Steer the Course
Casey DW Jones
It’s been nine weeks since I stabbed that sonofabitch, and I still haven’t seen my older brother Coop. We write each other letters, and I send him some sweet dragons I’ve been drawing, but we can’t ever talk about what happened that night in the parking lot of the swimming pool. Whenever his case comes on the news, my foster parents change the channel. Pretty sure the worthless little hussies at this stupid new high school don’t have anything like that weighing on their minds after a long day of giggling and speculating about which twenty-something cowboy they should let fingerfuck them next. And you never see the meatheads or the wrench-turners-in-training without an idiot grin on their faces, either. I hate it here.
The state placed me with the Benson family in a town about fifty miles south of Mom. I’m about as close to Colorado as I am to Oklahoma, and I’m about as close to stabbing someone else as I am to not stabbing someone else. I mean, the Bs are good enough folks. The dad’s a shop teacher. The mom works with the kids with disabilities, including their son Matt. He has lots of problems, and he pretends to be a baseball umpire all day. I do like him, but I don’t have any real friends, and I certainly don’t have Coop on my side to back the bullies off.
They gave me some tests at school when I first showed up, and then they put me in the gifted program. I spend most of my time in the Special Ed room with Mrs. B because they don’t know what else to do with me. They won’t let me enroll in any advanced math classes, as much as I tried to convince them. Mrs. B lets me draw, though, so long as I don’t draw skulls and knives and titties, so that kinda sucks. But Mr. B bought me a guitar, and I get to skateboard, but I’m bored out of my shittin’ mind. Nobody fishes here. It’s drier than Mom’s pork chops (which I actually kinda miss). No lakes or anything. Just miles of sagebrush and windmills and yucca and dirt and oil pumps and jackasses.
Yesterday morning, Mr. B fetched the morning paper, glanced at it, and stuffed it in his back pocket. He hides it from me whenever they write about Coop’s case. After he dropped me off at school, I snuck down to the corner store and peeked at the papers in the machine. Sure enough, they had a front-page story about how the State’s launching a full-scale investigation of the local drug ring. Coop is a primary suspect, and they’re pulling out all the stops.
Coop has stuck to his same story since the beginning. Those two bastards jumped him in the parking lot and tried to rob and kill him. It was him or them. He ran because he was scared and didn’t know what else to do. Mom sounds optimistic when we talk on the phone that he won’t serve any real time, and public opinion is on his side. They’re gonna roll the dice with a jury. Sure, he had his gun and a wad of cash on him when he was stopped, but he has the right to defend himself and his property, after all. Some of the State guys stopped by here a time or two. Just to chat, they said, but I’m not stupid.
My story hasn’t changed: I wasn’t there that night.
But of course I was there. And each night, after the Bs are fast asleep, I sketch Stump’s face over and over. His big square jaw, the pencil-thin beard, his mouth agape from the knife I just stuck in him. I have a whole notebook filled with different pictures of him. The Bs look under my mattress because, well, they don’t trust me, so I keep all my sketches layered in with my school stuff.
Coop keeps me up at night, too. I think about how he must’ve wiped my prints off the knife, how he’s catching all the heat, and how I got off scot-free. He’s the toughest dude I know, but I still wonder how he’s holding up. There are a lot of hard-asses in jail. Maybe even people related to those two gangster wannabes we had to kill that night.
Yesterday, I told Mrs. B I was sick, and she believed me because I puked, but what she doesn’t know is I can throw up on command. I went out to the school parking lot and took the spare van key Mr. B hides underneath with a magnet. I shoved the key in the ignition, planning to drive over and pay my little brother Taylor, who’s in third grade, a visit at his new place. They didn’t keep us together because we aren’t full blood, they said. I called bullshit on that, so did Mom and everyone else, but at the end of the day, it’s true.
I couldn’t bring myself to put that goddamned van into drive, though. I figured we don’t need more trouble than we already got. So, I banged my forehead on the steering wheel and cried like a stupid baby. And for the first time in my life I prayed. I prayed for Mom to get her shit together. For Coop to get out of jail. For me to steer the course. Just let me steer the sonofabitching course, God, I said. Let me just get through this, let all of us get through this, and I swear to you I won’t ever ask you for anything ever again.
We’ll see if it did any good, that prayer. It was a pretty selfish one for the first one, so I wouldn’t fault God at all for not listening or doing anything for me. We’ll see. Everything could work out and have absolutely nothing to do with God’s chickenshit ass. I’d never know. God. God. God. God. God. It gets weirder each time you say it.
Casey DW Jones grew up in the high desert plains of Kansas. He holds an MFA from Hamline University, where he served on the Water~Stone Review fiction board. His short stories have recently appeared in Stoneboat Literary Journal, New Limestone Review, and Peatsmoke Literary Journal, and he was recently nominated for a Puschart Prize in fiction. Casey is the founding editor of Casino Literary Magazine. He currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota.