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."
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
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."
"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
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.
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
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
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.