Friday, November 04, 2016

Odysseus Sundown

"Odysseus Sundown, you get back here right this minute!" She is yelling after him. He's not listening.

He's off, running down the aisle and squealing with joy. Five years old soon and nothing but smiles and wild, dark eyes. Surrounded by toys, he grabs one of the Power Rangers, the red one. He looks at the plastic holding in the little action figure and tosses it to the ground. He grabs a mutant turtle with action chop, but it's not interesting either. He prefers the Minecraft creeper he finds on the other rack, and then he's off to running again.

His mother can't find him, but she's not really that angry. Boys need to run and play and avoid responsibility for as long as they can. Not all the boys grow up to be men. Not everyone wants them to. So she pushes the grocery cart down the aisle with the sugar and sugar substitutes, the oil and oil substitutes, the baking pans and imitation vanilla, the brownie mixes and sugary sprinkles. She wants to bake him a good cake for his birthday, but she doesn't know how to make it from scratch. Where's the time to learn something useful like that? Old ways are dying, her own mother said, then she died too.

His friends call him Otis. JJ once called him Odysseus the Pissyest and got punched for it. Truth hurts, so hurt it back. Odysseus doesn't know why his name doesn't sound like any other names. He was told it's some Greek hero who outsmarted demons and kings and fought in an old war. He likes war and all, but he likes building things more. War tears things apart, like families, like people. Just like the creeper in his hand, but the ones in the game. He wants this one, but it's not his birthday yet. Holding it makes him think about the game. He stops running, doesn' tknow what aisle he's on. He puts the creeper on a shelf, next to jugs of bleach in five different scents. Doesn't feel like running anymore.

The Sundown family is new to the area, and sometimes mother feels like she gets stared at by the locals. Maybe it's just nerves or insecurity. Single moms have it hard with boys who get faster and faster as they learn how to juke. Then he'll learn how to jive. Then she'll have to teach him about women and he'll forget every bit of it. She reaches out for a box of something, but the words fall off the box, onto the ground, and she looks more closely at it, and realizes she grabbed a bag of sugar with a hole in it. Mind's playing tricks again. A mind does that.

He doesn't mind how his mom is all distracted these days. Gives him more time to play alone. He wants to play Minecraft with other people and talk with them about it, but they like Roblox more. The bigger boys are mean and play shooters. They don't want to build anything. Nobody teaches Odysseus how to build anything. He just sees it, sort of sees it, like when you see a dream but you're still awake. Or see your memories but you're looking at trees. He doesn't have any of the words for what all happens inside him. He just talks to himself in whispers, listen closely to his answers.

Mom's already put back the sugar and keeps walking. Part of her feels bad about not getting someone over to clean up her own mess. Part of her feels the world owes it to her for what they all did to her and her family. She hears her father's rants about racists, about the war, about what white people done, and she shakes her head a little before steeling up her nerve and hiding her pain behind a hard face. Only you can do that so long before you don't want to make a birthday cake for your son. The bitter. It gets into you, you know? Takes away the childhood from the kids, gives you nothing but sour eyes and hard chins.

Odysseus just sits down there on the scuffed floor and starts to daydream, and the pixellated clouds and square sun rise up in his mind. How far can you go? Alex said there's a limit to how far you can go in Minecraft and it's like a billion steps. The square sun feels warm if you stare at it, though. Why go a billion steps away from right here, right now? The war is out there. Here it's all white bottles and pastel colors.

Here you can put the creeper down and walk away from the bomb.

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