The apartment wall vibrated with Vanessa’s pent-up anger.
“I know you’re here, you little snot.”
She turned and locked the door’s deadbolt, letting her school backpack slip from her shoulders to the carpet. It landed with a thud, her first day’s homework forgotten inside. From far down the shadowed hallway came the muffled sounds of Great Auntie’s TV. Vanessa glanced into the much closer kitchenette, and heard her empty stomach grumble. She would take care of her hunger later, for now she had other matters to deal with.
“Come on out, Dearest Bro-bro. Darling Percy. I got something for you.”
She lied. She hadn’t yet settled on her gift for her four-year-old kid brother’s latest outrage. But he wouldn’t know that.
She’d known he’d been up to something that morning, just knew it — his booger-eating grin should’ve been a dead giveaway — but she’d been late for the bus and had snatched the paper bag off the table and jammed it into her backpack without a second glance. She hadn’t noticed the glistening green finger streak marks that he’d used to autograph the bag until lunch hour.
Repeated whacks to the side of the head? Hold him down and tickle him until he peed himself? Pinch him till he cried? She’d tried all of these tactics before without much success — the little snot had an unbelievable tolerance for pain. Every time she thought she’d applied the correct revenge for one of the disgusting things he did to her, he would give her that slow sloppy grin, the one that disarmed every adult but made Vanessa seethe.
When no one replied to her greeting, she headed toward her bedroom. Of course, he’d be there, rummaging through her personal stuff while she’d been forced to attend school, getting his booger-covered fingerprints on everything. It wasn’t fair. Great Auntie never even yelled at him. He’s you’re little brother Vanessa. You’ve got to look out for him. Love him. She walked by the bathroom, heard his irritating melodic voice coming from behind the closed door, and paused to listen.
“Aw-mos god you. Aw… mos.”
He sounded excited, but at least he wasn’t in her room.
After the aborted lunch, the remaining school hours had crawled along as slowly as any caterpillar, always moving but never seeming to get anywhere. Vanessa had put the passing minutes to good use — while the new math teacher went over his countless boring class procedures, polices, and goals she had used each moment to feed her anger at Percy for his sick joke. By the time the dismissal bell rang, the clock hanging from the classroom wall had Percy’s ugly face, its hands her brother’s goofy crooked grin, smirking down at her. She’d stormed out the school building a miniature tornado. He’d ruined her first day of school, the little snot.
“Aw-mos. God you.”
What was he doing? Without making a sound, she placed her ear against the door, grabbed the cool knob, turned, but then hesitated. She could only imagine what new grotesque thing he was up to.
He shouted, “There,” and the door suddenly swung open in her hands.
She expected to see him playing with his boy-thingy, had intended to embarrass him about it. During homeroom while class schedules were being handed out, her brand new on-the-spot best friend, Sherry, had leaned over and whispered to Vanessa that all boys did that, even little ones. Beat their meat. Vanessa had seen Percy’s enough times in the past when she’d changed his dirty baby diapers that she knew what to expect, so she was a bit taken aback — and disappointed — when he (fully clothed) leaped through the door and grinned at her.
“Hey, Sissy, when you get home? No, nevermind — you gotta check this out.” He held up his small hand. Lying in his palm was what looked like a squashed raisin. “Is in it coolest ever? God it awe in one peas.”
Vanessa stepped backwards, her anger forgotten for the moment by his excitement. “You got all of what?”
In reply, his lop-sided grin widened. He raised his other hand, displaying his forearm to her. “See? Pretty cool trick, huh?”
Trick? She had no idea what he was talking about, but then she noticed the silvery patch of skin right above his elbow, its shape a light reflection of the dark object in his hand, and remembered the scab.
They’d been playing in the overgrown lot next door. He’d been pestering her about school nonstop for what seemed like forever. Wanting to know what it was like, what kind of neat stuff they did there, what were the teachers like? Would she learn about dinosaurs? And woolly mammoths? And astronauts? Growing frustrated by the continuous barrage, she’d finally pushed him. Harder than she’d planned. He’d fallen onto a broken cinderblock. The resulting gash had bled a lot before it scabbed over. He hadn’t cried until he noticed the tears that marred her cheeks.
Now Vanessa watched open-mouthed as Percy picked up the scab between his thumb and forefinger and offered it to her much as the preacher did the communion wafers at Sunday mass. Her empty stomach heaved. She bent over and gagged but nothing came up.
When she looked back, Percy said, “Bet they don’ teach you how do that at your dumb old school, do they?”
It hit her then: the little snot was jealous. He’d put the boogers on her lunch bag because he’d wanted to go to school too. Hadn’t the glistening marks looked like a badly drawn P? She almost started to laugh, but before she could press her lips into a smile, he beat her to the punch once more, giving her the final knockout blow, disrupting her moment to gloat by popping the scab into his mouth. Eyes aglow, he chewed a few times, gave her a yummy thumbs-up, and then swallowed.
Afterwards, the famous grin returned and he said, “Did in think so.”
As a child, Pat R. Steiner once found himself hanging from a nail pounded into a tree. Left there by his older siblings, he happily communed with the tree until his mother dragged the whereabouts of the missing youngster from the guilt-ridden children. Since then he has had a fascination with nature (including the human variety) along with its many mysteries. His writings and art are his attempts to explain these BIG QUESTIONS as well as those more mundane. Pat’s stories have appeared in many small print anthologies. He lives in Wisconsin with his wife and two children.