This House Is Not a Home – by Thomas Kearnes

(c) Thomas Kearnes 

Jackie falls into a trance watching Dora the Explorer with the children. Most of the kids prefer television to playing at the stations elsewhere in the room. Jackie is supposed to encourage activity, outdoor fun, but she understands the narcotic allure of flashing images and perky voiceovers. Whatever keeps them quiet. When a commercial starts,  her gaze drifts to the far corner of the room. There, a “house” made of colorful miniature furniture and architecture stands. Sometimes, children mimic the domestic arrangements of their own homes: a mommy, a daddy, a baby doll, plastic food items, clothing plucked from a cracked laundry basket.

Two children nestle behind the makeshift sink in the “kitchen.” Jackie’s eyebrows jump to realize both are boys, and the one named Bryan wears a floppy housedress over his T-shirt and jeans. The two boys huddle, pretend to wash a baby doll. They speak, perhaps in whispers; Jackie can’t make out the words. The intimacy between the boys, the familiarity, makes her muscles tense, her stomach lurch. She must spare these children the torment she and Dawn experience. Without a word, she marches across the room and grabs Bryan by the arm. But we’re giving our baby a bath, Bryan whines. Jackie says nothing. The boy resists, insists the ugly doll with its creepy bug eyes and missing leg needs him. Miss Jackie, it’s bathtime!

Jackie yanks the small boy by his elbow. Strangely, none of the children notice Bryan struggle, twist his arm and drag his feet. Jackie prefers keeping her post at the back of the immense room with its frayed carpet and painted cinderblock. A stern face and rigid posture often suffice to show who runs this circus. What Bryan was doing, however, warrants a more personal approach. Jackie hopes Miss Rachel doesn’t learn about this. It’s necessary but so difficult to explain. Dawn would understand when Jackie called her during her break from the kids.

Upstairs in the office, Jackie maneuvers Bryan behind Miss Rachel’s desk. Papers and thick folders litter the top, but in one corner there resides a trio of family photographs. Bryan’s lower lip quivers. Jackie prays he doesn’t start to cry. She has no tolerance for tears. Keeping her voice firm, she points at a photo of Miss Rachel and her husband. Who’s that, she asks. Bryan doesn’t answer, looks away, but Jackie repeats the question more harshly. He correctly names the woman, so Jackie asks who stands beside her. A man, Bryan mutters. That’s right, Jackie says. A man. Miss Rachel is a woman and that man is her husband. They live in a house, just like the pretend house downstairs. One man and one woman. That makes a home. Not one boy and another boy in a dress. Jackie never has to decide whether to showcase her photos with Dawn. Only administrators have offices.

Bryan gapes at Jackie, his eyes wide with confusion. Jackie kneels beside him, their gazes level. They’re a family, she says. If you want to play house, ask a girl to be the mommy. You can’t be the mommy. Do you understand? Bryan chews his finger with vigor. Jackie slaps away his hand. She orders him downstairs to take off the dress. What about Danny, the boy asks. Jackie rises from her knees and points toward the doorway. Bryan slouches, jams his finger back in his mouth and slinks away.

Jackie waits a moment before following. She wishes to spare herself whatever awkward scene might occur between Bryan and his “husband.” After a few minutes, she rejoins the children. Most are still bewitched by annoying, big-headed Dora as she clomps toward some new sanitized adventure. At the edge of the group, Bryan sits, his head tilted into one hand. Jackie can’t tell, but she suspects he’s watching Danny, now bathing the baby doll by himself. From the back of the room, Jackie claps loudly and affects a sweet, cajoling voice. Would any girls like to play house with Danny? Such a handsome young man, I wanna play! C’mon, girls! She claps harder. The children ignore her. Every house needs a mommy. A mommy and a daddy, like my family!

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Thomas Kearnes is a 35-year-old author from East Texas. He has appeared inthe mainstream venues PANK, Storyglossia, Night Train, Smoke Long Quarterly, Word Riot, Eclectica, JMWW Journal, wigleaf and elsewhere. Hehas appeared in the gay venuesBlithe House Quarterly, Velvet Mafia, Harrington Gay Men’s Literary Quarterly as well as others. He is a former Pushcart Prize nominee.

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8 Comments to “This House Is Not a Home – by Thomas Kearnes”

  1. This story tackles a dangerous subject, namely, the sexuality of children. I well recall how I, at about this same age, got a talking-to about what boys do and don’t do. In fact, there were many such private asides through my formative years, some more forcefully delivered than others. Good story!

    • Yes, this story does tackle a sensitive issue. I liked this story, but was a little worried when posting it because I was (am) concerned that some people may skim through it and believe it is an anti-gay story, when in fact it is the exact opposite.

      This story very cleverly shows the thinking behind how a gay person can develop these repressive measures and may end up acting in such an apparent homophobic way.

  2. I’m so glad my story has sparked this discussion. Believe it or not, I didn’t realize that Jackie herself was a lesbian until the story was halfway done. Also, it never occurred to me that exploring a young child’s sexual identity would be considered taboo, but I tend to be a little naive about social protocol. Thanks again for publishing my story.

    • I don’t think exploring a child’s sexual identity is taboo, but modern society seems very worried about talking about a child’s sexuality in general. But it did not put me off publishing the story as I believe these things can be talked about, and why not? Children are people too and they are entitled to have people write about them and their issues as much as adults do.

  3. I don’t believe that discussing the sexuality of children SHOULD be taboo, but unfortunately, this is all too often the case. At any rate, I wish there were more stories like this, as we’ve all gone through something like this in our early years.

  4. John,

    I’m so glad you found something of value in my story. I’ve always been fascinated by the precise moment a child loses his/her innocence (be it sexual, emotional, intellectual or other). I’ve published one other flash on this theme and have another forthcoming from The Dead Mule. I suspect I’ll revisit this obsession again in future stories.

    Thomas

  5. Yes, Thomas, this is a theme that it takes guts to tackle. You have done so admirably. I will look for your other works here and elsewhere.

  6. Your story makes me wonder if boys really get the brunt of the social conditioning in childhood or the genders just get different pressures. I always was “brother” when we played house. I never wanted to play girl roles. I made remarks like “I want to be the first woman king” and when I found playing Robin Hood i was thrilled.. i was Robin. My father was uneasy, but not as much as he would have been if I had been a boy playing sister.

    What girls get is the “fat” message. We learn early that we mustn’t be aggressive or show up the boys and that daddy’s approval comes at a price but that the worst thing you can do is be fat. i read once how a woman who ran a “Women At large” fitness place, that affirmed all body shapes and sizes, was talking to a male friend and heard him shout at his daughter, “Don’t eat that cookie, Suzy! If you do you’ll get fat and daddy won’t love you any more.”

    I dream of a day when kids learn lessons like kindness and acceptance instead of gender roles and how to become anorexic.

    Nan

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