He dog-ears his copy of a Nashbar catalog, but just for reference, circling each necessary with a red felt marker. His inventory is salvaged from bikes around town: sprocket wheels from a rusting Huffy abandoned in the raspberry thicket near the lake where his father drowned; a broken chain, black with grease, picked from the skeletal 10-speed corroding under the shadow of the abandoned duplex next door; spokes snipped from junkers leaning against the back of Twice-But-Nice, a consignment store over on Parker Avenue. There are also lengths of stove pipe, a garbage can lid, and a football helmet he has stolen from the storage closet of the James Madison Middle School auxiliary gymnasium. He has secreted his congeries inside an empty 50-gallon oil drum moldering into the packed dirt floor of the outbuilding behind his house.
This afternoon, as soon as the final bell rings, he comes straight home, sloughing out of his backpack as he passes through the kitchen to enter the garage. In these stolen moments before his mother returns from work, he tries to forget the jeering of the other boys who whale on him outside the washroom, the names they call his dad—Aqua Man, Flipper. Bob. And the ill concealed whispers of the girls who sit behind him in Algebra, passing rumors from their prim lips about how fish had eaten the eyes out of his father’s skull.
He has always been good with parts and gears and the how of things. It’s something he shares with his dad.
His heart rate slows as he works beneath the cone of light cast by a single bulb, assembling everything he has scavenged using nylon ties, baling wire, and strips of silver duct tape. With these, he fashions a crude helmet, breastplate, and shield.
He goes to his father’s workbench, scrounging for a minute before locating a small can of black hobby paint. He returns to his accouterment, kneels in front of the buckler, and removes the lid from the can. He dips his index finger and begins, so focused on painting the lion that he is unaware when his tongue protrudes from between parted lips. And all the while, his classmates’ taunts echo through the dark.
But that’s ok—because he has a secret.
He discovered it when his mother decided to sell his father’s fishing boat. She parked the Lund and its trailer in the front yard, Sharpied a “For Sale” sign on the back of a paper grocery bag, taped this to the hull, and removed everything but the two-stroke Evinrude and a cement anchor molded from a Kemp’s ice cream bucket.
She brought the rest of his dad’s fishing gear inside, including a green Plano tackle box, and piled it all at the foot of Kyle’s bed. The pistol was wrapped in a scrap of old t-shirt tucked in the well beneath its bottom tray. And the .38 was loaded.
Kyle wipes acrylic against his jeans and rises. Tomorrow, he will don his armor and go to school protected.
And, oh, how they all will hear him roar.
*inspired by Pearl Jam’s 1991 “Jeremy”
gina marie bernard is a heavily tattooed transgender woman, retired roller derby vixen, and full-time English teacher. She lives in Bemidji, Minnesota. She has recent work appearing in Not Very Quiet, Penultimate Peanut, Meow Meow Pow Pow, and Monkeybicycle. Her daughters, Maddie and Parker, share her heart. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, and the Pushcart. She is pursuing an MFA at the University of Arkansas, Monticello.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.