Teddy Roosevelt


by Eric Sims-Brown

William Sendak played the violin, read and loved chess. My mother left and William became Bill. Bill Sendak listened to talk radio, masturbated to Playboy and flipped checker boards when he got angry. He gave up music for a union job at Safeway. My father lost his hair to mid management. Bill Sendak's delicate fingers inflated like the bones had been replaced by balloons.

My father set the violin in the fireplace. The strings meowed as they withered. He gave me the bow. He went to his bedroom and closed the door. I held the bow in the light. The blood red wood felt smooth. Fire reflected in the grain. I could feel my father's history - his contradiction. He'd never given me anything so personal. Gifts came in glossy boxes which protected something plastic, something almost indestructible. The bow was solid but fragile.

My father came home the next day with a book about Teddy Roosevelt. The book was thin. There were words on one side of the page and illustrations on the other. One picture showed a young Teddy catching fish with his hands, another of TR taking whimsical aim at small obstacles with his big stick. TR, a man's man, the kind of guy danger feared. Roosevelt grabbed destiny with his meaty paws and shaped it to his liking.

I cried the first time Ihit the coffee table. I caught the corner with my knee. Roosevelt trained in rivers and forests. We had pavement and floods when the drains clogged. The early months were cracks and a queasy greenish color around some body part. I broke my big toe. I chipped a tooth. I went to the hospital for stitches on my chin.

We destroyed. We ripped curtains, gutted pillows. We smashed frames and shredded pictures. My father painted the walls a sterile white. He bought a grainy old photo of TR. Roosevelt is smiling, a broad grinned, full toothed smile. His cheeks are flush, the corners of his eyes are creased. He is crushing life between those creases.

I slept on a cot in the shadow of Roosevelt's moustache. I lay on stained canvas held up by rickety boards. I had a thin blanket and cold toes.

The coffee table wore down at the corners. There were scratches and nicks from my collisions. I took to rolling down the stairs. I was seven and chronically bruised. My hands were callused from shoveling. I dug up the backyard, tore out the grass, and piled everything into a mound next to the fence. Rocks from the hill spilled over the top into the neighbor's yard. The terrain gave way under my feet. Dirt filled my shoes and wedged between my toes. Dust swirled and stained my nostrils.

We turned the house into an archery range. We fashioned arrows from tables my mother bought at IKEA. The pressed wood came off in clumsy peels. Dad became a regular at the taxidermist. He spent entire paychecks on dead animals. We had buffalo, deer, bear, lions, tigers and an eagle. My father bought a tree stand. We sat in the living room putting holes in things. The arrows punctured the walls and cracked windows.

Father said it was important to develop a good eye. The ability to see things is a lost skill. Men are made of distractions. We are a neutered, domesticated group. Used to be a man could track an animal for miles across different terrain. Everything is paved over now. A man can't find his way anymore.

My friends loved our house. I had a TR costume replete with slouch hat, blue flannel shirt, brown trousers, leggings, boots and a handkerchief which I knotted loosely around my neck. I wore a fake mustache and spectacles. I made a horse from a real head and leftover IKEA parts. I was TR leading my rough riders on a charge. We'd storm the dirt pile in our backyard.

Scott didn't understand. He thought we'd do some invisible sword nonsense. He argued when I explained that he was a Spaniard defending San Juan Hill. I hit him in the face with the bow. The wood clinked and pushed through his front teeth. Scott had an indoor mouth. His teeth were fresh out of the box. He spit blood all over his Atlanta Falcons t-shirt. The teeth broke in two irregular pieces. The jagged points hung like red icicles. Scott cried and threw handfuls of dirt. I hit him again. Scott went limp. An ant crawled through the dirt and into his blonde hair. It moved through the fine strands and settled in his ear. I dropped the bow and bent down. I held the ant between my fingers and thought of crushing, thought of mashing its body into a jam.

Scott roared a gurgled, fearful howl. He plowed into my stomach and I spit wind. He pinned me down and dripped blood on my face. The ant scurried across my nose. Scott smashed its body into the bone. I heard it snap. The other boys pulled him off. Tears ran through the greasy blood on his face. He screamed again. I picked up the bow and chased him through the yard and into the street. I followed him back home and beat on his door. I kicked and scratched. My nose singed. Sloppy breaths heaved from my open mouth. Scott's mother opened the door. Her angry face relaxed when she saw me. She got down on her knees and stroked the sweaty hair from my eyes. She asked if I was okay. I spit in her face.

I took to sleeping outside in a tent. My father stayed inside. The disc between his L5-S1 slipped. He traded his cot for a bed with lumbar support. He started inhaling pain pills. Little blue pills became big white ones. Twice a day became four.

I learned to hunt the suburban creatures � sparrows, squirrels and the occasional stray cat. I would beat them with the bow and slit their throats with the string. I dried the flesh and made a hat covered in eyes.

My father stopped at eight pills a day. He went to a doctor who referred him to a physical therapist. She held him and made his pain go away. He liked the way she made him feel. They started dating. I lay in my tent late at night listening; the low murmurs on the front porch moving closer.

 

Sheila had blonde hair which she kept in a permanent ponytail. Her muscles were toned, tanned things. She spoke in high pitches with accents on the vowels. My father lost weight and found hair in a bottle. His swollen fingers deflated. William Sendak bought a couch with decorative pillows. He hung pictures and lit apple cinnamon scented candles. He got down on one knee.

My father came to my tent. Sheila and I are in love he said. She will be good for us. My fists shook. I felt an urge to jump on my father. Get him on the ground and gouge out his eyes.

I came home the next day to an open garage. My father was loading all the animals into his pickup. I drove with him to the landfill. Time to grow up he said. He made me throw them all away. The eagle landed upright, its talons gripping a clump of coffee grounds and rotted banana peels. Trash seeped through the holes in its wings and chest.

Sheila worked until five. I was surprised when she came into the backyard. I was alone formulating my attack strategy. I wiped my brow with my slouch hat. Wet dirt smeared my forehead. Sheila asked if I would like some iced tea. Women are not allowed on the battlefield, I told her. This is a yard, not a war zone. I turned my back to her. She touched my shoulder. Her hands were soft and warm. Her neck smelled of warm vanilla. She pressed against me. I could feel her breasts against my back.

Sheila was gone by the time my father came home. I left the bloody violin bow on his bed. I had scratches on my face and hands.

"What did you do?"

She fought well is all I said.


BIO: Eric Sims-Brown has written for the Ames Tribune and Olympian newspapers. He is currently working on a collection of short stories entitled A Boy and His Missile. He is thirty three years old and lives in Olympia, Washington.