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Dear Boy


I'm remembering this: grownups do not like Dear Boy. They don't like my bent legs that are a little bit too short, or my arms that are a little bit too long, or my extra thick fingers that are perfect for dancing an action figure across the table toward Little Brother's birthday cake.

I kiss the dancing man on his white plastic lips. I tell the birthday-party-people, "His name is Davy," as clear as the evening news so they have to listen.

Davy jumps like a ninja spider. He floats like an astronaut's ghost in orbit around Little Brother's cake. He pulls my hand behind him the way jet planes pull white lines across the sky. All the birthday-party-children want to be Dear Boy—only for a little while, only long enough to fly with Davy.

The birthday-party-parents want Dear Boy to be somewhere far away, some place with locked doors and fences and other boys like me. They read the icing words on Little Brother's cake; they stare at the two smoldering candles so they won't have to look at me; they pretend Davy isn't singing, "Happy birthday to you."

He sings louder and the grownups move further away, as far as they can get from the Davy-voice that bubbles in the back of my throat like phlegm.

I try to tell them, "That's how Davy talks," but the words twist around my tongue and come out backwards.

Little Brother laughs. He reaches for Davy and I pull him back in the nick of time. He takes a candle from his birthday cake as if that's what he wanted all along. He crunches it to mush with his Little Brother teeth, as deadly as a shark in the Atlantic Ocean.

Davy tells me, "Little Brother will hate us when he's older, just like everyone else." Davy knows everything I don't.

But Little Brother doesn't hate me yet. He smiles as I crawl onto the table. The grownups pull back a little more in case someone has to stop me.

"Quickly, Dear Boy. Before they organize." Davy's phlegmy voice makes the party people clear their throats.

"Nearly there."

"What's he doing?" someone says from the back row of grownups.

"Will he hurt the baby?"

"Why would I hurt Little Brother?" The words come out in grunts and drools.

Before anyone moves my way, I throw my arms around Little Brother and kiss him on the lips. He tastes like candle wax and chocolate icing. Little Brother kisses me back. His kiss is so sweet I forget to breathe.

Davy tells me, "Little Brother steals all the love, Dear Boy. Don't let him take yours."

"Too late," I say with my thinking voice. "He's got most of it already."

"I'm your true and only friend," Davy reminds me. "I'll fix it so you're the best again. Wait and see."

Davy's phlegmy voice worries Mom.

"Get him," she says to everyone and no one. "Get him, please!"

When she uses the magic word, Da has no choice. He lifts me off the table, holds me away from him, like he does with Kitty when she doesn't want to be picked up. I stretch my neck as far as it will go and kiss Da on the lips. He makes a face but can't pull back—not with the birthday people watching. His mouth tastes like Emily. She used to be Mom's special friend but now she likes Da better. Mom thinks Da will love her again when her baby fat is gone.

"Little Brother spoils it for everybody," Davy says.

The Da-kiss goes on and on, even with all the Davy phlegm talk and the sour-milk-taste of Emily. I don't know when to stop a kiss unless Davy tells me, and he's busy telling me bad things about Little Brother.

"Not potty trained, even though he's ready."

"Puts everything in his mouth."

"He's smarter and cuter than Dear Boy and he'll figure that out pretty soon." Davy tells me Little Brothers last forever unless something happens—something no one expects but everyone watches out for. "Matches, electric chords, choking hazards, stranger dangers." Davy lists them one by one.

When Da finally pulls away. I look around the circle of grownups who can't quit watching me. I search the circle, one face at a time until my eyes find Emily.

I point at her with one of my too-thick fingers and shout, "Whore!" It comes out perfectly. Just the way Mom said it to Da this morning.

Every grownup eye is on me now. Hateful eyes. Disgusted eyes. Eyes that want to see me someplace far away.

"An institution," Davy says. "Where Mom and Da will forget Dear Boy forever."

Forever makes the world spin. A sound starts at the back of my throat, like Kitty getting a hairball ready. For a second, I think it's Davy trying to say something important, then suddenly a protective layer of vomit covers me and Da.

