September Feature: Colin James Sturdevant
Colin James Sturdevant is from Houston, Texas. He currently studies Creative Writing & English at the University of Houston. He enjoys the diversity of Houston and it’s rich literary community, and is more than glad to be a part of it. He is the Founder and Managing Editor of Houston & Nomadic Voices Magazine, a print based indie lit mag.
Some Boy’s Body Fed Corpus
by Colin James Sturdevant
There’s nothing more stressful than being what I call an ‘underage uncle’. The honorable right of passage of being an ‘underage uncle’ is when I’m left with my four or five year old nephew, and god forbid I forget his age since I decided to avoid his birthdays from the memorable and not-so-kodak-moment parties with children screaming their heads off. The images are a bit fuzzy, about the arts and crafts based birthday with three year olds. No one poked an eye out, but a boy decided to cut a girl’s hair and she shrieked a cry so loud my balls retracted.
Sadly, I still send the same toddler toy each following year. But the point is this: I’m in my twenties and sure as fuck can’t take care of myself, so I sure as hell can’t manage a child.
If I’ve planned on spending my wake-up-time of past noon hours to sip on whiskey and ‘work’ on academic papers: fuck it. If I want to go hang with friends: fuck it. If I want anything for myself: fuck it.
The best part of this weekend-I wake up early to the pounding front door of apartment 312 and the ringing of a door bell at eight in the A.M. I open my door to a wide eyed kid which I think is old enough to give up the tit as he literally has his whole set of fingers lodged in his mouth. My nephew-the nephew that’s the son of my sister-my estranged sister.
I eat cereal without milk, cereal that’s plain and bold and unsweetened, or I eat chips or a sandwich with a few-days-past-its-prime-ham, and so I think I won’t know what a child can eat compared to my fine collection of CPS-approved food.
“Have you eaten?” I ask my nephew, his fingers becoming removed from his mouth, innocently wiping spit onto the front of his shirt.
And he asks me, “What do you eat for breakfast?”
“Coffee and cigarettes,” I reply with a broken-lung-voice.
“What’s that on the television?”
“National Geographic channel,” I cough a smoky breath up.
“What is that place?” he pokes the screen that has crashing waves and Kawaii blue water.
“You must be kidding?”
“Kidding?’” he turns to me.
“I mean; you’ve never seen the ocean?”
“No,” he says as I decide not to light another cigarette.
“Never made sandcastles?” I motion a box-shape in mime like fashion.
“Nope,” he says, “Can we go?”
That’s where Jacob and I used to go before he fed the ocean with his body. The beach. There’s the scent of his morning shaved neck of Barbasol and the gel that he would stir his hair with that clings to memory. Even on “off” days I recall feeling his freshly grown in stubble I’d trace with my fingertips. I can remember him being beaten-crucified in Corpus Christi a few years back. Close to our, now my, apartment here in Portland, Texas where the breeze carries the scent of ocean water when strong enough.
I scan my homely apartment, the scattered articles from classes of past semesters littering each surface along with empty bottles of wine and laundry spread like satellites as if the great big bang went off inside. The stench I’m used to, a stench I’d get chewed out for if Jacob was still here, but I look at my nephew and remember the smell of what I thought was “gray” and tell him I’ll clean up so we can both go elsewhere.
“Like the beach?” he suggests.
“I guess,” I say and switch out a shirt for one that is supposedly clean since I last remember doing laundry.
I slap on some shorts after I drop my jeans, and he stares at my ankle.
“What’s that?” he asks.
“A tattoo,” I say.
“What is that?”
“Why do you want to know about everything?”
“Because you know everything,” he says.
“Wrong,” I laugh.
“But grown ups know everything,” he points out.
I look around the room and wonder if this is the habitat of a genius, turn to him, and ask, “Does this look like how most grown ups live?”
“Looks the way I have my room sometimes,” he tugs at his shirt, “I must be growing up. Becoming an adult.”
“I guess,” I toss a bag to him.
“I’ll get some cups to use as shovels.”
“To make sand castles.”
“I want a tattoo, too.”
“What would it be of?” I ask as I throw some chips and bottles of water into a plastic grocery bag, pile a few camping chairs against the wall I use for seating when guests visit, and slap an oversized straw hat on my nephew’s head that’s been stagnant in that damn “gray” and unworn for years crowned with crescents of dust.
“Maybe of you,” he smiles, “A cool grown up.”
“Even though I send you the same toy each year?”
“I like that you think of me.”
I don’t say a word back, and look to my nephew with a sigh. The words, ‘I like that you think of me’ hits me hard. Jacob said that all the time after dinner. I shake off the memory, images of Jacob, and focus on the present tense.
