Joyland

Toronto |

Lisbon

by Nicole Chin

edited by Kathryn Mockler

I have ten seconds. Or at least that’s what it seems like. I reach for my backpack, but it's far off on the other side of me. It’s too late and it’s bone against bone.

The punch doesn't hurt nearly as much as I thought it would. It turns out Mark Lawson has fat, squishy hands.

“Fuck you, Lisbon!” Mark yells at me. I sit up and rub the side of my face. Who the fuck names a kid ‘Lisbon’, anyway?

“It’s a beautiful name for a boy,” my mom had told me. “Don’t you love the sound of it?”

My grandma ended up telling me exactly what kind of person names a kid ‘Lisbon’: a twenty- something-year-old who had just given birth to the love child of some music festival smack down of bumping uglies.

When our family first moved to Murville four years ago when I was ten, my homeroom teacher had trouble comprehending exactly what was going on with my name.

“Lisbon,” I had said. She perked up her thin, little eyebrows, adjusted her glasses and bent down to me.

“No, no, sweetie,” she said, “I asked you what's your name, not where you’re from!”

“I know,” I said, “it’s Lisbon. My name is Lisbon.”

“Oh,” she said slowly. She grabbed her attendance folder and looked at it to check if I was pulling her leg. Then she asked, “Are you from Portugal?”

Thanks, Mom.

“Yeah, you cock sucker!” Mark yells. He horks onto my face and then turns back down the street. His spit smells like pizza or something. I wipe my face with my sleeve and then pull on my backpack.

When I get home Kit is sitting on the steps with a limp yo-yo hanging off of her hand. She has a strawberry fruit roll up wound around her pinky finger like a chunky red band-aid and she’s wearing some yellow dress my mom bought, but it looks weird on her. It looks stiff. Like it’s been lying flat somewhere for too long.

When Kit spots me she gets up and runs over to me, tossing the yo-yo on the lawn.

Guten Tag, gangsta,” she says.

“Kit,” I say, “you can’t say stuff like that.”

“Why not?” she says. I don’t say anything and go up the steps of the porch. Kit follows me and runs in front of me. She has something blue on her cheek, but I don’t bother asking her what it is. Kit points at my face, “Nice shiner, Bruder.”

“Why are you speaking German?” I ask. “Where’s Mom?”

Kit shrugs her shoulders and then sits back on the steps, “I dunno, I think she went to get groceries.”

I toss my backpack on the porch and sit next to her. Kit eats her fruit roll up.

“So who picked you up from school?” I ask.

“Grandma,” Kit says. “In unser haus!”

“Kit, can you talk normally.”

“I am!”

“No, you’re not,” I say. “Nine-year-olds don’t talk like that.”

When I go in, Grandma’s sitting at the kitchen table asleep with her mouth open and the Home Shopping Network on. I open the fridge to get a drink and she wakes up. She takes her glasses off, rubs her face with two hands and then puts them back on.

“Oh, Lisbon,” she says.

“Hi, Grandma.” I say.

I sit across from her and she turns off the television.

“Is your face all right?” she asks. She gestures to my eye. I nod as I drink. She asks me to give her a facecloth, so I grab her one from the linen closet. She runs it under the kitchen tap and wrings it out. Then she takes off her glasses and lays the cloth on her face.

“Do you want me to fix you a snack?” she says from under the facecloth.

“No,” I say, “I’m okay.”

I finish my juice and Grandma takes the cloth off her face and looks at me with a smile. She puts her glasses back on. Her lashes go flick-flick behind the lenses. She’s got the kind of glasses that magnify your eyes. Sometimes I can’t look at her for too long because her eyes look too big. You can just see too much. Or you feel like she can see too much.

After a while she turns the television back on, watching two ladies talk excitedly about the value of Barack Obama collector’s china plates.

“Oh, how darling,” Grandma says as I leave.

 

*

After dinner I practice dribbling my soccer ball on the street while Kit sits on the curb and watches. She’s been trying to join in for a while.

“Come on, Kumpel,” she says, “let’s play one on one!”

So we do that for a while, but she gets peeved because I don’t really give her a chance. Kit isn’t very athletic. 

When Mom gets home it’s already dark. She comes up the walkway in a bright yellow toque, carrying a cardboard box.

“Hello, darlings,” she says. She looks at my eye and then says, “Should I ask?”

"I got punched in the face," I say.

"Oh no, Lisbon. Honey, you've got to stop getting yourself beat up. There are popsicles in the freezer if you want to ice your face."

 Kit gets up off the curb, runs up to her, and looks in the box.

