Santino DeFranco

He was a real big son of a bitch. But I’m not talking about the son of a bitch part, but the big part. He was almost six and a half feet tall and around two-hundred and fifty pounds. Not a fat two-fifty, either. Like a shredded-I-can-see-every-striation-in-your-body two-fifty. He had this long blonde hair when he first came in—he looked like Thor from the movies or comic books. But a goofy, less Mjolnir, more basketball, wielding one. Cindy walked him through the main door. The door with the big locks. He had Thor by the arm—pushed the back of his elbow and guided him in like a toddler. He didn’t resist either, just fumbled forward, one foot in front of the other. I think it was the dope. The drugs. He must have been juiced up, like almost all the intakes. Cindy walked him in and sat him down next to me in the fun room and he just sat there staring at me like he was waiting for my response. Mouth pursed, breathing through his nose like a dragon. All that was missing was the bifurcated smoke.

You think you can watch him for a second, Jules? Cindy asked. But Jules isn’t my real name, see. He just calls me that. My real name’s Julian, but I haven’t been called that since, well, I can’t remember. Well, in court and hearings and real stuff, real places…they call me Julian, but not here. Bank tellers and money collectors call me that too, and telemarketers. Yes, is Mr. Julian Bennett home? Or I’d like to speak with Julian please. They’d say trying to make it seem like they knew me and we were old pals or something. Julian please! Ha, jokes on them. Nobody calls me that. Unless, well, except when the jokes on me, when they’re taking my money or putting me in places like this.

Sure thing, I said to Cindy. But you’re wearing someone else’s nametag again. Who’s Sandy? I asked. But I knew who Sandy was. He was Sandy, but I’d always called him Cindy. I think I misheard him or misread his tag or something and just kept up with it. Pretended like I thought it was his name. You can do that when you’re in here. It’s like a kid hitting when his toy gets taken away. When you’re two, you can get away with that. Parents say don’t do that, Bobby. We don’t hit, do we? Or they ignore it or laugh. Probably not the good parents, though. They probably don’t laugh, but there’s plenty of bad parents out there. But Cindy thought I thought he really had a girl name, and I liked it that way. Gave me some sort of an upper hand on him. I knew something he didn’t, even if it was just my perception of him—not tangible, but real, nonetheless. Hell, time’s not tangible, but many damn people think that’s real. They probably don’t stay in places like this too often, though, or they’d probably think differently—about time, that is.

When Cindy walked away, his hips shook a bit and his arms stretched out toward the ground with his wrists arched upward. Maybe that’s why I started calling him a girl name? He was a bit of a queen, but that’s okay, but still made me think he’s a girl, or at least a bit girlish, or maybe just slightly more girlish than the other guys here. So now he’s Cindy, but now he’s not here cause he walked away, and Lorne sat staring at me like he wanted to eat my babies, which I don’t have, but he didn’t know that at the time.

I didn’t think much else about him except that he scared me and that he smelled. His hygiene might have been what got him in this place to begin with. He never showered. Well, I can’t back that fully. I should say I don’t think he ever showered. There are a lot of hours in a day—some say 24, but who really knows how long it takes to spin this big ball around in the universe—and out of those hours I didn’t spend every single one of them with him, but maybe much less. Probably only one or two hours a day, but sometimes more. Sometimes, throughout most of the day, we’d be together when we weren’t doing other things like sleeping or seeing Dr. Mitchell, but even then, he’d be away from me here or there. So I suppose he could have showered in there somewhere, but if I was a betting man—which I’m not. Tried it a few times, but always ended in me losing much more than my money. But if I was a man that’d like to throw down a wager, I’d put my money on him not showering much, if at all, outside what they forced him to in here. I suppose, though, that he could have showered on the regular, but then just shit his pants or something or was always really gassy and sneaking out stinkys round the clock or his sweat rotted quickly to omit the smell that he always reeked of. And those crusted boogers hanging from those long nose hairs just happened to grow so fast. So, I guess it is possible his hygiene wasn’t all that bad, but he just had the misfortune of a bad body make up. But he wasn’t weird about the smell or snot or earwax. I just don’t think he even thought of it. One time, I handed him some tissues and he asked what they were for and I told him his nose was spewing molten lava snot all over the place and it was sticking to his facial hair where a mustache would have been if he cut the rest of his whiskers around his face, just leaving that above his lip. And he didn’t even get mad. He just shrugged and wiped it and said thanks like it was just a thing and was the thing to do.

