Matt was twelve, his brothers were eight, and the townhouse they played hide and seek in was four. Their father was the second owner of the still-considered-new, mostly concrete, three-story home, and this was the first time that the boys had the place to themselves. They were playing hide and seek because their dad didn’t have any toys at his house. He wasn’t the type of dad that tried to make his kids comfortable, but the brothers didn’t mind; they did more than make due. They were pleased that their father said he’d be away at the store for an hour. The longer he was gone, the better.
Matt counted down from twenty in the kitchen as he opened each of his father’s drawers and cabinets. He felt the need to go through his father’s things. Searching the house was Matt’s attempt to understand who his father was. It was risky business. His father was meticulous, and even the junk drawer in the kitchen was organized and tidy. Matt did his best to put the drawer's contents back as he found them.
“Ready or not, here I come,” he shouted, holding a women’s necklace in his hands. He’d found it in another drawer lying there like a dead squid on the beach. It was between matches and a bottle opener and was Becky’s. He wondered if she was living with his father and if she would be at dinner tonight. He placed it back in the drawer, and then the fridge beeped at him. He’d left it open after he’d grabbed a soda from it. He opened it to peer inside once more. His dad said he was going to the grocery store, but the fridge was stocked with food. His dad was out of beer; Matt guessed that was why he’d gone to the store.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” Matt said to his brothers upstairs. They were hiding in a closet, or maybe behind the shower curtain in the tub. He knew that wherever they were, they were together because he could hear them chuckling. But Matt didn’t rush to find them. He’d only agreed to play hide and seek so that he could have time alone to sweep the house.
He went to the living room to inspect his dad's items on the shelves. He looked at a picture of the family from five years earlier. In the photo, all the brothers were sitting on one of their father’s old motorcycles as he held the bike upright so it wouldn’t fall; everyone was smiling.
Matt didn’t feel joyful when he looked at the picture. Instead, seeing the old motorcycle reminded him of what it was like living with his father. He remembered being a boy and wanting his father to pay attention to him instead of his motorcycles. He remembered his father berating the brothers for touching his things in the garage. Matt wondered why his father had this picture on display.
The items in the living room and kitchen covered the basics of his father’s life and confirmed what he’d already known about him. Matt knew that if he were going to find any real dirt, he’d have to take his sleuthing to the primary bedroom. It was tricky. Going into his father’s bedroom was trespassing. It was an unwritten rule. Even when their father spoke to the boys from within his room, they stood at the door and never went in without permission. Under normal circumstances, his brothers would cause a stink about him entering the room, but this wasn’t that. After all, they were playing hide and seek.
When Matt got to the top of the landing, he learned that his brothers weren’t hiding in their father’s room because he heard them snickering from the bathroom. It was perfect. “I’m going to find you,” Matt said, walking away from his brothers' hiding spot and into the double doors of his dad’s room.
At his dad’s old place, Matt had only been in his dad’s room twice, and on both occasions, his dad permitted him to enter. Crossing the threshold put the fear of jail in him. Unlike the room the brothers shared, their father’s room had hardwood floors, and Matt saw himself as a criminal in the reflection of their shine. He still had no idea what he was looking for, but the world was imploring him to explore.
The bed stared at Matt from the middle of the room. The sheets were burgundy, but to Matt, they looked redder, like they were burning electric coils emitting heat. The way he perceived the color was a signal that made him nervous. He convinced himself that it was wise to start his search in the closet.
In the wintertime, when the brothers played hide and seek as younger children, they’d seek refuge in the darkness of the closet and stumble upon their unwrapped Christmas gifts. And even without the game or the gifts, when they were simply in there listening to their mother bear the brunt of their father’s wrath, the closet provided them with security. Matt leaned his nose into the sleeves of his father’s blazers. The fabric was heavy on his nose and would have made him think of sleep if he wasn’t full of adrenaline. He knew it was stupid, but he worried that his father would be home any minute, and he’d get caught.
There was nothing in the closet, and the only thing he discovered in his father’s bathroom was more lotions and creams than expected and too many beer cans in the wastebasket. If he was going to unearth treasure, he needed to search the bed, and Matt knew he’d been avoiding it. Of course, the goods weren’t where he’d looked; they were in the middle of the room, where his father and Becky spent their time.
