Photography by Unsplash
By: Taye Alvis
If your aunt pointed the bunny ears at just the right angle the big box television would pick up Channel-7 in Detroit. Every Saturday night they showed a horror movie marathon, Scream Theatre is what they called it, and you waited anxiously so you could gather with your cousins to watch cheesy slasher flicks while your parents - along with your aunties and uncles - went out to shoot pool and drink cheap malty beer. One Saturday night, it must’ve been late October because the leaves had started to fall, your mother kissed you goodbye leaving behind the sweet, spoiled stench of yeast from her “road beer” speckled on your cheek. You ran to the living room window to watch the red taillights retreat further into the bush, weaving in and out of trees until finally turning out onto the road and disappearing completely.
Your cousins were on the ground, piled in a mass of body parts like a litter of kittens, toppling over one another and gathered around the wood stove that sat in the middle of the room. That stove obscured part of the television but it was the only defense against the cold draft coming from outside, and you always hated having to choose between a good seat and staying warm. There was only one piece of furniture in the entire house and your eldest cousin, Dexter, was occupying it. The big chair was the best seat in the living room. In fact it was the only seat. A beat up old recliner, stained with sauce and dog drool and covered in old fur left behind from your aunt’s mastiff; you hated that dog but you loved that chair. You only got to sit in it on a few occasions, usually when Dexter was out hunting on Sunday mornings and you stayed behind, watching cartoons while your mother slept off her hangover.
“I’m the oldest” was always the excuse he gave you, while you and your cousins lay huddled on the floor and he sat there above you, towering over the oven, giving him the perfect view of the television without being deprived of warmth. You decided you had enough, you were tired of fighting over the best spot in the dog pile knowing full well that there was an infinitely better option dangling above you.
You leapt to your feet and stomped over to the side of the recliner. “You keep the big chair all to yourself. Must think you’re pretty special, don’tcha?” you demanded, but Dexter didn’t budge. “The least you could do is share...”
Dexter looked up from the screen and answered, “You don’t hunt. You don’t put no food on the table. Why should you have it?” he countered.
The words stung and you stung right back, “Well…at least I don’t have to hunt, I can focus on other things. I can go off to school and make something of myself then I won’t be stuck here, tired and doing the same damn thing everyday! I have a choice, unlike you...”
Already you wished you could take the words back. Dexter's eyes started to well up and before a tear could escape he was already out of the chair and headed to the bedroom. You heard the door slam and with it the room was knocked silent. You turned to see all of your cousins looking up at you; some varsity jock was being murdered on screen. You took a seat in the chair and everyone returned to the movie, not a word to be said.
Some time passed and you hoped Dexter would return, but of course he didn’t, too embarrassed to come out. Well, he deserves it, you told yourself. Dexter was destined to be a hunter, the fates decided that when he was the first born. You felt guilty for what you said but he can live with it for one night. You sat atop that cow skin throne but something was different, it felt cold. The warm waves of heat came shooting out of the oven, but it hardly reached your toes, let alone your legs. Part of you wanted to return to the pile, that loving mess of body parts, but there’s no way you could give up your spot, not after what it took to obtain it.
The marathon continued but most of your family had fallen asleep. It was just after midnight and your parents would not return for at least a few more hours. You tried to doze off but you couldn’t, your bladder swelled and your bottom tightened and your body just wouldn’t let you sleep. The outhouse was just outside past the barn...and the mastiff. You went out to take a look and a strong gust of wind nearly knocked you off your feet. The screen door slammed against the side of the house and cracked against the wood panelling. Ahhwoooooooooooo. The mastiff howled at the moon. The silver light reflected in his collar and you could see him pacing back and forth, salivating at the mouth, his sharp teeth sticking out like shards of glass.
“What are you doing?” the voice came from behind and you jumped, nearly wetting yourself right then and there. You looked up, relieved to see it was Dexter.
“I have to go but that damn dog is in the way!” you answered with shame, pain radiating from your face.
Dexter could see your desperation. “C’mon, scaredy pants...” he chuckled.
He opened the front door for you and extended his hand. You grabbed hold of it, scared to let go. It was warm.