Team Players

by Rachel Kimbrough

Editors

Sean Bell, Loan Le, Seth Porter and Dan Reilly

Designer

Krissy Porter

Cover Art

Seth Bracken

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Mom kicked me out of the house tonight for messing up the bathroom counter with lotion she thought was cum. So I did something stupid after that, and then came to my favorite dive bar, Kelly’s, to process. Usually it’s the self-dubbed Nasty Alice behind the bar, who’s this lady it took me a while to determine her sex, but tonight it’s new-girl-Jenny’s first night alone. It’s just a Tuesday, right, so it’s manageable as far as multitasking, except that Jenny’s got tits like those you see hugging porn star dicks on RedTube, so she’s been getting all kinds of sexy looks from the guys, all kinds of pissy looks from the girls.

There’s one guy at the end of the bar, this suit and tie who’s said nothing to anyone except to order a gin and tonic—and he is the only person here who appears to be not noticing Jenny. He looks decidedly defeated. Maybe that guy can get me a job. Mom kicked me out the first time for something that is true on paper but that I don’t fault myself for. Here’s the deal: until recently I haven’t held a job longer than two weeks. But the thing is, I don’t want to waste a bunch of time and money on college before I know what I really want to do, and I’m not qualified for anything I’m even remotely interested in. How long am I supposed to wash dishes before I get to say, “Fuck this!” In my opinion: about two weeks. That gets me a paycheck, right? I’m paying for my own food, most of the time at least, and toss Mom the rest to try to offset utilities. All this she deems unacceptable.

So, a couple months ago, in the midst of one of our innumerable related arguments she said, “Goddamnit. I’m not fucking around here: you get a job by the end of the month, or you can pitch a tent.” Sounded like an empty threat to me, so I, you know, didn’t. And lo and behold, first of June I woke up to my dear mother shaking me, saying, “All right, buster, your equipment is outside. Get to it!” She ushered me out the back door. On the back lawn were all the pieces required to actually pitch a tent: a pillow and sleeping bag, a first aid kit, a bath kit consisting of a single bar of soap and a towel, a case of bottled water, and an envelope tucked into that case with $50 inside “for nonperishables.” She locked my bike up, too, so I walked into town to the Dollar General and got a bunch of crackers and chips and bread and peanut butter and jelly. And I camped.

We’ve got a little creek that runs along the border of the back yard and that’s where I bathed. I shat and pissed on the other side. Neighbors are a few acres away on every side, so out the door with modesty. She said I couldn’t enter the house, and if I needed anything I could leave a note for her at the back door (so accommodating is this woman that she left a pen and notepad) and if she deemed it absolutely necessary she would replenish a basic supply.

I’ve been camping lots of times before, so I thought surely it wouldn’t be much of a pain in the ass. What I failed to consider, however, is what boredom does to a mind. No video games, or electronics, no books or magazines, only memories and tree bark for spank bank material. Jesus fucking Christ. I walked around our property about a thousand times in the first week, considered breaking into my own Goddamn house, but didn’t. On the eighth day I walked back into town to the Dollar General and got a job as a bagger on the spot. Yeah it’s that easy. And yeah I could have done that when she first told me to. Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah. I get it. The bitch won.

So I was let back into the house and got my bike back. My hygiene had suffered something awful during my domestic exile— as it turns out bathing in a creek dried the everlasting fuck out of my skin. I mean, I’m no pussy, but my skin was cracking and bleeding everywhere, all over my entire body. So when I got my first check from the Dollar General I invested in some heavy-duty body lotion—this shit goes for thirteen ninety-five at the fucking Dollar General. There is no room in its heart for mercy as it pertains to dry skin. It does not fuck around.

It’s also super thick and creamy. And its pump tends to get clogged. So just this morning, right, I was running late anyway but before I left for work, I went to pump a big ole glob of that shit into my hand, but I’d failed to notice that it had a big booger-esque coagulation blocking most of its exit path. So when I slammed down on the pump it projectile-launched everywhere except in my hand. A broken, linear path of white, creamy lotion stretched across the counter. I cursed, did a half-assed cleaning job, shoved the whole damn bottle into my backpack for later, and rushed out the door.

