“Are you ready?” Cherrie was standing in the doorway to his room with her arms folded. He glanced at her face to see that she looked irritated. Normal, he thought.
“What are you doing?” she asked. Her voice always sounds the same, he thought. She always sounds like someone’s trying to crawl up her pant leg.
“I need you to walk Georgie to his friend’s house,” their mother had said while getting ready for work.
“I won’t be home in time. After school, take him to get a birthday present.” She gave Cherrie some money. “It’s a sleepover.”
“Boys have sleepovers? Will they be doing each other’s hair and makeup?”
Georgie was sitting in a chair facing his dresser. Cherrie was standing in the doorway getting more impatient. “Really, hurry up. We still need to go get a present.”
He reached down beside him and picked up a backpack. He stood and opened the second drawer of the dresser. He moved the top two articles of clothing and pulled out a pair of pyjamas. He was very pleased with himself.
“Are you finished?”
He put the pyjamas in the backpack and walked out past Cherrie. “I’m ready.”
Early morning, the day before, he opened the blind on his window and watched the trees appear in the darkness just before the rising sun. He kept his light off. While he stared, he noticed that the trees were never exactly indistinguishable but that they were a distinct form against a background. The background is the same colour as the trees, he thought.
After the sun was up, all the colours were filled in. He wondered how he could draw something that changed colour with the light.
Early the next morning, he set up a camera to take pictures of the darkened trees. He had spent the rest of the morning staring at the black images but could see nothing. Tomorrow, he thought, I’ll take the camera outside and see if I can get something. He wondered if there was some way to turn off the steetlights.
“What do you want to get him?”
They were in the toy section of a department store. The bust ride had been short. Cherrie had spent the entire trip staring at her phone and muttering. He hadn’t been listening to what she was saying.. He was watching an old woman sitting in one of the sideways seats with her grocery bags and purse. The grocery bags were in the seat next to her, the purse was in her lap. She was wearing a large wool sweater with some odd pattern around the hem and cuffs. It also had a large collar that curled slightly as it flopped over. The sweater is grey, he thought.
He watched the old woman watching the floor at her feet. She regularly looked toward the front of the bus but he could see she was uncomfortable staying in that position. He tried to see the items in her bags. In one, he could count the number of cans that were visible through the thin plastic, but the other one was shapeless. He decided it held bread.
He stared at the grinning stuffed bears before him. He momentarily thought they would look better once dirtied and torn.
“What about Lego?” she asked. “Don’t boys like Lego? How about a Transformer?”
He picked up a pop-eyed stuffed something. It had a shocked expression on its bizarrely elongated face. It also had a tail almost as long as its body. He recognized it from a cartoon. “This.”
“This,” he nodded.
“Whatever,” she said. “Come on, then. I need to get some stuff, too.”
They walked through the kitchenware department and into the women’s clothing department. He liked the displays of knives and other kitchen utensils; he liked the pots and frying pans, too.
Cherrie walked to the section with underwear. She started taking bras off a display and holding them up.
“Your sister has big tits,” Brandon K. had said. They were playing softball, standing in the dugout, Cherrie was sitting on a bench by home plate with their mother. He looked over at her. She was staring at her phone and slouching over it to block the glare of the sun.
“No,” he said, and resumed watching the batter. “It just looks that way.”
“Where does it have the size on this goddamn thing,” she muttered. He watched her turn it around and around before giving up and pulling another off the rack.
“Are your tits getting big?”
He heard a giggle from someone a couple of racks away.
He watched her face return to its normal pale hue. She scowled and grabbed his arm. “Let’s go.”
“Excuse me, miss,” said a man at the exit. “I need to check the boy’s backpack.”
“Please,” he said. His voice was serious. Georgie looked up at the man’s face. He wasn’t exactly looking at either of them. His hand was out for the bag.
“Give it to him, Georgie. You think we’re thieves just because we’re young?”
“Store policy, miss. Backpacks are to be left at the door.” He opened the bag and looked inside. He shook it and tilted it. He doesn’t want to put his hand in, Georgie thought.
“Here you go,” he handed the bag back to Georgie without closing it. “Next time, use the cubbies.”
“Fucking asshole,” she muttered, “He should stick to beating off watching the security cameras, dipshit. God!”
The night before, he’d watched the sun go down. The colours drained out of the things on the earth and drifted away in the sky toward the setting sun. But the dark that came was not the dark of a settled night. It was colder.
The night before that, it had been cloudy. The sunset was an unimpressive greying of the world.
The woman had got off the bus two stops before the shopping mall. He watched her slowly pick up her things and get ready to stand after she signalled for the stop. He watched her ease herself down the steps and walk off toward an apartment building. Then she was gone.
“We forgot a gift bag,” he said to his sister when they were back on the bus.
“Who cares?” she said.