Content Warning for: Talk and depictions of suicide, dead bodies. Depictions of child abuse.
She had to get upstairs to make dinner.
However, Annette found it hard to tear herself away from that weird plant she grew in her basement. It grew in a skinny bush, and bore fruit that was best compared to a luminescent pear. She spent years waiting for it to do that.
Most of her adventures, at that point, were grounded and human. The only exception was finding a magic recipe, and a few magic starter seeds. Those turned out to be hidden in a diamond quarry, just over the state border. Annette took maybe two days to find them. For how easy of a quest it was, it was important too. She needed the strange fruit for the magic recipe, and the magic recipe to unlock the ability to stop aging and not die.
It wasn’t her choice to do it that way. Whoever wrote her rules had some strange ideas.
The find should have excited her. But there was that “success” clause, and Annette was out of work and did not own a restaurant. Maybe the fruit would freeze well while she waited.
Someone opened the heavy doors to her chamber.
She turned around, to find Sinbad standing in the entry way. He held a plate of mystery food, and looked as sour as usual.
“Dude, you don’t have to do that,” Annette said. “And…wait, how are you even down here? It’s secret!”
“Maybe stop showing us stupid humans your secrets,” he said, scowling. Annette then remembered when she showed him her ring collection, a couple years prior. “I’m not a dumbass.”
“You’re not, don’t worry ‘bout that. I’m just…not hungry.”
“No wonder. It still smells like a corpse in here.”
That comparison led to an awkward silence between the two of them. It let the lingering odor sink in even further. Annette had done a lot to try and clean her basement, but it seemed like all she had left to do was wait for it to pass.
“Look, now that you’re down here, there’s a lot that’s changed and a lot we need to talk about,” she said. “You have the time?”
“I guess if you do.”
They each took one of the leather seats in the corner of the room. Sinbad placed the falafel plate on the table close-by. And Annette struggled with how to word her first concern. “Look, Sinbad, I…I do what people pay me to do. And if it’s dismantle a meth lab, then it’s dismantling a meth lab. So I want you to look at this from-”
“It’s okay,” he said.
“Really?” He nodded in response. “Well, that’s odd. I destroyed your stuff! And I would’ve gone further if Shark wasn’t having a crisis. You once punched me in–sometimes you’re a little scary, I guess. I always expect you to be that way.”
“Whatever. The whole thing was pretty petty…I just missed doing it. It gave me a lot of money, and a lot of ‘me-time.’ But…I’ve had enough of that time. I’m not gonna screw someone I love over like that again.”
“I understand,” said Annette. She gave him a weak smile. “You know, I’m really proud of you.”
“What, you think I’m a great person?”
“What are my other options now?” she asked him back. “And even without that, you’re better than anyone’s told you that you are. The way you’ve helped yourself is just…I’m jealous, that’s what.” Annette swore that she saw his tanned cheeks glow with blushing pink for a moment.
“I just find it so jarring, considering what you just brought up,” he said.
“Meth? Sure, but it’s not like you were Walter White or-”
His face contorted into its usual anger. “I’m talking about that house. It’s just…fuck decency, it’s the worst place on earth! Just where bad people get worse!” Sinbad stamped a foot on the ground, and Annette felt her seat shake from the impact.
He leaned over and sighed. “I’m sorry. I have my feelings about that place.”
“I’ll leave it in peace from now on,” said Annette.
“Don’t. It really doesn’t matter. It’s just an awful place.”
Sinbad was not the man to tell stories, but things were starting to change in that household. He might have been changing the most. So he reclined in his seat and looked Annette in the eyes.
“Things were fine until we moved in there.”
In 2004 or 2005, Emma Takasugi and her young son walked up to an old house in the swamp. It was the only thing the military would compensate her for. As small as the dwellings looked, there were only two Takasugis to house.
It started out with some hope.
