jeffrey like a giant

by Kaija Matīss

Mom and Dad throw parties. Big ones. One time they get a pig. String it up in the barn and leave it there till the next day, when they get up at 3am to put a stick all the way through it and hang it over a fire. We love it. Run around it on bikes and legs screaming our heads off chasing each other. Gleeful and high off the sheer obscenity, the novelty of a carcass hanging from the ceiling. Horrified and giddy at being able to see inside a thing, the ribs splayed open. We’re thinking, maybe it’s a sign the parents have decided to hang up all the phones dangling in all the kitchens and come out and join us in the woods. Thinking maybe nobody has to brush their teeth any more.


Dad will eat the pig’s eyeball halfway through the party, and we won’t like it. All the adults will scream and throw their beers up in the air so we’ll know it’s really bad. No one meant for him to go that far. We just wanted him to throw away his wallet and grab a stick and join us. We’ve got a great thing going on in the sandbox and could really use some help. No one meant, eat an eyeball.


Dad and Lou will hold up fresh beers and laugh about it. Dad describes how it popped in his mouth like a grape, and I hate the way dad acts when he’s around Lou. He’s loud and acts tough. Cracks jokes at me for telling the other kids what to do and calls me Admiral Anya to get a laugh, which he never usually does. Dad’s not tough. He’s soft and likes to gently pull earthworms out of the ground and place them in my hands, his around mine. Shows me how to hold them without hurting them and tells me how they can’t see but are very good for the flowers. He’s basically in love with flowers.


The pig will get covered in tin foil and is now a space pig. Looks like it’s flying the way it’s splayed out along the spit with its arms and legs tied out in front of it. More of my parents’ friends will arrive. Latvians, Hungarians, farm people, some of my mom’s murder mystery theater company friends. Even the Cabots, the rich people who my dad works for and whose land we live on come by. Well not the Cabots, but their kids, love to sneak over to our end of the property and see what Dad’s cooking.  Everyone wants a bite. Young mothers in high waisted shorts with belts and pastel tank tops. Men in faded blue jeans with mustaches and buzz cuts. Some in blazers. They all gather outside the barn around the pig. Sit on plastic chairs and milk crates. Our house, warm and empty, sits back behind the maple tree that’s hanging over the sandbox. The woods off in the distance, just past the cow fence.


It’s not Lou, but probably the beer plus Lou, that turns the dial up on Dad to “crying over a song Dad”, to “eating an eyeball Dad” and then sometimes “who is this guy? Dad”. Mom too, as more of her girlfriends gather around her and more plastic wine glasses are shoved into bangled hands, begins to change. Her face shifts in degrees of familiarity, from afternoon to sunset to night. I try to keep up.


I will dance more wildly as the night goes on. I’ll get louder as they get louder. Spin out more as they do. The night of the pig party I discover a great trick. If you shine one of the Mega flashlights at the barn wall and you dance in front of it, your shadow is huge. You are so big, you are almost as big as the barn. You’re buoyant. You’re so big you could step off of the barn wall and walk around the property pulling up trees from the ground like broccoli. You could step over the gravel drive you’re not supposed to cross to get to the Cabot’s house in just a hop. You could peer inside their windows like the old mansion is just a doll’s house. Peel their Picasso off the ballroom wall like it’s a postage stamp. If you sat in it, you could take up the whole pool like a bath.


No one has ever seen me so big so I will scream my head off at them to look and dance like crazy. I will dance wild and gigantic. It will be easy. I throw my hands and tell the others to join me. Jeffrey, Lou’s son, comes and idles up next to me. We’re about the same age but I’m a little older, I try not to rub it in. He’s a boy and I’m a girl though so it kind of evens out. He’s allowed to do things I’m not like sit in a tractor and even drive it. This gives him ideas though and one day when no one’s looking he gets into his mom’s car and drives it straight into a shed. His feet don’t even touch the ground. No dogs are harmed.


Jeffrey and I have been friends since forever. I’ve been throwing sand at him for years. He gets me back by kissing me in my bunk bed and our moms walk in and scream. They haven’t stopped telling us we’re going to get married ever since. His parents and my parents have been friends since before that when they rode over to our house a on 4-wheeler to say hello. Jeffrey’s mom hanging off the back, swelling and pregnant with her hair blowing in lines over her mouth and sticking to her lipstick. Clutching a 24 pack between her thighs and hollering. Lou driving, red faced and wily, the name of some other woman tattooed on his arm.