“Those are ‘Hunter’,” Kit says when she sees what’s inside.

“Oh, is that making a comeback?” my mom asks as she sets the box down on the driveway. For a while Kit used to use our last name as a verb and an adjective. She’d say things like “Let’s ‘Hunter’ on out,” and “Your sweater is real ‘Hunter’”. I told her it didn’t work that way, but it just made her start to use our last name as an adverb: “You’re acting too ‘Hunterly’”.

We go inside and my mom empties the contents of the box. My mom pulls out a carton of milk, some ice cream, jellybeans, and a box of Froot Loops. Kit’s hands gravitate to the bag of jellybeans. Then from the box my mom takes out two snow globes.

“Oh, you found more?” Grandma says. One of them has a decapitated Elvis inside of it, one of his arms lies on the bottom of the snow globe. Kit shakes it really hard, and we watch as the arm crashes against Elvis’ head as it snows.

The other snow globe features a family of penguins with poorly painted faces and an over enthusiastic polar bear with his paws in the air.

“I like this one,” Kit says, peering at the penguins. My mom smiles. She puts on the kettle and looks over to the windowsill in the kitchen. She puts the penguin-polar bear snow globe in the center between the other globes and then looks down to Kit.

“‘Hunter’,” Kit says with a nod of approval and gives a thumbs up.

 

*

The next morning when I get to school, Mark Lawson is waiting at the fence near my locker.

“Hey Lisbian,” Mark says. I don’t have to pretend I don’t know what’s going to happen next. This time, Mark’s spit smells like chocolate milk.

 

*

I would like to say that my mother has an unhealthy obsession with snow globes but that would probably be a stretch. It’s not like they’re taking over the house or that kind of thing. There’s just a whole lot of them around.

I don’t remember when it started, maybe sometime around when Kit was born or when my mother got the postcard from my dad explaining that he had decided he really needed to be one with nature and had gone to the Yukon. I remember playing ‘Yukon Trail’ on the computer with Kit jammed in the seat next to me. There’s a part in the game where you’re in Dawson City or something like that and you get scammed into gambling with that “Find the Golden Nugget” game. I imagined my father was probably there without any money because he could never find the golden nugget and that’s why he was still gone. Kit was always the one who wanted to gamble with our money on ‘Yukon Trail’.

When Kit was a lot younger, she asked my mom if there was a lot of snow in the Yukon.

“I don’t know,” my mom said.

“Is that the closest place to the North Pole?”

“No, the North Pole is the closest place the North Pole,” my mom said.

“No, but in Canada, is the Yukon the closest place?”

“Sure,” my mom said.

Kit used to suck her hair a lot around that age too, which freaked my mom out because she thought Kit would stuff too much in her mouth or something and choke to death. Most kids sucked their thumb, Kit sucked chunks of her hair.

 

*

Sometimes on Saturdays Kit and I go hang out at Grandma's for part of the afternoon. Sometimes I bring homework, and I do it in the living room while Kit watches television. Most afternoons we just help Grandma out with chores. That usually means cleaning the tops of shelves that she can't reach or polishing silverware for her while she lets Kit investigate the contents of her jewelry box.

It's the weekend, and we're just coming back from helping Grandma with her spring cleaning. Kit is running down the sidewalk, jumping over and around the giant cracks in the cement. Kit has an old moth-eaten cardigan tied around her neck like a cape. While we were helping Grandma clean her attic, we found some old ratty clothes and a collection of old teddy bears. Kit decided to adopt them all, so I offered to carry the box back home for her.

“How are my bear-children?” Kit calls back to me as she makes a giant leap over a decrepit looking part of the sidewalk.

“Fine,” I say, shifting the box in my arms.

Wunderbar!”

When we get home, my mom's car is in the driveway. When we get inside Kit jumps into the front hall with her hands on her hips. I can't see my mom anywhere.

“Mom?” I say. I put the box of teddy bears down, and we look around the house for her. I poke my head into the living room, and Kit runs down the hall to the bedroom.

“Hey! She's h ...” Kit stops, and I turn my head towards her.

When I get to the bedroom, Kit is standing next the bed, where my mom is lying down with her back to us. There's a bunch of balled up tissues on the comforter.

“Mom?” Kit says. Kit climbs onto the bed and curls up next to my mom, putting both hands on my mom's back.

“Mom,” Kit repeats. I sit down on the bed too. After a while my mom rolls over and sits up.

“Oh, hello,” she says softly. Her face is splotchy and her eyes are red. Kit rolls onto her back and looks up at my mom.

“Go play outside for a little bit,” my mom says. “I just need some alone time."

