Carlisle is certain of the robbery. Burglary. Theft. He will look up the distinctions later. He thinks that burglary might have to do with breaking and entering, robbery with holding someone up, and theft with—what? Maybe it was taking something against no resistance, like a chocolate-covered peanut from the bin in the grocery, or the dirty pair of earbuds he found the week before, draped over a low-hanging tree branch.
In the kitchen, Carlisle’s mother is gouging toast with butter. Carlisle’s sister, Hannah, is reading the funnies. Carlisle can hear his father mowing the front lawn. “Hey hunny,” his mother says. “How’d you sleep?”
She asks this every day. She is fat around the edges, like she’s a smudged charcoal drawing. When Carlisle was younger, he’d liked the feeling of folding himself into her, and her fatness helped. But now Carlisle is ten and thinks of his mother’s body as the Great Warning. He has a list in his notebook of all the danger spots: loose skin on back of triceps, droopy breasts, stomach fat hiding belly button, waterfall hips, thighs splayed outwards. Carlisle is obsessed with the word ‘splayed.’ His teacher calls him precocious. His response is that the brain is the best weapon we’ve got.
The last entry in his list makes him queasy, because of all the parts of the body it is his mother’s thighs that most remind him of meat, and whenever they go to the grocery store together he has to look away from the humming, fluorescent butcher display while his mother orders. It doesn’t help that Carlisle is short for his age, and his mother is tall.
“Do you want toast?” his mother says. “I’m making toast.”
“I don’t want toast,” Hannah says. “I want cereal.”
“Then get it yourself,” his mother replies.
“I’ll have Hannah’s toast,” Carlisle offers.
“I would have cereal, but we only have soy milk, and soy milk is gross. Soy is for animals,” Hannah says, still not looking up from the newspaper. Hannah is twelve and recently began wearing training bras. Carlisle thinks a lot about breasts, and wonders why anyone would need training for them. A concentrated, dull ache has been growing in his chest over the last month. His family does not share his concerns. This morning, he resolved to give them one final chance, and then to take matters into his own hands.
“Stop being so difficult,” Carlisle says to Hannah, but really he is pleased. One of the first notes in his notebook: women are difficult, men are easy. This means eating whatever is available, getting ready quickly, and not panicking when things are broken.
Hannah slams her way around the kitchen—pantry, refrigerator, cupboard door.
“Mom,” Carlisle says, “I got robbed last night.”
Carlisle’s mom turns from the toaster. In one hand she is holding the butter knife. Carlisle can make out a long wrinkle running the length of her sternum. “Not this again,” she says. “Hunny, you were in your room all night.”
“It’s just attention seeking,” Hannah says, dramatically plugging her nose as she pours the soy milk.
“No,” Carlisle says. “It’s not. A man came into my room last night. He was tall and smelled like straw.”
“Ew,” Hannah says.
Carlisle’s mother drops the butter knife in the sink and pulls a chair up to the table. She sits down and interlaces her fingers. Her forearms rest on the table, lumpish and pale. She should go out more, Carlisle thinks.
“Hunny,” she says, “I need you to take this seriously. I know you have a very active imagination, which is such a gift, but sometimes it means that games can feel real when they’re not, you understand me?”
“I got robbed, mom. You take this seriously.”
Carlisle’s mother retrieves her Pall Malls from behind the coffee tin. Everyone knows where they are hidden, but as long as they are, the family can pretend that she is making an effort to quit and that makes them all feel safer in her love for them, like she isn’t actually separate, like she won’t ever die. In his notebook: mothers are the sun of every solar system. Fathers aren’t a planet, or a star. They’re more like a rule of physics, like gravity, or inertia.
“Also,” Carlisle continues, “you need to take the lumps in my chest seriously.”
“Hunny,” she says softly. She lights the cigarette and opens the window over the sink. Her fingers are trembling, and Carlisle looks away, because he hates the sick feeling he gets when he sees her sad, especially when it’s his fault.
