Terry sits in the Avenger tickling the keys dangling from its ignition like they’re a set of balls.  Which, in fact, they are: a tiny, brass set of them clipped with Terry’s keys to the ‘fleet vehicle’ key chain.  His plump mouth hangs open as he fades in and out, partly because he’s stoned and partly because he’s disassociating.  He’s on the edge of it anyway.  The cooling engine ticks and whispers through this gestalt moment, sitting in the crumbling driveway of FEAR HOUSE, looking more haunted than ever, its siding dimmed by decades of dust and polluted rain.  What was white is now ochre.  Two shattered windows, one on the first another on the second floor, are covered from the inside with plywood and on the outside with visqueen.  Overgrown shrubbery and a knee high lawn lend to the trap-house effect.  To say he’s shocked by the appearance would be an understatement.  Last time he was here, the windows were intact and the trees, lawn and front flower beds were spare, but groomed.  Terry knew that Tony had finished the interior within the first six months.  But, then, Jenny happened.

The stink of what that putrid, evil cunt did is smeared over this place.  Terry thinks he knows enough about evil to validate this statement.

He’s flicking the keychain with his thumb and middle finger, now.  In the aftermath of the trial and all the media attention, his brothers’ life just kind of ground to a stop.  The current state of the house and yard is evidence.  Their parents would never have neglected their home and Terry, despite his contempt for every last beam and board, feels offended.  After Silvio died, in the decade she lived there, Angelina paid people or had Tony do the routine maintenance.  When he was around.  Terry knows that he- himself- was never, nor will he ever be, competent or give a shit enough to manage home ownership.  When they moved Angelina out, he willingly relinquished any claim to the farmhouse.  His rationale?  Mortgages suck.  And when you pay off the mortgage, if you can and you didn’t take out a second mortgage because the roof went bad before you paid off the first, blah blah blah… point is there’s always something else in the spiraling vortex of money pit.  AND all the goddamned work you gotta do.  Just one of the ways capitalism anchors you to their system of debt.  That’s what Kevin always says and Terry agrees with him.  These are the thoughts he’s having trying to psych himself up.  He slumps further in the seat.

Flick jingle flick jingle flick jingle.

He doesn’t see Tony’s Ford Ranger anywhere, which isn’t unusual since Tony typically parks it in the garage.  Tony hates driving and often takes off on foot, into the woods backing the house or up to the freeway entrance three miles down the road where there are stores and other ‘conveniences’ like a XXX ADULT SUPERSTORE.  There’s a chance that Tony isn’t home, for which Terry’s hopeful.  This thought makes him feel slightly more energetic.  He slaps the keys.  KACHINK!

Who the fuck goes to a dirty bookstore anymore when you got the internet?  Who does that?  Oh yeah… my brother probably does.  He wonders if any of his movies are there and if people still hook up in the backroom?  He laughs a little.  That’s where the REAL perverts go.  There used to be more of them in town- notorious cruising sites.  He remembers his father taking him to one, maybe when he was about 12.  His father knew all the owners.  That was when there were movie booths and little boxes of Kleenex on shelves inside.  His remembers old hands, liver spotted scalps just below his line of sight in the flickering blue light of the screen.  ‘Nonstop shenanigans’ as his mother used to say.  Over the last few decades, there’s been a concerted effort within Franklin County to shut down them all down as public nuisances.  They’ve been relegated to the outer limits.  Here in Morrow County.  And this, Fear House included, is as outer limits as you can possibly get.

He’s pulling it together- at least enough to deal with his brother.  You had to be a little high, a little disassociated before tackling that interaction.  Fighting bombs with bombs.  Their father used to tell them it was useless to try to fight him (or his friends) because any other ‘untrained individual’ fighting him would be like fighting bombs with fire.  Thus, the old man taught them to fight using both boxing and street techniques similar to what’s currently called ‘Krav Maga’ in the fitness boutiques.  Silvio Villavicencio knew all too well, as he waled them, that he was forging his boys into bombs, too.

With a sigh, Terry pulls the balls from the ignition and pushes himself out of Sammy’s car.  His stomach ripples with the dizziness that overtakes him from standing too quickly in his state.

Easy, there.

