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"Second Boy", short story excerpt

Saturday 7/11/20

The lights in the window well were pinprick lights, but Danny also knew they were eyes. He’d seen pinprick eyes in two other instances. He wore a band of cloth around his head that his father had made for him, with two small lights stitched into the front, so he could read under the covers at night. The lights made yellow eyes, tiger eyes, on the page. They were not Danny’s eyes and they were Danny’s eyes at the same time, and he imagined that the part that was not his belonged to his father and they read together.


Another time they went to the Cape and Danny snorkeled. “When you want to dive down,” his father said, as they tread water just beyond the surf, “take a deep breath, spit out the mouthpiece, and go. Try it.”


The boy did, and he reached the bottom, where there were two rocks balanced against each other, making a triangle in the space between. There were two pinpricks of light coming from the part that was all water and no rock. Danny got up close, and a small eel swam from the structure, eyes glowing. They were the pinpricks he had seen.


“Did it work?” his dad asked, when Danny had surfaced.


“Yes, it did,” the boy replied.


Danny was in the basement. He’d noticed the pinprick eyes in the window well on other nights when his mother was not home. She didn’t go out often. “We have to make your mom get out,” Danny’s aunt Carol said to him, like she expected him to help, maybe to push. His mother and his aunt went for coffee. There was a book club. But when Danny would see his mother reading at home, she seemed to be on the same page for hours. He even started remembering the number that he saw when he walked by, and it wasn’t like page 108 stretched across the room.


He fired his puck over the cement floor, blasted his hardest shots against the cement walls. The window well was overhead, near the ceiling. He never shot for the window well, couldn’t get the puck that high if he wanted, didn’t want to break the glass, but that night whatever it was that was in the window well made him turn and lift a shot that went over everything, just under the bottom of the floor above. The pinprick eyes had their moment that they’d been waiting for.


A leg shot through the broken glass. It was cut up the side. The muscle looked like the gills of a fish. The leg belonged to a boy, a wild boy. The boy was smaller than Danny and he didn’t appear strong, couldn’t even break the glass on his own, but he was not scared of being cut, or of the drop to the ground. He only wanted to get in, would get Danny, would get his sister sleeping upstairs, and Jaycee the babysitter watching old movies on the couch in the living room.


Danny took his hockey stick, he hit the leg, as many times as he could, and the bottom of the other boy’s stomach, with the rest of him still in the well. The boy dangled like half a perch with vestigial legs, as if someone had tried a funny drawing. Some of the glass was still there and it served as a wall. There wasn’t as much blood as Danny expected. Danny saw the boy looking down at him. Their eyes held. He whacked some more at the leg, and the boy dragged it again into the darkness outside, back into the window well, and ran away. Danny thought he sobbed, like an animal that’s hungry.


He’d be calm, he decided. He went up the stairs, took a breath as he opened the basement door that entered into the kitchen, then turned into the family room. Jaycee always sat on the couch, not in his father’s tawny-colored chair in the corner of the room. That’s where Danny sat. He liked Jaycee and he really wanted to sit next to her on nights that his mother had been forced to go out by his aunt Carol, and it was just the two of them, with Danny’s sister Daisy sleeping upstairs. Jaycee watched the old films in the dark, like Danny’s grandmother, his father’s mother, only Jaycee watched quietly, rapt, and Danny’s grandmother used to say things like, “Oh come on,” again and again, back when they used to visit her.


“Do you think you can call Mr. Tockett?” Danny asked. A man on the television was embracing a woman at a bus station. There were a lot of bus stations in those movies, Danny thought. They were probably romantic once. “I broke a window,” he added.


The girl smiled. “With your ferocious shot?” she said.


“It’s getting better,” Danny put in. “One just got away from me.”


Jaycee was leaving for college soon. She was going to Princeton. That sounded far away, a place where there were princes, lofty people. Romantic. But no bus stops. They were dingy now. Gum on the floor, whereas in the old movies the bus stop floors were polished marble. You didn’t kiss people in bus stops. Maybe the airport. Danny’s mom tutored Jaycee in the kitchen, helped her with her papers. Didn’t charge her, and it was the same for Jaycee when she watched Danny and his sister.


They were friends, Jaycee and Danny’s mom, which struck Danny as a miracle, because Jaycee was a girl and his mom was not. They had even hugged in the kitchen and Danny’s mom cried when Jaycee told them she had gotten into Princeton. “I’m so proud of you, love,” Danny’s mom said, and it was the first time he had heard her call anyone else that name besides his father, his sister, and himself, but he wasn’t upset, he wanted to call Jaycee that name as well, but instead he said, “bitchin’,” which she taught him once, though he wasn’t supposed to tell.


Mr. Tockett lived across the street. Danny’s father had looked up to him. Mr. Tockett gave good advice. He knew about building decks and having kids and asking for raises. He knew about summer spots on the Cape that were less crowded. He even knew about the rings of Saturn. Mr. Tockett invited Danny over to his driveway, and they looked through Mr. Tockett’s telescope at the sky. The rings on Saturn looked bumpy, like rough pavement that caused the coins in your pockets to make jangling noises as you rode over it, reminding you you had some money, and maybe you’d get a pack of baseball cards, or do something crazy and surprise your sister with that candy she liked, though you couldn’t touch the stuff yourself.


The Tocketts’ house was diagonal to Danny’s, and Danny wondered if the rings of Saturn would look another way entirely back in his driveway, from the different angle. Maybe they’d appear smoother then. You could ask Mr. Tockett anything. Some questions are harder to ask at night because adults are tired, and the possibility of attaining the answer you wish is less likely. Other questions are easier to ask at night because those are the kind that come out of your mouth in a way that you can all but see the words in front of you, like Danny had seen the other boy with his leg like the gills of a fish in the window well, and sometimes you are only strong enough to say words, not both say them and see them. Danny figured Mr. Tockett understood.


“Isn’t there supposed to be internal bleeding?” he asked, his eye fixed on the bumpy rings of Saturn, his other closed, though he could feel water behind the lid, which might have been like the seas of the moon, no visible moisture, unless Danny opened the eye.


Mr. Tockett touched the boy in the small of the back, strong enough to hold him up were he to fall away from the telescope, but not too hard to press him into it, like he had to stay there, had to keep studying the rings of Saturn. “Blood flows,” Mr. Tockett said. “When blood bleeds, something has happened. Like the cuts you see when you scrape your leg. But there can be cuts inside of us, too, that we can’t see. And that kind can bleed too much. And sometimes we don’t know it’s happening in time.” Danny thought he understood, and he stepped back so that Mr. Tockett could have a turn looking through the telescope, but they didn’t really look anymore that night.