Triskaideka III: Closing Doors

Written by Luna

NOTE: This one opens with Tom Waits's "November" -- one of the chilliest songs ever written, I think.

*November has tied me to an old, dead tree;
Get word to April to rescue me....*

As Tim walked home through a light rain, under a gray sky, a door closed inside him. It was there in his mind and heart and the pit of his stomach, more a feeling than something he could verbalize. If he'd had words, they would have been, *No. No. No.*

He walked in the door and took off his jacket, hanging it up neatly on a hook. He started to untie his shoes.

"Tim?" Virginia Bayliss called, as she did every afternoon. "Is that you? Take off your shoes before you step on the carpet."

"I know."

Virginia came down the stairs. She lifted her hand to ruffle his hair, but dropped it again, thinking, *He's a teenager now. He'll start to hate me if I keep doing that.* "Did you have a good day?"

Tim considered telling her his decision, but he didn't want to have to repeat it later to his father, so he would wait. "I guess so."

She smiled. "Go get yourself a snack, but don't touch the pies on the counter, okay? Those are for tomorrow."

"I'm not hungry."

He walked away from his mother and into the living room. The cat, Mamie, was sleeping on the couch. Tim hoisted her up and plopped down on the cushions. She settled on his chest, a warm, comforting weight.

Virginia regarded her son for a moment, then shook her head and went back upstairs to finish dusting. Tim lay still so as not to jar the cat, and gazed up at the ceiling, daydreaming.

Dinner was makeshift tuna casserole: Kraft macaroni and cheese with tuna fish and baby peas mixed in. Tim liked it. At the table, he was quiet while his parents conversed. Gasoline prices were going to go up again. The President of the United States was a blithering idiot. The heater needed to be fixed. As Roger Bayliss started to take a second helping, he turned to his son to ask the usual questions. "What'd you do in school today, Tim?"

"Spelling quiz," Tim said. "I got a 95."

"What'd you get wrong?"


"Well, study and you'll know it next time. Did you do your homework?"

"Dad, we have a four-day weekend -"

"Don't put it off," Roger instructed him. "You know what I think about procrastinating. It's a waste of your time now and in the future."

Tim swallowed the last of his milk and faced his parents. Now was as good a time as any. "I'm not going to Grandma's tomorrow."

His mother looked at his father, and his father looked at him. "Yes, you are," Roger said, casually.

"No, I just want to stay home."

"Well, that's too bad," his father said, and ate a bite of his food without taking his eyes off Tim. "You're coming. Tomorrow is a holiday. In this family we spend holidays together, and you are, by God, part of this family!"

His mother, the peacemaker, interrupted. "You'll have a good time -"

"I don't want to go!" Tim declared, angrily. "You can't make me!"

"Don't even think about shouting at the dinner table, young man," Roger warned. "You are a child. We're your parents. We *can* make you, and you *will* be coming with us. You're not going to ruin Thanksgiving for everybody else. You can either sit around feeling sorry for yourself, or you can try and have a good time, but you're coming either way, and that's the last I want to hear about it."

"Why?" Tim demanded, feeling his throat close up.

"Not another word."

"But -"

"Not. Another. Word," his father said, and there was a threat underlying what he spoke. Virginia laid a hand on his arm.

"May I be excused?" Tim muttered, through clenched teeth.

His mother nodded, and he fled upstairs to his room. He slammed the door behind him and threw himself on the bed, trembling, his thoughts fragmented by frustration and fear.

*It's not fair. I won't go. I can't. Nobody listens to me. I can't. I won't. I can't....*

It was useless, and that only made him feel worse. He thought about running away, but there was nowhere he could go on the three bucks he had saved from his allowance. His parents would bring him home, and then he'd really catch hell.

He lay there for a long time, trying hard not to cry. Eventually there was a knock on his door, so soft that, at first, he thought it was the cat scratching. He lifted his face out of the pillow and called, "Go away."

His mother came in. "Timber?" It was his baby-nickname, which she still used sometimes to comfort him. "I brought you a cup of hot chocolate."

He didn't say anything. She sat beside him on the bed, placing the cocoa on his bedside table. "Tomorrow won't be so bad. You'll have fun with your cousins, and we'll have good food."

"Do I really have to go?" he asked.

She nodded. "But it's only for the day, Tim, We'll be home tomorrow night, and I'd be sad if you weren't with us on Thanksgiving." Tim lowered his head again. Virginia sighed and patted his shoulder. "Goodnight, honey."

She left, closing the door behind her. He sat up and drank some of the hot chocolate, suddenly exhausted from tension and anxiety. He undressed for bed and slipped under the covers. He thought briefly of saying prayers, the way he'd done when he was little, then scorned the idea. He wasn't a baby. He was dreading the morning, but he was out of energy for worrying, and he drifted quickly into sleep.

By morning, the drizzling rain had become a light, fluffy snow. It was too wet and warm for the snow to stick on the ground, but it made the roofs white and pretty, the roads slick, and traffic difficult. It took twice the usual time to make the thirty-mile trip, and they were the last to arrive. His uncle Ted and aunt Charlotte, and their kids, Jim and Kurt, had come early. Uncle Toby and his wife Linda were there too. So, Tim noted with a chill, was Uncle George.

He hesitated just long enough in getting out of the car that his father shot him an ominous look. They trudged into the house. His father joined the men, watching football and arguing about the Colts. He followed his mother, who brought her pies into the kitchen.

Grandma turned and swooped him into an oven-warmed hug. "Timmy! How's my sweetest grandson?" She turned back to her cooking. "I'm making the biggest turkey ever," she told him. "I know you growing boys have big appetites. Your cousins are out back getting soaked."

