Afterschool Special – A Prose Poem by Charley Flyte

Wake up.
Your sister is screaming and your eardrums are shattered: the moonlight looks in through the bullet holes. It says Hello? It says Is anyone at home? They were looking for you, the firstborn son, but the tiny missiles that pierce your haven do not discriminate, not the way you do, between the red and the blue, between a brother and his sister. And you run into her room, clap your hand over her mouth and throw her on the floor, but it’s too late. It’s too late. They’re gone and she’s safe, but you didn’t get there fast enough. Your parents are running through the house and now your mother is hyperventilating in the corner and your father picks you up from the floor. He is a sane man and he is a kind man, but he hits you, hits you hard and will not stop. He drives his fist into you, saying fuckyou fuckyou fuckyou.

You do not stop him.
You have brought this.

You have brought this home to your family.

Wake up. You hear someone running past your window. It is morning. You peer through the blinds and there are men in Kevlar running past your window. They shuffle by like rats in the walls, almost noiseless, almost, but not quite. They have guns, these men, and they surround the house. You look out your other window, the one that faces the backyard, and you see them peering into the garage. You have seen this before, on tv, and you know what will happen if they find what they’re looking for.

You have seen this before.
This is from a movie somewhere.

You are a mother and they are looking for your son. They say where is your son? You say, Which one? Which one do you want? You’ve already taken one. Now, the other one as well?

You are a mother, and you offer up your firstborn, and it’s not enough. You are a mother, and you offer up your lastborn, and its still not enough.

Which one? Which one do you want?

What more do you want from me?

Little Boy Blue, come blow your horn.

You are young. You are young and invincible and daring and alive. You are brilliant and beautiful. You have the reflexes of a ninja, a feline sensibility, carnivorous and aware. Your senses are heightened and you are alert.

You always see them coming. They always underestimate you. This is who you are.

You are twelve years old and kind of a nerd, and you are not allowed to go to school dances. This is not your fault, it wasn’t anything you did. When the men pass by your window, you know that your brother has done something again. And you will be punished again, for what you didn’t
do. You will be punished for what you didn’t do, but might have, had you been somebody else. Had you been born a boy.

You will be punished for what you didn’t do, punished for who you yet might be.

And sometimes you wish that you had been born a boy, for then it might all have been for something.

Wake up.

The men knock on the front door and it is opened to them. Their pupils are wide and the skin on their foreheads is so taut that their ears pull back. They are listening. They ask your mother questions. She is compliant. After all, who wouldn’t be. These men have guns and are sheathed in armor and are Not To Be Fucked With.

They say to you: Where Is Your Brother?

You are twenty-one and you are reading Simone de Beauvoir on your brother’s couch.

(You are fourteen and you say I don’t know.)

You are twenty-one and in the seven years between now and fourteen your cells have all died and have been reborn, and they say to you again Where is your brother?

And you look him in his brown, brown eyes and you say to yourself, I don’t know where my brother is.

You are an eye with an iris so black it cannot be distinguished from the pupils. You look and you look and you look. You absorb so much light that you overflow sometimes, from looking too much. You look into a brown, brown eye and in your little eye-mind you make charts and graphs
and plot points and write equations.

This is the question for which you need an answer.

Exercise R:
Two children, close in age and of similar intelligence, grow up in the same environment. They read the same books and watch the same tv shows. For most of their young lives, they share friends. For a while they believe in god, and then don’t. For a while they believe in their parents, and then don’t. Sometimes they entertain the notion of aliens, but this is only a passing fancy, like Santa Claus. One evening, Child A shoots a house in the middle of the night with a toy gun. Bang. Bang. One evening, several years before, (or several years later, I can’t remember which) Child B eats a toy bottle of pills. Yum, yum.

Which one should have been a scientist?

And for extra credit, did anyone survive.

Wake up. You have not been listening. Wake up. You have not been listening, you haven’t been listening to me. There is danger outside, the darkness has come, it has chased away the light and now it fills the space and the air of the night so, so thoroughly.

Wake up. You must help me with your mattresses, my child. Yes. The top mattress and the box spring, both. We must line the front walls with our mattresses. (If you were older, and had seen The Godfather you would make dark jokes about these mattresses.) But you haven’t, you haven’t, you can’t and you don’t you don’t you don’t.

