"Give me that paint brush," he says, "I need it."
"I'm using it," his brother says back, not looking up from his tableau.
"I have to finish coloring in her hair, and I need the fine brush."
"I'm using it."
"You're using it to color in the sky. Use a bigger brush. You don't need the smallest brush we have to color in the sky. And anyways, your whole painting is sky, and you're using the big paper. I'm telling mom."
"You're such a cry-baby. First of all, it's not the sky; it's a neo-constructivist critique of the imaginary of perspective. I'm not just slathering paint all over the goddam place like some wannabe Rothko. Secondly your absurdist portrait of that matronly ideal is such a post-classical joke it's laughing at itself. Just being in the same rec room as you is inhibiting my creative energies," the boy with the small brush says calmly.
"Your totalitarian sensibilities are trampling on my expressionist freedom. You wouldn't recognize an enlightened study of hyper-modern realia if it was defined for you on urbandictionary and carved into your forehead with shards of reflective glass."
"Whatever. That didn't even make sense. Just get that trash out of my field of vision before your compositional retardation damages my sensory organs."
"Shut your filthy traps; I don't want to hear it," Mom shrieks from her bedroom upstairs.
"Great, look what you did," he says glibly.
His brother hisses at him in a vehement whisper, "You're the little bitch who is coloring in the sky with the tiny fucking little brush, when you might just as well dunk the whole sheet of paper into a can of Sherwin-Williams."
"Your horse-faced abomination is a crime against humanity. Why don't you put it on your blog and let the rubes comment on it? Maybe your stupid fat mom can tell you it's beautiful," his brother retorts in a hushed bark.
"We have the same mom, shit-for-brains. All I want is the little brush for a few minutes. I don't want to escalate this disagreement into a conflict, or resort to bringing this matter up before governing bodies of limited effectual authority."
"Me neither, so just cool your jets. The last thing either of us needs is another round of disciplinary sanctions from the imperialist overlords. Furthermore, resorting to conflict is barbaric, and it would be geo-political suicide for you to rely on your limited offensive capabilities."
"This display is pathetic. You know as well as I that the last time negotiations broke down between us, you were pitilessly savaged and were compelled to acquiesce to humiliating terms of surrender, including the loss of significant material wealth, not to mention the famous 5:4 computer time compromise."
"'Savaged' is just the word I would have chosen. You attacked me completely unprovoked and without any warning, in brash violation of the standing cease-fire agreement between us, and in defiance of international condemnation. You demonstrated yourself to be a brutish thug with less regard for the rules of war and basic human rights than a pol-pot dictator.
"The memory of the oppressed is long and filled with bitterness. But let it be known that your aggression has not been forgotten, and that I hold you in no higher regard nor consider you as any less likely to lash out again than a rabid raccoon," he intoned solemnly.
"What was that? Was that even English?" Maybe I can find an Idiot-English bilingual interpreter to help me understand you."
"Maybe I can find you a remedial English tutor to help you learn your mother tongue."
"Shut the fuck up, you fucking retards. Put your shoes on and get in the truck," Mom shouts down the stairwell.
In the truck in the drive the two boys are silent, and Mom is listening to country while she fixes her hair in the rearview, which she doesn't bother to readjust. The ranch house recedes from the windshield as she backs her Ford F-150 into the roadway without craning her neck. She has a loose tank top on and cut-off jeans. Her shades are dirty with menthol. On the way to the town center, a rundown collection of crappy stores and depressing-looking one-story administrative buildings, the roads are full of trucks and hicks. Everyone is ugly and stupid. The bumper stickers are all angry at liberals even though none of them will ever come to this town to read them, and none of these bumper stickers will ever leave the county limits to be read by someone who doesn't already agree and have bumperstickers to the same effect on his own truck.
The boys watch the traffic and the billboards advertising monster truck rallies, wrestling, fast food, and Jesus.
When they arrive at the barber shop, Mom gives the two boys a $20 bill and tells them to wait in the truck after they get their hair cut till she gets back. The boys walk into the barber shop, and the bells jingle. One brother says to the other, "Hey, we can buy scissors for a dollar at the dollar store and give each other haircuts, and then we can split the $19."
"We're going to look like grizzly-victims."
"We'll just cut it really short. Mom won't notice."
"Mom might be a meth-head, but she's not retarded."
"Yes she is."
"Alright fuck it."
