Backyard Novelty

Even before reaching the backgate, Yuri could imagine his father getting angry. His bearded form would suddenly appear on the back porch, furrowing his brows, and then he would yell with that voice which made it hard to breathe. So often it was hard to breathe.

Yuri performed a deep inhalation now, expanding his ribs. He removed his glasses and exhaled a deep fog, giving them a wipe. Today I will be strong, Yuri decided. Today I’m finally going to do it.

Swinging arms high above his head, Yuri marched across the lawn. The latch was easy to lift, and the old cedar door was easy to creak open. Once on the other side, Yuri quickly crouched low, knowing his silhouette could barely be seen through the wooden slats. As long as he moved slowly, he was indistinguishable from the garbage cans or weeds.

Yuri skulked towards the new recycler unit, feeling the thrill of pretending to be brave. He had wanted to see the forbidden machine ever since it was installed.

His father received it as an exclusive gift for knowing exclusive people, and in a sense this was a mark of pride for Yuri. But it was also a mottled and confused pride, because sometimes Yuri’s father would regret owning the new things, no matter how nice, and his tone of voice would become low and disappointed, like it often did around Yuri.

It was as if all of father’s things were only as valuable as they were distracting, Yuri thought. In the end, everything became a waste of time. But the boy was too young to brood, and this new machine looked fun. As he neared it, Yuri placed his hand on the smooth conical surface, it sort of resembled the pointed hat he was given on his birthday, except the top was cut off, so it looked more like a volcano.

He quickly glanced back at the porch through the wooden slats, double-checking for any signs of observers. Then, very delicately, his tiny frame crawled up the slopes of this silvery volcano, relying heavily on knees.

Once he reached the top, Yuri carefully removed an empty glass from his back pocket. It was a miniature vodka bottle his father had left lying around the house. Yuri straddled the volcano’s crater, and carefully thumbed the lid on top. It opened without resistance.

He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to find inside. Cogs? Saws? Spikes that recycled glass into dust? But instead of spotting anything mechanical, Yuri gazed at hundreds of moving organic shapes, crawling atop each other. They were living insects. Termites.

Yuri practically slipped off. He had seen termites on streamshows before, but what were they doing here? Cautiously, he looked closer and spotted the shine of old glass between their red bodies. The insects were chewing and breaking the material, reconstituting the shards into something else. Into marbles? Dozens of termites held beautiful clear marbles between their toothed jaws. The marbles were being circled about, cleaned and smoothed, some of them no larger than grains of sand.

Wow. Yuri became entranced. The vodka bottle dangled between his fingers, he planned to drop it straight down the middle into the heart of the operation, and watch the bugs dissolve the glass. He leaned over, lowered his hand... and then his glasses slid right off his nose.

Blurriness. Fear. Yuri scrambled, trying to reach for his sight, but it had fallen into the hazy red soup.

He dunked his arms, reaching and poking into the machine. He swatted using the vodka bottle, listening for the clink of his glasses and instead hearing the patter of tiny glass marbles. Desperation struck and Yuri began to hit the sides of the recycler, resulting in a muffled cacophony.

Yuri then recognized the unmistakable whine of the porch door’s hinge. It had swung open.

“Мудак!” His father exclaimed, clearly angry at someone or something on the phone.

Yuri couldn’t see what was happening, but he could feel the crawl of burns travelling up to his elbows, and he began to brush them away. One of the red blurs fell on his knee and produced a pain so fiery that Yuri fell off the recycler.

The next couple minutes spiralled into slaps, crying and rolling about. Yuri could hear his father’s conversation travel across the lawn, towards the backgate, but there was little he could do. Even as the gate opened, Yuri wasn’t able to stand up in time, nor wipe away his tears.

The dark, bearded blur arrived, muttering grievances, holding a cellphone in one hand, and a bottle shape in the other. In a span of half a minute, the blur tossed the bottle down the open recycler, closed the lid, and patted Yuri on the head. Then it strolled back the way it came. No break in stride. No break in conversation.

Yuri dried his eyes, sat cross-legged and exhaled slowly. Although shallow at first, his breathing quickly became deeper and more controlled. He tried to discern if he was supposed to feel afraid or ashamed in this moment. Would his father yell at him when he returned inside?

Rising to his feet, Yuri felt his scalp where his father had patted him. It seemed like with everything else, the recycler wasn’t all that important, not anymore.

His father had made such a fuss about keeping Yuri away from the machine, how it was the most valuable thing he owned, and now it just stood here among the other garbage cans. Idle and neglected. Yuri couldn’t help feeling the same way.


Kajetan Kwiatkowski
Kajetan's credits include publications in Defenestration, Black Petals, Literary Yard, Potato Soup Journal and a forthcoming story in Deep Magic. Ever since playing Sim Ant on Windows 98, Kajetan has had a lifelong obsession with arthropods. He’s fine when a fly falls in his soup, and he’s fine when a spider nestles in the side mirror of his car. In the future, he hopes humanity is willing to embrace such insectophilia, but until then, he’ll write entomological fiction to satisfy his soul. You can visit and follow him @Kajetkwiat