"You papa, he tell me sit here whit you. He say you watch, I supervise sumuvation."
Little Jack looked over his shoulder at the beady-eyed little man with the Errol Flynn mustache and rag-mop hair whod entered his bedroom without knocking. Nobody but Yuri Prokrefkin would do that.
"What?" said the boy, swiveling around in his chair.
His mid-sized telewindow, now at his back, was tuned to a grimy street scene of open cigarette smoking and liquor consumption by shabbily-dressed white people who, by all appearances, were not licensed to drink. Some were too young. Some had the pallor of advancing illness. Others were behaving violently. All showed signs of intoxication. The ambient sound of a womans voice spoke of disposal zones and New Economic Zones as interchangeable words as the scene shifted to tough looking, shabbily dressed African-American boys on a street corner. They were also smoking and drinking.
Yuri stood akimbo just inside the door, attempting, in Jack Jr.s estimation, to assume an air of authority in his gray, updated version of a traditional butlers tuxedo with pinstripes and tails. The only things missing from what a formally attired man-servant in the 1920s might have looked like were a wide striped tie, a high white collar turned back at the tips, and spats. When Jack Jr. looked at the man with his undraped shoes and flat, open collar, he saw the wide tie, the high collar and the spats, anyway.
"You hear what I saying," scolded Yuri, pointing at the boy. "You need hear what father say to me." He pointed to himself. Then he pointed to the telewindow. "He say I watch with Little Jack, sumuvation."
Yuri snorted, his small blue eyes flashing out of affected angry slits.
"I got most of it," said the boy, turning down the ambient sound of the T-window program, "but what the heck is a sumuvation."
Yuri took a couple of steps into the room and gestured with his entire body as he spoke, "Sumuvation! Like when lawyer, he say jury one thing. Other lawyer say no, no, novery strong."
"Oh," said Jack Jr., "you mean summation."
The man with the rag-mop hair paused to ponder the new word. It didnt sound right to him. He was sure the boy had missed a syllable. He shook his head. "No. Blue Monday. Your father saying, Yuri supervise Little Jack watching sumusumwatching lawyers argue last thing before jury decide they going to" He made a motion with one hand like he was stretching something out, and held up the other with a smile as if clutching an instrument of some kind he was about to hack away with.
Jack Jr. turned his head away and covered his eyes with one hand and his crotch with the other. "I got it. Please dont say anymore about that. Please." It was too late. The image had tattooed itself to his brain cells. He had already felt the pain and the horror of the cut. More nightmares tonight, he thought ruefully, shaking the chill of horror from his shoulders and rubbing his hands together nervously in his lap.
With a tilt of his head, he offered the man in the pinstriped suit with tales the only other chair in the room.
Yuri reached back to close the door.
"No," said, Jack Jr., "leave it open. Its a house rule." That I just made up, he thought. "And by the way, Id appreciate it youd call me Jack, when my father isnt around. Im not that little anymore."
The boys in the T-window were all armed with knives or guns or both and all of the older ones sported necklaces with gleaming, white, miniature skulls. The narrator was explaining that the decorative skulls were made in the DZs from the real thing. Licensed dispensers of weapons and drugs on street corners in every DZ neighborhood, pulverized the bone, bleached it, and stirred the bleached power into resin for casting. They cost as much as a fine suit of clothes and were presented by gang members as awards to boys with confirmed enemy kills. The proliferation of the little skulls and the dearth of fine suits attested to their relative value in the gangs.
Yuri melted into the cushy leather seat as though it was the most luxurious thing hed ever experienced. "Yeah, keed, whatever you say."
Even when all the words and grammar were correct, as in this rare instance, the accent was so pronounced that it sounded to Jack as though he were speaking Russian, or something mighty close to it. Yuri may have fooled his father, with his ignorant peasant act, but he didnt fool him or the other servants for a minute. The guy was up to something shady and he was as ruthless and clever as he needed to be to get it. The only real thing about him was his on-going wrestling match with the English language.
Jack Jr. saw that Yuri had won his fathers trust on the basis of a hard-working Eastern-European stereotype currently in vogue in the media, and the old stereotype of white superiority over blacks. There was nothing subtle about it. In fact, a subtler approach would not have worked with Jack Sr. Like any modern Presidential candidate, he could process ideas only the way the media did; in quick, crude, large, familiar chunks with a high visual content.
Jack Jr.s mother would have seen the truth about the butlers apprentice as easily as he had. She would have seen what a con man he was and never let him through the gates of the Fleetwood estate. Oh, how he missed his mother.
According to a rumor circulating among the help, she was awake and talking to Dr. Gieldgood and his father. He wanted to believe it, but it had been hours since hed heard it from the cook, whose luscious body and melodious Georgian accent was the prime source of many illegal soaping sessions in his shower. Moreover, she was the only female he knew, other than his mother, that he trusted with a knife in her hand. With no word yet from the old man to confirm it, he didnt know what to believe. The father he used to know would have told him if it were true. The man now wearing his fathers face and answering to his name could be trusted only to do what he thought would win friends and influence voters on the six oclock news.
"What you watching here?" asked Yuri, grinning broadly, with child-like wonder at the magnificence of the big telewindow in the huge, well appointed room. His own room was a quarter the size of this, maybe smaller. One thing was for sure, the boys T-window would never fit on any of its walls. "Ah!" he exclaimed before the boy could answer him, "Niggers."
