by Benjamin Soileau
Foxley’s uptight on the glass, watching for the hard silver wink of Daddy’s Bronco. Mama said his ass was grass. He heard her on the phone tattling and when she brought it to him and he put it to his ear, Daddy said to wait in his room and to not be leaving even for the bathroom, that he was gonna get the whipping of his short life when he got home. Daddy told Foxley five o’clock couldn’t come soon enough, and that maybe, if he was lucky, boss man would let him clock out a few minutes early.
Every car that crosses the pane knots Foxley’s guts more and he tells himself that he’s making it worse. He might as well relax in the bed and be in the moment, since at the present, Daddy ain’t home yet, and his ass is fine, besides being pinched tight for dread.
Foxley on his bed’s still got eyes out the window, but here he can think better, try to tuck himself safe in the present moment. That’s what the book he found in Mama and Daddy’s off-limits dresser said to do. It had a picture on the front of a happy bald fat man sitting Indian style and holding a yellow flower. A pink sticky note on the cover with Mama’s tiny perfect handwriting said, Happy Anniversary Lou! It’s some things in here could help you simmer down some. But that book wasn’t nearly as interesting as the other one he found called 119 Satin Nights and that made him feel like he was climbing up and dropping off the Texas Cyclone. Shoot. He’d pick that book over AstroWorld any day, and he wishes now he wouldn’t have fooled so long with the blue one, since he only got a little time with the other before Mama walked in and went nuttier than a fruitcake.
Foxley can see Daddy now, rapping his door hard twice before walking through it anyway. He’ll say, “Foxley LeBlanc,” and unbuckle his belt. “This is gonna hurt me more than it’s gonna hurt you.” Yeah right. Foxley hates how Daddy stretches that belt out like a snake and then snaps it. SNAP! Like he enjoys it or something. But Foxley thinks he’ll be lucky if it’s just a regular whipping. Somehow, he thinking this might be worse. It ain’t just a rock spider-webbing the shed window, or him riding his bike over to the Seven Eleven when Mama told him not to. This is a direct violation of Daddy’s private things. Like maybe just as bad as if he was to fool with his rifles. But he can’t say for sure, since he ain’t that stupid.
Foxley hears Mama laughing and he sure hopes she ain’t tattling on him to Miss Roxanne. Ain’t nothing funny about that. Maybe Miss Roxanne gonna feel some pity for him and come steal him from his window like as to protect him from Daddy’s wrath. Wouldn’t that be ducky! Mama keeps yapping her way around the kitchen, getting supper together, and Foxley gonna ask to be excused from supper tonight and maybe for the rest of his life. He don’t know how he’ll ever look Mama in the face again after the way it screwed up at him seeing that book on his lap, like he uncovered a secret they gonna have to kill him now for knowing.
Foxley can’t get them illustrations out his head. Those big dumb peckers seemed amateurish for such a heavy book, looking like the ones his good friend, Buddy draws. But it’s the lady part, or like the lack of one that’s bugging his craw. When he tries to remember it, he sees instead the pretty red candle wax dribbled down the side of the chianti bottle Mama keeps on the dining room table. Foxley knows that ain’t right, and when he dips back into his memory fading fast, he sees that Venus flytrap snapping shut, what he saw on a PBS nature show the other night with Daddy called, Peculiar Critters. Good Lord! That what Jane Dupont got under her plaid skirt? Mama too? Foxley don’t want to know!
Foxley’s pretty sure he hears the beater going, which means Mama’s doling out measurements. He can see her in an apron dusted white, leaning over that spinning bowl, and something bigger than Foxley’s fear takes over, puts his hand on the doorknob softly to turn. Foxley’s got ninja skills of quietude, and soon, he’s peeking down the hallway to see the coast is clear. His crane stepping on the carpet into the master bedroom is a thing to be envied, something he learned from years of sneaking up on squirrels and birds across husky leaves like Daniel Boone through the woods.
