Short Story

Tracing Aaron won first place in the Vancouver International Writers’ Festival Short Story Contest and was included in All Wound Up an anthology of the best alternative writing from British Columbia published by Ripple Effect Press.

Tracing Aaron 

I do not meet the boy that is really a man. I find him in the library. But the library is not really a library. It is just a room my father called the library. I find the boy that is really a man while wearing tap shoes on my hands, clapping them together like a seal. I am fourteen. I have won ribbons because of my feet.

My father drew the house with the library. He used charcoal pencils and thin paper and had to be careful with the position of his elbows so as not to smudge the plans. In the evenings my mother stood behind him with her head tilted slightly trying to see what he visualized. I watched them from the trundle bed in the living room of our cramped apartment that everyone said was just temporary. 

I do not jump when I see the boy that is really a man. Not even inside. And he is very ugly; fish-lipped and greasy-haired, acne the same color as the carpet; Ocean Spray cranberry-grape, bubbling under his cheeks like soup. The boy that is really a man sits on the floor with his legs crossed and his head thrown back as if gargling, Adam’s apple pointed to the sky. In one hand he holds a half-peeled banana; in the other, a blue sneakered foot with a dash on the side the same color as the banana peel. But even before I this I kn ow it is banana mush that makes his fish lips shine.

At fourteen I am wearing halter-tops and mini-skirts, even in the fall, and carefully apply purple lipstick and black eyeliner so thick it makes the whites of my eyes glow. My mother labels cards to me as cat with a K even though my name has nothing to do with either. I can say fuck without thinking about it, and other girls don’t like me and think I don’t know what they call me.

The boy that is really a man rocks forward and backward and makes low grunting noises in time to tinkley music coming from a plastic record player placed on the floor beside him. Something by the Rolling Stones. Beside the record player is a stack of pastel-colored records with grooves so thick they can’t be scratched. The boy that is really a man looks happy. Of course I do not realize this until later because when he smiles his mouth turns down. He shows his teeth but his mouth turns down and his teeth are yellow.

The television was always kept in the library because is had a soundproff door. When my father first started to get the headaches he would lie on a spongy blue mat in his underwear and rock back and forth on the small of his back while clutching his knees to his chest. He would inhale through his nose and exhause through his mouth, but they were shallow breaths that quickened and stopped and started and stopped again. I saw it once and I apologized. My father said he hoped he had not frightened me and began to tack small notes written in black block letters to the door: Please Do Not Disturb.

I decide to yell. Because that is what girls do when they find a boy who is really a man. They do not wait quietly for someone else to find him. I drop my tap shoes and yell and the boy that is really a man shrieks. That’s the only thing to call it even though men and boys do not shriek and because the boy who is really a man keeps shrieking I keep yelling. My mother rushes in with dye dripping off her head and shakes my arm, Get a grip, he’s only Tike’s son. But I keep yelling and the boy that is really a man keeps shrieking and I try shrieking and he shrieks higher and louder and I try to shriek higher and louder but I can’t so I scream. I scream like I’m in the movies and it’s really a lot of fun because I am in a movie and I am screaming louder than any shrieking and that means I am winning. My mother slaps my face and then I stop and the room is spinning. I didn’t know, I say and pick up my tap shoes. My mother holds the boy that is really a man’s hips as she directs him to the kitchen. He walks on his tiptoes, a drooling half-lidded marionette, and I think I might puke.

At fourteen my hair has darkened and my nose has grown. I walk downtown after school with a girl named Lily. I do not like her but we are in the same dance class and she asks me questions as if I am much older so I do not mind. I walk downtown swinging my pink plastic box with the special compartment for my tap-shoes and chiffon skirt I roll into a tidy ball. I swing until my shoulder hurts and Lily has to leave several feet between us. When we reach the stairs that drop us off at the armless lady fountain I do a Paddle and Roll. The Paddle and Roll falls into the close work category, I explain to Lily as if she doesn’t know, because there is really very little movement. The control is actually in the thigh– and then I punch my thigh and strike my heel on the pavement. I pull and brushhh and ball-heal, re-turn foot to support foot and liiift up very, very high and -now-there-is-a-new-free foot. See? Lily always does. Her mother gives me rides and talks about sauteing and sewing patterns and if the car stops suddenly her arm flies off the steering wheel and slams against Lily’s chest. One evening she watches me in the rear-view mirror and asks me if I am Jewish. I realize I can lie so I say yes.