I get up to go, but Kit doesn't move at first. She just lies there with her hair sprawled out and the cardigan-cape bunched up under her neck.

“Kit,” I say.

My mom gives Kit a smile and pats her head, but Kit doesn't move.

“I'm fine,” my mom gives Kit a thumbs up. Then she says, “I bought some more gummy worms for us. They're in the kitchen cupboard.”

“Okay,” Kit says. Kit does a barrel roll off the bed and lands on her feet. Then she takes off her cardigan cape and ties it around my mom's shoulders. I follow Kit out as she runs to the kitchen and climbs on top of the kitchen counter to get the package of gummy worms from the cupboard. When we go outside, Kit decides to lie on the grass in the front yard, with her head in the flowerbed while she eats the gummy worms. After a while, she speaks up.

“I feel like an ant!” she says. “Come lie down! It's Fantastich.”

I tell her no and to get up because it's dirty.

“No,” she says from within the dead flowers. She stays in there for another fifteen minutes and finishes half the package of gummy worms. 

 

*

Sometimes Kit plays a game where she tries to shake all the snow globes in the living room so they snow all together, simultaneously like a choir. After a while she usually gets frustrated because she isn’t fast enough. Sometimes if I’m not doing anything too important, I’ll help her for a while.

If she’s doing it alone, it’ll only last for fifteen minutes, maybe twenty tops. But when I’m a part of it, it becomes pretty theatrical. Kit starts screaming “Schnell! Schnell!” from across the room and bouncing on the sofa shaking a snow globe in each hand, even though I know we’ll never get them all no matter how fast we go.

“One day,” Kit said to me one time after we had spent over an hour trying over and over to get all the snow globes. She was lying on the ground of the living room, one hand draped over her eyes and the other clutching a juice box.

“One day, it’ll happen,” she said.

 

*

“Hey,” Kit says in a whisper, “check out that big black man.”

It’s Sunday and we’re sitting on the porch eating popsicles. She uses hers to point to a man walking down the street.

“Kit, you can’t say stuff like that.”

“What do I say then?”

“African-American.”

“We live in Canada,” Kit says. I don’t say anything to her because I don’t really know what to say. Then Kit goes, “Hey, check out that big African-Canadian man.”

“That doesn’t sound right either,” I say.

I finish my popsicle and toss the stick into the bushes.

The man is looking at a paper in his hand and then looking back to all the houses. He has short dreadlocks in his hair, and he’s carrying one of those 20-litre backpacks with a sleeping bag tied underneath. He turns his head towards our house, and Kit waves.

“Kit, what the are you doing?” I say.

“Gruß!” Kit screams. The man stares at Kit.

“That means salutations,” she explains as she walks towards him. I get up and run after Kit. I reach out my arm and grab her shoulder and pull her back. She lets out a yelp. I put my hands on her shoulders as the man walks up our walkway.

“Hey!” she says as she claws at my hands.

“Hello,” the man says, “does Vivian Thomson or Vivian Hunter live here?”

“Who’s asking?” I say. When he doesn't say anything, I turn back to the house and call for my mom.

The man takes off his backpack and peers at our house.

“Sure looks like the same place,” he says, but I’m not really sure who he’s talking to.

“Vivian Hunter lives here!” Kit says. She’s wrangled free of my grip and is walking up to the guy’s backpack to look at it.

“Oh, great!” The guy grabs his backpack and puts it on, turning towards the direction of our house.

“Hey!” I say, “Where are you going?”

“What ... I ...” The guy starts unfolding the piece of paper in his hand and that’s when my mom appears.

“Oh ...” she says. The guy looks up at her. My mom’s mouth is in a straight line.

“Mom, this guy knows you!” Kit says. My mom doesn’t say anything, and the guy starts walking up the stairs. He outstretches his hand and says, “Hello, Vivian.”

My mom doesn’t say anything at first. She just stares at his hand and then back at Kit and I. Then she takes his hand and brings it close to her chest.

“I thought I heard your voice,” she says with a small laugh. I look at Kit to give her a dirty look, but she ignores me and gives me a big smile.

 

*

“That can’t be him,” I say. My mom looks at me, as if she’s seriously considering what I’m saying and doesn’t actually know for sure if it is him. She cocks her head and watches as the guy examines the dead plant life we have hanging out in our flowerbeds.

“Hmm.” she says.

“I thought I met Dad when I was ten. Before we moved? He had red hair ... a beard? He stayed with us and slept in your bed.”

“Did I tell you that was your dad?”

I nod, and my mom lifts her mug of sweet tea to her lips.

