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       Reality Boy, p.4

           A. S. King
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  “If you had a chance to get out of the special education program, you wouldn’t take it?” he asked me during our monthly meeting last month.

  “No way. I love those guys.”

  “But it’s not about them. It’s about you. You don’t need to be in the class, do you?”

  “I don’t know. Depends what you mean by need,” I said.

  I need to not be on my guard all the time. I need to not have people call me names. I need a place where I don’t need war paint to survive. And that’s the SPED room. The war paint I wear just to get from my car to the SPED room. It’s for lunch. For the mainstream gym class I have to take. It’s for just being here and not somewhere else where no one knows who I am… like South America.

  Fletcher says, “Okay. Get your math books out. You’re all going to be calculating linear equations before Friday or I’ll get fired and have to live on the streets.”

  I knew how to calculate linear equations three years ago, but I open my book and follow instructions. I’m not playing stupid. I’m just safer here. Or everyone else is safer because I’m here. Or something.

  They put that Tom kid in my lunch period. Which was their mistake, because all he’s wanted to do since I ate a hole through his face in eighth grade is kill me. He sends me looks from FS all the time. I stamp them with RETURN TO SENDER and eat my food. But one day, the kid’s gonna break. I can see it. Before I graduate, he’s going to sneak up on me and whale on me hard and I’m going to have to defend myself and I’ll be the one who ends up incarcerated.

  Which I refuse to do. Which is why this war paint is so good. Because I know it will allow me to lie down and take it.

  Even if he bites my face off.

  Even if he kills me.

  I can take it.

  I’ll just skip off into Gersday in my moccasins and feathers and I’ll make my wild calls and dance my wild dances and eat Indian ice cream until I’m finally free. I almost wish he’d just fucking do it already. I’m pretty sure everyone would be happier.

  No one talks to me here outside of SPED kids. No teachers. Not even the lunch ladies. I told Roger once that they all think I’m about to hop up on the table and do a shit.

  “I doubt it,” he said. “You haven’t done that since you were little, right?”

  “Yeah. But I can see it. They want me to.”

  “Huh,” he said.

  I’m right. They all want me to. And I want to entertain them again, just like when I was a kid. It would give them something to talk about. Something to text each other about. LOL! ROTFLMAO! WTF? GTFO!

  The guidance counselor used to say that the only reason I didn’t have friends was because I had a wall up. First, he’s a moron. Second, who the fuck wouldn’t have a wall up if they were me? My wall has war paint on it, too. It’s a picture of a fearsome beast inside the outline of a television.



  I’D GRADUATED FROM behavior charts to chore charts—step two of the 1-2-3 program. Real Nanny kept smiling at me from the sidelines, but Fake Nanny was stricter. My crapping really put her off. Which is why I did it. But hey—I hadn’t punched a wall in a month, so she’d solved that problem, right?

  “Gerald, here’s your chore chart,” Nanny said. “If you do what Mum and Dad say and get a sticker on this chart for every day, you’ll get to go to your circus.”

  Lisi and I had been begging Mom and Dad to take us to the circus since the signs went up around town.

  I looked at the chart—a small grid with pictures of the three things I had to do every day in order to go to the circus. The tasks were easy. A picture of a bed and a toy box. I had to make my bed and clean up my toy box in the playroom. The third chore was weird, though.

  “What’s that?” I asked.

  It was a picture of our kitchen table with place settings on it. I’d never been made to set the table before and, in my mind, I shouldn’t have to do it, because I was a boy. I know how sexist this sounds now, but I was five. Cut me a break.

  “It’s a new chore, but we think it will help you be part of this family and make it the best team it can be. Those other two chores are for you and only you, but this means you can participate in a whole new way because you’re such a big boy.”

  I squinted at the picture. “You want me to set the table?”

  “Very good! Yes! For dinn-ah only.”

  “I don’t even know where the stuff is,” I said.

  “That’s all right. We’ll help you for the first few days,” she answered.

