from “Jebediah Banks’ House”
A short story
Jeb Banks Sr. was not home. He hadn’t stayed very long after Jeb Junior’s sixth birthday when the two of them went to the park near the wash and they threw a tennis ball back and forth for an hour looking up at the foothills and talking about fishing. Afterwards they walked through a neighbor’s olive grove to get home, the same way that Jeb Sr. would return in the night to hitch a ride out of the Inland Empire for good. Mrs. Banks and her one and only son got by on disability since then. She was mildly mentally retarded, but held onto Jeb by letting no one interfere in her household.
When Patrick arrived first on Saturday morning, his parents looked hard at the fading pink one story and made him promise to behave. Mrs. Banks greeted him at the door like she forgot about the fight he and Jeb got suspended for a few years back, the day Jeb called Hanif a “nigger” and Patrick popped him in the heart. She didn’t say anything at all to any of the other kids who arrived later for the slumber party. She sat at the edge of the raised bed in her room holding the corner of a throw blanket tightly in her hands. The television was off and a fan rotated slowly above, tapping at a regular interval. She smiled at some of the things she heard the kids say through the walls.
“Hey Jeb, what are we gonna do today?” Patrick asked.
“Whatever the fuck you want,” Jeb answered through his bucked teeth.
“Your mom doesn’t care if you use bad words?” Hwang asked. His real name was Ben Hamer but he was half-Chinese so they called him Hwang.
“She’s in her room.”
There were eight of them. Some of them were sitting on the basic tan couch around Jeb and the rest were sprawled on the floor on a cheap grey carpet. Between the couch and the entertainment center the living room was empty, so all the sunshine came through the sliding glass doors and they were enjoying it. Beyond the glass was Jeb’s paltry backyard where wooden crates were piled up and spare parts and random tools rusted.
“What’s all out there?” another kid asked, sensing the small size of the house from the set back concrete block walls.
“Go ahead and find out if you want,” Jeb guffawed. Then he pounced on that kid and tried to get him in a headlock. The big-headed, thick-lipped boy they called Lips, shuddered back and tried to roll out from under him, but even though Jeb was the slowest in their class he still got to him in time and started giving him a hard noogie. Patrick hesitated but a couple of others jumped in and they all started a huge wrestling match, minding cries of mercy only. When Jeb and he got around to each other they grinned, strands of sweat-thick hair and the smell of pre-pubescence lending the feel of a genuine event. Three other one-on-one groups were going at it. Jeb flung his meaty hand at Patrick’s head and Patrick ducked. Knowing that he was too small to pin Jeb down he grazed him in the nuts while attempting a leg clamp. Jeb’s eyes lit up like he was pissed but then he laughed and went face down on account of the pressure around his thighs. A few of the other boys peeled off their bouts and helped pin the Goliath down. They cheered and finally let Jeb up.
“Man, I was gonna…” Jeb shook his head, wiping his face on his stretched out t-shirt while heading for a spread of glasses on the brown plastic kitchen counter.
“What were you?” Patrick jumped up and embraced Jeb from behind.
“My mom made some Kool-Aid for us.”
“What flavor?” a couple boys yelled.
“That’s not a flavor of Kool-Aid,” Hwang said.
“Who invited the smart kid? It’s some blue shit. Come on and geet it.”
The boys drank holding their glasses with two hands and stopping when they ran out of breath.
That inhaling sound thrilled Mrs. Banks, who had rocked herself into a good rhythm while the boys went at each other. She saw her reflection in the television when the phone rang. Long face, hooked nose, twiggish torso. She tried to smooth her hair down the sides of her sunken cheeks.
“Is this the Banks’ residence?”
“Mrs. Banks, your boys are causing quite a commotion, aren’t they?”
“Who is this?”
“It’s your neighbor, Candy Price.”
“Are they bothering you?”
“No, I just wanted to let you know that if they come into my yard, I will call the police.”
“It’s Jebediah’s birthday today.”
“I’m just letting you know in advance. Tell him I said happy birthday. And have a wonderful day.”
Mrs. Banks hung up and kept fixing her hair. She took the sample photos of Jeb they sent her from school and held them up. The class one was free and didn’t have the word SAMPLE covering the faces. She compared this year’s photo with the others that were taped to the wall behind her headboard. All the kids had grown so much.