After a few days they finally cut his hair. Thank God they cut his hair. The short hair made him look slightly less menacing. Just slightly, though. I found out he was a footballer in high school. American, not world. Football, that is. Which made a bit of sense. Then he said he was a wrestler. The strangle you and throw your ass down on a mat type while wearing super tight, stretchy singlets type, not the ones on TV in the ring with the girls and the chairs. He was good, too. Said he was some sort of high school champion, but they wouldn’t let him wrestle in college for whatever reason. His parents wouldn’t, not the state or school or anything. Said they wanted to keep an eye out for him and make sure he was okay, but he wasn’t. He was sitting with me in the fun room, so he was anything but okay. His parents needed their vision tested, cause that eye, whichever one was on the lookout, wasn’t working much.

The third day he was in during his first stay, he pulled me to the side while I was watching a daytime talk show, which really made me mad ‘cause I really wanted to know who was the father of the child they were fighting about on the TV up on the wall. He took me to the side where the games were and told me he wanted to show me something. Share something with me. He trusted me.

I’m a rapper, he said. Which I was offended by. I didn’t want to be racist, but he was white and rappers are black and it didn’t make sense. Not that white people can’t rap, like they’re not allowed to, but they can’t rap. I told him he should stick to country or something, and leave rap and basketball to the blacks. When he gets rhythm and an extra tendon or ligament or muscle—whatever it is—in his leg so he can jump higher, he can go back to rap. But he didn’t listen to me. He didn’t really even acknowledge my advice, and insisted on rapping for me.

He didn’t have a beat, so first, he beat-boxed as his hand cupped around his whiskers to set the tone. That’s what the beat would sound like if I had a stereo, but I don’t, he said. He kept the beat up for a while, which wasn’t so bad, except when the spray of saliva escaped through his hand and landed on my face and lips. That was unpleasant and I wondered if I’d get leprosy if he had it. One day he took his shoes off and itched the heel of his foot on the carpet and clumps of skin remained on the floor—like a snake shedding its skin or something—but I haven’t felt any signs of leprosy or any other fatal disease, so I think I’m off the hook for the time being.

That beat would go on for about fifteen seconds, then I’d come in and start with this, Lorne said.

He then rapped for nearly the rest of the show. I missed the reveal of the paternity test of the couple that was on the screen and two others. I think he must have rapped for at least an entire night. It was fretful, but when a large, human weapon raps, you listen. At least I do. I am not large, or any sort of weapon. And I didn’t have other friends or music. So I sat there listening to Lorne white rap about so much stuff. It didn’t make too much sense to me and I don’t know if he’d ever rehearsed it before, to anyone or even out loud because it didn’t seem to blend together like the rap I was used to hearing. And I thought it probably sounded differently in his head than it did aloud to my ears. I’m not one-hundred on this, but I think he was talking about the president and then segued into stars and cars and bars. But Cindy had come over and given me some red pills mid cypher, which started to fuzz my brain up pretty quickly.

The next day, he was gone and I didn’t see him for a while. Juliett, the slow talker, said Lorne’s parents had come and picked him up.

Then, a few weeks later, with no warning at all or announcement, he was back in the fun room. I walked out after my shower and there he was, just sitting in one of the chairs with drool running down his mouth. I didn’t wipe it up. I wanted to. I thought about it. Thought I’d be parental and caring. Show some compassion for an old friend, but I couldn’t get myself to do it. I sat next to him, watching him. Staring at him. Studying him while I could when he couldn’t stare back. Get a bead on him. His chest heaved up and down every few breaths and a spasm struck his arm every eight seconds, but sometimes it wasn’t eight but every three seconds, and other times it’d even wait about a minute in between twitches.

