My Childhood as a Student of Chemical Warfare

by Ian Kappos

After my mom found work, she began to come home in the wee hours of the morning reeking of lavender. No matter how hard she tried to keep quiet, the squeaky latex of her skin would always wake me. In the morning I'd step in puddles of dusty purple on my way to the bathroom, and sometimes I would have to shower twice for the sake of my socks. This was okay until my mother got a boyfriend.

On my birthday, my mother presented me with a cake in the shape of a bee pollinating a flower. It was quite ornate.

"Say thank you to your mother," said Danny, my mother's boyfriend, through his gasmask.

"Thank you, Mom."

The candles on the cake weren't lit because Danny said he'd had enough smoke for the day. I pretended to blow them out while Danny looked on appraisingly.

Danny didn't seem to mind the smell of the house and I think that was part of the reason why my mom kept him around. Also, he didn't drink.

My days at school were a challenge. The amount of bleach I used on my clothes was inconsequential: they always had a splotch of purple here, a shadow of violet there. The other kids would tease me for it. I would say to them, "My mom works in a factory. She works with machines." And they'd say they bet she did.

Home life wasn't much better after Danny moved in. Soon, our dinners became thematic according to Danny's moods. On nights that he was happy, we had cauliflower steeped in butter. I hated cauliflower and I wasn't a big fan of butter either, so Danny and I rarely found ourselves in agreement.

"Sweetie," my mother would say to me, "eat your cauliflower." Her skin was as smooth as a doll's, and about as biodegradable, too. Which is to say, not very biodegradable at all.

"Yeah," Danny would say, "eat your fucking cauliflower."

My mom didn't mind Danny's swearing. In fact, she thought it was endearing.

"It's high in fiber, son," Danny would go on. "You need your fucking fiber."

I hated when he called me "son."

Pleasantly, Mother chimed in, "Yes, dear. Listen to Danny. He knows a lot about fiber."

Danny was also, apparently, an expert on World War I, or "the Great War, fuck all the rest." Sometimes, in his better moods, he'd start talking about trenches and the birth of biological warfare. (Here he would begin to breathe lustfully through the bulky apparatus on his face.) When my eyes would go glassy after a time, he'd cuff me behind the ear and say, "You're blind! You've been hit!"

And that's how things went.

Danny started taking me to school in his truck. He was never late--"Late, as far as I'm concerned, is dead or pregnant"--so I no longer had the time to take my two morning showers, and, as a result, my socks swelled with an unflattering lavender. Needless to say, my social life did not improve.

I came home one day to find my mom home from work early, packing things into boxes. I asked what was going on.

She said, "We're moving into Danny's parents' house. They're rich, you know."

Her face elasticized into a grin.

Around then, a fungus the color of royalty had started to grow between my toes, and my nights had become markedly itchier--so at this point, I was quite open to any change in lifestyle.

The next morning Danny dropped me off at the bus stop. "I gotta take care of some shit," he told me. "Don't listen to any of those Armenians in your class. They're all liars and deserved whatever it is they're lying to you about."

I said, "Okay," and hopped out of the truck.

I waited for the school bus.

I examined my fleshy, slightly purple wrist. When I became anxious, I liked to pretend I owned a watch, and it occurred to me now that maybe, after my mom and I moved into Danny's parents' house, they might buy me a watch. Then I'd always know what time it was. If I started paying more attention to Time, maybe Time might start paying more attention to me.

Besides, all the other boys in my class had already started growing armpit hair, and I was still dealing with this foot fungus.

BIO: Ian Kappos was born and raised in Northern California. His short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Specious Species, Neon, Crossed Out Magazine, Grim Corps Magazine, Pravic, and Smashed Cat Magazine. An art school dropout, he lives and attends community college in Sacramento, California.