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The Fortunate Ones by Larry Silberfein | Word Riot
Short Stories

June 20, 2016      

The Fortunate Ones by Larry Silberfein

The missus and me are planted on beach chairs in our front lawn, wearing matching orange flip-flops. She puts her hand on the meat of my forearm and we clink glasses of gin, toasting to mayonnaise sandwiches, French toast a la mode, chocolate covered onion rings. It doesn’t matter what we clink to as long as the gin doesn’t run out and our heads don’t hit the sod. 
      Entertainment is our fourteen-year-old boy. Bud, his blond white hair combed by sleep, goes back and forth mowing our piece of the American dream. Every time he passes, he makes the purring sound of a lawn mower while his right hand flaps in the air. I kick him a little, in a playful way; he loves when I do that, and I scream, “Go X Man, go! Go all the way!” like he is running for a touchdown or hitting a homerun. I go in for more yucks.
      “Hey, X Man, it’s better to cut the grass than smoke it,” I holler.
      The missus loves it all. I watch her jiggle her jugs–throw pillows, I call them. Damn, that woman can really rock a housedress.
      “Give it right back to him,” she says to Bud. “Don’t let your old man mess with you.” Then she covers her mouth to hide a burp.
      Bud shrugs his shoulders and slurs a loose smile. His eyes slide into focus. His attention turns to the tweet of a bird, the crack of a twig, a drifting cloud, the invisible. He never understands what I’m saying but he always gets my gist.
      My boy, my boy.
      He is not right of mind but he is right of heart. Fine with me. The world is filled with too many brain cells that don’t know a thing.

We had Bud tested when he was three. Other kids his age were talking, smiling; Bud couldn’t even walk to the starting line.
      Give him time, I kept saying to the missus, give him time. I looked up at the
doc hoping he’d agree. But he said Bud needed more than time. His X chromosome was too long, or maybe it was too short; I don’t remember which. Doc said it was a genetic condition. I said I was hoping I’d pass on my good looks. Doc said it wasn’t that simple.
      What my boy has is called Fragile X syndrome. I call it a robbery. Bud’s brain was stolen from him before he had a chance to use it.

“What time is it?” the missus asks me.
      I mime like I’m looking at a watch and I say, “Too early to die.”
      It’s our thing. We have lots of things.
      “How about a deviled egg for my little devil,” the missus says.
      The wind picks up, the screen door opens and closes behind us. I breathe deep and fill my lungs with gas and grass.
      The missus shakes her drink. Ice cubes rap a song for another.
      “Cherry,” she says like she is asking for a diamond.
      I stick my fingers in the jar and fish one out for her by its tail, let it swim in her glass. Then I punch my hand into the sun and watch the juice drip down my arm. I roll out my tongue, a red carpet for every sweet drop.

Once, when Bud was four, I watched kids dressed like superheroes play from my bedroom window. Bud stood a few feet from them, but he watched from a distance you can’t measure. Spiderman noticed Bud staring. I didn’t like his face.
      “What are you looking at, retard?” Spiderman said to Bud. Then he turned to his friends. They all laughed. Bud smiled, thinking he was making a friend. He never heard that kind of talk before. Spiderman started rocking his head like Bud.
      I was about to run out when the missus grabbed my shoulder.
      “Let him be,” she said. “Let him be,” she said again, this time to the world. The missus is soft in all the right places but she’s tough when she has to be.
      The superheroes looked at Bud like he was some kind of villain. Bud did what always made the missus and me laugh; he did his impression of Porky Pig.
      “Th-th-th-that’s all folks,” he said.
      He just kept saying it, even when the superheroes wrestled him to the ground.
      Bud’s hand reached up through the pile of bodies to the sky. The sun continued to shine. The birds didn’t skip a note.
      I knew kids were kids but mean was mean.
      The superheroes saw a man in his underwear running at them. They ran away leaving Bud with tears and snot running down his face.
      That night, Bud crouched in the corner of the kitchen with a towel over his head trying to disappear. We knew better than to touch him. It’s not your fault, I kept saying, it’s not your fault. But he had already shut life out.
      The missus made Bud’s favorite meal, mashed potatoes and candy canes. Bud just looked down, embarrassed by who he was. I sat him on my lap and rocked. I felt his insides vibrate.

I couldn’t leave it be. After dinner, my fists pounded the neighbors’ doors. Then I stood in the middle of the street and watched one after another open, hate peaked over welcome mats. My head was spinning from the poison in the air.
      “My son is not stupid,” I said. “He’s a superhero. He’s the X Man. And he doesn’t need a costume to prove it. He’s taken God’s blows to remind all of us just how fortunate we are. Any of you brave enough to take the job?”
      I looked around at them. None of them said a word.
      “Yeah, I didn’t think so. The next time you see the X Man, say, Thank you X Man, thank you for a job well done. Got it?”
      They answered with closed doors but their kids never bothered Bud again. People just waited for us to move.

“Hey, watch it,” I say to Bud as he almost mows over my foot. “I hope that was an accident,” I laugh. Bud laughs. The missus laughs. In our family you don’t have to be funny to be funny. We’re just looking for a reason to shoot off a giggle.
      “You see that,” I say to my boy, pointing to the missus and my smile, “you painted that. You’re an F-ing artist.”
      The missus slaps my wrist and says, “Don’t cuss in front of the boy.”
      Bud just keeps mowing, right hand flapping, lost in the shades of trees.
      “Here, you earned it,” I say as I reach into our cooler. I throw Bud a root beer. Sometimes I forget the things he can’t do. His arms go up like goal posts and the can soars through like a field goal. “Score!” says Bud.  He leaves the lawn mower and runs into the middle of the street to get it.
      What happens happens when you blink.
      From nowhere a car screeches. A can is crushed. Someone screams.

The clouds move in front of the sun. The universe knows it has done Bud wrong, once more.
      The moment before he passes, Bud points to my eyes. “Rain,” he says. I move mountains to move a smile across my face. “Yes,” I say, “rain.” Then he looks at the missus. She runs her hands through Bud’s hair and tickles his ears.
      The ambulance arrives late, its emergency lights flashing on our neighbors’ closed doors.

My boy, my boy.
      The missus sprinkles Bud’s ashes from a sugar bowl on the front lawn. We bury a masterpiece in a museum of dirt.
      Bud’s whole life I had convinced myself that abnormal was better than normal. But you don’t get to be a normal dad when you don’t have a normal kid. Did I throw that root beer on purpose?

We still watch Bud go back and forth, as the wind blows him in and out of the shade. Bud is growing in all wrong, brown and twisted. Fine with us. Weeds are beautiful as roses.
      “What time is it?” the missus asks.
      I don’t pretend to look at a watch.

PHOTOAbout the author:
Larry Silberfein has one wife, two kids and an infinite amount of olives in his refrigerator. His stories have appeared in The Monarch Review, The Burrow Press Review, Glimmer Train (honorary mention) and Literary Orphans.

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