Vignettes Regarding the Artwork of Brendon Kotes
There are some kids who, finding out their parents think a certain way, latch on to it like glue. Faith, politics, morals. Just the tip of the iceberg, those are. Entire families create dynasties in this way…or at least a locally owned gas station chain.
Then there are other kids, the kind who, upon finding out a parent’s belief, will run like hell the opposite way. Called “contrary.” “Difficult.” Or, Casey’s favorite: “wild.”
So when Casey’s father began his ranting on about Taylor L. being a cheap-ass mother-fucker who wouldn’t know his fender from his tranny if they both hit him upside the head, well, Casey took that as permission to get to know the newly minted drag winner. He’d tag along, on the outskirts of that circle, perched on the tailgate of someone else’s truck, elbows on knees as he listened and laughed and talked shop with young men twice his age and just as reckless.
Brendon found out later—much later—that Taylor L. had been only twenty-one during that first race. Messed up nose from too many boys-will-be-boys neighborhood brawls. Crooked teeth, not because his parents didn’t have dental, but because they just kept “forgetting” to go to checkups. Hair to his shoulders, dark and wavy and full, yet pulled back into a tight bun the moment things got serious.
And things were always serious during midnight hour, illegal races down Ol’ North Main.
At least according to Casey.
Taylor L. made a name for himself that summer. By that autumn he was dodging mentions at the police station because his uncle was a cop and so was grand-daddy. Mom was a bit of a black sheep, marrying outside the lines, so to speak. But all that, that was all third-hand, Casey over-hearing during meet-ups and races as he hovered on the outside of that inner circle and repeating things back to Brendon with this breathless excitement that made his eyes shine even in the dark of the porch as they chatted after homework (the rule at Brendon’s—who knew when Casey got his done).
“Spliced a tenth off his time on the quarter strip over on the Willows Dip. Hitting it like clockwork, so close you’ll be breathing through your teeth thinking he might drop under. Like a wrecking ball, blasting through old timers like the wrinkled has-beens they are.” Casey laughed, a cackle that cracked with the burgeoning of puberty. “Can’t gain an ounce and he always wears the same clothes just in case the weight of a jacket might mess things up here come the wretched cold.”
Brendon made a hum of acknowledgement, as he’d done all evening. Outside the porch, where the bird feeder leaned and the leaves grew sodden under the drizzle, the world held a quiet in its arms. A chill inched up the steps, threatening to freeze the light shining down from the living room window.
“What you working on there?”
Brendon paused. The paper felt wet, though it wasn’t, like the rain had seeped into the veins of the sketchbook. “Just something for school.”
“Wexlar giving you grief again?”
He shrugged. “Have to do a habitat, but for a person.”
Casey snorted. “Science for art, what?”
“Something like that.”
“Come out again with us. Becks will drive next Friday. Not sure where the race will be, but Taylor L. is going to be ripping up wherever it is.”
“Driving your dad crazy more.”
“He’s not so stupid to bet against Taylor L. again.” Casey winked, the shadow of his lashes skittering over his cheek. “But I’ve made a few bucks.”
“Where’s the race at?” Brendon looked over his shoulder, though the front door remained shut.
“Not sure yet. But it’ll be big. Last hurrah of autumn, you know. You’ve got to come.”
“Shh. My mom might hear.” Brendon bit his lip. Flicked his pencil between his fingers, then rubbed at the graphite smudges along the side of his palm. “I don’t know. I got punished last time they found out.”
Casey made a dismissive sound. “Well worth it.”
“Easy for you to say. Your dad doesn’t care where you are. He never cares.”
A flash of anger whipped across Casey’s face, cleared, then settled back against his brow, doubling down. “That’s fucked up. My dad cares about me.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
Whatever. Whatever. The word so filled with emotion, yet desperately striving to claw free of feeling, become the epitome of apathy. Yet always failing. Whatever.
Brendon drew the word in bubble letters, then again inside, and again, and again. Whatever.
He didn’t end up going. Because…whatever.
Taylor L. won and celebrated at a friend’s town house where the booze ran free and an opportunistic dealer swept through like a whirlwind of good tidings. The bathroom fan whined in supplication, the handle on one of the kitchen cupboards was missing, and the smaller of the upstairs bedrooms boasted a sheet as a curtain. Or so said Casey.
When Brendon asked how the party was truly, the answer was, predictably: “Whatever.”