This story appeared in Spectrum.
Cove, located on seventy-five acres in the Connecticut countryside, looked like the Pepperidge Farm box, with seven cottages spread out in the way of dormitories. A gym called The Brig. A lake called The Pits. Sixty-four students. Twelve staffies. A father and son President and Vice.
One of the twelve-year-olds showed me around on the handlebars of his Hutch Pro Raider, the same bike as mine. All the students went by last names. His was Jones.
Jones said he’d been at Cove for three years and swore it beat living with his prick step-dad all to hell. Jones came from Cairo, Georgia and had eyes like a crocodile. They put me in the Little House with the other twelve-year-olds and two staffies: Christine: short-haired and hot, and Joan: crater-faced and not. Joan listened to folk songs about mashed potatoes. Christine hung posters of Bratpack flicks. Staffies went by first names.
Jones and I sat in the Little House watching TV my first night and during a commercial a Chicago mayor’s son named Malone crept up and bashed Jones’s skull in with a vacuum pipe. Jones got rushed to the hospital and came back a few days later with a neck brace and head bandages. Malone went away forever.
The teachers were the wives of senior staffies, three Philippine women named Carmelita, Terracita, and Alice. I went to classes the first day and took English lessons from Alice, but ended up teaching her about the third person singular. No one else showed. No one mentioned my never going back.
The Redman, Perlich, and Patch were buildings which housed inmates in training, all-denim and pimple-scar types with nicknames like Rooster, Gaummo, Casper and Sulli. New England guys with records of assault and battery, many of them court-ordered to Cove. The staffie at the Redman was one of those heavy-set, all-sideburns-and-a-moustache types named Pete. Pete mail-ordered Terracita for a hundred and ninety-nine bucks. Pete led his boys on midnight raids and pogroms of the Little House and Joan and Christine never came out of their rooms to interfere. Instead, they’d wake up the next morning and pretend to go apeshit that Crouthamel had been basted with peanut butter, pillow-feathered, and duct-taped to the banister again, and pin it on Glickman or me. Crouthamel was ten, the grandson of one of the Rockys. Glickman’s mom was a Bond girl. He kept old cut outs of her on the wall near his bunk bed.
Pete shot Glickman in the ass with a BB gun one morning in the snow. Pete turned the other cheek when Rooster stole my Pro Raider from outside the dining hall and launched it into the Pits. Pete took us Little House kids to the laundromat one night as a favor to Joan, poured sour-cream-and-onion-flavored Pringles into some lady’s wash and blamed it on Crouthamel, who was put on kitchen patrol until he could pay off the damages.
Pete was my mom’s live-in douchebag all over again. They even drove the same colored Porsche.
A sixteen-year-old who lived in the Redman became my friend. His name was Brown, but everyone called him Shitstain. Brown dove in and brought my bike out of the Pits. Brown served as maitre d’ of the kitchen and one night stuffed laxatives in Rooster’s potato salad. Brown made Freddy Krueger gloves out of sheet metal and rawhide and walked around slicing stuff.
Pete and his boys hated how Brown was nice to me. Sulli snuck into Brown’s room one night and strangled him with a guitar strap until Brown lost consciousness. Pete laughed when Brown came back from the hospital with a neck brace. Sulli went away forever.
I roomed with Glickman. Glickman never spoke. Glickman never showered. Glickman had a thing for order. His shoes required a forty-five degree angle three-and-a-half feet from the closet placement. Every night at 3:12, Glickman would jump down, open the door, peer out, close the door, and climb back onto the top bunk. After five minutes, he’d do it again. Five minutes after that, Glickman would jump down, open the door, peer out, close the door, open the door, and leave.
One night I waited. When he left, I counted to twenty, slipped on my Chuck Taylors and followed. I didn’t need my Chucks, because Glickman was kneeling on the other side of our door, licking the knob methodically. I went back to bed. Minutes later, Glickman jumped back on the top bunk and said he’d slice off my ears in my sleep if I told.
Brown snuck in my room a few months later. He shook me awake and said, “Put on your Chucks.” We left as Glickman got up to do his thing.
We tiptoed past Joan’s room. Her snores sounded like a live duck in an oven. Brown peered through the crack in Christine’s door and wiggled a finger for me to come see. I saw. I still see. She slept face down with no covers, nightshirt hiked up, arms at sides, sans panties, lit by a slice of the moon.
