huff, the short story
PlayStation’s broken. Dad threw it at Donna. It hit the wall and fell into Angelina’s dish right when she was drinking. Real funny. But then it didn’t work. That wasn’t funny. We plugged it in right away and it didn’t work. Then we left it. When we came back it still didn’t work. Now there’s nothing to do. Sometimes we play the pass out game where someone chokes you til you pass you. That’s fun for awhile, but then it gets boring. That’s why me and Charles are down at the shed with Nathan. Nathan and Charles siphoned some gas from his mom’s truck and hid it out here. It’s not really a shed. Used to be a little house from the motel before it burnt down. Now there’s a lock on the door. You have to climb in the window and there’s no roof. Just part of a kitchen and a seat from a van. It’s really cold. Shoulda worn a hat, but it makes me look stupid.
Nathan and Charles sit on the seat. Nathan takes out the red can from underneath. He’s a couple years older, Nathan. Real smart. -Get the rags, Shit-stain. I run to the cupboard. The rags are in the pot under the sink. They’re stinky from being used so many times. I carry them away from my nose.
-Sick. Those’re disgusting.
-Are there any more?
-No. But I check again.
Charles looks around; but Nathan looks at me. -Give me your shirt.
-For the gas, retard.
-But… It’s freezing out here.
-What are we going to do? Go back to the house? “What are you doing with those rags? Oh nothing, just polishing up the van seat?”
-Why can’t we use your shirt?
-This shirt costs eighty dollars.
Nathan always has real nice stuff. His dad owns the cigarette company. I take off my ugly green jacket and then my t-shirt. Real fast- it’s freezing. I can see my breath, like smoking. My skin gets all bumpy and my jacket is cold on the inside without my shirt. My favourite shirt too. It has Cartman giving the middle finger. I was real happy when I first got it. Begged my mom for weeks, since we saw it at the mall that time. Wore it to school, first day.
Nathan rips my shirt to pieces. Then he dips one of the pieces into the can. I shouldn’t have given them my shirt. I already feel bad for huffing. Now I feel even worse.
Nathan never wants to go first. He hands the shirt to Charles. Charles holds it to his mouth. He’s real good at huffing. Takes deep breaths and goes real fast. For a long time too. Then Nathan goes. Nathan looks scared when he’s huffing. Shakes and makes weird noises, like a baby. He takes a few little breaths and pulls his face away from the shirt. Pretty soon he’s leaning over the seat falling asleep. He wheezes and sits up real fast. Looks up to see if Charles saw him pass out. I saw, but I wouldn’t say anything. Even though he’d make fun of me. He’s gotta fix his glasses cuz they fell down his nose. I wish I wore glasses. They make you look real smart.
I grab the can and dip a piece of my shirt in. Hold it up to my face. Gas tastes like metal, but also like being scared. Like someone’s screaming in your face.
The first thing that happens is you feel like you’re watching everything on TV. Only you’ve all ready seen the show and it makes you feel nice and safe cuz you know everything that’s gonna happen. Breathe.
One time I had this dream when I was huffing that I was at the lake with my mom. She was all happy, giving me a sandwich. We used to go to the lake all the time, just me and her. Sometimes Donna takes the girls places, just them. Or just Charles. But never just me. Whenever I huff I try to have that dream. I bring the shirt to my face again and it tastes like being scared and I think about my mom at the lake and close my eyes and pretty soon everything leaves me alone…
I wake up on the ground in the darkness. Charles and Nathan are gone. Something’s next to me…I can feel it sniffing my face. It has a wet nose like a dog or a skunk -SKUNK! I get up real fast and run to the window. The skunk sprays everywhere. I climb out and run home. It’s real dark and cold and I can smell skunk all over me. Oh, no.
I go in through the back. Maybe no one will see me. Sometimes that works but this time Donna’s getting a beer right while I’m going through the kitchen. She sees me but doesn’t say anything. Just opens a beer at the counter and goes back into the living room. I think I made it until she stops in the doorway. -WHAT’S THAT SMELL, SHIT-STAIN? Doesn’t even look at me.
-I got sprayed by a skunk.
-ARE YOU LYING?
-No, I swear.