He asks me who Corpus is while we are packing the car, and I tell him the name of the place we’re going is Corpus Christi, and he says it sounds like Jesus. I tell him it means ‘the body of christ’ like bread, the stuff they break at church, and he tells me he loves communion. That it’s like ‘snack time’. He loves the little cups of juice, too.
After a good fifteen minutes of tires hitting the road’s pavement, my nephew and I are sitting on the shore facing blue water. He traces his sandy fingers over my tattoo and hums what sounds like a hymn. A hymn they taught when I was child, ‘this little light of mine’.
“What’s it say?”
“Are you saying you can’t read?,” I look at him, shocked. “It should be a sin; children not being educated, freed.”
“I’ve never learned that three letter word,” my nephew looks embarrassed.
“They’re initials,” I tell him.
“Each letter is the first letter of a name of someone. These belong to someone that was dear to me. Still is. I guess he’s your would-be-uncle.”
“My would-be uncle?”
“Yeah,” I say and look to the horizon, the blue that touches blue.
“So, he’s in heaven?”
“Maybe,” I say.
I break out the cups I brought along so we can build a sandcastle, and load my cup with moist sand, flip it over, and remove the terrible tower mold with clumps of sand still stuck in the cup’s base. I hand it to him and tell him to try, and he does, but doesn’t fill the cup all the way leading to his disappointment.
“How’d my uncle die?”
“He was murdered,” I said as cries such as ‘God hates fags’ recanted in my mind.
“Jesus doesn’t like that. I don’t like that.”
“Moses,” I corrected him.
“Nothing,” I said.
“Here,” I tell him, and fill the cup over the top, plop it down, and lift the cup to reveal a more intact tower.
“Cool,” he says as he bobs his head up and down.
“What’s my other uncle’s name?” he asks me, putting sand on my ankle, softly patting it over tenderly as if treating a wound.
“Jacob,” I tell him.
“That’s a name from the bible. I know what it means,” my nephew says.
“What’s it mean?” I ask him.
“It means that God will protect him, hold up his heel as he walks,” my nephew said in a beautiful manner.
“Fuck that,” I said as I pulled a cigarette case from my pocket, pulled a single stick out, and light it up.
“God doesn’t give a shit,” I mumbled with the cigarette in my mouth, puffs of blue-white streaming from the end, “In fact, God might not even exist.”
“You shouldn’t say that,” my nephew growled.
“Well, why should your god hate Jacob? Supposedly ‘God’s’ Jacob. One of his many children. Your uncle.”
“What do you mean?” my nephew looked puzzled.
“Why would a group of grown men that should be wise in their years, pull Jacob away from me, beat his nose in, and tell us that their god, your same god, hates men like us?” my voice grew louder.
My nephew inched away.
“Sorry,” I whisper as I inch my way over to him.
I couldn’t get the faces of the men approaching Jacob and I out of my mind. They came at us like crusaders with torches and banners, their words forcing us back in fear. And I was blaming my nephew and his beliefs, and I shouldn’t. He’s just a kid.
“All I am saying is: how can a few fish and loaves of bread feed hundreds or thousands? It sounds like a crack-pot theory to me,” I tell my nephew.
“A crack-pot theory?”
“It’s not realistic. Like magic,” I tell him as the smell of gray rolls into his small frame and he coughs.
“Not if the fish and bread were really big, and then each piece could be just enough,” he says to me. And it calms me down. That logic, that innocent logic that makes sense of the fantastical.
I calm down, plug the burning end of my cig into the sand, and start to hum the first line of hymn my nephew was humming. We both pluck at the grains of sand by our laps, and the silence is still, the ocean water nearing us, and the foam white like textured milk.
“What happened to Jacob?” he asks me.
“Those men killed him. Broke his nose. And his good Christian blood dropped from his face, and his body fed Corpus.”
“Some boy’s body fed Corpus? And he died?” my nephew asks.
“Sounds like Jesus,” he said, “He must’ve been a great man.”
I didn’t tell him that my partner, his would-be uncle, died from taking his own life. I didn’t tell him how my trachea was nearly busted. I didn’t tell him how I miss Jacob’s embrace every morning, and how our, now my, apartment feels empty. I don’t tell him about how the cigarette stained walls bring his angry fits concerning my habit back, what I think of as the smell of “gray”. How Jacob’s voice is the Holy Ghost living in me these days. He wouldn’t understand that I loved Jacob the way I love my dear estranged nephew.
We sat there looking at the blue that touches blue, the taste of salt collecting on our skin, and my nephew humming that old hymn, and his hands patting my tattoo as if treating some wound, some ankle or heel that isn’t there anymore.