A Painful Truth by Ethan Swage

No school today for Kyle Jagot, although he's not happy about it. He's scared to leave the bathroom, scared that if he ventures too far away from the toilet he may let go again- the sit-down kind.

Despite Kyle's obj ections, his mother barges in. He's wedged between tub and toilet, doubled over, rocking, crossed forearms pressed tightly beneath his belly. She dabs a moist washcloth to his forehead, asks him what other symptoms he has had. He kid-signs an answer, holding up two fingers and then pointing at the toilet, still rocking.

Mom tugs open the medicine cabinet and grabs the Pepto. "Did you eat anything unusual yesterday?" she asks, j abbing a pink-puddled teaspoon into his mouth.

"No. " His voice crackles. Kyle averts his eyes, digging his chin painfully into his chest.

"Look at me! " Mom grabs his chin like a handle and raises his head.

Eyes meet disbelieving eyes. "Would you like to tell me the truth now?"

"Brownies, " Kyle finally says, more like a question than an answer.

"And where did you get them?" Mom's free hand slides from mouth to hip. Her knuckles crackle as she balls her hand into a fist. Her expression has hardened from concerned to angry. She j ostles Kyle's chin. "Tell me!"

"From Mr. Dyer. " Tears, real ones, dribble from both of his eyes. " I only had one, and we never-"

"We never?" Mom hangs on we, her voice curling into a shrill squeal.

" Just who does we include?" She taps her foot, waiting for an answer. " I'm not leaving until you tell me."

"Tommy, " Kyle finally says, breathlessly betraying a sworn oath of silence. His eyes suddenly widen. Kyle springs to his feet, pointing at the toilet as he shoves Mom toward the door. "Please!"

Her heels pound like hammer blows as she plunges down the stairs, calling out to Dad. Mom, the healer of all wounds, is about to heighten Kyle's betrayal.

Dad curses, twice, then reminds Mom about the swat he swore he would give Kyle if he caught him cutting through Dyer's yard again. Dad doesn't call him Mister. He doesn't call anyone he doesn't like Mister.

They're in the kitchen now. Kyle can't leave the bathroom-he wouldn't if he could-but he can still hear their voices clearly through the door. Dad tells Mom that Dyer doesn' t like kids because he's old and jealous. Says that Dyer's
crazy, and that the last time he fed- . The refrigerator booms like thunder when Dad pounds it with his fist. Dad screams, shrieks, that the cops should have . . . that he should have- . Again Dad's thunder roars.

A door opens, slams hard against the wall. Kyle hears a hollow whock that sounds just like the noise his baseball bat makes when he pulls it out from behind the cellar door. Then Dad pounds down into the basement. Mom follows.
They both yell. Kyle can' t hear all of Dad's words anymore, but the louder ones still punch through. Bastard! . . . last time . . . Dyer . . . into the ground! Mom screams, and the distinct clang of a shovel hitting cement rings out.
More feet pounding, two sets, up the stairs and back into the kitchen.

The back door crashes open. Mom's screams-Don' t! Let the police handle it! - follow the sound of boots crunching down their gravel driveway.

Kyle slips back in between the tub and toilet. He rocks, eyes closed, mimicking the way Mom used to rock him in Grandma's chair and remembering the songs she quietly hummed in his ear. For the moment, everything is dark and silent, as if he's awake and asleep at the same time. But Kyle realizes, suddenly feeling a few inches taller, that nothing will ever be that dark and silent again.

Bio: Ethan Swage is a New Jersey based writer, artist, and photographer. His
work has appeared in Flashshot, The Legendary, Everyday Weirdness,
DiddleDog, 50 to 1 , and Six Sentences

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