“How’d he get in?” Hannah asks.
“Through the window.”
“That’s a small window for a man to get through.”
Carlisle shrugs. His mother is watching him with her mother look.
“If grown-ass men can get through that window, then I’ll bet my boyfriends can too,” Hannah says.
“Don’t swear,” Carlisle’s mother says.
Carlisle chews his toast. He pinches his hands between his thighs. “Boyfriends don’t climb through windows until they’re sixteen,” he says. “And besides, you don’t have one.”
His family blinks at him. They don’t ask what the man has taken.
“We need to catch him,” Carlisle says.
Carlisle’s mother smokes her cigarette. Hannah finishes two helpings of cereal and then puts her bowl in the sink. As she leaves, she says, “You’re such a weirdo,” to Carlisle, but he knows that she loves him, even if it’s in a sort of misinformed, slanting way. Carlisle can tell that his mother is upset. Her shoulders always raise halfway to her ears when she’s upset.
“It’s not your fault,” he says, “we just need to catch him.”
She looks up quickly. “My fault?”
“We need to collect evidence, and then call the cops.”
Carlisle nods solemnly. “I’ve been robbed, Mom.”
“Oh, hunny,” she says, and this makes him want to cry, but at least four times in the notebook he has written men don’t cry, they take that bulbous, sweaty feeling and stuff it somewhere else, and so Carlisle gets up quickly and goes outside.
There are footprints around the elm that climbs past Carlisle’s bedroom window. Carlisle puts his own, size two foot in the imprint and imagines it ballooning out to fill the space of the big foot. Carlisle takes out his notebook. He writes: men have big feet because they need to be firmly grounded. He looks around the tree. The footprints circle the whole trunk, which suggests that the person they belonged to was looking for a way up, deciding which branch would be the best access point.
A few paces south of the tree, Carlisle finds a cigarette stub. It has only been smoked halfway. On the paper there is a little symbol that Carlisle doesn’t recognize, but he knows that it isn’t a Pall Mall, which are the only cigarettes his mother smokes. In the movies, Carlisle has seen that detectives put evidence in plastic baggies, and so he goes into the garage and retrieves a handful of zip-lock sandwich bags from the Costco-size dispenser, and goes back outside. Carlisle inspects the cigarette again. He sniffs it. It smells stale and bitter. He drops it in the zip lock and tucks it into his back pocket. Carlisle has the feeling that he is being watched, and he straightens and looks around. A car pulls out and away on the street but maybe it is just Mrs. Liddell, leaving for work. The feeling of being watched persists. The man smelled of straw and also the smell that comes off radiators when they are turned on for the first time in a while.
There is a frayed piece of red ribbon ten paces from the tree, right on the edge of the property. It looks as though it was tied around a wrist and then snipped off with scissors. Carlisle puts it in a different baggy and stores it in his other back pocket. Carlisle’s neck prickles and he spins around but again there is no one there. All of the shades in the house are drawn, because it is mid-August and his father gets grumpy if they turn the AC on before midday. Carlisle can hear cicadas and, far off, the train that connects their neighborhood with the city.
Carlisle climbs the elm. The tree narrows by the time it reaches the second story, and he wonders for a moment how the man was confident that the branches wouldn’t snap. Because Carlisle only weighs sixty-five pounds he isn’t afraid, and he shimmies his way out along the branch that comes closest to his bedroom window. The window is down, and he sees his reflection in the glass. His hair falls around his chin, straight and shiny with an aggressive line where it has been clipped so that always when looking at it the haircut is present. Carlisle turns away and scans the yard from his new position. The man could have approached from anywhere. If he came from the street, he would have had to walk on Elm for half a mile before it ran into Main St. There were no other turn offs, and the street was well lit at night. If he came from the field behind the house, he would have either had to cut through a neighbor’s yard to get back to Elm, or he would have had to cross the small creek that separates the field from a public playground. The second option seems more likely to Carlisle, because there’s a thing called neighborhood watch on his street, and he thinks it unlikely that a strange man could have walked the half mile from Main St. without catching attention.
