by Chris McGinty
Diane was upstairs in Kyle’s room folding his clothes, noticing once again how many of the clothes Kyle was growing out of. It was almost like when he turned ten years old a few months ago his body decided to reach its adult height before his eleventh birthday.
Lost in thought, she didn’t immediately recognize the grind of the garbage disposal downstairs in the kitchen until something fell into it, maybe a tangerine, which strained the disposal until it stopped. The screech of the machinery was grating even from downstairs. Then came Kyle’s voice, “Mom.”
The way he drawled that single syllable pushed a button in her mind. It signaled that he was playing a prank on her. If he’d accidentally broke the disposal, she would easily forgive him and call the repairman, but that tone meant he did it on purpose to fool her somehow. She wasn’t giving into it this time.
“I’m busy, Kyle. Clean up whatever mess you made and please do it before I come down.”
She waited for, “But mom,” in the same drawling voice.
The day with the arrow it was, “But mom, I’ll get blood everywhere.” He’d requested a semi-functional toy bow and arrow for Christmas. He could shoot targets, but not accidentally kill any neighbourhood cats. He came in through the front door and said an arrow was shot through his arm. She was in her bedroom and yelled to him in low level panic to come to her room so she could look. When he said he’d get blood everywhere, she hurried out and, as he said, there was blood dripping from his arm; except that it was fake blood and he’d glued the broken pieces of an arrow to either side of his arm. She didn’t get that it was a prank until she was trying to stop the bleeding and the glue gave way causing the arrow piece to fall to the ground.
Later, she acknowledged silently that it was a little clever, but it was the smug way that Kyle said, “Gotcha.” She couldn’t forgive him. She couldn’t admit, “You really put one over on me there, Kyle.” Presently; therefore, she was ignoring him.
“But mom,” again from the kitchen, drawling her name, “I need your help.”
It was definitely the prank tone. He used it when he told her their cat, Mittens, was dead in the street, but it was a prop, a stuffed animal with its head flattened and more fake blood in a spatter. This too was clever, albeit a bit deranged. She wanted to say something to him about using that creative energy for something good, but when he smiled that smug smile and said, “Gotcha,” it was infuriating.
Diane jumped a little. Kyle’s tone seemed shifted. It wasn’t exactly angry or panicked, but somewhere in that range.
“I’m folding your clothes,” she said, trying not to betray her impatience, “I’ll look at the disposal when I come down. It probably just needs the reset button pushed.”
“I doubt that.”
The tone was no longer there. He never lost that condescending tone before, not even when he pretended to get on the roof to get his Frisbee and made like he’d fallen from the roof. She came out and found his leg twisted. It looked so real, but it was just another prop. His actual leg was in a small hole he’d dug in the ground. Again, she wanted to suggest learning movie effects or becoming a magician, but for the haughtiness as he smiled and said, “Gotcha.”
Instead, she told him to remember about the boy who cried wolf.
He kept smiling, “I still gotcha.”
She almost punched him in the face that day. She really did. She never thought she could be so upset with her son, but, dear lord, she almost struck him.
She was putting the clothes away when his voice made its way up the stairs to her ears again, “It really hurts.”
He sounded weak. Of course, he was acting, but she felt she could hear tears rolling down his face as he spoke. He was going to fool her again. She was starting to believe him, even though she knew this was more nonsense. She couldn’t turn off her maternal instinct to be the protector. She believed this instinct was the only reason she hadn’t punched him after the prank with the leg.
She walked down the stairs, which led straight into the dining room and the kitchen beyond. Kyle was standing at the sink with his hand in the garbage disposal.
“I put my hand in the disposal and turned it on to see what would happen.”
She didn’t believe him. Yet, he seemed a little pale.
“You threw a tangerine in there until it broke, Kyle. Then you put some fake blood on your hand and put it in the disposal. You can’t fool me forever, you know.”
“I guess not,” Kyle said, looking shamefully at the ground, “but my hand is stuck. I didn’t think it would get stuck. I remembered what you said about crying wolf. I really did.”
“Pull hard. It’ll come out.”
“But mom,” that drawl again, “it really hurts.”
Diane didn’t remember starting to move at Kyle. She was experiencing blind rage for the first time in her life. She was moving fast and she was going to hurt him. It might only be scraping his hand a little bit pulling it from the disposal, but he needed to know she wasn’t playing around anymore. When she got to the sink she grabbed his arm and yanked up. It didn’t move.
“Unball your fist,” she demanded.
He looked scared, “It’s not balled up. It’s stuck!”
He drawled the word stuck. It wasn’t smug this time, but it fueled her rage. She wrenched his arm upward with all her strength. For a moment it didn’t feel like it was going to move, but then she heard a squelching sound and the hand came free from the disposal.
The skin was a shredded mess. The bones of his hand were shiny and exposed. To make matters worse, his pinky finger was missing and she instantly convinced herself she had torn it off when she jerked his hand free. He really did it this time. It wasn’t clever special effects. He took the prank so far that he had turned on the garbage disposal and shoved his hand in until it stopped running. She was staring at the mangled hand of a ten year old psychopath, and she could only do one thing in response. She screamed.
Kyle, meanwhile, did three things in response to his mother backing away from him: he smiled that smug smile; he dripped blood, real blood this time, on the floor; and he said, “Gotcha,” with that infuriating tone.
Chris McGinty is a short story writer who never did any of the crazy stuff that the character of Kyle did, but he really didn’t have to. When he wrote the original version of this story (now lost) at the age of thirteen, his mom was disturbed enough. He wrote this version so that he and Miguel could discuss it. There was nothing he could do to recapture his teenage writing voice, but he did what he could to stick to the original story without trying to make it “better.”