self pity engulf him, it’s like Alex has a father and he doesn’t. If Peter had thought about it he would have guessed it was not just because he’s a sissy. There was the way Arnold called Alex ‘my boy’, and the way he called Peter a bastard. But ‘bastard’ is just a name you call people, like ‘shitface’ or ‘motherfucker’. It has a nice sound to it.
Later the fight that always happens soon after his father comes home begins. Mom comes into the living room to clean up the worst of the mess and Arnold is giving Alex another sip of his beer. The boy is already drunk and Tom is passed out half on the floor.
“Good God, he’s only ten you know.” Mom snaps.
“Heesh my son too ,you know.”
“And what’s the matter with his face?, it’s all swollen.”
“I’m OK Mom.” Alex grins up at her.
“Stay out of this Bitch. This one’s mine.”
“Arnold, what have you done to him? You should be ashamed of yourself. Alex, come here dear.”
“I’m OK Mom.” Alex appears more concerned but remains seated by his dad.
“Stay out of this, you fucking bitch. Go take care of your love child, he’s probably sick and needs his mummy.”
“I’m warning you Bitch.”
“Arnold?”, she advances towards Alex. Arnold lurches forward and grabs her by the arm, and pulling her in, leers in her face. Two sharp slaps sting her face and he shoves her to the floor. “You can’t get away with this Arnold.” As she tries to rise a foot sends her sprawling. From around the corner Peter tries to telepathize, Mommy, Mommy, cry and scream as hard as you can, don’t get hurt. But Arnold is kneeling over her, almost rhythmically slapping her face as she struggles. Alex watches passively. Half a minute later Arnold stops.
“Please Arnold, I love you, I still love you, I really do.” she pleads.
“So the Bitch really still, still really loves me, eh?”
“Yes yes, I even wish you were home more often… Yes really… We miss you.”
“Really?” he affects astonishment.
“Yes, we need a man around the house.”
“To help raise the kids proper? To make a family?”
“Yes Arnold, YES.”
“Well maybe we should do something about that sickly little sissy of yours hiding in the hall… Maybe make him into a boy? Eh?”
“Out of my way Bitch.” he shoves her aside and Peter still listening scampers to his room.
“Arnold. No. Don’t. What are you going to do? Arnold!”
“You’ll see, we’re just going to toughen him up a bit.” The sounds of blows follow but by the time Arnold enters his room Peter is out the window and running down the lane.
Peter stops running after a block and a half, exhaustion taking the edge off his fear, but he still trembles. Relief comes slowly as he becomes confident of his safety and feels some pride in his precautions. It isn’t until he reaches the highway by the 7-Eleven that he wonders what to do. He really has nowhere to go and it will be dark soon. He can’t go home while Arnold is there and he has no friends he can run away to, in fact he has no friends at all but Peter doesn’t like to think about that. He could phone Aunt Agnes and she would pick him up, but much as he appreciates The Readers’ Digests he can’t stand her place. She keeps it so clean and tidy you can’t do anything, and all she has to eat is that awful health food stuff. Peter also knows he could, and probably should phone Ms. Czyzewski, the welfare worker, but she’s a real hag and would probably put me in that emergency shelter I’ve heard stories about. He decides to wait, he has two quarters, he’ll save one for the phone, and he heads for the 7-Eleven.
Crossing a laneway a dark blue Cadillac stops to let him pass. Peter notices the California plates, not uncommon, and the tinted glass windows which obscure his view. That would be nice California! Maybe I could hitchhike somewhere. Maybe a family would pick me up and take me with them to California and we’d stop at the Grand Canyon on the way. And I could get a job as a pump jockey in L.A. I’d have to lie about my age though, and I could hang out on Hollywood Boulevard, and who knows? Like just think, L.A.! There was the time Aunt Agnes took him to Vancouver for the day, And I got to play the video games on the ferry. Like Vancouver has all these tall buildings, and mountains and the best park I’ve ever seen. Like L.A., think how much nicer it must be… Or the Big Apple, their TV shows aren’t as good, but I could go cruising around Times Square and see all sorts of things. Or even Calgary, there’s lot of oil there… or Vancouver, they’ve got that Granville Mall and they say you can get anything there!
Maybe the family would adopt me? Peter decides it should be a rich family and thinks he just might have a younger sister or two, but certainly no brothers. I’d have a father who made lots of money, and held be big and strong and everybody would be scared of him, and nobody could fire him… and held have a beard. Like maybe he’d be a… an executive?… a teacher? I got it! A BUREAUCRAT. And we’d never have to worry about anything. And he’d call me ‘Son’, and we’d go on camping trips and things fathers are supposed to do with their sons. I’d have a mother from an aristocratic family who was admired for her good taste and charm, and with fairly big boobs. And she would make pizza, and hamburgers as good as McDonald’s. She would play chess with me and occasionally win. And I could have anything I wanted. We’d always have imported French caviar in the chip dip, and I could put whipping cream on my Fruit Loops. I’d have a Vibrabed like in the motels and my own colour TV with remote control. And I think a Commodore 64 home computer is best if you can believe the commercials… A car! And the old Black chauffeur would look sort of like Bill Cosby, and he would tell funny jokes and drink Southern Comfort.
