THE HEART IS DECEITFUL ABOVE ALL THINGS

By J.T. LeRoy

BLOOMSBURY

Copyright © 2001 J.T. LeRoy.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 1-58234-142-7



Chapter One


DISAPPEARANCES


His long white buck teeth hang out froma smile, like a wolf dog. His eyes have avacant, excited, mad look. The lady holdingit, crouched down to my height, is grinning too widely.She looks like my baby-sitter, without the braces, thesame long blond braid that starts somewhere inside thetop of her head. She shakes Bugs Bunny in my face,making the carrot he's clutching plunge up and downlike a knife. I wait for one of the social workers to tellher I'm not allowed to watch Bugs Bunny.

    ‘Look what your momma got you,’ I hear.

    Momma.

    I say it softly like a magic word you use only whenseverely outnumbered.

    ‘Right here, honey,’ the woman with the bunnysays. She smiles even wider, looking up at the threesurrounding social workers, nodding at them. Theirtilted heads grin back. She shakes the rabbit again.

    ‘I'm your momma.’ I watch her red, glossy lips, and Ican taste the word, metallic and sour in my mouth. AndI ache so badly for Her, the real one that rescues me.

    I stare out at the blank faces, and from deep insideI scream and scream for Her to come save me.


When we first get back to the tiny, one-bedroombungalow, I throw myself on the floor, kicking andscreaming for my real momma.

    She ignores me and makes dinner.

    ‘Look, Spaghetti-Os,’ she says. I won't move. I fallasleep on the floor. I wake up in a narrow cot withBugs Bunny next to me, and I scream.

    She shows me the few toys she's gotten me. I have moreand better at my real home. I throw hers out the window.

    One of the social workers comes by, and I cry sohard I throw up on her navy blue tassel shoes.

    ‘He'll get used to it, Sarah,’ I hear her tell my newmom. ‘Hang in there, honey,’ she tells her, and patsher shoulder.

    At lunch she gives me peanut butter and jelly withthe crusts on. My real momma cuts the crust off. Ifling the plastic Mickey Mouse plate off the table.

    She spins around, hand raised into a fist. I scream, shefreezes, her fist shaking, a foot away from my chest.

    We both stare at each other, breathing hard. Andsomething passes between us, and her face seals up. Idon't know what it is exactly.

    As my sobs start she grabs her denim jacket andleaves. I'd never been alone before, not even for fiveminutes, but I know something has changed, somethingis different, and I don't scream.

    I run to my bed, curl up tight, and wait for everythingto be different.


The phone's shrill ringing wakes me up. It's dark withoutthe dinosaur night-light I used to have.

    ‘Thank you, Operator, it works,’ I hear her sayquietly. Then, almost yelling, ‘Hello? ... Hello? ...Yes, Jeremiah is here ...’

    My heart starts pounding. ‘Jeremiah, honey, are youawake?’ she calls out, her shadow haunting my partlyopened door.

    ‘Momma?’ I call out, pushing my sheets away.

    ‘Yes, honey, it's your foster parents.’ I run to herand the phone.

    ‘Oh yes, he's here.’ I reach up for the phone withevery muscle.

    ‘What ... oh ...’ She frowns. I jump up and down,straining.

    ‘Bad? ... Well he hasn't been very bad ...’ Sheturns away from me, the black phone cord wrappingaround her.

    ‘Momma!’ I shout, and pull on the phone cord.

    ‘Yes ... I see,’ she says, nodding, turning awayfrom me farther. ‘Oh, is that why? OK, I'll tell him.’

    ‘Gimme ... Momma!’ I yell, and yank hard on thecord.

    ‘So you don't want to speak to him?’

    ‘Daddy!’ I yell, and grab hard. The phone receiverflies out of her hands, bounces on the blue, sparkledlinoleum, and slides under the table. It spins like abottle, the mouthpiece facing up. I spring for it, slidinglike my daddy taught me when we played whiffleball.Just as my finger touches the dull, black plastic of thephone, it jerks and flies out from under the table andaway from me.

    ‘Got it!’ I hear her gasp. ‘Hello? ... Yes! Yes! Hedid that ... Fuck yeah, I'll tell him.’

    I twist around and drag myself from under the table.

    ‘OK, thanks.’ She smiles into the phone.

    ‘No!’ I reach up with my arms.

    ‘Y'all take care ...’

