“Guess what today is?” he says, rolling his bike over the cracked sidewalk. “It’s fucking Picture Day.”
“What’s Picture Day?” I say.
“It sucks, that’s what it is. I can’t wait to get out of here.”
“We’re not even Juniors. It’s not going to happen,” I say.
We walk past the Vintage Vinyl store. He steadies the handlebars.
“What the hell is Picture Day?” I say.
“The day you feel guilty about stuff you have no control over.”
“Yeah, but what is it?” He slows his gait.
“Every Wednesday, my Dad gets pissed off. Nobody knows why. He just gets pissed off. He gives us a lecture and then he starts yelling. Mom takes off her glasses and says she has a headache or she just leaves the room. And my brothers cover their ears, which makes him madder. He tells them to take down their hands and they start pushing each other. Then one of them starts crying or kicking the table and I have to tell everyone to calm the fuck down.”
“You tell them to calm the fuck down?”
“No, but I want to. I just tell them to be quiet.”
“What’s he so pissed off about?” I say.
“I don’t know. Everything,”
“Just come to my house for dinner,” I say.
“That won’t work. That’ll piss him off more. Everyone has to be at the—“
“So what? So, what, if it pisses him off?”
“If I don’t show up, he’s doing the fucking sweep.”
“What’s the fucking sweep?”
“He gets a trash bag, goes into everyone’s room, and sweeps everything into the bag.”
“I don’t know.”
“This happens every Wednesday?”
“No, it’s random. Or, if you really piss him off.”
“Do you ever get your stuff back?” I say.
“Nope. And if he thinks you’re hiding something, he tears the room apart.”
“Okay, you’re right. Your family is more batshit than mine.”
“Told you,” he says.
He jumps on his bike and flies down the street. I sprint two blocks and catch up with him.
“You’re an asshole,” I say.
“Sorry,” he says. “I guess it runs in the family.” He gets off the bike and walks beside me.
“Why don’t you just lock up your stuff?” I say, catching my breath.
“I told you. If he thinks you’re hiding shit, he tears the room apart.”
“Okay, then… what the hell is Picture Day?”
He chews his bottom lip.
“Alright. We’re sitting at the table. The food’s out. He tells us we’re fucking spoiled and we’ve never had to work a day in our lives and we don’t deserve any of it. Then, my Mom takes off her glasses and leaves the room. And I tell my brothers to stop messing around. Then he looks at me and says, ‘Do you know what is going to happen to you? Do you know what’s waiting for you out there? Do you?’ And my Mom comes back and tells him to stop. And he gets out the fucking pics.”
“Okay… You know those commercials where the kids are starving and you’re supposed to send money and you feel like crap because you don’t even know if it’s going to get there? Or if there’s any food at all? Or the whole fucking thing is a scam? It’s like that. Except the pictures are black and white and the kids look like skeletons and they’re mouths are open and they’re crying and they’ve got these big stomachs because their guts are full of worms and—“
“Stop, stop. Don’t tell me anymore.”
“It’s fucked up, right? So, he puts the pictures next to your plate and paces around the table and makes sure you don’t move and tells you you’re selfish and you better not get up, but you better clean your plate.” He lets out a breath.
I listen to the whirring of the tires and the crunch of leaves under our feet.
“Just… come to my house,” I say.
“Thanks. But, I can’t. If I do, he’ll—“
“—do the sweep? Who cares? What’s with the fucking guilt trip? What’s his fucking problem?”
“I don’t know,” he says. “He thinks every black person should feel as bad as he does for succeeding.”
“What does he have to feel bad about?”
“I don’t fucking know. Maybe he feels bad because he got out and they didn’t.”
“How is that your fault?” I say.
“I don’t know.”
“Like I said—batshit crazy.”
“Yep,” he says.
We stop outside Lucky’s.
“You want anything?” he says.
“No,” I say, grabbing the handlebars.
He walks through the automatic doors and comes back with mini apple pies. We tear off the wax paper and bite into sugary crust. Then, we stroll until the sidewalk ends and rectangles of green take over the landscape.
“This is good,” I say. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he says.
“Hey. Maybe he’ll screw up and give you a good picture this time.”
“You… shut the fuck up,” he says, smiling.
“No. You shut the fuck up.”
After the last bite, I crumple the paper into a ball. He takes it from me and puts it in his pocket. Then, he holds out his half-eaten dessert.
“Here,” he says. “I can’t finish it.”
“Why not?” I say.
He shrugs and hands it to me.
“I better go.”
“Wait, I’ll walk you to the top,” I say.
“No, I’ve got it,” he says.
My sister parts the blinds and looks through the window, forming circles with her fingers and holding them up to her eyes.
“Be careful,” I say.
“Sure,” he says, looking down the street. I wave my hand in front of his face. He continues to stare. “That tree’s going to fall on that house,” he says.
“How do you know?” I say.
“I could go over there right now and tell them what’s going to happen and they won’t do anything about it,” he says.
“Who’s batshit, now?” I say.
“The apple’s not far from the tree, right?”
“You’re not like him,” I say. “Not even close.”
“You’ve never met him,” he says. “And I hope you never do.”
He lets the bike roll backwards, then forwards.
“I better get this over with,” he says. “Next time, we’re talking about your shit.”
“Then, we’ll never make it home,” I say.
“That’s not a bad thing.” he says.
The sprinklers come on across the street.
“Is the tree going to fall on that house, too?” I say.
“I’ll let you know,” he says, getting on his bike. “Don’t forget to clean your plate.”
He rides up the hill toward gated gardens, winding driveways, and floor-to-ceiling windows. I stand on the patched pavement, holding the crumbling pie; wondering how it will taste and wondering if he’ll miss it when he reaches the top of the hill.
© Darlene Eliot