As he approaches the farmhouse, the driveway and porch telescope out before him, fun-house style, seeming to get farther away; he picks up his pace but this only exaggerates the effect.  A crow screams.  Another answers.  Maybe he hasn’t pulled it together.  Maybe this is a bad omen.  His feet keep moving but progress is oddly retarded.  It’s impossible to see through the drapes on the formal dining room window.; they’re heavy- insulated -and drawn.  The living room picture window is the one that’s boarded up.

I gotta play this cool.  Stay grounded.  I fucking hate this place.  Oh my God, I hate this place.  He stops and takes four deep breaths, like Fudo taught him.  Fudo instructed him quite a bit over the last few years, far more than any other institution or person (save for their father) ever had and- he was convinced- ever could.  I sh’d just stay away from him… them.  They’re a package.  It’s a fuckin’ package.  I walked away… I sh’d just stay away.

            “FUCKING STAY AWAY!”  He caught himself shouting.

He definitely hasn’t pulled it together.

He squats on the stoop until he convinces himself he’s ready for whatever.  He takes out a dwindling pack of Camels.  He’s smoking more of everything now.  He needs it.

He enters with the caution of a mountain climber entering a cave, scanning, his mouth twisted.  It’s dark in the foyer, and his eyes are having a hard time adjusting to the gloom.  It’s been two and a half years; but standing here, now, it doesn’t seem nearly long enough.  During the last five years, whenever he saw Tony they’d met on neutral territory: at Franklin County Jail, some bar (rare because neither of them are fun drunks) or Mundo Fitness.  But, here he is.  Fear House.  What a joke.  Fuck this place.  Terry’s skin crawls.  He resents these very walls, the very existence of its commonplace architecture.  If it were up to him, the fucking thing would be toast and the grounds long exorcised by an old school Catholic priest.  The hoary smell, the sour odor of aged bodies, ancient wood and dust, is barely masked by a mash-up of newer fragrances: Calvin Klein cologne, man-folds, cigarettes, moth balls and ammonia punctuated by faint whiffs of pig excrement from the boots by the door.  More than the smell of pig shit, Terry loathed the smell of vintage anything because it reminded him of the elderly.  Their mother hoarded clothing, linens and other items with moth balls in towers of bags and boxes in the attic, the door to which was atop the staircase before him.  Terry can’t see it, now, because the stairwell’s pitch black; the jalousie window has been boarded over?  Maybe removed completely?  God knows how much shit was still jam-packed behind that attic door.  The house was such a wreck when they pulled their mother out of it, that Terry questioned whether Tony had the interest or emotional gumption to tackle the stuffed rooms up there.  Because he certainly didn’t.  As it was, it was a major accomplishment to get the place habitable again.  Terry lobbied to have it demolished.

“She’s not dead, you asshole.  That’s disrespectful.  We can’t just knock it down.”

“We’re probably gonna need the money to keep her in that hot-shit place you picked.”

“You didn’t see the other places there were to choose from.  Even a skank like you wouldn’t want to squat in one of those hell-holes.”

“It’s like over four fucking thousand a month!”

“Supposedly, that’s all taken care of.  I still have some checking to do…”

It wasn’t all taken care of.  But at least Tony had the finances four years ago.  Presently though, Terry didn’t know what to expect.  His brother was subject to unpredictable moods, blackouts, a familial trait.  Things could turn in an instant, back and forth, the range of human emotion in a span of minutes.

Terry had originally helped clear some of the offal out, but, a week into it, he was MIA, leaving the rest to Tony and his hulking friend, Heft, to sort out.  It seems that after Angelina’s toilet backed up, she didn’t call anyone to repair it.  Her paranoia increased by leaps every day especially regarding Tony.  So, when the trash and rotting food started piling up, she maneuvered around it, apparently feeling safe behind its fortification, increasingly hidden from the hostile world under mounting debris.  The foyer retained their parent’s coat rack next to the familiar bench where Angelina demanded they remove their shoes before going any further.  The coat rack, in turn, sat next to the closet door with the antique, full-length mirror, a corner of it cracked from an altercation between the boys when Terry was eight.  After that episode, Dad left them both with welts on their asses and backs that didn’t fade for close to three months.  The small desk opposite the entry overflowed with unopened mail.  He fingered through it: creditors, final notices, bills, shut off notices, junk dating as far back as five months.

