The Writing Disorder


New Fiction


by Brandon Bell

       The nose hair hypnotized the boy. He watched the hair jostle out of Dr. Alizadeh’s nose as the braces came off. The words chewing gum floated on the orthodontist’s breath. The boy rolled his eyes to a ceiling poster of a smiling chimp, its teeth perfect.
      “And Tyler, we’re done,” Dr. Alizadeh said. He held the metal square in a pinch.
      “Dr. Alizadeh,” Tyler said.
      “Call me Milad.”
      “Who gets them now?”
      “How about a peek,” Milad said, picking up a hand mirror. “Who gets the braces? Nobody gets them.”
      “Can I keep them?”
      “Take the mirror in your hand. No, you can’t keep them.”
      Tyler did not smile at his reflection. He didn’t even open his mouth.
      “Where’s my beard?” Tyler asked.
      “Beard,” Milad said.
      “What’d you do with it?”
      Milad studied Tyler, smiling. “Can you even grow a beard?”
      In the waiting room, Joan stopped flipping through Vogue and jolted at the yelling coming through the wall. She smirked back at the mother and daughter sitting across the room. “Did he say give back my beard?” Joan said. Then she realized the voice was her son’s.


      Tyler trained at dusk in a playground surrounded by a sewage creek. The smell made him scowl like an old man talking life or death politics. He did the monkey bars, rocking between strides, and fell off before he reached the other side. He flung a swing and crawled under it, the swing firing over his head like a lost ark booby trap. He lied in the dirt patch worn by the dragging feet of swinging children and printed his cheeks in the dirt.
      Dusk on the nine o’clock sky backlit the monkey bars. He was alone. From his butt pocket he dug out a wad of ripped poster. Chimp teeth smiled at him. “I’ll show you what beard,” Tyler said and punched the chimp. Then he wadded up the paper and ate it.


      Joan drove Tyler to see her sister, Debbie, who wanted to see Tyler without his beard. As Joan parallel parked, Tyler said, “I know you’re patronizing me.”
      Joan looked at Tyler in the rearview. “What do you mean?”
      “You think I never had a beard.”
      “Why would I think that?”
      “Crazy, I guess.”
      Gerald, Debbie’s son, was lying facedown on the porch of the duplex. Joan nudged him with her shoe.
      “I’m dead,” Gerald said.
      “Is your mom home?”
      Gerald pointed inside and then let his dead arm collapse. The front door opened to the living room. Debbie sat on the couch, holding the remote. She snapped off the television and said, “Tell me what’s different.”
      “Don’t,” Tyler said.
      “No no no. Now you did something. Did you cut your hair?” Her hippy necklaces clacked as she joined Tyler at the door and tried to fluff his hair. A monkey scurried into room. The monkey wore a doll’s vest and held a gnawed apple.
      “What is that?” Joan said. She hid behind the inward open door and shrieked.
      “My baby,” Debbie said, patting her thighs and kissing at the monkey. The monkey perched on the couch and nibbled the apple fast like a rat.
      “Where’d you get that thing?” Joan asked.
      “Stork brought momma her baby,” Debbie said.
      “Baby,” Tyler said.
      “My iddie biddie baby.”
      The monkey threw the apple and hit Tyler in the head.
      “It’s gone crazy,” Joan said.
      “You little shit,” Tyler said. He scrambled after the monkey, furniture rattling on the slanted floor. The monkey hid under a cabinet in the dining room. Tyler beat the floor and said come out. He told the monkey to take his lumps like a man.


      The midmorning street was empty, cool and blue. Tyler hid in a neighbor’s bushes and watched Milad’s house. Ants lined out of a crack in the brick foundation and the mulch was dewy. Milad’s front door opened. There stood Ms. Allie, Tyler’s eighth grade science teacher.
      Tyler remembered St. Patrick’s Day. Ms. Allie was erasing the blackboard, blonde and perfect, barely overweight. There was something about her that Tyler hated—something he could not name. St. Patrick’s Day. Tyler was wearing a blue shirt and red sweatpants. Holding the eraser, Ms. Allie asked, “Where’s your green?” Tyler slid down in his desk. They were alone. “No green, I get to pinch you.” She approached, fingers crabby, and turned back to the blackboard when another student entered.
      In the bush, Tyler slunk forward to improve his view. Ms. Allie checked her mail. An automatic sprinkler kicked on. Mist floated on Tyler’s skin. Ms. Allie went back inside and Tyler drank a Yoo-Hoo, condensation everywhere.
      Late afternoon. Milad parked in the driveway. Tyler was sitting on the curb facing the house. Tyler tapped the empty Yoo-Hoo bottle on the concrete.
      “Tyler? Is that you?” Milad said. He smiled at the mulch hanging from Tyler’s cheeks. “You got your beard back.”
      Ms. Allie stood at the front door. She saw Tyler throw the bottle and watched him run away and did not see the bottle explode at Milad’s feet.


