Yeah. Since I have so much time on my hands, I thought, “Why not start an entirely new blog on a completely different platform?”
Enjoy (or ignore…)
Yeah. Since I have so much time on my hands, I thought, “Why not start an entirely new blog on a completely different platform?”
Enjoy (or ignore…)
Starting off the 2018-2019 season at First Presbyterian Theater in downtown Fort Wayne is My Dead Clown, an original play written by David Rousculp, a licensed funeral director from New Haven. The story follows Bill, a funeral director whose most recent project is preparing the body of Dingy the Clown. However, Bill’s reputation is in jeopardy because he’s shown a decline in job performance since the passing of someone close to him. Once he inadvertently brings the clown back to life, his life becomes even more complex.
This premise offers a multitude of options for audiences to explore their own lives, which is what quality theater should do. Of all the people in the world, funeral directors should be among the most seasoned individuals who have a firm grasp of the effects of our eventual death. However, Rousculp’s script is evidence that even those who would presumably be the most accepting of our ultimate fate are susceptible to death’s ramifications on the soul.
Director and Stage Designer Rae Surface succeeds in creating the multi-level environment this play demands. Surface’s chosen details found in Bill’s apartment exhibit the depth of character required to portray a troubled protagonist. Throughout the two-hour performance, this large cast offers a story of how one’s faith can be restored from the most unexpected and unlikely sources.
Duke Roth performs as the overworked and increasingly cynical Bill, the protagonist who is rapidly drowning in work and sorrow. Roth exhibits a strong handling of balancing the stressors of Bill’s professional responsibilities and a longing for his past while dealing with the consequences of the clown’s arrival–and unintentional re-spawning–in his workspace.
Dingy the Clown is played by Reuben Albaugh. Albaugh’s energy and cheeriness are suitable for any successful clown. Additionally, Albaugh succeeds throughout the play with his undying (ha!) desire to bring laughter to replace sadness and smiles to erase frowns.
Among the other “living” characters are Chuck, BIll’s boss; Nancy, his assistant; and Eric, his brother. Tom Corron’s humorous role as Chuck serves as the embodiment of Bill’s profession demands. Jennifer Netting’s performance as Nancy shines with an exuberant portrayal of youthful spirit, innocence, and loyalty. Eric, Bill’s younger sibling who has yet to find any firm path in his own life, is played by Nathan Driscoll. Driscoll’s comical presence counters Bill’s apparent stress while simultaneously portraying how inspiration can come from unexpected places and events.
This play, perhaps understandably, also features a few “deceased” characters. Leonard, played by acting and theater veteran Scott K. Strode, humorously excels as a potential aspect of Bill’s consciousness. Deborah Kerr’s small but impressive performance as Mrs. Sticklebush is suggestive of Bill’s devotion to his responsibilities as a funeral director. Jennifer Poiry Prough excels as Bill’s deceased wife Mary, and, peppered throughout the performance, appears in flashbacks where she exposes those gorgeous moments that offer and explain the depth of despair Bill is experiencing in the painful time since her sudden departure.
Rousculp’s rather unpredictable script features many pleasant surprises, many of which are found in the roles of characters who rarely escape their longstanding stereotypes and stifled reputations. Among the remaining secondary characters are strong performances by real-life married couple Robyn and Rod Pasko. Robyn, who is performing in Fort Wayne for the first time after establishing herself on stage and screen in Chicago, turns in an animated and vivid performance as Lucy, a.k.a. The Devil. Rod Pasko offers an unanticipated yet charming down-to-earth version of Death.
Jeanette Walsh’s costume design is poignant and effective, especially in the gimmicks and shenanigans of the title character. Theater Manager Thom Hofrichter’s production and lighting succeed in creating the obvious balance of humor and despair when grouping a boisterous clown, a funeral home, and hell on a single stage.
Bill’s anguish is a direct result of a past tragedy. However, that tragedy has impacted Bill’s faith and perception of humanity’s significance. During the few glimpses from the past with his spouse, we see a jovial couple who epitomize the human desire for love and devotion. Once that was stripped away, Bill became the universal version of humanity who is forced to question that faith. From the moment the first corpse rises up and interacts with the protagonist, any audience member who sees My Dead Clown during its first-ever run will recognize that he or she is in for an amusing and introspective experience.
One of this week’s assignments was to create a 1000(ish)-word story that was inspired by one of six famous works of art. I chose the one below.
Yes. Nighthawks by Edward Hopper.
The draft I’ve submitted DEFINITELY needs work. I’m trying some new stylistic things and playing around with voice. It might be a little hard to follow, but do try to make it to the ending. I welcome all criticism, but please remember it’s a very rough draft of something.