He steps into the living room, the sound of his cowboy boots reverberating on the bare floor between ancient, threadbare Oriental rugs.  He remembers getting lost in these patterns when he was still in the single digits.  He thought Angelina had ruined all the carpeting, but apparently not.  Three years ago, when Tony’s money was still rolling in, he assumed ownership of the house.  They were forced to tear out the original maple flooring and sub flooring entirely, and Tony opted for a light, beige linoleum.  Perhaps to spare the costs of replacing maple boards, maybe to keep from ruining another floor due to his own sloppy, inattentive lifestyle.  Overall, his brother’s decorated the place in a strange fusion of armaments, pig rearing accessories and high end electronica (with a minute cross-section of their parents’ few salvageable artifacts).  I thought the pigs were destroyed, gone.  He thinks.  But, no.  Whiffs of pig shit belie their ongoing presence.  His doubts are further dispelled by the wall of pig feed that foreshortens the room: 50 lb. bags of maize and barley stacked where that wretched cherry-wood buffet table used to sit.  Angelina had taken to voiding in the pots and pans stored in its drawers.  As dictated by her declining mental and physical abilities, she stacked her makeshift chamber pots in the garage, basement, closets etc.  When there was no more cookware, crockery or Tupperware to be found, she began voiding directly into the valuable antique, filling each drawer to capacity.  The day the brothers broke in to the family home to see if she was alive or dead- after four months of escalating avoidance and hostility- they witnessed the Pennsylvania House Solid Cherry Server Sideboard Buffet Console literally sodden and bulging with a variety of organic wastes, the carpet and floorboards underneath corroded through to the basement.  With the buffet out of order and all other storage areas full, their mother moved her bowels to kitchen drawers, the laundry chute, wherever.  Coffee cans, margarine containers and water jugs were filled with her vile emissions and stowed in the far corners of the estate.  It was like an Easter egg hunt except with excrement.  Whatever money their parents had in savings had been consumed by hazmat cleanup, reconstruction and, now, ongoing nursing home expenditures.  And apparently pig feed.  All trickling down to less than zero.  Feed bags, piled two deep, are the backdrop for two La-Z Boy recliners which sit a few feet in front of them, leaving a small aisle of maneuver.  The loungers flank the same open-framed end-table upon which their parents sat their coffees, crosswords and TV guides.  Now, its surface is cluttered with a remote, some coasters, an overflowing foil ashtray and a fouled container of petroleum jelly.  Rather than Redbook, The Columbus Dispatch or the various puzzle books Angelina worked, the periodical holder beneath the table cradles a rumpled stack of S&M Directories, Torture porn, gun enthusiast and Survivalist magazines.  A cum rag is draped- partially petrified- over the arm of one recliner.  Terry knows a cum rag when he sees one.

He and Tony were more similar than either of them were comfortable admitting.

A 103 inch plasma screen hangs opposite the twin recliners- Terry remembers when Tony bought them, when he was fighting and winning regularly.  Their parents’ multiple, salon-style, family photo collages and ubiquitous Americana art objects had been replaced by sword holders and gun racks.  There was Tony’s AR-15, his Sturmgewehr 44, his M16.  Of course, his King James sword- which Terry thought was bullshit- was proudly displayed in a LED lit glass case.  His samurai sword, his Tachi as he was always so quick to point out, was cradled horizontally in an ornate wooden rack that had been carved into a weave of dragon parts.  That sword and holder probably cost more than three of these guns, he muses.  His brother loves that sword… hell… maybe more than anything else in his world, save his prized hogs.  Tony’d probably kill somebody with his bare hands for touching either without permission.  And, Terry knew from experience, Tony would never grant anyone, not even Heft, that kind of permission.  It was well known, among those in Tony’s inner circle- numbering approximately two- that he sort of viewed himself as a samurai.  There’s a bamboo blow-gun on a mount, for Christ’s sake– needle darts clutched within a small leather pouch hung from the wood.  Folded in a glass case, Silvio’s American Service Flag rests on the console beneath the plasma screen, flanked by books with titles like The Goebbels Diaries 1942-1943, The Freedom Outlaw’s Handbook and Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson.  Issues of Gun World, Ultimate MMA, Men’s Health and hard core porn DVDs fill out the rest of the cubicles in the console.  “There’s a Negro in My Stepmom,” “Strap On Nation,” “Dude, Where’s My Cunt?”, it’s sequel “Where’s My Cock, Bitch?!!”, “Three Girls, One CorningWare Bowl & a Barnyard,” “Golden Shower Girls (Hit Parade I, II and IV).”  

