Tag Archives: story

A soggy mess and the death of a friend

“I’m going to pick you up after school, okay honey”

“Okay, Mom”

She walked out the front door and down to the corner where the school bus picked her up every morning. A few other children were already gathered nearby. Greetings were not exchanged, her presence was not acknowledged. She appeared not to mind as she opened a well-worn book and began to read. The bus arrived promptly and she was welcomed aboard by the driver’s warm smile.

There was a book fair at school that day and she had a pocket full of money, saved up for months from lemonade stands and extra chores around the house. Books were her best friends and she was anxious to meet her new pals.

The book fair took place after school and she would have to be patient through hours of tediously boring spelling, math and science classes. As the teacher repeated herself for the sake of the slower students she thought she might jump from her seat and scream out loud. But she would never ever do anything so rude. She was respectably poised, restrained to a painful degree, back straight, hands clasped and teeth clenched.

At lunch she sat by herself under a tree and opened her lunch sack. She ate her sandwich slowly, with care and contemplation, the way she did most things. The other children watched her and snickered both behind her back and to her face. Most days it didn’t bother her, today especially.

The bell signaling the end of the day finally rang and she walked hurriedly to the auditorium where the book fair was held every year. Book shelves had been arranged in a large circle with tables lined up in the middle of the circle and at one end was a woman with a silver cash box waiting for the influx of knowledge hungry students.

The smell of freshly printed books was intoxicating, the rows of brightly colored book covers was dizzying. At the end of one table she spotted her first pick, the new Beverly Cleary; Ramona, Age 8. A perfect way to start her shopping adventure. Her arms quickly filled up, the sharp corners of each book making red indention’s on her thin pale skin.

The rush of the hunt sent endorphins pulsing through her brain, she was calmly ecstatic. She handed over all of her hard-earned money without hesitation or regret. Her books placed in a plastic bag and handed to her with a smile. She walked out of the auditorium with a slight skip to her step and headed to the corner where her Mother had promised to pick her up.

The last school bus was just leaving and only a few cars remained in the parking lot. She was not surprised that her Mother was late, she had grown not to depend too heavily on the promises of adults. She simply settled down in the grass and opened a book.

The day which had begun sunny had turned gray and dismal. She waited patiently. A light misting of rain began to fall and still she waited, patiently. A few teachers drove by slowly and asked her if she needed someone to contact her parents and she declined, not wanting to be a bother. The custodian locked up the gates to the parking lot as the last car pulled away.

“Hey, sweetie. You need a ride?”

“No, I’m fine.”

And she truly felt that she was perfectly fine, under the tree which provided a bit of shelter from the lightly falling rain, with her books, waiting patiently.

An hour or more must have passed and finally she became uneasy, quickly coming to the conclusion that her Mother had forgotten about her. Her decisiveness quickly led her to the decision to simply walk home. After all, she knew the way, it was a long way but she was sure she could manage. She was sure of most things, especially when it came to accomplishing things on her own.

She began her walk in a light mood, enjoying the feel of the rain on her face and the smell of wet asphalt. Crossing the freeway overpass she paused to look down upon the passing cars through the chain link fence. She had never seen the freeway from this perspective and it made her feel overwhelmingly insignificant. The rain had begun to fall a bit more heavily, soaking her socks, her toes numbed almost immediately. Her walk home continued as passing motorists paused briefly out of concern. She declined each offer of assistance not out of the “never talk to strangers” theory but because she truly did not feel like she needed help, her independence and tenacity both an asset and a hindrance.

She had walked close to a mile when the sidewalk crumbled and disappeared. Weeds and mud lined the busy road, the rain creating an annoyingly slippery surface on which to complete her journey. Dusk arrived stealthily through the gray skies and steadily falling rain. Her shoes and socks were completely covered in mud, her pants soaked to above the knees. Walking became a trudgingly difficult task with slow, thought out steps to avoid slipping in the thick mud.

Her shoulders and back ached from the heft of her book bag, the plastic handles digging into her palms painfully. No amount of shifting the weight from arm to arm alleviated the burden. She began to resent the books she had been yearning for months.