Matt approached the bed like he was on a wobbly dock. If his brothers had come in at that moment, they’d have wondered why he was trying to keep balance. He was as light-footed as he could be as he lurched to the bedside table and jiggled the drawer open. He was shocked by what he was looking at.
It was tiger print—the classic pattern with a bunch of jagged black lines and that unmistakably deep orange. It looked like a small missile. Matt wasn’t sure what it was. It was cylindrical, only a little bit thicker than a silver dollar, and about seven inches long. It had a dial at the bottom, which meant it could be turned on. Matt couldn’t figure it out. He had one hand on the bronze drawer knob, and his other hand hovered over the object. If he picked it up, he’d probably be able to figure out what it was. He looked behind him to check that the coast was still clear and then snatched the dildo.
It was the first time he’d ever held one in his hands or even seen one in real life, and he didn’t realize what it was until it was vibrating in his hand. It was startlingly loud and powerful, and its gyrations allowed it to jolt out of Matt’s hand and thud onto the floor. It rattled with such force against the hardwood that the vibrations ping-ponged off all the corners of the room and out the open door to the soft carpet of the hallway. Matt hurried to switch the dildo off, but it was no use. The mistake he’d made was letting the dildo out of his hands. As soon as it hit the floor, he knew his brothers would follow the loud noise, and he was right; like vultures, they swarmed him.
Matt held the switched-off dildo in his hands. It felt heavier when it was off, and it looked larger too. There was no good way to hold it, so the shaft just laid in his palms like it was a stiff dead fish.
“What’s that?” Dillion said.
“You don’t want to know, “Matt said.
“I know what it is,” Brian said.
Matt didn’t believe him, “You don’t know what it is.”
“Yea, I do.”
“What is it?” Dillion said.
“It’s a fake penis,” Brian said.
Matt started laughing as he placed the dildo back in the drawer. He noticed then that there was lube and condoms in there as well. He hadn’t seen them before because he was blinded by tiger print. The discovery confirmed that he’d found his dad’s sex drawer. He should have felt triumphant at his accomplishment, but what he’d done made him feel dirty. He’d touched something that his dad used on Becky while he was naked. He shuddered at the thought and questioned what gave him the urge to go searching in the first place.
“I want to see it,” Dillion said.
“No way,” Matt said, “ You shouldn’t even be in here.”
“You’re in here,” Brian said.
“I was looking for you,” Matt said.
“We would never hide in dad’s room. We can’t be in here,” Brian said.
“Good point. We should leave.” Matt said. His attempt at reverse psychology had no effect on his younger brothers, who stood immovable as statues as he tried to usher them to the room’s double doors.
Dillion looked at the floor when he told Matt how it was going to go, “If you don’t let us see the fake penis, we’re going to tell dad you went in his room.”
Matt’s biggest worry had come true. His brothers had figured out a way to use his presence in their father’s room as blackmail, and he could do nothing to combat it. As a kid, he’d learned his lesson; it was unwise to assume his brothers were bluffing. The incident he remembered best happened when he didn’t help his brothers sit on a motorcycle that he’d sat on. His brothers said they’d tell their father if Matt didn’t help them on the bike, but he didn’t believe them. The night ended with his father punching him in the chest so hard he felt his whole body collapse around his dad’s fist. He couldn’t breathe right for a week, and even after that, exercise was difficult enough that he got demoted to the second-string unit on his P.E. baseball team. Matt had no other choice but to let his brothers handle the dildo.
Again, Matt had to unstick the sex drawer by jiggling the knob. When he’d opened it again, the tiger-printed pleasure machine shined at the brothers like a missile on the side of a USA fighter jet. Matt looked at the boys to confirm their awe when he saw Brian was leaning against the bed and wrinkling his father’s sheets. He snapped at his little brother, “Get off of the bed, you idiot! Dad can’t know we’re in here.”
Brian wanted to rage at his older brother for treating him like a little kid, but he knew Matt was right. Matt watched as Brian straightened out the wrinkles. When Brian was done, Matt held out the dildo in front of him. It was so at home in his palm that it appeared to have grown out of it like a cucumber from the soil.
“This is how you turn it on,” Matt said.