In fact, it was fine and hopeful for a couple of years. Sinbad said that it was difficult to gauge what his mum was truly like at first, when he was in kindergarten. She didn’t hit him. Most of the time, Emma was just an aloof person. She tended to not like to talk to other parents. She took her army job seriously. And god forbid anyone call her by her first name. It sounded almost anti-militaristic.
“Fuck her boundaries. Emma went off the rails…aww shit.” Sinbad rubbed his temples in frustration. “I hate this. Because I never thought about what it meant until recently.”
Sinbad was busy playing video games. The rest of the Takasugi family was better off than those two, and his aunt gave him a console for Christmas. His exhausted mother came home from work, with the phone ringing as soon as she came in through the door. Emma answered it. Whoever was on the other end managed to perk her up in an unusual way.
“Troy, you tease!” she said. “It’s been years. Things holding up okay in Middlesex?”
It seemed unimportant to Sinbad, so he went back to playing American Wasteland. There was a difference between what he later remembered, and what he understood that night, however. All Sinbad really could understand as a young child was how Emma’s tone started to change.
“Yeah, why don’t you tell that piece of shit…wait, dead?” She seemed to stop breathing for a moment. “And you’re just going to leave me like this?! You bastard, I had sex with you! The both of you! And…you’re gonna leave me alone?”
Emma dropped the portable receiver on the ground. She was muttering to herself, and dug her fingers into her head and her messy auburn hair.
“I can’t fucking believe it.” Her voice was quick and quiet. “They’re really doing this to me.”
Her son tried to get her attention. It started with “Mum?” and soon, Sinbad was as hysterical as her. “Mum, why won’t you tell me anything?!” He got up from the chair to try and get her attention at a closer range.
As soon as he was within an arm’s reach of her, Emma’s sharp grey eyes filled with rage in an instant. “It’s all because of…you, you little shit! You ruined all of this!”
He tried to back up. Emma’s fists clenched harder, and her breathing became labored. Finally, Sinbad took a firm stance. “Why are you doing this?”
He almost blacked out.
Sinbad’s throat tightened as his mother squeezed on it with one hand. He struggled to get out, but Emma wasn’t having it. “I wish you didn’t even exist! I wouldn’t care about any of this without you! But we’re…we’re stuck together.”
He lay woozy on the ground while Emma punched a wall. And for a while, he feared asking her any more questions about that phone call.
In general, Sinbad feared his mother. She spent more time at home after getting discharged from the military. As the days passed, she alternated between drinking, passing out, and rage. When she was so much bigger than him, Sinbad preferred to cower and hide. He listened to Emma with meekness and terror inside of him, at least when she told him not to go to school with fresh bruises. The kids would make fun of him…or he’d be put in the orphanage.
But upon her death, maybe Sinbad could get the upper hand in life.
He told Annette that he loathed addicts, of any sort. It was why he never did his own drugs, and even shied away from coffee. Emma ruined that for him. But addicts were everywhere he turned. They wanted a supplier close by. Even when he was shuffled around foster homes in the county, Sinbad sneaked out to the old house whenever possible. If those filthy people would throw money at him for a fix, then what did it matter to him?
What surprised Annette is how he described it all as a descent. It was a bad thing, even to Sinbad, that he cooked meth. That he killed his cousin in his basement and threw his body into the bog. That he ended up in juvie for other offenses. But now Sinbad was in a better place. No more jail, no more foster homes. No more Emma chasing him down with an empty wine bottle.
He was perched on his seat, knees up to his chest. “But I just hate thinking of that house. That night. I hate everyone in it! I hate Emma, I hate whoever the fuck Troy was…I hate myself for thinking that Troy was my dad. God I was a stupid kid.”
“I thought I knew the guy,” Annette said, pouting in a vague direction. It didn’t take much analysis to figure out who was on the other end of Emma’s call. “But he wasn’t dead. He…he must have faked it or something.”
“What a guy, huh?” Sinbad grit his teeth for a moment. “And Shark obsessed over him.”
“Look, the more I learn, the less I stand behind that, okay?” He started to get up from his seat.
“We have a job to do,” he mumbled.
