Clive and Me

Joe Baumann

When Clive wolfs out, Da makes him sleep under the front porch, ever since the incident with the rabbits. But after Da goes to bed, I sneak outside and shove a blanket through the hole in the lattice work so that Clive won’t be too cold when he slinks through and curls up in a ball, tail batting at his bloodied snout. In the morning, before Da is awake, Clive squeezes through the window and into our bedroom. The house is too small for us to have our own rooms, and the room is too small for us to have our own beds, even though Clive complains that he shouldn’t have to sleep with his kid brother. But he doesn’t whine when he slips under the covers next to me, naked and spattered with dirt and blood and sticky leaves. I gather up the sheets into a ball and shove them into the washer before Da sees the mess, after Clive has yawned and rankled my hair, the closest he ever comes to saying thank you. He slips on his underwear and tiptoes to the shower before Da has a chance to catch him.

***

Paula gives us rides to and from school. She’s tan and tall and plays tennis, so she always wears short skirts that show off her thighs, which aren’t hairy and muscled like Clive or Da’s. Mine are a bit like Paula’s but thin and pale, and my knees are more gnarled than hers and hair is starting to grow on them like fuzz on an old sandwich. Clive says my knees look like potatoes. I don’t think that’s true and I say so, but he just chuckles and tousles my hair, which annoys me more. When I complain, Da tells me not to bitch so much, and I want to point out that Da bitches all the time, about every little thing, like when he finds spots on the carpet streaked with even a bit of blood from the incident, even though it was really Da’s fault. He forgot to shut the door tight and Clive barreled in while he was wolfed out with a still-bleeding rabbit in his mouth, took it to the living room in front of Da’s big screen television that was almost the width of the wall itself, and while he was worrying the poor thing, its blood and guts flew everywhere, like one of those fireworks that sprays in all directions. When Da woke up, he started yelling and stomping and he pulled Clive, himself again, around the house by the hair, which made Clive howl and sound like he was wolfed out still and all of the screeching and screaming made me cry. And that made Da angrier and his face redder and his grip on Clive stronger and so Clive yelled louder. I still don’t know how the fight ever ended. It seems like we should be screaming still, yelling until forever, but mostly the house is quiet because as long as things are quiet, Da is happy and that is all me and Clive really want.

***

Sometimes, if Da is still at work when we get home from school, Paula comes inside and she and Clive lie on the bed and I sit in the corner with my back to the wall, hunching my shoulders so they lean in. Clive tells me I’ll become a hunchback like that but I don’t say anything because I know he’s joking and Paula would laugh at me if I pouted or complained. I like Paula because she ignores the cabbage and sweat smell of our house and doesn’t even crinkle her nose. We listen to music on Clive’s CD player because Paula says she finds it charming that we still have one because no one has a CD player anymore and she calls it retro and groovy and cool. She sings and her voice is good and I want to see her mouth while she’s belting out those notes but Clive and Paula lie down so I can only see their feet, which twitch left and right, their toes curled like rows of stumpy old ladies. She wears socks but Clive’s feet are always bare, tinted black just so like someone has dusted them with charcoal from a grill.

Then sometimes they start to take their clothes off, peeling each other’s shirts away and then their pants and underwear and Clive gets on top of Paula and I can see the hair on his legs and the thatch around his penis and how he’s hairy all over like Da, except for his shoulders and arms and back. Paula moans and it sounds a bit like singing. I would sing along with them but they don’t know I’m there because I have become invisible because like Clive I have powers. He wolfs out and I go unseen, unheard, and unremembered.

***

Da says that Clive and I have to do the dishes because he cooks but really he brings home greasy boxes filled with pizza and Chinese food and sometimes brown bags from Mickey D’s or the chicken place that is my favorite because the chicken fingers are super crunchy and the barbecue sauce is spicy but also sweet so it doesn’t hurt my tongue. On nights when Clive wolfs out, I save extras from my portion and shovel them into a plastic bag instead of the trash when Da doesn’t see so that I can leave them for Clive. I don’t know if he eats the leftovers or if he’s too full of squirrel and cat and whatever else he can sink his teeth into and the only time he’s ever said anything was once when he punched my arm after he showered the next day and said that he’d almost choked on the plastic handle of the bag because I knotted it too tight and so after that I stopped tying them.