It’s well after midnight. What is this place even doing being open? They can’t see me, but I can’t stand here across the street in the night wind under this glaring light post all night either. Coffee would be good right now since I’m so cold, but I don’t want to talk. The lone woman inside the coffee shop looks familiar. Like, maybe she was at the house last New Year’s or something. Dolly was always putting on these holiday parties right at the last minute. Well, like a few days before the day, of course, but she never really planned them out. Sends me to the grocery with a list longer than my arm this year on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
Maybe that’s why I had to get out.
A scribble. “What were you describing just now, John?”
What do you mean?
“The coffee shop. And the, uh, light post?”
I shift my body around which makes the whole couch squeak. I scratch my head and feel one of those eerie little ball fragments that sometimes rest on your head without you knowing. I’m always paranoid it’s lice because once when I was little, everyone at school blamed me for bringing lice to school, and I had no idea what the fuck they were talking about.
I don’t answer.
“Well, John.” He clears his throat and almost begins gagging. It must be in the therapist’s handbook to clear your throat in the most annoying way. “Now, I can’t be sure, of course. But didn’t you tell me your wife’s father had an art collection?”
A couple prints. One lithograph he’s really proud of.
“Who did it?”
Doc, I never remember the names of those artists. Why?
I shiver, then inhale and get a huge whiff of meat loaf. Bright yellow light runs the perimeter of the door that separates this office from the rest of this guy’s house. I begin thinking what his wife must look like, dress like, and if she runs her hands through her hair when they bang.
“It just sounded a little like a very famous painting. Nighthawks. I believe. Hopper.”
The drunk from Hoosiers? I smile toward my feet. I hear him switch and re-cross his legs.
“No, John. Edward, I believe. You mentioned a coffee shop. Nighttime. Only a few customers.”
There’s a famous painting of that? Sounds dull.
But he’s not biting. He knows my tricks. I want water, but last time I asked, he gave me the tiniest bottled water any company makes. I reach for one of the individually wrapped mints on the coffee table between us without really looking for it.
“Well,” he clears his throat again. “Dull or not, it’s widely known. Now, I was thinking that your father-in-law, the art fan, might have shown you this painting. Perhaps in a collection book. A coffee table book.”
When he asks these types of questions, I always make it look or sound like I’m thinking he’s onto something. Sometimes, I’ll ponder-hum; other times, I’ll just crinkle my brow and shift around. Maybe fold and unfold my arms. This time, I just suck on the peppermint and think about farting. I know it’s immature and embarrassing, but I really kind of want to. It’s so damn cold in here. I almost have to, to give myself a reprieve from the frigidity. Right here. Right on this cliché burgundy leather couch. But I refrain from the temptation and bite the mint hard instead.
Doc, I know Nighthawks. You must think I’m a fuckin’ moron if—
I launch forward. My feet are stuck though, so I can only turn my head toward him.
He holds up a hand—the one bearing the fifty-dollar pen I’d like to steal. “Now, John. Of course–”
You want me to talk about the night I left my wife. I can’t do it.
I grab another mint but just hold it in my hand and talk to it instead of looking at his pasty, scared face.
You want me to explain how someone who had it so well could just up and leave. That’s not going to happen.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to come off condescending.” He tells me to go on and lie back some more. “Just relax,” he says. I suck on the mint and watch two revolutions of the second hand on the gaudy iron sunburst wall clock his wife probably picked out.
So her dad was an art fan. What of it?
I can’t see him anymore because I’m facing away again—toward my shoes now—and I sort of slide against the inside panel of this godforsaken sofa. It’s soft but I know he overpaid.
“It’s this, John.” Another throat clear. I’m sure he pushed his glasses back toward his sticky face as well. “Our sessions are meant for you to get some….some closure with your wife.”
“Excuse me, John. Yes. Your ex-wife.” He scratches something down on the legal pad. “And when you waste time …”
He leans in. “May I be frank?” He doesn’t wait for an answer. “It could suggest that you want me or anyone to think you want to discuss the past, but in reality it’s the last thing you want to do.”
He’s never shown his hand to me like this before. I hear a soft click, then the heated air from the two vents in the room begin blowing. I’ll bet the meat loaf is done and the wife is starting on the pinot. Pissed her husband isn’t done with me yet.
What can I say, Doc? It’s going to be a while before I can even understand it all myself.
“That’s fine, John. I’ve got time.”
I feel him look at the sunburst and I’m right.
“Let’s pick up here next time, okay?”
I take another few mints. He watches me, but he doesn’t seem to care enough to say anything.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“Inmate Fourteen Eleven Twenty-three! On your feet!”
“He was doing it again, Sir,” a voice calls from above.
“Doing what?” Sir bellows.
“His dreams, Sir.” Wiry, orange legs are now dangling near my head. Suddenly, he jumps down. Slides, really. “I thought he was awake, so I asked him if he liked any art and he just started carrying on like last time.”
“Uh-huh,” Sir says gruffly. “Anything new?”