The third one must’ve been a real dud.  Thinks Terry, somewhat amused.

A hutch, next to the kitchen, is obviously reserved for the many symbols of Tony’s achievements in the grappling arts, wrestling and fighting.  His senior wrestling photo overlooks the living room from the top shelf.  One of the few things Tony’s sentimental about, again, save the hogs, is (or was) his ‘career.’  The fully transparent curio is overstuffed with memorabilia: multiple year Ohio High School Athletic Association wrestling titles, the tacky MMA heavyweight championship belts, autographed pictures with BJ Penn and Gastão Gracie, trophies from the season Tony pretty much single-handedly led the Raiders’ to the District 12-3A championship for their 10th straight district wrestling title.

Terry’d heard all the stories a million times too many.

Then, he hears a door open on the second level and footfalls descending the stairs.  The familiar creak and groan patterns from the wooden risers send Terry way back.  They still sound the same.

“Yo… who’s there?”  Tony says without a trace of aggression or worry, almost jovial.  Terry knows that Tony’d probably welcome an encounter with a home invader.  Tony’s habit of leaving the door unlocked when home underscores this presumption.

“I bet th’ chicks love comin’ here!”  Terry says bending his head around the room. “At least it doesn’t smell like a slaughterhouse anymore.  It still smells like shit, though.”

“Don’t start.  You’re not even here three minutes and you’re starting.”

Tony begrudgingly hugs his brother, hard- a predatory, dominating embrace more than one of brotherly love.  He’s obviously commando in a pair of Tasmanian Devil boxer shorts; his massive body carries its scars and dark hair through the room with the grace of an enormous primate.  He fishes a roach out of the ashtray and drops all his weight into the La-Z Boy.  KAFFFWUNKFFFF!

“I mean… you’ve done a lot with it, considering I thought we were gonna have-ta level the goddamned place and call in Bishop Perkins.  But… Jesus… this house is… SO.  FUCKIN.  DEPRESSING.  ” Terry chops at the air to accentuate the finality of each word.  “Fuckin’ depressing.  From the feel of it, it still needs an exorcism.  I don’ even know how you handle it.  Are ya still sleepin’ in yer old room?”

“Ya don’t haveta come in.  I didn’t invite ya.”  Tony lights and pulls hard on the joint. His throat and nose make catching noises as he deeply draws in the smoke.

“Well, I was wondering how you were doin’.  Wonderin’ how Ma’s doin’.”

“Woah.  What?  Did you get a pang of conscience?”  He exhales toward the ceiling.  “You can go see ‘er for yourself.  Maybe feed ‘er dinner tonight.  A little help’d be nice.”

“I had a dream about you actually.” Terry deflects, Tony raises an eyebrow.  “Ya gonna offer me summa that?”  Terry reaches for the joint.  Tony obliges with an eye roll.

Terry looks into the kitchen from where he stands; everything seems new.  The sweet smoke enters his mouth as he stares into the breakfast nook where the family used to eat.  A memory flashes through his head like a meteor. The time when his father slapped him so hard that the pot roast and mashed potatoes flew out of his mouth, hitting the window across the room.  He nearly choked.  He remembered watching the blood streaked potatoes slide down the pane as his head sang with alarm bells.  But, his father wasn’t done.  Terry takes another huge hit.  Tony had bought an entirely new table, sleek art deco design.  Tony has no taste, so it has to be second hand or something he found in the garbage, thought Terry.

It occurs to him in that moment that Tony’s pot tastes like blueberries.
Tony never bought shwip, that’s for sure.  Pot’s probably the only thing he has good taste in.  Pot and artillery.

“Gotta a new dinner table?”

“Perceptive as always.”

“Whadja do with that antique one?”

“Gone. Destroyed.”

“Why?  Why didn’tja sell it?”

Tony clenches his jaw, eyes deadpan.

“Not everything’s about money.” Tony closes his eyes and rubs his stomach.  “I burned the sonofabitch.”

Somehow Terry understands this.  Too many ugly memories at breakfast and dinner.

“Sure.  Ok.  But… I mean… did you ever think that you’d have more money now if you just had this place condemned and started fresh somewhere else?”

