Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The Tin Man's Price (by Claire Legrand)



*



Mama always says we should never hurt each other but Mama don’t know nothin.
            She don’t know about all the marks on my chest.
            She don’t know what Edie and I get up to in the attic these days.
            She knows things are goin real swell for us all of a sudden but she don’t know why.
            I think Pa knows, but he won’t tell.
            I think it happened to Pa too.

*

Edie’s always wakin me up in the middle of the night. We’ve always been opposite of the other. Like Edie don’t sleep much and I can sleep through the end of the world, that’s what Mama says. And Edie eats enough for ten people and I eat like a bird. We’re opposites, Edie and me. Miss Vickers at school says sometimes that happens with twins. One of you’s this way and the other’s that-a-way, and together you make up one person.
            I like Edie but I don’t like us being twins. It’s like we were supposed to be one person but we got split up inside Mama and now we’re two people. It’s almost like one of us shouldn’t be alive. Like one of us is a mistake.
            So Edie wakes me up in the middle of the night and instead of goin out on the roof to play cards like usual, she says, Someone’s here, Tom. I know someone’s here.
Someone’s where? I say.
In the attic, she says.
How do you know?
I just got this feelin.
Edie’s always getting feelins. Sometimes I think her feelins are real and sometimes I think she’s lyin just cause she gets bored and thinks our town’s dull as mud.
            How do you know someone’s there, Edie?
I just know, why you gotta be such an idiot?
Well I wish I wasn’t an idiot but everyone says I am so I shut up.
            We go up to the attic. Pa keeps his old books up here, about geography and outer space and Egypt pyramids and irrigation. Sometimes Edie and me like to sit in the window and look through all these books. They’re hard but we read em anyway. We like to do somethin that Pa likes to do. We like to impress Pa. Pa don’t say much, and Mama says thank god almighty for that, why’d you want a chatterbox around anyway?
            There ain’t no one up here Edie, I say, cause there ain’t. Just dust and boxes and old clothes and Pa’s books. Why you always playin tricks?
            It ain’t no trick, says Edie. Her face looks stubborn, like Mama when she’s on a tear.
I know I heard something, she says. I felt it.
            Cause I know Edie won’t shut up about this till we do it, I say, Okay let’s look around then, and we do. Through the dust and boxes and old clothes. Out the window and on the roof. Under the loose floorboard where we hide our best stuff. Nothin. Nobody.
            I’m goin back to bed you scaredy-cat, I say.
            Wait, says Edie.
She’s by the chest full of our old toys, the ones we’re too big for now. She pulls out a tall round tin covered with pictures and letters I can’t read cause they’re old and scratchy. It looks like the kinda thing you might could keep candy in.
            I ain’t never seen this tin before. It ain’t one of our toys.
            It must be heavy, cause Edie drops it and it hits her toe.
Ow, she says.
Then we heard it:
            What’re you children doing up here.
            What’re you children doing up here.
            Why’d you wake me up.
            Why’d you touch me.
            Don’t touch me.
            DON’T TOUCH ME.
            We should run I guess but we’re too scared, so we just stand there starin at the tin. It’s shakin on the floor. It’s spinnin faster and faster. Then the lid pops off.
            It stinks at first.
            Then it smells good.
            I don’t know what’s comin out of that tin, but it’s dark and it’s slimy like tar and it’s silky and slow like molasses. It looks kinda like a person but kinda not.
            I don’t like it.
            Hello, it says, and I guess it’s smilin but it’s hard to tell cause its face is made up of globs and cracks. I apologize for yelling, it says, but you startled me you see.
            Who are you? Edie says. I wanna slap her for bein so stupid. We should be runnin, Miss Smarty Pants, not talkin to it. And they say I’m the dumb one.
            I have many names, it says. But you can call me Luck. Because that’s what I’m going to give you.
            Good luck or bad luck? I say.
            It looks at me. It blinks real slow. When it smiles, I feel sick to my stomach.
            Good luck of course, it says.
            Edie crosses her arms. Oh she thinks she’s so smart. She’s tryin to be like Pa.
How much? she says. We don’t got a lot of money here if that’s what you want.
            I have no need for money, Luck says. All you have to do is follow my instructions. It’s quite simple.
            What do you want us to do?
Luck blinks at Edie. It smacks its lips.
            I want you to hurt your brother, it says.
            Edie looks at me, at Luck, and back again.
            What? I say. That’s nuts. Edie let’s get out of here.
            How much do I have to hurt him? Edie says. And what’ll you give me for it?
            We’ll start out small, says Luck. A little hurt for a little luck.
            Edie’s thinkin fast. I see that look on her face. I got a math test tomorrow, she says. And I ain’t studied.
            Luck smiles real big. A slap will do for that I think, he says.
            Edie’s eyes light up. Hang on, I say. But Edie’s fast. She runs over and slaps me across my face. It hurts. I get mad and smack her right back, and it knocks her to the floor.
            Oh, Luck says. Oh oh oh.
Then Luck shakes, and then it’s not so slimy anymore. Like it figured out how to stand up straight. Now it looks more like a hole, just a hole in the attic where there should be wood and dust and boxes and now there’s nothing there instead, just a dark spot that almost looks like a person if you squint real hard.
            That’s good, Luck says. Thank you, darling ones. Now go to bed and when you wake up tomorrow you’ll feel so much better than you did today.
            I’ll pass my math test? says Edie. You promised I would.
            You’ll make a perfect score, says Luck.
            Then Edie says, And what about Tom? He hurt me, so he should get something too.
            How clever of you, sweet girl, says Luck. Then it looks at me. What do you want, Tommy Tom Tom?
            I don’t feel right. This don’t feel right. Edie’s got a red spot on her cheek. My cheek smarts where her hand hit it.
            But I got a math test too. And I need even more help than Edie does.
            Idiot Tom. Edie the smart one.
            Same here, I say. Math test. I want a perfect score.
            Luck smiles. Its mouth drips. Then you shall have it.

