I was standing in the vestibule, sorting through my daily heap of bills and junkmail, when the apartment door behind me flew open.
“Mooney! He did it again and, goddamnit, this time he hit Mrs. Grieves. Knocked the wig right off her head. Damn thing ended up in the hydrangeas.”
He chuckled and a sharp rap on the door behind him made us both jump. He rolled his eyes and continued, his voice low as he put a fatherly hand on my shoulder.
“She’s okay, no real damage. I got her dried off and calmed down. Surprised her more than anything else, but she’s had it and frankly, so have I. You’ve got to do something. What if he’d hit another tenant? I can’t afford a lawsuit and judging by that handful of overdue bills you have there I doubt very much that you can.”
Red-faced, I hid the mail behind my back as another loud rap shot from behind the door. Mr. Grieves raised his voice.
“Any more shenanigans from you two, one more crazy stunt like that, and you people are out of here.”
He glared at me. I did what I always do when I get nervous; I smiled. Mr. Grieves frowned and leaned close.
“I mean it, Mooney. I’m a patient man but I’ve got to live with that woman. You’ve got one more chance; blow it and I’ll kick your asses to the curb.”
One more chance. He’d said that once before; when Mrs. Grieves’ cats started disappearing after Trey moved in with me. She was convinced that it was no coincidence. Luckily, Mr. Grieves didn’t share his wife’s racist views.
“Listen, I hated those cats,” Mr. Grieves had said. “If it was up to me, you and that Jap could eat all the friggin’ cats in town. Just be careful where you guys dump the evidence. Mrs. Grieves found a big piece of fur in the back yard and nearly had a coronary.”
“Mr. Grieves,” I’d sighed, “Trey is Vietnamese. And we don’t eat…”
“Yeah, yeah. Jap, chink, whatever. Just be more careful is all I’m saying.”
He’d smiled that time. He wasn’t smiling now. His fingers tightened, digging into my shoulder.
“You hearing me, Mooney? I’m giving you one last chance.”
Mr. Grieves let go of me and slipped back into his apartment. The door slammed shut behind him. I could hear muffled shouting.
I shoved the handful of bad news into a nearby trashcan and ran up the two flights of stairs to my apartment and let myself in. The place looked great. Trey had cleaned and scrubbed everything; the floors, the furniture. Even the walls glowed. The only thing out of place was the small naked man scrunched face first into a corner of the kitchen. He was crying.
“Lucy, I’m home,” I sang out.
I Love Lucy was Trey’s favorite TV show. He was teaching himself English by watching and listening to Lucy and Ricky squabble and make up night after night. He thought it was hilarious whenever I’d “do a Ricky.” Not this time.
“Trey, sweetie, I’m home. Please don’t cry. Everything is okay.”
“I know things not good,” Trey said into the corner. “I hear Mr. Grief tell you about cleaning water. I hear Mr. Grief say we must move. Huh-nee, I am so sorry.”
He sobbed louder. I began to tear up.
“Aw, Trey. We don’t have to move. We just have to be more careful. Why did you throw the water out the window anyway? We do have drains you know? The sinks, the tub, the toilet…”
“But huh-nee, they were already clean. I don’t want to make them dirty again so I throw water out window. I am so sorry water wash hair off Mrs. Grief.”
Trey turned to look at me. His tear-streaked face shone like the freshly polished table. He looked like a sad little boy, lost and unsure where to find comfort. I’ve felt that way plenty of times in my life, but it always broke my heart when I saw it in others. It always made me relive that horrible night Dad stood over ten-year-old me as I sat at the kitchen table crying over a homework assignment I didn’t understand, but for some fucked up reason I always relived it from Dad’s perspective …
“Haven’t made much progress there, Einstein,” I heard myself say to the little boy at the table. “You should have come hunting. We got three rabbits.”
I knew for a fact Bobby hated doing these assignments but I also knew he’d sit at this table and cry through a hundred of them if it meant he didn’t have to go hunting with me. Or do anything with me for that matter. His mother had spoiled him with all those damn books; ruined him for anything good and worthwhile. That boy would never be a man if I didn’t start taking charge and the sooner, the better.
“C’mon outside, Bobby,” I said. “That homework will still be there when we’re done. I want to teach you something useful.”
I felt like kicking him as he slowly pulled on his boots, all the while whining that it was too cold out. Goddamn, this kid pisses me off. How could this fairy be mine?
I threw his coat at him. “Get up and get outside.”
I pushed him along the sidewalk to the parking lot where I’d laid out the kill. Bobby stood there sniffling in the wind as I rooted around in the truck for the tools we’d need.
“Here, Bobby. Take these pliers. You’re going to learn how to skin a rabbit.”
“Now watch how I do this. You don’t want to push the knife in too deep or you’ll end up pulling the meat off with the skin.”
I took up one of the rabbits and carefully sliced through the fur around its neck and front legs.
I laid the rabbit on the blacktop and took the pliers from Bobby.
“Here’s how we do it. Now watch. You clamp onto the skin just under the chin and pull down. Got it?”
I looked at him. He wasn’t paying any attention.
I grabbed Bobby’s hands and placed them around the pliers. He stood just there, limp and whimpering.
“Well, Mr. Mooney, the fucking things don’t pull themselves. Pull! Hard!”
Bobby gave me one of those looks that always make me want to smack him, but he did as I said. I held the rabbit’s head. He pulled. The skin was just starting to peel back when the rabbit jerked and let out a piercing scream. Damn thing wasn’t dead after all. Bobby looked up at me, his eyes so wide I’m surprised they didn’t roll right out of his goddamned head. I started to laugh. This was great, it was something we’d both be able to tell our grandchildren.
Pussy boy didn’t see it that way though. He dropped the pliers and ran into the house bawling.
I sighed and stepped on the rabbit’s head to stop its screaming and then walked back inside intending to apologize for the commotion, but the little pansy was scrunched into the corner of the kitchen, between the wall and the stove, sobbing like a little girl. I wanted to step on his head. I wanted to put him out of both our miseries…
Trey sniffled and I shook my head. Goddamn it, why do I always become Him when I see a man sobbing?
“Come here, Trey.” I held out my arms. He jumped up and buried his face in my chest and began crying again, deep shoulder-shaking sobs.
“Hey, listen to me, Trey,” I said as I smoothed his thick, black hair back from his forehead. “Everything will be okay. I promise. Everything will be fine. I love you and I will never let anything bad happen to you. Ever.”
He looked up into my eyes and smiled. We stood there, arms wrapped around each other, as the sunlight faded. Trey shivered. I suggested he get dressed and we rustle up something to eat. Trey had a better idea.
“I make your favorite for dinner, honey. I go out and shop right now.”
I watched as he happily pulled on his pants and his boots and his black hooded sweatshirt. Singing his favorite song, “Jingle Bells,” in Vietnamese, he reached under the sink and grabbed a folded paper grocery bag. Next he opened a can of tuna and dumped it into a baggie. He slipped the baggie into his pocket as I walked him to the door.
“I wish you like to shop with me,” he said as we kissed goodbye. I leaned over the railing in the hallway and watched as he happily bounced down the stairs.
“Hey, honey?” I loud-whispered. “Maybe you should shop over near the park. And stay in the bushes, okay?”
“Okay,” he yelled as he reached the landing and disappeared from view.
I smiled as I shut the door. I knew he wouldn’t be gone very long.
I went to the closet and pulled out my toolbox.
We were going to need Dad’s pliers.
Robert C. Mooney, Jr