In his knapsack, Carlisle has packed a flashlight, a half-used notebook, four slices of bread, a tin camping cup which he imagines using both for drinking and also to shave out of as he has seen in Westerns, twenty zip lock baggies, and a screwdriver. He has put on his holster costume complete with the fake pistol. Hannah is painting her nails on the carpet in the front room. Cindy Crawford is on the TV.
“What’s up, weirdo?” she says as he crosses to the front door.
“I’m leaving,” Carlisle says. He feels as though his life has turned to a gas that inflates and expands him. He imagines himself as a handsome cowboy who belongs on a mesa in the wilderness, ruggedly alone. He has just left one woman and is on his way to another.
“To where?” Hannah asks.
“I’m hunting for evidence. Come, if you want.”
Hannah snorts. “There wasn’t any robbery. Stop freaking Mom out.”
“When I find evidence you’ll believe me and you’ll be so sorry and regret it forever.”
Hannah screws the top back onto her maroon nail polish and straightens her legs, examining her work with her head cocked to the side. Carlisle observes how Hannah is different than him, because she’s nothing more or less than herself. She’s like the couch, or the navel oranges in the fruit bowl, or the cat. The edges of her are really the edges of her. That’s not what it feels like to him. Being me is a bit like when you’ve knocked your head or spun around or get up quickly and you see double and there’s a lag and you can’t quite figure out which is real and which is kinda made up. Carlisle doesn’t like this feeling. It’s akin to car sickness. He is confident that when they catch the man this feeling will stop.
The field is still damp from a thunder shower two days before. Carlisle thinks this is probably good, because footprints don’t show up in hard soil. He is confident when he starts out, sure that every step will lead him to evidence. He walks the entire length of their fence line slowly, pausing to bend and push aside grass and dandelion weeds. As he nears the end of the fence he has a moment of doubt: Is it possible that Hannah and his mother are right, that he dreamt it all up? After all, his window is quite small and would require a lot of flexibility for a full grown man to squeeze through. And how did the man open the window from the outside? Did Carlisle crack it after his father had said goodnight? In a way, Carlisle thinks, it would be easier if his sister and mother were right. But then he sees it: the large footprint whose tread matches the one by the tree, and he thinks of how silly he has been, to deny something as straightforward as a robbery. He takes out his notebook and pen and draws the footprint. He would like it to be 1:1, but the notebook isn’t big enough, so he just makes the foot as big as will fit on the page.
Beyond the footprint is another, and another. He follows them out into the empty field. The day is growing hot. Sweat slicks his hairless armpits and runs down his sides, which reminds him of his shape. For now his torso is still wiry and square, but he knows that won’t last forever. Carlisle pauses and eats a slice of bread. He peels the crusts off first and eats them. He wishes he had remembered to bring water, but he can’t go home so soon or Hannah will make fun of him.
To the left of a footprint a little further on Carlisle finds another cigarette butt, with the same symbol on the filter. He puts it in a baggy. And then, no more than five paces ahead, Carlisle makes out the shape of his favorite action figure when he was in kindergarten, half smushed into the mud. It is a WWII soldier in a crouched stance, dark green, hard plastic. Carlisle doesn’t remember when it went missing, but he hasn’t seen it in a long time. He plucks it from the mud and cleans it with the hem of his shirt. This is not the first time the man has broken in, he thinks. The man has been coming in and stealing from him his whole life, sometimes when he is there and maybe sometimes when he’s not, which would make it both burglary and robbery. It’s like one of those dreams you have over and over and you just get used to it and don’t even think about it in the morning. Carlisle’s skin prickles. He is nervous, and most of him wants to turn around and go home, but he knows that he has to be brave and keep going. Men never turn back. They don’t know how to. Sometimes turning back is actually the better option, so it’s good that women exist.