*

Our teachers don’t believe us both gettin perfect scores. Especially not me. They think we cheated so they’re makin me do my work on the board in front of everyone. And it’s like my hand isn’t my hand and my brain isn’t my brain, and soon there’s perfect algebra problems written all over that board. I didn’t have to erase once.
            At home Edie and I show our tests to Mama and she says she’s so glad we finally started studyin like we should now if only we could peel potatoes faster, that’d be nice.
We show em to Pa too once he gets in from the fields.
            He looks at us real strange.
            How wonderful, he says.
            We run upstairs before he says anything more. It’s like he knows, and I don’t want him to know. I got this feelin he’d make Luck leave if he found out.
            I don’t want Luck to leave.       
            I like having Luck around.
            I like it even though that night after Mama and Pa go to bed me and Edie go to the attic and pound on each other while Luck watches. Even though it leaves bruises all over Edie’s arms and all over my chest. Even though it hurts so much I almost pass out and Edie starts to cry.
            We don’t stop. We’d do anything for Luck. We go for hours. We pound and bruise and slam and cut. It hurts it hurts but we don’t stop.
            Very good, Luck says. It’s not as scary-lookin tonight. It looks more like a shadow than a blob or a hole. And shadows ain’t scary, they’re just places where the light don’t reach.
            Luck runs its hands through our hair. It makes me feel even sicker but I don’t complain. I got a baseball game on Friday and I wanna win. Make a double play. Hit a grand slam. Not sit on the bench the whole time for once. And Edie, she’s got a softball game, and she wants a grand slam too. Stupid Edie, always wantin to be the same as me. Just cause we’re twins don’t mean we gotta be the same all the time.
            I wanna hurt her again.
            Hurt and ye shall receive, says Luck. It’s laughin so I guess somethin’s funny but I don’t know what it is.

