The Mighty Strength

"There's a dead rat back here." wheedles The Incredible Hulk. "It's right back here, come and see him." he wheedles and charms. The Incredible Hulk is my neighbor. He is neither incredible nor hulk-like, but he asked me when I met him, to please call him that so I do. I don't actually know his real name but I know he is six and that someone has carefully fashioned a pair of muscle-busted trousers for him that look like the ones Lou Ferrigno wore when Bill Bixby would turn into him on the TV show.

He lives off the alley across from my house. I watch him play all day long on the carless length of street with his friend Jason. Jason is a bit older and more delicate than The Hulk, and is palsied and shy. Both boys accompany me whenever I walk my dog up and down the street.

Now the dog is defecating and the boys squeal with laughter like they always do. He glances back at them, humiliated as he continues to do his business. The boys can barely contain themselves when I pick his poop up with my plastic bag.

I don't want to see the rat but I do. The dead animal looks like he fell asleep in a cradle of leaves after eating a huge meal. A black cat (maybe the rat's murderer) runs furtively by, nearly but not quite escaping the boys' attention.

"The cat!" yells The Hulk, "We're going to catch him and eat him for breakfast."

Run like the wind kitty. Both boys make a valiant effort but the cat is quick to the safety of a neighbor's fenced yard. Jason is surprisingly agile for a crippled kid as he scales the rusting chain link fence. Half way up he thinks better of the climb or just loses interest in the cat.

"I told a lie today and that's a sin." he says to me as he jumps down onto his bent little legs.

"I hit a man's car with my ball and he asked me where I lived and I lied and told him I lived down there."

He points in the opposite direction of his house.

"But everyone tells a lie sometimes, everybody sins sometimes."

"Yes," I agree, "they do."

"Plus I'm not allowed to talk to strangers. Which God do you worship?" he asks me and I can see it is a question that lives in the front of his mind.

"Well how many are there?" I vamp.

"There are three," he says holding up three fingers.

The Hulk gives him a slow-burn look of disbelief and then corrects his misguided friend.

"There is one, really. It's Jesus." The Hulk says. "Are you saved? We're saved. Are you saved?"

"Do I look saved?" I ask them.

The old "answering a question with a question" strategy throws 'em. They squint their eyes and consider me in this new light.

"Yeah, you do." they agree.

"Well there you have it, I guess I am then."

I quickly head across the street to my house before the interrogation can continue. I'm suddenly afraid of being caught and eaten for breakfast.

I can see the boys from my second floor window. They are back on rat watch when a man falls backward, arms flailing, out the front door of The Hulk's house.

This does not strike me in any way as unusual or even alarming. It seems the people inhabiting the Hulks house are always drunk to some degree or another. There is an older woman who lives there (Hulk's grandmother?) and a few younger men. At nine o' clock every morning these young men stumble out of the house with forties in hand and pile into the back of a waiting van. Off they go to their daily jobs, delivering the advertising flyers door to door that inevitably end up blowing around the streets when they are not secured properly in mail slots and handrails. Lit up like Christmas trees these guys spend their days making litter available to the rest of us in the form of restaurant and nail salon circulars.

Early one Saturday morning I was walking my dog in the alley by their house. The back door was open and I glanced the older woman and one of the young guys in the kitchen dancing to some rock song on a tinny sounding toy radio. They were both sort of slumped forward twisting and weaving with their eyes closed like they were in the last stretch of some all night dance marathon. I remember thinking- These folks know how to party.

Anyway I have never seen flailing man before but I can tell he is having a Miller-Highlife-bad-scene.

"Mother fucking Brian Weibel, had his fuckin' mother take my fuckin' kids away!" he yells to no one in particular.

It sounds like some kind of song lyric.

"I'm going to put a fuckin' gun to Brian fuckin' Weibel's head, man."

I imagine Jimi Hendrix making art out of these sentences.

The boys cower now by the dead rat staring at the man, ready to bolt. They are clutching each other and for a moment the whole thing looks like some deranged Norman Rockwell Life Magazine cover- "The Rat" or "Drunken Papa". The boys look like a couple of unfortunate Hummel figurines caught in Dr. Caligari's bad curio cabinet.

Flailing man goes back into the house. I can still hear him yelling. The boys return to their rat vigil. I watch for a little longer but nothing else happens and I think to myself, Mother fuckin' Brian Weibel better lay low tonight if he knows what's good for him.

About the author:

Joy recently moved to the neighborhood of Fishtown in Philadelphia. She is originally from West Virginia and living here's been a little like going home and she can't help writing about it. Joy has had stories published on Amy Fusselman's now defunct and in Alex Melamid's The RBS Gazette. Joy lives with a really great kid and a very bad dog.