The creek is running low because it was a dry winter, and there are plenty of places to cross easily. On the other side, Carlisle feels like a trespasser, even though the playground is a public space. Carlisle writes an inventory in his notebook: swing set, slide one, slide two, monkey bars, public restrooms, picnic tables. He knows that the more thorough he is with his investigation, the more likely it will be for his mother to believe him. He scours the playground but finds nothing—no cigarette butts, no ribbon, no more action figures. The footprints have disappeared into the gravel. He cannot shake the feeling of being watched, and so he climbs the structure and lowers himself into the covered slide slowly, so that he is able to stop and stay hidden there while he plans his next move.
If he goes back to his mother now, she won’t be persuaded. He needs more concrete evidence. Acknowledging this fact makes him angry. Why won’t she just believe him? He is her son—shouldn’t she take his word seriously? He imagines coming home with a scar for evidence, raising his shirt in the living room, his family lined up on the couch, and pointing at a gruesome, stitched line, running from his belly button down below his pants. He imagines saying, “See? I told you so,” and all of them gasping and weeping and clutching his shoulders, asking him how it happened, and who the culprit was.
Carlisle stays in the slide for a long time, thinking. Eventually he hears a noise and creeps down below the covering to check. A janitor in a tan jumpsuit is collecting the trash from the bins around the park. He is tall and thin. When he walks, his knobby kneecaps are outlined through the fabric. It takes the man a little while to notice he is being watched, but when he does, the reaction is immediate. He stands up straighter and spins around. His eyes land on Carlisle. They look at one another. The man has lips barely a darker shade than the rest of his skin. His eyebrows are like lost caterpillars, brown from age.
“Hey there,” he says. He is holding a trash bag in one arm. It is nearly full, and he needs to hold it out from his body for it not to touch his calves.
“Hi,” Carlisle replies.
The man looks around the playground. “Whatcha doin’?” he asks.
The man laughs. It is high pitched for a man, but he doesn’t hold back at all. Men let what’s inside of them come out without thinking about it at all. Women cover their mouths, or make an excuse, or leave the room.
“How come you’re here by yourself?” the man asks.
Carlisle shrugs. “I just am.”
The man takes the trash bag over to his cart and loads it into the back. Then he takes off his gloves and comes to stand at the bottom of the slide. He retrieves a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and lights one with matches. Carlisle notices that the match sleeve has the insignia of an auto body shop on the other side of town, and he wonders why an auto body shop makes matches.
“What kind of cigarettes are those?” Carlisle asks.
The man holds the cigarette out in front of his face, as though he doesn’t know and needs to check. “Camels,” he says. “Blue camels.” He takes a drag. “Why?”
Carlisle shrugs. “The man who robbed me smokes.”
The janitor frowns. “You got robbed?”
Carlisle nods. “What’s your name?” he asks.
The janitor is still frowning. “Ty,” he says.
“I’m Carlisle,” Carlisle says.
They look at each other. “Well shit,” Ty says eventually, pinching the ember out between his thumb and index finger. “You live over on Elm, don’t ya?” he said. “I think I’ve seen you.”
Carlisle doesn’t say anything.
“Want me to give you a lift home or somethin’?”
Carlisle shakes his head. “I’m hungry,” he says.
Ty considers this. “Want a burger?” he offers finally.
Carlisle nods and slides to the gravel. They get into the cart, and Ty hocks a loogie while he starts up the engine. The mucus clings to the pavement.
“That’s a cool gun you’ve got there,” Ty says, and he reaches across Carlisle’s lap to pull it from the holster. He brushes Carlisle’s tummy.
“Hey!” Carlisle says. “Give it back!”
“Okay, okay,” Ty says, handing it to him. “Was just admiring it, is all.”
As they exit the park onto Main St. Carlisle catches a whiff of something stale and familiar. Ty drives with his left arm draped over the wheel, his forearm doing the steering. His right arm rests on the seat back, behind Carlisle. Out of the corner of his eye, Carlisle can see the outline of Ty’s groin through the thin fabric. Ty scratches it, adjusts. He notices Carlisle looking and says, “What?”
