by Tim Dicks
My sister was quiet and thoughtful but after she graduated from high school her voice became a laugh and her hair grew long. She was twelve years older than me and the transformation seemed natural. She continued to live with us and over the summer lots of men showed up to sit in our living room and laugh with her. They laughed with me, too, and threw jokes my way like biscuits to a dog they wanted to distract.
They all joked around, I mean, but Dean joked the most, so much that I couldn’t tell if he was joking around. “You know anyone with a wooden leg?” he said once, and knocked on his shin. The sound was like knuckles on a door. He got it caught in an elevator, my sister said. At the mall, Dean said. At the nice mall.
Another time he grabbed his nose. My nose, he said, and wiggled the thing between two fingers. I was terrified he would pull it from his face, and could almost see the jelly it would leave behind. Got bitten off by a giraffe, he said. At the zoo, my sister said.
What about a wig? he said, another time. You want to have a wig like me when you grow up? He gripped his scalp and slid the hair around as a mass. The lines in his forehead disappeared and his eyebrows slid up. My sister looked on and didn’t say anything.
After that I rolled around in bed for a few nights. Dean was my sister’s age but was either a practiced liar or was falling apart. I imagined him in a white gown, strapped to a table, drugged, lit from above, with doctors all around, screwing replacement parts into him. I imagined gears smashed together in the meat of his chest, plastic pipes running through his neck.
I decided to figure him out, and the next time he came I waited in the hall while he and my sister watched television. They laughed and laughed about the actors’ outfits. That suit! my sister said. He looks like a French prostitute! Dean said. I crept up behind the couch and got down and waited. I waited long enough that my knees started to hurt and I thought, Okay. I reared up like a ghost and got my fingers in Dean’s hair and threw myself back. I yelled when I did and yelled more when I landed against the floor with a mat of hair in my hands. Dean stood and held his smooth head and looked down at me and yelled a single long note. I yelled. My sister yelled. We all yelled.
When I was very young I watched an episode of The New Alfred Hitchcock Presents in which a man is somehow so grossly injured that he is wrapped in a full-body cast. This was probably the first time I was exposed to the idea of a full-body cast, to the idea of injury so grave that it could require full encapsulation in hardened plaster. In the episode, the women he knows speak to him, laugh at him, and grow cruel. He breathes through a narrow plastic tube stuck into the piñata of his head, and of course one of the women eventually seals it up, possibly with putty. They then display the cast—the mummy of him—at a party. I was terrified, because it seemed entirely possible that I could injure myself someday, possibly so terribly that I found myself ensconced entirely in hardened wrappings, entirely at the mercy of those around me, with all of my fragile life held close around me and all of it outside my control.
I only got to watch this episode because I was being taken care of by my sister who, like the sister in this story, was several years older than me. For a while she lived at home but drove to college each morning, and when our parents were gone in the evenings she’d make food and we’d watch something together that my parents probably wouldn’t have let me view. She was wonderful about our evenings together, jokey with gravity when we’d turn on something dark, and I was left usually with an amused terror at the ridiculous possibilities of life. Like the sister in this story, she was intelligent and pretty and popular with her friends, and I remember a few men stopping by the house to share grilled cheese. There was one who told me he had a wooden leg, and a wig. I didn’t believe him but sometimes I did. I was fascinated by the idea of his false parts, and of the fallibility of the human body. He sat in our living room while we watched horror anthology shows on television and the atmosphere was one of goofy creepiness that turned inevitably terrible as I waited for sleep later in the night. The characters in this story bear little resemblance to my sister or to any friends she had, but the boy’s uncertain horror at the intersections of surreality and normalcy closely echoes feelings I remember well from youth, and that come up sometimes now in my writing.
Tim Dicks used to deliver pizza in Iowa, but lives now in Orlando. If you come by he might make you a pizza. His girlfriend asked why he's including pizza in this bio. Maybe you love it more than me, she said. Maybe he does. He blogs at timdicks.wordpress.com.