So I biked home after work about ten hours later, tired as hell, and discovered my key didn’t fit the lock. Cute, Mom. It was still fairly early in the evening and the lights were on, and I could see Mom’s shape at the kitchen table through the living room curtains. So I rapped on the window and screamed for her to open the Goddamn door. She looked up, grabbed something off the kitchen table, walked over to the door and slid an envelope under it. What is it with her and notes? It’s so fucking passive-aggressive.

Its contents read thus:

Beloved son,

This morning it came to my attention your bad habits don’t just die hard: they simply don’t die at all! Imagine my disgust when I did my business in the bathroom and, upon reaching for bathroom tissue, placed my hand directly into the fruits of your labor—and I saw then that you’d kindly left a trail all across the counter.

I thought we were done with that bit of history, but as they say, history repeats itself. I can’t help you. Therapy can’t help you. Maybe you can’t help yourself. But I simply cannot allow such a determined force of destructiveness to exist in the same household as me, or even on the same property. Some of your belongings are in a trash bag on the back porch. We can arrange for a future date and time for you to collect the rest of your things.

Should you find the path to recovery, whatever that may be for you, I will receive you with open arms. Until then I can only be your very distant

—Mom

I guess it’s worth mentioning here that when I was a kid I used to masturbate all the time and once I figured out how to cum I’d smear it all over the house, usually on Mike’s stuff but sometimes just wherever. So, yeah, there’s history there. But that’s a fucking overreaction if I ever saw one. I haven’t done that shit for like eight years! Whatever. She’s impossible to reason with when she’s full of righteous anger. I figured I’d have to just come back a couple days later and try to talk to her then.

So I went around back and just grabbed a hoodie and my toothbrush and deodorant and shoved those into my backpack. I took the pen and notepad she still hadn’t brought inside, too, and pedaled back toward town.

It’s a five-mile trek from our house into town. I took it slow, partly because I was fucking pissed of course and tend to get reckless if I don’t keep my temper in check, but also because it’s the middle of summer in the middle of nowhere and biking fast means getting a face full of bugs. So, you know, plenty of time to think. Me and Mom used to be tight, back when she was married to Mike. I fucking hated Mike, and he fucking hated me. Most of the time my jizz found its way into his socks or spread all over his favorite tie like butter. That prick, that fucking asshole, he spent a good chunk of his time, from when I was three when Mom married him until I was 13 when he had the good manners to die, convincing my mother that she deserved every broken bone, every bruise strategically placed where clothing covered it, every cracked tooth— Goddamnit. Anyway.

Anyway. So yeah, it’s kind of weird to think about, but we were so close then, me and Mom, like we were a team, us versus him. And when he died in a bike accident our fellow mourners mistook our happy tears for sad ones.

And then, we started fighting. It’s like we relied so heavily on hating someone else that we didn’t know how to relate once he was gone, or something. I don’t know. It’s fucking weird. So I was thinking about all that, Mike and Mom and me. And it occurred to me that maybe I was remembering it all wrong. You know, you don’t know shit when you’re a kid, you have to figure out what the fuck happened much after the fact. Like when I was just a tiny tot and Mom used to take me to her aunt and uncle’s “farm”—in my mind it was this expansive field that went on forever. But when that uncle died when I was 15 and we went back to that same house, it turned out that field was about as expansive as our front yard—it just had taller grass that, from my two-and-a-half-foot perspective as a toddler, made it look infinite.

So, yeah, somehow in all that thinking it seemed like a good idea to me, in order to gain some adult perspective related to reflections on my formative years, to visit my childhood house, just to see it. So I did.

By the time I got there it was nearly midnight. I passed exactly zero vehicles between Mom’s house and the old one. The only light available came in the form of light pollution from town.

Our little old house didn’t have a garage and there were no cars in the two-car driveway. I parked in the driveway, propped my bike up and walked the length of the front. When I lived there we had that spiky fake grass all over the front steps. That was gone. They’d done away with the lime-green paint and white trim too. I peeked in the front window and of course couldn’t see shit. That bugged me.

So I figured, fuck it, I’m already doing stupid shit and I’m in a weird-ass mood. Let’s just take it a few steps too far.