The beater shuts off right as he’s coming up on the off-limits dresser, and Foxley freezes in place. He’s ready to sprint on a dime if he hears Mama’s slippers on the linoleum, but the beater whirs back to life and so Foxley makes his move. Dang, that book is heavy. His heart is drumming in his throat like a toad as he flips it open at the midway point, but it ain’t nothing but words there. His fingers are greedy to flip the page, sweaty and so clumsy that the paper tears. Comes right off in his hand. Oh Shit! Foxley realizes the beater’s not going and in a split-second ninja impulse, he crams the ripped page in his pocket and shoves the book back. He floats over the carpet like that Jesus lizard on water from the same PBS show and is soon back in his bedroom, panting behind the door. He listens for Mama, but his heart is slamming home so hard that his ears are like stuffed with rustling paper.
Now Foxley got two fronts. He glances nervous from the window to the door. That paper in his pocket, it’s burning right through the denim and branding his thigh, marking him for the after. He pulls out the piece of page, shaped like Idaho, and flips it from the boring side of writing with none of the words there being of any interest except for “gently on the tip”. The page ripped right through a cartoon of a titty. Ordinarily, that would make him laugh, but it’s the knee next to it that don’t make sense, that steals the funny right out of it. It’s frustrating to have just that little bit of Idaho in his fingers and Foxley remembers Montana. It’s a lot of room in Montana, Foxley thinking.
The clattering of Mama’s nails on the door startles Foxley almost out his skin.
“I brought you a beater,” Mama says muffled.
Foxley don’t understand. He cocks an eye out the window and still no Bronco.
“Hey, listen, Fox,” she says sweet. “I brought you a beater. Oatmeal raisin.”
Foxley thinks it could be a trick. “Just put it through the door,” he says. The beater comes through, thickly caked with dough and Foxley goes to it graceful, snatches it quicksilver from her hand and leans the door back shut.
“Listen, Fox,” Mama says. “What you know about all that?”
Foxley knows what she means, but he don’t want to say. “All what?”
“Oh, you know. The birds and the bees.”
“I don’t know no birds and bees,” Foxley snaps.
“That stuff what you saw in the book, Foxley,” Mama says. “You know what. Sex.”
Oh God, thinks Foxley. He don’t want to hear Mama say that. “I know what I need to,” he says. “Ain’t nothing to talk about.”
“Well then tell me,” says Mama, scratching at the door. “Tell me what you know.”
Foxley sure don’t want to have this conversation with Mama. Buddy told Foxley how it works. Buddy saw a video on his brother’s phone where two women ate a man’s stuffing from him like it was Friday’s Jello. But Buddy ain’t always truthful, like what he told about his brother being a Rambo for the government, on assignment in Canada. Foxley wants Mama to go away, but he got to give her something or she’ll scratch a hole right through his door.
“The man puts his thing in the woman’s navel,” says Foxley, just wanting to tell enough so she’ll leave him be. “Gently on the tip,” he adds. “I know what I know,” says Foxley, angry now that Mama’s putting him on the spot. He glows rosy hot to hear her chuckling through the door.
“Listen, Fox man,” she says. “I’ll sick your daddy off you. He been uptight all week long. Y’all need to have y’all a sitdown.”
“I don’t need nothing. I’m educated.” Foxley would rather have the whipping.
“I’ll call him off,” says Mama. “It’s some things you need to know, I guess, now. Your daddy’s on edge these days and I say you don’t need no spanking just cause you curious about nature. You know how uptight your daddy gets. You want that other beater?”
Foxley remembers the one he got already, unlicked and dripping gobs on his sneaker. “Nope,” he says. “And I don’t need no sit down neither.”
He waits for Mama to say OK, that he can just have his whipping back, but pretty soon, she’s off knocking in the kitchen again.
