THE SEVENTH SON is Zach Twilley, who could be Holden Caulfield's evil twin — from the wrong side of the tracks. Not since Warren Miller's The Cool World have we heard from a character like this. When his mother's love life starts to give teen-aged Zach that three's-a-crowd feeling, he sets out on his own. As he stumbles through a series of unlikely but perfectly appropriate misadventures, Zach provides a running commentary on the strange world through which he's passing.
Excerpts from THE SEVENTH SON
All excerpts copyright©1997 by Douglas Brin, all rights reserved.
One day made it home from school (the bus, the walk, the other bus, I’m beat). There’s this old man sitting in our kitchen. Same kitchen: the crappy dinette set bought on time the toaster burns toast.
Same kitchen, now this old guy’s in it.
Old. Shriveled. Guy’s a stack of wrinkles Mr. Peanut looks better – must have dropped out of an ambulance.
Real small and stepped on. Shoes scuffed stringy pants need a shave, bad teeth.
Come in the kitchen – tired. He’s there. Chewing tobacco with his gums.
Never seen him. Why isn’t he out of sight: old age home where be belongs? Nobody decent would live with somebody THAT old.
Get this: he stares at me!
Doesn’t say anything. No teeth parked in that mouth anyway. Just sits with his no-butt on a dinette chair.
Lookin’ at me. What am I supposed to do?
Go to the fridge take a soda walk out.
There’s a TV upstairs.
Half an hour later go back for another soda. Hot day. Always hot-as-a-bitch – summer – where we live.
Second soda he’s still there. Same spot.
Now he can talk. Peanut has a voice, says "I’m your grandpa."
Gotta look at this wreck be sure I heard him right. Something about his beak nose says yes, he said it.
I say, "what?"
He says, "your grandpa."
Shove the leg of his chair with my foot, "hell, you may be somebody’s grandpa – not mine. Don’t want any."
Guy rubs a finger down that parrot nose, feels all the tracks, waits, expectin’ I’ll change my mind.
My mind’s someplace else. Ain’t much: but our cat’s on the floor eatin’ a plate of ravioli.
Grandpa guy hops up. Cat gets the jumps knocks the bowl over runs out. "I’m it!" he hollers.
Yell at him. Maybe the jerk can’t hear. "Haven’t got any – told you!"
"Sure ya do" he says. "Everybody does."
"Yeah?" I say. "How come I never seen you before?"
"Seein’ me now, sonny."
"Got any money?" ask him. (What the hell).
"Doesn’t matter" he says. (Forget the money). "I’m here."
Keeps on lookin’. Moves his mouth like he’s chewin’. Tweaks the beak.
My ma comes in.
Ma’s a person comes in you don’t expect her. Been waitin’? Need her? Forget it.
"Who’s he?" I say.
"Your grandpa" she says.
"See!" he says.
Wanna knock him off the chair. "Since when?" I scream.
"Since you were little" ma says.
"Don’t believe it!" What does she know?
Ma shakes her head, "yeah. He’s my pop."
Don’t see her look at him. Doesn’t go and kiss him or anything. Guy could be a brand of beer nobody drinks for all she cares.
"Agnes" he says.
"Agnes," he says: to my ma. Right at home now.
"What Agnes!" I say.
"Whaddaya think" he says. "Agnes your ma. What other Agnes we got here?"
"Don’t give me any ‘we’ shit!" I tell him. "My mother’s name ain’t Agnes. You was really her pop you’d know it!"
"Course I know it. Named her Agnes, didn’t I?"
"Tell him ‘bout me, Agnes," he says to my ma.
He’s eatin’ a chicken leg. Who brought in a chicken?
"Your grandpa," my ma says, busy fixin’ herself a drink. Can tell she says it just to get rid of him.
Grandpa guy’s hot now, bouncing up and down on the crappy dinette chair, moving his ice cream stick arms (chicken bone in one of them). "I am! I am!" he shouts.
"Shit," I say. Who asked for the old fart?
Ma’s got her drink. Clinks the ice around. Takes it into the living room turns on TV.
"Price is Right." Bet your ass when it’s free.
Grandpa sits. Quiet. His batteries ran out.
"Kid don’t even know me," mumbles low. To himself.
"Yeah, sure thing" I say reach for my baseball mitt keep it next to the cereal boxes.
Gonna spend the whole day on this?
Got a game. For once it’s a bunch-a-losers we can knock the crap out of.
Get the mitt. Kick the screen door in front a little extra hard cause it feels good. Leave.
Come back that grandpa guy is gone.
Been gone ever since.
Opens that door there’s a smell could knock superman on his ass.
Chocolate. Way too much chocolate. Like somebody shovin’ chocolate up your nose.
I can’t breathe.
Have a hunch breathin’ here’s a bad idea.
The room is big. Big lights on the ceiling. Still dark – can’t explain it. How does one door with a broken handle lead to this place?
People in white coats funny hats stand in front of belts carryin’ chocolates.
