Praise | Book Description

On Sale Now!

Pre-order now at:
Barnes & | | Book | Books A

"Lemonade sound good?" his mother said, and turned to the chunky, dim-looking waitress standing over them. "And how's the fried chicken?"

"Best in the state."

His mother laughed like it was a joke and ordered two portions, three plates. When the waitress left, she said, "Always order a drink. Otherwise they'll think you're a penny-pincher and they worry about their tip. This way they might make sure no one spits in your food." She smiled at the waitress as their lemonade hit the table and Rubin looked in his glass for spit.

"So, " she said, and looked right at him, something she hardly did. She never seemed to be looking at anybody. "How was my speech?"

"It was great, Mom!"


Jenny said, "It was really, really, really good."

"Well, thank you, baby!" Mom said, and touched Jenny's cheek.

They had sat in the back of the auditorium, Jenny coloring in her book, Rubin just waiting, taking care of Jenny. He had always been taking care.

Why did she order fried chicken? The first bite was the only one he ever enjoyed. After that he was just calming his stomach, as he felt himself get fatter. Not fat, she always said. Chubby. And he'd outgrow it. He'd be slender like his mother, not short and stumpy like his dad. He tried to remember his dad. Nothing came back except a round face and a smile. But he could have dreamed that.

Jimmy Wrightington had the locker next to Rubin's and Rubin was always nervous going there. He'd mess up on his locker combination and by the time he got it open, Wrightington would be standing there, nose turned up like a pig, calling Rubin a retard and a queer and knocking his books down. He couldn't leave them on the floor, and if he bent over to pick them up, Wrightington would kick them away. Often as not, Wrightington would punch him. People kept telling him to stand up for himself, but that just made it worse. He had a dream of going psycho on Wrightington, jamming the boy's head in a locker and slamming the door on it over and over again, and people would respect him, for kicking Jimmy Wrightington's ass, for being tough. And it would feel good, revenge. He could feel angry enough to do it, but never figured out how. He just walked away feeling angry and frightened and stupid. The feeling would stay with him all day and into the night. One day he'd fight back, be a man and kick anyone's ass who messed with Jenny, he'd be big and tough and protect her. One day he'd stand up.

He was still thinking that later on, how he'd kick someone's ass and change everything, when they climbed out of the car, sleepy Jenny grabbing his hand as they walked up the path, when Mom unlocked the front door, let Rubin and Jenny in, followed them into the quiet house, flicked on the living room light, and locked the door, still thinking how he'd smash Jimmy Wrightington's head in the locker, slam, slam, slam, when suddenly someone was saying, "Hello, Mrs. Key."

They turned around to see a nightmare-looking man, a homeless man with a dirty sweater and bad teeth, pointing a gun, a real gun, at his mother. But Jenny was in the way. The man could shoot Jenny.

This was his chance. He could leap on it from the side, knock it out of the man's hand, shoot the man dead or pound him with the gun. He waited for his mother to say something but she didn't. Rubin's heart pounded in his throat, in his ears, telling him to jump, telling him to hold still. Without taking a breath, he jumped. And as he jumped, in his moment of flight and taking action, everything like a crazy dream, he felt for the first time he could remember that he was happy, when the sound began, Kup...

It went wrong. He grabbed at the gun, clutched the man's hand as a loud blast of thunder started and didn't stop, thunder crashing in a long, slow roar, a fire ripping through Rubin's fat belly, poking, puncturing, burning through and Rubin's head crashing down on the coffee table, the thunder echoing in his ears as his mother screamed and he knew how, in one second, in one moment of stupidity, he had ruined everything.


© Michael Simon. All rights reserved. Site designed by Kevin Che.