BOY IN THE ATTIC
When I’m bored, I eat a tub of cheese puffs and look at pictures of bodybuilders in three-piece suits. When I finally produce something audible, something that resembles a laugh, I slam my computer shut and barricade myself in the bathroom. I sit in an empty bathtub and work up the courage to drown myself. When the water rises above my nose, I remember I have responsibilities:
feed the dog,
put the trash out for collection,
call State Farm,
water the plants,
solve world hunger,
paint my toenails,
I drain the bathtub and listen to the pipes collect the liquid registered to end my suffering. My brother doesn’t believe in ‘mental suffering.’ He thinks it’s a hoax created by lazy people to receive pity in the form of currency. I don’t think he’s a very good person, my brother. He left home to be a part-time paramedic and got brainwashed by some Jersey Shore hairdresser.
I’m twenty-six and afraid to go outside.
I stay in the bathtub, fully clothed, and listen to the sounds of my parents’ house. There was a time when the sounds brought me comfort: the creaks, the guttural moans, the boiler hum, the branches stretching out against the windows. But I am always uncomfortable now. I am always weighed down by wet fabric, by my subconscious, by you.
All I think about is you.
You should be getting off the bus now, asking for an after-school snack—purple grapes, a peanut butter sandwich, bagels with strawberry cream cheese. You should be littering the hallway with your light-up tennis shoes, your superhero backpack, your navy jacket with the hole in the left pocket. Your fingerprints sticky from childhood. From kindergarten. You should be showing me your wiggly tooth, the scab you earned from racing on the monkey bars, your latest multiplication test.
All of you sits in a clear bin in the attic now. Folded and neat. Behind the Halloween decorations, next to the boxes of black and white photographs, across from the camping gear. How do you, my beautiful boy, fit in a box, when, for me, you take up the space of ten million universes? One trillion galaxies. How are you so big and so small?
The birds still chirp, the mail still comes, the bus still stops. Bills are due, haircuts are scheduled, showers are needed. The neighbors grow. Grow. Grow. Grow. Like weeds, they take life everywhere, sprouting and sprouting until they touch the clouds. They kickball in the summers, tag in the fall, snowball fights in the winter. If I close my eyes, you are not things in the attic. You are with them. Growing with the neighbors. The tallest of them all.
It is dark when I get out of the bathtub. My clothes, sodden and damp, stick to me like lukewarm lava. I cut myself out with kitchen scissors and leave the scraps on the floor—proof that I got out of bed.
The floodlight is on in the den, trapping moths and flies. I watch as they tangle themselves into electrocution. I wonder if it’s really that easy. That quick.
My mother is home, but she is not my mother. She’s a cloth doll, full of pins and needles. Her smile, plastic. Her face, melting wax. Sorry, sorry, sorry, she cries, unable to understand my suffering. She is a broken record, scratched on purpose. My father is home, but he’s not my father. His face, frozen, his eyes, unblinking, he married the television a long time ago. He can only grunt and drink, drink and grunt. He is a cartoon character stuck in one episode. All he does is loop, loop, loop. We live in a doll house next to the regular sized homes. Somehow, it feels like a mansion.
I have to water the brown plants and feed the runaway dog and put the empty trash bins out for collection. I have to negotiate with Jake from State Farm and solve world hunger and develop wings so I can hug my beautiful boy.
My brother calls and calls and calls. He wants to talk about his suffering.
Gabrielle McAree is a reader, writer, and cereal enthusiast from Fishers, IN. She studied Theatre and Writing at Long Island University Post. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Dream Journal, Milkyway Magazine, Tiny Molecules, Second Chance Lit, Mixed Mag, Versification, ThereAfter, and Reflex Press. Twitter: @gmcaree_