The Old Facility

(The Supervisor:)

Tomorrow morning you get to be Brothers here. As Pop Flynn pointed out, your job's to fill the gap in these boys' lives. Our parents called them "wayward youth," as if they've sort of drifted off the road. But you -- and they -- know they've been pushed. Get them back on their feet and back on that road before they forget how to walk. They need your guidance, they need your example, they need your understanding, they need your (pause and smile) foot massage.

By the way, don't take Pop Flynn all that seriously. That bit of his -- "God have mercy on your poor little innocent souls" -- he does that to every new batch of Brothers.

You've done the drill -- the cabins, the school, the workshops, the gym, the ball field, the laundry, the "smoking area" (pretend you don't know) and the chapel. (Nobody's forced to attend, makes things worse).

You know the cabins blindfolded, they're all the same, the boys' bunkrooms (and how they sneak in and out), Mom and Pop's room (stay out) and your own . . . cell. I know, and I regret that. We all regret that. At least you won't be tempted to hide there much.

The psychologist and the social worker don't sleep over, but they're easy to find during office hours.

Any last-minute questions -- ?

(The Bull:)

That's what they call me, all two-seventy of me. I'm a Pop here at the facility. The "boys" -- Director says it like they're some kind of angels -- they don't mess with me.

I'm a local boy, like you, most of you. Years back I was the state Gloves champ. I fought professional too, but I was too proud -- got that? too proud -- to take a dive. So they juiced the refs and robbed me anyway. If I had it to do over? Who knows....

Me, I was eight years here when I was a kid, went through three different cabins, just one couldn't hold me. I was a wild one, too smart for my own good, but I learned to keep my nose clean. That's what's important.

These "boys" we've got today don't cut it. When I was here, Pops and Brothers used to slap us around when we got out of hand, and we'd get up and slap them right back.

Kids today, no way. You lay a hand on them, you'll kill them. But I'm talking for myself. Looking at you guys I'd say you can't do much damage, in fact I recommend you don't hold back. This fist, the law they know. This fist, sin lástima. That's what Luis Firpo used to say, the Wild Bull of the Pampas, it means "without mercy." But don't overdo it -- we know what happened to him, don't we? I guess not, you guys are too young. What I mean is, show this fist from the start, let them know who's boss. If not, they walk all over you, sin lástima.

The "boys" in my cabin, they're the worst, better off in the zoo. You put supper on the table, they go pushing and shoving and spilling stuff and knocking down stuff to get the first bite. Like wild pigs. I can't eat at the same table anymore.

And the noise -- you can't think....

And don't let on you understand, don't come right out and say you're on their side. If they smell a weakness in you, sure, they play along. If not, it's like, against their rules. "Their" rules, for God's sake. The thing is, they don't care, so long as they can hurt you. Doesn't matter if you're too big for them to punch out -- they figure out some other way, where you really feel it. And all your caring goes for nothing.

And the Brothers aren't much better. Our last one made friends with the "boys" all right -- shared his booze and his pot with them. They still treated him like dirt. For some weird reason, now and then he'd try to exercise his authority, and they'd laugh in his face. "His" authority, what a joke. They poured sugar in his motorcycle tank. They stole his radio and ran down the batteries. They snuck in his cell and stank up the sheets, the pigs. Filth. The stink was enough to -- never mind. So what does he do? Didn't punch out anybody. A friend of mankind, all right.

(Tonight's Former Brother:)

Should be Ex-Brother, like in "Ex- marks the spot."

My boys -- the memories....

Choose? Okay, it's got to be Billy Grimes. That Billy was the dog crap you step in when you're going barefoot, the gum in your typewriter when your book report's due tomorrow, the hole in your -- whatever you don't want a hole in.

I sit down at the table. I'm hungry. I'll eat anything, I think. On my plate's a pile of dead and dying worms, pieces of dead and dying worms, moving pieces of dead and dying worms. Who else but Billy Grimes?

Another time, I go to the kitchen to get some chips, and the floor's glopped over with mashed potatoes and jam: finger paintings and little sculptures, all -- what's the word? -- gross. Who else but Billy Grimes? Sure, he started innocent, making a sandwich, then he snapped. Potatoes and jam? Creative kid.

I drive the boys on a field trip, and he's in back of the bus screaming out the window at folks walking, at their dogs, at the drivers. Language so filthy, you're nauseous. Three years in the navy and I still wasn't ready for it. Shrieking, like some giant iron rabbit trap snapped his leg off.

He wasn't the first kid who ever dreamed an iron rabbit trap. And you can't control your dreams, your nightmares, even wide awake. Still...stuck in the same cabin with that kid, I had to fight back just to stay sane.

So on the main lawn behind the gym, in dusk's last glow (spookier than midnight), in the flicker of thick, warped, blood-red candles, dragging heavy words and hand-signs from my mind's old dusty trunk, for all to see and hear and whisper of, I hexed the shadow (not the soul) of poor stunned Billy Grimes.

Next day, trying out a car he just stole ("Got to make sure") he smashed into a stone wall. Pulverized it. Three days in a coma, okay? Three months in the hospital. He survived.

He swears he doesn't believe in that stuff, of course he doesn't, but so far he's the best friend I ever had.

A. Y. Tanaka