I didn’t bother to try the front door or any of the windows. I just walked my bike around back, lugged the bike over the little chain-link fence and then jumped it myself, went around to the cellar door and crouched at the tiny window at the foot of the house, the one right next to the back door. I looked around the back yard as best I could in little to no lighting. Same beat-up gazebo at the other end, same big red tool shed next to that, same wooded area beginning at the perimeter of the property just beyond the tool shed. I returned my attention to the little window. I used to just leave the house when Mike was being particularly awful, and quickly discovered as a form of reentry that this little window doesn’t lock and actually just swings open from the outside. Crouched there tonight, I tried my luck and gave it just a little push. It complained a bit, but I kept pushing. I heard something fall to the ground inside and the window swung open.

I’m a little bigger now than I was then, of course, but I’m still a pretty small guy. It took a lot of shuffling but I got in there and dropped to the ground—twisting my ankle on the rock that had been set on the window ledge to prevent its swinging open. I cursed aloud and then remembered I should probably keep quiet, just in case. I rubbed my ankle a minute and then shuffled over to where I remembered the staircase was and slowly made my way up.

The door at the top opened into the kitchen. When I lived there the kitchen floor was this terrible ‘70s-era Berber carpet, but now it’s hardwood. I didn’t think to test that before I stepped out and my footfall echoed throughout the room. I froze, panicked, and waited for anyone in the house to react. Nothing. I took my boots off and left them on the top stair. I stood completely still for a few minutes to let my eyes adjust and then proceeded in my socks to check around for signs of life.

I decided to check the laundry room first, for some stupid reason. I opened the door at the rear of the kitchen and nearly shat my pants upon seeing someone standing at the back door directly in front of me before realizing it was my own fucking reflection. No one in the laundry room. Of course. I shut that door and crossed the kitchen to the living room threshold.

I peaked around the doorway into the living room and could vaguely make out a dark, heavily-pillowed L-shaped couch next to a desk with a Mac on it. I stared hard at the couch for a minute. I determined I was not imagining it—in its corner was an undeniable movement among the lumps of pillows. Again my pants threatened to fill themselves until that movement changed and a pair of bleary feline eyes turned their attention my way. The cat blinked and then put its head back down. I remembered to breathe.

I surveyed the living room a minute longer before daring to cross to the other side. All three bedrooms branch off the living room, so I started with the smallest one. It really shouldn’t even be called a bedroom. A full-size mattress fills the whole thing, wall- to-wall. We used it as a combination storage space/playroom and I assumed the new residents would do the same. I slowly pressed the door opened and this time, I admit, I did actually shit my pants just a little bit.

Situated against the furthest wall where my old toy chest used to be was a crib with a living infant in it. I saw this immediately because the crib had a dull blue nightlight attached to one of its walls, lightly illuminating tiny, chubby cheeks and a head of fair fuzzy hair. Holy hot damn. I quietly closed the door, did that stupid tiptoe-run-thing where you have to lurch your body to get it to move faster than normal tiptoeing allows and got as far as the kitchen when it occurred to me that if anyone was home, they were heavy fucking sleepers.

And I had this terrible suspicion that no one was home. Except an infant.

I stood in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room for a solid five minutes deciding what I should do. In that time the cat stood, stretched, jumped off the couch and rubbed at my ankles. It looked up at me and asked, “Mrowr?”

I said, “Shh,” and crossed the living room again, this time to the door adjacent to the baby’s room. Its contents? Two empty kids’ beds, one shaped like a racecar, the other like a boat. A dresser. A cedar chest at the foot of the racecar bed. Sloppy paintings hung up all over the walls. Toy bin. No humans.

I closed that door and went to the last one, the master bedroom. The layout of this house sucks, because the only bathroom is accessible solely through the master bedroom, for some stupid reason. The bathroom door was open. It, too, had a little nightlight in it, which revealed yet another empty Goddamn bed. I walked all around it and peeked inside to be sure I was, indeed, inside a house occupied by a helpless infant and exactly zero responsible parties. I joined my mother in the ranks of People Fueled By Righteousness, except I couldn’t decide on a course of action to take with my anger. I sat at the foot of the bed and considered.

The cat repeated its inquiry: “Mrowr?” I shrieked. I hadn’t seen it enter. I laughed a little, more to expel nervous energy than because anything was fucking funny, and reached my hand down. The cat emerged from around the corner of the bed and licked my fingers. And then the baby cried.