Then they walk back out after waiting a minute for mom to disappear around the corner. They walk briskly, like two kids with a great plan and the means to execute, into the dollar general, acquire scissors for the prescribed price plus seven percent sales tax, and go back behind the strip mall near the dumpsters. They first divvy up the $18.93 in change, which they had asked for in small bills and with one extra dollar of quarters, the extra penny going to the older of the two with promise of eventual redistribution of one penny to younger brother in the event of similar circumstances. He throws the packaging on the ground after extracting the scissors, which are hardly sharper than those made for small children that are made entirely of plastic, and not very rigid plastic at that.
"These are never going to cut anything. They feel like they're about to fall apart or malfunction and break my fingers."
"Give me those, dope. You go first; put your head down," he says grabbing at the scissors.
"I don't trust you, motherfucker. You're going to fuck it up and then I'll look like the freak show in your painting."
"Shut up and give me the scissors. Let's just do this and go buy some paint brushes."
"Consumerist pig," he says handing over the flimsy pair.
His brother commences cutting. He take a fist full of hair and starts hacking away at it with the safety scissors. It takes seven or eight painful squeezes to cut all the way through, each evincing a wince from both of the brothers. He continues for several minutes getting through half a dozen thick clumps of black hair until most of it is gone, and all that is left is a ratty fucking mess about two inches long in some places and one or three in others, dappled with bald spots and some blood. He pats his head to feel at the result.
"You butchered me. I must look like an absolute delinquent."
"You look fine. It'll grow back in. Cut mine now, quick."
"I have to see myself in a mirror," he says walking unsteadily toward a car, holding his scalp in his hand. He walks up to the side-view mirror and stands there in shock for a few minutes. He begins to cry.
"Get over here and cut my hair," his brother calls.
"Mom is going to kill us."
"Listen, if you want to get a haircut from the barber, you can spend your half of the money on fixing up your shit. Just get over here and give me a haircut."
"You want to look like this?" pointing to his dome-piece.
"Fine, give me the scissors."
He turns over the implement to his brother who takes them and inserts his thumb and forefinger into the cheap plastic rings in the pastel purple and yellow green handle. He grabs a knot of hair on his brother's head. "How do you want it?" he asks mockingly.
"I want to look powerful," he replies.
"I'll see what I can do."
With difficulty he shreds through the hair in his hand. Each squeeze of the scissors comes with pain in the fingers from the pressure he is exerting on the stupid made-in-China scissors. After a dozen or more cuts like this, with the hair starting to slide between the two blades, bending around the angles, and not getting cut at all, he has removed the first fistful of hair. The scissors are starting to loosen at the pivot and rattle when not engulfed in thick hair. He takes up another bunch of it and works the dull angle of the scissors against it, trying to feed the strands into the deepest, supposedly sharpest part of the angular maw.
Slowly he squeezes his hand around the handle, pushing down with his thumb and wrenching up with his index finger and eventually drawing on his extensor digitorum and deltoid muscles, and grimacing more and more with the increasing tension in the fingers and arm. His face is contorted into a horrible mask of pain and effort, his right hand is shaking with the exertion. Suddenly the plastic ring around his thumb snaps, and the all the energy in his thumb carries it across the shear plastic shard that remains behind, the vestige of a plastic connection. He screams in bewildering pain.
The little part of plastic is small enough to be stiff and sharp enough to leave a deep gash in the boy's palm where it joins the thumb. It's more or less down to the joint between his right thumb's metacarpal and proximal phalanges bones. His brother lifts his head and sees the deep red blood running down his brother's arm and dripping onto the mulch below them.
Fixed on his thumb and palm, he is weeping. The warm tears roll down his shivering cheeks. "Oww," he groans, "my thumb."
"Oh shit. Oh shit," his brother huffs.
"Mom is going to kill me."
"Don't worry about Mom, dude. Let's go get help."
"This was all your idea, you piece of shit," he shrieks in hysterics.
"Don't worry. I'm sure the doctors can fix it. Calm down. Let's go get help."
"You think the doctors around here are a competent bunch? I'm going to lose my hand."
"Calm down. It's fine. Doctors put fingers back on all the time. Yours isn't even fallen off."
"You think it's fine. You're not the one with the thumb falling off. You made us cut our own hair, and now I have no fucking thumb."
In his left hand he takes up the bloody scissors that he had let fall to the ground after the incident, and holds them like a hunting knife, the blades pointing out from the bottom of his fist. His left arm is raised above his head. Eyes burning like cigarette lighters The wounded hand is cradled against his lower stomach, the blood pumping out onto his tee, and running down the front of his elastic pants.
"Put the scissors down. What are you doing? I'm sorry alright."
He stabs at his head, awkwardly, and glances his ear, leaving a deep scrape. The victim howls, "What the fuck are you doing? You motherfucker!" And charges at his little brother, like a wounded animal.