When they can’t ignore the stink coming from his room anymore, Mom and Dad break the lock on Jeff’s door and go in, prepared, they think, for whatever happens next. It’s not like they don’t have an idea anyway, they still do all his laundry. There’s not a sock in his hamper that isn’t stiff and crusty and yellowed. Mom doesn’t even gag about it anymore it happens so much, she just makes sure to wear latex gloves when she does the whites.
The only thing that doesn’t make sense is why they always smell like sugar.
Of course he’s doing it when they walk in—why wouldn’t he be?—the screen of his computer hatefully bright in the dark, so bright it hurts to look at. Mom puts her hands up to block her view, but not because of the blazing computer glare. Bodies pulse and pucker and quiver there, on the internet, wrist-deep in each other, glistening and obscene. The sounds they make are salacious, hideous. Wet slaps and plastic moans. The vulgarity fills the room to the edges like poison gas, staining it and them with that oily, sweet stink. It’s like fruit teetering on the edge of rot: gluey and choking. It’s all bound together now, the sounds and the sights and the smells they can taste on the stagnant air. The computer spits and stares and curses at them, calling them estupida hooer and asking in angry, broken English if they focking like eet tell me yew like dees jiann coak yew iss ah nesty beetch nao sey tank yew.
And there, sitting perfectly still in the eye of this hurricane of deliberate atrocity, is Jeff, their beloved baby boy. Pants around his ankles, smeared black t-shirt bunched up around his tremendous, pale, wire-haired belly, locked in place. Transfixed by his video, he doesn’t even turn around to look or tell them to get the fuck out. He just sits there. Almost like he’s dead. Each of them quietly think if he is that wouldn’t be so bad and then feel awful about it.
Mom calls out to him first, then dad. When he doesn’t respond, they try again, just sort of figuring he’s been a stubborn selfish fuck like he always is, except the second try doesn’t work and neither does the third. Mom starts to cry before they know for sure but she’s not all the way wrong to. Dad holds his breath against the cloying air and crosses the room to his teenage son who slumps over on the keyboard when he finally touches him, eyes wide and bloodshot; limp, tacky-dry cock still curled in one pudgy hand.
Later, in the hospital room, they replace sleep with shitty coffee and blame themselves and ask the doctors questions that they can’t possibly know the answers to. Mom hasn’t stopped weeping since they found him, and Dad’s so angry that he cracked two teeth clenching them together for long enough. They tell themselves stories about him that they know aren’t true, cast him as decent and kind just to make themselves feel better, and for the most part it works. It keeps them going, keeps them hoping that Jeff is going to open his eyes again. They tell themselves that they want that.
They lose track of the days, keep the windows shuttered, hide in the dark with their half-dead boy. He doesn’t have any friends at school so nobody comes to visit, and that’s okay with them because being alone with him while he’s like this helps them perpetuate the lie just a little bit longer.
Somebody, one of the nurses maybe, tells them to go home, they’ll be sure to call if anything changes, but Mom and Dad both agree that’s not good enough. They have to be there for their son. They have to be. Don’t they?
They fight about it for a couple hours and eventually Mom agrees to go home and sleep while Dad stays here with the boy. It’s not perfect, but nothing’s perfect. On her way out, mom smiles and fakes like she’s okay, and Dad smiles back and fakes along with her until she’s out of sight. When he gets back to Jeff’s room there’s a doctor waiting there, holding a clipboard and wearing a face like I’m so sorry.
Dad didn’t know his son had diabetes, but he’s not surprised.
He crawls into the bed next to Jeff and curls his arms around the big disgusting fuck and quietly weeps himself to sleep. The dark of the hospital room holds his secrets close. The time is whenever, it doesn’t matter. It’s all the same, anyway.
At home, Mom throws wide the curtains in Jeff’s room and goes looking for answers, explanations why he turned out the way he did. They tried their best to raise him to be okay, but maybe that wasn’t good enough. She doesn’t exactly blame herself, or her husband, not really, but when she finds the gun magazines on the boy’s shelf and the blurry, violent amateur pornos on his computer, it’s sort of hard not to. He came from them, after all. He wouldn’t be this if he wasn’t theirs.
Under his bed, there’s a shoebox full of pictures, candid ones, taken from a distance without the subjects’ knowledge. From behind trees or car windows or things like that. Mostly girls, some boys, all of them young and beautiful and blissfully unaware. They’re all rubberbanded together, grouped by subject, all of them smeared and discolored by some toxic splatter, warped and thick with sugar stink.
Beneath the photos are his trophies: a lock of hair tied with ribbon, a condom wrapper, lumps of chewed and discarded gum bearing petrified teethmarks, a pair of brittle, stolen period panties. Mom tries her best not to scream. There’s no easy answer as to why he has these things beyond because he’s such a fucking creep. The second she thinks the words she chides herself, even though she knows she’s not wrong. She looks closer and sees that all the trophies are stained and crusted with his poison, too. She retches, and then starts to cry again. She goes all night and into the morning and then does it some more. When it finally cools off, she takes the hateful box out into the back yard and sets fire to it, watching it burn from inside the closed sliding glass door so she doesn’t have to know what his burning sweet smells like. She showers for like three hours after that. The water runs to icy and turns her skin a ghost-blue and when she gets under the covers of their bed to try and warm up, she thinks Maybe I can just sleep forever.
In the hospital bed, Dad wakes up crying, clutching tightly to his bloated son. His arms are noodly and sore from holding on so hard, his breath feels snatched from him, his eyes bleary. It takes him a minute to see Jeff staring down at him,eyes wide and hungry and desperately animal.
He almost doesn’t notice the boy’s hand down under the covers, bobbing up and down over his groin, faster and faster. A ribbon of drool lopes out of Jeff’s mouth and onto his chest, leaving a pooling spot of viscous wet where his heart should be. He doesn’t seem to notice, or maybe he just doesn’t care. Worse, maybe he likes it. Dad, repulsed and still weeping, tries to recoil from him, but finds himself unable to let the boy go because thank god at least he woke up. He wants to let go, but he can’t, he wants to hold on tighter, but he can’t. He’s frozen, locked to this boy while this boy leers at him and cranks himself off harder and harder and faster and faster. Dad’s weeping turns into violent, full-blown sobs. He tries to speak to his son but all that comes out is more anguish noise, round garbage syllables like black vomit.
“Don’t stop,” says Jeff, his voice craggy and dry and starved.
Dad cries and Dad hates everything and Dad doesn’t understand anything, anymore. Pressed up against him, Jeff’s whole body goes taut and he starts to groan, deep and ugly. The smell in the tiny hospital room is like flowers and caramel and cookies just out of the oven and Dad gets louder and thwocks his head into the bedrail again and again until he sees stars through the tears and Jeff is still going, bucking his hips into his hand, still riding the wave and Dad can hear him laughing a little bit while he works it and works it and works it.
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