    ‘No!’ My feet skid under me, leaving me back onmy stomach.

    ‘Good-bye.’ In slow motion she swirls like a ballerina,a grin wide on her face.

    ‘No!’

    Her arm rises into the air, the spiral cord swingingin front of me. I grab for it, her hand sweeps backward,and I catch nothing.

    ‘Momma!’ I scream, and I watch the receiver loweredinto its cradle on the couch's white plastic end table.

    I scramble to the phone and snatch it up. ‘Momma,Momma, Daddy!’ I shout into it.

    ‘They hung up,’ she says. She sits on the opposite endof the couch and lights a cigarette, her bare legs pulledto her chest, tucked under her large white T-shirt.

    Even though I hear the dial tone humming, I still callfor them. I press the receiver to my ear as tightly as Ican, in case they're there, past the digital tone callingto me like voices lost in a snowstorm.

    ‘They're gone,’ she says, blowing smoke out. ‘Youwanna know what they said?’

    ‘Hello? ... Hello?’ I say quieter.

    ‘They didn't want to talk to you.’

    ‘Hello?’ I turn away from her and wrap myself inthe cord.

    ‘I said they did not want to talk to you.’

    ‘Uh-uh,’ I whisper. I twist more, and the receiverslips out of my hands, banging on the linoleum.

    ‘Don't you throw my phone!’ She gets up quicklyand grabs the receiver at my feet.

    ‘You ain't gonna be throwing things no more,’ shesays, and unwraps the wire snaked around me, jerkingit violently around my Superman pajamas like a whip.

    She hangs up the phone and goes back to the couch,crossing her legs. She twists backward to look at me.

    ‘I went through a lot to get you back, and you'regoing to be grateful, you, you little shit.’

    A loud gasp pops out of me, a silent sob. I'm beyondregular crying.

    When Momma and Daddy go out without me, leavingme with Cathy the baby-sitter, I always cry a while.Sometimes I even scream and lay on the wood floornear the front door, smelling the leftover trail ofsweet perfume Momma left. But I always stop crying,remembering my special treats left in the top drawerfor being a good, grown-up boy. Cathy and me watchthe Rainbow Brite video, and she reads three books to me,and when I wake up they're back, Momma and Daddyare always back in their place. ‘We always come back,’they tell me.

    ‘Do you want to know what they said about you?’ Ihear her puff hard on the cigarette. I stare at a huge waterbug scurrying under the couch past her foot. I shake myhead no, turn around, and go back to my bed.

    I grab Bugs Bunny from under the cot where I'dshoved him, wrap my arms around him under myblankets, and between hiccups whisper in his oversizefuzzy ear, ‘When you wake up, they'll be back, they'llbe back.’


That was the first night I wet. I woke up feeling a colddampness under my blankets as if an air conditionerhad been turned on somewhere beneath me. I'd neverwet before, unlike Alex, my best friend from preschoolwhen I lived with my real parents. When he spent thenight, my momma had to put the special plastic coverunder the galaxy sheets. ‘He has accidents,’ I repeatedto my momma as I helped her stretch the opaque whiteplastic over the mattress. ‘I don't,’ I told her.

    ‘No, you use the toilet like a big boy.’ She smiledat me, and I laughed with joy. I had a giraffe ladderI'd climb up on. I'd stand tall as a giant, raise the seatmyself, and I'd rain down my powerful stream. I usedto float my toy boats in the toilet and pour down onthem, sinking them, till my mom explained that's notgood to do, so I did it in my bath instead, making myspeedboats and tankers suffer under my forceful gale.

    When Alex and I lay in bed discussing who had abigger rocketship that went fastest to the moon, I feltproud every time I heard the aluminum foil-like crinkleof him moving on his sheets against the smooth swishingof mine. ‘It's okay,’ I'd tell him in the morning, pattinghis shoulder. ‘It's just an accident. You'll use the giraffeone day, too.’


I peel the wet blanket and sheet off me carefully andlook down at the wet, my wet. Bugs Bunny grins upat me, his fuzzy cheek fur matted and damp.

    I sit up slowly and stare at the bright yellow roomaround me. I had had dinosaurs painted all over my oldwalls. Here, tacked up, is a poster of a large clown,frowning, maybe crying, holding a droopy flower.

