That's what I want people to think of when they think of me, "He's so quiet." It's what I hope for, really I do, and that's all. I tried this in school but it didn't work. Ann Arbor, Michigan wasn't what I thought it would be. Mom said we'd have a big yard to play in; so far the yard is just dirt. She promised I'd love the school. I wasn't there a week before I knew that was a joke. Sitting in the moving truck for all those days it's all I could think about, a new town, new school, it sounded exciting and I was looking forward to it.
* * *
She wanted to come to my house after dinner, one night this week. Tuesday after school she had a teacher's conference, but after that she would stop by.
"Tell your mother and father; let them know I'd like to do a home visit." She said with a slight smile and a turn of the heel, leaving me at my desk, watching her walk away.
"Mrs. Henders wants to come meet you guys, make a home visit." I announced that night as we sat down for dinner, almost whispering, hoping what I'd just said wouldn't be heard.
"Meet us?" He said, not looking up from his plate, suddenly his hand moved to the stem of the glass of wine in front of his plate, taking a sip, he spun the glass by the stem, the red wine circling the inside of the glass, carefully he set it back down on the table.
"Sure we'd love to meet your teacher." My mother smiled as she spoke directly to me, her hand that had just served me peas, was now momentarily touching my shoulder. I always sat next to her, never out of arm's length.
* * *
I pried the wheels off, all four of them, a crisp snap, and they were free.
The Batmobile was, and will officially from here on in be in the shop. Next to the wheels, neatly piled together, is my pride and joy, all the attachments to my Six Million Dollar Man doll. The bionic arm, the white and red striped shoes, the orange jump suit, neatly folded, and my favorite, the helmet. Naked, Commander Austin looks up at me with his frozen gestures, legs bent at the knee, his running pose, just as I'd left him before I went to school today. His eye socket is supposed to be a radio, at least that's what I heard, let me plug my headphones into it, find out.
Putting them on, "Commander Austin, can you hear me? Sir, can you hear my dispatch?" I tried to make my voice sound official.
"Commander Austin, can you hear me?" Looking to the picture on the wall, Steve Austin staring back, a stiff pose, black and white, and his signature across his chest.
Nothing. Fuck. Maybe it wasn't a radio. Who did I hear that from?
I've got to build his office, anyway. But where are the brown Lincoln Logs? Where are they? I had them last night, are they under here?
The Complete Tales of Santa Claus, the Boy's Life Christmas Edition, covered in blood. It's ruined. Why did he use that? It was just a bloody nose. He used it to wipe up my bleeding nose last night, how come I didn't get a tissue? Now this is ruined. It's crusty and the pages are stuck together.
Are the logs under here?
"Commander Austin. Would it be ok if I just used the green Lincoln Logs to build your office?" I looked around the room as I talked to him. He never minds.
"It's ok?" Great.
The brown Lincoln Logs would have to wait; did I leave them outside, under the porch?
"Jake!" My mother's voice trickled down the long hallway.
"Jake. Mrs. Henders will be here soon. Won't she?"
"Yea Ma, she will."
"Okay, good." Her voice trailed off.
I could hear the footsteps before I saw him. The wood floor in our hallway creaked differently for everyone. At my door, hands in his pockets of his dark brown corduroy pants, looking down at me, as I stared at the floor.
"Yes. Not yea. Okay Jake? That's what the word is, not yea, do you understand?" His voice was stiff and cold.
"Yes, I understand, I'm sorry." I said as I organized the remaining green logs.
The boards creaked again, and I knew he was gone.
"Jake. I'd like it if you would wait for Mrs. Henders outside on the front steps, okay?" Her voice coming from the kitchen where I could hear the water running in the sink. It's gonna look weird, me sitting there, waiting for her. But I'll do it anyway. Mrs. Henders will wonder.
My feet make different creaking sounds than everyone else's, but I have a secret way of doing it, I slide. Picking one foot up, slowly setting it down, slide the other out in front, set it down, slide the other, it makes no sound, I can get down the hallway and into the living room and not make a peep. The boards don't even know I'm here. Now on the carpet, I can put one foot in front of the other, no boards, and no noise.
"This is not a gymnasium." He says looking up from his book. "Pick up your feet."
The carpet is soft to walk on, now here comes the front door, the knob. Slide, slide the feet, and don't pick them up. He's still in his chair. His hand resting against the arm, his fingers wrapped around the stem of his wine glass, his long fingers, and the other hand holds his book, resting it on his knee. Holding the handle I turn and look back, he doesn't move, not an inch. The knob turns slightly, increasing my grip, it turns more, the door comes out of its place, from the jam, and it's cooler outside than it is in here, the air leaks through the crack I've created. One last look back, I can see the darkened television set, its screen, that wonderful little box; it's never on, black and white anyway. I can just barely make out his reflection in the television screen. I can see him; he's turning the page.