Foxley makes that beater shine, knowing he’ll need the nourishment on his travels. He goes to his closet and dumps the school books out his backpack. He stuffs some clothes in there but has to take some back out to fit his Buckaroo Box, what got his compass and flashlight and knife and sparkers for building fires. And he definitely ain’t leaving his basketball trophy. When Foxley’s through packing, he bends to some loose leaf. Dear Mama and Daddy, he writes. Time’s come for me to set out in the world.
Foxley can’t think what to say next. He squints up at the popcorn ceiling with his tongue tenting cheek, looking for wisdom from Lebron James slamming one home for the buzzer win, but Foxley don’t see him up there, like the constellation got scrambled back into the sundry, and Foxley guesses he might have done split for shame. Y’all been good to me, Foxley writes. Please don’t worry. I’ll send signs that I’m OK. Love Foxley Alphonsus LeBlanc.
Foxley weighs the note down with the beater and looks disappointed at scrappy Idaho. He understands it could be deadly to head out into the wild without knowing the mystery of the titty and the knee, that the wondering could dull his senses and make him vulnerable to the elements. And Foxley got to be sharp if Foxley gonna make it in the world. Plus, if he can gently separate the rest of that page from the book then Daddy might not even notice.
Foxley peeks from the door and when he hears the oven beeping at Mama’s finger punches, shoooom, Foxley Jesus lizards himself to the off-limits dresser. The book opens right to his spot. He gently persuades the torn page out and is back safe in his room before Mama can creak the oven shut.
Mission accomplished, thinks Foxley, surveying the beater and the note. He’s reaching greedy into his pocket when Daddy’s Bronco floats by the window, slowing for the driveway. For a second, Foxley don’t move, but then he spies his backpack at the window, the golden head of his trophy peeking out the top where he couldn’t zipper it shut, and he remembers what he got to do. Foxley thinks he needs to WD40 that screeching window, and he waits on the other side to slam it in cahoots with Daddy’s clamoring through the front door. Then he’s off across the front yard, squirreling his arms through the straps of his backpack.
Mister Shankle’s standing in his driveway with one of them long-armed paint rollers, knocking it against his rusted satellite dish. He throws up an arm, but Foxley ain’t got time for hidy’s. He burns it down the street without even looking over his shoulder until he can cut through the patch of woods that shortcuts to Seven Eleven. As soon as Foxley gets himself out of the open, he sits down on a log and digs out that paper. He removes it like a surgeon.
Foxley joins Montana to Idaho but sits puzzled by the sum. He’s looking at satin night #63. The titty and the knee joined to their purplish owners look like cartoons in the Buddy style. The lady’s on her back with her hands on the man’s behind, and him on all fours crouching over her, facing her feet. What they got between their legs is hidden, and the expressions on their faces are joyless, like frogs about their business. But the point of focus for Foxley, the main attraction soon enough, is Mama’s perfect tiny handwriting, captioned off in a talk bubble drawn from the lady’s mouth. “Hey Lou!” it says in blue ink exquisitely. “I see the tip of the stick! Fetch me some rope and Vaseline, and I’ll go in!”
Foxley seen some things. One time, a pink owl swooped down under the streetlight to snatch a rat from the ditch, and another time, Wendy Langois ripped a Sugar Daddy out of Kevin Brickey’s mouth with his two front teeth in it still. But he ain’t seen nothing like #63. He experiments with the two pieces of page, trying in vain for other geometries, until he tells himself that it’s best he don’t understand, like the knowing would make him just as fish-eyed vacant as the cartoon lovers.
