Michael. Raphael. Gabriel. The three of us were triplets named after archangels. Our mother is flakey like that. On the dashboard of our parents’ minivan our mom kept a cherub with three heads with wings, with an M, an R, and a G carved on the bottom. Our older sister, Lucy watched us while our parents were at their usual Sunday night bingo. Well, she was supposed to watch us anyway. Lucy locked the door to her bedroom and cranked some forgettable boy band music after she told us to go watch tv in the den.
None of us knew how the remote for the tv worked. I got bored quickly and felt hungry. I wanted hotdogs. Michael and Raphael followed me to the kitchen. I pushed a kitchen chair over to the sink and climbed up on it to fill a pot with water. Raphael turned all the dials on the stove he could reach. Michael got a pack of hotdogs out of the fridge. Raphael had my dad’s rubber work boots on. Our dad cleaned septic tanks and provided outhouses for construction sites. I put the pot of hotdogs on top of the stove and asked How do we know when they’re done? Michael shrugged and said that mom always turned the fan on when she cooked stuff. Raphael pulled the chair over to the stove and climbed on top of the burners to try to see which button made the fan go. Our dad’s rubber boots melted and smoked black as Raphael pressed all the buttons above the stove.
The stink filled the room as Raphael squealed. The boots melted to the red elements and he couldn’t get them off. I climbed up on the chair and slung my arm around Raphael’s waist and pulled until both of us thudded on the floor. I stood up and Raphael didn’t. Michael and I looked at each other as our brother was on the kitchen floor. The water in the pot spit on to the stove and hissed at us. We ran up and banged on Lucy’s bedroom door and she told Michael and I Beat It, I’m busy. She told us to behave and get popsicles out of the freezer. I ate all the green ones and Michael took the orange ones. Michael said Lucy can have the purple ones cuz those ones are gross. We were saving the red ones for Raphael when he woke up.
Our parents’ minivan pulled up in the driveway. I told Michael to stay with Raphael. I raced to the front door and told our parents what happened. My mother darted to the kitchen and our dad took us to the den. I heard our mother bawling and screaming Gabriel with all the wind in her lungs. I thought it was so strange. She thought I was Raphael and that it was me on the kitchen floor. Michael and I didn’t say anything about it. Maybe our mother wished it was me on the floor. I dunno.
The siren of an ambulance came towards the house and our dad took me and Michael to our room and said Goodnight Raphael, Goodnight Michael. The next morning at the breakfast table Raphael wasn’t with us. Our parents were talking to Lucy about her having to go to a boarding school on the other side of the country. Our mom said Boys, I’m making your favourite this morning, chocolate chip and banana pancakes for Michael and blueberry waffles for you, Raphael. I actually didn’t like blueberries. I went along with it for our mother’s sake.
Our mom started dressing me and Michael alike after a while. She never did this before when Raphael was still around. But now I was being called Raphael. The cherub just vanished from the dashboard of our parent’s minivan and I don’t remember seeing it again. Things change I guess.
I went to elementary school as Raphael. I joined Beavers, Cubs, and Scouts as Raphael. I lost my virginity to the town bike at a house party while wasted on Root beer Schnapps as Raphael. Michael seemed to follow everything I did. I told our dad I wanted to take archery after school and Michael joined me. I lost interest in archery and decided I wanted to try bowling. Michael followed. I used the electric clippers my mom groomed her stupid poodle with to give myself a Mohawk. Michael and I were both grounded for a month after he did the same.
A few years went by and Michael was making plans to check out colleges for after we graduate. The day I decided to drop out of high school, I went to the Work Warehouse store and bought a pair of rubber boots a few sizes too big for my feet and filled them up from the jerrycan of gas in the garage. When nurses at intensive care took the bandages off my body. I looked in the mirror in the bathroom at the hospital. The reflection didn’t resemble Michael. Or Raphael. This is Gabriel.
I put my phone on silent and flopped it inside the desk drawer. I had no intention of going. And I’d just try to change the subject next time I see my dad at some holiday or whenever. There were a gazillion messages on my phone from my dad. Asking if I was staying at his house when I came for my older brother Steven’s funeral. A few messages were saying that he could pick me up at the airport and drive us back to his house if I’d just call him back and tell him what time to be there, and that I could stay the week at his house and we all could catch up.
Steven was a decade older than me. I remember when I was eight or nine years old we lived in this small town called Camrose. Steven was home with me as my parents were working. It was summer. My brother and I weren’t in school. I was eating Fruit Loops at the kitchen table and fondling the pack of Players Light King Size. 25’s. I slid the pack open and there was a calendar printed on the back. I was looking what day of the week my birthday was going to be on that year. Steven was hovering behind my chair and I hadn’t noticed. He swatted the pack out of my hand and took a zippo out of his jeans. The zippo was our grandpas. Steven got it when he died. He told me to stick out my hand, but just grabbed my arm by the wrist at the same time. Squeezed my fingers in his hand and flicked the zippo open. I squirmed and squealed as he held the flame to the ends of my fingers. I can’t tell you how long he held the lighter there torching my hand, it felt like a year. I didn’t feel my hand being crushed anymore. Steven was not in the kitchen. I sat there staring at the sunlight coming in through the crack of the green kitchen curtain. Trying not to look at the blisters on my fingers.