The door is closed, faster than it would take him to turn around and tell me to close it. The leaves and grass smell, like they should. The air seems a little cooler, like jacket weather. Mom always says bring it, you can always take it off, don't and you can't put it on.
Let me get a seat, this won't be too long. Mrs. Henders notices everything; she'd see my shoelaces untied from a block away. These three steps, the second one is the most comfortable. Looking down at my shoes, Adidas, green with white stripes, but I need the Adidas All-Stars, I need them. Everyone has them, except me. Mom said no, so that's that, I guess. But I can ask again tomorrow.
* * *
"Jake what you waitin' on?" A familiar voice arrives from across the street.
"What?" I shout back.
"You heard me, what's with you on the steps?" The voice demands.
"Waiting for Mrs. Henders, teacher visit."
"Mrs. Henders is comin' up here? That's no good Jake, you fucked up."
"No I didn't. She wants to see my parents, you know parent teacher conference."
"Yeah and she's here to tell your parents what you done."
"Debbie you don't know, she's not even your teacher, and you don't have her."
"Jake like I don't know Mrs. Henders. She came to see my Mom and Dad before, for my brother Marcus last year. She didn't come by for coffee and cake, she came by to throw my brother into the fire, you know, rat him out, and get him in trouble. Parent teacher conferences mean bad things. You better make sure. Don't let them send you to your room while they talk." Debbie says, stepping off the curb to cross the street.
"Debbie I'm all right."
"Yeah, Jake, you all right, all fuckin' right. But you're not because you're sitting out here . . . for what?"
"My mom told me to."
"Well that's cool gotta do that."
"Yeah Mrs. Henders will be here soon. I have to greet her, I guess . . . make her feel welcome."
"You want to meet tomorrow after school, go to the fort?" Debbie says stepping onto the curb on our side of the street.
"Sure, that's great."
"I'll meet you after school, out by the fort, all right?"
"All right, see you. If I'm not there, then maybe the day after tomorrow."
"Okay. That's cool."
I remember something she told me about her mom.
"Debbie!" I shout back across the street.
"Yeah, what's up?" She turns; I can see her silhouette in the light that hangs on her garage. She's so tall, taller than me. But she's older than me, a year older.
"How's your Mom?"
"Just asking, you know." Saying this while looking down the street for Mrs. Hender's.
"She's in the hospital. Same as last week, more tests, that's what my Dad says. We're supposed to visit her tomorrow. I hope she gets better. I miss her." Debbie turns back to her house. "See you later Jake."
* * *
Like a ghost appearing from the darkness, Steve Austin, Commander Steve Austin is running up the street, running towards me! To my house, did he hear my dispatch? I guess that radio in his head works. Faster, we can rebuild him, I can hear it the theme song, and finally he's going to show up.
The music, he hits the golf ball a mile.
His bionic eye. I can see him. He can see me.
Mrs. Hender's, what's this?
"Jake, are you okay?"
"Mrs. Hender's. I'm sorry, come in, my parents are waiting." Standing up I hold the screen door for her.
Following her in, he's still sitting in the chair. Mom is in the basement, and nothing is out of place. Good. Hopefully nothing bad will happen. Why did they paint this wall purple? I wonder if Mrs. Henders has a purple wall in her house.
"Mrs. Henders is here." I announce.
Suddenly he stands up from his chair. His voice of groggy, phlegm in his throat, a loud hack and he clears it. "Mrs. Henders it's nice to meet you. Please come in." He extends his hand to shake hers.
"Is your Mom here Jake?"
"Yea, umm . . . I mean yes, she is."
"Go downstairs and get her." He says.
At the top of the stairs, "Mom, Mrs. Henders is here."
"Son, go downstairs and get her. Don't shout." He smiles at Mrs. Henders, politely.
"Sorry." I climb down the stairs to the basement.
Standing in her studio, blue jeans covered in dust, she pushes her glasses up the ridge of her nose, looking up as I get to the bottom step.
"Mom Mrs. Henders is here."
"All right honey, I'll be right up." She looks back down to what she's working on, the tabletop is high enough to set your elbows on.
* * *
"It's come to my attention that Jake is having trouble with other classmates."
"Which classmates?" He asked.
"What kind of trouble?" Sounding concerned, my mother wondered.
"The kind of trouble that leads to other things, bad things." Mrs. Henders offered.
"Bad things, like what? Fist fights?"
"No, like stealing, fighting, and eventually in this school district as sad as this may sound, it turns violent. Very violent."
"Jake knows about fighting. He knows to walk away."
"He'll fight, if he has to. I taught him that."
"It's not that he's not walking away, it's what he's saying that concerns the school, and he's not saying things a first grader should say." Mrs. Henders looked down to her hands crossed in her lap.
They all shifted in their seats. I could see they were worried, mad even.