"Its a show called God."
"I know dat one. Day not showing heem now but it have dis nigger man who all da time is having da sex whit da white women."
"I dont know about that," said Jack, flashing on an image of Blue and his mother in a naked embrace, and flaying himself for what he saw.
"I do. I got proof! You want see for yourself? Maybe showing to your friends? Make Little Jack very popular, believe me." Yuri winked, "Yuri know."
Let me get this straight, thought the boy, looking at the man with an expression that should have reveled what he was thinking. My father, the attorney general, sent you to my bedroom to supervise me in the viewing of an anti-obscenity trial instigated by himand you want to peddle dirty pictures to me to show to my under-aged friends?
"You dont believe I got? You think I want money? No. You good looking boy"
Jack reared back in his chair as though hed seen a cobra flaring its hood in his face. Already struck speechless by the mans criminal offer to show him pornographic material, this latest twist in the hard-working immigrants entrepreneurial scheme, did little to help him find his voice.
Yuri looked puzzled, then shocked, putting his hands out in front of him as if to brace himself for a hard fall.
"No, no, no! No! Is not what you thinking! I know you are liking da girls. Me also. I see how you watch da pretty colored lady who do da cooking when you dont think nobody looking at you see her. I see plenty, you dont think I see. I know young, good looking boy like you know plenty young good looking girls, yes? Girls wanna be women? Maybe they looking for good time and chance to make big money that dont belong momma and papa?"
Jeeze! thought Jack incredulously. All this guy needs is a big red nose and a daisy that squirts water. His heart went out to all Eastern Europeans who would be represented by this man in some peoples minds.
As Yuris small, quick eyes charted Jacks features, his face went through several transformations that began with hopeful anticipation and ended with stark fear of a ruinous miscalculation. Beads of sweat popped out of his forehead and trickled down the end of his sharp nose. He swallowed hard, his lower lip quivering, and he tried to smile.
"You think I serious? Ha! Where sense humor...No. I take back. Not your fault. All my fault. No speak American so good. Yuri try make joke. Make very heavy balloon instead."
Jack didnt want to add his real laughter to Yuris shaky facsimile of a laugh, but it sprang from him like the sweat on the mans forehead. He laughed freely and honestly, doubling-up and clutching his sides. Yuri Prokrefkins "very heavy balloon" was a joke. To Jack, a very funny one.
Whatever threat this pathetic man had been to impressionable young teens, he no longer was. Jack could see to that with a few well-chosen words. Yuri was crude and unscrupulous and he had made a serious misjudgment of character, but he wasnt stupid. Had he known Jack Sr. before his involvement in STOPIT, or, had he known his wife, he wouldnt have assumed that hypocrisy was the norm in the Fleetwood household and corruption was a family trait. Jack Jr. had no trouble understanding why he did make those assumptions. In a fairly direct way his father was as responsible for his ambitious new man-servants proposition as the man himself.
Yuri lifted his eyebrows, "Yuri make good joke after all, huh?"
"Yeah," said Jack, straightening up and wiping a tear from his eye. "Yuri make great joke."
The butlers apprentice wasnt quite ready to relax. He looked around as though a way out of the hole hed dug for himself might be found behind a piece of furniture or beneath a rug. Everywhere he looked he saw wealth. "Ah, how you papa having all dis?"
"All of what?" asked Jack, trying to watch the program and get something out of it.
Yuri spread his arms, "Dis!"
Jack shrugged. "My grandfather. He had his hands in a little bit of everything. Schools, hospitals, prisons, seven millimeter bullet casings, stores like that." He pointed to the corner store in the T-window.
"I see," said Yuri.
"I believe you do," said Jack.
"You thinking maybe we better watch court thing now?"
Jack didnt want to think about it. His girl cousins and a lot of girls he knew at school laughed when they talked about the Monday case. They laughed about the "procedure" his father wanted to impose on men who did the things that Monday and Yuri didand, perhaps on boys who used the shower the way he did. It was not an abstract philosophical issue to him any more than it was to Blue Monday. Under the law, he could be imprisoned or executed as an adult. Why not Gidarbed?
His father didnt think he saw "the big picture." But he did. In that picture, where dishonesty was built into the system, there was always going to be room for people like Yuri to do what they wanted to do if they were smart. There would be no room for people like himself if they were honest.
He was uncertain, as it was, about his feelings for the opposite sex in generalfeelings of lust and feelings of terror about what he could say to them or do with them without being cruelly punished. Neither he nor the girls who might have been a match for his desires were well served by the added threat from the state.
As far as Jack could tell, severe punishment for sexual nonconformity was as American as the Liberty Bell and the electric chair. He knew he could talk only about what was normal. He also knew that his favorite thing to do in the whole world wasnt it. A Democratic President, the leader of the party of perverts, fired his surgeon general for saying it might be the way for some young people to go. A lot of people thought she should have been fired for using the word. These days they punished anybody for using the word and put them into DZs or jail for performing the act. If Blue Monday lost his case, they might do something much, much worse.
The boy sighed in glum resignation of the inevitable. His father wanted him to hear the definitive case for Gidarbing, and he was going to have to listen. He wasnt old enough to say no.
Copyright © 1998 by Jasper Garrison
Contact the author: Jasper Garrison