I lit the match and watched him burn. As his flailing arms swirled around the room, I grinned. If Mama knew what was happening, she would be pissed because her hand-carved wooden jewelry box was engulfed in flames, but I didn’t care. Stephon’s screams of agony made me forget about the jewelry box. I felt so good.
“You ain’t so bad now, are you?” I said over his wails. It seemed like his eyes focused on me, but I knew that wasn’t possible because he had to be in another world…a world full of pain.
“Are you?” I repeated, my voice lower this time as I stretched out both words hoping he felt pain with each one I uttered.
He lunged toward me, but I moved out of the way, careful to avoid the flames. This would be our last argument, our last time coming to blows, because this time I doused his ass with gasoline and lit the match.
My brother Stephon was always bigger than me. A big bully, he would constantly taunt me, trying to make my world hell. Mama never listened to my cries when we were younger, always took his side. He had convinced her that he was an angel, which meant that I was the devil because in this world someone always had to play the devil.
Stephon’s cries were lower now, almost as if he had given up fighting as he faced his imminent death. The smell of burning flesh filled my nose. How in the hell am I going to clean up this mess? I wondered, as he collapsed in a burnt heap.
When I was sure he had left this world, I grabbed the heat resistant blanket and put it on his body. Not too much of the room was burned. The only thing gone was Mama’s jewelry box and the lamp that sat on the table. I spotted a flame coming from the table and ran across the room to put it out.
I was prepared. The small fire extinguisher came in handy. I wasn’t going to use it on Stephon, though, because I wanted to make sure he was dead and could still feel the pain of burning until he succumbed to death. I hoped his burning wouldn’t end here on Earth, but continue into his next life in hell.
That song “Disco Inferno” filled my thoughts. "Burn, baby, burn," I whispered, smiling again. It felt so good to finally get him.
Hopscotch. I jumped from one square to the next, ignoring the smart aleck remarks that came from the girls behind me. They were laughing…laughing at a little boy who loved hopscotch and dolls just as much as they did.
The heat coming from the pavement was beginning to be unbearable. I stopped and ran over to the fire hydrant to bathe myself in its cool water. The hard streams bounced off the naps on my head. I smiled. It felt so good.
“Tavon! Boy, you better get over here before Mama get home.”
Stephon was standing on the marble steps of our house. The kids would always tease us, saying that we had the worst row house in
“One, two, three, four…look at your messed up door. Five, six, seven, eight…your mom is on Section 8,” they would chant. Stephon would ignore them, but then he would take it out on me when we got in the house, getting mad at me for their bad words.
“It’s your fault. If you weren’t such a faggy, they would leave us alone,” he would say. I would lower my head, staring at the floor, careful not to make eye contact with him because I knew he would get angrier and start beating me up.
“Didn’t I tell you not to play hopscotch no more.”
Stephon was towering over me in the hallway. He dragged me by the ear into the kitchen where he put a TV dinner in the microwave. I sat down at the table and watched a mouse run across the floor. I waited for him to divide the TV dinner up. Half for him. Half for me.
“Ain’t you gon say something?” he asked.
“I like playing hopscotch,” I whispered.
I glanced at Stephon. His wife-beater was dirty…a spot near his stomach stared back at me. Mama needed to do laundry. Stephon was old enough to do it. If I was thirteen like him, I would have done it for Mama, but I was only eight. Too young, Mama said.
He shouldn’t be calling me gay for playing hopscotch. With a name like Stephon, who was he to talk about me being gay, I thought.
I couldn’t wait until the family met Trina for Thanksgiving. Trina was fine. Had ass for days. Stephon is going to be so jealous, I thought as me and Trina rolled up to the house. I parallel parked, making sure the screeching tires would announce my arrival.
“Come on, babe.” I grabbed Trina's hand. I had on my six-hundred dollar leather coat. Man, I was looking fly. Trina’s hand was shaking.
“You don’t have to be nervous. I got you, babe.” I squeezed her hand. We had been dating for two months, but it seemed like longer. The way Trina dropped that pussy would make any man fall in love.