  And they did. They showed me where the plates were and Mom said be careful about a hundred times, but I didn’t break anything. By midweek, I’d make my bed in the morning right after I got up and I’d arrive at four on the nose to set the table… before anyone else was even in the kitchen. Because that way it was easier to coat Tasha’s plate in dirty toilet water. I did this every day for two weeks. Made my bed. Cleaned up my toys. Set the table. Toilet water.

  The film crews left us alone those two weeks while Nanny went and meddled in some other family’s life, and then she came back to find all those perfect stickers on my chart and the news that I hadn’t crapped anywhere but the toilet.

  She high-fived me. “I knew you could do it. What a good boy.” I saw Real Nanny giving her a thumbs-up when she did this. She still had all that weird actress drama—demanded a certain type of apple in her lunch salads and only drank her tea at certain temperatures—but she was turning into a real nanny. Or, at least, she was nailing the role.

  She went to Lisi’s chart then and saw that she’d missed a few days of room cleaning and doing dishes. Nanny said, “Lisi, you can do better than that.”

  Lisi just nodded because the director told her to nod.

  Tasha’s chores were more complicated because she was the oldest. She was supposed to clean the bathrooms on Saturdays and clean her own room and the upstairs hallway. She hadn’t done any of it. Not even once. Nanny asked if she’d just forgotten to put the stickers on her chart, but Tasha shook her head no and smirked.

  Mom said, “It’s really too much to ask of a ten-year-old. I don’t think she should be doing those sorts of chores. Especially the toilet.”

  Nanny said, “Cleaning a toilet is certainly not too big a job for a ten-year-old. She’s nearly eleven. She’s got to learn to take care of herself.” Nanny looked over to Real Nanny to make sure she was on track. Thumbs-up.

  Mom ignored the nodding director and said, “I disagree. I think cleaning toilets is a teenage job and, for now, she can help Lisi wash dishes and do other things around here to make sure the house is clean. Plus, isn’t toilet cleaner poisonous?”

  Nanny rolled her eyes at the camera. “You should have brought this to me when we made the chart, Jill. Tasha agreed to these chores two weeks ago. She should have been doing them.”

  “I told her not to,” Mom answered, crossing her arms.

  Then Tasha said, “It’s his fault!” and she pointed to me.

  I felt my body go numb. I remember it. I remember feeling numb and frightened at what she was going to say next. Because I knew that no matter what she said, my circus dreams were over.

  “Oh?” Nanny said, hand on her hip, already in punishment mode. Camera one zoomed in. “How’s that?”

  “I hate the smell of bathrooms!” She burst into fake tears. “I can’t even go into the bathroom at school if someone pooped in it because it reminds me of him! He’s ruining my life!”

  Nanny cocked her head to the right. “You can’t clean bathrooms because you don’t like the smell of poop?”

  Tasha nodded because Mom nodded. Real Nanny glared at Tasha.

  “And she told you this when?” Nanny asked Mom.

  “This morning,” Mom said. “The poor thing.”

  Nanny looked back at Tasha. Then she looked at Real Nanny, who was still glaring.

  Fake Nanny clapped her hands together and swished her hair as if she was in a shampoo comm
ercial. “Lisi, you lose two hours of screens this week, for a total of five hours, right, love? Next week, do bett-ah and you can have all seven hours.”

  Lisi smiled and nodded. Not sure why. Seven hours of screens per week was a stupid rule. Made us all have to talk to one another more… or find new ways to avoid one another.

  Nanny looked at me next. “Gerald, you’ve just earned back your little comput-ah.” My Game Boy. I hadn’t seen it in a month. “And since you did every one of your chores for a whole two weeks, you get to go to your circus with Lisi and you can also have whatever you put in your reward box. Go get it, love.”

  I ran to my reward box and pulled out the piece of paper on which I’d scrawled Ise Creem. I handed it to her.

  “Oh, ice cream! I do love ice cream myself. What’s your favorite flavor?”

  “Strawberry,” I said.

