Thomas Wictor



I have a confession to make. Here’s my brother Tim and his friend Winston, our next-door neighbor in Campo Verde, Tia Juana, Venezuela.

The two redheads were so similar that they even broke their left arms in April of 1968. Tim was pretending to be Tarzan. He tried to swing from one branch to another and fell. When he ran into the house, his arm was S-shaped.

Winston broke his arm by falling out of his family’s tree house. It had three sides and a floor; the front was open. You could either climb up board-steps nailed to the trunk, or you could use a knotted rope that hung out the open front and was tied to a roof beam.

We liked Winson. He was quirky and didn’t take bad news well. Once we went to the beach, and he caught a whole bunch of small fish using a net. He brought them home in a little tub of salt water. By the end of the afternoon, they were all floating on the surface.

“They’re dead,” Tim said.

“No they not!” Winston cried. “They’re only sleeping!”

“They’re dead!” Tim insisted.

“They’re sleeping!”

We beat Monty Python’s Flying Circus to the punch by a couple of years.

Dad explained that the fish used up all the oxygen in the water and suffocated. I didn’t ask him why he and Winston’s father let Winston bring the fish home if the adults knew the inevitable result would be a tub of dead fish.

Shockingly, I just found a photo of Winston with his tub of dead fish.

That’s my brother Pat on the left, my brother Paul, Tim, me in the shirt shirt, and Winston. I now remember what happened.

After Winston’s fish went belly up, Dad told us that they used up the oxygen in the water. He said they couldn’t live in fresh water, so we refilled the little tub with the hose, and Tim added salt from a shaker. You can see it there in his right hand. The fish remained ex-fish.

My confession

I broke Winston’s arm. Nobody ever knew until now. He was standing in the tree house, holding the rope that dangled out the open front. I jumped up, grabbed the rope to try and climb it, and yanked Winston out. I looked up to see him dropping right toward me, headfirst, his eyes wide and his mouth puckered as if in concentration.

Somehow he missed me. The second he hit the ground, he was up on his feet, yelling and waving his broken arm. It was S-shaped the way Tim’s was just a week or so earlier. Winston ran into the house, and his parents took him to the clinic, where he had his arm set and a cast put on. Nobody ever asked how it happened. I got away with breaking a kid’s arm.

Why am I confessing? Because I still feel bad, as I do about the Wimpy episode, even though that wasn’t my fault.

Wimpy is a British hamburger chain.

In 1976 we met up with Winston in London and took him to Scotland with us on vacation. After we came back to London, we went to a Wimpy, and he ordered a cheeseburger and chips, which is what the Brits call fries. There was a jar of Coleman’s mustard on the table.

We’d been to Britain once before, so I’d learned that this wasn’t American-style hot-dog mustard. It’s like wasabi mixed with sulfuric acid.

“Don’t use that mustard,” I warned Winston when his cheeseburger came. “It’s way too hot.”

He sneered and slathered Coleman’s on the burger and the bun. When he took his first bite, his eyes instantly started watering, and then he turned beet red.

“Oh my God! This is killing me!” he wailed. He took only that one bite of his burger. The whole meal went to waste because he’d put mustard on his chips too, as a kind of “Screw you” to me.He didn’t like me anymore. Maybe he’d known all along that I’d broken his arm, and it’d taken him eight years to get angry about it. He truly was that phlegmatic.

There was some kind of deadline, so Mom didn’t let him order another burger. He left the Wimpy’s humiliated, hungry, his eyes and nose streaming, and his mouth on fire.

I’m sorry, Winston. About your arm, the fish, and the mustard. They’ve all blended into a kaleidoscope of guilt for me. Hopefully you haven’t thought about any of them in decades.

If we run into each other again, I’ll buy you a burger and some pet fish. I can’t do anything about your arm. Someday I’ll do a painting of you whooshing toward me like a wide-eyed comet.

You were quite a sight.

This article viewed 50 times.