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Before He Got Home : a short story

Before He Got Home : a short story

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Published by Gwen Williams
He was an odd boy, always staring out the window and humming or saying such things as The colonel’s just waiting for a letter, you know, just waiting.  He would start sentences in mid-thought like—can you believe it, they thought he’d eat mothballs, and then he would quit talking in the middle of things, voice trailing off . . .
He was an odd boy, always staring out the window and humming or saying such things as The colonel’s just waiting for a letter, you know, just waiting.  He would start sentences in mid-thought like—can you believe it, they thought he’d eat mothballs, and then he would quit talking in the middle of things, voice trailing off . . .

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Published by: Gwen Williams on Sep 07, 2009
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved

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10/14/2012

 
Before He Got Home
by Gwen L. Williams

He was an odd boy, always staring out the window and humming or sayingsuch things as
The colonel’s just waiting for a letter, you know, just waiting.
 
Hewould start sentences in mid-thought like—
can you believe it, they thought he’d eat mothballs,
and then he would quit talking in the middle of things, voice trailing off into enigmatic phrases such as
No one knows anything about angels anymore.
 
Hetalked as if you knew what he was talking about but most times you didn’t, likewhen he talked about hunting bear, smearing the blood of deer on his face, drivingdown a dirt road in some godawful place like Mississippi.
He had never been toMississippi or gone hunting much less ever smeared deer blood on his face, but justlike that, out of the blue, he would start talking about hunting or blood or drivingdown a dirt road, saying he was Jason Compson.
 
I am Jason Compson, I am JasonCompson,
he would say and then look at you real strange-like.
Odd boy.
Didn’teven know his name.
Or at least he sometimes acted like he didn’t know his name,at least that’s what she, his mother, and the rest of the family thought, that maybehe forgot his name sometimes or something, that’s why they didn’t know what hewas talking about, cause he forgot things or made things up odd boy that he was.
 Like that time when all he pretty much said to anybody for a week was
Eyes of ablue dog, Eyes of a blue dog.
 
He said it so much even his little sister started sayingit too, although she didn’t know what it meant, she just liked saying it.
He evenwrote
eyes of a blue dog 
on the mirror in the bathroom, ruined his mother’s favoritetube of lipstick, and when his mother yelled at him about the lipstick all he did wassay,
 
It works,
and then when she said,
You better scrub that shit off the mirror before your father gets home,
 
he said to her,
You never see my face.
 
But she wasno different than any others in the family even though she was his mother.
Maybethat’s what’s so bad about it, about her not knowing what he was talking about half the time, thinking him odd and all, for when he wasn’t beginning or endingconversations with lord knows who or what or staring out the window or humming,he was reading books.
If he had his nose buried in a book, forget it, he wouldcompletely ignore what was going on around him.
She would say,
Turn on thelight, You’re eyes are gonna go bad,
and then because he was in Macondo stompingon red ants and talking to a man tied to a chestnut tree about ice and the marvels of science, little gold
sh spilling out of his pants pockets, she’d have to say it again,louder this time, and closer to his face.
Right in his face as a matter-of-fact, that’s
Before He Got Home 1
 
the only way he would hear you if he was reading a book.
You’re Eyes Are GonnaGo Bad, You’re Gonna Go Blind, Turn On the Light,
and when he
nally heard her,well she was right in his face, who could ignore such a thing said right in your face,so when he
nally heard her, he’d say something like
Yellow is the last color yousee before going blind, Borges says so,
or something like
Will you tie ribbons and lizards around my arms and legs, smear my face charcoal, and carry me around likeUrsula when I go blind,
or something like
You smell like roses, I smell roses, are youwearing rose perfume.
 
Most times she would just turn on the light.

Just like that.
 Wouldn’t snicker or call him the colonel or Jason or anything smart like that but just turn on the light.
Although sometimes she would say,
Who’s Borges, Who’sUrsula, Who’s wearing rose perfume, You know I don’t know what you are talking about—your brain’s going soft just like your uncle Marvin.

