“There Are Wolves in the House”

- Benjamin Smith

“Come on you puss. Let’s go.” Springer rips away. Gets a jump off the line. The treads of his tires fling mud on my face. It splatters my hooded sweatshirt and torn jeans. I can see him flip me off through the blue smoke from the death gurgle of my piece of shit go-kart. Slam the gas and it chokes out. Dies. Every time.

I unbuckle my helmet and chuck it. It skips across the ground and disappears into the brush. Punch the steering wheel. Over and over again.

“The heck’s goin’ on over here?” Springer has already pulled a U-turn and is coming back for me, rolling to a stop. His shiny black 8-horse now splattered with brown clumps. That thing even has a torque converter. It always runs like a champ.

“Dude, this thing’s always broken.” Springer stands. Dusts off his racing suit. “Probably need to adjust the throttle cable. I don’t think it’s getting enough gas. You have a screwdriver?”

“No.”

“Damn, neither do I. Must have left it on the workbench back home.” Springer turns his back to me, unzips his coveralls, whips it out, and takes a leak. Horks a loogie on a tree. “Just sit on it and hold the pedal in place and have your Dad adjust the screw.”

This always happens. Getting stranded. It never fails. The afternoon ride starts the same. Knock the dirt and tree helicopters out of the air filter. Fill up the gas. Full choke and pull after pull until the engine coughs to life. Race along the ditch through the corn fields to the trails in the woods and meet Springer down by the river. His new go-kart already tearing up the turns. Kicking up dust. And before I can get in a complete lap, my beater piece of junk croaks. “How do we get this bastard back to

There are Wolves in the House Smith 2

my parents’ house?”

“Guess I’ll pull you.”

“Did you bring the rope?”

“Come on man, I always do when I’m riding with you.”

___

There are wolves in the house. Again. Don’t scream this time. Don’t wake anyone. Not like the last time there were wolves my room. Not like that morning of waking up in a puddle on the floor. Sopping wet on the gold carpet. Bedwetter. That’s one thing, but pissing the floor. Grounded for weeks. After that the welts were so bad I was determined not to flinch once during Mass, even though the wooden pew was hard as fuck. Play connect the dots in the blood spots on the crucifix with my gaze. You forget the pain. Blame the wolves. They did it. Wake up. That sound is pee hitting the toy soldiers on the wallpaper. Soaking into the nappy carpet again.

You idiot. Jackson, you know there were never any wolves. Either way, I’m in deep shit. Best not to draw attention to it now. Step out of the dark corner. Away from the cast iron heater that’s rusting from urine. You need to stop doing this. This can’t keep happening. Slide back into bed. Lie awake in the silence as long as you can. Don’t make a sound and they might not notice the mess you’ve made.

___

To knock on the bathroom door is useless. His morning devotion mumbles from within and echoes off the hollow walls. Creeps out to the floor and into the hallway with the yellow light that is trying to escape. Stumble away. But don’t turn the dimmer switch in the kitchen up all the way. Climb onto the countertop to reach for the cereal on the top shelf. As long as I don’t stand on the countertop I’ll be fine. I think I can grab the box if I sit on the bottom cabinets and stretch. No one will know.

Busted. It’s not hard to feel it before you see it. The glare zaps holes through the back of your head before the screaming starts. “Get down off that cupboard. You’re going to break it,” He yells.

“How?”

“It doesn’t matter how. It’s not made for you to hoist yourself up there. You’re going to break it. Just go to your room. Can’t I get some peace around here for 5 minutes before I have to go to work?”

“He’s right you know,” mom chimes in from nowhere. “You’re Dad works really hard.”

I wet my head under the faucet in the bathroom sink. Squirt in some green hair gel and run a comb through it until each strand is in place. Tuck in my shirt. Tighten my belt and tie my shoes. Slink past the kitchen undetected. He’s eating His Corn Flakes. Reading the Today’s Catholic. I’m out the door and off to school without a word. The air outside stings when I breathe it in.

___

Springer speeds over the hill and drives circles around me before he stops. Kills the motor. Assesses the situation. I’m yanking the starter over and over and over trying to get this damn thing to crank. My arm is on fire from pulling. The rip cord slips out of my hand. Snaps back against the engine. “Goddamn it.”

 

“Dude. Seriously. Chill out. You’re gonna break it.” Springer flings a wad of dip across the river bank. It plops into the water below and floats away. He packs new chew. “You probably just need to clean the carb.”

Sweat is falling from my burning face to the weeds and dirt. “How do I do that?”

“Just spray a can of carb cleaner in it. Sometimes you can pull while you spray it in there and it fires right up. Me and my Dad got mine going like that the other day.” He spits. Ties a knot to the banged up frame. With a half pull his cart roars to life. “Check the spark plug too.” I jolt forward. Try to keep up with Springer’s steering as I’m dragged through the woods back to my parents’ house.

___

He’s knelt down in front of the Lazy Boy in the family room. Head bowed to the crucifix on the wall. Like He’s going to confession. Pass with caution. Don’t look at Him and He won’t see you. Not that He’s paying attention anyway. Not unless you make a sound that disturbs His conversation with God.

