“Sisyphus and Lucifer” by Raymond Strom

Cover Tweed's #1At first there were whistles. Young men in pickup trucks leaning out windows, leering. Hey pretty lady, look over here. Then came the yelling. Get a haircut, faggot, you look like a woman.

Sven Svenson was the first person I met in town, the only boy to stop his truck, saunter over, introduce himself. He called me ma’am. Spoke softly, politely. But when he saw I was no lady his smooth talk turned rough. Told me he better not see me again. Said there’d be trouble if he did.

I saw him nearly every day after that. He had as little going on as I did, so he spent most of the summer chasing me around in his truck. One day he chased me into a restaurant and I was offered a job washing dishes. Another day into the Dairy Queen where I met J and Mary, with whom I was good friends until this all happened and they took off.

J’s house was unlocked, so I stepped in and shut the door. It was dark. I flipped a switch but there was no light. Upstairs, two doorways were curtained off with bed sheets, at the end of the hall a bathroom, also doorless. My face in the mirror.

“You fucking hippie,” J called from his room. “Where’s my Nintendo?”

 Behind the curtain I found J sitting naked on the edge of his bed, tracing the tattoos on his arm with his fingertip. An outline of an eagle and below that, in an uneven hand, the word DAD. Next to him, under a thin blanket, Mary slept.

“If you don’t have those games, you better have some other way to make yourself useful.”

I found the tray, emptied my pockets onto it, and went to work in a chair near the window. Outside, J’s pit bulls stood like statues. Sisyphus was large and round and sat at the end of her chain, head tilted, watching the cars and people pass on Elm Street. Lucifer was much smaller. He was allowed to run free but never went far from his sister, who was tied to the trunk of the willow tree in front of the house.

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