STORYGLOSSIA    Issue 41    November 2010


Jefferson Moves


by Brenda Peynado



Classroom is dark. Today in History class, we watch the slaves. The history movie colors everything black and white and gray. We finish it up. They throw dirt with shovels, they move slow. They talk slow. Like my head. Slow like mean kids say I am, like doctors say. Those slaves they didn't know they were free, and they love dirt, live in the dirt, they eat the dirt.

Next to me in class, Rosie sits. She pulls my finger under the desk, and I laugh. Quietly. We work on jokes during social time and Rosie told me. Her dad pulls her finger for her to laugh. She pulls her hair. TV shadows move. On her face. And I can still see her, but she is gray in the dark.

Normally, Rosie-at-school has hair like fire. She is my friend. I don't see friends outside of school. Friends are only for school. She is Rosie-at-school. We have social time with friends and last year our Special Ed teacher Mrs. Z showed us how to shake hands two feet away. I have enough fingers for two, fingers for counting so that I can see. Two feet not like less than one foot that I used to shake hands. Sticking my hand in armpits because it makes. People smile. Laughing is funny. It must be. One person laughs and then other people laugh too. Everyone likes funny. But two feet is greater than one. I know that. I am good at math.



Lights turn on again and no more history, and there she is, Rosie's hair like fire, and teacher says, So what did you think? She asks us if we can think for ourselves about what is right. I know. I know right. Last week we talked about Thomas Jefferson. Like the name of my school, Jefferson High School.

I don't raise my hand though. I am good at math, but I am bad at talking. When I talk. It's hard. I think like words all together. I look the same as normal, but. Doctors say. I can't talk like. Regular. I write my name like squiggly wiggly snakes. Doctors say slow talk slow and short. Doctors tell my mom to. Only talk sense. Only one language at home. Sometimes when I am upstairs I can hear Alicia talking like. In secret words. They call it Spanish. All the time they yell. I stay away because of one secret word. Coño. Alicia says this word means. They are very angry.

Teacher calls on me. Daniel.

I say, Thomas Jefferson was the greatest and he made freedom. Free talk and talk all free. I talk. It's okay and Thomas Jefferson loved us. When I am happy. I talk like words all tumbled out.

Teacher says good, but try again. She says repeat after her. Thomas Jefferson was one of the creators of the US constitution, which ensured civil liberties in it, and its amendments. She says slaves too. I am free! I know this.

She calls on Rosie-at-school, but I want to tell her that I know. I raise my hand.

Teacher says it's polite. To wait until Rosie is done.

I say, We're all men.

No, we're not. Rosie at school hits me on my belly. You're a bonehead.

Teacher tells me to wait, but then I wait, and I am not a bonehead, and then Rosie-at-school is done, and then the bell. Rings for after school.



We are single file, single file, walking towards the bus, and I see a slave-at-school, from the high school. I get my chance to show that. I am not a bonehead. I know and you're free, blackface! I said. I run towards him, and my arms wave, my feet moving slow and my arms waving jerky. You're free!

He hits me, but he doesn't hit me. No, he pushes me to the wall. Moves fast. Not like slaves at all. No no. He tells me motherfucker retard, don't call me that again, and I can smell his armpits. He is small. I am more, greater than. I know this. I am twenty-two years. Not enough fingers for that. Twenty-two is greater than sixteen years. I learned this. I get purple stars. I am always good at math.

I say, I know, and then he lets me go.

I run back to the bus. I don't sit next to anyone. Through the window, I can see. He pushes my little sister into the wall like he did to me. The bus pulls away, and I don't talk to anyone all the way home, not even Rosie-at-school, who looks at me like she hates me she hates me she hates me.



I play the Mech Warrior video game while mom cooks dinner. I got it for Christmas. I have a cave at home. Mom says my room is like a cave. A bat cave. Except I'm not alone like bats in movies with Sticky Licky Cat and the slidy sun and less than animals that I have to smash. Ka-boom.

In the game, I am in a suit that makes me move like lightning. I am a robot. I have a skin that is tough like nails and is greater than! It closes, but it's still free. It's pretend. I watch pretend movies a lot. I make pretend movie noises. I only ever hear in movies. But I want them outside, I want them always. Because they're fast and I like fast. Bombs. Guns. Big splashes! I sing with the noises. Kerpow. The gun. Kerkink. Reload your weapon, it says. Even the siren is great, it means. Run. Fire. Move fast. Danger.

Mom in the kitchen screams. Daniel! She yells.

Afternoon and sun is yellow. Orange! As I run to the kitchen. Sun lives on walls. Shows places I don't see other times. Sun lives on walls and shows a cockroach next to the stove.

Mom screams and moves towards the fridge, and I move slow.

Quick! She screams. Quick Quick Quick. Kill it.