“Mom still isn’t dead asshole.  Her care still takes money and if we sold all this, she wouldn’t be any better off.  Neither would we.  Hey… I’m fuckin’ workin’ on it over here.  And… where else am I gonna be able to keep my babies?”  He holds his arm out, palm up, indicating the hog pen beyond the back wall.  “This place is set up for my needs.”

Terry frowns.  “Oh… yeah… your babies.  When did you get these?  How much do they cost you?”  Terry squints his eyes, straining to catch sight of them through the sliding doors. overlooking the backyard and boar pen  The shed and run look slightly different than the old one, look empty.

“Fuckin’ gold digger.  What’s your deal?  On second thought, I don’t care what your deal is.  I’m not in the mood.”

“You’re fuckin’ strapped, bro-steak.”

“Your concern is touching.”  Tony takes another suck on the ever shrinking joint, the cherry glows golden.  “I’m bout ta start bawlin’ here.”  After a few staccato puffs, he suppresses a cough, his cheeks bullfrogging.  “Is that all?  Because you can leave any time.”  He gasps through restricted throat.

“How are you even staying above water?”

“I’m great.  Thanks for asking.”  Expressing an impressive cloud of blue smoke at Terry, Tony rasps, pulling up and out of the recliner, heading for the kitchen.

“You’re just wastin’ time.  Wastin’ your prime.” Having provided what he considers adequate set-up, Terry steers the conversation toward the reason for his visit.  “I’ve been doin’ these… movies.  There’s this guy… it’s pretty good money.  Cash basis… at least at first.”

“Oh for the love of God.” Tony pulls a face, opens the refrigerator.  “Movies?  Do I even wanna know?”   He bends over studying the contents.  Eggs, bottled water, Core Power protein shakes, a Tupperware container of chicken breasts, bags of prepared salad fixings.  Tony’s ass is big enough to stack quarters on.  Tony removes a strawberry banana protein shake agitating it.

“Can I have some water?”

Ignoring Terry, Tony slams the refrigerator door and strolls over to the sink, almost strutting.  His cock flops from side to side, peeking out of the flap when he stands still.  Terry’s trying not to look at it.

“Such hospitality… prick…”

“I’m not a girl.  Get over it.”  Tony puts the protein shake down and turns the spigot on full force.  He washes his hands, forcibly rubbing them together, like he’s trying to get something stubborn off.  Water sprays over the counter and coffee maker with each pass of his arms.  “Damn… I don’t see you for months and you want, you want, you want.”

Moving aggressively, Terry opens the refrigerator and grabs a bottle of water.  It’s generic.  He’s tempted to say something about how generic water is only city water sold back to chumps, but thinks the better of it.  Onward.

“The shoots last a day or so… sometimes only a few hours…”

“What kinda movies?”  He asked, interrupting, with a condescending smirk as he shakes his wet hands in Terry’s face, then dries them the rest of the way on Terry’s shirt.  Terry slaps his hands.

“Shut up, man, and listen… I’m telling you, now.”

“I’m warnin’ you, shithead.  My nerves’re shredded right now.  Don’t mess with me.”   He upends the bottle of Core Power, guzzles the entire thing in four gulps and pitches it into the trash can across the room with an artful free-throw flourish.  “SCORE!”  Then he turns to regard his brother with those ‘soulless orbs’ as their mother used to call them.

“Ok.  Ok.  Hear me out.  There’s this guy… an old hippy…”  Tony rolls his eyes until only the whites are showing, turning his back on Terry to return to the living room where he lights a cigarette seemingly produced from thin air.  Terry follows him, continuing to speak as correct and convincing as he can. “… who lives in this schoolhouse near downtown.  The guy’s loaded, sweet place… I’m staying there ’til I can find another apartment.  You can see it from 70.  He shoots pornos.  He’s always scouting new talent.”  Tony, registering no reaction, has taken a stance in front of the glass doors.  He stretches wide, cigarette dangling from his lips- the midday sun draws the striations and divots of his flesh into sharp contrast.  “Man… look at you.  I mean, you’re almost made to be a porn star.  All of your training has made you into a solid eight, eight and a half.  Maybe even a niner.  Wow.  Pretty hot.  And even with the fucked up ears… totally do-able.  Good choice to let the hair grow over them though.  Good choice.”

Tony faces Terry, expressionless.  His brothers’ tiny, back-handed digs fail to faze him, at this age.  The strategy doesn’t work the same as it used to.

“Of course a fag like you cares about being pretty.”