Suddenly his whole arm was shaking, and he nearly lost control of the dildo for the second time. He tensed his arm so that all his muscles could control the gadget and then waited for the first brother to stick out their hand. It was Dillion. He held the dildo with two hands, laughed the whole time, and at one point asked his brothers how girls could like this. The truth was none of them knew.
Brian was equally amused when it was his turn to grapple with the dildo, and as all of them laughed together at the absurdity of the moment, Brian tried going for an extra laugh. He went from a double grip on the dildo to a single-handed grip and tried to hold it like a Star Wars lightsaber. Within six vibrations, the dildo had freed itself from his prepubescent hand and slammed to the floor.
The younger brothers kept laughing, but Matt was upset. He quickly picked up the dildo and turned it off. It wasn’t vibrating anymore, but Matt was confused. He still heard a noise that was causing the house to shake a little. His eyes went wide when he realized what it was, and he nearly jumped up from where he was standing as he hurried to put his father’s dildo back.
“Is that the garage?” Brian said.
Matt nodded. It was.
His brothers went white. The only other time he’d seen them look like that before was when they saw Matt’s broken arm after he fell on a halfpipe. Matt feared his father would see in his brothers’ faces that something was wrong and then catch them all on an invasion of privacy. Matt checked that the drawer looked as orderly as it had when he’d originally opened it, but under the stress of the moment, the first time he opened the sex drawer felt so long ago. He could only hope for the best as he closed the drawer and scanned the room for any trace of his and his brothers' presence.
The room was a moving target that he had to escort his brothers out of because they both seemed to be under the spell of fear. When they’d exited his father’s room, Matt gently closed the door a quarter of the way. Then, he heard the door to the garage open.
“I’m scared,” Dillion said.
“Just be cool,” Matt said.
The brothers descended the stairs to meet their father in the living room. Matt could feel the guilt on them and was terrified that their misbehavior would be obvious to their father. It was just like how it had been when they were young, and they’d done something to one of their father’s motorcycles in the garage. All the times their father knocked them upside the head were still fresh in their memories. Their father didn’t have to hit them twice to let them know who he was and where they stood. Matt knew that if his father found out they’d been in his room, let alone in his sex drawer, there would be a price to pay, and he instinctually thought of protecting his brothers.
“Boys?” Their father said as he thudded up the stairs, “You up there?”
The three brothers looked at each other. Their eyes said it all. In each one of them, there was regret and the fear of knowing the swift pain their father might dole out. They looked like chickens in the grasp of a farmer's chokehold just before they got their necks snapped.
Their father reached the top of the steps, and the last step, where the carpeted stair ended and the wood flooring of the living room started. As he turned the corner, Matthew made eye contact with his father and saw that he was drunk. He knew he hadn’t gone to the store for food.
Then, before Matt had the chance to blink, there was the sound of broken glass and the pungent smell of hops. Their father said “fuck” and “shit,” and the brothers cowered at his display of aggression. Their father had carried the plastic bag with his six-pack in it too low, and the beer bottles smashed into the top of the stair.
“Get me some towels!” Their father shouted at them.
The brothers had never been to the house before, and the younger brothers didn’t know where anything was. They stood still like they were posing for a picture, paralyzed by their worry. Matt thought he knew where they were but hoped his dad would help.
“Where are they?” Matt asked.
“They’re in the thing. Just get fucking towels,” his dad shouted at him.
Matt suddenly remembered the stash of kitchen towels that he’d spotted in the kitchen’s corner drawer. He scurried away to grab them, and when he returned, his dad was still cussing. He took the towels from Matt and desperately tried to stop the spill from dripping onto the carpeted stairs.
The younger brothers remained silent as they watched their older brother fan the flames of their father’s mistake. Matt held the pile of kitchen towels out in front of him as a good helper should.
His father didn’t say anything to him or turn to look at him. All his father did was take one towel, sop up beer, take another, and do the same thing.
“I got to clean this before Becky gets here.”
“Becky’s coming over?” Matt said and handed his dad another towel, which he used to sop up the last puddle of beer.
“Yea. Get the Windex,” His father demanded, “That will mask the smell.”
Matt nodded and turned to the kitchen. He knew exactly where the Windex was. He glanced at his little brothers, who hadn’t moved but had changed their expressions; they were smirking. Matt’s lips curled up at seeing their reaction to the news. It was good that Becky was coming over. Their father wouldn’t bother them tonight.