“You’re a funny little fellow, ain’t you.”
Carlisle shrugs. He looks down, to hide the blush.
They go to Good Times. Ty insists on ordering at the counter rather than going through the drive-in with the cart. “It’s just policy, ain’t it,” he says.
Ty orders the sliders. Carlisle gets the king-sized burger. This amuses Ty; he pays for it without complaint, but chortles when the burger comes out. “Good luck eating that, little man,” he says. They sit at a rubber-meshed picnic table.
Ty jiggles his leg as he eats. He looks around constantly, but it doesn’t seem like he is actually seeing anything. He lights another cigarette and smokes while he eats. It makes him look like a dragon. He eyes Carlisle, like he is trying to decide something. When he is done smoking he says he needs to take a piss and will Carlisle be sure to wait for him there.
“Sure,” Carlisle says.
Once Ty has disappeared around the back of the building, Carlisle crouches beneath the table and retrieves the cigarette stub. He now recognizes the shape on the stub as a tiny camel. It is the same at the stubs beneath the elm, and in the field. He jerks up quickly, hitting his head on the lip of the table.
“Whatcha doin’, little man?” Ty asks. He is standing behind Carlisle, and Carlisle has to turn 180 degrees to see him. The way he is standing blocks out the light and makes him featureless.
“I think I’m going to go home, now,” Carlisle says. “I can walk from here.”
“I’ll take you,” Ty says, and it doesn’t sound like it’s up for discussion.
They drive in silence. Occasionally, Ty hums under his breath. Carlisle watches Ty’s reactions as he gives directions. Ty doesn’t react, or at least not in a way that Carlisle can see. Even when they pull up in front of his house, Ty gives nothing away. He turns off the ignition and leans back. He says, “This it?”
Carlisle nods. He wonders if Ty will grab him if he bolts from the cart, or whether this is all a part of his game and he will let him go.
“I’ll walk you to the door,” Ty says.
Ty slides out of the cart and lopes across the lawn. Carlisle follows. Men walk wherever they want to, because they think women will follow, and they’re mostly right.
Ty rings the doorbell. It’s midday, and the sun is beaming right onto the door stoop. Sweat has run all the way down Carlisle’s sides to catch in the waistband of his basketball shorts. This is his chance, he thinks. If he lets Ty get away now, that’ll be it.
Carlisle’s mother answers the door. She opens her mouth when she sees Carlisle but shuts it when her eyes take in Ty, beside him. A frown like a crease in cloth being pressed flat passes over her forehead.
“Well, hello,” she says. “I’m Angela.”
She extends her hand. Ty takes it. “Ty,” he grunts. “This little fellow was all the way down at the playground. Claimed he’d been robbed but wouldn’t tell me nothin’ about it. Thought the least I could do was give him a lift home.”
His mother withdraws her hand and clasps her other wrist with it. “Thank you,” she says quietly.
She turns her eyes to Carlisle. She opens her mouth and then closes it.
“It’s him,” Carlisle says quietly. He is inspecting his mother’s slippers. They are Disney blue, gone brown at the edges. Carlisle can’t remember a time before she wore them.
“Eh?” Ty says, after a long silence.
“It’s him, who robbed me.”
Carlisle’s mother puts her thumb to one temple, her middle finger to the other. Her body is taut. “Scuse me?” Ty says. His body has changed, too. He has turned to face Carlisle, one leg back, his hands on his hips, except that he doesn’t really have any hips, since he is a man. Straight lines. Men aren’t as affected by things because things slide right off straight lines.
“Please,” Carlisle’s mother says, “I’m sure there’s just been a misunderstanding.”
“Mom,” Carlisle says, “you can’t let him get away.”
“You fuckin’ kiddin’ me?” Ty says. HIs voice is loud. “I buy you a fuckin’ burger, drive you home, and this is the thanks I get? I bought you the whopper! Didn’t have to do that, did I. Didn’t have to do shit. Did it cause I’m good, cause I was raised right, and now this little brat is making shit up about me?”