“Naw.” The voice stops and clears his throat. “Still callin’ me ‘Doc’ and shit. Said somethin’ about some night time and coffee. Then meat loaf.”
“Yeah.” He sniffs long and hard. Longer than someone whose rickety body wobbles when he talks. “I smell it too though.”
Sir laughs. “Son, everything in the joint smells like meatloaf. Did he say anything his lawyer should know?”
A more casual sniff this time. “Naw, sir. Nothin’ about why he killed his wife.”
Only one of the three writings due this week was prose fiction; thus, here’s my entry below. The instructions called for a brief (two-paragraph) scene that contains contrasts.
ENGL 202 – Creative Writing
Session 2: Journal 1 (3 Prompts – imagery)
Jeremy’s mother, in a text message, asks if he’ll be sleeping there tonight. Without responding, he sighs, unintentionally expelling a pushpin of saliva. Twenty-nine years old and running a plastic packing tape dispenser along the final crinkled box, he remembers that Sara and Ginni have been in Milwaukee for six-and-a-half days. He kneels, then watches his hands as the tape dwindles to that eerie end where adhesive becomes lifeless cardboard. There’s not enough to finish this box, which is filled with typical junk drawer inventory: opened battery blister packs, flip phones, and creased concert tickets. It’s midday; a narrow tower of sun blasts through the opening of the curtains he and Sara picked out the night she told him she was pregnant. He watches the dust dance within the new bright avenue that lands on the empty hardwood floor they argued about. Carpet, he’d told her, made more sense with a kid. Couldn’t we just tear it up when she’s older?
Leaving the dispenser perched atop its flimsy castle, Jeremy realizes his feet are numb from being in this position so long. Pressing his fingers into his eye sockets–one of Sara’s ever-growing list of pet peeves–he ran his dry, dusty fingers down his face and across his week-long scruff, and stands. The hollow home eight years earlier, had been a blank canvas for a young crazy married couple to make into a home. Now, perhaps, another would try. Slowly, he lets the blood flow, mix, and return to normalcy within his unsocked feet before he turns around. Had she purposely left that damn iron sign between the windows? The one that read This Home Knows Love that he hated for its hokeyness? His pocket vibrates again; Jeremy lifts the box, leaves the door unlocked for the realtor, and drives to his mother’s.
This is a chapter from my novel-in-progress, THE START OF SOMETHING. Within the chapter is a short story written by my main character, Bill McKenzie. That’s probably confusing. Sorry…
“A Reunion of Sorts” – Bill McKenzie – age 24- story outline
[note to self]: this is inspired by this book a girl named Melody was reading for some sort of Children’s Literature class she was taking. The book was about this kid who has to go to the four extreme corners of the continental US to place a memorial for a teenager the narrator kid was friends with before the kid died in a drunk driving accident. The cross-country trip was his dad’s idea, I think. Pinwheels, maybe, was the name. It got me thinking about how people deal with sudden deaths in ways we may not ever hear about.
Story idea: Each year, on the last day of classes, this teacher pulls aside one student and hands him or her a sealed envelope. They are instructed not to open it for five years or earlier if they finish college. He tells them he almost didn’t finish and knows several fine, successful people who not only didn’t finish but some never started.
The letter is an acceptance letter into a club of sorts. Once a year, and never the same time of year, the teacher meets with the members of the club for dinner out, dinner in, a day at the park, or some other fairly private event. These are students he would have never admitted were his favorites of the year. They were favorites for all sorts of reasons—many were academically successful, but some were C students or worse. Over half have earned M.D.s or Ph. Ds but some of the others never left that town.
The story is what turns out to be the final meeting of the group—the teacher’s funeral. People from ages 23 to over 50 attend. One mother-daughter combination (neither knew the other had been a member??) shows up. They’d all been sent a letter prior to his death to attend the visitation, but not the funeral. After the visitation, the letter read, someone, maybe all of them, would know where to go.
They meet in his classroom and they eventually talk. Maybe the story ends with an unnamed person finally saying something out loud.
The power of the piece could be that nothing is ever stated until that final line.
That was all he had. A single sheet of notes scratched down and never more. Bill McKenzie had gone home after having drinks with his old writing teacher to sift through notebooks and flash drives and could only find that one page. His shoulders drooped, defeated, and he shook his head and told the invisible people around his apartment that he had written more. He had been sure of it.
With just the sheet, however, he knew it was time to finally put it together. Opting for a water instead of one of the three beers in his fridge, he sat down at his writing table and tried to remember those characters.
To the non-writer, this may seem implausible—the guy had access to his notes and the memory of what he’d thought of a long time ago when the idea first entered his mind. Todd’s words, though, struck something in him and he tried to find it again.
“A Reunion of Sorts” – Bill McKenzie age 28
The old man was so sly about it. Every year, he did something very subtle, but this time was fairly easy. He had had a contest with his English 12 students: They average 90% or higher on their last exam of the year and he’d let them watch any movie they wanted over the last two days of classes before finals. The class won the contest and eventually decided on a film made from a popular teen love story. He’d made fun of the story and genre countless times and this was their playful payback.
