A… B… C…
The tree was throwing shadows, in the shapes of monsters, aliens,
his bedroom invaded. A stray branch hit the roof repeatedly. He
was using it for rhythm. He was using it for time.
D… Clack. E… Clack.
Alexander had no idea what he was doing.
months ago, Alexander’s life turned inside out. Three months
ago, his older sister, Fiona, came back from the bad girls’
school to start her junior year at Clarion High. The house he
had begun to think of as his own had become overrun by girls.
Fiona’s girlfriends were very different from his 8th grade
classmates. They laughed when he least expected, pouted through
their fears, screamed when they got their way. The girls he was
used to were less strident, less effusive, far less threatening.
Fiona had always mystified him. She had never paid much attention
to her family, least of all to him. But her time in the desert
had imbued her with a manic extroversion, which extended sloppily,
inconsistently into his life. She could spend an hour asking him
animated questions about his middle school teachers or paging
through his comic books, and then ignore him for days. He wondered
sometimes whether she was still on drugs, and if they were the
right kind or the wrong kind. Either way, he wasn’t sure
if he really wanted to know.
Fiona and Alexander didn’t look or act alike. This much
hadn’t changed. Her light hair and hazel eyes contrasted
sharply with the dark of his. And while he had always been the
quiet one in the family, now he felt almost invisible beside her
with her rushed and rough ways.
Her friends treated him with indifference or sophomoric sexuality,
very little in between. He found himself both resenting and eager
for their visits, their chaotic swarming into the house, raiding
the cupboards, pushing him from the sofa, pulling him to the table,
leaving in a cooling charge, the house as silent and stiff as
Today, he returned from school to an empty house. It was Friday
and his mother would be home late after her second shift at the
restaurant. He peered into the kitchen as he stamped his icy boots
on the doormat. The kitchen counter was littered with wrinkled
health bar wrappers. Fiona and her friends had been home already.
He poured himself a half cup of cold coffee from the pot and sipped
it while gathering the wrappers. The trash was overflowing with
take-out containers from Fiona’s favourite Chinese food
restaurant. He looked at it in distaste and then left the wrappers
on the counter before heading upstairs.
Thankfully, he had not been asked to move out of Fiona’s
old room when she returned. That would have been too much to bear.
His new room was a far cry from how Fiona had left it. He had
gotten rid of everything except for the bed and desk. The walls
had been stripped of the posters, and even the curtains were gone.
He liked the sparseness of it, and even the draftiness seemed
to fit. He weren’t allowed to turn on the heater during
the day, but if he left his coat on, it wasn’t so bad.
The walk in closet, which he had converted into a studio, was
a different story. The walls here were plastered with ink sketches,
some of comic book characters, mostly of creatures he made up
in his head. The little room was always warm, and even had a good
sized window. Good for art, even in winter. He could climb out
on the ledge, although he never did when his mother was around.
Fiona had used the ledge as her smoking spot, and fallen off not
long after transitioning from marijuana to meth.
The window faced onto the roof of the backyard patio, which was
surrounded by hydrangea bushes. The husk of an old pine tree rose
from the bushes, a few sturdy branches propped up on the roof
as if it were trying to peer into the closet. Fiona had rolled
off the patio roof, reached for the pine tree and missed. She
had pitched headlong into the bushes, broken an arm, and depleted
the last of their mother’s patience. A week after she left
for the desert, he had jumped off the roof onto a branch of the
pine tree, and then swung down over the bushes to the ground.
Just to see what it was like. It wasn’t easy but it wasn’t
that hard either.
Clack. H… Clack.
The perpetual hoarseness of her voice was audible even in her
breath, an unevenness as she inhaled, but then the sound drowned
with his tongue and the wet.
Alexander paged through his latest sketchbook in his art room,
a sound came from the backyard. The yard was still, and air curled
out of the frosted edges of the open window. Then he saw the branches
of the elm tree by the back fence quiver. They were in his old
tree house, and they had just spied him watching.