Some nights Da leaves after dinner and doesn’t get back until real late when I’m in bed and Clive should be too, but he watches the big screen television until he hears Da’s truck pull up and then he scrambles to click it off and shoves me aside when he throws himself into bed. But  when it’s just me and Clive in the living room, Clive stretched out on the sofa and me on the floor with my head leaning back against one of its arms because no one but Da sits in the recliner and he can tell when we do, Clive complains about doing all the cleaning and vacuuming and taking out the leaky bags of trash and he says it’s not fair because Da doesn’t do anything, doesn’t sort laundry or scrub the toilet, he just leaves in the morning and comes back in the evening, grumpy and pouting and on-edge until he drinks a few beers and goes out for more.

One night Clive is really mad, something about Da saying no to Clive wanting to go out with Paula and borrow Da’s truck even though Clive passed the test and is old enough. Da says that Clive would wreck it and Da knows all about that kind of thing because it happened to him once when he was Clive’s age. Clive said he’s not Da even though we all know they’re not the same person, which I pointed out, and then Clive and Da both yelled at me to go to my room even though it’s not just mine but that would be nice, which I didn’t say because I knew that would have been a bad thing to say just then. After Da leaves, Clive is stomping around opening and slamming cabinets so hard I think they might explode, his voice a low grumble but then something louder and then he starts screaming and calling my name and when I come into the room he’s wolfing out which makes no sense because it’s not one of his nights to do that and I am scared and so I run back into our room and slam the door and I can hear him on the other side, paws scratching at the wood, throaty growls coming out. I keep yelling his name, over and over. I want him to change back, and then I whisper for Da to come home because he’ll know what to do and I’m scrunched against the wall in my corner again and then I say nothing, will myself to be unseen so Clive will stop growling and clawing and I wish it was Clive and Paula together on the bed again, naked, and I make the sounds she makes, those moans, hoping they’ll bring Clive to his senses even though I know he can’t hear me because no one can when I need them to most.

***

When I see what Da has done to Clive after he wolfed out inside the house and tore up the carpet and scratched the door and shat on the kitchen tile, I decide to do it. Clive’s one eye is shut tight and purple like a plum and his cheeks are slashed with red, his lip split and seeping and he holds his right shoulder with his left hand, tender like he’s gripping a baby chick. Clive won’t tell me what Da said and I didn’t hear it because when Da came home he dragged Clive, still wolfed out, into the yard and must have shoved him under the porch. Da isn’t scared of Clive when he’s wolfed out which I can’t begin to imagine.

Clive is laying on our bed because it’s Saturday and there’s nowhere for us to go. Da is watching television and eating pork rinds out of a bag that he leaves on the floor while he’s in the bathroom and I can hear his pee hitting the toilet and the sound is like a power drill whose battery is dying. I know I should do it right then so I go to the kitchen and grab the sharpest knife I can find in the drawer, which isn’t so sharp but is old and dull but I think it will do the trick and I wait until Da is opening the bathroom door and I leap at him, pretending to be wolfed out like Clive, and that makes me brave and even when Da starts yelling and swatting at me, his fists stinging against my face so I can’t see what I’m doing because everything is turning purple and yellow like starbursts, I keep pushing and shoving the knife at Da and I can feel the warm mineral smell of blood just like with the rabbit. The house smelled like an ocean of coins and belt buckles for weeks and Da was so mad and Clive just shrugged and told me that this was Da’s legacy and I didn’t know what that meant. And now that I’m doing it, spreading blood around just like Clive did, I think I know.

I hear Clive’s voice but can’t see him because my vision is blurry. He is yelling something, shouting Da! Da! Da! over and over, and Da isn’t hitting me anymore and I stop pushing and plunging and then I feel Clive’s strong hands under my arms lifting me away and I want to tell him it’s okay, tell him that now it’s just the two of us, Clive and me, but he is sobbing and pushing me away and still calling for Da and ignoring me and I am invisible all over again.

Author Portrait

Joe Baumann’s fiction and essays have appeared in Zone 3, Hawai’i Review, Eleven Eleven, and many others. He is the author of Ivory Children, published in 2013 by Red Bird Chapbooks. He possesses a Ph.D. in English from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette and teaches composition, creative writing, and literature at St. Charles Community College in Cottleville, Missouri. He he has been nominated for three Pushcart Prizes and was recently nominated for inclusion in Best American Short Stories of 2016.