Stephon greeted us at the door. He looked good…real good. I could tell that he had just gotten a fresh hair cut. A week before Thanksgiving, he had called Mama to tell her that he got a job managing a fast food restaurant. Mama was so proud of him, but I wanted to tell her that he should be doing better. Something ain’t right if you thirty and managing a fast-food restaurant. She wasn’t trying to hear that shit, though. That’s just how Mama was. She loved herself some Stephon.
“And who is this lovely lady?” Stephon asked, eyeing Trina. I gently nudged her in so he could get a closer look.
Yeah, man. Get a good look.
Trina’s copper weave was tight—long and flowing. Looked just like her real hair. Her mini-skirt hugged every curve. We went in and got the festivities under way.
“Boy, you gotta tell us how you got so lucky,” Stephon said, passing the green beans to Cousin Roy. Mama was holding her own private conversation with Trina, talking her ears off about girly stuff.
A hush went around the room as they waited for my answer. Mama stopped talking and gave Stephon the evil eye. She was trying to act like my mother for once…trying to protect me from the implications of their words…the implication that everyone was implying. The implication that I was gay.
I told them the story, giving them every single detail as I looked at Trina with pride.
I couldn’t wait to get home. Being a correction officer ain’t easy and today the men were more difficult than normal. I blamed it on the full moon. I wasn’t feeling good, so I decided to leave work earlier.
I sat the keys on the stand in the hallway, looking around. I couldn’t believe this was my house now. Mama left it to me when she passed away. It was a sudden death, unexpected. Stephon was just as surprised when the lawyer said the house was now mine as he read the will. I guess guilt about Stephon being her favorite caused her to leave it to me.
“Trina,” I called, waiting for her to pop up.
I didn’t smell dinner cooking. That was odd. Trina always had dinner cooking for me when I got home. I walked into the kitchen. Nothing was on the stove.
Damn. I really need to get some more furniture, I thought, staring at the table that me and Stephon sat at for years. “Trina!”
I walked up the steps. I heard laughing.
What she doin’ on the phone? She should be cooking my dinner. I’m gonna get that ass. I smiled, opening the door.
Trina was on top of Stephon pumping away, her copper weave hanging down her head touching my brother’s chest. My brother’s chest.
“Yo, bro, I’m so sorry,” Stephon said, pushing her off of him. I caught wind of his private parts and wanted to throw up.
In my mother’s bed.
“Get the fuck out before I kill both of ya’ll.”
Trina came up to me and tried to grab my arm, but I snatched it away before she could touch me. “Get out!”
Stephon knew not to say nothing else. They got dressed and I let them leave.
Days went by. I felt dead inside. Stephon and Trina were blowing up my phone. Of course, I didn’t want to talk to either one of them. Then, one day I decided to take Stephon’s call.
“Can I come over, bro? I want to talk to you,” he said.
At first I wanted to say “fuck no”, but then I thought about it. My heart was hurting.
“Yeah, you can come over on Thursday.”
I knew, then, what I was going to do.
“Why you want to go to Mama’s room? Why can’t we talk in the kitchen?” Stephon asked, making his way into the hallway.
“I want to go to the room where you fucked my girl. I can’t have nothing, can I, Stephon?”
“Man, I’m really sorry about that.”
“No you ain’t. Come on. Let’s go upstairs.”
As he walked up the steps in front of me, I thought about all the times we fought. All the times he beat me up. As children, we came to blows. As teenagers, we came to blows. As adults, we still continued to come to blows, but in a different form now.
I grabbed the gasoline from behind the door and lit the match.
“Officer Anderson, I’m sorry we have to do this.”
“Do what you gotta do,” I told the officers…the same officers that I had joked with over lunch…the same officers that I stood back to back with during jail brawls.
The bars closed and I grinned, struck by the irony of a correctional officer being behind his own bars. I thought of Stephon and smiled again.
Who’s the punk now?
Who’s the punk now?
T.C. Galltin is the author of Zaire’s Place, a novel that explores the lives of three very different women at a domestic violence shelter in
Zaire’s Place is available in paperback, Kindle and Nook formats from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. To go to Amazon, click here. Baltimore, MD.