"Saved," Davy says.

Da curses under his breath and carries me to the bathroom to wash away our shame.

I'm remembering this: Davy called to me from a toy box in the hospital on the day I met Little Brother.

"Hey there, Dear Boy, come and get me."

There were Hot Wheels in the box and Fisher Price telephones and an airplane with a broken propeller, but Davy was the only one who talked.

"Underneath the puzzle game," he told me. "The one with shapes that fit into specially made holes."

I didn't like the triangles and circles game. I didn't want to touch it because sometimes I start playing without meaning to.

"You'll need a true and only friend when they bring Little Brother home," Davy said.

"Take me quickly before it's too late."

Da's shadow passed over me like a storm cloud that sends everyone running for the cellar.

"Time to go see Little Brother now." Da was careful not to touch me. Careful not to say my name.

There was Davy underneath the shape game exactly where he said. The whitest white plastic ever. He had a coonskin cap. One hand was at his side and the other was in the air, like he'd been holding something before a bad little boy chewed it off.

I grabbed Davy in the nick of time

"It's not stealing if the plastic man asks you," I told Da.

The words came out jumbled so he pretended not to hear. He looked at his watch to remind me how seconds turn into minutes. Minutes turn into hours. Hours turn into forever.

"Time to go." He held out one hand so I'd take it. My hand in his, my long arm stretched as far as it would go to make up for my too-short legs. He wouldn't pick me up because that would be like telling everyone I was the best he could do when it came to making sons.

He let me push the buttons when we got to the elevator. I asked Davy if that would change when we brought Little Brother home.

He said, "Everything will change, Dear Boy—everything."

I'm remembering this: Kitty has needles in her paws. She chases things across the floor; she pretends they are alive but won't be too much longer.

"Kitty is the best killer ever." Davy shouts from my pocket. Loud, so I can hear him over the television cartoons that Da turns on when it's his turn to watch us. I take Davy out so I can hear him better, which really doesn't change things because his voice comes from the back of my throat.

Kitty likes the phlegmy sound. She stops batting Hot Wheels and bumps her face against mine. She purrs like the refrigerator motor. Warm and friendly, but her breath smells like rotten meat.

Davy says, "Don't let her get me, Dear Boy. She'll chase me under the couch for sure."

That's what kitty does with everything. There are Hot Wheels under there, and Ben Ten action figures, and marbles from the Chinese checkers game Mom put away after Little Brother learned to crawl. Things have been under the couch since forever, all chased there by Kitty.

Little Brother stops chewing on the leg of a plastic cow and bangs it on roof of his Fisher Price barn.

"Ki…" Little Brother reaches a hand in Kitty's direction; he grabs the air with his fingers.


Kitty turns one ear in Little Brother's direction, but the rest of her is pointed at Davy. She nudges him with her paw. She keeps her needle claws safely hidden, because so far, it's just a game. When I fly Davy over Kitty's head she stands on her back feet and makes an electric sound, like before she kills a butterfly.

"Ki…" Little Brother pushes a button inside his Fisher Price barn and makes a sheep noise that's not as interesting as Kitty's butterfly killing sound. He throws his plastic cow at me.

"Ki…" Little Brother wobbles as he stands. He falls onto his bottom. He stands up again—so interested in Kitty he forgets to cry.

"Dear Boy!" Davy is too nervous to make a plan.

"He wants Kitty, Dear Boy. Stop him!"

What can I do? Little Brother gets everything he wants. My best toys, Da's best smiles.

"Ki…" Little Brother wobbles across the room.

Kitty falls over on her side instead of running. She curls her paws, pretending Little Brother doesn't want her. She tries to keep her needle claws from coming out because the worst thing in the world is hearing Little Brother Scream.

I try to tell him, "No, no, no," but the no's get tangled up behind my tongue. Finally they break loose at once and come out in a shriek.

"Noooooo!" Not as clear as a television word but it gets Da's attention. It gets Kitty's attention too. Her ears lay back. Her tail twitches like she's getting ready to climb the curtains and doesn't care who's watching.