Jeffrey isn’t as good a dancer as I am, generally he’s shy, but he’s committing to it and I like it. We’re both giants on the barn now. The music is pumping through our little veins. One thing we have in common is that no one knows what it’s like to be the oldest like Jefferey and I do. All the responsibility. For a moment we’re free of it.


Hot from dancing in the Mega light I will throw my jacket off and spin it away from me in time to the music. My mom shouts  “Look Anya’s doing a strip tease!” I don’t know what a strip tease is but by the sound of the laughter it elicits it’s no good. I stop dancing and step out of the Mega light. Jeffrey stands there. The music playing loud from the barn behind him. The Mega light gold on his already golden hair.


Twenty years later Jeffrey will blow his face off with a shotgun. Sorry to drop it just like that, I think you should know. Five years after that, Mom runs into Lou at Downtown Bagels. Mom’s 85 year old friend Pam from Alcoholics Anonymous will be there and Lou will put his arm around them and get too close and call mom his sister-in-law even though they haven’t spoken in years and she’s not. He’ll have been drinking since 8 and be red all over.


The best part about the parties is all the food. You can have as much of it as you want. Mom and dad are always yelling and crying about money but never seem to care when there’s a party. They don’t skimp on anything. Watermelon, chips. All the dips you can think of. Coolers and coolers full of beer and wine and sodas. Big bags of ice we can help with by stomping on. Pretzels.


After a while when a party’s been going on forever, we might get bored and tired and go inside to watch a movie. It will be hard to concentrate though because all the parents outside will be too loud. The little ones might start to fall asleep on someone’s coat and we might feel strange thinking they should be in their beds. Sometimes an adult might come in to check on us and their hair will look crazy and they’ll try to tell a joke but it won’t be funny. If you’re up for it you can sit outside with them. Grab Dad’s denim jacket and find a lap or a free lawn chair and watch the sky for satellites. Blankets in the Radio Flyer is a great option too. There won’t be much left of the pig by then, mostly just a face and some feet.


Jeffrey will learn how to fix engines and join the military and get a motorcycle. One night at a party he will meet a woman who is older than him and who doesn’t rub it in, and he’ll ask her if she wants a ride. They will speed down the highway and the air will feel good around them. Tractor trailer lights speed past them like suns. Strip malls will look like space stations. Something wrong will happen combining metal, tarmac, space and time and they will end up splayed out in a parking lot. They will both go to the hospital. The woman will die of sepsis after months in a coma, and Jeffery will survive. He won’t be the same. The military will give him a job painting over lines in the base’s parking lots. Jeffery will stand there watching the line painting machine push out bright smooth white lines over the faded cracked ones. He won’t be able to stand it.


At Jeffrey’s funeral no one will know how to feel. First inside the church, because of all the God stuff. The church ceiling blank and lofty with thick wooden beams. One heavy cross hanging in front bearing no comfort, just the threat of falling down. Jeffrey’s body up front in a box, daring us to try and not guess what his face looks like. Everything like it’s half built and covered in sawdust. Then outside the church, because the military will shoot guns in the air and everyone’s shoulders will raise an inch. We all throw dirt on him and then apologize to his mother. Afterward, Lou will ask all the kids Jeffrey’s age to join him in his driveway. He’ll pour us shots of whiskey and hold one up, tell a joke and cheers to Jeffrey. We’ll laugh and drink and hope that’s what we’re supposed to do. The parents will shake their heads a lot, and eventually everyone will fall out of touch.


Some time before that, around the time of the pig party, I’ll be standing outside after it rains with my bike. There will be a large green caterpillar on the gray slate under the lilac tree. I’ll stand over it for a long time watching, suspicious of what I or it is capable of. Out of curiosity, I will run over it with my bright blue tire. Nobody will see. It will make a horrible sound, the kind you remember. No one will believe me for years until one day I’m sitting on a toilet somewhere reading a National Geographic and it’s describing a new kind of caterpillar that’s been discovered in the North East. When in danger, it lets out air from a blow hole on top of its head to ward off predators, it will sound like a scream.

Kaija Matīss is an American-Latvian writer living in NY. She graduated from The New School in 2009 and from the Performance and Interactive Media Arts MFA program at Brooklyn College in 2020. Her short film Detritus won the Kodak Director’s Prize at Slamdance in 2015.