I got up from the table and went outside, across the back alley and over to the park. Fat Christopher and his sister Ruby were there in the sandbox. I always thought the park was a real gross place. Some kid always found cat shit in the sandbox. And next to the sandbox were these large tractor tires standing upright, but half buried in the ground, so like arches sticking out of the ground. Kids would climb up on them and jump tire to tire, or you could go inside them. They always smelled like piss inside and I heard Steven telling a friend of his that he had sex with some girl inside one of them. I never went near them. Anyway, Fat Christopher’s mom was friends with my dad. He was a year ahead of me in school so we never talked at school, just when I had to follow my dad to his parent’s house so my dad and his mom could gossip. I never really liked Fat Christopher. Fat Christopher was adopted and his sister was four years younger. My dad tried to explain a few times but I never understood why his parents would adopt some kid if they could have their own.
I was on top of the jungle gym, watching Fat Christopher and Ruby mucking about in the sandbox. Behind me I heard someone say Hey, does your mom have big boobs? I turned around and two older kids were there. A little younger than my brother. Hey kid, your mom. She got big tits or what? The other kid just started laughing and put out his hands in front of his chest and started squeezing the air, as if groping and giant pair of his own tits. The one asking questions did the same, put his hands in front of himself and asked They big like this? Then moved his hands closer to his chest or they like this? I just turned around and stared at Fat Christopher and Ruby again. They moved over to the see-saw and Fat Christopher got on first. From behind me I heard You deaf or something, kid.What the fuck’s wrong with you? I ignored it and watched as Ruby climbed from the middle of the see-saw trying to put her weight on her side. Fat Christopher rose a bit when Ruby got her side of the see-saw down. Fat Christopher was up in the air with his legs dangling and one of his shoes fell off. Ruby said Wait, I can get it and Fat Christopher’s ass hit the ground the second Ruby stood up to go get the shoe.
He was bawling his eyes out, I didn’t really care. I went over to the see-saw just to get away from those other kids asking how big my mother’s tits are. I told Ruby to run home and get her mom while I stood over Fat Christopher with those two older boys laughing at him. Ruby and her mom came running to the park and her mom looked at me and asked what happened. I pointed over to the older boys and told her that they did it. They made her son sit on the see-saw and lifted his side up then just let go. Ruby looked at me, but didn’t say anything. I showed her my burnt fingers and said the boys did that too.
In the fall I started third grade. It’d been a few weeks in already. My blisters had disappeared off my fingers. Around 10am the entire school was evacuated. Every student from Kindergarten to grade six were standing outside in the field. I didn’t know what was going on. It wasn’t a fire drill, there wasn’t any alarm going off. It was better than being in the class room though. I walked away from the kids in my class and found a volley ball in the field and kicked it again and again against the wall of the gym equipment shed. I saw three police cars drive up to the school and all the cops went inside. I just kept kicking the volley ball against the shed until I saw two cops come out of the main doors of the school. They had that kid that was asking about my mother’s tits in handcuffs, and they put him in the back of one of the cop cars. The other four cops came out after. Two of them went to talk to the principal while the other two carried some kind of duffel bag to the other side of the field where no one else was. They set it down and stepped away from the bag, and one of them was talking on his radio. After an hour all the students were allowed to go back inside the school again. No one ever said anything about what happened or why. Everything after just went on as normal.
When I was almost fifteen I hung out with Nick, he was three years older and could buy booze without being asked for I.D. We got a couple 40oz bottles of the shittiest beer I ever had. And he said he knew some chick, and we could drink at her place. Her name was Jen and she had her own trailer and her sister stayed there with her. I saw her sister in school before, her name was Erin. She was a couple years younger than me. Ruby was there at Jen’s house. I guess Ruby and Erin were friends. The three girls seemed already drunk when Nick and I arrived and the first thing Jen said was You bring any smokes?
The girls guzzled down most of the beer we bought and I barely got any. Jen especially was all messed up. Slurring and her eyes half closed. I don’t remember how, but she started talking about how she gives the best head in the world and wouldn’t shut up about it. Nick took out a cigarette and used the toaster to light it. Looked at Jen and said Yah ok, wanna prove it? Jen and Nick disappeared to the bedroom and I was alone with Erin and Ruby in the living room. Erin slept on a mattress on the floor in the living room. There were no couches or chairs so the three of us sat on her mattress. Erin looked at me and said I kinda want some too, I know Ruby does. They both started grabbing at me and I laid back on the mattress and was just sort of frozen still. I was still a virgin and this wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned for my first time. So I just didn’t move or react when two different hands were in my jeans and some teeth on my neck.
I’m not sure which one and I guess it doesn’t matter, but one of them planted their mouth on mine and all I could taste was stale cigarettes and I was really grossed out. What the hell, you don’t kiss back? Nick came into the living room and asked Hey stud, there any more beer left? Erin pulled Nick down on the mattress and started making out with him. Ruby’s hand was still down my jeans. I looked at her and asked where her brother was. He ran away from home last year, then he went to live with his real mom when he turned sixteen. I took her hand out of my jeans and said I needed to have a leak. I passed through the kitchen and Jen was there lighting another cigarette off the toaster. She puffed smoke out her mouth and said Oh you wanna turn now? And pointed down the hall to her bedroom. I ignored her and just left her trailer. I walked back home to see Steven on the back porch with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and flicking the top of our grandpa’s zippo.
Steven battled with lung cancer for four years and didn’t even make it to 40. I never remembered to ask Nick if Jen was as good as she said she was.
R. Keith is the author of Chicken Scratch (EYEAMEYE books), Background (inquieto press), How to design a hail storm (Another new calligraphy), Signature Move (Knives Forks and Spoons) and re: verbs (Bareback editions), as well as four chapbooks. His writing appears in Canadian and international literary journals.