Tony actually had grown to care about his face, but that isn’t anyone else’s business.  To him, vanity’s a sure sign of bitch-hood.  He returns to his La-Z Boy throne, forcibly huffing the Camel unfiltered.  It’s obvious to Terry that Tony doesn’t want to look directly at him, as he stands resting his shoulder against the kitchen archway.  Taking a long pull on his bottled water, Terry observes his brother, who sits blowing smoke rings, with a softening expression- something amusing flickering in his brown, nearly black, eyes.

“It’s more than that and you know it.  Last time I went to see you fight at the PromoWest Pavillion… y’know… that guy you fought?  That guy?  The one came out there looking like a goddamned Picasso!  Eyes all over on the side of his head ‘n’ shit!  That was before you caved his face in even more.”  If there was any vanity at all in Tony, Terry intends to appeal to it.  “Listen to all the old boxers talk.  They all sound like retards, man.  Go watch an old video of Tyson or Duran.  Is that what you want?  To be in a home right beside Ma?  Trust and believe… I understand.  From time to time I like getting the absolute dog-shit kicked out of me by a half-naked, extremely fit dude… I do, I do…”

“Don’t.”  Tony’s eyes flare as he belligerently snuffs his cigarette, grabs the remote and turns on the TV.  “You’re fucking sick.”

A car insurance commercial at full volume shatters the silence.  Tony thumbs the remote, lowering the level, before flicking through the channels.  There are only the local five stations- Terry notes that Tony doesn’t have cable anymore.  Tony chuffs and cuts the TV off, throwing the remote back onto the end table, nearly capsizing the ashtray.

“So much for your fists earning ya a living… oh… that’s right… the proof of your success is in your your busted bank account an’ deformed ear cartilage.”  Silence falls heavy.  Crows screaming outside.  “Listen, if you stop the fights now, you won’t wreck that Romanesque face-a yours beyond repair.”  Terry borrows this term from Sammy, who always uses it to describe his own looks.  Terry moves closer to his brother, risking coming off confrontational, and stoops beside the recliner eyes on level.  “Not to mention the fact that you’re scrambling those brains.  You’re still a really shrewd guy.  The good news is you’re still at a point where ya don’t need brains if ya can cash in on what’s left of your looks.”  Terry stands up and back narrowing his eyes.  “The scars… still sexy but…”

“I can’t listen ta this.  Why don’tchoo just…”

“… they won’t be when your face is a big lump of scar-tissue and gristle five years from now.”

“… YOU need to shut the fuck up NOW!  Get lost!  GO ON!”  He launches from the chair pushing Terry back, nearly sending him into the plasma screen.  Pressing his face into his brother’s, Tony chest bumps him out of the living room while uttering something unintelligible yet undeniably threatening.  As soon as Tony has Terry in the foyer, he grabs him by the shoulders, turning him round, and shoves him at the door.  Terry stumbles nearly losing his footing.

“Ohhhhh.  I’m scared.  Go ahead.  Hit me.  I’ve tangled with scarier dudes than you.”  Terry corrects his posture, whips around and leans into Tony.  “I’ll sue the shit outta you.  You’ll end up in jail, again, with your… what is it?  Fifth assault charge?”

Tony steps forward, fists balled.  Their faces are millimeters apart.

“Sometimes you really disgust me…I… I can’t even put it into words.”

“That’s because you’re getting dumber.  Your brain’s turnin’ ta Smucker’s.”

Red hate erupts in the voids of Tony’s eyes which are now rimmed red, glowing.  Terry isn’t afraid of his brother; they’re fashioned from the same brand of crazy- their packaging differs only slightly.  Dad had beaten both of them within inches of their lives.  Their training was identical: their pain thresholds off the charts.

“Is this really why you came over here?  To rub my face in your nasty lifestyle.  Everything’s functioning perfectly FINE without your help.”

“You need cash.  Now.  You got past due notices to pay… doctor’s bills.”  Terry indicates the staggered pile of unopened mail snaking from the desk to the floor.  “Ma’s getting worse and I dunno what that’s doin’ to you.  You’re not fighting.  Let’s face it man… that career is over, isn’t it?”

“Watch it.”

“You haven’t been training.”

“I’m trying to get my head on straight.  I’ve got some irons in the fire.”

“I can get you paid today.  TO. DAY.  A coupla hundred at least.  You just gotta be… you just gotta do what it takes… be open… quit standin’ in yer own way.”