      A week of training and Tyler could cross the monkey bars easily, no back swing. He climbed atop the bars and ran the slats. He collected stones and in the morning walked to Milad’s house, stood in the front yard and aimed at the bay window.
      Ms. Allie was straddling a low branch in the maple tree. “Bet you miss,” she said. Tyler froze, stone in hand. She said, “What are you doing, mister?”
      “Ain’t doing nothing.”
      “Isn’t a little weird to walk by here and watch our house?”
      “You’re the one in the tree.”
      “You really pissed Milad off last night.” She kicked her legs as if pacing a swing. “High school next year.”
      He waved her off. “Milad is your husband,” he said.
      “Don’t remind me we’re married.” She locked her legs on the branch and hung upside down. “Upside-down your skin looks green.”
      Ms. Allie followed him to the playground, hanging back a block. She wore a plastic barrette and ripped jeans. He paused on the foot bridge leading to the park, sewer creek underneath, arms folded like a gatekeeper.
      “What do you want?” he said.
      She strayed to a tree, pulled down a thin branch and smelled a leaf, pretending it was a rose. As she turned to walk away, she waved at Tyler with her fingertips.


      Ms. Allie dangled on a swing, chains twisting, eating a Sour Apple Blow Pop. Blush winged across her cheeks and she wore heavy blue mascara like a cartoon concept of sexy. She watched Tyler run figure eights around the monkey bars.
      “This your whole summer?” she said.
      “You should cover your face.”
      “Your face. It shouldn’t be just out like this.”
      “You think I’m ugly.”
      “I didn’t say that. It’s just not proper.”
      He walked to the edge of the drainage creek. It was a ten-foot drop to the concrete basin, the water level low. Illegible graffiti names covered the walls. Ms. Allie sat on the ledge and kicked her heels against the wall.
      “Dare you to jump,” she said.
      “What did Milad do with my beard?”
      “He collects them, doesn’t he. And shows them off to his idiot friends.”
      “That was you with the beard. He told me about that.”
      “Do you love him?”
      She shook her head and then nodded.
      “Why are you here?” he said.
      “I guess I love him. Milad was married before.” Water in the creek rolled by, gray and fast. “Do you want a bite?”
      Tyler accepted the Blow Pop and spun the stick. He studied the coating of saliva on the fluorescent top.
      “Do you have a car?” he said.
      She flinched when he faked to hit her with the sucker, and giggled and brushed her hair behind her ear when he didn’t.


      The television said rain likely. Tyler drank the milk from his bowl of Apple Jacks. Leaning against the counter, Joan opened her mouth to speak and took a sip of coffee. Tyler pushed the bowl forward for her to take it, wash it, put it away.
      “Say what you got to say,” he said.
      “Deb, your aunt. She called this morning. Antoine—”
      “Her monkey.”
      “He’s dead. Or kidnapped or I don’t know. There was just blood left. And a tooth on the floor. A tiny tooth like a weird Monopoly game piece.”
      “Well my god.”
      “It’s serious, T.”
      “It’s a monkey.”
      Joan dumped the Apple Jacks in the trash.
      “So why are you looking at me?” Tyler asked.
      “Gerald saw them. One’s a woman wearing a ski mask and the other one—”
      “He’s a liar.”
      “Deb called screaming it was me and you.”
      “I bet Gerald did it.”
      “Gerald’s just ten.”
      “I’m like thirteen, fourteen.”
      “Okay then.”
      Joan kneeled before the open dishwasher and squeezed in the bowl. Her back to Tyler, she said, “So you don’t know anything.”
      “I was asleep,” Tyler said.
      “You were asleep.”
      “I was asleep.” He waved his hand like a magician casting a spell. “Asleeeep.”


