“I’m gonna kill you sons of a bitch,” he said, when he saw the torn sheet. He was sorry about the ‘sons of a bitch,’ he was sorry about that. That was no way to talk about their mother. But he felt like he might kill them, he was so mad, when he saw that torn sheet.
They looked scared of him, too. Truly scared. And they ran down the stairs and out the door. They slammed the door behind them, and they shook up the whole house.
He walked down the stairs slowly. He didn’t know why he followed them, but here he was, walking in their wake, walking through the smell of boys that they left behind; sweat and grass and candy and open windows.
The light filtered through the glass curtain and prismed through the cut glass of the heavy door. Weak and pale, but it filled the stairwell, and the dust the boys had raised curled around him in waves. He waded through and upset the settling silt with the slamming of the door.
He stood on the porch in his shirtsleeves. As far as he looked his world was grey. The grey house, with its torn and gritty asbestos tiles, the slick grey street. The cold, early June sky stretched away forever, flat and pale and indifferent and grey upon grey upon grey.
He caught a glimpse of the boys racing around the garage. A flash of color, of the damn yellow plaid, the damn torn sheet.
They laughed, but they looked scared – their faces flushed, their eyes wide, like animals.
He walked toward them, following in the space they’d made in the damp cold air with their foolish boy warmth. He wasn’t looking for them, wasn’t angry any more. He was as flat as the sky, but he followed anyway, carried along behind them.
He saw them climbing to the roof. They stood on the fence, and then an oil drum, and then an old hot-water heater, standing on its side. So much junk. He hadn’t noticed all the junk. He thought about them climbing – he thought about the chubby one in the pink shirt. What kind of boy wears a pink shirt? And the tall one, so foolish in a swimsuit, on this cold day, with any water a person could swim in many miles and weeks away. The sight of his pale, foolish skin, soft and tender like a baby’s, made him sad. The sight of ribs and a pale belly made him sad that he said he’d kill them.
They stood on the roof with an air of defiance, chests out, stupid cloaks (made from the damn torn sheet) held slightly aloft, as if they were wings. As if they believed they could fly. He thought of them on the point of the roof, which looked sharp enough to cut them through, from where he stood. He thought about them slipping, and the stupid cloaks catching on something. And he felt bad about saying he’d kill them.
He leaned against the house, where they couldn’t see him, under the eaves. He saw his reflection split in the window, his grey face split in two, but when he reached his hand it was only cold dirty rain- smelling glass and peeling paint. Fifty years of dirty rain on the panes of glass.
Their mother had played dress up, of course, but she hadn’t been so old as they were now—too old for games. And she wouldn’t have torn the yellow plaid sheet. She loved that damn thing, that warm flannel thing. He’d wake her in the morning, and then he’d go back up a quarter of an hour later and she’d be out, dead to the world, content and peaceful in her flannel plaid sheet. She wouldn’t have torn that thing.
“Come down into the damn house!” He yelled to the boys, without stepping out of the shadow of the eaves. “Come down into the damn house before you catch your death!”