Continued from The life of a circus act.
The divorce nearly drove Mama to drink. I stayed by her, much to the disapproval of Dad. He screamed at me whenever he saw me smile, and began to hit me. With my twisted, thin body, I wasn’t able to defend myself at all, and often left his house with bruises all over.
I moved in with Mama, eventually, and began to help her and my step-brother Willy. They were grateful, and often bought me things I didn’t need as a way of saying thanks.
Finally, I stopped visiting Dad at all. Oddly, my life got better, then. I got a promotion at my job, as well as a pay raise. Life was good. I visited a psychiatrist Mama helped me find every week, and eventually, the woman asked why I was even there. She called me well-adjusted and normal, and I bawled like a child.
Even despite the rude, pointing fingers and the comments from customers and coworkers, and despite the lurking, nagging sensation of being watched often, my life was pretty awesome. I had friends, and we drank together every Friday night for a few hours. I was happy. My friends were awesome. Willie was the coolest little brother ever. Mama was kind and loving, just like Mom had been.
On my thirty-fourth birthday, I came home to find my brother and sister were visiting Mama. I went in quietly and watched from around a corner as they had tea with her, then left. They looked horribly smug. After they were gone, I went into the kitchen. Mama was crying. I hugged her tightly. “Mama, what happened?”
She gasped and looked at me. “Lenny! When did you get home? I didn’t hear you come in.”
“Just a second ago, Mama.” I reassured. “What happened? Why were Lisa and Gordon here?” I pushed gently. I didn’t want her to cry anymore, but I felt it was important to know what happened.
She waved a hand. “Give me a moment, hon.”
For long moments, I waited quietly until finally, she spoke.
“Your father is trying to get custody of you and Willy.” Her voice broke, and her sobs were violent. I held onto her tightly. I was certain I was too old and too independent to be involved in a custody battle. Willy wasn’t.
“Mama, I’ll look up some way to keep us here, ok? Please don’t cry.”
She pulled away and nodded. “Thank you, Lenny.” She murmured.
The next few months were stressful, until we finally realized it was a shit-faced prank. Mama remained very stressed and tense, and I often took over house work and child care for her.
It took several months, but Mama did feel better, and life returned to as much normalcy as was possible with a broken man living in the house of his step-mother.
I began to take Willy fishing often, and despite my ineptitude, we had a lot of fun as the two of us began to learn the fine art of sitting on our butts, drinking Gatorade, and watching our bobbers float in the water. Summer sunshine and breezes were pleasant, and our egg salad sandwiches were tasty.
Just before winter came, I released some fish from a farm into the lake. I made sure they were a native species that had plenty of predators, so I was pretty sure we would have a whole bunch of fish the next summer.
During the winter, I moved into the store I worked at in order to work more hours without waking my family whenever I came or left. I wrote and called on my breaks, and when a fishing contest came up, Willy and I had awesome gear to use for it, and caught the second biggest fish.
Willy’s grin was so wide, I was sure his face would break in half as the judges handed him a ribbon and the prize– a free week of summer camp at one of the local fancy kid camps. He showed that coupon to everyone, and when the time came to go, he was packed and loaded in before I even woke up! All three of us got into the car and I drove to the camp myself, since I was the one with a disability parking tag, and Mama was scared to drive on dirt roads.
We arrived and got Willy signed in before the crowds showed up. His cabin was empty, so he got first choice in bunk, and we met his ‘tribe leader’ for the week. He was a nice guy, and the two hit it off quickly, though the guy did annoy me when he spoke to me rarely, and then only in slow, simple sentences.
I refrained from my usual revenge tactic of long-winded story-telling, and told Willy to behave and not to cause too much mischief. The ‘tribe leader’ was shocked that I spoke clearly, and turned red as he thanked us for bringing Willy as we walked away. The last thing I heard before we were out of earshot was Willy asking when they could go fishing.
The week passed quietly and slowly, until a call came in. I answered the home phone before Mama could get there, because I was closer. “Yello?”
“Is this,” there was a pause, “Lenny Wilkins?”
“Yeah, that’s me. Who is this?”
“This is Willy’s Tribe Leader, from Camp Little Bear Claw. Your brother is at Grand Royal Hospital for severe stomach cramps. Has he had any history of stomach problems?”
I felt the blood drain from my face. “No, he hasn’t.” I managed. “How is he? When did it start?”
“He’s stable. It started with a stomach ache before breakfast call this morning.”
“Stable?” A million horrible thoughts dashed through my mind. “How bad?” I muttered.
“I think you should come, Mr. Wilkins.”
“Consider me on the way. Tell Willy me and Mama are on our way, please.” I never felt so scared before in my life as I hung up the phone and hustled Mama into the car. I explained what I knew on the way, and it seemed like there was nothing else in the world but the GPS, Mama, and I. The other drivers were obstacles as I drove. I parked in time for a policeman to take notice of my speed, and he turned around and went elsewhere as he saw where I parked and got a look at my ugly mug.
I didn’t even care. I dashed in, gripping Mama’s hand as my vision wobbled just like my gait. The Tribe Leader was there. “Where’s Willy?”
“He’s in the OR.”
“He’s being operated on? Already? How long has he been here?” Mama asked.
“Not long. I hope you don’t mind I told the doctors to take care of him before the cost came up.” The Tribe Leader looked apologetic.
Mama waved it off. “We have good insurance. I’m not worried about the cost. I’m worried about my baby.”
The next week was insane, and went by in a rush. Willy came home in a little urn. The funeral was tearful. Mama was distant.
Mama didn’t recover, and she left me everything before she joined Willy on the mantle.
I was alone when Lisa and Gordon stopped by to piss on my wounds.
Lisa mentioned something she should not have, however. She said. “It’s a shame about that deadly allergic reaction.” How she knew, without being told or hearing from the newspaper, I already knew.