Carlisle’s father comes jogging around the side of the house. He takes off his yard work gloves as he approaches. He wears rectangular glasses, and even though he is growing a bit of a tummy the muscles in his arms and legs still stick out, like his skin is thin as a sheet.
“What’s this?” he says, looking at the three of them.
“Your bratty son claims I robbed him when I didn’t, when I was nice to him, when I gave him a lift and fed him and all.”
“My son?” he says. His eyes are roaming the yard, as though searching for something.
Carlisle glances up at his mother, who is leaning against the doorframe now, her arms crossed over her chest. She is breathing through her mouth, the way she does when she is trying to remain calm. Carlisle can tell, because her bottom lip always trembles.
“What’s going on?” his father asks.
“He robbed me, dad. We’ve got to call the police.”
“The police? The police? Are you fuckin’ kiddin’ me?” Ty roars.
“Now let’s not get too heated,” Carlisle’s father says, taking a step closer to Ty. “Let’s just figure out what happened.” He looks at Carlisle. “What happened, hunny?”
“Fuck you all,” Ty says, shaking his head, grinning bitterly. “Rich cunts. Shouldn’t never come down Elm street. You’re trash, all of you.”
“Watch it,” Carlisle’s father says, stepping right up to Ty. They stand only a foot or two apart. They are about the same height. Carlisle’s father is stockier, but Ty’s muscles have that stringy look about them, that skinny toughness.
“What did you do to my kid?” Carlisle’s father says.
They glare at each other. There is a moment of stillness, in which the four of them are contained within a bubble of heat. Cicadas hum. An airplane passes overhead. Down the road, a lawnmower starts.
“He stole my penis,” Carlisle says.
Something goes slack in Carlisle’s father. Angela raises her fingers to her temples again. Ty starts laughing. “Fuckin’ what?” he says.
“Mom,” Carlisle says calmly, “you have to call the police now. Go inside and call the police. Dad and I won’t let him get away.”
Ty’s eyes are wide. He is laughing in stop-start gasps, like the thought keeps moving away and then hitting him again. Carlisle’s father doesn’t do anything, just stands there.
“Hunny,” Carlisle’s mom says, “please come inside, hunny, and we can talk about this.”
“Mom, no. Call the cops.”
“Lucy,” she says.
“Call the cops!” Carlisle shrieks. “How many times do I have to tell you! You’re my mother, call the cops!”
Something large is expanding at the base of Carlisle’s throat. He thinks he might choke. He sits down in the grass. He is shaking. Huge tears drop onto his lap.
Hannah appears in the doorway. She is carrying the portable phone. “I called them,” she says. “They’re coming.”
Carlisle’s dad swivels his head quickly to Hannah. “You did what?”
“Just let her talk to the cops. It’s what she wants.” Hannah sets the phone down and walks out across the lawn. She squats beside Carlisle. “You okay?” she asks.
Carlisle shakes his head.
“You should go,” Angela says quietly, looking at Ty.
Ty is bent over, his hands on his knees, watching the scene in disbelief. “That’s alright,” he says. “Think I’d like to stay. Clear my name and all. Fuckin’ freak show round here. Little dyke.”
Carlisle’s father clocks Ty across the jaw. Ty comes back swinging. They fall into the grass. No one does anything to stop them. Carlisle watches them the way he watches TV. A cop car pulls up, and they separate. There is a moment of awkwardness when the cop asks what’s going on and no one will answer, and then Carlisle’s mother says why don’t they all go inside and have something cool to drink.
They sit in the living room. Carlisle’s mother brings out ice tea and brandy. Hannah and Carlisle sit together against the wall, holding hands. The adults sit on the couch. The cop stands in the middle of the room, asking questions. Carlisle thinks: Something is wrong. My parents and Ty are all sitting on the couch together, like they get along just fine. Like they are on the same team.
“Is this some kind of sick joke?” the cop says.
