~chapter nine~ ~children & dark angels~ ~part four~ ~itsy~

WordWulf By WordWulf, 21st May 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Family>Domestic Violence & Abuse

~3 legged bunny in your pocket~an underwater experience~considering pleasure~bend over in the bedroom closet~wondering your shoes~who is that behind you~flip-flops or tennies~feels good your feet burn~downtown a hundred degrees~there you are naked~blank-eyed & stiff~window shopping~pretending to be beautiful~bubbles of betrayal~the newsman gulps his sins~down & sucks eyeballs~from fellow fish faces~slips garnish in his pocket~to lure hungry guppies~you turn around & he’s gone~


When I opened the cupboards in the kitchen, what looked like millions of cockroaches scurried every which way. I stepped on one that spilled out on the floor and was repulsed by the cracking sound of its breaking and dying.

“We’ll get spray,” Daddy said as I stood back watching them run over the top of each other in layers three or four deep. “Just open all the doors, the ones under the sink too. The light will make them go away.”

Daddy knew his cockroaches. It took a few minutes but the light made them go away. I could imagine them thick in the walls and ceiling, crawling under my feet in the floor above the people downstairs. I looked out the big kitchen window at the cars speeding to and fro on the Valley Highway and the fancy Travel Lodge Motel right next door. The cold winter air made everything look old and dirty. I still didn’t know if the new baby was a brother or sister. I felt bad when I thought of Momma having to climb those filthy stairs with her brand new baby. As much as I dreaded her coming to this place, I missed her terribly and was sure this or any other place would not be a home without her.

Daddy took Jackie and me on a tour of the fourth floor. There was a single toilet the family would share with eight other tenants. It stood by itself, soiled and stinking of urine in a tiny room down the hall from number seven. We would have to do our bathing somewhere else or get another galvanized tub as there was no shower or bathtub. “Don’t you worry,” Daddy waxed positive on the point, “I might see if I can find us a big tub like that one we had in Montana; that would work just fine. We wouldn’t even have to heat the water here. There’s hot water in the kitchen.”

I couldn’t imagine myself being bathed in a tub like when I was a little kid. Daddy told me Thurmon’s mom was a friend of his and, if we had any problems when he and Momma weren’t home, we were to go to her for help. Daddy also instructed each of us to carry our own toilet paper to the bathroom and warned us not to leave it there. Someone would steal it. The door to the apartment didn’t latch or lock so I was told to keep a chair under the knob. Daddy winked at the bunch of us, just this side of being orphans. “The good news is, you guys won’t have to change schools. Freeland is only seven blocks from here.”

I was terribly glad to hear that.

Daddy left to visit Momma and I snooped around our new home with my brothers and sisters. We wondered where we were to sleep since there was just the old broken down bed and the kitchen. There wasn’t even have a dresser drawer for the new baby. Where would Momma keep it? Cheryl was almost eleven months old and crawling all over the place. Momma had been trying to potty train her for over a month and with little luck. She didn’t want two babies in diapers at the same time. It was too much work and there were only four diapers. Our curious apartment snooping did teach us where cockroaches were sure to be found. The creepy answer to that question was: everywhere.

I opened a drawer in the kitchen with the intent to put away the silverware. Movement caught my eye and I was sure I had found yet more cockroaches. When I bent to look closer, I found myself staring, eye to eye, into the face of a little gray mouse. Its nose twitched but it didn’t seem afraid. I put my hand in the drawer and let it follow the mouse to the deepest corner. It washed its little hands nervously, then rested them on my finger and climbed into my palm when I wiggled and slid my fingers underneath it. I found an old shoe box and put some rags in it so the little creature could make itself a mouse bed. A jar lid filled with water and a tiny bit of commodity cheese and he was all set.

Finding the mouse had the effect of diminishing the threat the cockroaches represented. As small as it was, it erased much of the intimidation of the move from my consciousness. I needed reassurance and the mouse provided it in its way. I scratched it behind its tiny round ears and named it Itsy because it was so small. My brothers and sisters oohed and aahed when I showed Itsy to them, all except Jackie.