He finally opened his eyes and the fog of drugs was mostly evaporated. Want to hear my new rap, he asked. Of course I do, I responded without hesitation, more out of reaction than thought. This time the rap was worse. Less coherent, but the more he rapped, the more excited he got. He stood and bobbed his head and began white dancing—very jagged, stiff, as smooth as a piece of broken glass, but he didn’t care. He was zoning and spitting his words and his spit all over the white chairs and white floor and white coffee tables. There was so much nonsense—it was fantastic! Until he kicked the chair and Cindy ran in with Rob, the new guy, and a needle. They stood a few chairs distance away and asked Lorne to calm down. They asked him to sit down so they could give him a shot. He obliged, but not before feinting toward them and yelling BOO! Which gave them quite the fright, and they jumped like kangaroos back two steps, but then shot him full of something. His steady flow of drool continued immediately. I didn’t wipe it up. Eventually, some of it found its way to the floor and formed a tiny puddle.

I walked over to the stuffed animals and grabbed an orange cat and put it under Lorne’s heavy arm. It looked like a cat I once knew when I used to run with them.  Not like we ran the town hustling, or like they were a bad influence on me or anything.  I mean, I used to run with them: one-foot-in-front-of-the-other in quick successive motions, run.  I understood the cats. I really did.  And I thought, since I understood them, we had a kinship of sorts, and they would feel that kinship, too, and run with me.  I envisioned a hoard of feral cats jogging behind me—their leader—marching on wherever I went, supporting me in my adventures.  They would be my soldiers, and I their general.  For whatever reason, though, they didn’t follow me right away.  I brought milk, and cheese—I know they’re not mice, but who doesn’t like cheese?  I brought tuna and even catnip.  I left everything in the alley behind our house and waited for their arrival.  I’d coax them for a minute with meows of my own, so they knew I was one of them—that I understood them.  They would eventually come to me and eat my offerings.  But they wouldn’t run with me.

That went on for weeks until, one day, I decided I needed to show them what they were missing.  An orange cat I called Mister Toxic, because he reminded me of a villain who somehow survived a toxic chemical waste spill only to come back to the streets and continue his nefarious ways, ate a can of tuna I left for my troops.  After he was full, he wanted to leave me alone in the alley with the roaches, so I scooped him up and started jogging with him in my arms.  Immediately, he felt a bit sea sick, or airsick, or maybe even land sick, I suppose—I don’t really know— and he started heaving and clawing at my face, but I continued in stride.  I wasn’t concerned with the scratches too much, or even the bites, but when he pissed his toxic waste on my face, and into my open-gasping-for-air mouth, it broke my concentration, and I dropped my soldier to the ground.  I was not the greatest leader.  He ran off before I could reach for him again.  I think he was beginning to come around to the running thing, but when you gotta go, you gotta go.  Who can really blame him for that? I can’t. I repeated this process for days with a new cat in tow.  Mother put an end to it, thought, after the fifth day when I came home and one of the cats, Senorita Chiclet, leaned in for a kiss, but out of inexperience she applied too much pressure and punctured a hole in my bottom lip.  I didn’t think it was that bad, but mother took me to the emergency room and they did end up putting eight stitches in my mouth. 

When the doctor heard the story of how my lip opened, he told her that that was very weird for a child of my age to be doing, and urged her to send me to a psychologist for treatment.  On my eleventh birthday, mother sent me to see my first therapist.  She says that’s how everything began…with the cats.

But the cat under Lorne’s arm was different. They said it was never alive and it wasn’t shot and stuffed like the deer heads on the walls of the fancy restaurants or rich people’s cabins like in the movies.

That night, at dinner, Lorne told me about his mother. She was nuts. But that’s to be expected. Or at least for him so say she was nuts. For all I know she wasn’t nuts at all. But he said so. He said she’d taken him to the doctor after his dad died and put him on all sorts of drugs. That she was trying to keep him dumb and his mind from expanding. I don’t want my mind to expand, though. My skull seems pretty structurally sound and if my mind expands I’m pretty sure that will create some internal issues. But he wanted a bigger mind, and who am I to judge? Lorne had started to communicate with the spirits and she didn’t like that—couldn’t handle that. They talked in tongues and he was the only one that understood them. Voices from the past, he said, were helping guide him through the future and beyond the physical real world of this life. Metaphysics or something. He said none of this is real, just our perception of reality that we see through the lens of our own senses. And he knew the way to break free from the tangible reality. She seemed a bit off to me. If my son was able to transcend the physical world, I wouldn’t want to keep him from that. Boo to her. But boo to a lot of people that tell others what they can think and do and whatnot. She could have easily just left Lorne alone to his own devises and let him live his own life. If they’re not hurting themselves or anyone else, I say let them be. Lorne certainly wasn’t doing either, so I say let him be.