Finally she reached her street, she could see her house at the end of the block, it’s empty driveway and darkened windows. Slowly she made her way home and opened the door with the key she kept tied on a string around her neck. She removed her shoes and clothes heavy with rainwater and mud and left them on the floor of the garage. She would deal with them later, right now she needed something warm and clean.

Cold and naked she walked down the hallway to her bedroom, dragging her sack of books behind her. She slipped on her pajamas, her wet hair clinging to the sides of her face and sat on the floor, dumping the soggy mess of books in front of her. They were ruined, all of them. Pages fell apart through her fingertips, ink smearing across her hands. She held her face in her cold hands and cried, her tears mixing with dirt and ink creating a face like that of a painted woman in the midst of a breakdown. She fell asleep right there on her floor, a sad, wet little girl, defeated not by having been forgotten or for having to walk home miles in the rain but by the fact that she was unable to save her books, as if it were her who had caused their destruction.

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Happy Meals taste like tears

I didn’t eat much fast food as a child. Unlike many of my friends, my family ate dinner together every night. My Mother served the sort of home cooked balanced meals that lack originality but get the job done; meat, vegetables, potatoes and the occasional casserole. Ketchup, salt and pepper helped blend everything together to a palatable consistency. My Dad really loaded up on the salt, leaving a ring of white granules on the table once his plate had been cleared. He never held back on the complaints and I kept my mouth shut. While he loved to spur on the furious wrath of my Mother I lived in constant fear of her tirades.

“Goddamn, could this meat be any tougher?”

“Then you cook the fucking dinner from now on.”

“I wouldn’t make the dog eat this shit.”

“Fuck off and die.”

Between the lines they cared about each other in a strange and volatile way.

When I was about 7 things began to change, most noticeably, the dinner situation. We  weren’t eating together quite as frequently. Some nights I was left to fend for myself, a bowl of cereal or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. One afternoon my Dad brought home about 30 hot dogs from a gas station. I had never had a hot dog and I was so intrigued I must have eaten at least 5 of them, smothered in mustard and sweet relish squeezed from plastic packets. Our table was a mess of paper hot dog holders and soggy napkins, a crime scene of sorts, a portrayal of our current state as a family in the midst of a meltdown.

As the deterioration of  familial structure became more apparent I grasped blindly for some sense of security and familiarity. Everything was falling apart, crumbling before me and I was helpless to stop it. One night I awoke to find my Mother in the kitchen packing Tupperware into a box. I asked her what was going on and she told me matter of factly that “we’re moving, just us”. The next day my Dad picked me up from a friend’s house after school. He was driving a car I had never seen before and he looked tired, worn out, defeated. He said, “we have to talk”.

We went through a McDonald’s drive-thru and he got me a Happy Meal and a milk shake. Not only had I never had a Happy Meal, I had never even been through a fast food drive-thru. Something was seriously wrong and no amount of processed meat, salt and sugar or the brief delight of a plastic toy could conceal the fact that the shit was about to hit the fan.

We walked to a vacant bench near the playground. Kids squealed with innocent joy, birds chirped in nearby trees and the Autumn sun glared off my Dad’s eyeglasses. He encouraged me to eat my hamburger as he sipped at the chocolate shake. I struggled to swallow the greasy meat and salty fries, each bite another reminder that everything was suddenly different and might not ever be the same again.

“Honey, you know how when you are bad you get sent to time out?”

I nodded my head, eyes cast downward. I had never been sent to “time out” nor had I ever even heard my dad use the term before but I was of course familiar with the phrase and the meaning of the word.

“Well, Daddy was bad and I have to go away for a while, time out for grown ups….prison.”

I stared at my food, carefully spread out on the waxy paper, the colorful box and plastic toy nearby as if for comfort.

“How long?”

“I don’t know for sure, Honey. A year, maybe more. You and Mommy are going to be okay, you just do what she says and be a good girl.”

“Okay.”

I looked at my Dad only briefly, it hurt too much to know that this might be the last time I ever see him. That was how I felt, the final goodbyes, one last chance to make it right kind of moment. But there was nothing left, I was beginning the process of shutting down, a process that would continue for many years to come.

“Can I go play on the swings now?”

“Yeah Honey, go play.”

I walked over to the swings slowly, my head spinning before I even pushed off, feet sinking into the sand and hands tightening around the hard twisted metal of the chains. The cathartic rocking of the swings created a swooshing soundtrack to the spreading numbness inside me.