I smush it. Legs fall off. Gross, I say. Dis. Gusting. I am the killer of animals. In the house, ants, lizards, spiders, bees. I am more. I am greater than. Mom is silly. She runs. Moves fast away. Only one animal is my friend. The cat. I named her. Sticky Licky Cat. She eats things on fingers. Even when you can't see the things on the fingers, need the sun living on walls to see. Cat moves slow then fast. Sometimes I think she's dead. Sometimes. I think she's fire. Sticky Licky like the slidy sun when bam. A shadow.

Alicia, my older sister, comes out of her room. She is home on college vacation. She loves me. She says to mom, don't be such a baby. She tells me we can watch a movie together until dinner. She watches movies sometimes, but usually nighttime. Together we watch. On her bed, in the dark. Today, the man gets close to the woman. They move slow. Why do you move slow, why slow? I move fast. Jerky. But I run slow. I think that's with my head. My sister is fast. She moves, and I lay my head in her lap. Babies do. She throws me off fast. Sometimes the floor hurts.



My little sister comes home before the ending. On a different bus because she does activities after school. She hates me, she hates me she hates me. She tells me. Whispers this while we are serving food in the kitchen and I get vegetables like color. Green red yellow, I like the green ones, the green beans.

We sit down, and I call her brat on a stick. I scrunch my face. A sour brat popsicle would. Mom and Alicia laugh. So it must be funny.

Mom says, how was school?

I say, fine.

He got into a fight at school, Bratonastick says.

Brat, I say. On a big stick.

Mom says something in the secret words, and Brat shuts up.

Be nice, she says. What happened?

Fine, I said. Something's wrong with my head.

She sighs. Her chin pushing forward as she makes the noise. She says, You have to behave. You're getting too old for staying in that high school. There's a vocational school that will take you and teach you a job. Would you like that?

Bratonastick says, That's a great idea. I won't get made fun of for him anymore.

No, I said. I don't like that. What about Rosie-at-school?

You have to behave, she says.

Something's wrong with my head.

Nothing's wrong with your head, Alicia says.

Bratonastick laughs, but I don't know how it's funny.

I know about my brain. I knock on my head with my fist.

Nothing's wrong with your brain, Mom says. I love you, she says.

I know! I yell.

I know. I know about my head.



After dinner, Bratonastick comes with me into my room. She says she wants to play. With Sticky Licky. Give her back.

I see Sticky Licky under my bed. Sticky Cat isn't here, I say. Uh uh. No way. Never. Sticky Licky's. Not in.

I see her, she says.

Nope, no cat here. No way. I say.

But Bratonastick finds her. Bratonastick drags her out by the legs.

Oh no, Sticky Licky! I say.



I keep playing video games. When she goes away. No more afternoon means the sun leaves. The animals are hiding. I miss Sticky Licky, so I sing to Bratonastick to give her back. Kerpow! Vroom Vroom! I make getaway car sounds. No answer. I open her door. I am quiet. I wait. She is throwing Sticky Licky against the wall.

What! I say. Are you doing?

Science experiment, she says.

Science doesn't need. Sticky Licky on the wall, I say.

Actually, science needs all kinds of things. She says. She tosses black fur. Black fur slides down the white wall. Cat nails say scrootch.

Uh uh. I say. No way.

I just need to know, if a cat lands on four feet when falling down, does it land sideways too?

I grab black Sticky Licky. I run. Black face okay! I yell. Freedom! Kaboooom! I run run run run through the living room.

She catches me. Let go! You're so stupid! I hate you! It's not just your cat! Bratonastick grabs her back.

Mrs. Z tells us during social time not to hit. Never ever. To hit. But then she showed us black faces fighting, and they got free. I hit Bratonastick.

She throws Sticky Licky at me sideways. Sticky Licky scratches and flips over my shoulder and at the wall. Sticky Licky meows so loud and stops moving.

Holy crap, she said. You killed the cat.

BRAAAAAAAT! on a STICK! BRAT ON A STIIIIICK! I run after her. I do the tiger running. We circle the couch. I roar at her like a tiger.

She screams like a siren, Mooooooom! He's going to kill me. Moooooom! She's really scared. I know that. I roar.

Alicia catches me, she hugs me, brings me down to the sticky wood ground, and I don't hit Alicia. She loves me.

Hey, what the hell's going on?

That Bratonastick, I wail. I point my finger. Like an arrow.

Shhhh, it's okay, Alicia says.

Bratonastick is panting, crying.

Alicia turns to Bratonastick. What the hell is wrong with you?

Me?! How come he never gets in trouble?

Bullshit. Alicia says.

Mom comes out with pink curlers attached to her head. She is pretend Medusa just like in story-time.

What's going on? Mom roars.

She sees Sticky Licky. Coño!

Yes! I yell. Coño! Going on is Coño! Coño coño coño. It's all her fault.

He hit me. He killed the cat.