This time, he was subtle in passing a note to Marianna Jenkins, seated in the middle chair of the middle row. The center of the room and the center of his Platonic heart.
The old man was perfectly harmless. Don’t get the wrong idea about him. He had had a wife, but she passed ten years earlier of a violent cancer that had not been caught at the right time. They’d had a child—a boy—and he was fine and successful. He loved his old man almost as much as the students who had been in his room year after year.
The subtlty toward Marianna Jenkins was in the form of a sticky note. In the darkened classroom, she didn’t even know he’d put it down while the movie was playing. He had been watching with the class—laughing when they laughed. Awwing when they awwed. Marianna Jenkins’ note simply said “Pls stay after class.”
She lingered as was told and waited until all of her classmates left and wished the old man a great summer. He nodded and didn’t look anyone in the eye as they passed on to another room on their final day.
Marianna Jenkins stood at the doorway—closed—with her remaining materials clenched tightly to her chest. She waited patiently for the reason for the note.
The old man began this year’s speech the same was as he had for the last thirty-seven years. He held the envelope the entire time, but the student he kept after each year never knew what it held. His words were crinkled and sentimental. Tears usually ensued, always by the student and never his. They were honored to be the recipient of such kindness.
The old man smiled under a long salt-and-pepper mustache. He reminded her the terms—that she may not open it for five years from today or sooner, if she’d earned a bachelor’s degree.
Marianna Jenkins stepped toward the emptying hallway and shot back, hugged him tightly, and thanked him for everything he’d done for her over the last two years. The old man reminded her that she had done the hard work, not him.
This year’s meeting, according to the letter sent out, was going to be at his residence. The first time since his wife’s passing. He’d been debating whether or not to sell it and eventually contacted a realtor who warned him that at the price he was asking it was going to go quickly. That would be okay with him.
The event at his house was to occur on the second Saturday. In June. In the late afternoon. The invitations were always worded just like this. Come if you can, he used to add. It’d be wonderful to reunite. For a teacher who valued the English language above his own diet and, some argued, his own family, the old man included few words on the handwritten invitations. For those who had come regularly over the years, they knew less was more. The first-timers, like Marianna Jenkins, had to do a little digging.
The old man deplored social media. A junkpile, he often called it. Eliot’s new Waste Land, he once offered in class. Did you ever notice that people don’t shake hands anymore, he said the previous year when he was asked why he isn’t connected.
That term used to mean something else, he told them.
He told them spending his youth indoors would have been tragic.
What’s the point of leaving the house if you’re only going to stare at your phone, he posited.
That shut them up.
And they actually talked.
While they maintained possession of their phones during their visit, they all but forgot about them.
But that was all last year. When the old man was a little healthier.
But it was also the summer before he met Marianna Jenkins.
Marianna Jenkins was, to the old man, the proverbial shining star student. She was genuinely respectful, smart as a whip (he’d tell her after she aced test after test), and always put others before herself.
She was one of the few students who never even had the time to request a recommendation letter; he had it ready in early November.
She offered to organize a toy drive and spearheaded a Coats For Kids campaign while others students filled out wish lists for their parents.
Marianna Jenkins, however, also had opened up to the old man. It had been in October when she told him that she’d spent many of her single-digit years in foster care before she was finally officially adopted. She loved her adopted parents so much that she didn’t think twice about changing her name to theirs.
It had been bad, she’d told him, in foster care. Sleeping in four different beds throughout a given week because so much drama was happening within the house and family. Verbal and physical abuse. It’d had made her stronger, she told him.
When she’d gotten her letter three years earlier, the old man had told her it might be the last one he gives out. That was all he said about it.
Marianna Jenkins finished her bachelors degree in eight semesters over three calendar years. She took the sealed letter with her to her graduation ceremony. She didn’t know it, but he watched her cross the stage before excusing himself out of his aisle and pumping his fist.
The June letter reached Marianna Jenkins a week later at her apartment. A dog she’d adopted two days after graduation yelped with enthusiasm but she kindly explained the letter was not for him.
The following Wednesday morning, for reasons she’ll never know, she was standing in line at the local convenient store. Something turned her around. Not a force from a person but a sensation. Her eyes peered downward to see the old man’s picture on the front page of the daily newspaper. Heart attack takes local teacher, it read.
In the same way she knew to turn around at the convenient store, Marianna Jenkins also called in to work (she’d never done that before) to attend the visitation. There was a modest crowd, given the limited time between the announcement of the old man’s passing and his celebration of life. That’s what they called them nowadays, he’d told her class once before. Funerals must be too morbid a term for this sensitive generation.
