Stephanie pulls me backwards by the top of my backpack as I’m walking to my grandpa. “Whoa, whoa,” says Stephanie. “You need to tell us what happened.” Joyce is there too, and she goes, “Yeah.”
It’s so pretty outside, here by the big tree next to the playground. I feel a little sick, though, when I see Stephanie shuffling in place and looking around. A bunch of other kids also are waiting for their parents or whatever, so we aren’t exactly alone but I already know what she’s going to say, and she doesn’t care at all.
“I saw that he got in trouble with Ms. DiBlasi. She even pulled him outside and I saw him crying. I can’t believe it! Your own brother.” Stephanie says it like a cackling villain, waving her pitchfork from a blown-up moon. “The whole school might know soon. So you better tell us now!” And then Joyce goes, “Yeah!”
Stephanie hunches her shoulders and uses her fingers to mime claws, opening her mouth wide in a dramatic fashion and pulling her hands in opposite directions across her gross pink shirt over her stomach. Joyce does the same. I ignore them even though I want to stomp on Joyce’s feet and pull on all three of Stephanie’s braids. I look at Gen, who is underneath the jungle gym about to open up the McDonald’s drive-through. He seems fine, honestly. There is already a line of people waiting to see him, which gives me a swell of pride in my heart. “People, people!” Gen is shouting at the crowd. “There is enough food for everyone!”
From where I stand I can see that Tevin, a black boy two grades below me and one below Gen, is the first customer at the window. I can’t hear them because Tevin has a soft, smooth voice, but they say the same thing every time anyway, so it’s almost like I totally can read their lips:
“Hey, Gen.” “Hey, Tevin!” “I want six chicken nuggets!” “You got it, buddy!”
Gen is wearing his new sneakers that we bought last weekend at the outlet on Long Island. I noticed them this morning, and right now I’m feeling the weight of my new necklace on my throat. Gen is making a big show of going to the freezer in the back of his McDonald’s, getting down on his knees and hobbling forward to be funny, stumping like a crane all the way to the cardboard box underneath the seesaw. Gen juggles six rocks out from the box — but he can’t juggle so WELL, not good, and the rocks fall to the ground on the side of him. He uses both hands to clutch the rocks to his chest for support and goes back to the jungle gym. He drops them onto this small concrete block that is usually sat on by the other kids when they use the puzzle blocks. After a moment he sets the nuggets aside to cool, fanning them with all his fingers as he makes small talk with Tevin. They talk about the same thing every time. “Say, Tev-o! How are your dinosaur bones? Find any big ones?” And then Tevin will ask him not to mention it.
Gen shrugs, takes the cooled nuggets in his palms and lifts them one at a time with his thumb and forefinger, placing them one by one into a real paper McDonald’s bag that he pulls from the pocket of his basketball shorts. He folds the top of the bag over and passes it to Tevin. Tevin fits it snug under his left arm as he angles his right elbow out towards Gen’s hand. Gen shakes Tevin’s elbow.
The way our friends gather for McDonald’s on the playground, you’d think Gen was the oldest out of all the kids here. He’s so nice too. A lot of sisters don’t like their brothers, so it already says a lot about Gen that I like him. Stephanie and Joyce stopped bothering me when they realized I wouldn’t talk to them. A few kids already left the McDonald’s line and are running around the fence by the swings. I want to play OPERATION: BAD GUYS with the girls sitting in a circle on the black rubber padding, plotting their next move underneath the big, twisting slide; girls like Jessica Wu and Rachel Marcus and Cindy I Don’t Know Her Last Name. But I don’t think they like me and besides I need to go home soon anyway. It is really beautiful outside. I hate September because school gives me such a bad feeling. But the weekend starts tomorrow, and it’s October now, and Halloween is coming soon. I’m going to be Sylvester the Cat from the Looney Tunes and Gen is going to be Tweety Bird. We’re so excited to have the best costumes on Halloween!
Grandpa, Gen, and I walk home together. We stop at the Korean supermarket so Grandpa can buy us the Haagen-Dazs chocolate-and-almond vanilla ice cream bars, which he won’t do when the weather gets colder. I’m so neat and careful with my ice cream. Gen already dropped a piece of the chocolate shell on his shirt, which Grandpa picks off with a napkin and whacks him in the forehead a little bit to punish him, to which Gen grins as he winces and slops his whole mouth over the rest of his ice cream. We’re so happy and everything is funny because it’s Friday! We run around and point out where we think we see Pokémon hiding. I tell him I see a Bulbasaur behind the Rite Aid that we pass on the way home. He finds a Pikachu in a garbage can, which I don’t believe at all.
Gen and I race on the sidewalk and crunch up the leaves under our shoes. I’m careful not to kick up dirt so I don’t get his shoes dirty. It’s purple outside when we reach the front door. The two officers from yesterday are back and waiting for us. We are all inside when they look around and find the wire cables, pulling them out from under the fish tank. The officers point at Gen. Gen’s face is turned to the floor and he won’t look at us anymore. The policemen shake their fistfuls of cable at Grandpa and yell. “NO, NO, NO! Do NOT hit your grandson! NO HIT! NO TIE UP!” One officer, starting at Gen’s ribs, bends his wrist and opens his right arm wide to loop empty circles around Gen, which get smaller the higher he goes up his torso to his head. “NO TIE UP!” They throw down the cables and pretend-beat at Gen’s legs with the air in their fists, like they are racing a horse. “NO HIT!” They do this again and again, shouting and pointing. “YES? NO! UNDERSTAND?” They keep doing it and I don’t even feel sick but I feel cold. The policemen are saying he will go to jail the next time he hits Gen. I translate this for him and Grandma, who stopped heating up a tray of chicken nuggets so she could watch. She stands in the kitchen off the living room, wearing a pink cotton apron, her thick arms hanging straight at her sides.
Grandpa goes to his room when the police leave. Gen walks in dark silence to the far side of the couch and sits down. He buckles over and starts to cry making little noises and he wipes his eyes back and forth once. I remember that it’s normal to get hit but not normal for white people to notice, so I’m afraid to feel sick and I don’t know whether to sit with Gen and hug him like they do in TV shows or if we should just move on. I see him shift his weight onto the thigh that doesn’t have all the cuts from the switch that Grandma hides in the back of the china cabinet. Grandma picked those branches with her bare hands. She bunched them together with red twine. I like it when she bites down on the string, cutting it with her teeth.
Marilyn Shi received a B.A. in Clinical Psychology from Boston College. She is a native of Queens, New York, where she currently resides with her 16-pound cat. You can find her on Twitter at @muuursh.