“No,” Carlisle says.
“I’ve got real work to do, you know,” the cop says. “This your kid? This your kid you’re letting pull a cop’s leg? Fucking Elm street, Jesus.”
The cop picks up his brandy and knocks it back. Ty is laughing.
The cop turns on Hannah. “And you thought this would be funny, did you? Get me to drive all the way down here to watch me be made a fool, huh?”
Hannah shakes her head. Carlisle can tell she is scared. It is his job to protect her. Brothers protect sisters. It is practice for the real world, where husbands protect wives. He stands up. “It isn’t funny,” Carlisle says. He is surprised by how calm his voice is. “I got robbed. And I can prove it.”
Carlisle’s father looks up.
“Ty climbed the tree and got through my bedroom window. He stole my penis. It wasn’t the first time he stole from me. He stole an action figure, too.” Carlisle takes the action figure in the plastic baggy out of his back pack. “There are cigarette butts with little camels on them around the tree in the back yard. There are also big footprints. I followed the footprints. The footprints went through the field. There were cigarette butts in the field, too. I followed them all the way to the playground, and that’s where he was. He smokes cigarettes with little camels on them. Mom pretends she doesn’t smoke but she does. They don’t have camels on them, though.”
The cop puts his pen in his notepad, his notepad in his back pocket, and sits down in the armchair with a sigh. “Well I don’t know about all that,” he says. “But it doesn’t mean anything, kid.”
“Doesn’t mean anything?” Carlisle exclaims. “It’s evidence. I have evidence!”
Carlisle’s father runs his hand through his hair. “The cigarette butts are mine,” he says.
Angela sets down her drink with a loud clack. “What?” she says.
“I have a smoke, every now and then,” his father says. He raises his arms in a defensive shrug. “Don’t look at me like that, you do it too. Footprints are probably mine, too. And you used to play out in that field with your toys all the time, Lucy.”
Why doesn’t the cop cuff Ty? Carlisle wonders. Why does he feel so alone, like he’s the one on trial, not Ty? He can see the day closing in neatly on itself, his parents getting drunk, he and Hannah condemned to a children’s movie, then bed. Nothing changing. Not getting his penis back. Ty will get away scot free. He’ll go back to his janitoring and smoking and nothing will have changed. Carlisle pulls his basketball shorts down to his ankles. “Look!” he yells. “Where is it, then?”
A new kind of silence enters the room. Carlisle feels it, even from Hannah. “If no one stole it, where is it?”
“This just went way beyond my pay grade,” the cop says. He stands and leaves. They hear the car door slam, the engine start up. Even Ty sobers up.
“Pull up your pants,” Angela says. She is crying. Carlisle starts crying, too.
“Goddamn,” Ty says.
“Why did you take it?” Carlisle says. He is looking at Ty. Ty looks like a little boy now, like he’s scared or sad, too.
“Shit, kid, what would I do with a mini dick?”
Carlisle sits down with a thump. He watches Ty get up slowly and leave. Carlisle watches his mother and father clasp hands, look at him.
“You can’t go accusing people like that,” Carlisle’s father says eventually.
“But he did it.”
“No one did anything, Lucy.”
And then it hits him. They were acting like they were on the same team because they were on the same team. His parents are covering up for Ty. They don’t want the cops to know Carlisle’s penis has been taken because if it exists in the outside world it will have to exist for them, and they don’t want it to exist. They want Carlisle to remain what he’s been made into. The product of the robbery. They want Carlisle to be Lucy. Maybe they even hired Ty. Carlisle squeezes Hannah’s hand. Hannah he trusts. His parents, slumped on the sofa, look like rag doll monsters. His mother is crying. For a single moment, Carlisle feels bad for her, wants to crawl up in her lap and kiss her face and tell her everything is okay, the way he always does, but he forces the feeling down and away. The house smells of straw and old radiator heat. The robber smells of the house. The window to his bedroom is too small. The robber has been coming through the bedroom door. Not a robber. A thief.