Donna D. Vittucci
Donna D. Vitucci
Maddy Procter stood in the boys’ bathroom. Nobody pulled their pants down.
Josh and Frankie and Paul loitered by the spots designated for peeing but they stayed tucked in. They also did not run out calling for Mrs. Dobryny, tattling. They watched Maddy, their soles stuck to the checkerboard floor the janitor swabbed nightly with the tarantula-legged mop. Their legs were ice or rubber, and either way, they couldn’t escape her. Maddy might be a spider or a virus or Shere Khan. For sure her eyes glittered. For sure she had venom in her teeth.
What she said leaped out and bit them. “Pigsglue had his arm and leg cut off.”
“Who’s that?” Frankie said.
“Pigsglue?” Josh said, doubting and making fun because how could you not make fun of a name like Pigsglue?
“Yes.” Maddy’s head adjusted on her neck so she could better stare him down. A patch covered her one eye to make the other work harder. She pierced Josh with her lazy-eye stare. “That’s his name. He was in Iraq.”
That did it. You couldn’t laugh over soldiers. You couldn’t make fun of Pigsglue, so you couldn’t poke at Maddy either. They didn’t say it that day but Pigsglue made Maddy invincible. The name revolted them, her stories of Pigsglue trickled down their spines like ice water, and their wonderings and their supposings and their need to know ‘what next’ about Pigsglue drew them to Maddy’s one-eyed stare every day that week.
The girls and boys bathrooms shared plumbing, were located along the same one hallway. And in the girls bathroom Claire Dobryny sat on an upturned waste basket with her head set against a wall pipe. Third time this morning she’d thrown up. Only the beginning, the precarious time, the hold on or lose it time. She heard the children talking and the name Pigsglue, for no reason she could identify, chilled her. She rubbed her arms, thinking she should have worn a blouse with sleeves.
Maddy Procter’s hush-now voice cemented the boys—Claire could just imagine the scene, a scene which she really should get in and break up. As their teacher, she could extinguish Pigsglue with one withering look. She would need to tell Sara Proctor her Maddy required a little more listening to, that gory stories were a call for attention at home. That, and Halloween was coming up. Kids liked to spook themselves, they loved spooking their friends.
Even Claire could not resist Maddy droning on: “My mom died when I was a baby. My mom now is really my step-mom, and my brother is in an electric wheel chair.”
Frankie snickered. “You mean Pigsglue is in a wheelchair.”
“Yessssss,” Maddy said, over-enunciating through her newly opened front teeth spaces.
Claire had gone to high school with Sara Baskerton, now Procter. They were acquaintances at best, but she’d attended the same after-prom party where everybody knew Sara got pregnant with the baby she later named Maddy so for certain this one story at least was a lie. From sitting and bent forward upon the upturned wastebasket, Claire stood, stretched and arched, put her hand at the small of her back and dug her knuckles in there. Eddie did it better but he was setting up the new parameters at Stylo-Tech down in Salem.
The baby was making all her hard parts soft and all her soft parts malleable. The baby was its own little parasite. She did not tell Eddie she’d missed three periods, and he’d been too preoccupied with implementing Stylo’s digital infrastructure to notice. Speaking had jinxed three out of three, and she wasn’t breathing a word until she started showing. Invoking charm and luck meant she wouldn’t visit the doctor or pee on a stick. Some signs you simply had to trust, and anyway by now she knew her own body like a blind man reads Braille.
“My mom and dad put Pigsglue in the freezer and now we can’t use the freezer anymore,” Maddy was saying, further tanta-lizing her crowd.
Frankie said, “So he’s in with the tater tots and the ice cream?”
The boys busted each other up. Their echo-laughter skimmed along the pipe to batter Claire’s head where it set against it, getting rust and old flaking paint into her hair, which was going thin. She read internet articles that said the baby would steal her protein. Probably lead-based paint and asbestos wrapping she leaned into, too, but she just couldn’t tear herself away from Maddy’s gory story.
“When he was visiting my grandma, Pigsglue burned his leg—”
“You mean the one leg he has left?”
Maddy talked over the interrupting boys: “—he burned his leg on Granny’s coal stove, right down so you could see the bone. I saw it there, the white gristle bone.”
“Ewwww.” The boys laughed and made gross out sounds.
Then an almost weepy voice said, “I don’t want to hear your stories anymore.” Paul, the quiet one with the cowlick and chapped lips.
“Don’t you? Why not?” Maddy said.
“Because they’re lies.”
Maddy’s voice curdled into a perfect blend of innocence and evil. “Are they?”
That was it. Claire exited one bathroom and then pushed open the adjoining lavatory, held the door wide and ordered, “Okay, everybody out.”
The boys ambled past, nudging and stepping on each other’s heels, and then finally, Maddy trailed. Claire gave her an in-tense look and said, “You know you don’t belong in here,” but Maddy defied her with an eye-patch stare and all at once Claire felt what she thought was the tadpole swish of her pregnancy.
When Claire pulled Sara aside in the pick-up lane after school, she advised her of Maddy’s tall tales.
Sara scoffed, “Is that what Maddy said? Are you sure?”
Did I see what I saw? Did I hear what I heard? Oh, unreliable memory. Claire was rather used to things not being what they seemed.
She regrouped quick and said, “I take what the kids say when they come to me with a grain of salt, sure, but this I heard myself.”
“Maddy told you?” Sara narrowed her dark, bottomless eyes, nothing lazy about either of them as she gazed at Maddy up-side down on the jungle gym, suggesting Claire was not even worth looking at, the way Sara had dismissed her ever since they were teenagers.