Foxley puts the paper into his backpack and counts out the almost five dollars in change. He figures to buy various provisions to last him to the next town. Good thing he brought along that trophy to prove his moxie and guts to the world. Maybe Miss Roxanne gonna see him hobo-ing and pick him up, take him back home with her. She could keep him locked in her bathroom and feed him ice cream and pizza and play with his hair for long stretches instead of just the quick ruffle she gives when she comes over to gab with Mama. Foxley thinks about last time she come over, how he hovered outside the door and saw her and Mama trying on dresses. Miss Roxanne was just wearing her bra and she had her elbows out to pin her hair and Foxley saw she had little black patches of hair under her arms. Foxley on a roller coaster thinking about them patches. Mama told him to shoo when she’d seen him in the doorway, but he’d gone to Miss Roxanne like in a trance and asked her to pick him up. And she did it too! Only for a second, but she did, then said, “Woo you heavy,” and set him down before Mama chased him out. Maybe Miss Roxanne gonna keep Foxley hostage forever. That what Foxley hopes.
When Foxley sees them taquitos spinning behind the glass, his list of provisions goes out the window. They too hot to eat even and he tucks them safe in his backpack for later. He feels good at the Big Gulp station, mixing together his favorite kamikaze: Sprite, and Mr. Pibb. He skirts the hot dog dressing station ninja style and swipes some relish packets, liking his chances in the wild.
“Look out, world,” says Foxley through the door, blinded off the bat by Daddy’s winking Bronco. Daddy’s leaning on the wheel wearing the same froggy expression as the cartoons, like hypnotized by the business at hand. But then Foxley recognizes Daddy’s gotcha smile as he leans over to push the passenger door open.
“Fox baby,” he says when Foxley crawls up inside. “You got to quit running off.”
Daddy starts in with his never ever, don’t even think it, next time is murder speech about going anywhere near his shit again. Daddy knocks his fat ring against his buckle to make Foxley feel his warning and it tings out in the stuffy cab before Daddy finally confesses that it ain’t no whippings coming today. “Your Mama says we got to talk.” Daddy rubs his face like he plum wants to scrub it clean off. “What you know about sex then?” Daddy says into his hands.
“I’m good,” Foxley says. “You can just whip me if you want. I deserve it.”
“Yeah, you right,” Daddy says. “But I think you done outgrown whippings, maybe.” He starts rattling off about sperms and eggs and cellular divisions and Foxley, reflecting on #63, wonders is that what they getting at? Daddy stops talking when he sees Foxley’s face scrunched in thought. “Wait a minute,” Daddy says and starts worrying his face again. “I’m going backwards. You know you got the pecker, ahem. I mean the penis?” Daddy holds his arm out at a right angle from his elbow and makes a fist. “And then over here,” Daddy puts out his left hand and pinches his fingers to a point, wiggles them open like that star-nosed mole from the peculiar critters show. “And the woman, she got that.” Daddy wipes his forehead with his designated pecker before putting it back in place and waving the fingers on his lady arm at it. “The lady over here got a vagina,” he says and his voice breaks so that Foxley thinks for a second Daddy gonna have himself a heart attack by the time his story gets any steam. “Vagina’s like a flower, Fox. Just like a flower.”
Daddy rambles on and Foxley wishes he could help him tell it easier. A sweat bead tracks down Daddy’s sideburn and rides the creases of his cheek. Daddy thumps his throat to make a rain drop blop. “You know that uvula,” he’s saying. “Hangs down back of your mouth? Well, it’s like that, I guess. Except it don’t hang, not quite.”
Daddy squirms behind the wheel like a balloon artist without balloons, wrestling his hands together. Foxley tries to apply Daddy’s words to the context of #63, thinks if that’s what them cartoons are after, then they must be taking a detour to it. The way Daddy’s acting, this sex thing must be terrible.
Foxley can see why Mama’s always on Daddy about being uptight. He got to relax some. The vein in Daddy’s forehead bulges like a night crawler up through the dirt, and Foxley remembers the other day waiting for a table at Waffle House. Mama wanted to dance to the song playing and when Daddy turned her down out of shame in public, she’d twirled Foxley instead, right in front of all the waiting smiling folks, told Daddy over Foxley’s head that he got a stick up his backside.
“It feels like a giant sneeze,” Daddy’s saying. “That building up to one anyway.”