“Huh,” my mom presses her mug of tea to the side of her face, “that wasn’t your dad.”

“Then why did you tell me it was?”

“I don’t know ... must have said it to shut you up.”

My mom turns back to the kitchen, and I follow her.

“This can’t be him though,” I say. I gesture to my face and Kit’s freckled skin, “Look at me, look at Kit.”

“No,” she says.

“That’s what I’m saying!” I say, raising my hand to point to Kit in the living room.

“No, I mean,” she says, looking up from her crossword, “that’s definitely him.”

I don’t say anything for a while.

“But then who was that guy with the red hair and the beard?” I ask.

“Oh,” my mom laughs, “that was just my friend George.”

“But then you were pregnant with Kit?” I say.

“Well,” she says squinting her eyes, “I know he’s your father.”

“Does that mean I’m an albino?” I say.

“No,” she says, “don’t be ridiculous.”

My mom turns around and sets her mug on the kitchen counter and wipes her hands on her jeans.

She smiles, “Well, I’m going to make up the guest bedroom.”

I look over to the living room. Kit is sitting with her legs propped up, leaning back in the recliner like an old man with “Wheel...of...fortune!” on in the background. She looks at me and gives me a thumbs up.

 

*

I’m sitting at the kitchen table after school with the box clementines I bought for myself on my way home. I'm about to eat one when the guy comes in and sits next to me. He’s been staying in our house for about a week now. I don’t know what he does when I’m at school, but whenever I come home he’s there, sitting on our couch or eating something out of the fridge, whether or not my mom is home too. I asked my mom earlier when he was leaving, and she was all very zen about it.

“When his time is ready,” she said. I told her his time was ready now.

“Hey,” he says. His eyes are red and his eyelids are droopy. He sits down in front of me real slow and then lets out a really long breath. Then he inhales, equally as long. And then again.

I don’t say anything back. I just reach into my box of clementines on the table and take out another.

“Oh man,” he says. He licks his lips and widens his eyes, smiling in this goofy way as he leans back, “Yum.”

He takes one and starts peeling it. I watch him eat them really slow. He closes his eyes and rolls his head back.

“Unnngghhhh ...” he says.

“Uh huh,” I say. I put the rest of the box of clementines under my chair. I wonder where my mom is.

We eat our clementines, and then he says something weird.

“Do you play Tetris a lot?”

“What?” I say.

“You know, Tetris?” He lifts both his hands up and spreads his fingers out, moving them and his head back and forth. He hums the Tetris theme song.

“Yah, I play it.” I say.

“Yah,” he says, “that is a good game. You know, I used to be great at it. Like really amazing, awesome, great. High score!”

“Wow,” I say.

“Yah. But you know, I didn’t used to always be amazing. You know. I was bad. Like really bad. Like I didn’t know what the fuck was going on ... shit was just raining down. But you know, I realized that the second that you start getting good is when you start looking ahead. You live in the present moment, but you look ahead at what’s coming. That’s like life ... you know what I mean?”

I say yes, but I don’t really know what he means. Who the talks like that? It’s Tetris, not a spiritual awakening.

 

*

When I get home from school the guy is smoking a cigarette outside. He’s sitting on the front steps, a bag of licorice laid out on his leg, one of his arms resting on it. 

He butts out his cigarette when he sees me coming up the walkway and slips it into his pocket. He blows the smoke from his mouth over his shoulder and then gestures to Kit who’s jumping rope with two Twizzlers hanging out of her mouth, smacking her in the face.

“Kit’s a cool kid,” he says.

“Yeah,” I say.

“Hey, come sit,” he pats the spot next to him. I lean against the porch railing instead and watch

Kit takes one of the Twizzlers out of her mouth to stick into her pocket.

“So, you met my mom at a musical festival?” I say.

The guy looks up at me, “Huh?”

“That’s where my mom said you met her,” I say.

“What? Oh ... well no, that’s not where I met her. That’s where I ran into her a year after I met her.”

He rubs his face with his hand and laughs. Then he picks up the bag of licorice and extends it to me, “You want some?”

When I look down, I notice his tattoo. It’s a really, really stupid kind of tattoo to have. I wouldn’t have known what it was if I hadn’t just had my quiz on country flags in Geography. But whatever, it was there. A stupid flag of Portugal. At least I’m pretty sure it was.

I don’t take any Twizzlers, but I decide to sit down next to him anyway. I feel like it's my duty in the family to be the only one who doesn't consume high volumes of sugar on a daily basis. The flag goes back to lying flat against the guy’s leg, and we watch Kit jump rope for a while.