“Daddy’ll never let you keep that li’l mouse,” he said. “He don’ like critters aroun’ the house. You know better ‘n thinkin’ you can keep that mouse.”

I grinned at Jackie and told him he sounded like a poet. He threw a pout, went and stood at the kitchen window, looking out. “I wanna go out there,” he said.

“No way,” I told him. “No telling when Daddy will be back. We’re supposed to be puttin’ everything away. If you’re gone when he gets back, we’ll both be in trouble. You gotta remember, Momma ain’t here to help us if we get in trouble with Daddy.”

Jackie spread his skinny arms. “Ev’rything Tommy? We ain’ got no ev’rything. Jus’ lemme go out. I’ll bring ya back somethin’ good.”
I hated himself for it but the prospect of something good to eat was just too good to pass on. “You come right back, Jackie,” I admonished, “I don’t want Daddy mad at us when Momma’s not here.”

“I’m gone,” Jackie said and out the door he went. I imagined the tall black boy down stairs beating him up. I was always creating crazy scenarios in my mind but Jackie did pretty well for himself out amongst the people.

A few hours later, Jackie returned in the grips of an angry man from the motel next door. He banged on the door and, just as I moved the chair, he pushed Jackie ahead of himself into the room. “Where are your parents?” he demanded.

“They’re out for a while,” I replied.

“I’ll wait!” he said angrily. “This little asshole was stealing pop bottles from our machine next door.” He sat in the door chair for a few minutes and let his eyes roam through the room. “My God,” he said. “How can you people live like this?”

I didn’t answer but grinned disarmingly at him as a friendly cockroach climbed up and sat on top of his shiny tan shoe with tassels on it. The man noticed the cockroach and jumped up like his pants were on fire. He turned in circles and stomped all over the place. “I can’t stay here in this filth!” he said more to himself than to anyone else. “You promise me to keep this little thief locked up in here and tell your parents when they get home, okay?”

“I will,” I promised.

“I want him punished,” the man added.

“Don’t worry, mister, he will be,” I promised.

The man left, shaking his head and cursing under his breath. I got down on my hands and knees and searched for the cockroach. For some reason, it was important to me that it got away. I had a deep need to believe it did. There was no evidence of it to be found where the angry man had stepped. Maybe it climbed onto his trousers and went home with him. I smiled to himself at the thought. Wherever it went that dreary morning, our angel was a cockroach.

My next act is a sin I was immediately sorry for and ashamed of and will be for the rest of my life. Jackie stood in front of me, arms akimbo, a cocky look on his face. I drew the belt through the loops of my jeans, cloth on leather, leather on cloth, one loop at a time. “You know the drill,” I said to Jackie, my voice that of a father’s son.

Jackie’s face fell as his little boy cockiness abandoned him. I watched a ghost of fear and disbelief crawl across his eyes. “No Tommy, no,” he whispered.

I doubled the belt up and snapped it in his face as I had seen Daddy do, as Uncle Jack had done to me.
“You coulda got us both in trouble,” I accused. “And still might if that creep comes back and talks to Daddy. You’re supposed to be finding pop bottles, not stealing them. What if Daddy woulda come home and found that jerk sitting by the door? What, huh? Now assume the position or I’ll put you there myself!”

Time seemed to move slower where we brothers lived then but this was no nightmare dream. It was the breath we took and the beasts we had become. I lay leather to those freckle butt cheeks. My voice screamed for Jackie to rise when he fell to the floor.

“I didn’t tell you to lay down. Get up! Get up so I can whip you some more”! Jackie gave to me of an instant what he had never given up to our father. There were tears in his eyes before the first lash bit into his flesh. They were separate rivers, twice flowing, before I was through.

Daddy brought Momma home with a babe in her arms. There was a new brother, Nicholas, named after Daddy’s roofing boss in Montana. Nicholas wasn’t given a middle name. Momma and Daddy were running out of gas. There was a dark purple scar, what Momma called a birth mark, that covered half his tiny face. It seemed appropriate that those come later should be marked some way, born into a family where nothing was or ever would be right. His face bore reminder our curse of days.