Four days now, he said to me, as he bit into his buttered roll. It looked dry, and I wanted him to put more butter on it, or pour some water in his mouth as he chewed it. Choking hazards are real and I’m not good at the Heimlich maneuver—I’ve never performed said maneuver—but who’s good at something the first time around? I’m a slow learner, anyway.

Four days of what? I asked.

The meds. I haven’t been taking them. I’m feeling so good without them. Clarity. There’s so much clarity.

You have butter on your chin, I replied.

I’ve been chewing gum and sticking it on the side of my mouth, between my teeth and gums. The pill sticks to it and then I open up and they think I swallowed it.

I wouldn’t lick it off, though. Maybe use a napkin and wipe it. When’s the last time you washed your face? I asked. The butter’s not worth it for the risk.

Want me to show you how to fake the swallow? He asked. Are you paying attention?

Seems like a lot of work. Too much work.

Too much work to get your fucking mind back?! He yelled and stood up.

I really don’t want my skull to crack. I don’t think my bone structure is built quite like yours and if my mind expanded. I think even the slightest, I’d be done. My head would crack right open.

He picked up my milk and threw it on my face. I wasn’t going to say anything about it. He didn’t look happy with me. But sometimes a lot of people don’t look happy with me. They usually don’t throw milk on me. But milk doesn’t hurt much, so I don’t know what the big deal was. If it was a brick or chair, I could see tackling him to the floor and stabbing him with the needles, but milk? Maybe Cindy could have just asked him to apologize or something. But I wouldn’t have accepted it. We’re friends and we don’t need to apologize. Sometimes we say things. Sometimes we do things. I know he didn’t mean anything by it.

They said he was in the scare room for a week before his mother and step-father came and got him. Clarence told me that. Kind of barked it at me while I was going to the toilet to take a dump. Threw me off a bit and took me a minute to process before I regained my train of thought and what I was doing in front of the shitter.

Big boy’s gone! Big boy’s gone, indeed. They took him in the night, Clarence said. But I don’t think he was one-hundred on that. Nobody does anything during the night. That’s a time for sleep. Cindy tells me that. Night Time is sleep time. Why would he go and be about during the night?  Hell, why would anyone be out meddling with Lorne or any other “Big Boy” during the night, when Night Time is sleep time?

When I was done with my business, which I thought smelled just slightly better than Lorne on most days, I walked by his room and saw it was empty. The bed was stripped and there wasn’t even the slightest trace of anyone ever having slept in there, let alone Lorne. I went back to my room and sat on my bed. On my magazine stand, on top of my Popular Mechanics pile, was a carton of milk with a sticky note on it.

Lorne asked me to bring this to you—Cindy.

I threw the milk in the garbage in a fit of violent rage. But not like Lorne’s fit of violent rage. I just set it in the garbage, and thought about how I wasn’t happy about the milk being in my room. He didn’t need to apologize. I was furious. Friends don’t need to apologize for things like that. I, mean, it wasn’t a brick, or something that could have hurt.

The last time I saw Lorne, I didn’t really see him. I saw him. But I didn’t see him in person. He was on Jorge’s phone. But he pronounces it like George. With an American “G” instead of a Mexican “H” with a “hay” at the end. He was Mexican. I think he was Mexican. But he’d always tell me I aint no hay eating whore! But I don’t think whores eat hay. They say it’s for horses, but I’m not any sort of equestrian scholar or veterinarian. And after he told me that about eating hay and whores he showed me a video from some local news site, but we had to keep the volume off since we’re not supposed to have phones and music machines and the such in the house, but we were in the fun room and it was making it more fun, so I don’t know if they’d have minded so much, since it kind of made sense.