This is not what was supposed to happen. This was not how it was supposed to go. You are a father and this was not how it was supposed to go. It was all said, and done. It was supposed to end, and the boy, the boy had been quiet, the boy had kept his mouth shut. You hadn’t expected it, no one had. And so you go hunting, because only one parent was supposed to lose her son tonight, only one. But the boy spoke, and with his breath, took the lives of all the firstborn sons. And as you drive up the streets at night, you think this is how it must have been for them: my son, her son.

Shhhh. Be vewy vewy quiet. I’m going human hunting.

Little Boy Blue, come blow your horn.

The cat’s in the cradle, the cops are in the corn. Your mother is frantic. She is throwing mattresses up the walls and keeping you out of school. She says You are going to Salt Lake City.

Everyone goes to Salt Lake City.

It is the past and your mother is going to Salt Lake City. It is not as all past as that, but your brother is hitchhiking to Salt Lake City. It is sometime in the future, or maybe it’s still in the past, depending upon your point of view, and no one knows that you are on a bus, or everyone knows that you are on a plane, going to Salt Lake City. It is The Place To Go. Pioneers go to Salt Lake, with handcarts. Or went, rather. Now you too, and soon, you shall again. She swoops you up deposits you on a plane and you barely think of it, everything has become normal to you, everything is sane, and write in your diary, ‘Tonight we had pizza for dinner.’

Nine months later, you have a new brother. Your first had been found defective, you had heard, and so they had sent him to Tacoma or to Redmond to be refurbished. Nine months, you think, is a nice organic length of time. This is the newer model brother, the Brother2000, fresh in from the docks. You look at the plans and the operating instructions for this brother and then you look through the box. You hold the box upside down and shake it, but you still can’t find the warranty.

Your horoscope said A Disturbing Piece of Information Will Reach You Through Some Form Of Electronic Communication and so you put off calling your little brother for one more day. Then for another and another. You are twenty-one and your mother calls you and she says Your
brother has been arrested.

You laugh and you say to your mother, Well. Look’s like you’re three for three.

You hang up the phone. Brian is making ramen. Brian, you say. A Disturbing Piece of Information has found me Through Some Form Of Electronic Communication, and it is a few days late, but, hey. It’s here all the same. You laugh for a while and then you stop. And then you hold your head so your eyes don’t fall out. My brother.

My poor, poor brother.

You are twenty-one. You forgot to call your brother today. He figured prominently in your dream last night and the night before. The Boy Wonder, the Sundance Kid. You are on your way home from a bar and you are holding a can of mace. You have nervous habits, like biting your fingernails and playing with switches. You get home and put the leftover General Tso’s chicken in the microwave and you seem to have gotten General Tso’s chicken sauce all over your hand. You wash your hand off and eat your food and your eyes sting and you think, Damn. That’s spicy. Your face burns and turns red and it is almost unbearable. It is only after you are about to leave again, that you see your keys.

For some reason, they too, are covered with General Tso’s chicken sauce.

Child A and Child B are going to Salt Lake City. Child A is fourteen and Child B is sixteen. (Child C is thirteen, and still a twerp, and thus doesn’t really figure into this, not yet.) Child A leaves at point P in time and hitchhikes. Child B leaves at P + 4 yrs, she takes a bus and but still, she can’t get there fast enough, and when she does get there, her brother isn’t there. Her brother is nowhere to be found.

It is an afterschool special. Brian has just finished filming the latest episode of 24 Hours of Child B, A Day In The Life Of, and he is laughing and wiping the blackness from her eyes. He blots her makeup like ink with a paper towel: she cannot do this herself.

She has capsaicin under her fingernails and cannot do it herself.

She says I can’t do this anymore. I can’t do this all by myself.

It is an afterschool special and there is a soft focus, weeping women. And many, many violins.

And all this is very nice, but Why?
Why won’t you wake up?
Tell us, tell us now:

Where is your brother?

Charley Flyteis a writer, artist, and actor based in Los Angeles. She is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe (Pine Ridge) and is of Mohawk (Six Nations), English, Scottish, and Norwegian descent.  She received her BA in Film and Media Studies from John Hopkins University, studied acting at the T. Schreiber Studio in NYC, and is an ensemble member at Native Voices at the Autry.  Her short film script, CHARLA, was a Finalist in the 2019 Sundance Native Filmmaker Fellowship Lab.  She enjoys yoga, drawing, painting, dancing, and beadwork.  She tweets at:  (7) Charley Flyte (@CharleyFlyte) / Twitter.

Banner: Landscape: (West), an original image by Robert Frede Kenter

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