Eat Your Vegetables
Joey heard Charles climb the creaky stairs, the opening of the bolted door and saw his daddy enter his room palming a head of wet lettuce. Charles was dressed in tan Dockers and a yellow golf shirt that read CromNet across his left breast. His blond hair was neatly trimmed and his face clean-shaven.
“You are going to eat this,” Charles said holding up the head of lettuce.
“I don’t like lettuce,” Joey replied.
“Get in your goddamned highchair!”
Scared, Joey scrambled off his red racecar bed and squeezed himself into the metal highchair.
“I work goddamn hard at the Internet company to get food to feed you and goddamn if you’re not going to eat your vegetables.”
Charles had removed Joey from school a year ago when he was thirteen. Thirteen was the age a student was legally allowed to halt their studies.
Joey had said it a million times before and he said it again now:
“If Mommy was here she wouldn’t make me eat my vegetables and if she was here, I probably would.”
Charles lifted an inquisitive brow. “Has mommy been trying to send you telepathic messages from heaven again? Did you rip the tinfoil?”
“Yes, and she said I didn’t have to eat my vegetables, but I didn’t rip the tinfoil.”
“I call bullshit, Joey,” Charles said, inspecting the floor-to-ceiling tinfoil. “Because I know for a fact that tinfoil keeps out all telepathic transmissions and I don’t see any holes or tears.”
Joey, wearing his silk pajamas with white trim, stared at Charles from his highchair with pert lips, his blue eyes offering nothing.
“You have an I.Q. of 80. You’re practically a retard staring at me with your dumb eyes. You know that?”
“Yes. I know, Daddy.”
Charles walked over and told Joey to open his mouth. Joey tightened his lips. Charles squished his mouth open and pressed the head of lettuce against it.
“Bite. I work hard at the Internet company to buy this food and I want you to eat your goddamned vegetables. Now take a bite. If you don’t, you’re going to die, Joey. You’re going to die of malnutrition.”
Joey batted the head of lettuce away. It came to rest near an empty glass container of chocolate milk next to his racecar bed.
“I need to go poopie,” Joey said.
Charles sighed. “Fine. Take your poopie and then you’re eating the lettuce.”
“Okay, Daddy,” Joey said.
Joey hopped off his highchair and entered his tiny bathroom. Charles had taken off the lock, but Joey shut the door, lowered his bottoms and sat down on a white urine-stained toilet.
He grunted and squeezed and heard a plop. He got up and looked at a nearly perfectly round ball of poop with a small crevice. Joey wished more would come. His stomach hurt, but he was glad to get some out. He had awful gas and pangs of constipation.
He flushed the toilet without wiping and opened the door.
“Did you wash your hands?” Charles asked.
“I forgot, Dad.”
“Goddamnit.” Charles grabbed him by the nap of his neck, twisted on the water, rubbed blue soap over his hands and put them under the stream and then toweled them off.
“You’re bad, Joey. Nothing but a tack in my ass. A dozen tacks in my ass.”
“I don’t mean to be tacks in your ass, Daddy.”
“Well, you are. Same routine every day.”
“Yesterday it was radishes and I had gone poopie earlier.”
“It doesn’t matter the type of vegetable, Joey. You won’t eat them is the point.”
It was true, he wouldn’t eat his vegetables and his daddy had kept him locked in his room as punishment until he would. After mommy died and the fat cops had taken the neighbor away, Joey couldn’t eat his vegetables. He once loved them, because his mommy had a garden teeming with all sorts of vegetables, and she loved them. Her garden was her passion and he associated eating vegetables with his love for his mommy. However, when the neighbor man ‘violated her love flower and put her to sleep in the garden’ as daddy put it, he couldn’t eat them. Never would he eat them. Vegetables equaled emotional pain.
“I will never eat my vegetables, Daddy.” Joey said with finality.
Charles eyes shrunk into a glare and he angrily chewed his bottom lip. He then lifted Joey off his feet and tossed him on the racecar bed. He quickly grabbed the head of lettuce, squeezed open Joey’s mouth, and twisted the ball of lettuce side to side. Joey’s face turned red as he began to wheeze and choke. Daddy then punched his left leg. Daddy had yelled every day and tried force feeding Joey, but this was the first time he had struck him. Joey reached back and tore away a section of tin foil which did nothing but enrage his father further.
“I told you never to mess with the tinfoil. Never!” He grated the head of lettuce deeper into his mouth and jabbed his ribs repeatedly. Joey finally slapped the lettuce away. He spit out remnants, regained his breath and said Mommy had just telepathically communicated that he didn’t have to eat his vegetables ever. Even though it had never been fully explained to him, Joey understood that telepathic communication were messages silently spoken from mind to mind. His daddy had always believed in some strange things Mommy used to tell him. It was harmless she had said. Silly distractions to keep him not so bitter about his underpaid and undervalued job at CromNet — the Internet company.
“Mommy also said you should let me leave my room.”
Charles stood up, hands on his hips and stared at Joey with fire. Joey was going to do more than leave his room, Charles thought. This had gone on nearly two months and this day, it would end. He no longer cared if Joey was only thirteen and it was his parental obligation to keep him until eighteen. He grabbed Joey’s ankles and pulled him from the bedroom, down the carpeted stairs, through the living room and down the concrete steps outside the house and into the yard.
Joey stood up, felt the back of his head and saw blood on his fingers.
“That hurt, Daddy!”
“You are no longer my son. Go!”
“But I don’t have any shoes.”
Without sitting, Charles pulled off his leather shoes and threw them at Joey who sat down on the grass in front of their two-story brick house and put them on. They were many sizes too big.
“You just go now,” Charles said.
Joey stood and shrugged. “Okay, Daddy. Can I keep in touch with you telepathically?”
“You can try whatever you want, but I’m going to tinfoil the entire house.”
“What happens if you’re at work?” Joey asked. “The Internet company won’t let you tinfoil your office.”
“You’re a smartass. The worst smartass I ever knew. Get off my property!”
“Okay. Bye, Dad,” Joey said.
Joey turned and walked away. He would walk the many miles to the river and swim in his underwear, he thought. Swimming was something he and his mommy once liked to do when he was much littler and she was alive; however, he promised himself as he walked down a sidewalk in his over-sized leather shoes, he would never eat another vegetable never, ever even if it meant he became malnourished and died.
Kelly Broich is the author of the novel PRECIOUS. He is also the author of the video below.