How the misery of those cold winter days flowed together. No food. Daddy drunk and passed out on the crooked bed, his arm hanging to the floor, hand around a bottle of death. No food. The new baby crying out its fresh complaint. No food. Momma grabbing Cheryl when she had ‘an accident’ and holding her naked and squirming body out the kitchen window. “If you don’t start saying ‘potty’ when you have to go, I’m going to drop you out the window!” Cheryl had a permanent round ring on the outside of her chubby butt cheeks from spending so much time sitting on the pee pot. No food. She was a gentle child and never made much noise. She and Lily were my favorite sisters.

Thurmon came to drink coffee and visit one day. He and Daddy were talking about him becoming Daddy’s apprentice roofer once the weather warmed up. I was sitting on the floor across the room playing with Itsy. I had taught the mouse to walk up my fingers and give me a kiss just like Great-grandma Webster’s parakeet, Sweety. Thurmon left the table and his coffee. He stood, wide-eyed and slack-jawed, watching me. “Wow,” he said in his dumb way, “I ain’t never seed a mouse can do tricks like that. Can I try ‘im?”

I was reluctant to say no to an adult but Thurmon wasn’t exactly an adult, that is if brains have anything to do with it. “You better not,” I replied as kindly and carefully as possible. “I’m the only one he lets hold him.”

“Aw c’mon, Tommy,” he begged. “I’ll be careful, I promise. I ain’t never holded a teensy l’il mouse afore.”

“Let ‘im hold the damn thing,” Daddy said from the table. “It’s just a mouse for Christ’s sake.”

I stood up and placed Itsy in Thurmon’s outstretched palm. “There ya go. Please be careful with him. You can pet him if you want.”

Thurmon ran a finger over Itsy’s back. “Oh, Itsy’s soft but his bones are in there.”

“Uh... yeah,” I said. “He likes you, Thurmon. Can I have him back now?”

“Jus’ a minute,” Thurmon said. He turned toward the table where Daddy was sitting and spoke to him. “I’m gonna do that finger trick stuff like Tommy was doin’ and the l’il mouse’ll kiss me jus’ like it did Tommy.”

As I came around behind him, Thurmon put out a finger and Itsy reached with his paws and took hold of it. Thurmon grinned in his stupid way and moved his palm from under Itsy’s body. Itsy struggled for a split second in an attempt to gain purchase on Thurmon’s finger with his back feet, then fell to the floor. I knelt down to pick him up, to save him, but Itsy was already dead.

“Did I killeded him?” Thurmon asked. “I’m sorry if I killeded him, Tommy.”

“I’m sorry,” Daddy said. “It’s only a mouse, Kiddo. You can catch another one. Thurmon, come on over here and have another cup of coffee. Don’t try to talk to Tommy right now.”

I swore to myself that, if I were a man, I would throw both of them out the window. Charlie was only a lizard, Sweety was only a bird. The cat was only a cat. They were only men and less than that.

Jackie and I went outside, conducted a boy funeral, and buried Itsy under a bush. His coffin was a match box.

“That’s why I kill stuff ‘stead ‘o catchin’ ‘em,” Jackie said, “Grownups jus’ suffer ev’rything, then kill ‘t slow.”

I created a rhyming litany, a dirge, and named it ‘Itsy’s Song’, then recited it over Itsy’s grave:
I was a mouse
living in my mouse house
and I was afraid
of games big people played

Inquiries: wordwulf@gmail.com
©2014 graphic artwork music & words
conceived by & property of
tom (WordWulf) sterner 2014©
~also available at Amazon ~
~chapter one~
~chapter two~
~chapter three~
~chapter four~
~chapter five~
~chapter six~
~chapter seven~
~chapter eight~
~curse of days~ 135


1960, Alcoholism, Art, Colorado, Denver, Family, Free, Itsy, Memoirs, Momma, Mommas Rain, Money, Mothers, Mouse, Parenting, Pets, Philosophy, Photography, Poverty, Religion, Sons, Survival, Tom Wordwulf Sterner, Violence, Wikinut, Writer

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author avatar WordWulf
I write novels, poetry, songs,nonsense & lies. Sometimes truth sneaks in when I ain't lookin'.

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