Broken Men On the Outskirts of Town

Literature

Broken Men On the Outskirts of Town


Trebuchet

Mama says the reason why all the broken men live on the outskirts of town is for our protection. But Grandpa and Mr. Bandage don’t seem broken to me though Mr. Bandage claims that a thief stole parts of his face, his left ear, and even his eyes while he slept in a ditch which is why he keeps most of his head wrapped in bandages.

“Why did they want your face?”

Mr. Bandage always takes his time when answering my questions. This is annoying since I promised Mama I’d be home before dusk. Mr. Bandage and I are on the wood porch of his cabin, his wrinkled red hands and arms which he says are filled with bits of metal, lower and raise his cane like a pool stick.

“Guess they thought I was too pretty,” he says.

I can’t picture Mr. Bandage as pretty, not in the way Mama says I’m pretty. I guess Mama thinks Mr. Bandage is a different kind of pretty since she always brings him the best cakes and pies and, sometimes, some of our meals. I can’t be too mad since Mr. Bandage always shares with me.

“Is that why they took your eyes?”

Mr. Bandage leans down until our noses touch and I can make out the pits where his eyes used to be. He says, on what Mama calls his good days when he’s up to talking, that they used to be the same color as mine. Grey, like our best spoon. I’ve never met another Black person with eyes like mine and I wonder if Mr. Bandage knows if there are others out there with these eyes or if they’re all white like him.

I want to ask but today is only an okay day for him since he’s gone back to raising his cane, taking aim at his neighbor perched on the roof like a bird.

“Bang.”


My grandpa has all of his face and skin and always plays games with me. I knock the secret code on his door and hear the fifteen locks click and slide and pop until he’s able to crack open the door.

“Were you followed?”

“No, sir.” I try to hold in my excitement because his suspicion means we’re playing spies today.

He steps aside and I wiggle through. Unlike Mr. Bandage, who prefers to sit outside of his cabin, Grandpa never leaves his. Mama always leaves food outside for Grandpa, who never shares with me.

“Trebuchet.” Grandpa finishes with the locks, peeks outside through a cut in the newspapers covering his windows, his big hand gripping the top of my head, and says, “Report.”

“The Deserter,” that’s what we call Mr. Bandage, “Appears to be defenseless with minimal to no rations remaining. Would suggest a full assault s—”

“Easy, Trebuchet.” Grandpa laughs and guides me further into his cabin. “There’s plenty of time for that.”

We walk past all of Grandpa’s flags, which Mama says I’m not allowed to touch, his knives and green backpacks and camo jackets and shiny bullets and mud-covered boots, all of which I’m not allowed to touch, until we reach the kitchen at the back of his cabin complete with a deep freeze, fridge, oven, and table pushed against the wall where a radio sits.

“No way!” I run to the radio and turn the dials. “Does it work?”

“Not yet, Trebuchet.” That heavy hand that once rested on my head now presses against the top of the radio, pushing it against the wall and away from me. “I figured we could work on it, together.”

I feel something cold tickle my neck, like Mama does when something’s not right. But grandpa’s smiling a half smile which is new so I ignore the chill.


Grandpa gets tired when things don’t go right with the radio and decides to go lay down. I keep playing with the dials, imagining the static that will come through the speakers before the voices of Mr. Bandage or his bird neighbor or maybe Mama find their way through. When I only hear silence, I go to the front and peek through the newspaper. Dusk.

“Off again, Trebuchet?”

I don’t even hear Grandpa walk up behind me, giving me that half smile again despite making me jump.

“Thought I’d keep an eye on the deserter, at least until we have confirmation to move,” when grandpa doesn’t answer I add, “maybe I can work more on the radio until —”

“Where do you go, Trebuchet?”

While I’m trying to circle back to the radio, Grandpa starts circling me. “Answer me, soldier.”

I don’t think we’re playing spies anymore. “I go home, sir.”

Grandpa’s “HA” shakes the house and I squeak or yelp and think that maybe this is what Mama meant by broken. We’re back in the kitchen when his hand reaches towards me, his fingers snagging the collar of my shirt. I squirm and listen to the threads tear and reach for the radio until I have it and can feel, on its back that was once pressed against the wall, nothing.

“Nobody’s coming for you, traitor.”

“Grandpa—”

“Enough!”

I feel my feet leave the ground before my whole-body slams on the wood floor, the radio digging into my chest since there’s nothing else to hold on to.

“I know what you did!”

“I didn’t—” I didn’t know crying could hurt so much.

“You didn’t think I’d notice? Didn’t think I’d get the radio to work and hear you plotting against me!”

Even though it’s hard to breathe and see and my head hurts, I can make out Grandpa’s knee next to my head. Feel that heavy hand tighten around my shoulder.

“I trusted you, Trebuchet.”

Feel his nails drag along the fabric of my clothes, hear the click of his tongue.

“I thought . . . I thought you were—”

The banging on the door is low at first until it roars followed by the glass of the window shattering. Grandpa curses, something Mama says I’m not allowed to do.

“Get up.”

I don’t. Everything hurts and I don’t want to move. Not unless it means I can go home.

“Sam?”

That’s Mama’s voice.

“Sam, honey, open the door.”

“Daisy?” He staggers towards the door. “Honey, it’s not safe. They’re coming for me honey.” He looks at me, tears and sweat and snot leaving him and I hope we don’t look the same. “Even turned Trebuchet!”

“No, they didn’t, sir.”

Mr. Bandage. His voice hums alongside the code, the same code Grandpa and I share, that he taps on the door.

“I . . . I don’t understand. How are you two—”

“Just let us in, Sam.” I hear Mama’s voice catch and that sound is enough to get my legs working again.

Grandpa starts undoing the locks while I try and keep quiet in the hall, waiting for a moment I can run past him. But before he can undo all the locks, the door snaps at him, pushing Grandpa to the side. Mr. Bandage stands in the doorway, cane ready which, I guess Grandpa doesn’t know about because he screams and all Mr. Bandage needs is a sound to strike his target. Instead of firing a pretend shot, Mr. Bandage fires his cane, hitting Grandpa in the nose with a crack.

I think now’s my time to run until Grandpa looks at me and the radio in my hands and blood all over his lips and in his mouth screaming, “Traitor!”

And I can’t move again but I don’t need to because Mr. Bandage pins Grandpa to the floor.

“Go, Naisha!”

Mama runs in, just a blur of a pale green dress and bare feet and flour on her cheek reaching for me. She scoops me up and we’re flying for the door when I see Grandpa’s hand get free.

“Mama!” But he has her by the ankle and she’s tugging like a trapped animal and I’m happy and scared she might break her leg trying to save me.

Mr. Bandage hits Grandpa real hard and the same squeak or yelp I made before comes out of him before his body gets real still.

“Go, Naisha!”

But Mama grabs Mr. Bandage by the hand and guides him outside and past his house and with us towards town and only when my eyes stop hurting and I loosen my grip on the radio do I see that Mr. Bandage is wearing a camo jacket like Grandpa’s except his has faded dark spots and the sleeves are both gone. And while Mama’s whispering how everything’s going to be okay while holding me and holding Mr. Bandage’s hand, I can see the name printed in black letters on a camo patch.

Trebuchet.

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