Sugarhouse

“Sugarhouse” was originally published in the Spring 2005 issue of Switchback.

Lex dipped his finger in the white paint can and licked it off like pudding. I sat on the roof and looked down at him in the alley with all the cans and bottles and things around. He dipped it in again. I climbed down the ladder and went over to where he was sitting on the tar mat.

‘Dad’s going to whip you one,’ I said and kicked the can, ‘eating all his good paint up.’

Lex was five and I was seven and a half. I didn’t like being outside in the summer with the flies and things buzzing around me. But Dad made us play outside so he could keep an eye on us, except he was never hardly there.

‘Give me some of that paint,’ I said and dipped my whole hand in and brought it out like a white glove. It was so smooth and milky and dripping like a thick pure white blood. I imagined that was what witch blood would look like.

I wanted to catch a witch so I could kill her.

Someday I was going to find a gingerbread house to live in. It would have a candy cane roof with frosting icicles hanging down and windows made out of gumdrops. Maybe I would let Lex live with me. If we got hungry we could take a bite off and it would grow back like a lizard tail.

Lex had a string of spit hanging off his lip. ‘You look like a retard,’ I said. I took a piece of newspaper from the pile and shoved it in his face so I wouldn’t have to see it. Lex hardly ever talked. The paint on my hand was starting to dry and crack.

I could hear the ice cream truck come, its popgoestheweasel getting louder. I put my good hand in my pocket and got the dime that I’d found that morning under a bucket, heads up. Ten wishes for me.

‘I got a lucky dime,’ I told Lex. ‘Maybe the ice cream man will give us something for it.’

I grabbed Lex’s hand forgetting about the paint and getting him all white and chalky and we ran to the ice cream truck at the end of the alley with my lucky dime.

There was a girl in front of us with a red velvety dress. I wanted to touch her with my white paint hand. She got a scoop of real ice cream on top of a cone, not even the kind you get in the tinfoil wrapper. I told the man I wanted one too, and one for my brother. I held out my dime.

It was Mr. Ben, not the normal ice cream man. He didn’t wear a paper hat either. He just looked at me. ‘You can’t buy anything for a dime,’ he said. ‘Where’s your daddy?’

I shrugged.

‘Is he home? Go see if he’s home.’

‘Then can we have an ice cream?’

Mr. Ben looked around the alley. ‘Yeah, maybe.’

The girl in the red velvety dress got halfway down the alley and I ran ahead of her behind the garbage cans where she couldn’t see me. I crouched down and when she got to me I threw out a rat in front of her and made her scream. A lady came from one of the houses and went over to the girl and hit her and picked her up and yelled a few things and went into one of the houses behind the garbage cans. I went over to where the splat was. There was her ice cream cone head fallen off and lying on the ground.

‘Come here Lex!’

Lex ran over and I grabbed a stick and we picked at the vanilla. I got my face close to the ground and licked the top. It was still cold.

‘Hey, kid!’ It was Mr. Ben calling me from the ice cream truck. I thought he was going to give me and Lex some ice cream but instead he gave me an envelope.

‘Give this to your dad,’ he said, and his eyes kept going back and forth. Then he made the truck go fast out of the alley, far away where you couldn’t hear the music jingling. He didn’t even give us an ice cream.

I thought he said it was a vanilla envelope and I went into the shade with Lex and we opened it up. There was a plastic bag inside with white powder.

‘Look Lex, sugar!’

We tore open the bag and dipped our fingers in and licked.

Then Dad’s shadow came over us looking down with a blaze in his eye. It was that same blaze as when momma did the cross thing on her and let the screen door bang for the last time.

‘What the hell––is that from Ben?’ Dad took a lick himself and then spit it out. ‘Goddamn that sonofabitchmotherfucker!’ He kicked the alley dust and paint chips flew into the sugar bag. ‘Screwed me with a fucking sugar bag!’ He kicked the fence in and hollered down the alley punching the trashcans and fences along the way.

There was still a lot of sugar left and Lex and I ate the rest of the bag and Lex even ate a few of the paint chips.

It was getting dark. I wondered if I could ever turn our alley house into gingerbread. I wanted to live in a place where it snowed sugar all day.

Lex was dripping his spit and I slapped him one. ‘Retard,’ I said, and pushed him so he fell over and started crying like a baby. ‘You stupid, stupid bitch,’ I said, ‘always slobbering all over. You ruin everything!’

I found a bottle of blue liquid where the oil and cans were. I held it up to Lex. ‘I dare you to drink it,’ I said. ‘I bet it tastes good.’ Lex kept crying like the sissy he was, but he reached for it.

I climbed up to the roof and pushed away the ladder so it smacked flat on the ground cracking like a gunshot. I counted how many wishes I had left.