Think of all the servants you could have! Peter indulges in exploring the possibilities of various sexes, ages and races, and then, Instead of servants, why not slaves? They sure sound like more fun. Like lots of things are illegal but you can still get them if you’ve got money. I bet there’s lots of slaves smuggled into Canada — think of the killing you’d make! You could sneak them in, in the trunks of Toyotas, like we import a lot of them. And even if you couldn’t, you could always go somewhere where they are legal, like Arabia or the Soviet Union. Peter isn’t sure if you can have privately owned slaves in the Soviet Union. You’d need a big place with lots of slaves, maybe an old English castle like those rock stars have, and they probably got them in California too.
But Peter really wants to live in his revolving Portable Penthouse Playboy Pad, which could be moved around by helicopters. I could really have it built, like in summer we could have it on top of a mountain, maybe in Banff National Park looking over Lake Louise, and in winter on a beach in Florida with stopovers on top of skyscrapers in New York and San Francisco. And with it’s miniaturized nuclear power plant we could seal ourselves off and survive the Third World War. But then reality intrudes on Peter’s conjectures. I guess I’d just have to live where the family did.
At the 7-Eleven Peter gets almost his best score ever on the Pac-Man machine, so he has to try again. He’ll have to borrow a phone now and he’s hungry and broke. And then walking by the shopping centre parking lot he sees it, a bakery pie box sticking out of a bag in a Safeway cart, and there’s no one around. Peter checks and thinks, I want it. While he has never stolen, except from Mom of course, he’s more than hungry, he wants to do something BRAVE. Peter checks again, slips the box under his shirt and walks, walks nervously and then triumphantly to the ravine behind the liquor store and eats it, Yuk rhubarb! except for the crust. Stealing is FUN. And back in the parking lot Peter begins looking at the world with new eyes. There’s a pickup truck with the keys in the ignition but he can’t drive, there’s a ghetto blaster lying on the front seat of an unlocked car but it’s right in front of the 7-Eleven. He goes in and wanders around by the pop cooler and decides he’s thirsty, but there doesn’t seem to be a way he could even get a small Pepsi. I should have worn my jacket and I could really load up stuff. He stops to watch a skinny blond kid and a large, older well dressed man with hairy hands and a beard play video games. The man gives the boy a quarter for another game, and when his own game is over he asks Peter, “Do you want to play? I need a rest.”
“I don’t have any money.”
“Here,” the man steps aside and hands Peter a quarter, “be my guest.” Peter gladly accepts. it’s the first time he’s been given money to play although he’s often seen other boys get quarters given to them. He’s never played the new TRON machine before, but he tries hard, he doesn’t want to disappoint the nice man. And he’s very kind, when he sees that Peter doesn’t know the game he offers tips on how to play. But Peter does so badly that when the man offers him another quarter he declines and thanks the man. “You’re most welcome.” he says.
Out on the parking lot people and cars are starting to leave, it’s getting dark and must be close to nine, and soon only the 7-Eleven and the liquor store will be open. That man would be good as a father. Peter likes the hairy hands and the beard. And he was so nice and sort of polite. Peter, like many boys, is not used to courtesy and respect from adults. As he explores the far end of the parking lot a poodle yaps at him from the front seat of a Mercedes. Then he notices a large Salvation Army drop off box in the corner near the street, and he peers inside — mostly old clothes. Peter has heard of kids sleeping in them and it’s starting to get cold. A man returns from the liquor store to a nearby car and then, as if he’d forgotten something, he dashes towards the Safeway. Peter watches as he makes it in just before the doors are locked. Peter looks around and saunters over, grabs a bottle from the bag on the front seat, and stashes it in the hedge at the side of the lot. Twenty minutes later he returns, recovers the bottle and drops it in the Sally Ann box.
Later again Peter returns and climbs in the box. Soon with just enough light coming in the propped open flap, he arranges clothes and books to make himself a comfortable bed and a table. The bottle, he can just read it, is something called ‘Fuddle Duck’, a wine. He opens and tastes it, YUK!. While Peter would prefer Pepsi he’s glad it isn’t rye or vodka or any of that hard stuff. And besides if Alex can drink… Actually the wine’s, not all that terribly bad after all when you’ve had a few sips.