He knew that yodeling voice. It was Lin Yao, a friend of Fiona’s
whom he liked the least because the small amount of attention
she paid him was usually cruel.
“Come down here!” she called.
He shook his head and swallowed the last of his coffee. Lin Yao
stuck her head out of the tree, her long black hair falling like
liquid over her face. He could see the pink of her cheeks from
“Come on!” she shouted again, “We need to ask
you something. It’s a biology thing and you’re good
at science, Fiona says.”
He went downstairs, put his cup in the kitchen sink, and walked
out the back door. The snow crunched under his boots, and he could
smell cigarette smoke in the still air. Snowflakes were starting
to fall again. When he got to the foot of the tree, he stopped
and looked up.
After a moment, Lin Yao’s head appeared at the trap door
opening, “Oh, you’re here. Why didn’t you say
He shrugged, shoving his hands into his pockets.
“Climb up here!” Lin Yao said, her breath hanging
like an exclamation, her eyes narrow and naturally tilted.
Alexander briefly berated himself for his inability to resist,
and started climbing up. As soon as he got to the trap door, he
was lifted bodily by four pairs of hands into the house and forced
against the wood plank floor. One arm was held painfully twisted
behind his back, and taut smooth girl bodies pinned his legs.
Lin Yao straddled his torso, curtaining his view with her silk
“Fi!” He called before her cold hand covered his mouth,
not that he knew whether Fiona was masterminding the whole thing.
He tasted ash on his lips.
“She’s not here,” Lin Yao mumbled, her cigarette
wobbling in the corner of her mouth. “She’s in detention.
Your mom is going to be PO’ed. Doesn’t she have a
zero tolerance policy?”
She didn’t wait for an answer and turned around so her back
was to his face. Alexander closed his eyes and concentrated on
the pain of his twisted arm to distract himself from his reluctant
but rising arousal. It was dark in the tree house, and the red
tips of their cigarettes flashed like fireflies. He felt Lin Yao’s
hands on his zipper, and his body jerked.
“We just want to see,” she said twisting around. She
stubbed her cigarette out on the greying floor and he resisted
the temptation to see if it left a mark. “Darlene had a
theory that you were bigger than my boyfriend.”
Darlene’s voice sounded from somewhere near his feet, “I
didn’t say that! We should let him go.”
“What? So you can check for yourself? I don’t think
so.” Lin Yao started to unzip his pants. He couldn’t
see who the other girls were, but heard a giggle from one of them.
Fiona’s voice floated up towards them, “Lin?”
Alexander was immediately released, but eight hands hovered close.
He felt the warmth slowly ebb from his body with a combination
of relief and regret. Lin Yao looked out of the tree house.
“Oh, you’re back from detention already?” she
said casually, “We were just waiting for you up here. We’ll
come down.” She turned to Alexander and hissed, “Stay
here until we’re gone, ok?”
He rubbed his arm as they jostled and clambered over him. Darlene
left last. She bent down towards him, her toffee skin and wiry
black hair filling his senses.
“Sorry,” she whispered in her half broken voice. She
touched his thigh with an electric motion, and disappeared down
the ladder, leaving him instantly hard.
When Alexander finally climbed down from the tree house, the wind
had picked up and it was snowing harder. Lin Yao and the other
girls seemed to have left, and Fiona was talking energetically
to Darlene in the darkening kitchen about how she had talked her
way out of detention. They didn’t see him, but he ducked
anyway as he crept up the stairs. He couldn’t lock his warped
bedroom door, but he could lock his art room, so he dragged his
sleeping bag into the closet and sat down against the door.
Clack. J… Clack. K… Clack.
Her thighs tightened around his head. Maybe it actually worked,
this alphabet game. He had heard about it in the locker room last
year. But the pressure of her limbs was rushing the blood to his
face. He felt dizzy and hot, and the shadows of the imaginary
creatures were distracting him even as her smell and feel overwhelmed
woke suddenly. It was dark, and the porch light was pouring in
through the closet window. A knock sounded softly on his door
and he realised what had woken him up.
“Alexander,” came a whisper. “It’s me,
Darlene. Let me in.”