      Ms. Allie told Tyler to get off the porch. They shouldn’t be seen together, not for a while. She went inside and looked out the living room window at Tyler on the stoop, chest puffed at the street. When Milad came home, he squatted behind his open car door like it was a shield.
      “I said don’t come back,” Milad said.
      “Give my beard back or it’s eye for an eye.”
      “You little shit.”
      “I’ll take blood,” Tyler said.
      “This is ridiculous.”
      “Not your blood, either. It’ll be somebody you love.”


      The detective stood in the door so Joan couldn’t close it. Joan told the detective Tyler had been home all last night. She played the door on its hinges and repeated her story—Tyler was in his room all night long.
      “He’s asleep right now,” she said.
      “Can you account for him all day yesterday,” the detective said.
      “He was here with me.”
      “Well we need to talk to him. You can be present, but we need to talk.”
      “What about?”
      “What is his connection to Milad Alizadeh?”
      “He’s the orthodontist.”
      “Dr. Alizadeh is Tyler’s orthodontist.”
      “Milad said his wife didn’t come home last. Your son had issued a threat.”
      “A threat.”
      “According to Milad, one week ago your son said he wanted,” the detective held up his notebook, “said he wanted blood for beard.”
      Joan promised to bring Tyler to the station. Leaning against the closed door, she waited for her breathing to settle. Then she went to Tyler’s room, opened the closet and parted the hanging clothes. Tyler was pressed to the wall holding a screwdriver.
      “He’s gone,” Joan said. She helped Tyler out, holding his hand as he climbed over the cell of boxes.


      Tyler spun around and heaved the sheers like a shot-put. The sheers, nearly as tall as Tyler, landed a few feet away, nowhere near Milad, who was crouched in the front yard and shielding himself with his arms. A diagram of car brakes—connectors, what to snip, ripped from an auto repair book—fluttered across the driveway.
      “You’re cutting my brakes now,” Milad yelled as Tyler ran. He drove to the park and found Tyler standing on the monkey bars, feet splayed on different slats.
      “She told you about our special place,” Tyler said.
      “Where is she?” Milad swiped at Tyler’s shoes and banged the structure, trying to shake Tyler loose. “Come down.”
      “Get away, beard stealer.”
      “Where’s my wife you little shit?”
      Tyler stomped Milad’s left shoulder. The impact made Tyler fall forward and slam his face on a bar, busting his top lip and knocking loose a tooth. Blood stuck to the bar as he lifted his face. Milad groaned, doubled over, wind gone. Tyler scrambled across the bars and jumped to the ground, keeping his footing for a few stumbles toward the creek. He bent back to try and stop but the momentum carried him over the edge.
      He slammed into the foot-high water. Trash and papery filth floated against the ripped and bloody knees of his sweatpants. Downstream, two older kids spray painted a blue tag on the wall. One of the kids said, “White boy busted his ass.”
      Milad landed on Tyler. Gray streams in Tyler’s eyes, a mouthful of chewy water. Milad jerked Tyler up by the hair.
      “Tell me where she is.”
      Milad dunked Tyler back under. Tyler choked on filth and gurgled and felt his heart amiss.
      “I will drown you right here.”
      Dunked again, arms windmilling. Tyler saw long shorts and pulled up white socks appear through the waves. He felt himself floating. The high school kids pushed Milad against the wall and beat him with their spray paint cans. One of them kicked Milad in the stomach.
      Tyler waded to the wall, coughing and squinting. He waited for Milad’s eyes to meet his own. Milad fought back and was overpowered and Tyler smiled.


      Summer rumors: A fisherman found Ms. Allie tangled in a tree downed across the creek. The police identified her by dental records. They did not release a description of the body. They questioned Tyler, but decided a child was incapable of the crime. They believed his alibi.
      “He was in his room,” Joan told the detectives.
      Kids spread rumors of mutilation, missing fingers, missing face. Tyler overheard these details. Kids didn’t speak to him directly. They called him weird. He let his Apple Jacks turn soggy. Joan caught him staring into space, at her, her coffee mug.
      “We’re late,” she said. “What are you looking at?”
      He stroked his chin where the beard would be, eyes pierced through the present, deep in plans for what came next. He pushed back his chair and stood.
      “Don’t slouch. And hold your shoulders back,” he said, and she did.

Brandon Bell lives in Louisville, Kentucky. His stories have been (or will be) published by Tulane Review, Whiskey Island Magazine, Alice Blue Review, Apiary, Fiction Fix, LITnIMAGE,, Work Literary Magazine, and Inkspill Magazine (United Kingdom).

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