by Richard King Perkins II
Toys at the Edge of the Room
He was not a monster
but could imitate one so realistically
that the uninitiated could not tell the difference—
and now his act begins again;
stomping around the center of the toy room
destroying anything in his path:
the dinosaur models he’d helped assemble and paint,
the slot car track he’d pieced together
and repaired on other days,
the identities and unmarred surfaces
of the children he helped imagine into being.
Only the toys at the edge of the room
had gone unnoticed.
The eldest boy might be seven or eight years old
and sits petrified, eyes turned always downward or away,
kneeling amidst brokenness and bruises
trying to hold back the cries of the inconsolable
if only for the benefit of the younger two;
so he begins breathing deeply, finding composure,
throwing his mind into a distant future
where he can write about this
as a man beyond the reach of such dire shadows
as a man much older than the figure now before him
and as man who cannot forget the boy’s amazement—
watching discreetly as the father builds a cemetery
inside an amusement park.
Four girls sit on a bed
in the summer before their
first year of high school,
playing the game of revelation
called “Truth or Dare.”
“What scares you the most?”
is the cycling question to which
they will all tell their truth.
“I’m afraid of getting fat.”
says the first. Murmurs of assent.
This is a good response.
“I’m afraid of being poor.”
says the second. Murmurs of assent.
This is a good response.
“I’m afraid of bad hair days.”
says the third. Laughter of assent.
This is an excellent response.
“I fear not being understood.”
says the fourth. Bolt of silence.
“What do you mean?” says the first.
“I mean,…. I’m afraid of bugs.”
says the fourth. Screeches of assent.
This is the best response.
Sailing to Bermuda
Their luncheon; ceremonial at best.
Mother and daughter chat over French onion soup
and club sandwiches, trying to find the mysterious
ground that once seemed so common. Conversation
ranges only to topics that maintain a wary distance:
Politics, economics and plans for future travel.
Ensuing laughter is a bit too sharp, a little too loud.
At a nearby table, an old woman gags and spits up
her food. Everyone is listening, watching in a way
where heads don’t move, playing let’s pretend
we’re not fascinated by this inevitable suffering.
It’s an ideal moment for empathy; a whisper or sigh,
a silent nod of the head. Instead, an ill-tamed silence.
This is what we have forgotten about each other.
Why they must quickly move apart if their legs brush
beneath the table, why they can’t sip from the same
glass. Fully shunning the unfolded scene, Mom
suggests sailing to Bermuda and the laughter is a
trifle louder, elusively comfortable in this cultured-state;
to know what is feared so much more intimately than
that which we hope to love.
Versions of the Truth
In gym class,
I saw his legs five times a week for
three years of middle school.
Those tortured limbs never stopped scaring me—
to my eyes,
they still looked as twisted and raw
as if it had happened yesterday.
I’d heard him explain the tragedy
more than a dozen times
and it usually went this way:
My mom put me in the bath and she had
no idea the water was scalding hot
and I just stood there, not even able to scream
and my legs just kept burning
until she saw the look in my face
and when we got to the hospital she was
in such shock she let the doctors take skin grafts
from the back of her legs without using any anesthesia.
Except for the way they look,
my legs work just fine and….
at this point, he’d pull the bottom of his gym shorts
up a few inches,
showing a tract of perfect human skin
….it didn’t get any higher than this,
so I was really kinda lucky in a way.
Of course he wanted us all to know that his cock
was also just fine and hadn’t melted away
like a sacrificial candle into that terrible cauldron.
That was the story he invariably told.
A few years later,
I heard a different version of the incident
that went this way:
Mom had gone upstairs to check on her son
and when she found him
wearing her makeup and clothing
she marched him right into the bathroom,
stripped him down,
put him in the tub and tried to burn the gay right out of him.
She supposedly couldn’t see him again
until he became an adult and could determine for himself
if he actually wanted to see her.
I don’t know which version is closer to the truth
and maybe it doesn’t matter
because he seemed well-adjusted
and his legs worked just fine
and I do remember him having
the most exquisite penmanship I have ever seen
so that in seventh grade I asked him
to sign my name into all my textbooks
and every time I’d open one
my eyes would swim just a little
with seeing my name written
than I’d ever seen it written before.
Diary of a Sensitive Youth
I remember the woman with no teeth who was crying.
I wanted to give her a couple of cigarettes
or maybe even the whole pack
but then I wouldn’t have any, so I kept them,
and I moved on.
I was living at the park with the other homeless people.
Me and my friend were showing off
to the college girls that passed by
but I got tired of that
so I climbed a cliff about thirty feet high
and when I stood on top I could see the whole city
and when I looked down I saw a kid about my age
wearing black Converse shoes
his body covered by a ripped orange tarp.
His hands were on his stomach, cradling his severed head
and I said, well, at least you can’t feel anything—
but I wasn’t sure who I was talking to.
I couldn’t speak for a couple of days after that
and one night, by the fire,
I noticed that I was wearing black Converse shoes,
wrapped in an orange poncho
and I knew that I would never talk again
if I stayed there, so I got up,
and I moved on.
I gave a woman my last five dollars because she looked like
the woman in Cody who I wanted to give cigarettes to.
But even after she had the money,
people still turned their heads from her in shame
and I thought, what difference does this really make?
Five dollars might last half-a-day
and then she’ll still be the same anyway.
I was totally broke now, and I wished
I hadn’t given away all my money, so I made a note,
and I moved on.
I was sleeping at a friend’s place
when I heard gunfire and jumped up and remembered
oh yeah, this is Denver, and went back to sleep
not too bothered by the drive-by-shooting.
In the morning
I heard that a little boy had been shot in the crossfire.
I was sad in a way
and wanted to do something to help.
Three weeks later, I was still there,
unable to think of any way to help, but I heard
he had gotten better anyhow and I felt better,
so I lit-up a found, half-cigarette, inhaled,
and began moving on.
Richard King Perkins II is a state-sponsored advocate for residents in long-term care facilities. He lives in Crystal Lake, IL, USA with his wife, Vickie and daughter, Sage. He is a three-time Pushcart, Best of the Net and Best of the Web nominee whose work has appeared in more than a thousand publications.