*

One day Luck gets tired of watching us.
            I want more, he says. I’m bored of you.
            We could go into town, Edie says. She’s cryin because I think I just broke her toe, but she won’t say nothin and neither will I. We won both our games this weekend. We’re gettin good grades for once. Amelia Simmons bought me a milkshake at lunch. Everybody’s lookin at us different, like we mean somethin. Like we ain’t just Tom and Edie those twins who live out on Hillside Farm, no sir. We’re Tom who gets hundreds on tests and Edie who hits grand slams.
            Town, Luck says. He looks happy to hear that. He moves his head funny like a bird. And I’ve started callin him a he because he looks more like a man now. He’s still dark and fuzzy around the edges and sometimes when he blinks that tar drips out his eyelid but he’s mostly a man. He has a tall hat on and he’s skinnier even than me.
            I should very much like to go to Town, Luck says.
            So we take him.
            And the first person we see, Luck points and says, That one. Hurt that one.
            We look. It’s a girl from the junior high school walkin her dog. I’ve seen her before but I don’t know her name.
            Edie frowns. But it’s the middle of the day, she says. We can’t just go up and start punchin her. Someone’ll see.
            Luck says, Not if we wait until she’s somewhere hidden.
            I don’t like this, I say.
            Oh. Oh no.
I didn’t mean to.
            It just came out.
            Luck, don’ be angry. Don’t be angry, Luck.
            I didn’t mean it.
            Luck looks at me long and hard. Edie looks at me even longer and harder.
            Don’t ruin this for me you idiot, Edie says. Don’t make him mad. We need him.
            I’m sorry, Luck, I say. I’ll do it. We’ll do it.
            You had better, says Luck. Or I’ll go somewhere else where my gifts are appreciated and then where you will be?
            You’ll be back in the rotten no-good place you came from, Edie says to me. You’ll go back to stupid bad-grades on-the-bench idiot Tom. Livin on a farm. Goin nowhere. Is that what you want? Is that you want for us Tom?
            Tom, Luck says real soft. Tommy Tom Tom.
            No, I say. That’s not what I want.
            So we follow the junior high girl through town and all the way to Thistledown Road, where it’s quiet and the grass is high on either side.
            We chase her down. She starts screamin and we run even faster. She sets her dog on us and we dodge and the dog runs right into Luck’s open arms and I don’t see what happens to the dog after that.
            I don’t want to either.
            We’re runnin faster than we’ve ever run before.
            Isn’t this great Tom? Edie says. She’s laughin her head off. We’re almost flyin, she says. We’re like superheroes.
            Ain’t nothin hero about it. Luck is right on our heels. I think Luck’s helpin us run this fast, tell the truth.
            It ain’t a good fast.
            It’s like runnin from somethin in a bad dream.
            I guess it’s like what the junior high girl feels with us gettin closer and closer. We reach for her arms. We grab em. We pull hard.
            It ain’t her fault she can’t outrun us. She don’t have Luck on her side.

*

We get home and eat dinner and go upstairs without sayin a word to nobody. Mama don’t notice cause she ran into Mrs. Jackson at the supermarket and there’s a whole scandal about Mrs. Jackson’s son runnin off to the city or somesuch and Mama’s happy as a clam about it. Finally somethin’s happenin, she says, in this dull as mud town.
            Pa watches me and Edie from across the table.
            I don’t like him lookin at me.
            It’s like he knows.
            It’s like he saw us hit that girl. Just the one time is all it took for Luck to shiver and shake and roll around on the ground like he got an electric shock. When he stood back up I could see his eyes real clear for the first time. They were dark and didn’t have no white around em.
            I don’t like Luck’s eyes.
            Edie stood there twistin her hands. Oh golly Luck, she said, we shouldn’t’a done that. We shouldn’t’a hurt that girl. She’ll tell on us.
            She didn’t see you, said Luck. He smoothed down his coat. He dusted off his tall hat. He kicked dirt off his boots. All she saw, he said, was her fear.
            Then he took our hands and led us home.
            And now we’re sittin here across from Pa tryin to choke down cornbread and I swear he knows what we’ve done.
            I almost say somethin. I can’t help it. This ain’t right.
            It ain’t right it ain’t right.
            IT AIN’T RIGHT IT AIN’T—
            Edie kicks me under the table.
            Stupid Tom. Stupid idiot Tom.
            I shut up. I don’t say nothin.
            I ain’t stupid idiot Tom with the smart sister no more. Not with Luck around.
            So I don’t act like it.