“Dafuck?  What kinda shit’re you on?  Dafuck you talkin’ about?”  He growls, his mouth close enough to bite Terry’s nose off, a move he’d tried before, when they were teens.  It resulted in the small scar still visible at the tip.  Now, Tony effectively has Terry pinned against the door.

“Oh, whatthefuckever.  Don’t pull that mach-o crotch-o crap with me.”  Terry barks with disgusted resign.  “Yeah… you can beat the shit outta me… so what?  You know I can’t feel it anymore.  And when I can feel it, it gives me a hard-on.”

“You’re a sick fucker.  Sick inna head cavity.”

“You’d know.”

“I ain’t anywhere near as sick as you.  Don’t even.”

“Howdya figure?”

“Any dude that gets off on gargling balls is an aberration.  Even the bible says so.”

“Whu… What?”  Terry nudges Tony aside to check himself in the full length mirror.  “Christ.”  Adjusting his shirt, smoothing his hair.  “You didn’t just reference the bible!”

“What’s the problem?  Might do ya some good to crack open the fuckin’ thing every once in a while.  Like we were taught.”   Tony watches the reflection of Terry’s mouth slowly falling open.  “Oh… let me guess… you don’t even own a bible.  That’s right.”

“Do you ever listen to yourself?  Unbelievable.” Terry says in slow turnaround.  “The guy that’s been arrested for his major anger issues and sexual assault is lecturing me on morality from a biblical stand point?”

“I’m just tellin’ you what’s real.  There’s a reason AIDS started with the faggots.  Now, it’s killin’ ALL the NASTY people.  All the fuckin’ drug addicts, homos, ac/dc’s, niggers and the fuckin’ foul women who love ‘em.  It’s wipin’ ‘em all out.”

“Douche.”  Terry’s shoulders slump.  He’s looking at a point to the right of Tony’s face.  “I like dudes; get the fuck over it.  There are worse things.  You an’ I both know it.”  Their eyes meet.

“Gross.  Fuckin’ filthy.”

“Like menstrual blood isn’t?  Like fuckin’ yeast infections and the clap ain’t?”

“See… just nasty.”  Tonys lips curl.  “I bet you like ‘em young too.  Just like the rest of this fucked family.”

“Hey bigot brother, FYI, not all gays are pedos.”

Tony’s expression belies cartoonish revulsion and surprise standing by the front door, his hand rests on the knob as if he’s the one about to leave.

“Coulda fooled me.”

Terry modifies his strategy.  Since he’s losing this pitch, he decides to fuck with his brother a little.  Terry, historically, has never really known when to back down.  But, winners never back down.  That was something else Silvio had taught them.  As usual, Terry finds himself slipping into don’t-give-a-fuck mode.  Despite these seemingly obvious and logical reservations, he presses forward.

“You don’ t like broads that much, anyway.  You like to fuck ‘em… but you hate ‘em.”  Tony’s squeezing the door knob.  “So, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for you to jump the fence.  A fuck’s a fuck.  A pig’s a pig.  You fuck chicks in the ass?  No different.  You’re already used to sodomy.”

“Oh man…” Tony closes his eyes, baring his teeth.  At this point, his face is imploding- he shakes his head like there’s a bee buzzing the inside of his skull. “Don’t ever use pigs as comparisons.  They’re more pure than ANY of you fucks.”  He sweeps his hand indicating the world.

“Yeah, yeah.  But, seriously, you should really try it out: men’re soooo much easier than women.  I’m tellin’ ya.”  As if triggered by this last bit, Tony regains focus- returning to a stone-like stance.  Reigning king of the poker-face, master of shark eyes.   Terry’s tone becomes conciliatory.  “Look… all I’m sayin’ is… you’re hot.  Shit.  I’m hot.  We both know it.  Mom and Dad had some good lookin’ boys.”   Fixing his brother in a polar stare, Tony’s hand falls from the knob.  He crosses his arms.   His guns bulge, his right eye twitches.  “They didn’t give us much, but what they did give us will sail us through if we know how to use it.  To look good is way better and more profitable than to actually be good.  Look at the studies… beautiful people come out ahead in EVERY ONE.  Look it up… Psychology Today… hell even Cosmo.  Why ya gonna go and fuck up your face?  Huh?  Sounds like a bunch-a bullshit to me.  A raw deal.”  Tony looks more and more like a statue, standing in the foyer listening intently now.  Dust motes drift through sunbeams shafting through three tiny windows in the door. The diffuse golden light gives the room a soft glow.  Everything seems magnified, pulsing.  Maybe it’s just the drugs in Terry’s system.  “Sammy does straight porn too.  Pays a lot less… but if you’re afraid…”  Another shift in Tony’s posture, a lunge forward.