Foxley imagines them cartoon people as Mama and Daddy, and then he busts up laughing. Punch lines always finds Foxley late, and he got to give it to Mama. Nothing Buddy’s done in a while got his funny bone like Mama’s doodle. Foxley looks at Daddy’s red face, like it just been punched, and busts up all over again to think it might for true be a stick up there lodged. A big, long, pointy one too.
“Oh, for shit’s sake,” Daddy says. “It ain’t supposed to be funny, Fox! What you in a hurry for anyway? You younger than me by a long shot when I came to all this shit. You ought to be out catching frogs and reveling in your happy boyhood daydreams. It’s all downhill once you start to fooling with vaginas anyway. Jesus, what’s that smell?”
Foxley presents his taquitos to Daddy like them samplers at the Winn Dixie, relieved to hear Daddy crunching instead of talking.
“I forgot to eat lunch,” Daddy says, stuffing his mouth like them taquitos gonna scrape clean all the words been coming out of it.
Foxley don’t even care that Daddy gonna eat all his taquitos. What’s he need ‘em for now anyway? Foxley feels light as a bubble when Daddy puts the Bronco in gear and they roll out of the parking lot.
“You got all what I been telling you, Fox?” Daddy says, sucking clean his fingers. “You understand now a bit better about the human condition?”
“Yes Sir. But I don’t much care about it. I just as soon go frogging.” Foxley knows just what to say to Daddy.
“That’s good, Fox,” Daddy says, wincing and burping. “Frogging’s way better. Shit,” Daddy says and puts his hand to his chest. “Why’d I go and eat that?” Daddy pats Foxley’s knee. “If your Mama asks you anything, you just tell her we had us a talk and that you all cleared up on nature, OK?”
Closing in on the house, Foxley sees his bedroom window sliding by. He smiles to think of the blinds snapping shut, and a scared little Foxley behind them. He feels like a V.I.P being on Daddy’s end of it, and Foxley pretends he’s coming home after a long hard day at the plant to make things right. Little Foxley in there deserves a thrashing, he thinks. Little Foxley got to be smarter from now on. He got to WD40 up that window for one thing.
Mama’s fussing at the stove when him and Daddy walk inside single file. She’s wearing her polite face, like it’s nothing ever happened. “Pork chops in the oven,” she sings.
“Count me out,” Daddy says, with a hand to his throat. “I’m struggling this afternoon.”
“You told me that’s what you wanted, Lou! You asked for pork chops!”
Mama and Daddy’s words tangle up quick, and Foxley slips away down the hallway. They won’t bother him for the rest of the night. He feels giddy coming up on his bedroom door. He raps his knuckle on it, lets himself in. Foxley smiles to see his note on the dresser still, but without the beater to hold it down, since Mama don’t like her things where they don’t go.
He looks up to greet Lebron out of habit and is relieved to see his popcorn image returned. Foxley roves his room with his hands clasped behind his back, eyes cast up to check his constellations are all in place. Fat Godzilla’s there and so is the space rocket launching. Jolly Green Giant’s still on his battle turtle in the far corner, but Foxley notices that if he lets some other popcorns join in, then the Giant turns into Miss Roxanne with her arms up over her head, and them dark patches too, where the night light gives out.
It been a strange day, and Foxley’s ready to lie down and drift off into the popcorn galaxy. But first things first. Foxley cuts his eyes at the window, where Little Foxley cowers and quivers, hands already covering his butt, bottom lip shaking like an oyster.
“Fox, man,” he says, slipping off his pretend belt and snapping it. “This gonna hurt me more than it’s gonna hurt you.”
Benjamin Soileau is from south Louisiana. His fiction has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Colorado Review, Opossum, Grist, Louisiana Literature, Bayou, Superstition Review, Fugue, and many other journals. He won the 2018 Rumble Fish Quarterly New Year’s Writing Contest and is a special mention in The 2020 Pushcart Prize Anthology. He is a stay-at-home father in the Pacific Northwest. Reach him at [email protected].