Mom’s watching her Soap Operas on mute. “Mom?” I say. Whisper.

“Shhh. Your Dad is saying the rosary.”

“Can you take me to the store to get some carb cleaner?”

“Carb-what? I don’t know anything about that.” She shifts the weight of her big ass and leans to one side of the couch so she can see the console TV. “You make a better door than a window.”

I step aside. “But mom, I need it to fix my –”

“I don’t know. Go ask your Dad. He’ll know what to do.”

“But He’s –”

“Great. Look what you did. Now He’s speaking in tongues. If you want to interrupt that, that’s your business. Now bug off. Go find something productive to do.”

I go to bathroom and beat off while I’m sitting on the toilet, thinking about seeing down Leah’s shirt when she leaned over to grab her books in English class. A two tissue job. She’ll never know I did this if she doesn’t see it. No way she’d ever talk to me again anyway.

___

Springer slams the brakes. Skids to a stop on the gravel driveway flinging rocks everywhere. Into the empty flower beds. The bushes. The overgrown front lawn. “Here you go butt sniffer.” He tosses a spray can at me. I fumble. It bounces off a bald tire and lands next to my blown out sneakers. “Not much in there but you can give it a shot.”

“Thanks.”

“It’s easier to do with two people.” Springer puts his foot up on his padded seat and ties his Red Wing boot. “I’d help but my Mom says I have to get home right away.”

“Why?” My stomach is in knots.

“Who knows? She just said she doesn’t want me staying over here for too long.” The kitchen window is open and Springer points to it when he hears praise music pouring out. “Is your Dad listening to church songs or something? Wait, is that him singing? Sounds like a wild animal’s dying.”

“Yeah, I don’t know what’s goin’ on in there.” I start picking up the stones that landed in grass along driveway. “My Dad’s gonna kill me.” Lob them into the air one-by-one. They smash into the thorn bushes covering the ditch across road. Springer helps out. We see who can chuck the rocks the farthest and highest until it gets boring.

“Let’s just tow this thing over to my house. We can work on it in the garage. My Dad has all the tools you need. My Mom said you can stay for dinner and spend the night if you want.”

“I can’t.” I drag my Voits through the gravel. Shuffle back and forth. Attempting to cover up the skid marks.

“Don’t tell me you’re grounded again. What for this time?”

“I don’t know.”

“Whatever man. Come over later if you can escape. I gotta go.” Springer peels out of the driveway. Does a donut in the road, chirps the wheels, and speeds away.

“Jackson. Get your ass over here.” His faced is pressed against the inside of the screen. Dark, bright, and flaming. Hot, rancid breath blasting out. “Get over here now. No, closer. Right here. I want to make sure you can hear me.” I inch as close as I can to the side of the house. Avoid looking directly in the window. “Stop skidding out in my driveway.”

“It wasn’t –”

“Yeah, I know,” He says. “It was that Aaron Springer kid again. No, right here – you look at me. That’s better. You tell him if he can’t get that thing under control he’s not going to be riding it over here anymore. He’s going to hit my house and my work truck with those stones. I have no problem confiscating his plug wire and letting him explain to his parents why he can’t ride home…” You’ve never noticed how dirty and old the aluminum siding is. You go back to tracing patterns in the grey and black dots of grime with your empty stare. “… And I better not find one single ounce of gravel in my grass. You better pray to God that you get it all cleaned up. You know what? I’ve had it. You’re getting it anyway…” The back door swings open. He’s holding the wooden yard stick.

Eventually the noise stops, so I head back over to the cart and sit. The metal seat presses hard against my bruised butt cheeks. I have to stand back up because I’m too sore to stay in any one position for too long. Small engine parts are scattered everywhere. If I could only get this goddamn thing running.

___

Wolves are gnawing on the bed posts. Red eyes cut through the darkness and track your every move. Stay perfectly still. Stiff. Am I awake? There’s howling. Keep quiet. There’s another crash. Don’t you dare make a sound. More thrashing. Clawing. You’re not awake. Jackson, you can’t be awake. But I have a boner. Jerk it off until you pass out. You came in your underwear. You shouldn’t have done that. Swear that this is the last time. You’ll never do it again.

By 3 AM I’ve broken my promise. My hand is sticky and my sheets are wet and it’s too loud and pointless to fall back to sleep.

___

Wait at the garage window and watch for His work truck to back out of the drive. I hid there until daylight, so they couldn’t find me. Worked all night and this time I’ve got it. Lift the overhead door and push out the kart. One pull. That’s all it takes. Eight horses cough to life. I’m doing donuts in His driveway. Spraying rocks everywhere. Running in circles. Slam on the brakes. Slide through the grey cloud that has formed. I can’t see out. No one can see me. “Come on you puss,” I yell over and over and over and over again until the dust blows away. Slam the gas. It peels out then catches traction on the road. The trees, the air, the fields – they whiz past me. Now I’ll finally be able to catch up to Springer. At this speed, not even the wolves can catch me.