When Little Brother grabs her, Kitty's needles come out. He screams even louder than I did, but he doesn't let go until she draws scratch lines across his face.

Da moves slow at first, like a train that might not make it to the top of the hill. Then he speeds up, without seeing anything between him and his only perfectly good son.

Da's knee knocks me on my back so hard I drop Davy. Da has Kitty in both hands shaking her, calling her all the "Goddamned" names Mom doesn't like to hear. He opens the sliding glass patio door and tosses Kitty way too hard into a holly bush. He picks up Little Brother, but he doesn't throw him into the holly. He kisses the scratched places. He runs his fingers through Little Brother's hair. He tells Little Brother, "That bad old kitty lives outside now. She'll never bother you again."

I'm at the patio door, watching Kitty climb out of the holly bush. Davy calls to her but she's afraid to come since Da went crazy.

"Little Brother spoiled things for Kitty," Davy says. She won't come close even when he waves to her with his plastic hand. The reflection of Da's face is big and mean when he looks toward the patio door. Some of the meanness gets through to Kitty but most of it bounces against the glass and falls on me and Davy.

I'm remembering this: Little Brother likes plastic action figures. He sits by the patio door watching Kitty through the glass, tapping on it with a green soldier whose head has been chewed off.

Kitty is killing bugs and watching Little Brother in case he's learned to open doors all by himself. He holds the green plastic man where she can see it, twists the soldier between his fingers so his spit reflects spots of sunlight onto the living room ceiling.

"Da's turn to watch us again, Dear Boy." Davy dives off of the coffee table and bounces on the carpet. I pretend it's the Atlantic Ocean full of sharks that will get Davy if he doesn't swim to shore pretty fast. He hops onto my knee in the nick of time, ready for another adventure.

"You never know what is going to happen with Da around." Davy flips into the carpet-ocean again, ignoring the sharks because they are pretend, paying close attention to Da because he's real.

He pays so much attention to Da that he doesn't notice Little Brother crawling across the floor. Pretending he's a baby. Babies never get punished for anything, no matter how bad. Dear Boys get punished for everything, even things that aren't their fault. Sometimes Dear Boys get a smack if Mom isn't around to see.

Before Davy can swim to safety, Little Brother has him. Faster than a shark, he puts Davy in his mouth.

"Help me, Dear Boy!"

Kitty watches everything through the patio door. Da watches from his Lazy Boy recliner. Kitty can't do anything. Da could help, but he doesn't care if Little Brother chews Davy's head.

I try to shout but the words get stuck. I try to cry, but my tears don't work and Da wouldn't care anyway, so I pretend to be a TV super hero and jump on Little Brother.

Like Super Man. Like the Incredible Hulk. Like the biggest strongest Dear Boy ever. I land on Little Brother and snatch Davy and try to get away before Da knows what's happening.

Not fast enough. Da grabs me by the shoulders and shakes me hard enough to vibrate the world. I make the hairball sound, but my protective layer of super hero vomit won't come fast enough. He pries Davy from my hand and gives him to Little Brother.

"Help me, Dear Boy!"

I don't know what to do and it's hard to think of anything with Da so close and almost angry enough to smack me.

"Help me!" Davy's head is all the way into Little Brother's mouth, but his voice is still in my throat.

Kitty bats at the glass patio door. She has a spider trapped under her paw, struggling to get away, but it's as hopeless for the spider as it is for Davy.

"It's either me or Little Brother," Davy tells me. "Choose quickly, Dear Boy. Who's your true and only friend?"

Kitty bats the spider off the glass. Knocks it under a lawn chair with a killing blow.

Now I know exactly what to do.

I reach underneath the couch, where Kitty has been batting toys forever. Here is a domino. Here is a plastic Ben Ten action figure. Lots of things that Little Brother wants, but there is something under the couch that Little Brother wants even more than dominoes and plastic men. Something I can trade for Davy.

Marbles! From the Chinese checkers game I never learned to play. Put away by Mom because marbles are dangerous.