Jorge said, Hey! Psst! In kind of a whisper holler sort of way and got my attention. Jules! Come here and take a look at your big boy, he said. And so I did, but I didn’t know he was talking about Lorne at the time, since I’d never watched Lorne through a screen before—unless you consider the Thor movies, but that wasn’t really him, just looked like him.

It was a news cast. The subtitles were on, so we got a little information that way, but we didn’t need them to tell us what was going on. We could see it, better than Lorne’s parents could see and our eyes were watchful on our friend. The title said, STOLEN CAR LEADS TO POLICE CHASE AND SHOOTING. It was a red four-door car that looked too small for Lorne to get in and out of, so I immediately thought Jorge was mistaken, and this big boy wasn’t so big and he wasn’t our boy. But when the car stopped and the door opened and a head emerged from the car, I knew it sure was our boy. And it didn’t matter too much that I couldn’t see his face because of the bird’s eye view from the chopper camera. His head slid back out of view into the car, but the door remained open.

The subtitled words on the screen read:

POLICE: Exit the vehicle with your hands up!

POLICE: Get out of the car!

Lorne’s head popped back out, and I thought, way to go ‘ol boy! Don’t take no shit from the man! He got out of the car! Don’t do it, I thought. Don’t do what they tell you to.

When he did fully emerge, his hands were tucked inside of his long brown jacket—just like in a strait jacket on his way to the scare room. But he didn’t look scared now or doped. He looked happy and when he looked up his eyes were big and sunny like he knew something we didn’t. Which, maybe he did, since he’d always talked about knowing things that the rest of us didn’t.

POLICE: Take your hands out of your jacket!

POLICE: Sir, slowly take your hands out of your jacket! We will shoot!

Lorne turned left and right and seemed like he was going to make a break for it, but he didn’t. He pulled his hands out of his jacket. FAST. He pulled them out fast! I’d have been so scared if I was one of those cops, I’d have run away. Having Lorne rap to me with those dark blue eyes staring at me and it was all the fear I could take, but guns? No way! I’d have been running with a stream coming down my leg. And what do ya know! He pointed those guns at those cops and started shooting! Good for him! Good for you, Lorne! Go out on your terms. You don’t need to listen to them! And he opened fire and his hands and arms moved so rapidly and he looked like a gunslinger from the movies. Not one of those cowboy westerns where the guys are reloading their six-shooters, but the action movies where they have endless bullets before they have to reload and the good guy is killing bad guys left and right and all the bullets flying at the good guy are just an inch off as they whizz by the good-guys head. But the bullets from the cops didn’t whizz by Lorne’s head. Duck and roll! I thought. That’s what they do in the movies. The cops’ bullets hit ‘ol Lorne in the chest and the face and what seemed like everywhere, and if Lorne’s fingers had held one of them shooting guns instead of those two fingers in each hand, I bet he’d have shot every one of those damn cops. But I still think those fingers might have sprayed out a few bullets, because it was Lorne and he knew something the rest of us didn’t and he looked like Thor and, I don’t know, but he just might have had some type of hammer like that Mjolnir too. I bet he did.

All I know is he was my friend and he wasn’t that great of a rapper, but what white guy is? Can’t fault him for that. And his mom was always trying to get him to think and be someone he didn’t want to be and he never did hurt me with that milk, but I sure wish he didn’t need to apologize to me for it.

About the Author:

Santino DeFranco is a former professional Mixed Martial Arts fighter and has fought in the UFC, as well as appeared on the reality TV show The Ultimate Fighter. After a brain aneurysm and subsequent surgery, he retired from professional competition and has been writing ever since. His memoir was a finalist for the “Books for Film” competition, and is currently being considered for publication. His feature length screenplay was a semifinalist in the Marquee Screen Writing Competition, and his fiction and non-fiction has appeared in Bourbon Penn Press,, Curios Literary Journal, and Foliate Oak Literary Journal. Santino holds an MFA from Northern Arizona, and he is married with two children. He also teaches English at Glendale Community College in Glendale, Arizona.