Annette followed up behind him, and lay a hand on his shoulder. “Maybe you can remember what I said. And I bet Amy would agree!”
He gave Annette a weak nod.
“But you’re right. no more holding off on…that job,” she said. “Right after I eat. I don’t wanna do this on an empty stomach.”
It took only a few bites for her to recognize the recipe that was used. “Did you use the one I had left out on the counter?” she asked Sinbad.
“Yeah, the one that’s still in Arabic,” he said. “The one signed by whoever the hell Mariam is.”
Annette had taken it upon herself to try and translate some recipes she had on hand. As it turned out, her Arabic was not all she thought it was. Sinbad did a great job for something not in his mother tongue. Though, Annette did not want to tell him who the author truly was. She didn’t have much to say about Harwood’s mother, beyond her name.
Sinbad’s black truck was parked close to the house. They packed shovels and a package underneath a lilac blanket. All of that was covered in snow, and it kept piling up. He assured Annette that his truck had four-wheel drive, and that they could go slow.
It was a long trek, and a dangerous one on such a snowy night. The drive took them up into the hills of Twinbrook, where the town almost never bothered with streetlights. But after a few close calls, they made it to their stop without a scratch. Sinbad parked the truck near the first shining streetlight they had seen in a mile. It marked where the ampitheatre was.
They both looked into the truck bed, with serious faces. “I’ll warn you, it’s not gonna be pretty when you-”
“Like this is my first time burying a guy I fucked,” said Sinbad.
“Fine. Peel it back.”
He moved enough of the blanket to uncover Shark’s head and shoulders. Even though they left his body in the truck, parked outside in the dead of winter, he still started to discolor and decay. Blood vessels had broken down, and created dark patches on his pale skin. The mark from the noose he used was just as dark and unsettling, covering the front of his neck.
Annette didn’t know quite how long he was hanging in the basement for, but the unlocked door and the smell was what alerted her at first. He found an exposed pipe that could support 240 pounds and a thick rope.
It made sense as to why he did it down there, in her “secret” chamber. She showed him that place too, and that she kept some of Harwood’s old belongings there. It was no surprise that they were out of their box and strewn around on the floor. Old photos of him as a kid, or as a somewhat handsome young hippie in 1968. A few letters and a faded checkbook.
Her first action was to clean those up. Getting Shark’s body out of her house was a two-person job, as was burial.
Sinbad made sure to remind her of that, as he tried to drag Shark’s dead body down the hill. The man was about as big as the two of them combined.
Annette also held on to the shovels. They had to get digging, at the spot Annette marked with an obelisk. It was bad with all the snow, but it would get worse if they waited, after all. And they made a deep hole between the two of them, deep enough for their big corpse. And right across from where Harwood was buried.
While filling the hole back in started as an egalitarian effort, Sinbad dropped his shovel and took a slow walk. Just 35 feet away, there was another obelisk. He furrowed his brows, and concentrated on the engraving on the stone.
Annette turned towards him. “Yeah, it’s just your father’s grave,” she said, in a dismissive tone. “You hate him, I get it.”
“What was he like?”
She walked up to him, with a lot more care and caution. “You…you wanna know?” He nodded. “I’m not saying I won’t, but…this is really weird.”
“It’s just…just…” Sinbad sighed in defeat.
“It’s okay. We’re alone here.”
He turned towards her, looking like he was ready to wail. “I have a kid who’s gonna ask about his grandparents, and what choice do I have? It’s either the awful child beater or…nothing. Nothing…unless I choke up and try to accept him.”
Annette looked around the place, unsure of how to even start. “He…he was a human. And one day, we’ll find all the bad things he did. But he was also one of the greatest friends I’ve had, and you can’t make me forget that.”
She swore that she saw Sinbad smile for the first time that night.
He then fished a phone out of his pocket. “I get it, honey, I have to be a dad,” he said to the screen. “Sorry. Just something from the lady.”
“Probably means that I should get back too,” said Annette.
