|Image by Amy Bassin|
It was starting again. His father slammed the bedroom door so hard Nicholas could feel the vibrations travelling down the hallway, searching for him. He jumped off the kitchen chair.
Nicholas knew those vibrations. Like lightning, they were attracted to metal and it didn’t take a genius to know that the new kitchen set his mother recently bought had chairs with aluminum legs.
After the vibrations wobbled the chair, the yelling began. His mother Lucille, and his father Charlie, were now locked in their bedroom.
Nicholas liked living in the city but when the yelling started, he always wished he was living in the country. It wasn’t the trees or grass or fresh air Nicholas longed for, it was a house. A big house far enough away from his neighbors so his parents’ yelling couldn’t be heard. Everyone in the building could hear their screaming and the next day at school Nicholas would be teased about it.
No one called Nicholas by his given name, not even his parents. His father was always asking, “Hey, Nick, how’s it going?” Nicholas would answer, “Things are going swell and my name’s Nicholas, not Nick.” That’s when his mother would laugh and say, “Lighten up, Nicky.”
The first time Nicholas realized he hated the name Nick was one morning at the breakfast table. Nicholas was busy scooping out raisins with his spoon when his father burst into the kitchen. He had his hand on his throat and blood was seeping through his fingers.
Lucille jumped up from the table. “My God, Charlie, what did you do to yourself?”
“I didn’t do anything! It’s these cheap razors you buy. Even when I use a fresh blade, I nick myself.” Charlie pulled his hand away so his wife and son could admire his wound. The sight was so ugly that Nicholas’ cereal stopped tasting sweet, so he pushed it aside.
“If you stop buying such expensive liquor, I might be able to spend more on razor blades!” shouted Lucille.
“Since when have you complained about the quality of booze I bring into this apartment?” Charlie shouted back.
“Since it’s given you the shakes so bad in the morning you cut your own throat!”
“Ha! You’re the cut throat in this house!” snapped Charlie.
“How dare you say that to me, especially in front of Nicky!” cried Lucille. But she need not have worried. Nicholas was already running down the apartment stairs, heading for school.
As much as Nicholas disliked the name Nick, he hated Nicky even more. It rhymed with sticky, tricky, sicky and much worse. More than once he was the subject of some other hot-shot fifth grader’s rap song.
Hey you little dicky Nicky,
Clean that fat ass so sticky
But it might be a little bit tricky
So buy a dog to quicky licky
You into not smelling so icky
But be careful its teeth don’t give you a hickey
No, you could keep Nick and Nicky, but Nicholas he liked. It had dignity. It was a name long enough that people had to make an effort to say it.
Nicholas tip-toed down the hallway as he made his way to his room. He didn’t want his parents to hear him. Despite all the loud arguing coming from their bedroom, he still had to be careful if he didn’t want to be detected. That’s because a strange thing happened whenever they started their shouting matches. Whoever was doing the screaming had the other’s complete attention. The two voices never overlapped, never collided. When one parent stopped yelling there’d always be a slight pause before the other parent started in again.
It was these pauses that were dangerous. As soon as they were aware of their son’s presence, they’d stop yelling long enough to ask Nicholas to judge which one of them was in the right. No matter what Nicholas said it always made things worse.
One night at the dinner table he asked his parents about their fighting style. “Mom, Dad, how come when you fight you never scream at the same time?”
His father straightened up in his chair. “It’s because we’re civilized people, Nick.”
His mother placed her spoon by her dish. “And we respect each other, Nicky. Your father and I respect what the other has to say, so we listen.”
“Oh,” said Nicholas as he dipped his spoon into a cup of chocolate pudding.
New York interdisciplinary artist Amy Bassin and writer Mark Blickley work together on text-based art collaborations and experimental videos. Their work has appeared in many national and international publications as well as two books, Weathered Reports: Trump Surrogate Quotes from the Underground (Moria Books, Chicago) and Dream Streams (Clare Songbird Publishing House, New York). Their videos, Speaking In Bootongue and Widow’s Peek: The Kiss of Death represented the United States in the 2020 year-long world tour of Time Is Love: Universal Feelings: Myths & Conjunctions, organized by the esteemed African curator, Kisito Assangni.