Thaddeus Rutkowski Fiction Writer

LIKE THE REESE'S CUP


        My father brought home a new friend of his—a teenaged boy he'd met along the highway. The boy had been hitchhiking, and my father had picked him up. The boy's name was Reese, "like the Reese's Cup," he told me.
        My father wanted Reese to stay with us, so he unfolded the living-room couch and put down sheets and blankets.
        I came into the room while the boy was sitting on the bed. He smelled like he hadn't bathed in days.
        "Do you go to school?" I asked.
        "Yes," he said, "but my first school expelled me because I tried to blow it up."
        "With what?" I asked.
        "Dynamite."
        "Where do you go now?"
        "I go to a free school. But it's not really free; it's more like a prison."
        "How did you get here?" I asked.
        "I escaped."

*

        I took Reese for a tour around town. I led him across backyards until we came to a chicken shed. We slid the latch on the wooden door and went in.
        The shed was dark inside, but we could see chickens nesting on shelves. The floor was soft, because it was covered with straw. The place smelled like ammonia. White chicken droppings coated every surface.
        "Which is worse," Reese asked, "cow manure or guano?"
        "I don't know," I said.
        "I think guano is much worse," he said. "I'll pick up cow manure with my hands, but I won't touch bird droppings."
        "I feel the same way about dog doo," I said.
        Outside the chicken coop, we found a hutch with rabbits and a mesh cage containing guinea pigs. We considered the relative nastiness of those animals' excrement.

*

        Reese and I watched while my father gave an informal art show. He propped a couple of paintings on the floor and stood next to them. On the canvases, archways framed images of suffering men, some of whom were hanging on crosses.
        "After my opening," my father explained, "the reviewers called me a Catholic artist. They didn't mean my work was comprehensive. They meant it was catechistic. I test the viewer by posing questions. If you're on a cross, can you help but look like Christ? If you're Christ, how should people treat you?"
        Later, Reese said to me, "I noticed that when your father talks, he doesn't look at me. I may as well not be there."

*

        I took Reese to school with me and introduced him as an out-of-town friend.
        Somehow, he had acquired a bottle of wine. He sat in the back row and drank the wine out of a paper bag. When a teacher told him that no food or drink was allowed in the classrooms, he went out to the hallway to finish the bottle.
        Later, he said to me, "You and I are the ones who don't belong. We're on the edge of something. No one else even knows what it is."

*

        At supper, my father said, "This country's biggest problem is compulsory education. Who passed that law? Why should children be forced to go to school? We should educate our children ourselves."
        "Are you doing that?" my mother asked.
        "I spend all of my time with children," my father said, "even though I have no time for children."
        "There's a Chinese saying," my mother said. " 'Live to old age, study to old age. There remain three-tenths that cannot be known.' "

*

        Reese and I hitchhiked to a farm that I had heard about. The place was in a neighboring valley, so we traveled for about an hour to get there. From the highway, we had to walk on a dirt road to get to the house.
        Inside, we met some teenagers. There were no adults present. We sat at a large table and listened to records on an old-fashioned stereo. One of the songs was about motherless children.
        There was a can of tobacco on the table, and we took turns rolling cigarettes. I didn't know how to tighten the paper, so my cigarette came out lumpy.
        "It looks like a drill bit," Reese said.
        "No," someone else said, "it looks like a pregnant snake."
        The fumes felt like dry fire in my throat, but I smoked the cigarette down.
        When we decided to leave, we realized we had no way to get home. Fortunately, an Amish shuttle—a vehicle used by the Amish but driven by someone who wasn't in the sect—picked us up.
        When my father found out where we had been, he became upset. "You shouldn't have gone there," he said to me. "There's no supervision. Those kids do whatever they please. It's a queer farm. It's Boys Town."
        "There were a couple of girls," I said.
        "Don't talk back!" my father said. "I know the signs of pansies. They grow their hair long, like yours."
        "You have a mustache," I pointed out.
        "You don't know what I'm about! I'm not like the rest of these people! Do you hear me?"
        "Yes," I mumbled.
        As before, my father did not look at Reese as he spoke.

*

        I brought Reese to my father's gun rack, and we examined the firearms. Reese picked up a .22 rifle. "Do you know how to use this?" he asked.
        I worked the action and loaded the gun, then gave it to my co-conspirator. We looked out a window and saw a bird perched on an electrical wire. The bird was small, but it wasn't far away. I opened the window, and Reese pointed the barrel of the gun through the space.
        At the shot, the bird fluttered away, but the power wire snapped apart. The loose strands swung down toward the ground. Simultaneously, the appliances in the house went off.
        When we looked out the window, we didn't see any signs of electrical life. The entire town was dead. We decided to tell anyone who asked that we had seen lightning hit the wire.

*

        At some point, Reese disappeared. I didn't know whether my father had given him a ride to the highway, or if he had left on his own. In any event, he didn't say goodbye. I knew that he was gone for good when I saw that the couch mattress had been folded away.

*

        When I walked past my mother, she slapped me on the chest. "Walk straight!" she said. "Don't slouch. Lift your head. Remember what Confucius said: 'The virtue of balance is highest.' "
        I corrected my posture and walked away. But as soon as I was out of her sight, I hunched my shoulders and looked at the ground.

*




"Like the Reese's Cup" appeared in Tetched (Behler Publications, 2005) and on Epiphany.com, 2005.

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