James Claffey

A lump simmers on my head from the blow delivered so selfishly by the heretic who stood on an orange box and screamed his message into the sky. I was raised to worry—my parents both neurotic as thieves under streetlights—and spent long hours waiting to be found out in more lies than I ever remember telling. When I was a boy my mother called me “lamb,” and dressed me in mittens and a white jacket, sprinkling mint leaves on my head and telling me my turn was soon coming. Mostly, she spared me the pain of the knife cutting my flesh. Mostly. I remember a time she whipped me for a poor score on an arithmetic test. My nose ran clear snot from the shock of the blows. How she whaled away at me in the corner of the kitchen storeroom, her cigarette tight in her red lips, the eyes narrowed to slits. I tried to engineer an escape, to save some small part of me from the pain. Now, I walk alone to the promontory at the end of town and watch for the returning fishing smacks, their little cabins neat as building blocks. When I know I'm not watched, I rub my nose with the back of my hand and cry into the salt spray waves.

Neurotic as Thieves