Tangled in Wishes by Peter Anderson
The boy trudged up the stairs, his hightops heavily marring the thick, fuchsia-colored carpet. His classmate followed just behind, warily glancing all around.
“That’s Mari’s room, and that’s Zinny and Rosie’s,” Cal said, nodding left and right as he proceeded. “They’re twins.” As they passed the twins’ room, inside Billy spied overwhelming shades of pink everywhere—on the walls, the ceiling, the covers and canopies of the impeccably-made beds—and dozens of My Little Ponys, Barbies and other girly things. At the end of the hall Cal stopped and reached for the doorknob to the left, before looking back over his shoulder. “That one’s Vi’s.” Again Billy was overwhelmed by a pink aura, despite the door being open only a crack; the room appeared to be that of a girl older than the twins but was no less lavishly furnished than theirs. “And that’s my mom’s,” Cal continued, pointing toward the closed room at the end. “And here’s mine.”
Cal pushed through his door, immediately sliding down onto the carpet, which was the same shade of pink as that of the hallway. Billy followed, and with the room’s environs—posters of Metallica and Tony Hawk, a few CDs and a years-old boombox, an unmade bed and general messiness—being more familiar to him than the rest of the house, he felt more at home and sat down on the floor next to Cal.
As soon as he was seated, however, Billy again grew nervous, the formality of being shown around no longer covering for the awkwardness of the visit, his first. His discomfort wasn’t at all eased by Cal, who mostly ignored his guest as he frantically worked the buttons of his Gameboy.
Billy immediately recognized the game’s familiar beeps. “How’s that Mario game?” he asked, tentative, unsure of what else to say.
“It’s alright, I guess.” Cal sat cross-legged, head down. “I’ve had it a long time, though, and I’m tired of it.”
“Why don’t you get something new?”
“I want to, but—”
“Calil!” a voice shrilled from downstairs. The name always struck Billy as strange, the few times he had heard it. The new teacher had called it out, Calil, on the first day of school, but after he corrected her he was just Cal. The given name was one Billy had never heard of anyone else having.
Cal stood up, visibly irritated by the interruption, and opened the door a few inches. “What, Mom?”
“You didn’t take out the garbage like you were supposed to.”
“I forgot,” he called back. “I’ll do it later.”
“Too late. Garbageman’s already been here.”
“Later! Sorry! I swear, Calil, sometimes you sound just like your father.”
The voice trailed away, the last words barely audible. Cal silently aped her words, his lips suggesting neither a smile nor humor, his mimicry showing that he knew exactly what she said and that it wasn’t the first time he had heard it. He closed the door and slumped back to the floor, his posture more defeated, and resumed playing.
“Mom always wished I had been a girl,” Cal said, shrugging, without looking up from his game. “She’s always saying girls are flowers from the garden of heaven.”
He sniffed, vigorously rubbing his nose with the back of his index finger. Billy turned away, with discretion, his eyes drawn to the one object which seemed out of place in the room: an American flag, folded inside a triangular wooden box. Billy looked back as Cal continued.
“She’s never gotten along with boys. Not me, and especially not Dad, except at first. They got divorced when I was five.”
Cal stared directly at Billy for the first time, the knowing glint of his eye telling Billy he had caught him looking at the flag, as if Billy was wrong in doing so. Billy blushed slightly, his cheeks warm, embarrassed for both of them.
“My dad is…was a cop.”
“You’ve got a weird name,” Billy blurted, again grasping for words, discomfited and desperate to change the subject. “Calil, I mean.”
“I know. Dad used to say my name was the last thing she ever gave in on. It’s definitely not the one she wanted.”
Billy was heartened somewhat by the intimacy of the revelation but said nothing, his prodding expression silently urging Cal to explain.
“Calil, get it? Mari, Rosie, Zinny, Vi…”
Billy remained silent, his look of curiosity hardening into puzzlement, then realization. “Flowers from the garden of heaven.”
Cal nodded, then shook his head, as if in disagreement, in frustration.
“She says she wants all her little flowers to blossom,” he murmured. “I really wish I could. Maybe I can, just…someplace else.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “Some other garden.”
Peter Anderson’s short stories have appeared in many fine venues, including Storyglossia, THE2NDHAND, Joyland and the recent anthology On The Clock: Contemporary Short Stories of Work (Bottom Dog Press). He is working on both a novel and short story collection. He lives and writes in Joliet, Illinois.