“Afraid’s got nothin’ ta do with it, bro!’  He inhales and exhales, measuring.  ‘So… you’ve gone totally homo now?”  Tony breaks his stance closing the gap between he and Terry through diagonal sunbeams.  Dust and skin particles swirl in his wake creating moiré patterns in the air.  “Becky. Was. Right. About. You.” he says, accentuating his words with stiff-fingered pokes to Terry’s sternum.

“Awww shit.  What’s this?  You bringing Becky into this?”

“Bisexuality’s bullshit man.  Do you even look at women anymore?”

“There’re chicks hangin’ out at the schoolhouse all the time.  Like I said, Sammy shoots all kinds of movies.”

“I’m not hangin’ with a bunch-a sick queers and niggers!”  Tony stomps back into the kitchen with Terry at his heels.  Terry thinks about the black chicks Tony has been with.  What a fuckin’ hypocrite.  He wants to read him in the worst way, right now.

“Neither am I.”  Terry lied.  “But a fuck’s a fuck, right?”  Frowning, Tony throws open a drawer next to the sink with a shrill rattle.  Pulling out a different crumpled pack of cigarettes, he finds an unbroken one and lights it, his face tight enough that, when it releases, all hell’s going to break loose.  Terry wonders how many packs of cigarettes and vials of pot Tony has stashed around the place.  He wonders what other addictions his brother has fostered recently.  Also runs in the family.  He still hasn’t turned back to Terry.  “I gotta tell you man… it’s not half bad.  And that money is soooo right.”

“Fuck THAT.  THAT’S what I say.”  Tony starts pacing.  “I’ll fuckin’ starve first.”  A pacing Tony is a Tony headed for meltdown.

“You’re a good looking guy with a kick-ass body.  Take my word for it.  Goooood money!”

“Bro!”  Tony exclaims with knitted eyebrows.  He’s frozen mid stride.

“Come on.  Shit.  I’m just sayin.  Made enough skrill to start a savings for mom too.  I got some money put away in a special fund.  Or in case you need it.”  He lies.  Terry knows his brother’s too proud- and too disgusted by him- to accept any assistance.  It’s a winning bluff.  “I’m tellin’ ya.”

“Ma doesn’t want your AIDS money!”

“Now you better watch it, fucker.” Now, he’s the one pushing his chest into Tony’s; they’re nose to nose again.  This is how they relate.  Ad infinitum.  It’s clear to them both that it isn’t ever going to change.  “What a troglodyte you are.”

“I oughta cave your skull.”

“WELL DO IT.  Do it.  I fuckin’ dare ya.”

Tony breaks from their square-off and disappears up the stairs.  Creak creak, crack, groan.  Tony slams the bathroom door.  Terry listens to the water running, his brother blowing his nose, followed by an eerie silence.  He contemplates leaving Fear House immediately before things escalate further.  One thing’s certain, if he hoped to bring Tony to Sammy as a trophy and get that sweet finder’s fee, it’s going to take some work and patience.  After a few deep breaths, he shoves a pile of mail, plastic bags and dirty laundry onto the floor and sits on the bench.  The foyer feels like its swallowing him.

Upstairs, Tony stands at the sink, splashing his face with cold water.  He runs wet hands through his unwashed, somewhat matted hair.  I AM a pretty good lookin’ fucker, he thinks drinking in his image.  He opens the blinds and squints through the window at the pen.  Persephone, the female, was snuffling around the run.  He had her and her mate, Big Buford, to consider and care for.  He couldn’t… he wouldn’t… just let them go if times got any tougher.  God forbid.  He wouldn’t let someone come between he and his babies ever again.  But, for now, he had some other shit to figure out.  What is he doing?  He doesn’t have any fights lined up.  His accounts are screwed.  He might not even have a manager anymore.

He wants to throw up.

He wants to hit his brother until his hands break and bleed.


Along the Bullet Line, assemblage and digital photo manipulation, 2013 copyright GPD

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