We walked past the Patch and around the Dining Hall, sticking to the shadows until the rear acreage, between the Redman and Perlich, which faced each other. Brown called it Gen-pop. Pete’s brown Porsche sat parked on the side of the Redman. Brown had a backpack with him. Brown wore his Freddy K glove. Brown said, “Go in there and stare in Pete’s room, see if you see the keys.”
“Bullshit,” I said, imagining Rooster or Gaummo spotting me and taking out their guitar straps in Sulli’s honor.
“I’ll make you a glove,” he said.
“Ok,” I said.
I crept in and took two minutes to close the front door. I crept farther. Past Gaummo and Casper’s room. Past Rooster sleeping amidst torn Iron Maiden posters. I crept and shook, slid along the wall, and saw: Pete’s room at the end of the hall, the only room with a window. The Porsche outside, and Brown clawing up the hood with his glove. The bed under the window. Terracita sleeping beside Pete, wrapped in a Pittsburgh Pirates blanket that ended just under her eyes. Pete with his mouth open, eyes fluttering. I crept in. The keys rested on the end table on Terracita’s side. The heater made a sound like cloth beating a flagpole. I reached for the keys. Two of them on a ring with a Phillies keychain. I saw Terracita: Forehead wide as an ironing board. Her honey-colored eyes opened. Terracita saw me. Terracita saw the keys. Terracita’s eyebrows arched and the blanket expanded from the shape of her smile.
Brown said, “I’m tempted to hot wire it anyway.”
Brown sat in the driver’s seat, backpack at his feet, Freddy K glove on his lap. I opened the center console and found four hundred dollars in fives. We split it. Brown said, “What do you think, Shapiro?”
“I don’t believe you know how,” I said.
Brown smiled. Brown loosed some wires from underneath the steering column. Brown peeled back the plastic of two red wires and touched the tips of the metal a few times. Sparks. The Porsche turned over. We off-roaded toward the Pits. Brown threw her in reverse. Brown put on the high beams. Brown handed me his bag and glove and told me to get the fuck out.
Fire ants chomped at my ankles as Brown launched the Porsche into the lake with a howl. The Porsche turned sideways and flopped passenger-side-first before sinking.
I dreamt for years about those ten seconds. Like going to bed after a long flight, that first hour of sleep you can’t figure if you’re still on the plane or not.
Brown surfaced. Brown swam. Brown took the bag from my hands, unzipped it, and pulled out a towel. Brown smiled like he was having his picture taken as we walked through the woods back to the mainland.
Breakfast was one big murmur. Pete’s in jail. Brown’s face broken in three places. Pete fired. Brown expelled. Brown raped by Pete who took his revenge with the Porsche. Two bites into my juicy eggs, Rooster, Casper and Gaummo staring at me from their table. Me sitting alone with a guilty tattoo on my bald face. The cops still questioning Redman residents when I went back to the Little House.
I found a Freddy K glove on my bunk. Maybe Brown’s parting gift, or kept promise. Maybe Pete’s warning, a message that he knew, and would get me like he got Shitstain.
That weekend Spring break started. Mom drove me home from the airport in her old Datsun. Her live-in douchebag dribbled the basketball in our driveway and leered at me as I hauled my suitcase inside. Crucial objects had been ganked from my room, namely a few pages of baseball cards of zero worth, but hard currency at the Little House. I went out to the hoop and caught him eyeing one of the neighbor’s daughters. I asked for my cards back. Mattingly. Clemens. One creased Wade Boggs rookie.
He said bug off. He said go tell your mom, see if she believes you. Live-in douchebag threw the basketball in my face. My eyes watered up and my throat went all lumpy.
He hugged me the way he used to when my old man didn’t call on birthdays. A blood spot marked his flabby bicep. I walked inside through the garage and into my room. He followed. I closed the door. He blocked it. He got close and backed me up to the wall.
“Put your head back and squeeze,” he said. He demonstrated.
I put my head back. I squeezed. The blood stopped. My mom yelped from my doorway and ran at me with a dishrag.
Live-in douchebag went away. Forever.
My mom called up the Cove Prez and said box up my shit and ship it. She snagged the Freddy K glove first thing.
A couple years later I heard Cove shut down pending the investigation of a child molestation ring. Several years after that, I caught Live-in douchebag’s obit in the local section. He’d crashed his new Porsche into a bus stop while racing to a basketball game, a bus stop that housed a display poster for the latest Elm Street chapter.