For Halloween, my father made a costume for my brother, my sister and me. Using a cardboard box and papier-mache, he fashioned a dragon's head, with horns, S-shaped eyes, grinning lips and jagged teeth. For the body, he used a green sheet.
Before we went out, he gave us each a poem to memorize. Mine was "Jabberwocky," my brother's was "The Tyger," and my sister's was "Annabel Lee."
With the verses in our brains and the sheet draped over our heads, the three of us traipsed along the street. At neighbors' doors, we did not accept treats. Instead, we walked inside as a six-legged serpent, ripped off our costume, and recited.
My father took me to a hotel bar. Inside, the place was almost empty. A few men sat on stools at the counter; the dining room was dark. I wandered around, passing an unlit dart board and an unplugged pinball machine, until I found a mechanical piano. I got coins, activated the paper scroll, and listened to a tinkly rag concerto.
After some drinks, my father started to talk. "I've got a thousand rounds of ammunition," he said. "One of these days, I'm going to start shooting.
"I'm going to take as many people with me as I can," he added, "before the SWAT team gets me."
To hide, I went to visit a boy who lived nearby. At the door, my friend's mother told me that he was cleaning his room. I could hear the sound of a vacuum as I walked up the stairs. I entered without knocking and saw that the boy was not sweeping the floor but was applying the vacuum hose to his penis.
The boy took me to the basement and brought out some animal traps. He placed a large one on the cement floor and pried open its jaws. He tapped the trigger disk with a broom handle, and the metal bit into the wood.
"The Nazis had a small guillotine," he said, "with an opening the size of your finger. They would use it to chop off your schlosse. Then you would die, because you can't live without your schlosse."
He opened a smaller trap and handed it to me. "This is for muskrats," he said. "It won't break bones."
Somehow, I touched the trigger and the metal snapped shut on my finger.
My mother drove me to the hospital.
While I waited my turn in the emergency room, I watched candy stripers race gurneys through the corridors. Whenever one of the vehicles rounded a corner, the back wheels would skid out and the protective rail would hit the wall. The patient on the stretcher would groan, and the candy striper would stifle a giggle.
In time, I had my finger splinted and wrapped.
On the way home, my mother went too fast around a curve and drove into a cornfield. The car wheels mowed ruts through the stalks. We had to get out and walk.
Later, my mother said to my father, "I'll pay the farmer for the corn."
My father said, "You and your women's lib shit."
I went to the school auditorium for a play rehearsal. On stage, I was nervous. Whenever I said a line, my fingers would jerk. I was playing a witch man, but the director called me Twitch Boy.
At one point, the director told the cast to attack me. Boys and girls held my arms, tore at my clothes and slapped me.
"Shoot your wad," the director said.
I yelled and flailed.
For the next run-through, I knitted my brow, projected my voice, and gestured maniacally. "It's my eagle!" I said, pointing upward. "It's coming for me!"
Secret Service agents came for my father. Two men in business suits greeted him in the yard, then talked to him while he leaned against a tree.
"We are living in the United Status of Plethora," I heard my father say.
He got into a car with the men, and they drove away.
When my father returned, he was skittish.
"If a dry-cleaning van arrives," he said, "don't answer the door. The drivers are not really cleaners. They're from the CIA."
My mother made plans to move. She bought airline tickets for herself, my brother, my sister and me. She told us we were going to live with her brother. She packed suitcases, carried them outside and set them on the lawn.
While we waited with the luggage, my mother got a phone call. After talking, she told us, "That was my mother-in-law. She convinced me to stay."
I heard my parents arguing as I tried to sleep.
"You never encourage him," my mother said, referring to me.
"I can't talk to him," my father said.
I dreamed of piloting an automobile over great distances. I looked to the side and saw a child pointing at me. I looked through the windshield and saw nothing. I looked to the side. The child was pointing. I looked through the windshield.
"Rehearsal" appeared in Columbia Review and Roughhouse (Kaya Press).