I thought I’d imagined it at first—you know, at the outset a crying jag sounds like a couple little coughs—until it gathered its teensy lungs full of pissy air and let out a decent bellow. I jumped up, burdened with the responsibility of being the only person around to address its call, also painfully aware of my absolute lack of experience with babies. You’re supposed to hold its head a certain way so its neck doesn’t snap off or something? Pacifiers are basically baby face plugs, right? Fuck, I don’t know.

Eventually the baby’s crying was honestly starting to get on my nerves so it was down to either leaving the house or trying to get it to shut up. I made my way to the kitchen, to the basement door, grabbed my boots and sat down to put them on. I had one on my foot, ready to leave, but I just couldn’t do it. Just could not fucking leave that annoying little baby all by itself. I said, “For fuck’s sake,” took the boot off again and went back to the baby’s room.

It was pissed, red-faced, mouth gaping open, screaming as loud as possible, and kicking.

I said, “All right, all right,” and stood next to the crib. At the sound of my voice it calmed down a bit but continued fussing. I smelled shit so that answered what it was so pissed about. I had to look around only for a minute to find diapers and wipes in a bin tucked under the crib. I’d never changed a diaper before, but I am also not an idiot. That shit’s pretty easy to figure out—though it did take me ten minutes. I discovered during that exercise, between gagging and turning away to take breaths, that this kid was a boy. I changed his shit, set the dirty one in the corner of the crib, found a pacifier buried between his neck folds and the blanket under him and plugged him up. He chewed the shit out of the pacifier for a minute and then spat it back out and cried some more. Louder. So, hungry then? Okay, hungry.

I left him there and went back to the kitchen. I looked around as best I could in almost complete darkness and then opened the fridge to use its light. Behold! A bottle with milky shit in it sitting on the top shelf. I popped that in the microwave for a few seconds, not bothering to be quiet any more. Brought that shit back to the kid. Popped that shit in the kid’s mouth. Success! He made these cute little grunts after every swallow.

He drank the shit out of that bottle. I felt weirdly accomplished. I, the eternal fuck-up, the everlasting failure, had independently identified a problem and thoroughly solved it. I, the Dollar General bagger, the weird cum-kid, had made a real person’s life decidedly better than it had been before I had entered it. The baby blinked a few times when I took the empty bottle out of his mouth, concern creasing his brow. He looked ready to cry out until I tried the pacifier again. Fuck yes: pacified. He stared at me and smiled from behind the pacifier. I couldn’t help but smile back.

I stood there for a while waiting for him to fall asleep again. I figured the parents would probably come home eventually. I just couldn’t decide if it would be better to leave and save myself a lot of trouble or stay to make sure they did come back. I’d already been there for a good twenty minutes—way longer than I’d initially intended.

My mind wandered back into the territory of righteous anger. Who the fuck! Leaves an infant! Completely alone? Goddamn, he was a cute kid, and I’d done all right by him, right? I mean if that’s all it takes to take care of a baby, any idiot could do it. Even, you know, me.

I could take care of that kid. I decided he looked like a Sam. Sam’s like your buddy, right, an all-around okay guy, someone you want on your team. Sam is solid. I could bring him back home with me, show Mom how I could take care of something, I really could, and she could watch him while I went to work since she works from home anyway and gets to make her own schedule. Me and Sam, we could be a team. We’d basically be growing up together, right? Maybe if I called the cops on the parents I could make a case for custody or something. I mean if a kid gets taken from its parents it just sort of floats around the state system, right, so like a house with caretakers in it must be better than foster homes or whatever. Right? That’s what I was thinking. I don’t know anything about all that shit but I thought I had it figured out.

Sam started to doze off. His eyes were rolling up in his head as they closed and his pacifier slowly started to sag from his mouth. So cute! I didn’t know I had the capacity for aww reactions until Sam. I slowly, quietly stepped back from the crib and went back to the living room. I looked around for a home phone, assuming I wouldn’t find one&mash;who the fuck has a home phone anymore?

As it turns out, these people do. I found a cordless set on a side table at one end of the couch. I held the phone against my forehead for a minute to try to get my heart to stop its pounding enough that I could probably talk. Then I dialed 9-1-1.

“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”

“I, uhm, found a baby. And I don’t know where its parents are. It’s alone.”