And soon Peter’s feeling good and it’s not just the wine. He realizes it’s his first night away on his own and that he’s stolen things and gotten away with it. This it, this is the life. He feels brave and proud of himself, if he had friends he could boast about it. I’ll tell Tom and show him I can steal too… And I could steal a quadraphonic stereo set and A TV, and I wouldn’t have to watch all those stupid soaps and quiz shows and wrestling. Then he remembers, Credit cards! That’s the best thing to steal because then you can get anything. Like that sixteen year old kid who flew all over the world and stayed in posh hotels, and all they did was send him home for free. All you got to do is give them the card and sign a piece of paper… Cyrus B. Vanderock, that would be a good one. I’d have to buy all these expensive things to make me look rich. And I wouldn’t have to steal money they just give it to you. Suddenly credit cards seem more magical than even his miniaturized death ray camera gun.
When you drink it’s best to hold your breath, it tastes better and is what they call smoother. It just goes to show you there’s an art to everything even wine tasting. Peter takes two more sips to demonstrate his new technique to himself. The wine really is tasting better all the time. It must be one of those acquired tastes, like drinking’s OK… And I hear some people even see monsters when they drink — that would be neat.
Peter’s mind flashes back to Arnold’s description of Orik. He’d make a good alien. A grotesque half humanoid, half snake creature approaches him, it’s snake part poised to strike, it’s fangs dripping venom and the tongue flickering. ZAP! You didn’t know I was wearing my ultra thin, miniaturized death ray camera gun, did you? And then with a few brilliant synoptic connections Peter invents SERPENTMAN. The snake part wouldn’t coil around you like orik’s, it would run straight down your spine, thin at the top where the tail is connected to your brain which controls it, and it would get thicker as it goes down your spine, sort of built into you, and where it comes out: between your legs it’s like a real snake and you would be able to stretch it out maybe seven feet. And it would have poison fangs — maybe spit like that cobra — and it could coil and twist and choke people. Peter begins to explore his new Serpentman body feeling the weight of his super appendage tugging at his groin. He practices by striking at a few nearby objects. Then he goes through his current hit list, Arnold is there, and soon he is taking on squads of Ninja. His snake organ strikes again and again destroying the enemy, some poisoned by the deadly fangs, others it coils around and hurls to their deaths.
And when you weren’t using it, you could curl it around you to keep warm. And it could be like a pet so you could pat it and play with it and it’d keep you company… But how would you pee with it?… Ah! Your pee would be the venom, that would give you enough. We’ll use that DNA to change it, that shouldn’t be hard to recombinize to make it poison… But what about those times when you’re not killing people with your venom? Peter is sure there will be such times. What would you do when your bladder is full. There’s all this fuss about pollution, I mean if you peed in the sewers the whole harbour would become like the Love Canal. But Peter works the problem through. If science and technology can’t solve the problem we’ll bring in the Japanese. His confidence returns. Serpentman would become one of the pantheon of superheroes alongside Spiderman, Captain Marvel and the Incredible Hulk. And I could let them do comic books about me. And he sees himself on the cover, legs apart, his snake arched back ready to strike at a multitude of the forces of evil. Instinctively he knows that syndication will make him rich. I’d get lots of money for that, I could have all sorts of fancy things… maybe even some slaves… and think of the chics! Peter sees himself being mobbed by gorgeous girls, eating in expensive restaurants like Mr. Mikes, driving a Trans Am with a beautiful blond on his lap. But as happens with boys’ minds the exotic turns erotic, as Peter with his bevy are about to retire to the bedroom of his revolving penthouse pad perched on top of the tallest building in town. And as he, Serpentman is getting ready to “Ugh, ugh, ugh, ugh” them a problem presents itself. Maybe I couldn’t even screw an elephant?
And Arnold, what’s he mean by bastard and love child? You can’t look up words like ‘bastard’ in the dictionary. I’ve already tried ‘fuck’, ‘cunt’, ‘shit’, ‘piss’ and ‘pecker’, and ‘ass’ is a donkey. And Arnold never calls me ‘son’. Suddenly Peter feels there’s something strange about himself but he doesn’t know what. But it’s sure comfortable with all those clothes for warmth and the books make a good table for the wine. Peter holds the bottle to the light, there’s still plenty left. From some where nearby, over the drone and swish of the traffic, come the words of a song he has on a tape:
“Toni Iomi is my god,
His guitar solos have been osterized.
Ozzie Osbourne’s so out in space,
Held probably love if I pissed in his face.”
“That’s funny.” Peter giggles and falls asleep.
When Peter gets home next morning, after phoning first, Arnold is gone along with the new twenty nine inch Sony colour TV and the three hundred dollars Mom had stashed for the rent. Arnold is getting his end together.
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