Marianna had driven to the funeral alone but sensed togetherness as soon as a young spirited man who introduced himself as Jack from Tennessee had smiled as she approached the door he had been holding open for her.
Once inside and slightly embarrassed as she revealed to Jack that it was her first funeral, he glazed that smile again and said it was nice to meet what he presumed to be a new member.
Jack walked Marianna Jenkins down the plush carpeted hallway, past an empty page on a signature sheet, and toward the room that held the casket. She bit her lip, suggesting she was not ready. He shushed her as if he were his older, wiser brother. The first row of seats were the only ones occupied. Marianna Jenkins immediately recognized the unmistakable bob of a recently retired teacher and the height of the school’s basketball coach.
He didn’t look real, but then again they never do. In class once, he’d talked about going to his own mother’s funeral and said he regretted it. Those words stunned Marianna Jenkins and probably her classmates, but he went on to state how he appreciated what the funeral home people do, but he wished he could erase that image of her permanently.
The open casket, she realized, might have been another lesson from the old man. He battled over irony with students (presumably year after year) and this was his final nod to, well, himself and his humor. Take that, he was telling them. I told ya it’s not how I really look!
She turned from the casket and nodded at the familiar teachers. Before awkwardness set in, Jack came from behind and pushed her on as if a train of people were waiting to see the old man one last time.
In here, he whispered.
The room where she was guided had four different colored walls and dozens of uncrying faces. These people weren’t sad, which seemed very odd to Marianna Jenkins.
A beat later, and Marianna found herself shaking hands with the people who bore these faces. They had to be club members, she realized. As she made her rounds, two faces fell into place as she remembered seeing younger versions of them in the school hallways.
Introductions done, Jack took the lead and suggested everyone follow him. He had a pretty good feeling where they were really supposed to be that day.
The caravansary led down Hall Street a mile and a half, through the light, and left at the curve. Marianna Jenkins drove in silence and held back every emotion that tried to muster its way through her heart and out her eyes. He was gone. It was done. Unlike her, these people knew what to do next.
In less than fifteen minutes, though it seemed like a longer drive to Marianna Jenkins, one by one the cars parked in a row at the back of the school, typically where teachers parked during the year. A few nods of hello passed between the group who had just seen each other back at the funeral home. She watched as Jack, the tallest of the group, produced a key and allowed everyone access to the back hallway. Everyone toed to the old man’s classroom door. Using a non-verbal circular motion, Jack instructed the rest to organize the desks into something of an oval—large enough for all twenty-three members to sit comfortably. Marianna Jenkins took a position she remembered from high school and adjusted accordingly into the shape.
Jack cleared his throat and eyed the group in a round again.
“So,” he said with a clap. “Who wants to go first?”
Jack slapped his knees and darted his eyes around the ring of classroom desks. “So. Who wants to go first?”
1650+ words – hotly debated argument
She’s at it again. I can’t for the life of me figure out why people like to get her started. Some of us just want to sit in Mrs. Higgins’ class, read the book or write the paper and move on. We took regular Senior English, not Debate. We certainly didn’t take Cranky Crass’s Current Issues Class nor did we want anything to do with Speech II.
But they’ve gotten to her again. And now we’re listening to her go on and on.
I’m really tired of it too. Most of the girls in my grade are making a better case almost daily for why I should never speak to them after graduation. They don’t really bother me, I mean, go after me. But in a way they do. They know who they annoy–Georgetta is their main target, but the other girls like Destiny, Vicki, and me–we’re like bystanders. Mrs. Higgins would perhaps like my metaphor of us being dominos. Once they get Georgetta, the rest of us fall or suffer.
Georgetta Chapman came to Harriston two years ago and immediately impacted our flow of high school. On the first day, normal kids who change schools keep to themselves–maybe even just to learn a little about the environment or simply observe the way others talk. Georgetta, however, asked Mr. Boling if she could make a brief announcement at the end of class that first day. He, and the rest of us, thought she was going to just say a few words about herself, her family, her hobbies, whatever.
We were wrong.
“Hello, fellow students,” she began. I’ll never forget that part because Ox O’Brien, who had been asleep two chairs behind me, shot up and asked if she was our new teacher.
“Go back to sleep, Ox,” Mr. Boling said, which was also kind of funny coming from a teacher.
“At any rate,” she continued. “Thank you for the warm welcome.”
No such welcome had happened, but she wasn’t being sarcastic either. It was obviously a speech she’d either given before or had practiced endlessly.
“I would like to extend my invitation to all of you to join my family at the Harriston United Church this Sunday for a fun-filled day of fellowship, food, and fun.”
For some reason, I looked over at Mr. Boling. He had bit his lower lip, something I noticed usually meant he was trying to hold back from saying something or stopping something. Not laughing or anything. No, for that he always grinned and dipped his head so we couldn’t see his face for a few seconds.
“No offense, church girl,” Ox hollered.
“Ox? Respect, please,” came our teacher’s monotone return.