My brother looks up from the living room. I’m not supposed to tell about the shed. Him and Nathan would be in trouble. Well, he would. Nathan never gets in trouble for anything. He can swear in front of his parents. He even has Playboys. Tons. Just leaves them around his room! His mom never says nothing! He gets whatever he wants, too. He’s got PlayStation AND Ex-Box. You should see his lunches. I asked Donna for nice juice boxes. She got all mad, told me to smarten up.
-YOU SMELL DISGUSTING. GO UP TO YOUR ROOM. FIRST THING TOMORROW YOU GO DOWN TO THE STORE AND GET SIX CANSA TOMATOES. YOU KNOW HOW MUCH THAT’S GONNA COST? HOW MANY TIMES I TELL YOU NOT TO GO DOWN THERE?
-Not my room, Charles says. It’s gonna smell like skunk up there.
-Where am I gonna sleep?
-I don’t care. In the basement.
-It’s freezing down there-
-YOU SHOULD’VE THOUGHT OF THAT BEFORE YOU DECIDED TO GET SPRAYED BY A SKUNK, Donna says. She’s stupid. As if anyone decides to get sprayed by a skunk.
I bring my blankets down to the basement. I can see my breath down here. I make a bed and Angelina comes down and lies next to me. I put my arm around her and bury my face in her fur. Angelina’s never mean to me. I’m pretty tired. Sometimes I try, but I can never remember the exact moment I fall asleep.
In the morning my socks are cold and wet. I put them on anyways. No one’s awake yet. There’s only a little bit of milk in the fridge so I clean up a pot from the sink for macaroni and cheese. My favourite. Donna left some money on the counter for tomatoes. After breakfast I walk to the store. I get six cans and Meredith, the lady who works there goes: -I guess I know what these are for, plugging her nose like a white girl on the playground. Real mean. She doesn’t have to tell me I smell bad. I know all about it. I go back downstairs and empty the tomatoes into a big pan. I get in as much as I can and squish around. Rub myself with the brush. Tomatos look like blood. Like I’m sitting in a pool of blood. I lie real still with my eyes open, like a dead body.
Tomatos are getting cold. I don’t stay in for long. I’ll take another bath tonight. Keep taking tomato baths until the smell is gone. I put my clothes back on and head out to the shed. On the way I see Nathan. -How’s it going, man? Nathan’s a lot nicer to me when no one’s around. -Where are you off to?
-Down to the shed.
-Can I come with you?
I thought he’d be mad I was going without them. I didn’t think he’d ask if he could come with me. Made me feel real good to be asked. So we went together.
-Hey, know what? I’m starting a vampire guild. Wouldn’t that be tight?
-Real tight, I go. All excited.
Nathan helps me through the window. I sit on the car seat where Charles sits. Nathan takes out the gas. He hands me a piece of my shirt and we do a dip. Pretty soon everything’s like on TV. Nathan’s voice zooms from one ear to the other, like an airplane.
-Only thing about the vampire guild…is we gotta have initiations.
-Yeah, and you Can’t. Tell. Anyone.
Dad never asks about stuff I’m doing anyways. Just watches TV and fights with Donna and tells me to get him beer. One time I told him about a book I was reading and his goes- Think you’re special cuz you read?
I don’t. Then Donna goes -TOO BAD YOU’RE NOT SMART ENOUGH TO USE THE TOILET, SHIT-STAIN. Said that right in front of the girls too. They were visiting from their dad’s. Couldn’t say nothing neither because I did poop my pants that day. Dad spanked me for it. Thirteen times. Number goes up for every time. They always know right away. I don’t know how. The girls laughed at me. I hate Donna’s daughters. Always stealing my toys then saying I hit them when all I did was try to take them back. Not my fault she fell backwards. Didn’t hit her head or nothing. I saw her face. She was fine. She was fine! Then she started screaming like it started hurting after. That doesn’t happen. It either hurts right then or it never hurts at all. Only things people say hurt after.
Donna got real mad that time. Yelled and screamed at me: -NEVER HIT A GIRL! I know that! I wouldn’t! I just wanted to play but she wouldn’t let me. Donna’s hair was flying all in her face. She hauled me into the kitchen and hit me with the wooden spoon, real good. Doesn’t hurt now though. Only what she said.
