The Alphabet Game

by Abeer Hoque

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.

Three 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 his body.

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.

G… 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.

As 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.

“Alexander!”

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 the house.

“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 anything?”

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 hair.

“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.

I… 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 everything else.

He 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 sleep…”

He 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 slippers.

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 good.”

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 head.

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.”

M… Clack.

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 now.

He 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 to open…”

“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.

“Darlene? 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 to open.

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 not here…”

He landed in the snow, naked, clutching his clothes to his chest, and then ran, crouched and trembling, out of the light.

_______________

Abeer 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 see http://www.olivewitch.com.

The Alphabet Game
© 2006 by Abeer Hoque

 

 
     
     

 

 



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