“Mr. B. Come on. She’s not allowed to–”
“Thank you, Mr. O’Brien. I know.”
He stood and approached Georgetta. Standing a full foot-plus higher than she was, he sort of crouched down and said something to her. I thought he looked like an overworked high school football coach all of a sudden.
Georgetta smiled shyly, nodded and offered her hand as an understanding. He awkwardly shook it and walked around his desk. Just as he was going to announce something nobody cared about, the bell rang, freeing us for Labor Day Weekend.
I remember that because it was the following Monday morning when her brother all but saved my life.
Today, however, we’re seniors. It’s known around our class that Georgetta is heading to Michigan the night of graduation to begin some sort of missionary trip. She has never been very specific, and not too many of us actually listen when she talks about it. We only know because she wiggles that information into just about every conversation/group work/lunchline.
Mrs. Higgins has just about had enough. Those are the exact words she uses. Most of us stop with that verbal warning. She’s one of those teachers who is actually super sweet but will scare the shit out of you when she’s pissed. She glares at Autumn, the lead girl in the whispered taunting section around Georgetta’s table. I can only pick up a few phrases here and there.
Her desk rams up against a nearby bookshelf when Georgetta gets up and walks to Mrs. Higgins’ desk for a tissue. I try to read anoter Jane Austen paragraph when the page I’m looking at grows dark with shadow.
“Keelie, would you mind if I sat beside you?” Georgetta asks me.
We aren’t friends, but we’re not enemies either. She’s relying on my for sanctuary. Just seven minutes of class left and she’s close to losing her shit from the abuse from the window row.
“Go ‘head,” I say. I stare at the page. It’s number 234. I examine those numbers and not the words. When Mrs Higgins’ phone rings, I listen to most of the students behind me shuffle through their things and zip up bags and purses. “Class, keep reading. I’ll just be a moment.”
Small, pointless conversations ensue. I just want to make it to my car before Georgetta really tries to bring me into her world.
“Keelie!” Autumn whispers hotly. “Hey!”
I half turn, still with my book open, and sort of tell her I’m listening, without saying any actual words.
“Keelie!” Some other girls giggle. “You need me to cover Sunday since you’ll be at church?”
I’m not sure why, but that seemingly innocuous comment forces me to slam Emma down before she unwillingly crashes to the floor on her back.
“You know what, bitch? Fuck you!”
The room erupts like an arena full of pro wrestling fans.
“What the fuck?” she asks.
I glance at Georgetta and wonder how in the world she got me into this.
“I’m just so fucking sick of your shit. We all are!”
D’Nay and Charli–girls who always somehow end up sitting beside each other–have covered their mouths, perhaps silencing their own enthusiasm. D’Nay casually slides to the door and pulls it shut.
“Are you fuckin’ psycho, Keelie? You’re gonna stick up for your homegirl over there? What, she lending you that fuckin’ denim skirt for prom?”
The boys yelp their approval. This type of stuff never happens in our school. Something in me snapped, and I have no confrontational experience. That goddamn bell will not ring though.
“Look,” I said. I have really no idea what to say. “It’s clear you have fucking…issues, you know. I think it’s called ‘displaced anger. Maybe your pedophile father fucked with you when you were younger.”
“HOLY SHIT!” two boys boom in unplanned unison.
“Fuck off,” Autumn says.
“And I’m not sure God wants anything to do with you,” Georgetta says pointedly.
Autumn shoots up out of her seat and storms toward us. I barely have any time to get up and block her from going after Georgetta.
“Bitch, I will cut you!” she screams at Georgetta. “And that nappy-ass hair too!”
I’m holding Autumn as if I know what I’m doing. Miraculously, I just reached and latched onto both of her arms at the same time and kept them in a tight squeeze.
“Let her go, Keelie!”
“No!” I scream into Autumn’s face. She can’t kick me because she’s in a nest of desk legs. D’Nay and Charli walk around and point their phones at me. I can’t see any other students; they must all be behind me, filming it no doubt. While I’m looking at her, I see sweat forming beneath her red hair dye and think about how I’m going to lose my scholarship when this film hits YouTube. I think about weird shit when I’m uncomfortable.
“It’s okay,” Georgetta says. “You should let her go. Don’t get in troub–”
Autumn’s body twists and she spits in my face.
“Did you get that?” D’Nay yells. “Oh my GAWD!”
“Hey!” Mrs. Higgins bellows. “What in God’s name is going on here?”
I loosen my grip and Autumn charges away. Not toward Georgetta, though. Before she can reach the door, she falls just as the bell rings. No one moves though.
“She tripped me!” Autumn says, pointing in Georgetta’s direction.
“No she didn’t,” Mrs. Higgins says. “Everyone sit down!”
“But the bell!” many plead.
“I said SIT!”