Mom tells me later that Sticky Licky can be fixed. At the vet. She takes Sticky Licky and wraps her in a blanket. She tries not to move the cat too much. Mom tells me that one more time I don't behave, she's sending me to the new school.

Alicia in charge. Bratonastick is in her room. She can't come out. Time out. Chop Chop. She gets to sleep early, lay in bed all night. With the shadows.

Alicia lets me watch a movie tonight in her room. We lay on her bed. Just one, she says. I pick Desperado. Alicia says desperado means 'desperate' in Spanish. Desperate means you want something really. Really bad. The man gets close to the woman. Close your eyes, Alicia says. Mrs. Z said never to hit, but then I had hit. Alicia says close your eyes, but I keep them open.

The man and the woman lick each other, and they get less than two feet, and they're slow. Then another scene. Another man is moving fast with another woman, and he blows cigarette smoke. Into her mouth. She screams and she coughs so I can tell that he's being mean, by moving fast and blowing that smoke.

I put my head on Alicia's lap. Action is moving. Moving fast. She doesn't notice me. I move close. Less than one foot. Touch her stomach. She jumps, pushes me to the other side of the bed. No, she says. But the action is going and she looks back at the TV. I feel like fire.



I want Rosie-at-school to say hello and she doesn't. We have the same big sister. Her name is Sam. But she's not my big sister. She's just a pretend sister. That's okay. I have lots of pretend things. We meet with Sam for lunch since it's Monday. Sam says she's required.

We eat food, and I tell them about the movie. Best movie of all time! I say. Slapstick, I say, because that's a word for funny. Because Alicia laughed at some parts.

Rosie-at-school doesn't remember that she called me a bonehead. Slapstick! Rosie says. Yes, I love slapstick. She tells me about another movie her parents let her watch. We finish eating fast because I am soooo hungry, hungry like nothing. Fills me up. All the food must go to my head. Fill 'er up. Bathroom break time. I tell Sam.

Yeah, that's great, why don't you guys go on a bathroom break. Sam stands up to go to her side of the cafeteria. Where her friends live. Where Bratonastick lives when she is pretend not seeing me.

Walking to the bathroom. Our feet are like klop klop klop with Velcro sneakers.

My sister almost killed my cat, I say.

Oh no, that poor cat, Rosie wails. She stops walking. Gives a small jerky stomp.

Want to know something? I say. I am Thomas Jefferson.

No, you're not, she says.

I say, I'm a bonehead. I forgot. We're pretending.

No, you're not. You're Daniel.

Oh, I say. Yes. I'm Thomas Jefferson now. See? I stick out my hand.

She shakes it like. We are taught.

I pull her hand and her hair like fire into less than one foot. See? I say. Nothing wrong still.

No. I guess.

I put my hand in her arm pit.

She screams, then laughs.

See? You laughed.

Why did the donkey cross a road? Rosie says.

Because a chicken? I ask.

Hee haw, she says.

We laugh like crazy, like we are. In. Sane.

I see Bratonastick on the sidewalk outside. She sees me. That's Bratonastick! She almost killed the cat!

Rosie pulls hard into her bathroom.

Bratonastick is going to tell on me.

Rosie licks my arm while she sits on the toilet. Rosie always licks arms before Mrs.Z tells her not to. I lean on the spotty stall door. Her hair tickles my arm and moves like candles.

She's going to send me to a different school. I say, but I start to feel weird, like burning all over my skin.

Everyone tastes different, she says.

What do I? Taste like? Her tongue slithers. Like a slurpy snake. Her pink tongue very less than my arm. Soft.

Mmm, no.

Like Thomas Jefferson? I ask.

Mmm, yes, I think so. That's it.

Wait, I say. Try this.

I get close to her like the man and woman. I get really. Less than 4 inches. I have fingers for four. Slidy sun is bright and I can see light hairs on her face.

She breathes. Sounds like ssssp sucking in. Like sand moving, like slidy sun would make moving with winds. Her breath.

Oh, she says. She licks my lips moving fast like Sticky Licky. Different, too.

I am Thomas Jefferson because I freed Sticky Licky, and I am. The killer of animals, and I am not scared, but I don't tell this, and the sun shows me hairs on Rosie's face. Bright yellow shows me and Rosie licking my lips like. She's tasting Thomas Jefferson and Daniel. My stupid feet and my stupid fingers, and I don't want to hurt Rosie like Sticky Licky. I hold my fingers steady. No shaking. This is greater than writing my name.

Move, I say. Move move move. Move slow.



Copyright©2010 Brenda Peynado


Brenda Peynado is completing her MFA at Florida State University, where she won a Kingsbury Fellowship. She is currently the Fiction Editor at The Southeast Review. She used to live in Tampa with her crazy Dominican family and her mentally handicapped brother, Daniel. "Jefferson Moves" is her first published story.