By JC McKinley
On my seventh birthday, I metamorphosed into an aluminum drink can. After extinguishing flickering light from seven little candles, I transmuted into the container my father drank off-brand cola in, a perfect cylinder with brilliant azure skin, a red stripe across the middle, and silver stay-on tab on top.
Dad burst with joy. My worried mother pleaded with him to help her change me back.
“But, he is so much more useful this way,” dad repudiated. “Besides, I’ll spend a lot more time with him like this.”
Mom swallowed her protest, grimacing as she subjugated her desire to my father’s. She distracted herself with cleaning up birthday decorations. As soon as she packed the cake, dad gathered his .22 caliber rifle, loaded the family in his truck, and drove us to the local gun range.
Quaking with anticipation, he set me on a wooden cross. His boots crunched across the gravel as he made his way back to the firing platform. Aiming intently, he locked the barrel onto my frame. I felt naked as the rifle popped. Tiny bullets raced undetected toward me. I didn’t think anything happened until the first ballistic mass struck me, opening my thin flesh to the elements. Surprisingly, I felt no pain. Not until dad picked at the star-shaped punctures, bending them with scalding fingers. He sighed contentedly as he inspected the damage.
My little brother looked on, his face betraying jealousy and neglect. Haphazardly, he transformed himself into an unpolished hoary cylinder. Mom tried to hide him, but he pushed her aside. Dad smiled so brightly, the heat warped an edge into the little can. My brother laughed when dad shot him.
When dad left home half the year, as he did every year, I patched and reinforced my cylindrical superstructure, polished distressed paint, and restored myself to mint condition. My brother stroked his lesions morosely and ignored mom’s attempts to patch him. When dad returned, he plugged trinkets and small toys into my brother’s voids. Once stable, dad shot him. They laughed heartily, uncontrollably.
Dad turned to me. I resisted. This angered him. He chucked me downrange. I landed hard on the coarse gravel. The air stood in electric silence as dad piled magazines around him. He didn’t aim. He simply waved the blackened barrel and pulled the trigger with chaotic swiftness.
Bullets slammed into the dirt and tore into me, shredding my aluminum. When the dust-obscured me from him, dad set his rifle down. A hint of a smirk formed when he saw the newly formed black spaces. The damage profoundly pleased him.
My brother begged dad to shoot him again. Dad refused. Trinkets and toys fell to the ground as my brother bellowed his displeasure. Dad ignored the pathetic display.
Weak with tears, mom put me to bed early. In my dreams, dad’s blue eyes shone like ice. The corners of his mouth quivered into a contented smirk as he placed something heavy inside my rib cage. Molten liquid congealed in the tangles of my aorta and coronary ducts.
“I’m making you in my image,” he said with a heavy exhalation.
When I woke, I noticed my flesh had returned. It covered my tattered superstructure. Relief surged through me. I prodded the still swollen lump under my sternum. Jagged edges of bullet-riddled aluminum pierced my fingertips.
I grabbed the sharp metallic tip and began to pull. The shards writhed. With bullying relish, the grated metal twisted into my father’s echo and pushed itself out of reach beneath my skin.
“I am part of you,” it jeered.
“No!” I protested.
“I’m with your brother. He doesn’t mind. Why do you?”
A wave of bad memories washed over me. I couldn’t put into words how I felt, but the desire to treat others with kindness, love, respect, and dignity reverberated throughout my body.
With barbs and splinters, my aluminum father attached himself to my heart. I desperately attempted to dig him out, but couldn’t reach. Dad bellowed a mirthless, rumbling laugh.
“You think you’re better than me?” he sneered. “You are me!”
I felt the monster lurking near my heart, its weight made it difficult to breathe. The penumbra of a smirk formed as it shrank backward, nesting itself into a nook behind my Superior Vena. As it fell silent, a deliciously cold sensation, one of fresh peppermint prickled up my legs and back. It trickled over my scalp and wrapped around my face. When it struck my nose, my mind calmed. Sweet mint poured into my mouth, soothing my still swollen chest cavity. My body shuddered with relief.
I felt, all at once, my ligaments, tendons, sinews, tissues, and muscles as if everything within my skin touched my mind simultaneously, illuminating the fullness of my body.
“Honey,” mom’s voice called.
“Mom?” I called, craning my head find her. The room was empty.
“Honey,” mom called again, “you don’t have to listen to your father. You can ignore him. You can choose who you want to be.”
Mom’s words illuminated my aluminum father’s facade. The fat, heavy ball became a wisp, thin as a leaf. It was then I noticed how desperate dad’s spiny tentacles grasped my body. His clinging reminded me of my brother’s pathetic crusade for attention.
Like a water trickle in a dry riverbed comprehension dawned on. Dad needed me, his seven-year-old son, to be his stand-in for vulnerability. He needed to plant his fear inside me because he’d feel better about himself if I was broken.
I stared at the thin metal and breathed relief, knowing I’d never break.