“Okay, what’s the address?”

I relayed the information.

“All right, I’ll have an officer meet you there.”

“Okay.”

“What’s your name and phone number?”

I started to answer honestly, and then made something up instead. I don’t know why, but I’m glad I did.

“Okay. Is that address your residence?"

“Well, no.”

“Is the baby in any way injured or in danger?”

“No he’s fine.”

“All right. Do you know where the parents are?”

“No.”

“Do you have any contact information for them?”

“Nope.”

“Do you know the parents?”

“No, I just found this baby.”

“Where did you find it?”

“Well ... in his crib.”

“In his crib? In that house?”

“Yes.”

“Why are you in that house?”

“Well it’s a long story, see, I used to lived here when I was a kid.”

“Were the residents home when you entered?”

“I mean, no, that’s why I called, because their baby is here, see.”

“So that residence is not your house.”

“No, I mean, not anymore.”

“I see. Please stay where you are, and stay on the line.”

“Okay.”

“Am I in trouble?"

“Just stay where you are.”

“Okay,” I said, as I slipped back into the kitchen and retrieved my boots. I slipped them on, not bothering to tie them, then stepped back into Sam’s room to make sure he was asleep. He’d be fine. He’s just a baby. They don’t care who’s taking care of them, right, as long as they get food in their stomachs and shit off their asses. He’d be fine, and after the very short conversation with the dispatcher I got the distinct feeling that if I stuck around to try to have a reasonable discussion with the police regarding my merits as a potential substitute parent, I would not be fine. I kept the phone to my ear as I looked down at him. Cute kid. Too bad he’s either stuck with shit parents or stuck with the state. I went back to the living room.

The woman on the phone said, “Are you still there?” I said yes. She said, “All right, they’re about a mile out, they’ll be there momentarily.” I said, “Okay good,” and set the phone among the cushions on the couch. I left by the back door, grabbed my bike at the side of the house and walked it through the back yard. Just as I entered the wooded area behind the tool shed I heard sirens and saw flashing lights. I kept going until I could neither hear nor see any of it.

I crossed through a couple hundred yards of the same and emerged onto a road that runs parallel to the one Mom’s house is on—a road that also leads into town. I rode into town and found Kelly’s. I put on the hoodie I’d grabbed from the bag Mom left outside, went inside and straight to the bathroom to clean the aforementioned bit of shit in my underwear, and went to the bar for a drink.

Which leads us back to now, back to Jenny and her volleyball-sized tits. It’s just past closing time. Jenny will kick me out when she’s about done with clean up. A while ago she came to stand before the suit at the end of the bar, the defeated-looking man. She came to him and said, “Last call, babe. You want one more or you good?”

The man looked up briefly from his drink, and looked back down. His chin crumpled up for just a second. He slowly, so slowly, removed the thick gold band from his wedding finger and placed it on the bar top between him and Jenny. He looked back up at her, his gaze intense, as though asking if she’d received his message. They stared that way for a solid minute. She turned away and resumed work as though none of that had occurred. A minute later she printed his check and set it in front of him and turned away without a word. He paid with cash, not making eye contact. Then he finished his drink, plucked up his ring and slid it back on his finger and left.

Man. I’m just so damn tired. Not just physically. There is no room in my brain for anything more, at all, not Sam or his parents or legal consequences or Mom or Mike or lotion that looks like cum, not even some sad sap at the bar sliding his wedding ring off and back on. I have to be at work in a few hours anyway. I think I’ll bike around town until I either get noticed and questioned or until it’s time for work.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Kimbrough is a writer and single mother who writes short horror stories and nonsensical narrative nonfiction somewhere in the Midwest.

Contact Rachel at rkimbrou@stumail.jccc.edu

ABOUT THE ARTIST

Seth Bracken, born in St.Louis, MO, is a self taught painter with a diverse artistic background. He is experienced in the realm of mixed media visual art, focusing on character design, reminiscent of animation and cartoons. You can find more of his work at facebook.com/SappyMonster

ABOUT THE RAG

The Rag is the home for literary guts and steel. We are an electronic publication hell-bent on true grit and uncompromising action. We call this “literary entertainment.” We publish new fiction monthly on our website www.raglitmag.com. You can read online, or free downloads are available in PDF, Kindle and ePub formats.