Just Don'tTouch Anything
You'll probably think I'm making a lot of this up just to make me sound better than I really am or smarter or even luckier but I'm not. Besides, a lot of the things that've happened to me in my life so far which I'll get to pretty soon'll make me sound evil or just plain dumb or the tragic victim of circumstances. Which I know doesn't exactly prove I'm telling the truth but if I wanted to make myself look better than I am or smarter or the master of my own fate so to speak I could. The fact is the truth is more interesting than anything I could make up and that's why I'm telling it in the first place.
Anyhow my life got interesting you might say the summer I turned fourteen and was heavy into weed but I didn't have any money to buy it with so I started looking around the house all the time for things I could sell but therewasn't much. My mother who was still like my best friend then and my stepfather Ken had this decent house that my mother'd got in the divorce from my real father about ten years ago and about that she just says she got a mortgage not a house and about him she doesn't say much at all although my grandmother does. My mom and Ken both had these cheesy jobs and didn't own anything you could rob at least not without them noticing right away it was gone. Ken worked as a maintenance man out at the airbase which is like being a janitor only he said he was a building services technician and my mom was a bookkeeper at the clinic which is also a nothing job looking at a computer screen all day and punching numbers into it.
It actually started with me roaming around the house after school looking for something thatwasn't boring, porn books or videos maybe, or condoms. Anything. Plus who knows, they might have their own little stash of weed. My mom and especially Ken were seriously into alcohol then but maybe they aren't as uptight as they seem, I'm thinking. Anything is possible. The house was small, four rooms and a bathroom, a mobile home on cinderblocks like a regular house only without a basement or garage and no attic and I'd lived there with my mom and my real dad from the time I was three until he left which happened when I was five and after that with my mom and Ken who legally adopted me and became my stepfather up until now, so I knew the place like I knew the inside of my mouth.
I thought I'd poked through every drawer and looked into every closet and searched under every bed and piece of furniture in the place. I'd even pulled out all these old Reader's Digest novels that Ken had found out at the base and brought home to read someday but mainly just to look good in the livingroom and flipped them open one by one looking for one of those secret compartments that you can cut into the pages with a razor and hide things. Nothing. Nothing new, I mean. Except for some old photograph albums of my grandmother's that my mom had that I found in a box on the top shelf of the linen closet. My mom'd showed them to me a few years ago and I'd forgotten probably because they were mostly pictures of people I didn't know like my mom's cousins and aunts and uncles but when I saw them again this time I remembered once looking for pictures of my father from when he was still alive and well and living here in Au Sable and finding only one of him. It was of him and my mom and his car and I'd studied it like it was a secret message because it was the only picture of him I'd ever seen. You'dthought Grandma at least would've kept a few other snaps but no.
There was though this stack of letters tied with a ribbon in the same box as the albums that my father'd written to my mom for a few months after he left us. I'd never read them before and they turned out pretty interesting. The way it sounded my father was defending himself against my mom's accusations that he'd left us for this female named Rosalie who my mom said had been his girlfriend for years but he was claiming that Rosalie'd only been a normal friend of his at work and so on. He had good handwriting, neat and all the letters slanted the same way. Rosalie didn't matter to him anymore, he said. She never had. He said he wanted to come back. I almost felt sorry for him. Except I didn't believe him.
Plus I didn't need the letters my mom'd written to him in order to know her side of the story because even though I was only a little kid when this all happened I've got memories. If he was such a great guy and all how come he split on us and never sent any money or even tried to be in touch with his own son. My grandmother said just don't think about him anymore, he's probably living it up in some foreign country in the Caribbean or in jail for drugs. She goes, You don't have a father, Chappie. Forget him. She was tough, my grandmother, and I used to try and be like her when it came to thinking about my real father. I don't think she knew my mom'd saved my dad's letters. I bet my stepfather didn't know either.
Anyhow this one afternoon I came home from school early because I'd cut the last two periods which was just as well since I didn't have my homework anyhow and both teachers were the kind who boot you out of the class if you come in empty-handed, like it's a punishment that'll make you do better next time. I rummaged around in the fridge and made a bologna and cheese sandwich and drank one of my stepfather's beers and went into the livingroom and watched MTV for a while and played with the cat Willie who got spooked and took off when I accidentally flipped him on his head.
Then I started making my rounds. I really wanted some weed. It had been a couple of days since I'd been high and whenever I went that long I'd get jumpy and restless and kind of irritated at the world, feeling like everything and everyone was out to get me and I was no good and a failure at life which was basically true. A little smoke though and all that irritation and nervousness and my wicked low self-esteem immediately went away. They say weed makes you paranoid but for me it was the opposite.
I'd about given up on finding something in the house that I could rob--a personal possession that could be hocked like the TV or the VCR or the stereo would be instantly noticed when it was gone and all the rest of their stuff was boring household goods that you couldn't sell anyhow like electric blankets and a waffle iron and a clock radio. My mom didn't have any jewels that were worth anything except her wedding ring from my stepfather which she made a big deal out of but it looked like a WalMart's ring to me and besides she always had it on. They didn't even have any decent CDs, all their music was seventies stuff, disco fever and easy listening and suchlike, on cassettes. The only kind of robbing I thought was possible was big time like stealing my stepfather's van while he was asleep for example and I wasn't ready for that.
I was taking one more look into their bedroom closet, down on my hands and knees and groping past my mother's shoes into the darkness when I came to what I'd thought last time was just some folded blankets. But when I felt into the blankets I realized there was something large and hard inside. I pulled out the whole thing and unwrapped what turned out to be these two black briefcases that I'd never seen before.
I sat cross-legged on the floor and put the first briefcase on my lap thinking it was probably locked until it snapped open which surprised me but then the real surprise came when I lifted the lid and saw a .22 automatic rifle broken down into three parts just lying there with a rod and cleaning kit and a box of shells. It wasn't hard to fit the parts together, it even had a scope like an assassin's rifle and pretty soon I was into a Lee Harvey Oswald trip standing by the bedroom window and brushing the curtain away with the tip of the barrel and aiming through the scope at stuff on the street going Pow! Pow! I blasted a couple of dogs and blew away the mailman and nailed the drivers of cars going by for a while.
Then I remembered the other briefcase and went back to the closet and sat down and opened it. Inside are all these Baggies, thirty or forty of them filled with coins, mostly old quarters and Indian head nickels and even some weird-looking pennies with dates from way back in the early 1900s. Excellent discovery. I figure the rifle must belong to Ken and he stashes it in this briefcase on account of my mom always saying she's scared of guns and the coins too, I'm thinking, because if they were my mom's I would've known it since she pretty much told me everything in those days. Besides she wasn't the hobby type. Ken though was definitely the kind of guy who would have a cool gun and never show it to me or even tell me about it, plus he collected things like exotic beer cans and souvenir coffee mugs from the various theme parks they'd gone to and put them out on shelves where anyone could see although he was always telling me not to touch them because I never left things the way they were which is basically true.
I took the rifle apart and put it back in the briefcase and then I took a couple of coins from each of about six Baggies so he wouldn't know any were missing if he happened to check. Afterwards I wrapped the briefcases back in the blanket and put the bundle behind my mother's shoes in the closet where it had come from. Rule of the Bone. Copyright © by Russell Banks. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.