I don’t want to. But I do all the initiation stuff, anyway. Afterwards I get this feeling. That I can’t take it back. I’ll always have done it, forever. Still. It’s cool to have something that’s a secret. To be in a vampire guild that not everyone gets to be in? Something that Donna and the stupid girls and not even my brother or dad can have? I wish I could tell my mom. Used to tell her everything and she was always real proud. Died last year though. Car accident. Charles went around to everyone at school and went: -My mom died, bet you a dollar. I’m not in school this year. All ready failing everything. No point.
After Nathan initiates me a few times, he buys me liquorice.
-Do I have to do that stuff to you, I ask.
What was the point of you doing it to me, I think. Don’t say it though. I don’t want to make Nathan mad. So I ask about the vampire guild. He just keeps staring forward and crossing his arms. Looks real mad. I don’t know why. All I did was what he wanted. Charles is at the shed when we get back. He sees the liquorice. -What you got?
-Liquorice, want some- I don’t even finish offering him some when he snatches it all out of my hand. -Charles, you can’t have all of it! That’s mine!
-Mine now, Shit-stain.
-Nathan, make him give it!
-Yeah Nathan, make me give it.
But Nathan just laughs at me. -He’s not gonna listen to me. Charles, give him the liquorice. But Charles just smiles and eats the last piece.
-You said you were gonna stick up for me. Cuz of the guild, remember?
-What’s he talking about?
-Nothing, we were just messing around, and he gives me a real mean look.
Just messing around? Even though I did all that stuff? I shut up. Nathan’s just gonna make me feel stupid for thinking we were really in a vampire guild. They’ll be real mean if I cry so I just hold my breath and walk home.
When I get there everything’s real bad. My dad is standing in the living room staring at me real hard. Donna sees me and jumps off the couch like a cat and runs at me. She’s gonna kill me. My hand is sh-shaking- she grabs my hair and hauls me into the kitchen and starts wailing on me with the wooden spoon and I don’t even know why she’s mad. Then I see. There’s blood all over the floor and the furniture and everywhere. I cover my head with my hands. She grabs my wrists and flings them to my side and keeps hitting me. The spoon breaks in her hand. Blood? Then I see Angelina barking at Donna. She’s covered in blood too. Only then I realize it’s not blood. It’s tomatoes. Angelina must have gotten into the tomatoes and tracked them all over the house. -GET THAT DOG NOW! And-
I can feel warm in my pants but I can’t stop. -NOW, she yells again. I grab Angelina by the collar and take her to the basement. Dad turns and goes back into the living room. Once the basement door is closed, Donna jerks me by the arm into the kitchen and throws me right against the sink. -GET THOSE- I grab some rags from underneath the sink. They’re stinky from being used so many times. I scrub the hallway carpet with Clorox. Donna’s standing over me telling me -YOU’RE USING TOO MUCH, and I can’t clean anyway cuz she keeps hitting me! Slapping me all over the head a bunch of times all at once. I hold my breath. It won’t hurt forever, I keep thinking. It won’t hurt forever.
-ARE YOU STUPID! GIVE ME THAT. She yanks the rag out of my hand to show me. Scrub a small spot, real hard. She throws the rag back on the floor. -UCKH! And finally leaves me alone. Her and Dad are going to the bar.
No matter how long I scrub there’s still orange on the carpet. I’ve gotta keep going. If I don’t do a good job I’ll really be in trouble. So I keep cleaning. Down the hall and into the living room. The furniture. It’s late by the time I go to clean Angelina.
As soon as I open the basement door I feel sick. Angelina’s tracked tomatos all down the steps and splattered it all on the furnace and the walls and I’ve still got so much more to go. I sit down on the stairs and cry. My cheeks are between my knees. My tears drip on to the stairs.
I put my palms up to my neck and squeeze with both hands. Can’t do it long enough to pass out. I take my belt off and make a loop around my neck. I tie the long end to the doorknob as tight as I can. I turn the lights off because I don’t wanna look at the tomatos. Or myself. I’ll just pass out once or twice, and then I’ll finish cleaning. The belt’s tight around my neck. I lean down the stairs and all I have to do is not move and pretty soon everything will be like on TV and no one will hit me or make me feel stupid…
I can never remember the exact moment I fall asleep. This time I do. I remember watching my legs slip further and further down the stairs. It’s like when something doesn’t hurt anymore. When someone hits you, it only hurts for a second, then there’s the feeling of the pain going away. That’s how it feels: like pain going away. I watch myself fall asleep and think about my mom at the lake and how much I miss her and I wish she’d come back and everything would be real good again.