  “Brilliant. You go and sit on the couch while I deal with your sist-ah.”

  She looked at Tasha and pursed her lips. Mom stood close enough for Tasha to grab and sob into if she had to. “Tasha,” Nanny said, “while I’m very sympathetic to your newly realized fear of the smell of poop, I must point out that you didn’t do one single chore on your chart—not even the ones that had nothing to do with the bathroom—so you lose all screens for a week. No computer. No TV. No video games.” Tasha clung to Mom then, as if someone had just hit her.

  “Why do I get punished because he craps everywhere?” Tasha sobbed.

  Nanny turned to Mom. “Has Gerald been pooping again?”

  “He hasn’t done it since my—uh—shoes,” Mom answered.

  That’s right. And no holes in walls, either. I wished someone would say that.

  Nanny looked back at Tasha and continued. “We can make a new chart with different chores on it for you, and this time, if we put something on there that disturbs you, you have to speak up, all right?”

  Tasha glared at me, then asked Mom, who looked scared, “How is this fair?”

  “It’s fair because you’re learning to work as a family,” Nanny said.

  “Those charts are stupid,” Tasha answered.

  “Don’t say ‘stupid,’ ” I yelled from the couch. “You’re not allowed to say ‘stupid.’ ”

  “Oh, shut up, you little crapper!” Tasha screamed. “I hope you choke on your stupid ice cream!” She ran to her room and locked the door.

  After the crew left, Mom asked Dad to take me out for ice cream. We went to Blue Marsh Dairy and I got a big cone of strawberry and Dad talked on his cell phone to a client about a bi-level he was trying to sell. Then he joined me in eating my cone because I couldn’t eat it all.

  He said, “I’m proud of you, son.”

  “Thanks,” I said.

  Then we went back home and Tasha was sitting on the couch eating ice cream out of a bowl and watching TV.

  I said, “Hey! I thought she wasn’t allowed!”

  Mom tried to say something from the kitchen, where she was making dinner, but Tasha talked over her and said, “Shut up, you little troll. You’re the problem child. Not me.”

  So I went upstairs and I did two things.

  I crapped in Tasha’s pink-sheeted bed—right at the bottom, where her feet would hit it. After I was done, I pulled up the covers and sat on it, so it would be a big, nasty, sticky mess.

  Lisi and I never got to go to the circus.


  LET’S GET THIS out in the open: Lisi doesn’t call home because Mom tried to talk her out of college. Not specifically, mind you, but in her own ignore-the-middle-child kind of way. She never urged Lisi to get college catalogs, never bought her SAT prep books. The guidance counselor even called her from school one day and asked why Lisi hadn’t made college plans yet. Maybe the guidance counselor heard it in my mother’s voice—the complete lack of giveashit—because after he talked to her, he started to get Lisi applications and interviews. After Lisi started getting offers from colleges, Mom said two things.

  “College is such a hard place to fit in” and “Look at what happened to your sister.”

  Lisi doesn’t call home even though she knows I need to talk to her.

  Lisi is probably too stoned to care.

  She proved Mom wrong and went to college.

  I would very much like to follow her lead—not only in getting the hell out of here but also in going to college, maybe… though that’s going to be hard, considering SPED class and all this trouble I get into. Mom and Dad could have helped me, but instead Mom just kept meeting with school officials with that same face she gave to Nanny. What can I do with this boy?

  So I got to meet the first caring and nurturing people I ever met, thanks to the least caring and nurturing person I ever met.

  SPED class is my mother.

  When I get back from gym class, Deirdre tells me I look even sexier sweaty.

  “Jesus, Deirdre,” I say. “You’re killing me here.”

  She spins her wheelchair around and smiles her crooked smile. “That’s only because you want me and you can’t have me,” she says.

  I smile at her. Then I notice that her right foot is off her footrest, and I reach down to put it on for her.

  “While you’re down there…” she says as I go to stand.

  I turn bright red.

  “You made him blush, Deirdre!” Karen says.