Our hallway is long and from the door to the kitchen you could see into the dining room. Lying on the floor, stomach pressed to the floorboards, I could see their faces and Mrs. Henders head, her back to me. They'd never look down here; they'll never see me.
"Mrs. Henders, could I get you some coffee? I just put a pot on." Standing up, my mother, paused, favoring here knee as she walked to the kitchen.
"That would be nice, thank you."
"What exactly is he saying?" This goes unanswered.
My mother passes me, she never looks down. My face turning bright red. She'll see me.
Suddenly she does.
Whispering, no sound at all coming out of her mouth.
"Go to your room. Right now."
I can read lips.
I slither back down the hall, still on my stomach. Quietly, with no sound at all I push up off the floor, stand on one foot, spinning, turning towards the kitchen, placing the other foot on the floor behind me, sliding it, slowly sliding down the hall towards my room. I wait a moment, listening to the clink of cups and saucer's, my mother's footsteps move back towards the table. When I hear her sit back down I slide back down the hallway to my original position on the floor outside the kitchen. I can hear everything now.
"So what do we do?" Her voice cracking and shaky.
"Right there." He points to the green cabbage, about the size of a softball sitting in the middle of the table.
"There." Mom pointing out the sugar bowl.
"That's the sugar bowl?"
"Yes, why?" He asks.
"It's that I've never seen a sugar bowl like this." The sugar bowl is a ceramic replica of a baby green cabbage.
"Well, it's a one of a kind, a gift, actually."
"Getting back to Jake. What is it you'd like us to do?"
I hear Mrs. Henders stirring her coffee, the spoon clinks repeatedly, and I can hear the spoon being set on the table. She takes a sip.
"Jake's level of reading comprehension and his logic are not what they should be, not for a child of his age. He should be reasoning, addition and subtraction, penmanship, writing his name. Right now he can't even write his name . . . "
She pauses to take a breath.
"I'm worried that he'll fall behind. I think he's fallen behind already. He's constantly talking, telling jokes, laughing and never paying attention. These things disrupt the class. It's difficult to teach a class that's not paying attention."
Interrupting, "Maybe you should take more control. Sounds like your teaching skills are in question." He says.
"Mr. Nova, I've been a teacher, an elementary school teacher for twelve years and that's not by accident. My classes are well behaved, and attentive. Everyone learns. That's my motto." Taking another sip of her coffee.
"I don't think Jake is the problem. I've heard plenty about this school. I'll talk to Jake. Would that make you happy?" I hear him pouring wine from the bottle, the glug-glug sound of the liquid dropping into his glass echoes slightly.
Mom looks worried. She looks down to me, on the floor, from the kitchen table.
"Mrs. Henders, is there anything you'd like us to do?"
"Talk to your son. And as far as what will make me happy, it's not about my happiness. It's about your son's education. Learning the basics, it's that simple."
"Mrs. Henders, we'll be happy to talk to Jake. I'm sorry you had to take time out of your evening; just call next time." Her voice deepening with concern.
"I don't want there to be a next time. You know what I mean?" Trying to smile, Mom looks back to the floor, to me.
"There won't be anymore problems Mrs. Henders we'll talk to Jake."
"That's good. Thank you. I appreciate it." Standing up, she takes one last sip of her coffee.
"I'll get out of your hair, sorry for the trouble."
"No trouble. Glad we got to talk."
"Thank you, that was nice. I love that sugar bowl, really unique."
Quickly, with out stopping, I stand up and walk back down the hall. Closing my door behind me. Turning off the lights, sliding into bed. I hear the door to the front of the house close. Mrs. Henders shoes make a clicking sound as she walks down the sidewalk back to the school. I can hear them talking for a long time after Mrs. Henders leaves. Slowly their voices disappear, but then I hear the creaking, the boards in the hallway. I know the sound of his footsteps.
Afterwards, the tears are dry; I have to sleep on my stomach my ass hurts too much. I have the same dream I had last night. I'm in a huge house the size of the White House; the President should be living in this house. There is a big balcony stretching through the entire place and a large stairway leading to the second floor. My father has his belt wrapped around my waist. On the first floor is a huge sea monster, looks like Sigmund and the Sea Monster, maybe. Anyhow, he's jumping up, trying to reach me, this sea monster. My father is dangling me off the second floor balcony, he's laughing. The sea monster's razor sharp claws are barely missing me. He hangs me down lower. Suddenly through the door bursts open and Richie Cunningham and The Fonz, they're running right at the sea monster. Richie grabs the monster, and The Fonz starts for the stairs to the second floor. It's the last dream before I wake up. I hear the creaking again. Opening the door to my room, he smiles. Sunlight seeping in through my bedroom window.
"Let's go, get up. Wanna have a race, see who can get dressed faster?"
Swinging one leg off the bed, then the other, "Sure." I say.
"Let's go, you're gonna be late for school."
I look up and he's gone.
"Good," I say to no one.