© Kenneth C. Fish Jr.
So, that’s what it feels like to pretend, he thought, as he laid in bed staring at the water-stained ceiling, trying to fall asleep for what felt like the millionth time in his fifteen years of living. It had been a normal day. It had been a rough day. In Abel McIntyre Junior’s family, there was no difference. In his family, in the trailer park with the neighbors that surrounded him like ghouls from a house of horrors, the best days for him would likely kill any other kid, he always thought.
Abel knew how other kids lived, and it wasn’t like him. He could see their houses on the soft, rounded hills across the Mystic River through the loose glass slats of the crank-open windows in his tiny wood-paneled bedroom. They had yards with grass and swing sets in them where children played all summer, and mounds of colorful flowers that gleamed in the most carefree way from mid-spring to mid-autumn. Even in the winter when those same hills were just grey mounds spiked with the craggy skeletons of oaks and maples, the houses glowed golden and warmly, twinkling on the coldest of days when there was ice in the air and the river looked as if it was frozen solid.
They lived in actual houses, and those houses they lived in didn’t have wheels under them. This fact alone seemed to provide those kids with some sense of permanence and security that Abel never knew. This fact alone, Abel sometimes caught himself believing, raised them up above him and his ever-toiling Ma, Ethel, and drunkard Da, Abel Senior, and their house with the wheels underneath it just in case they needed to make a run for it again.
“Pretending,” his mother always said “is much better than reality.” For Abel, there was always a certain disconnect between that mantra of hers and how he thought he lived his life. He never thought what he was doing was pretend, it felt more like protection. It was what he did to make do as the poor kid who lived in the trailer park that was essentially used as a halfway-housing complex for the underfunded and understaffed loony bin on the edge of this otherwise rich white town. For Abel, it was survival.
* * * * * * * * * *
“Don’t you ever change your pants?” taunted Fred, the super-popular star of the soccer team at school. “I can smell those filthy things from here.” The reality of it was, Abel rarely did change his pants. In fact, he only owned three pairs; one for every day, one for Sunday, and one for the rare occasion when Ethel would sneak their dirty laundry into the laundry room of the loony bin where she and her sorry excuse for a husband, Abel Sr., worked.
Abel always loved laundry day. He relished the brief moment when the few clothes he had were stiff and crisp and smelled like the industrial detergent they used to kill off every biting, burrowing, stinging, blood-sucking creepy-crawly he imagined inhabiting the flesh of all those crazies where his parents worked. Every time he slipped into a clean pair of trousers or a fresh shirt he felt, if only for a second, reborn.