Everyone does quickly, but Georgetta and I ease down. I pick up Emma. Autumn slunks into a seat in the front row.
For a group of reportedly bad-ass high school students, we all sort of cower up to her desk and create a lumpy pile of iPhones and Androids next to her Kleenex.
She picks up her receiver and dials without losing eye contact with the class.
“Mr. Mansfield? Please bring the liason officer to my classroom at once.”
Her tone is immaculate. Precise. Oddly calm. I predict a lecture in the thirty some seconds it will take for someone to find the officer and bust ass from the main office to our English classroom at the other end of Hall A.
She’s staring mostly at Autumn. I keep wiping my eyes, even though I’d already wiped her disgusting saliva from my face before she bit it on the cold, white floor.
Mrs. Higgins inhales slowly and oozes it out. She’s deliberating whether or not to say something truly hurtful.
“This is probably the most disappointed day of my career.”
A heavy knock is followed by the principal and uniformed officer blasting through. “Mrs. Higgins?” Manfield asks.
“I’m going to need your help, gentlemen.”
Their faces lean forward, even though they’re still several steps from her desk.
“I stepped down to the lounge for a personal call several moments ago,” she says. “In my absence, an apparent brawl broke out. I don’t understand these…phones today, so if you could kindly erase the videos that depict the events of the past ten minutes or so, I’ll kindly appreciate it.”
The officer strides toward her and sees the small mountain of Otterboxes and silicone cases. He began by holding one up after realizing it was password protected. D’Nay stepped up, unlocked it, and watched him watch the video.
“And Mr. Mansfield, you’ll need to find a substitute for me.”
He cleared his throat. “No problem, Mrs. Higgins. For just tomorrow?”
She stood, positioned her pale green purse over her shoulder and pushed in her squeaky chair.
“For the next thirty years, I’d say.”
Mason’s mother told him to go to his room. That always meant something bad was about to happen. The toys in his room didn’t seem like toys when he was sent there. He didn’t bother saying anything back because his mother used the Tone. There were two Tones: one he heard from either of them after he did shit like knock over a soda can or pound the floor in frustration. A second distinct Tone when they were made at each other.
The front door opened and Mason’s father dropped his keys into the tray by the door.
“Why are you home?” he heard his mother ask. The afternoon was breezy and Mason tried to listen to the wind sneak into the gaps of his windows. He picked up an faded green plastic car. The miniature people that were supposed to fit inside were lost months earlier, but the car remained. He ran it along the floor and made whirring sounds.
“Not now, Christine,” his father said.
“What did you just say?”
“Jesus Fucking Christ, Christine! I said gimme a minute!”
A door slammed. The bathroom door. Maybe their bedroom door. But a close-by door for sure. Mason looked toward his bed and then his door. He was safe in here tonight. They were mad about something, which was weird because he just got home.
“If we need to talk, you better not be in there another half hour!”
He replied something back, but Mason couldn’t quite hear it.
Then the toilet seat slammed home. He definitely heard that. When that door burst open, the handle smacked into the wall. Mason thought of the little crack it made like a smiley face.
“Christine, goddammit! I’m sorry. I had to take a shit. I didn’t know I had to fucking give you a play-by-play!”
“What happened? Why are you home?”
“What? I don’t get to know?”
“He’s in his room.”
Footsteps thundered toward the boy’s door.
“Don’t you go in there!”
“Why the fuck not?”
“He’s taking a nap.”
“Jesus.” His father’s feet hovered at the door. Dark ovals hung there. He couldn’t know why, but he assumed he was facing the door.
“Did you talk to Jerry?”
“I talked to Jerry.”
“What’d he say?”
“He said no, didn’t he.” It wasn’t a question.
“He didn’t…shit. Yes. But he didn’t want to.
“What does that mean?”
“I mean it killed him to tell me that.”
“That’s three now, you know. Jimmy, Hank, and now–”
“I fucking know it’s three.”
His mother sighed and sat down on the creak in the couch. The shadows drifted away.
“Don’t,” she said.
“Kenny, what can we do?”
“It always works out, baby.”
Mason liked this part of their fights. His dad was always the first one to lower his voice and say something nice. He called her baby which used to make Mason laugh.
“I don’t know what we can do,” she said. “I can’t ask my parents.”
She creaked the couch again. It did that when people sat and when they stood up, but only on that one spot.
“He’s not going to let us stay here, Kenny!”
His father didn’t react at first. She walked away, Mason could hear.
“Lemme just talk to him,” his father called out.
His mother didn’t respond. Drawers flew open in the kitchen and silverware rattled.
The boots stomped through the room and into the kitchen. Mason could tell they were talking but the words were jumbled and indecipherable.
He turned on a light. The light his dad made in the workshop at the last house. It was an old lamp they’d found in the attic.
“Wanna see if it works?” he father had asked him.
“Maybe we can paint it.”
“What color should we paint it?”
“That’s a good choice, son.”