I felt abandoned and alone even as I slid in to the seat next to my Dad, his arm reaching around my shoulders in an attempt to reassure me that everything was fine. We were both too smart to believe it but neither of us brave enough to say it. He dropped me off at home and I watched him drive away knowing that life had changed, that I had changed, aged years in a matter of moments.

When I walked into the house, my Mother asked me,

“Did you have a good time with Daddy?”

“I had a Happy Meal.”

 

 

 

 

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Peaches

He wanders down the aisle of canned goods, fingers lighting on yellow cling peaches, on sale 69 cents. I remember these in the summertime, in a blue bowl with whipped cream. She made it fresh, light and creamy. His hand falls to his side, fingers searching not for a can but for something real, something alive and warm. A heavy set woman reaches in front of him, rudely grabbing a can from the shelf with a grunt that meant either “excuse me” or “get the fuck out of my way old man”. The encounter is but a flash of movement before him, it means little else. There isn’t much that grabs his attention today, certainly not the rude shoppers or baskets weaving around him in fits of impatient thrusting. He simply stares at the canned goods, unsure of how to proceed. She would know what to do, she would know what to do.

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A piece of Louise

The following is an excerpt from a story I began years ago. I could write about Louise forever and still never fully understand her, so finishing the story has been difficult.

I enter a stall and begin to count
1…2…3…4.…….5…6.………7.…..8.….9.…10.………….11.
It’s decided
I am not going to make it through this day.
Now I can move forward with a purpose and everything suddenly seems better and I can breathe. Even as I walk out of the bathroom and down the hall I feel more composed than I have all day, the world is moving at a much more accurate speed.
Just as I am approaching the edge of the school grounds I hear Rhonda from behind.
“Louise, where the fuck are you going?”
“Away.”
“Not without me, Bitch!”
She’s at my side and we are gone, free.
This is not a rare incident, sometimes I wonder why we bother going to school at all.
Rhonda lives with her Grandmother who promised to send her to Art School in New York if she graduates High School. So Rhonda makes only enough effort to guarantee her a diploma. I go because well, it’s somewhere to go.
“I saw Greg last night at Julie’s party, he was shit faced and being a total fucking idiot. He was hitting on every girl there, in front of their boyfriends. I swear he was trying to get his ass kicked just so he could get a black eye and be able to make up some bullshit story. The problem was everyone just laughed at him, no one took him seriously at all. He got fucking pissed, face all red and sweaty. So he finally gets so obliterated that he grabs a beer bottle all caveman style, grunts and all, and tries to break it over his head. Get this, the fucking bottle would not break. He kept smashing it into his head and the fucker would not break!”
“Rhonda, please stop.”
“Just trying to help. Really I mean it. I desperately want to help you to realize what a fucking retard he is. God, what the fuck is it? Huge cock, right?”
“Rhonda, stop.”
“Not a problem. I get it. I’ve put up with some real scumfucks for a big cock before. Not anyone quite as bad as Greg, but I haven’t seen the goods, so I won’t judge. Not too much anyways.”
“I really don’t want to talk about Greg.”
I never want to talk about Greg.
We met last year, I was a Sophomore and he had already dropped out the previous year when he would have had to repeat his Junior year.
I was walking home alone and he was on a bus bench, sitting on the back rest, feet on the seat, smoking a cigarette, arrogant and dirty, boyish and mean.
I could feel his eyes on me. It was strange, uncomfortable, exciting and I felt powerful.
“Hey.”
I ignore him.
“Hey girl!”
I ignore him as I walk by.
My pace quickens.
“What? You’re too good to talk to me?”
That’s what got me. People have always taken my shyness for uppity stuck up behavior. And I hated it.
I turn around.
“What?”
“Oh, so you can speak”
“What do you want?”
“I just want to talk to you. What’s your name?”
“Louise”
“Do you want to know my name Louise?”
“I don’t care”
“Yeah right”
“OK, so what’s your name?”
“Greg”
“Ok, Why are you talking to me, Greg?”
“I just wanted to get to know you.”
“Why?”
“I think you look lonely Louise.”
That really got me. I don’t think I had realized until that moment how lonely I really was. I had Rhonda and while her friendship was beautiful and chaotic it was very undependable. When he said “lonely” I could tell that something in my eyes had shifted and he saw it with his own shielded lonely eyes.
That day he raped me.
I don’t think he ever thought of it as rape but I felt raped.
I think maybe virgins always feel that way their first time or maybe just me.
Afterward I felt like I had to continue seeing him to justify my guilt and shame. If I could love him then it wouldn’t matter that he had raped me and later in life I could just laugh about it.
I have yet to laugh.
I see him a few times a month and even with our erratic dating practices and his openly seeing other girls everyone still refers to me as “Greg’s girl”. I hate being “Greg’s girl” but I simply don’t have enough energy not to be.
He confides in me and often cries into my lap, he feels safe with me and he thinks he understands me but he knows almost nothing about me. I feel like a mother to him more than anything, a mother that he occasionally rapes.
So, I don’t talk about Greg.