*

At first when I wake up that night I think it’s Edie comin to get me cause Luck said when he brought us home before dinner, he said, Darling children I want you to come up and see me tonight.
            But we just hurt that girl for you, I said. Ain’t that enough for today?    
            Luck touched my arm. He squeezed tight till I couldn’t breathe.
            It’s never enough, he said.
            But it ain’t Edie wakin me up. It’s Pa.
            Hurry, he says. Follow me.
            Where’re we goin?
            To the attic.
            I stop cold. Why?
            Cause I know what’s goin on and it’s gonna stop tonight.
            Pa, ain’t nothin—
            I ain’t an idiot Tom and you ain’t either.
            But I am an idiot, I say. Ain’t no use lyin. I ain’t a good liar. Edie’s the one who’s good at lyin.
            I need Luck, I say. We’re at the attic door. Pa’s holdin the cross from above the supper table like a gun.
            I ain’t no good without him, I say.
            I’m cryin.
            No you got that wrong, Pa says. He leans down so I can see him. His face got criss-crossed lines all over it. He looks tired but his eyes don’t.
            You’re a good boy, Pa says. He holds me tight.
            Where’s Edie?
            She ain’t comin with us.
            Why?
            Cause she ain’t strong enough. Ain’t her fault. You could’a been the weak one just as easy.
            I’m the mistake twin, I say. I’m still cryin cause that’s what idiots do. I shouldn’t be alive.
            That’s right, says a voice.
            It’s Luck.
            You shouldn’t be alive, he says.
            The attic door flies open.
            Pa holds out his cross in front of us. He’s got it in one hand and me in the other. He rushes into the attic.
            Somethin’s screamin:
            You again.
            You you you.
            Not again.
            Get that away from me.
            GET IT AWAY.
            PUT IT DOWN.
            No, Pa says. I ain’t puttin it down.
            He grabs that heavy tin Edie dropped, the one Luck lived inside. It’s so heavy Pa can barely lift it. Maybe with two hands he could lift it but he can’t let go of that cross. I know that without even askin.
            Tom, he says, help me get it outside.
            So much screamin and so much wind. Books and clothes and boxes flyin all over the attic. There’s a kind of dark in here so thick it’s like drinkin cement.
            But we lift it together, me and Pa, and we get it outside.
            Luck follows us, and there’s dirt flyin in our eyes and the ground’s shakin under our feet but if I look out into the fields it’s calm like springtime. It’s a good thing we didn’t stay in the attic. We might’ve brought the whole house down.
            I guess Pa knows that.
            How’d you know Pa? I say. How’d you know what we done?
            It happened to me too. He has to shout it cause Luck is screamin nasty words so loud I cain’t hardly think.
            When? I say.
            When I was a boy. Luck found me too.
            You should’a gotten rid of it, I say. So me and Edie couldn’t find it. This tin, we found it with our toys.
            That’s the thing, Pa says.
            He looks at me.
            I did get rid of it, Tom.
            TOM. TOM. TOMMY TOM TOM.
            WHERE WILL YOU BE WITHOUT ME TOM.
            Don’t listen, Pa says, real calm. We’re by the creek now. He’s got the tin in one hand and the cross in the other and he’s tryin to bring em together like magnets that just won’t go. There’s sweat on his forehead and his muscles are big like mine’ll never be, I just know it.
            YOU’RE RIGHT TOM, says Luck. He don’t look like a man no more. He’s all kinds of slime and glob. He’s crawlin on the ground. His hat ain’t a hat no more. It’s just a tall tall head. YOU’LL NEVER BE AS STRONG AS YOUR PA.
            YOU’RE NOTHING WITHOUT ME.
            YOUR SISTER COULD MAYBE DO IT. SHE’S SMART ENOUGH. SHE’S PRETTY ENOUGH. SHE COULD MAKE IT WITHOUT ME.
            Don’t listen to it, says Pa. He’s sweatin hard. He cain’t hardly breathe. It ain’t nothin but tricks and lies, he says. Luck ain’t real. Luck don’t last.
            DON’T LISTEN TO IT, Luck says. He drips black on my feet. He’s real close now. DON’T LISTEN TO IT.
            I NEED YOU AND YOU NEED ME.
            WITHOUT ME YOU’RE NOTHING.
            Then Pa says, Okay Tom. Okay now.
            And I say to Luck, You got that backwards. And I’m cryin but I just don’t care.
            And Pa slams his hands together, cross to tin.
            And Luck shrinks into a smokin black piece of somethin burnt.
            And flies into the tin.
            And the lid slams closed.

*

With Luck gone everything’s quiet again. There’s crickets in the grass and a coyote out somewhere by the foothills. And there’s me and Pa starin at the tin on the ground like it’s this thing you don’t want to touch cause if you do it’ll blow you to bits.
What’ll we do with it? I say.
            What’ll we do without it? What’ll we do without Luck? That’s the question I really feel like askin but I know I probably shouldn’t. I think of all the things I done. I wonder if Pa done those things too when he was a boy. I wonder if anybody ever called him idiot or thought he was the dumb one.
            After a while Pa says, We’ll bury it. Far from here. Farther’n’ I did the first time. Deeper too.
            We’re walkin back to the house now, me and Pa. We grab two shovels from the barn.
            Me and Pa.
            Not Edie. Not Mama. And Pa’s lookin at me like I ain’t a boy no more. Real proud, he looks like.
            I bet you didn’t count on that did you Luck? I bet you didn’t see that comin.
            You thought I was nothin without you.
            You was wrong.
            I sling the shovel on my shoulder just like Pa does.
            I liked having Luck around, I say. It was nice.
            I know, he says. I did too.
            What’ll we do without it? What if we never get it again?
            There. I said it. I know it’s shameful but I said it.
            Well, he says. Well. Then he says, We’ll go to sleep.
We’ll wake up in the mornin, he says.
And then we’ll get back to work.
           
             

           

             

3 comments:

  1. Lovely share. So much inspiring.

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  2. I really enjoyed this. The accent makes the story fun to read aloud. Wicked metaphor.

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  3. Thanks for the share. Great stuff, just nice!
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