Later that day, after his mother had made them hamburgers at the stove, his father led him out to the workshop. He explained what all of the old tools that were still there were. He told Mason not to touch them. Some were quite sharp. Dangerous. “Your mom would have my ass if you got hurt out here, sonny boy,” he’d said.
Mason ran his fingers along the rounded base. The red paint had chipped a little and the train sticker he got once from the grocery store was ripped off but not totally.
“I can get work, you know,” his father said. They’d come out of the kitchen and had shook Mason from his memory.
“I can too.”
“I mean, I can go back to the store. They always need help. I’ll start at minimum, but it’s something.”
“But who’ll be with him all day?”
When they fought and weren’t yelling, his name became replaced by a pronoun.
“You’ll have to be. For now.”
“Baby, I’m going to get work.”
“No one’s what?” his father said, a stern tone pepped up.
“Just lemme call Gayle. She’ll probably let me come in Sunday. Those other girls always wanted Sundays off, remember?”
“Are you fucking serious right now, Kenny?”
Every Sunday, Mason’s parents took him to Ringo’s house. That was his friend. Ringo’s parents and Mason’s parents sat in the living room and watched movies. The sound was never on because, Mason’s dad had said, they were playing a game with words. That was kinda weird. Ringo and Mason usually played in his room and Ringo would sometimes show him te cigarette buts that he’d found from throughout the house.
Last week, the four adults played the game with shiny blue cans. Looking through Ringo’s peephole, Mason watched them all drink from those cans at the same time. They laughed more and more throughout the movie. Mason looked forward then to watching movies with is dad and the blue cans. But he wasn’t allowed to play that at home, he’d said.
“You want it so badly, that you’ll let that boy starve so you can get high?”
Mason’s dad had always told him his first word was “Hi!” and that that was pretty dang gone funny. He almost had the words the way Daddy liked to hear them. He said “Pwe dag on phffew!” and his dad always translated.
“Can you say, ‘Let’s get high’?” his mother asked him. Her can was even shinier. Silver, she called it. What Mommy said made Daddy laugh a lot.
“Kenny.” Mason pictured her touching his dad. They played a lot and wrestled and sometimes they were giggling while they did it and others they were screaming. Mason wrestled with his Dad once in a while but when he screamed at his dad, his dad would throw him.
“Kenny,” his mother said. “We’re not getting fucking blitzed anymore. You know? We gotta quit that shit. You know, for now.”
Shit was that word that Mason remembered saying before his mother slapped his face.
“Gawd,” he said. “You’re so right.”
“Thank you,” she said.
“Thing is…the shit’s already paid for, you know. ‘Member we used that one money to get it and paid Big Mike last week.”
“Oh, shit, you’re right,” his mother said. “Well,” she kinda laughed. That was the one that she made when she said we’d have lunch but the refrigerator was empty. Or when Mason told her there was no butt paper on the spinny in his bathroom. One time she made him sit there for a long time while she left. Daddy couldn’t know she left though. It was the first time she ever made him understand Secret.
“Yeah,” his father said. You know Big Mike’s probably gonna tap that shit if we don’t come. Won’t smoke it all or nothin’ but he’d take a piece. Fucker.”
One time after the blue cans game was over, Mason said fucker and was told he had to get down and smell the poop. Put his bitch ass nose right to it. Ginger made poops on the floor a few times. Ginger did it too much and was kicked by the door. Dad told Mason she had to go see her mommy dog and daddy dog. That was before the ice cream day.
There was the ice cream book. Mason’s mom read to him from a book with a big ice cream cone on the front page.
“Ice cream, ice cream, we all scream for ice cream,” his mother sang.
Mason giggled when she made the monster face and screamed “scream.”
“Do you want to get some ice cream?” she asked.
Mason whispered in her ear Yes because he was tired but wanted to put his head on her shoulder.
“I’ll make daddy go with you,” she told him.
Mason pulled the book down and skipped to the last page. Daddy told him he was supposed to start at the frong but Mommy yelled at him and said he can start wherever. Kid’s fucking three, Kenny. He just likes the pictures.” He found the clown and the guy with the white beard and said beard.
“I gotta call Gayle.”
“Good fucking luck.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Phones’re fucking dead.”
Kenny shook his head.
“Fuck!” she yelled. She threw the phone and it hit and broke something.
“You fuckin’ broke that frame, godddammit!”
She ran over and crouched down. “Shit! Honey, don’t!”
“You’re going to cut–”
“I told you…”
“Fuck you, you told me. You fucking did this! Least his picture’s not fucking broken.”
“Torn. What the fuck, you know what I mean!”
Christine laughed. “Get some….nevermind. Go turn on the water. Cold. Numbs it.”
“I know, I know,” his father said in a faded way.
His mother was alone, but she was talking.
“Goddammit, girl,” she said. “The one fucking picture you have of him.”