“I heard it,” Claire said.
Sara looked at her then. Sara Procter, who had always been pretty and pretty exploded plenty of doubt, let the pretty one get away with so much before young bones and blood congealed into adult shapes that resisted change. During the years since high school Sara’s eyes had deepened in her skull, her teeth had grown mottled. She said, “But did she tell you?”
Claire backed up an inch. You could hear the gravel slip under her shoes. Even the gravel wanted to hide. “I overheard her say it.”
Sara put her hands on her hips, the same body language Claire used to preside over her first graders. She certainly felt scolded when Sara said, “Oh. Then you were eavesdropping on child’s play.”
Claire did not want to admit she’d been loitering alongside the pipes, half mesmerized and all the way stomach-sick, while she should have been…what? Teacher-ing? Corridor patrolling? Booting Maddy out of the boys’ bathroom?
She didn’t want Sara to know she was pregnant, not now not ever, and for sure not before she told Eddie. Sara maybe had a peculiar daughter whose imagination tilted wild, but she had a kid, had had a kid since she herself was a practically still a kid, while Claire proceeded childless and desperate to hang on to what, for the first time today, she’d felt duplicating inside her.
Claire stammered. “I don’t think I mis-heard. And either way, maybe you should talk with Maddy is all I’m saying. See what she’s feeling behind the words of what, you’ve got to admit, sounds pretty outlandish.”
Sara said, “Pigsglue, huh?”
The name of the unknown, undead, unreal brother pinched Claire a little in her belly. She unconsciously set her hand there, and Sara said, “Putting on a few?” Then she called for Maddy and turned with her car keys. “Well, thanks for the heads up.”
Maddy climbed into the passenger seat of the beat-down Corolla Sara had wrangled from Ben Procter in the divorce. As far as Claire knew it was just Maddy and Sara out on Passmore Road, despite Maddy’s claims to a war vet brother named Pigsglue in a wheelchair or in the freezer or burning his leg skin clean off beside some Grandma’s coal stove.
Claire turned back to school to take one more pee before heading home herself.
In the girl’s bathroom, the pipes clanked a little as the day turned to dusk and the school’s radiator heat kicked on. Just because no one opened a hot or cold water valve didn’t mean there wouldn’t be other gurgles and burps and coughs in the mon-strous old building.
Claire sat on the toilet and wound some paper around her hand.
Rumors now had Ben Procter working an Alaskan pipeline, others said he was backpacking through Thailand, and still oth-ers claimed he’d joined up with mercenaries. Claire remembered he’d sure liked setting off fireworks and low level explosives, had the sheriff called to his and Sara’s for disturbances more than just Fourth of Julys. Maybe after all it was Ben who’d been burned and perched like a glass-stunned bird in an electric wheelchair. Or cubbied in a freezer. Claire shivered. Pigsglue. What a singular creepy name.
Her stomach hurt. She thought she needed supper. When she wiped she saw blood.
Her teeth clamped on her bottom lip as she fled school and got gingerly in her car. She drove home into not-yet-night, an in between timeless hour of fading, refusing to think, and with a storm usurping the sky.
Call Eddie, she thought, ducking under the porch awning right before the rain started, but then she remembered she’d kept her secret selfish, so to gush hysterical about maybe losing a baby he didn’t even know of—it was not a good sequence. Anyway, her cell phone had gone kaput. She plugged it in the charger, leaned down to click on a lamp, which popped with lightning as the power fizzled out in her’s and the surrounding houses.
“Great,” Claire said. The room had plunged suddenly cavernous and as echo-ey as the school bathrooms.
She stood still, blank-eyed and with arms slightly outstretched, tried to gain her bearings. The rain hit the outer walls in great sheets, fierce. Her low center of gravity strained lower, wanted to puddle to the floor, but she resisted. Every piece of Claire had been recruited to sustain what was accruing inside her. Even her heart thudding in her chest was being siphoned, its chambers emptying to what was, or would be, baby. Along the wall, as she walked, her hands pushed at picture frames and other tottering artwork she’d once cherished.
Something crashed, and yes, she’d done it. Claire was responsible for whatever fell and broke in this house. She kept moving, she didn’t care what she demolished. Finally her two hands gripped the door frame, and she entered the bathroom, crouching like a dowager, her backside bruised by the vanity and then the open toilet.
The storm pummeled the outside, and the inner shadowy walls, they convulsed too. Was something working the windows, the locks? Claire couldn’t care, even if it was some phantom burned brother left half a body doing a wheelie in his motorized chair. She imagined Maddy regaling the boys in the bathroom with this new development, how Mrs. Dobryny had faced down Pigsglue and he’d stared, meager in all his diminished capacity except mightily bent on Hoover-ing up hope, sucking it through a goddamned straw. This was where Claire’s mind went while her backside glued to the toilet seat and her innards cramped.
One-eyed Maddy with her vibrant, full red lips. How dare she plant her stories in their heads?
All at once power infused the world. The night light above the toilet tank painted the bathroom gruesome, and Claire caught sight of the glow emitted down the hall from the one lamp she’d earlier tried clicking on. Working against gravity, she stood bent as an old grandma, afraid to peer in the bowl at what curled there, the eye in its hurricane, the star-slur of the Milky Way, one more haunting, a clot shadowed by the toilet rim, what you couldn’t give shape or name to since it did not belong in the light, was never meant for the light, it was something you probably just misheard.