by Nora Shychuk
Waiting with packed bags is never easy. Time moves slowly. There’s that pulsing, churning feeling of inevitable change deep within the pit of your stomach. I want to throw up. It’s not that I’ll miss home, but it’s all I know. Our tiny brick house. The fireplace. The cramped kitchen. The mismatched silverware. The thick, scratchy carpet. The garden out back. The moldy basement. The basketball hoop. The dog. The couch, worn and old but so soft. That’s where I sit now. I fiddle with the rip in the right arm. I make it worse.
It is the ugliest yellow-orange color, like dehydrated urine or vomit.
Mom called the couch her Island of Disappointment. In fact, it was command central. The heart of the island. I heard her say this often, even as a kid when I was too young to really know what she meant. Her friends laughed at the name. Mom would sit there and mostly stay quiet. Watch television. Drink tea. Drink wine. Read. Do a word search. Knit. Talk on the phone. I’d watch. Sometimes I’d sit right next to her and feel her warmth. She’d call me her copilot. She told me the color of the couch reminded her of sand. I told her it reminded me of fire.
Other times I’d sit in the rocking chair across the room. She didn’t talk much then.
She got mad—never at me, but at other things. The tea was too weak. The couch too springy. The TV too loud. The sand too hot. The book too predictable. She liked to break things. Dad gave her pills.
They fought a lot. Usually at night, but eventually during the day too. It became warlike. Almost poetic. When I was trying to sleep in bed, they still screamed as if the measly wall was a special, noise-canceling force field. It wasn’t. Their voices rang through clear. Dad’s yell was the worst. Low and gigantic and booming and violent. It shook the roof. Little bits would fall off into my eyes. Sometimes they mentioned me. Dad said I was too delicate. My skin too pale. My lips too plump. My hair too styled. My clothes too nice.
I guess he didn’t approve of the fact that his son liked to kiss boys.
He called me names behind my back, and Mom cried in retaliation. I heard the words; I felt them cut. Faggot. Fairy. Pussy. Some of the names sent shocks through the walls and electrocuted me so I’d jump out before I got burned and went off to the couch. Island of Disappointment. Command central. Welcome back, kid. I’d lay down and try to sleep. Their voices weren’t so close anymore. We had a heavy quilt that hung over the back of the couch, and I pulled it down and wrapped myself inside tightly. I put it over my head. That was good. Almost silent. Doug the Dog would jump up and sleep on top of my legs. I’d wake when the sun came up and streamed through the window. My tears were dried to my cheeks. My nose was stuffy. Doug the Dog was still there with his raspy breathing.
Other times, Dad would take the couch. The fight got too bad. He hit Mom’s head a little too hard. She got headaches a lot and wore an ice pack for the swelling and clogged her pores with makeup to hide the dark circle under her eye. Dad called her a raccoon.
Dad was too big for the couch. He slept with his eyes shut in this hard, pained way. The wrinkles on his forehead were always present, always distorting his face and twisting it up. A sleeping animal. His feet and hands hung over the edges of our island and plopped onto the carpet. In the water. I wanted a shark to bite his fingers. Doug the Dog never crawled up on Dad’s legs. Dad’s island wasn’t big enough. Besides, he’d probably hunt Doug the Dog on the island. Kill him. Skin him. Cook him over the fire. He’d chant as Doug the Dog’s flesh burned. He’d drink out of a cut-open coconut or pineapple. Then he’d rip off a leg or the tail or the tongue and eat it. He wouldn’t worry about sharing because nobody came near him on his island.
The couch and I were close too. I waited there a lot, looking at the big grandfather clock in the corner. It chimed. She didn’t come. Stood up again. Mom made me popcorn even though I hated it. It was always popcorn. The kernels got stuck in my teeth. She’d put on a movie. We’d sit on our Island of Disappointment. I didn’t really care that the girl didn’t come. That I got ditched. She didn’t have a dick, and so that was a deal-breaker. My interest was fake. Constructed. For him. For the tribal elder. To impress the old man.
It only hurt because I wanted to be wanted. I wanted to sit on the couch, cool and calm and collected, then go off and do something better. Do something I should be doing. I needed to send a signal. I needed to escape from the island.
It hurt worse when friends blew me off. The guys. Jeremy. He didn’t know, but it was so clear. I would have sat on that sandy beach all day and night for him.
I was on the couch when Grandma died. When Mom came in with the news. She cried and it was faraway and controlled in the saddest way. She didn’t want to upset me so she didn’t look at me, but she shook. That hurt worse. The waves grew darker and sloshed over each other. A storm came. I dug my feet further into the sand and hoped to feel water. I hoped I wasn’t so far from drowning.
It was during my shift at command central on the Island of Disappointment when Dad found my porn. He dragged me from the shore and kicked me in the ribs.
It was on the Island of Disappointment where I studied for my final chemistry test and failed anyway. I had been failing all year. I didn’t get into my first choice for college. I got into my third. A college close to home. My initial plan was to go as far away as possible, but this would have to do.
Command central. A winter night. Parents gone. Jeremy got drunk and played around with me, and I came too fast, and I never talked to him again.
After that, I ran from the shores of the Island of Disappointment and found a cluster of palm trees. Parrots squawked and monkeys screeched. I asked them to peck and rip my eyes out but they refused. Mom’s pills were close, buried deep under the sand. I took seven or twelve and couldn’t feel my legs.
Mom found me at command central. On the beach. She screamed over the monkeys.
Oh, Mom. The couch. That was hers. We all knew it. It was her Island of Disappointment most of all. She was the mayor. Or the queen. She knew the lay of the land. She knew the secrets. Her husband beat her and her son was a gay druggie. It was the worst for her.
Now I sit at the couch with my bags. I got a dorm at school. I will live on campus. Mom insists I come back on weekends. She will pick me up. Then we’ll row across the sea, past the whales and dolphins and sharks and schools of fish, and come back to shore. The Island of Disappointment, in all its unchanging glory, will wait. Dad will spend most of his time past the palm trees. By the caves. Hiding. From me. From the wild boars. From the crazy wife. From the howling baboons. He’ll sip from his drink and then, when he feels like it, help us build a sand castle.
BIO: Nora Shychuk grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania before she hopped across the pond and earned her MA in creative writing from University College Cork in Ireland. Her work has appeared in The Quarryman Literary Journal, The Rose Magazine, and The Lonely Crowd. More of her work can be found at Think, Breathe, Write.