At home, I tried to suckle some sympathy from my parents by telling them another boy had hit me. While my mother cooed and fussed over me in the living room, my father stood back, towering with arms folded, eyeing me like I was a fish on a hook.
He asked me, “Did this boy have any reason to hit you?”
My mother immediately fell silent, looked at him, then back to me, her eyebrows arched. The thought evidently hadn’t crossed her mind.
I swallowed nervously, and my mouth tasted like chalk. “Sir,” I said, “I was poking him with a stick.” His face didn’t change. I continued, “While he was hiding underneath some piping…” Now there was a flash in his eye that made me scream at myself to stop, but also made it impossible not to continue. “…After I took his jacket.”
My mother was now properly shocked at me, her baby. “But—still,” she spluttered, desperately rationalizing, “to use violence like that, to…” She looked back up at my father and again fell silent. The edges of his mouth unfrowned a bit. He said, “You got exactly what you deserved, then,” and walked out of the room. He didn’t say another word to me about it.
After that, I made sure to give Lyle a wide berth. Every time our eyes accidentally met, always for the briefest possible glance, I could see in his a kind of muddy, twilit determination, always drying and hardening, as though I were watching sands being compressed by wind and heat into stone.