"Choking hazard," Mom said. Too dangerous for Little Brother to resist. Once marbles get into a little boy's mouth, they go where nothing is supposed to be.

"Save me, Dear Boy!" Davy's head is already twisting on his neck. In another second it will be too late.

"Look!" The word comes out television clear. I roll the marbles against each other on my palm. The click is perfect. The sparkle is even better. Little brother takes Davy out of his mouth, compares the beauty of the marbles to the white plastic face of a half-chewed action figure.

The swap goes so fast, Da doesn't know what's happening. In a second, little brother has the marbles in his mouth. In two seconds they are sliding into the danger zone where they will stop him from spoiling one more thing.

He tries to scream but nothing comes out. He tries to cry but he's already blue. Da turns Little Brother upside down, holds him by his legs, smacks him on the back, trying to shake the marbles loose, but nothing comes out.

I hide Davy in my pocket and wait to see what happens next.

I'm remembering how grownups love Little Brother best of all. They've dressed him in a special suit and laid him in a shiny wooden box that's only big enough for him. Some of them cry. Some of them touch his face. Some of them tell Mom and Da, "You're still young. You can have more children."

"Dear Boy loves you," I tell Mom to remind her of the son she has who isn't in a better place. Dear Boy is here. Dear Boy is now. Dear Boy is forever. I try to kiss her but she cries instead of kissing back. Da takes me on his lap and tells me I'll see Little Brother again someday. He combs my hair with his fingers and sings a song so softly I can't understand the words.

"You won't see him again," Davy tells me. "Never, Never, Never." Davy has a plan.

Everybody hears his voice at the back of my throat and they think I'm crying. They've been waiting for my tears since Little Brother choked.

Mom told Da I couldn't cry because I was in shock.

The doctor told them both, "He doesn't understand. Too young to comprehend, even if he wasn't developmentally disabled."

Now they think I'm crying just like everybody else. Mom kisses me. Da pats me on the back. Strangers gather around and tell me, "Everything will be all right.

Words like heaven and angel spin around me like water going down the bathtub drain, and before long I really am crying. Even though I don't want to see Little Brother again, and I don't believe he's in a better place.

"Cry louder, Dear Boy," Davy tells me. I can feel his plastic body pressing on my chest from inside my shirt pocket. I can feel the sharp places on his head left behind by Little Brother's teeth. That makes me cry harder, because those tooth marks are forever and Little Brother isn't.

"Would you like to see him?" Da asks me. "Shall I hold you up?"

I try to say no, but Davy answers for me, a deep and phlegmy, "Hold me up!" as clear as Mom sobbing, "Our baby's dead!"

Da flies me over to Little Brother the way I fly Davy over the pretend Atlantic Ocean, the way I fly him over Kitty's head so she can't bat him under the couch.

"Kiss!" Davy calls out from the back of my throat. He's out of my pocket now, in my hand, moving toward Little Brother like a television super hero flying off to save the day.

"Think it'll be okay?" Da asks Mom. "Think I should let him do it?"

"What harm…" Mom's talking like she's not really sure, but she doesn't want to think about it. "What harm can it do?" she says as Da lowers me over Little Brother. I kiss him on the lips.

Chap Stick, fingernail polish, Black Flag Ant Killer.

"Put me in Little Brother's pocket," Davy tells me. His plan bubbles out of the back of my throat one phlegmy piece at a time.

"You have to do it, Dear Boy."

I want to ask him why, but I'm too full of tears to talk except with Davy's voice.

"Because," Davy answers the question I never asked, "It will break their hearts, Dear Boy. It will make you the best all over again."

"Forever," Davy says as I slip him into Little Brother's Jacket pocket.

"Forever and forever." When they close the box, Davy is inside. It's a better box than the one he lived in at the hospital.

Mom and Da wrap their arms around me, crowd me between them so hard I almost disappear.

"You're the best," Mom says in a bubbly voice almost exactly like Davy's.

"The very best," Da says. All according to the plan.

I'm remembering this: Davy knows everything I don't.