"I'm going out, okay, Mom?" he asked.

Virginia nodded. "Try not to get too drenched, though, all right?"

"I won't," he assured her over his shoulder, going out the back door. As he stepped outside, flying snow hit him squarely in the face.

"Gotcha!" Kurt shouted. Jim laughed. They had been picking up handfuls of snow off the fence around the backyard and flinging it alternately at the trash cans and each other.

"That was a sucker shot!" Tim retorted. "You can't get me when I'm ready. And I almost always nail you."

"You may have good aim, Teej, but you're slow," Jim teased him. "You should practice running. I want a moving target, not a crawling one. I think those big feet of yours get in the way."

"The doctor said big feet mean I'm going to be really tall when I finish growing," Tim informed his cousins.

"Nah," Kurt said, "they just mean you have giant shovels for feet."

"Me and my giant shovels could race you to the end of the street."

"You're on, turkey-brain."

They trooped around to the sidewalk in front of the house and lined up. "Ready?" Jim began. "Get set...." Jim took off running before yelling "Go!" With the head start, he beat the others easily.

"Cheater!" Tim puffed, catching up to him.

"I would've won anyway. What are you gonna do, cry about it?"

The boys started to playfully push each other, and Tim skidded on the slippery pavement and banged his head on the curb. He lay still, pale, his eyes closed.

"Shit!" Jim exclaimed. "Did we kill him?"

"I don't know! Teej? You okay? Here, see if he's breathing."

Jim leaned over, putting his face close to that of his fallen cousin. Suddenly, Tim opened his eyes and yelled, "Gotcha!"

They jumped back in shock, and Tim laughed as he stood up. "That was great! You were so freaked out."

"It isn't funny," Jim insisted. "Why'd you scare me like that, you little faggot?"

The bad word enraged Tim. He lunged forward and shoved his cousin, toppling him backwards against a hedge. Jim glared at him. "What the hell's wrong with you?"

"Don't call me that," Tim growled.

Kurt stepped between them. "Chill out, guys. Come on, let's go back to the backyard. Dinner's probably almost ready by now."

About an hour later, the boys' grandmother called them to start carrying dishes into the dining room. Though it was cozy in the house and he dried off quickly, Tim felt colder and colder inside as dinnertime approached. Finally, the huge table was set, and the whole family took their seats as Grandma carried in the huge turkey.

As his father carved the turkey, Tim felt his hands start to shake. George was not sitting near Tim, or paying him any attention, but his presence put ice in the marrow of his bones. He mechanically filled his plate, though he felt no hunger. As everyone said Grace and started to eat, he found he couldn't do more than push his food with the edge of his fork. He looked up. His father was watching him.

"Eat up, Tim," he said sternly. "Your grandmother's been cooking all week."

Tim saw by his father's eyes that there was no way he'd get away without finishing the full plate in front of him. He decided to get it over with, and started eating as quickly as he could. He wolfed down the turkey, stuffing, corn, carrots, and potatoes, and even polished off a buttered roll at great speed. He refused his grandmother's offer of seconds and turned to his father.

"May I be excused?"

He feared that his father would insist he stayed at the table until everyone else was finished. But he nodded, and Tim got up, pushed his chair in, and bolted into the living room.

He sat by himself on the couch, heart pounding, watching but not following the football game. His stomach hurt. He tried not to move, thinking it would settle after a few minutes. Almost too late, he realized what was happening, and raced up the stairs. He barely made it, dropping to the bathroom tiles and retching miserably, unable to stop until all the food he'd eaten so quickly came up.

He was sweating and shivering and miserable, his eyes leaking the kind of tears that come with being sick. For a moment he stayed kneeling on the cool floor. Then he stood up, weakly, flushed the toilet, and turned on the cold tap to rinse his mouth and wash his face and hands.

The running water kept Tim from hearing the approaching footsteps. However, he didn't take long to notice. First there was a prickly feeling at the base of his spine. It crept up his back and around his throat, and he froze. The breath caught in his throat. His heart seemed to clench up in his chest. If he had been thinking in words, they would have been, *No. No. No.*

"Hello, Timothy," George said, standing in the open doorway.

Unconsciously, Tim gripped the edge of the sink, so hard that his fingers started to lose feeling. He was petrified. Uncle George looked at him steadily. The water gushed down the drain.

It seemed that they stood that way forever.

"I came up to see how you were," George said. His voice was painfully gentle. "Are you feeling okay?"

Tim could not answer. His uncle did not seem to notice, and continued. "You ate too much too fast, that's the trouble. I know when I was a kid my eyes were bigger than my stomach."

Tim was paralyzed, and silent. George kept looking at him, studying, searching. He took one half step towards him, lifted a hand, and let it fall. Then he raised it again, and touched Tim's shoulder as lightly as a snowflake landing on the earth.

"You've always been a good boy," he said. He sounded a bit wistful, a bit disappointed. "You've grown up. You've grown up so fast."

George reached out and turned off the faucet. He glanced at Tim one last time, fleetingly, then turned and walked away. Tim listened as he went down the stairs. He was gone.

All at once, Tim was all action. He let go of the basin, whirled around and slammed the door shut, locked it, and collapsed against it. His empty stomach heaved violently. He sank to the floor. Terror and disgust and relief and shame mingled, became interchangable. What he had dreaded had not happened, and what *had* happened was more than he could take. He was overwhelmed and lost, and he did the only thing he could. He curled up like an infant, right there on the floor, and let the tears come at last.