ANDREW F. SULLIVAN
The Rusty Toque | Fiction | Issue 2 | February 27, 2012
Dad says I’m never supposed to show no one the tattoo. They wanted my name to be Hatchetman on the birth certificate, but Grandma Hubert said no. She’s dead now like the dog and the fish and all the other stuff that dies in our house. It was her house, but now it’s our house. She couldn't say no no more. You can’t say no to cancer, Mom says. You can’t tell cancer to go nowhere. Mom says it goes wherever it damn pleases, and sometimes I get scared it’ll go for me next. People say I look the most like Grandma Hubert, even though I'm a boy. I think it’s ’cause Mom shaves my head.
Dad’s sayin’ skin is stronger than paper, stronger than any bullshit certificate. He’s sayin’ skin is durable, skin is leather, skin is what they made Grandma Hubert's couches out of—animal skin but still. He’s saying Hatchetman is a good name, a strong name, a name to be proud of, and he’s draggin’ me into a truck we bought off of Sleepy, who’s my uncle, but a fake uncle. He don’t have any blood with me, and so he don’t gotta worry ’bout the cancer like I do.
And we’re in the truck with all the bottles from the rec centre we haven’t returned yet and all the dead wasps in the bottles and all the half-dead wasps trying to crawl out of the bottles and Dad is sayin’ skin is for life, skin is a pact. He says he’s learned as much in twenty six years on this earth. The stereo is the only new thing in the truck, and it’s playin’ Dad's favourite Insane Clown Posse album, the one with the golden face on the front. I wanna pull over and pee, but the grass outside is long and yellow and filled with weeds. Dad holds my hand while he steers.
I’m lookin’ for snakes in the ditches, tryin’ not to think about peein’ or Grandma Hubert or Uncle Sleepy and his two lazy eyes. I never wanna look at them, but it’s like when you step on a bug—you got to look. And then Dad is sayin’ how Grandma Hubert’s final will was bullshit. But she wanted to live, I think. He’s still mad that I look like her. He’s still mad my name is Austin Saintclaire-Hubert on report cards, and doctor's notes, and detention slips. I never got to be called Hatchetman. He's mad, but he’s holdin’ my hand so I don't say she wanted to live. I nod and say yes, fuck Grandma Hubert and the dog and the fish and everything else that leaves me.
Dad is drivin’ with one hand and we’re off the good roads now, we’re goin to see Harmony, and we don’t need a map because I been goin’ here my whole life. All ten years. I remember the sounds of the needle and my Dad’s back turnin’ black like a cape and what cough syrup smells like. And then there is gravel under my feet and Dad’s talkin’ bout the Dark Carnival and a new album and he’s so excited. He and Mom get so excited whenever ICP comes to town. They throw dishes and smoke in the bathroom and go see Harmony for days, but they can't now cause Grandma Hubert is fifty-six and dead and who's gonna watch me and little Hurley?
Harmony is Dad’s best friend from way back in juvi, and he don’t care that he’s got a girl’s name. He is sippin’ Faygo he gets shipped in from Detroit, but it smells like he puts paint in it. He asks me if I ever heard of Johnny Cash, the first unofficial Juggalo, author of “A Boy Named Sue” and I say no and he laughs. I feel bad for the teeth he’s got left. They gotta be lonely.
I was born a Juggalo and I will die a Juggalo, Mom says. I seen ’em throwin’ dirt on Grandma’s Styrofoam coffin, I seen what dyin’ is, and I don’t think it matters one way or ’nother if I'm a Juggalo or not. No matter how many times I paint my face or go to the Gathering or get righteous with some mainstream faggots, I know I’ll still end up in Styrofoam under all that dirt.
And Harmony says it’s time for my first tattoo now that Grandma Hubert is gone—fuck that old cow, right Hatchetman? And no one calls me Austin at home. They all call me Hatchetman. I got named after the logo they put on all those Psychopathic Records—the logo you see tattooed on knuckles and tits and shoulders when summer comes around. That's their mascot—the Hatchetman. It’s hot and Dad is lifting my shirt, but Harmony is pointing at my neck. How about there, right there, let’s put it there instead. His lonely teeth shake when he laughs.
Skin is a pact. Blood is a pact. Me and little Hurley are in a pact for life and she’s only five. She doesn’t know about keggers or five am police calls or what Mom's puke smells like. She doesn't know I’m here right now on Harmony’s stupid porch. Only things she knows are she’ll die if she eats peanut butter and Mom and Dad love to paint their faces on weekends.
Dad is sayin’ I don't know, I don't know, and Harmony is laughing. We’re on the porch, and it’s startin’ to rain out there on all the yellow grass and the weeds and the hidden snakes. Come on, don’t be a bitch, you hide your tatts at the factory, let the boy be a man. Let him be a real Hatchetman, a real psycho clown for once, and Dad is nodding okay, okay, go ahead and Harmony claps his hands together like thunder, but it's just rain out there.
The needle is sharp and hot on my neck and I’m not crying yet. I’m thinking about that dog and the fish and Grandma Hubert and what dirt tastes like. Dad is saying he doesn’t like the blood, too much blood, and Harmony is singing his favourite ICP song under his breath. And I don't wanna feel the needle so I stay still and watch the rain outside the porch, watch the wasps drownin’ in their bottles, the snakes suffocatin’ in their ditches, all things just falling apart.
They're writing Hatchetman onto my neck in blue ink. I can feel the letters growin’, and I don’t wanna cry. They’re on the letter “c” and the rain is still comin’ down and I still gotta pee and Harmony is humming, humming out all the hate he has inside, and my Dad is smiling at me. He’s smiling and he’s so happy and I know my neck don’t say Hatchetman. I know it don’t say that. It can’t. I can see it in his face.
Even dead Grandma Hubert knows all he’s trying to say is “I love you.”
ANDREW F. SULLIVAN was born in Peterborough, Ontario. He has an MA in English in the Field of Creative Writing from the University of Toronto. Sullivan’s fiction has recently been published by Little Fiction, Joyland: a hub for short fiction, Dragnet Magazine, and Riddle Fence. Website: afsullivan.blogspot.com