  “Dude, you’re gonna have to wear baggy clothes from now on,” Kelly boy says. “These chicks are crazy.”

  Fletcher says, “Okay, guys. Can we please stop concentrating on Gerald’s deltoids for a minute and get back to linear equations?”

  “Linear equations suck,” Kelly boy says.

  “Yes,” Mr. Fletcher answers. “Linear equations do suck. However, you have to learn them or you can’t graduate, and you guys want to graduate, don’t you?”

  I look around. Jenny is staring out the window. Deirdre and Karen are still giggling about my arms. Kelly is so far from understanding linear equations, I think it would take days on a camel to get him anywhere near it. The rest of the class is similarly distracted. By stuff. Anything. Taylor has ADHD or something like that and she has to rock back and forth to stay focused. That throws off Larry, who hates when she rocks and can’t concentrate. None of them give a shit about linear equations.

  “I don’t really care if I graduate,” someone says.

  “Me, neither,” Karen says. “Plenty of people who did great things didn’t graduate from stupid high school.”

  “I want to,” Deirdre says. “Just so I can make them put a fuckin’ ramp up to the stage and watch me for all five minutes it takes to get up it and back down again. It will probably be the first time they ever realized that I was in the same fuckin’ school as them.” She drools a lot as she says this. Usually long series of sentences do this to her. She takes the back of her hand and wipes off her chin and laughs.

  “Language, please,” Fletcher says.

  I picture myself in my chief makeup going up on that stage to accept my diploma. I watched Lisi get hers. It was only Dad and me there to watch because Tasha “broke her wrist” a half hour before we had to leave. It wasn’t even swollen. Mom took her to the hospital for X-rays anyway.

  Now that I think of it, I can’t figure out if I even care about graduation. I don’t think I do. I don’t think it matters. To me or anyone else. I think all anyone really cares about is that I don’t get locked up. And all I care about is getting out of here. I don’t really think I could go to college anyway.

  “Maybe we can finish linear equations tomorrow,” Karen suggests.

  “Yeah,” rocking-Taylor agrees. “That would work.”

  The room bubbles into a chorus of light chatter. I stay quiet and watch Fletcher. He allows it for about one minute. Then he whistles. A two-finger whistle that hurts my ears.

  “Here’s the deal. We learn linear equations by the end of the week. You can all do them.” He points to Larry. “Larry can already do them. He’s been doing them for a whole yea

  Larry nods.

  Fletcher looks at me because he knows I’ve been doing linear equations since middle school, but he doesn’t say anything about it. Instead, he says, “So if Larry can do them, so can you. And I’m going to make damn sure you don’t just know them. I’m going to make sure you remember them. Now get up.”

  We sit there.

  “I said get up,” he says. Then he turns to Deirdre. “Deirdre, steer yourself over there.” He points to the opposite side of the room.

  As she does this, we all get up and stand at our desks.

  “Let’s shake things up a little,” he says. “You can only sit down once you answer a question right.”

  “That’s bullshit!” Karen says.

  “Language, please. And no, it’s not bullshit. I guarantee that you will all be sitting inside of ten minutes. Watch.” He turns to me first. “Gerald, if I say that five plus six equals x, then what is the value of x?”

  “Eleven,” I say.

  “You may sit down.”

  He turns to Karen. “If I say that x plus three equals twelve, then what is the value of x?”

  “Nine,” she says.

  “You may sit down,” he says again.

  He turns to Taylor. “Say m equals ten. What would x equal in this equation? Four times m equals x.”

  “The x would equal forty.”

  “You may sit down.”

  As I watch Fletcher, I realize he loves this job. He loves his life. He’s happy in the SPED room teaching all of us SPEDs. I don’t think I know one other adult who’s as happy as he is. Most of them just pretend all the time.

  “You may sit down,” he says to whoever just answered.

  When the last person sits, he says, “Now—that wasn’t so hard, was it? Tomorrow, we’ll come back and do some more. For now, let’s get you guys ready to go home.”

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