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The yard sale

She was a nervous child, she acted out to express her anxiety. Unease and discomfort followed her around like a heavy blanket wrapped around her ankles.

Her parents fought constantly, mostly about money as most adults ill-prepared for parenthood tend to do. She began to worry about the bills, the rent and groceries. This was on top of the already monumental tower of worries that the child carried around with her; the behavioral difficulties of her puppy who refused to be house broken, the daunting organizational predicament she encountered with her book bag that resulted in hours of preparation each school night, the nightly dinner dilemma of a full plate of food that in some unimaginable way was to be consumed fully and enjoyed and most of all was the constant and unyielding worry of the safety of her family and her home.

She felt as though her life and the lives of her family were held in some precarious position, ready to disintegrate at any moment. Somehow she had to protect them and herself from the unknown threat that lingered at the edges of every moment.

After an especially violent fight over the nonexistent rent money the child decided the time had come, she would do something to help. She had seen yard sales in the neighborhood and it seemed like a perfectly reasonable way to make some quick money and money was what her family needed.

The next morning was a Sunday and she woke up before sunrise, in fact she had not slept at all that night. She walked into the front yard and felt good about the task before her, she knew for sure that this was the right thing to be doing. She gathered most of her toys and old clothes from her bedroom, glad to be rid of the offending clutter. Arranging her belongings on a blanket beneath a tree she felt like a shop girl, humming a pleasant tune of self-satisfaction. She brought out dishes from the kitchen, knickknacks from the living room, records and books from the shelves, a clothes hamper, a step stool and a spare set of silverware that her Mother kept in a drawer.

Her first customer arrived soon after she had perfectly arranged every item on the front lawn just perfectly. The girl watched nervously as the woman rummaged amidst her family’s house wares. She wasn’t nervous about any possible repercussions of what she was doing, she simply hated seeing the items being fussed with in such a careless fashion. She was proud, possibly the first time she had felt such an emotion, of the work she had done and wished she had a few minutes alone to enjoy the moment. However more customers were filing onto the lawn and she resumed her duty as shop girl. She sold the step stool for $1 and the books for a quarter a piece. People pretty much made their own price as she held open her beaded coin purse, the heft of which pleased her deeply. Within an hour the lawn was a shambles of rumpled blankets and a few unwanted articles of clothing. The books had been carried off by an overweight housewife in a stained bathrobe, the clothes hamper drug away by kids on their way to a grassy hill, the records snatched up by an awkward young man with a bad complexion and the set of rarely used silverware was hesitantly purchased by an older woman with a cranky disposition and a guilty smile.

With a deep breath of satisfaction at a hard days work the girl held tightly to the bulging coin purse as she walked back into her house. Her Father was coming out of the bathroom and walked past her without a word. He put on a pot of coffee, sat down at the kitchen table and lit a cigarette. The girl placed the coin purse in front of her Father.

what’s this?
money
where’d you get it?
I had a yard sale
a yard sale?
yeah, for rent money
what are you talking about?
for the rent… I, I heard you and Mom yelling about not having enough money, I wanted to help
oh my god, what did you sell?
…um just stuff we didn’t need….Mm..my toys and some books
what else!
…uh….I don’t know,….some, some records and some silverware
some what!
the….the silverware that we never use, it was in that drawer….really, we never use it
oh god, oh no…no no no!
I just wanted to help, I’m sorry, I’m sorry….

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