Some of ‘em are black. More white – women. Young, but ugly.
Nobody talks. They work. Keep takin’ boxes from a stack and layin’ out the chocolates in the boxes.
Put those chocolates in so quick their hands look like blades on an electric fan: big blur.
Name-of-the-game brushes his fingers on his sport jacket. Ain’t careful, some of the factory might rub off on him.
Sucks a candy – got a new piece – hard. Can hear his teeth crunchin’ (even with the other noise).
Smell stinks. Wanna hold my nose but it would look stupid. I don’t.
Game takes me to a squared-off fat lady with warts size-a-nickels on her face.
"Alice" he says, "this is Zachary another pair of hands for you."
Dumb ass. That what I am, ‘another pair of hands?’ How about the rest of me?
This Alice shakes her head somehow it moves on top of her mountain body: another pair of hands is fine.
Start to feel that chocolate stink sinkin’ in. Gonna be something don’t wash out so easy.
Game is set for an exit.
Alice’s hands are on her hips. Her eyes say: try and eat one chocolate think I’m not lookin’ cut your another-pair-of-hands off.
Not a good idea. Only got two hands, right?
We go places, do things. If you call getting your leg cut on a barbed wire fence pickin’ apples on someone else’s property/sneakin’ in the movies/lookin’ at the tits of a naked lady parades her ass near the same window doin’ things.
Felix isn’t a total zero. Real good at checkers. And shootin’ baskets.
Other day we come outta this long movie (big war long time ago: guys couldda died twenty times but didn’t, their women home doin’ dishes till soldier boy stops bayonettin’ Japs) our eyes squinting Felix says, "let’s shoot."
Goof-off’s always let’s this-let’s that. Usually, it’s a new way to get in trouble.
"Shoot what?" I say.
"Baskets" he says. "Can beat the big niggers on baskets."
Hell he can.
"Can beat the big niggers!"
"Don’t talk so loud!" tell him. "Wanna get your lip busted?"
He shrugs. We walk to this playground – buncha blacks. Tall mitey-mite blacks with the thick socks rolled down over the tops of their sneakers.
Felix pipes: he can make more straight baskets.
These niggers laugh. "Hey peanut man" says a guy tall as a flag pole. "You can’t shoot shit!"
Felix says "twenty dollars."
What twenty dollars? We ain’t got twenty dollars.
"Lemme see your money" this other guy says.
Lemme see it too.
"Got the money" Felix says. "Somebody wanna play me?"
"Hey Bimbo" one black says to another. "You shoot,"
Bimbo looks around. You don’t get too many real laughs these days, right?
Starts tossin’ the basketball – hits the chute. Number one. On the button.
Next shot: in the hoop. Two.
Three. Oh boy.
Four. Flag pole lets out a whistle.
Five and six. Too late to get out?
Seven. Felix stands there, watching.
Nine. Pray for us, Father.
Ten. We’re dead.
Eleven. Doesn’t make eleven, just misses, rolls off the rim.
And so what?
Bimbo twirls the ball on his finger like the Harlem Globetrotters throws it to Felix, slam. Hard.
Felix drops it. The niggers smile. Smile: look what we’re havin’ for dinner.
Felix picks that ball right up doesn’t waste a second shoots – and makes it.
One of ‘em snorts. Lucky throw, get us on the next pass.
Again. Okay. Three.
They’re lookin’ at each other laughing not fun laughing what’s-goin’-on? laughing.
I stand there. Pray.
Felix goes for four. Again. Gimme five.
Six. This Felix?
Now the blacks ain’t laughing or talkin’. Too busy: watchin’.
Felix is in another world. Eyes on that basket. Seven.
Eight. Jesus Christ, three more.
Nine and ten.
Safe, ain’t we? He misses nobody wins. Tie game.
Doesn’t miss. Next throw is safe. Eleven, on the count.
Felix stops. Puts the ball down on the ground, smiles at me.
Then holds his hands out: for money. Blacks just look at each other. Wanna laugh, bad. But something’s stuck in their throats.
Bimbo’s pal says: "well?"
Tall skinny guy growls "lucky you made it, man."
Lucky? "What lucky? Want my money" says Felix.
"What money?" says Bimbo.
"Twenty. I won."
"You ain’t won shit. Do it again."
Felix looks at me. Wish he’d do his lookin’ someplace else.
Skinny guy says "you kids in the wrong neighborhood. Right Lulu?"
This Lulu hasn’t opened his mouth. No need he’s the biggest black of the bunch. A giant. Kong. The big niggers’ big nigger.
We’re in the wrong neighborhood.
"Want my twenty dollars" says Felix.
Bimbo goes up to Felix knocks him down with one finger walks over to me.
"You got a problem man?"
"Yes you do. HE’s your problem."
"Real smart white boy" I hear as I half carry Felix outta there.
"Let’s go back tomorrow," he lights up – smile – after a while.
Kick him good.
Better than the screen door.