    ‘Look at the clown, look at the clown, isn't hefunny?!’ my new momma had said. I nodded but didn'tsmile. In my old room my momma would complain,‘There's no place to put all these toys.’ Two blue milkcrates side by side hold all my clothes and toys now,and they're not half-full.

    I stand there leaning against the cot, staring at it all:the dark wet patch on my red Superman pajamas, theorange swirly-patterned linoleum lumpy and bubbledlike little turtles are living beneath it, the whitish browncottage-cheese stuff in the ceiling corners, the ABC booksI'd outgrown six months ago buried in the crates.

    And I know I won't cry. I just know it isn't possible.I undress quickly and repeat to myself all I need to dressmyself. I dig in the milk crate: one shirt, two arms, oneunderwear, two legs, one pants, two legs, two socks,two feet. My old sneakers. I put on the ones I canclose and open with sticky stuff by myself, not hersthat she got me, ones you have to tie. Two sneakers,two feet.

    ‘You dressed yourself!’ she'd say.

    ‘All by myself’ I'd tell her, and I'd get a star onmy chart. Twenty stars and I got a matchbox car. I hadnear a hundred of them.

    I go into the living room quietly. She lies on thecouch, curled under a fuzzy blanket with a lion on it.Open cans and cigarettes are strewn on the floor andcoffee table. The TV is on with no sound, no cartoons,just a man talking.

    I tiptoe past her, silently pull a chair over to thefront door, climb up, and noiselessly turn the locks. Iknow how, my daddy taught me in case of a fire oran emergency and I needed to get out.

    I climb down, turn the knob, and pull. The lightmakes me squint, and the coolness of the air makesme shiver, but I know I have to go, it's an emergency.I have to get out.

    I walk for a long time, staring at my sneakers, theonly familiar thing around me. I concentrate on them,walking quickly on the cracked, weed-filled sidewalk,trying to escape the crooked bungalows, all with sagging,rotting porches, with paint cracking like dried mud. Dogsbark and howl, a few birds chirp now and then, and theslam of car doors makes me jump as people get homeor leave for work.

    A huge gray factory hovers up ahead, like a metalliccastle floating in its thick, yellowish bellows of smoke.I watch my sneakers for directions. They're from home.Like stories about carrier pigeons I loved to hear, Iknow they'll return me to home. I survive crossingstreets by myself for the first time. Even though nocars are visible, I run, my heart thudding, expecting tobe crushed suddenly. I walk fast, shaking my hands likerattles to keep me going, like a train's engine forcingme forward, keeping me from stopping, keeping mefrom curling up in a tight ball and trying to wake up.

    Past the heavy-gated factory, chugging and snortingso loud I can't hear the soft padding of my sneakerson the gravel as I run. Run from the gaping, smoking,metal dragon's mouth, trying to swallow me whole.And then I'm going uphill, through a field so thickwith brown grass I can't see my sneakers, but I knowat the top I'll see my home, my real home. I'll runthrough the door and into their arms, and everythingwill be right again.

    My foot catches on a half-buried rubber tire, and Ifall forward, my chin and hands digging into the reddishbrown earth.

    I lie there quietly, too surprised to move. I lift mychin and stare at the tilted world around me. The darkclay earth's spread out and glitters from the multicoloredshards, as if a pane of stained glass is hiding beneath.

    A slow stream of watery red fills the moats my slidinghands made, and the pain, stinging and sharp, stops mybreath. I pull my hands back and there are wet darkslits in them. My white T-shirt catches the red tear inmy chin.

    And I know they're really gonna be sorry now. I getup and run toward the top of the cliff. The tears arecoming now and little yelplike screams slowly gettinglouder as I get closer.

    Right over the hill is the house with the big greenlawn, and swings and slides, and my castle in the back.My house.

    I'll burst through the door and scream till they comerunning like they did when I fell off my swing andscraped my forehead. But I won't shut up, I won't letthem kiss it better. I'll scream till the roof flies off, tillall the windows shatter, till they themselves blow apartand explode. I'll make them sorry.

    I'm almost at the top of the hill. I can smell theeucalyptus scent of the living room, hear the tick tickof the wood clock that chimes with a colorful cuckooevery hour.

    I scream and lunge for the top.

    The grass is deep and thick on the flat hilltop. I pushmy way through the brush. I see the edge ahead whereit all drops down, down to the yard fenced in white.I slow down, my breath hitching, my hands balled intosoggy fists. I reach out a shaking arm and move asidethe last weeds blocking my way home.

