Part 1 can be found here.
When the house quieted down at midnight, and the neighbors stopped brushing aside the pastel curtains to witness the chaos of the children, Mr. Guillory saw Belt on the news. The anchor motioned to a thin hole in the dirt basement of Belt’s house- every dig done by hand. Belt’s father owned a store on the South Side, and her mother cried so hard that she smiled. Necklace told him, after she passed out the bottom shelf vodka, that they put the scars and burns on Belt, places he’d never want to see. Mr. Guillory’s youngest child, in the one moment of his father’s inattention, touched the clothing iron and couldn’t pick up anything for the rest of the week. That son’s spaghetti stains were now off the close walls, the dusty treadmill, the white carpet, and the low couch Mr. Guillory sat on.
For once, he welcomed the anchor moving on to New Caveton, where the blonde newscaster monotoned about the shooting of Asli Breen by Officer Aaron Baak. Baak claimed Breen reached for his gun, everyone else claimed twelve shots into the black youth was excessive. Most of the witnesses, other minorities, were jailed for unrelated crimes. Before the indictment process even started, the community lined the streets, signs in their hands and gas masks in their pockets. The gang hounded Mr. Guillory about driving them there, because if ever an event called for bombs and bricks. He said he’d take them only with petitions and peace signs, prompting the only booing of the night.
He broke his first window at age 10. Only a sliver on the glass, but enough to crack the matron and reel from her mouth a condemnation for the mother that worked 80 hours, the public enemy of child services, the spirit that hugged Mr. Guillory when he boiled the rice or grabbed the clothing iron with tiny fingers. He almost hit a thousand windows before the matron forged his signature and the well-suited men brought him to boot camp.
On the TV, one protestor already ran into the police, and blood flowed from his shoulder.
A bloody shoulder.
When Mr. Guillory snapped back to reality, the real sweating skin and real pounding heart, the commercials began and the wife next to him spoke. The rolls on her body only highlighted the youth on her beady-eyed face and the wisps of hair standing up. “Another attack?”
Mr. Guillory nodded. “I don’t know why I keep having them. I never saw combat, just- him.”
“’Him’ sounds bad enough.” She smiled. “And ‘him’ made you into the wonderful man you are today. I’d say that’s enough.”
He winced as he said, “Am I more free?”
She said she didn’t understand.
“A lot of things would fall apart without me. They need someone to fill the coffee and cover the sick shifts. You need a dishwasher and childrearer and all around fixer. Yet only death can really take me away from all this- sorry, that’s too morbid, that’s not what-”
Mrs. Guillory tilted her head. “You’re not thinking of running away, are you?”
The flashback was over, but Mr. Guillory heard the echo of the sergeant demanding one more lap on the roof, if Mr. Guillory seemed so keen to run anyways. The ticking of his pocket watch was louder than his heart.
Their first date occurred because Mrs. Guillory rescued his watch. At the time, she just finished a meeting with a producer, begging him to make a movie about the time she got lost in Hollywood and met a famous actor. Mr. Guillory, his hair sticking up from sleeping on the bench last night, hugged her, told her thank you, my mother showed me how to make this watch when I was 6. She squeezed him tighter, told him there was one way he could thank her.
“Because I feel like that too,” she continued, scratching at the pajamas she hadn’t changed out of yet. “Like Hollywood won’t come unless I stop dreaming. But I control my dreams, not what happens out there. It’s all about how I see it. Also, it’s your turn to read them a story.”
Mr. Guillory stood up. One more run-through of Where the Wild Things Are, he seemed so keen to read about anarchism anyways.
Only Mr. Guillory noticed that Belt was about to insert the needle into an artery instead. Beard, Cane, and Necklace were busy arguing, Manifesto and Tie out of the room. Of course, he’d prefer she didn’t, but then she asked how he knew so much about veins and he looked back in his mind and saw a same-age Mr. Guillory hold a needle like an agonizing artist. When the liquid seeped into her bloodstream, she became the first person to laugh at his jokes. Today marked the first day the anarchists didn’t teach him a new protest strategy. But that didn’t stop him from taking the bottles after a few drinks and giving them his books.
Belt wandered off, and Manifesto began lurking about by the time Beard broke away and sat by Mr. Guillory. “So tell me more about this Emerson guy,” he said. “Is he as boring as you are?”
They both laughed, neither one genuine. “Well,” said Mr. Guillory, “my favorite quote by him goes like this: ‘To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.’” He declined to mention how his innards dropped nowadays when he said that.
Beard looked to the bare bulbs above. “So it’s like, whatever you do is better than everyone else.”
“I never thought of it that way.”
“That’s because you’re stiffer than my dick on a Saturday night.” He laughed. “Hey, when are you going to take us to New Caveton?”
Before he refused again, Mr. Guillory stared with his mouth a little open at Manifesto. The teen’s long yellow hair swished around as he walked to the exposed wires hanging from the ceiling and began licking them both. He stood on his toes to do so. Only his eyes looked human to Mr. Guillory- a smidgen of duty, an avalanche of fear. Everything else, including the smile, belonged to a spacefaring tribe’s legends.
“Hell if I know,” Beard answered, pushing Mr. Guillory down before he stopped the teen. “All I know is that he does what we tell him and he never wipes that smile off. Oh, and all you’ll hear of him is reading from that book.
“You know what I think?” Beard continued. “He’s too goddamn happy. His book keeps talking about bringing happiness by bringing misery- if even that, the logic in there’s worse than its spelling- but I don’t think he knows what either one is. He rereads passages to us until we come up with an explanation, and we stall so there’s less time for this stupid shit.”
“Do you think it’s a medical condition?” asked Mr. Guillory, wincing, bracing. “His smile, that is.”
Beard pulled out what looked like a half-open car remote combined with phone and began fiddling with its wires and chips. “I read the Koran a lot when I was younger- trust me, that’s a much better read. I asked my folks why they had to reinterpret and revise an already perfect book. They dodged the question, just pushed me off to share another class with Joe Hick and Billy Fuskssister. If I had to guess, he reads from that book because he needs to. A statue can’t sculpt itself. And do you trust him anywhere near sharp implements?”
Mr. Guillory checked his watch, and stood up right as the first shock jolted Manifesto into a small hop. As Mr. Guillory paused, he saw Belt writing ‘The ultimate rule is death’ with a pencil all over the dusty floor. She looked at him and smiled. Mr. Guillory turned to the bulky man with the tongue on the wires, just one of the rule breakers whose greatest accomplishment was still living.
Continued in Part 3