She just wanted to leave on a good note. She placed a hand on her friend’s shoulder again, and gave him a beaming, sweet smile. “And no matter what Julian learns about his granddad, the most important thing is that he has you. And you’re pretty great.”
This time, he showed teeth. But only for a moment, before asking her something. “Come on, you’re just sayin’ this because you need me to brave this crazy and chaotic universe with.”
She looked off into the distance. “No, but it’s a lot worse doing that alone.”
It warmed Annette’s heart to see him giving Amy a kiss on the cheek once he came inside. She held Julian close to her. And while that family could enjoy a moment, Annette had a lot of things about Shark to wrap up.
She spent a lot of time beforehand cleaning out his bedroom, but there was still stuff to pack up in boxes. One empty box remained, and there was a dresser drawer she had yet to open.
Meechum sat on the dresser’s surface as Annette opened the top drawer. He watched her with his blue eyes. While packing away Shark’s old clothes and posters was easy, she was still at a crossroads as to what to do with his cats. Ever since his death, Meechum and Rose didn’t ever leave Shark’s room. And Annette did not know much about cats. She never thought that she’d need to.
Annette got out the first pile of shirts and held them close to her. She wasn’t going to mourn in front of any humans, but a tear started to form once she smelled Shark’s choice of laundry detergent again. He was the only one to use lavender-scented soap.
Wiping that away, she got to the task at hand. Folding clothes and packing them away. Maybe someone else would need red shirts in men’s extra large. There was still so much left to do. The school wanted some sort of vigil held for him. A lot of the students missed their art teacher, after all, in spite of his problems. Annette offered to deliver some sort of eulogy, as his loving aunt, but she hadn’t made any progress with that. Getting a quick obelisk made was a little more important to her.
Well, she had to do that sooner or later.
I thought he was a snothead, and I didn’t want Shark Racket as my nephew. But, I’m not going to just remember him as a teenaged brat in a bad household. Or for you guys to just remember the last bad things he did. I wanted him to succeed, because I knew a Shark that did.
Maybe it started with that teapot he made for my 26th birthday. He told me the last year that I didn’t deserve a damn thing, so I was pretty stoked. And you know? I loved that wide-eyed sculptor. It’s a lot more warm and fuzzy to think about that, and all the art he produced. The whole thing seemed to keep him happy.
I can go on about all the good things about Shark. I have years of stories of the “good Shark.” The absolute best nephew I had, as I liked to tell him a lot.
There are a lot of things I can remember Shark as. I can remember him as a fantastic lover…to his partner, anyways. I sometimes got jealous of him. The way he could cling to one person. I admired it during a dark time in my own life, okay? In the moment, it was as sweet as melted sugar.
He helped raise my son too. I’ll let y’all guess who I’m talking about, but my son picked up the best from his “uncle Shark.” I do wonder if I’d have the same sweet, talented, amazing boy if he didn’t have Shark in his life. The man would spend hours with him in our little art studio too. I mean, it’s up to my son if that helped in the end, but I got to hear him talk about what he learned from uncle Shark all the time.
And he was my best friend. Being forced together into a family because of who I married aside, I often forgot he was my nephew too. He trained me at the gym three times a week, and we used to party hard too. Unbelievable, right?
So do I want you to blindly idolize him? Hell no, kids. That mindset did him in!
I know the admins here are going to gloss over why he’s dead. That’s what my son told me they did. He was sad? Too simple and sympathetic. It’s addiction! And they’ll deny it all they want. But he was addicted to one fleeting high, and that was the love of one man. He pined for it for over a decade. He was so focused on somehow getting it back, and chasing that one dragon. THAT’S the addiction your teachers will never, ever tell you about.
And I’m not going to pack that away. I think Shark was the best nephew in the world because of what I learned from him. And for you guys, he can be the best teacher in the world that way too.
He touched my heart. And saying these things is the best way to respect that. I’ve learned the value of people who are–oh how do you humans say it–“mixed bags.”
And I keep that knowledge close at hand. It might be worth it for you to do it too.
For Shark. Best Nephew in the World.