    I'll let them cover me in kisses. I'll let them hugme long and hard. I'll let them give me hot cocoa andcookies because I'm such a brave boy.

    I'll let them, if only their house were down thereinstead of the tight rows and rows of peeling, rottingbungalows.

    At that ledge, overlooking the worn and ruinedhouses, I understand the world has suddenly becomeas frightening, violent, and make-believe as the cartoonsI wasn't supposed to watch.


When Sarah walks into the brick police station I screamso loud, everything goes silent except her high heelsclicking toward me.

    I cling to the officer who found me, showed me howto use his radio, bought me a chocolate ice cream, andlet me wear his cap after I let a nurse clean my cuts.

    ‘Your mommy's here.’ He leans down and tries topush me toward her. They speak above me, and I cansmell the strong perfume on her, not like my mom'sclean laundry scent.

    I hold tighter and bury my face in the soft dark blueweave of his pants.

    ‘I thought you wanted to go home to your mommy,’he says, looking down at me. I shake my head no.

    ‘He's just confused,’ she says. She crouches andwhispers into my ear, ‘If you come with me now,I'll take you back to your momma.’ I turn to faceher. She smiles, winks at me, and puts out her hand,tan and thin with long red nails.

    I slowly let go of the policeman's leg and give her myhand, wrapped in a bandage and stained with chocolateice cream that looks like blood.

    ‘Good boy.’ The officer pats my head. I let mymother lead me through the brightly lit fluorescentstation, but my head is turned back to the policeman,watching him wave, and smile good-bye, as if I know Iwill never see the police in that magic, protective lightever again.


She only nods her head while blowing smoke out ofthe window as we drive from the police station.

    ‘Take me home,’ I repeat again and again. She staresstraight ahead. She slides her palm up to her foreheadin a heavy, slow movement, like ironing.

    Soon the road looks familiar, the cracked two-lanetar and the big, metal factory, its pipes connecting toitself like silver luggage handles. Panic lurches in mychest, and I turn toward her in my seat.

    ‘You said you'd take me home!’ Her lips suck in asshe chews them.

    I pound on the window. ‘Lemme out, lemme out,lemme out!’ The car veers suddenly off the road,opposite the gated factory. The ripping sound of theemergency brake reminds me of my daddy pullingup to our house, and I sob. She holds her cigaretteup and blows on its red, dusty tip till it glows likea night lamp.

    ‘It's bad to smoke,’ I tell her between gasps. ‘Mymomma, my momma says so.’

    She looks over at me. ‘Is that what they say?’ she says,real singsong-like. I nod, spit I can't swallow dribblingfrom my mouth.

    ‘Well, I'll have to make myself a note to thank themvery, very much.’ She sucks hard on the cigarette, thenpulls out the ashtray, crumbles it into it, and blows astream of white smoke into my face.

    ‘Does that meet your spec-i-fications?’ She smiles,closemouthed.

    The tears are bubbling in my eyes, hazing everythinglike a cotton film.

    ‘OK, OK. Now before you start wailing, let's you andI have us a little chat.’ She turns to me, a leg bent on thebench-type seat between us. I blink at my tears, and thepicture clears some, but more are coming too fast.

    ‘Let's get this straight. I'm your mother. I had you.You came right from here.’ She pulls up her denimskirt and pats the flat dark under her pantyhose, betweenher legs. I look away, out the window, toward theblurry factory.

    ‘No, you pay me mind.’ She reaches out and turns myface toward her. Before I can scream she says quickly,‘Your momma and daddy want you to hear me. If youwant to go home to them, you listen.’ I swallow myscream and nod.

    ‘You gonna listen?’

    ‘I go home!’

    ‘You gonna listen?’ She reaches under my chin, raisingmy face to hers. I nod and then shake my head free of herhand. I hiccup hard, and chocolate ice cream runs downmy mouth and shirt.

    ‘Jesus ...’ She grabs an end of my shirt and wipesat my face, hard, not the soft dabs my momma does,even as I wriggle my face away from her. I don't tryto pull away, though.

    As she rubs my face, pressing my lips into my teeth,she says, ‘I had you when I was just fourteen years old,can't say I wanted you; can't say I didn't do rabbits’tricks to try and get rid of you.’ She spits on my chinand wipes hard, ignoring my band-aid.

