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Blog Post – A Hostage in Play by Robert Fieseler

In Swann’s Way, cake crumbs and tea stimulate Proust’s massive ingrown tale; in Count Zero, a vast chunk of implanted memory descends on Gibson’s cyber-punk anti-hero as he walks through Heathrow Airport and he vomits into a blue bin without breaking stride.

Getting off at the wrong subway stop in New York once, I wandered into a secondhand bookstore (it was in Brooklyn Heights) and bought a used copy of Kafka’s Selected Stories. People (two at least) had tucked slips of paper into it: notes written in anger, notes written in humour, a sketch of a hat or a window, meditations I guess I like best the season of days out of season where summer, spring, winter, fall slip (#tumble) out of order as when in the middle of summer the sense of autumn comes with a wild white chill. None of these inserts relate to Kafka or his stories, but they have coloured his pages, and I find myself reading them over and over again.

As we transition from History into issue 15’s Queer theme, we offer a short memoir by U.S. writer Robert Fieseler. We continue to celebrate the best writing we can find for Lighthouse and encourage it to continue finding us as well.

– Scott Dahlie



A Hostage in Play
Robert Fieseler

I’m making friends with the tough of the block until he pulls a Rambo. I want to say his name is Tyler? I suppose I ask for it when our pretending goes from Shirtless Karate to Army Men. He lives in a big house with a belly dad who brings home “chick-a-dees,” the mom long gone and never in pictures, and this means angry play.

Yesterday Tough Tyler, flexing his muscles like He-Man, sent Mark P., the other kid on the street who shows his pink, running home crying. I saw it from my front yard. Mark’s mom stomped all the way across the cul-de-sac. She rang the doorbell and talked to Tyler’s Big Dad and ended up shouting, “Bully, bully!” Mark isn’t out playing today.

I don’t know what “bully” means, and I haven’t seen a rifle, except in Rambo. Then this Tyler-kid pulls one off the wall of his garage. The black metal of the barrel looks long and straight as what Mark shows me in pictures, on videotapes. I think it’s a toy and laugh as Tyler opens a drawer. He takes out a single, penny-colored plaything. Then he puts the penny in a slot of the rifle and presses the “O” to my throat, and I know we aren’t playing.

I’m shaking, and he’s hard. He tells me not to say one word. He makes me clean out his garage, so he won’t… Don’t make him say it… So he won’t walk over to my house like Sly Stallone. So he won’t kill my mother for hanging up the laundry. So he won’t murder my sister for playing indoors. She goes to speech therapy, I plead. She can’t even say the word idea. She tries so hard but can’t make the sounds with her mouth, can’t close on the vowel. She says “ideal” instead. Just shoot me, we agree.

I see my empty driveway thirty steps away, the tree I climb, the Silver Maple. I sweep brown leaves from a corner, on Tyler’s orders. I clean a bin full of knives. I shuffle toys bit through by a Rottweiler. The family about to divorce next door comes home from therapy. Mother, daughter, father and son try tossing a ball out front. I try yelling “Help,” but they think we’re faking hostage and hostage-taker. They go inside and eventually split up.

It’s dusk when my father pulls the Buick into our driveway and up behind the Silver Maple—a “middle-class tree” growing “so fast it’s taking over,” he says constantly, and I guess he’s right. It blocks his view of us now: his son and the gun-slinging bully. Tyler keeps me quiet with the cold against my cheek. “See me,” I think as my father kills the headlamps on the car. He rests his briefcase on the windshield. He pockets keys in the walk and the screen door shuts. He’s not strong, Tyler says. I thought the man was rougher than guns, but he wasn’t.

Time stretches. It seems to curl like a finger around a trigger, and Tyler’s Big Dad stumbles up all friendly and smelly from somewhere. I think I’m saved, but Tyler’s already stowed the rifle in the bushes. His Big Dad looks around and laughs when he sees me doing chores for his boy, I kid you not. He howls with the belly laugh that brings the chick-a-dees and floats away.

Dark, and Tyler’s got me trained now. I bark like a dog on command. He tells me pee my pants “so they laugh when you’re dead,” and I can’t feel the warm of it. He tries to poke me into his backyard, but I refuse to leave the driveway. He holds the gunstock high against his karate arm, like a hero in a movie, but he’s been striking the pose for hours. A gun has weight. His arm begins to shake.

His hard goes down. I see tears. He’ll kill them if I tell, and I think he’s talking about pee. “Run home,” he says, aiming for the street. But I’m fast, God, I can be faster than his penny-colored plaything.

Then the screen door is bouncing behind me. I want it to slam shut, to lock Tyler away, but it’s kid-proofed to close gently. A birdie is chirping outside. Maybe it’s inside. Maybe it’s me, my face. What sound do real chickadees make? I dry in the kitchen as my brain sweeps out the hours, gone, and the real name of the kid I call Tyler, fucking clear cached. I press my back against the fridge. My mother’s running water in the sink. I watch as my father eats two hotdogs and my sister tries to say the word “idea.”


Robert W. Fieseler grew up in Chicago and graduated co-valedictorian from the Columbia Journalism School. Currently, he’s working with Liveright Publishing on his debut book of nonfiction about a gay rights tragedy in New Orleans. He tweets, irregularly, at @wordbobby.

Posted 4 months ago

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