By Brendan Medlin
He always hated Thanksgiving. It seemed a contrived attempt to smash together unwilling fools into a common peace that could never otherwise exist. As he sat watching these fuckers called ‘family’ lick their fingers, suck their teeth, gulp wine and vodka, burp their pleasure, and fart silently, Sklyler smoldered at the short end of the table, hotter than usual.
Opposite him sat Carole, Skyler’s mother, and Joe, his step-father. Already, Carole’s second bottle of vodka had been uncorked and stood faithfully by her glass of ice and a lip-stained cigarette. Her vacant eyes and slurred speech was business as usual for this group.
Skyler glanced left to his younger sister, Bess. She was home from college for the holiday and as customary, had her playlist of Broadway show-tunes running in the background. This time it was the soundtrack from Cats, already into “The Rum Tum Tugger”. Bess was a plus-sized, acne-scarred theatre geek who escaped the household last year, carrying with her the weight of Joe’s sexual abuse. Last night even, Skyler thought he had heard a disturbance in Bess’ room, but was paralyzed from helping (moving) even when he later heard Carole screaming at Joe. Skyler felt a wave of nausea that, unfortunately, Bess too would have to die. None of this was her fault. But, what better protection could a big brother give than to take away her tormenter and her pain all at once?
To his right sat Skyler’s older brother Jimmy and his wife... what was her name again? Jimmy got lucky. When their real father left, he insisted on taking custody of Jimmy. The compromise was that Carole could keep Skyler because he needed his mommy. So, lucky ole Jimmy grew up in a stable and wealthy household. He wore the best clothes, was given a new car at 16 and attended an elite university. At cotillion he met this beautiful bitch sitting next to him, what the hell is her name? And through all of their lives, Jimmy could not have given two shits about Skyler. How could his older brother have abandoned him, just like his father? Jimmy smirked down the table at him, swirled his cabernet, and winked. “Too late, brother”, Skyler thought as he imagined Jimmy’s face melting off the bone.
Behind Carole was the entrance to the basement and an adjacent laundry chute. The basement had been Skyler’s room for most of his life. It had a sturdy wooden door with a deadbolt lock. When he was younger and got into trouble with Carole or Joe, the basement also served as a convenient space for Skyler’s torment.
Skyler was born with a lisp, and to some, especially Joe, this was seen as a leaning towards femininity. It was a weakness that Joe was eager to sort out. Many nights some perceived slight precipitated Joe into calling down the laundry chute for Skyler to get ready - the belt was coming out. And so it did. The belt snapping from the loops of Joe’s jeans. Then those jeans falling to the floor. Then his forcing himself into Skyler’s face. He whipped the belt onto Skyler’s backside as he shouted the demons of homosexuality from him. Once finished, he lashed Skyler again to ensure his future silence. Behind him Joe would bolt the door, leaving Skyler to wonder if he would ever escape from there again.
He also wondered why his mother never saved him. Could she not hear his screams? Surely she could hear him screaming from the basement. His only explanation was that she just did not care about him.
The basement was a very basic place. It had a concrete floor and high ceiling. There was a narrow window above the bed, but it was covered with a wrought iron grate. If a fire had broken out, there would be no way to escape.
The basement also served as the laundry room. Next to the washer was a large canvas bin into which the laundry chute emptied. On that “Day of Thanks”, Skyler had arranged the smelly pile of clothes around crushed bundles of newspaper within the bin. Then he dowsed them entirely in lighter fluid. His mood burned a little brighter.
Skyler would imagine himself as a super-hero named ‘Skyscraper’. Not that he could fly, not that he had super human strength, but because he had the ability to crack walls and ceilings regardless of who made them. The neglect, abandonment, the physical and mental abuse, the ridicule, all of it had built a ceiling over him; ceiling and walls that no ordinary man could breech. And so he scraped the Sky and he raged against the barriers and still he failed. This time there was no other way; he needed to burn it all down.
At the table, Skyler sheepishly announced that he had set out dessert in the basement and that everyone should go see what he had prepared for them. Full of surprise they all went, one-by- one, down the basement stairs. Bess was last. She turned to him with a wry smile that was incredulous the he actually made dessert, like she was in on the joke, and then she too descended.
Following them from behind, Skyler closed and latched the dead-bolt on the basement door.
Alone now he wasted no time. He grabbed a kitchen towel, and in one stride snatched up his mother’s vodka bottle. He stuffed the cloth into the neck of the bottle and shook it. Next to the ashtray was the cigarette lighter.
Calm enveloped Skyler. One thumb scratch brought flame, and then flame passed to bottle. Striking a Lady Liberty pose with the cocktail, he called down the laundry chute, “Mom, you forgot your vodka. Here it comes!”
Drop, whoosh, banging, begging, scraping....
Leaning against the door, Skyler breathed deeply. He smiled and thought to himself, “how about that? You can hear screams from the basement”. He fired up a cigarette and listened as Grizabella belted “Memory...”