    ‘If my father'd let me, you'd long been flushed downsome toilet. You understand?’ I nod, even though I don't.I sob quietly, my lips sucking in.

    ‘They took you from me ... goddamn social workercunts.’ She lets my face go and looks past me to thefactory. ‘Now I'm eighteen now ...’ She looks atme, nods. ‘I got you back.’ She pats my head. ‘See,you're mine.’

    ‘Take me home,’ I whisper.

    ‘Do you hear what I'm saying to you?’ she yells. Shereaches down into her denim bag and pulls out anothercigarette. I turn toward my window.

    ‘Take me home,’ I say louder.

    ‘They don't want you.’ She flicks her lighter.

    ‘Take me home!’ I yell, and hit the glass.

    ‘You goddamn, spoilt brat ... ‘ She grabs my handand twists me toward her. ‘Don't make me whoopyou!’

    I gasp hard, and a little more chocolate ice creamdribbles out. She jerks my arms above my head, puffson her cigarette, and exhales, her head shaking thesmoke out like a released balloon.

    ‘They said they got rid of you ‘cause you're bad ...you understand?’

    I try to pull my arms down, my face red and swollen.She leans closer, into my ear. ‘Your foster par ...your momma and daddy ...’ She grabs my cheekswith her other hand and turns my face to her, thecigarette hanging from her lips.

    ‘They ... shit!’ The cigarette drops. ‘Shit!’ She letsgo of me. ‘See what you made me do?’ She leans downto retrieve the lit cigarette, and I jump over to the door,pushing and pulling at the handle.

    ‘Momma and Daddy never showed you how to unlocka goddamn car door?’ She laughs behind me. ‘You wannago home? ... Fine, I'll take you, I'll take you back.’

    The keys jingle in the ignition, and the brake ripsagain. The car rumbles beneath us. I let go of thedoor handle.

    ‘Go—go home,’ I sputter.

    ‘Yeah, go fucking home!’ She rolls down her windowand flicks her cigarette out.

    She pulls back out onto the tarmac, drives pastthe factory and the dirty, broken houses, one ofwhich is hers.

    I sit back in my seat, heaving, wiping chocolate drooloff my mouth.

    ‘I was just trying to help you,’ she says quietly.

    I look out at the abandoned shacks overrun with grassand vines, like a museum exhibit of another world.

    ‘My guess is they'll just call the police when I bringyou back.’

    We pass children with sooty faces playing in aturned-sideways refrigerator.’

    ‘The reason you're with me, you know, is becausethey don't want you no more.’ I turn in my seat, a littletoward her. ‘They told me, ‘member when they calledlast night?’ She adjusts the rearview mirror. ‘They saidyou're a bad boy, and that's why they gave you away.If they loved you so goddamn much, well then, why'dthey get rid of you? Answer me that.’

    I sniffle and swallow a snot glob.

    ‘They found out how evil you are, those police ...they were ready to do you in. If I hadn't've begged them,those cops would've taken out their guns and shot youthrough.’ She adjusts her mirror again, then runs herfinger under her eyes, wiping off the black smears.

    ‘I got ice cream,’ I whisper.

    ‘Just because I convinced them not to kill you.’She looks over at me. ‘If I hadn't taken you fromyour foster, your momma and daddy, where you thinkyou'd be?’

    I choke on a hiccup. She pats my back a littletoo hard.

    ‘They didn't try to stop the social worker fromtaking you away, now, did they?’ she asks me softly.I look out at the mountains rising and falling into eachother, little gray wood shacks lodged between them likefood caught between teeth. They hadn't tried to stopthe social worker from taking me. They'd even turnedaway fast from the car once I was in it. As I screamedand banged on the back windshield for them, I saw mydaddy hug my momma with both arms, her head onhis chest, and they walked back toward the house, theydidn't turn around.

    ‘How many times did you go cryin’ and throwingtantrums like a spoilt baby if you didn't get yourway, huh?’

    I look up at the clouds, too gray and weighted tobe floating over the mountain peaks. ‘Be a good boyand don't cry for Momma,’ she had said lots of times.I usually ended up crying, though.

(Continues...)


Excerpted from THE HEART IS DECEITFUL ABOVE ALL THINGS by J.T. LeRoy. Copyright © 2001 by J.T. LeRoy. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.