He said nothing.
“I’m alone, I swear. I just want to talk. I can’t
shifted silently on the floor. Moments later, he heard footsteps
walking away. When the person sounded sufficiently far away, he
unlocked the door and cracked it open. A slice of light connected
the closet to the bedroom door. Darlene stood at the far end of
the slice, wearing a long t-shirt and Fiona’s old pink fluffy
She smiled, “I knew you were in there. Can I come in?”
He hesitated and then nodded, pulling the door open wider, getting
up from the floor.
“This is your art room, isn’t it?” she said,
her voice cracked and gentle. Her skin looked even darker than
usual in the half light. He nodded. The closet was too small for
two people to stand width-wise without touching. He pushed his
clothes closer together to make more room, stumbling over a pile
of sketchbooks in the process.
“Show me your drawings,” she said, ignoring his fumble,
leaning against the window, “Fiona says you’re really
He hesitated, surprised at this revelation.
“Any one. Maybe in this book.”
“Those aren’t finished,” he said quickly.
“Ok, another one then,” she said. He picked up a worn
sketchbook and thumbed through it, and then looked up at her.
She pulled down the top of the book, watching him, the light from
the back porch silhouetting her frame.
“Ok, this one,” he said, flipping the book around
to her. The jagged lines of the drawing receded under her bent
She examined it for a long time before responding, “It’s
flying.” She glanced up at him, “A bird?”
“Close,” he answered, “It’s not anything
real. But it is escaping somewhere.”
She moaned, and so he tongued N more slowly and widely, his mouth
reaching the wings of her inner thighs. In this light, his hands
looked like white handprints against her skin. He was starting
to like this game. He could almost tell when he would make her
gasp. The knocking of the branch was just incidental percussion
shut the sketchbook and leaned towards her, and then jerked away
awkwardly. She looked at him curiously.
He gestured to the window, “It’s hot. I was going
“Oh. Go ahead,” she said, moving away from the sill
towards him. He reached around her and tugged the window open
wider. Her coal hair spiraled over his shoulder and he realised
he was still wearing his jacket. Cold air slid in, intensifying
the smell of cigarettes and candy on her breath. He shrugged his
jacket off, dropping it on the floor beside the sleeping bag.
She touched his t-shirt. “This too,” she said, helping
him pull it off. He felt self-conscious about his thinness, but
tried not to hunch. The pine tree knocked against the roof. She
started and he laughed. He had heard the sound so many times that
it barely registered anymore. She pressed her hand against his
mouth to silence him, and started to unzip his pants. The memory
of Lin Yao and this afternoon struck him. But Darlene’s
hands smelled like soap, not ashes, and her hair moved much more
slowly than silk.
S. And S, again, tracing the letter in reverse. Her hips moved
in time with an undetermined beat.
V, and a quickening. Her hand grasped his almost painfully. The
porch light coming through the window, the sleeping bag sliding
under his knees, the undulating winter air above them, all forgotten.
Are you in here?”
Fiona was in Alexander’s bedroom, her footsteps echoingly
approaching the closet. He raised his head to look at Darlene,
his eyes and skin shining. Then he lowered his face to her thighs,
kissed her, and grabbed his clothes, tumbling out the window.
Darlene stood, her t-shirt falling to cover her as the door started
As Alexander swung off the pine tree into the thin air, he heard
Darlene’s voice, “I couldn’t sleep… I
thought I’d check out your brother’s art, but he’s
He landed in the snow, naked, clutching his clothes to his chest,
and then ran, crouched and trembling, out of the light.
Hoque was born in Nigeria to Bangladeshi parents
and moved to the States when she was in high school. She is the
recipient of the 2005 Tanenbaum Award in Nonfiction, and a 2006-7
Fulbright Scholarship. Her stories, poems, and photographs have
been published in ZYZZYVA, Nerve.com, KQED's Writers Block, Drunken
Boat, 580 Split, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Switchback, Bullfight
Review, the Daily Star, and others. For more information, please
© 2006 by Abeer Hoque