 
But apparently shehadn’t started in on him soon enough about turning on the light, cause in the tenth-grade, sure enough, she had to buy him reading glasses.
But even after that she’dstill turn on the light.
Sometimes if she was tired from working all day, fromworking all day on her feet, on her goddamn feet all day long for Chrissakes, andshe came home to
nd him just sitting there, reading, his nose buried in a book or just staring out the window, in other words if she came home and found him justdoing nothing, a half-eaten bologna sandwich and empty soda cans scattered aboutaround his feet, she’d grab his shoulder really hard, dig her
ngers into his shoulderand collarbone, really hard.
She would put her nose right up to his, one time hernose even knocked his glasses off his face, and she’d say really loud,
Were youborn in a barn, Get rid of these cans, You better eat all of that sandwich you hear me, children are starving in Africa, and Pick up your socks for Chrissakes.

 
Then hewould just look at her, just look at her on those days.
He knew better than to tellher she smelled like roses even though she did, and he knew better than to say Iknow nothing about Africa but I know a whole train load of people just vanished, just vanished, from Macondo, so he would look at her and she would
nally let goof his shoulder.
Then she would turn on the light and leave the room saying,
What did I do to deserve this
, her being a mother and him being her son.
Who couldblame her what with her being the mother of an odd boy like that and there beingan uncle Marvin in the family whose brain had gone soft.
Who could blame herafter working all goddamn day long on her feet and having to come home to him just sitting there, reading, doing nothing but reading, his mind wandering off towho the hell knows where or what, like the time he had asked her if she and hisfather,
 
Were
fi 
rst cousins or something.

 
That time she said to him,
What in
Before He Got Home 2
 
tarnation are you talking about—where did you learn such
fi 
lth—of course not.
 
And he said,
I don’t know, just wondering.

 
Then he went back to staring out thewindow.
So who could blame her if she grabbed his shoulder hard and shook himor pulled on his ear every once in a while, look what she had to put up with, anodd boy who pretended not to know his name and wondered if his parents were
rst cousins or something.
There he would sit staring out the window, looking foryellow butter
ies to
oat by and thinking about gym socks.
He wondered why hewould be thinking about gym socks when he only wanted to be thinking aboutyellow butter
ies like the chicken thief who died dreaming about yellow butter
iesand scorpions.
He wondered if maybe the chicken thief was really going blind, likeBorges says yellow is the last color to go, if he was going blind and that’s why hedreamt of yellow butter
ies and smelly old gym socks.
Where did the gym sockscome in, they weren’t part of the story.

 
Chicken thieves don’t wear gym socks,
 
hesaid.
Then she yelled from the kitchen,
I don’t care if you’re a chicken thief or acolonel or a whatcha-ma-call-it, I said pick up your socks for Chrissakes.

 
He said,
Oh yeah
 
and picked up his socks, smelly as they were.
His socks were especiallysmelly that year he didn’t want to take a bath.
It wasn’t that he didn’t know howgodawful his feet and arm pits smelt, it just took him close to a year to convince herhe could take a bath by himself.
 
 And use soap this time, Rinse all that shampooout,
and
What’s going on in there,
 
she would say as she stood right outside thebathroom door and listened to him splashing and making all sorts of commotion inthe tub. Since he wasn’t done with his bath even though the water was ice cold, hewould pull the drain stopper, watch grains of sand go down the drain, then run hotwater in the tub again.

When she would hear the tub
lling up again she wouldsay,
What’s going on in there.
 
She’d be thinking heaven knows what cause thenshed say,
Hurry up I gotta use the pot.

 
All the while the tub would be
lling up ashe smeared her makeup on jagged lines across his face that made him look like asavage hunter, for he was, and then he swam for miles in the tub to reach the desertisland where boys were dancing around a bon
re and hunting down wild boar andother such creatures without the distractions of mothers saying they had to go to thepot or telling you to use bars of soap that didn’t smell like roses or jasmine oranything good but like laundry detergent.
So when she yelled,
I don’t care if you’rea chicken thief or a colonel or a whatcha-ma-call-it, I said pick up your socks for Chrissakes,
what do you expect, he picked up his socks of course.
He wasn’t a badboy.
He didn’t misbehave or get smart-alecky on purpose.
It’s just that when hisnose was buried in a book, well forget it, he couldn’t bother with what anyone was
Before He Got Home 3

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