Saturday, December 13, 2014

Reverent Whisper

Lisa Ann swung her tiny legs back and forth as she sat in the chair. It was a nice chair, deeply piled and covered in soft, thick velvet that felt fuzzy against the back of her legs, tickling her just a little.  Lisa Ann waited for quite a long time. She’d colored in her coloring book, drawn pictures of her and her brother playing together, made a card for her Mom, and generally been a good girl. Lisa Ann was 5.

After quite a while, the noises from the other room seemed to start being louder, then quiet again. She wondered if she could go in there now, but didn’t want to be a bad girl. So she kept waiting, hoping that Mommy would come and get her soon. Her brother was in there with everyone, and she was very, very mad about that.  Mikey wasn’t that much older than she was, so why did he get to be in there with the adults (and everyone else) while there was crying going on? She’d have to ask Mommy about that later in the car after she’d had a nap, of course. Riding in the car always made Lisa Ann sleepy. She kept on swinging her legs, listening for the voices to finally start coming closer.

The voices were very quiet now, practically whispers.  She could hear Daddy and Mommy arguing just a little, like they used to before Daddy moved into his new apartment. She wasn’t sure what they were saying, but she could hear them like she used to, and they were moving farther away. Lisa Ann was very impatient now. She slid off the big chair and onto the thick carpet, feeling her dress slide up her legs as she did. The velvet tickled her legs, and she had some pins and needles in her feet, but she stayed very quiet. Good girls were quiet. Mikey told her that, and Mommy seemed to like it when Lisa Ann did the things that Mikey suggested. He was smart, but not always a good boy. Mommy yelled at Mikey sometimes, but she didn’t yell at Lisa Ann at all. She was a good girl, though she wondered why Mikey didn’t just do the same things he told Lisa Ann to do.  She decided that she would ask him when she saw him, and nodded firmly.

The voices were now silent.

Lisa Ann crossed the room to the door. It was quiet. She hoped it would stay that way, and padded quietly down the hall. There were still no voices close, and she felt a little bit excited at sneaking like this. She didn’t sneak often, and this was a special treat in her mind – a delicious bit of being willful, knowing that she might be doing something just a little against the rules. Lisa Ann poked her head around the corner and saw the mostly empty room. She crossed it, dodging chairs and found her brother. HE was quiet, and she pulled up a nearby chair. He stayed quiet, and she thought to herself that Mikey must be trying very hard to be a good boy. She turned her head and looked around. Still, the room was empty, so she pulled the chair closer to Mikey and took his hand in hers. He didn’t pull it away.

“Mikey? How come you got to be in here with Mommy and Daddy tonight?”

“I just was Ell.”  He only called her that when he was trying to tell her something she should be good about.

“Are Mommy and Daddy fighting? I thought I heard Mommy crying, but I wasn’t sure. Mommy always cried when they were fighting.”

“No, Ell. Not tonight. Mommy and Daddy were not fighting, but I don’t think they are back together, either. You were a good girl, right?”

“I was!” Lisa Ann smiled and nodded as she spoke. “I made Mommy a card. Want to see it?” She waved the card in her hand, never letting go of Mikey.

“It’s pretty. She’s going to like it a lot. Listen, Ell, you have to listen to me, okay?”

“Sure, Mikey.” Lisa Ann leaned in very close. Mikey had his teddy bear in his other hand. “Can I hold your bear?”

“I’m going to hold it for a while, okay?” he squeezed it tighter.

“Okay. What do you want me to do, Mikey?”

“You are going to have to be a very good girl for Mommy. She’s really going to need that. Daddy, too. I think you are going to have to be a good girl for a long time.”

Lisa Ann made a face. “I’m always a good girl, you know. I just forget sometimes.”

“I know, Ell. But Mommy and Daddy were talking about a lot of sad things, and I want to make sure that you are just going to be good so they don’t have to get mad. If you do get yelled at, try not to cry, okay?”

“What sad things? Daddy has a nice place, and I like our bedroom there…” she trailed off, squeezing Mikey’s hand.

“Can I tell you a secret?” Mikey whispered.

“Yes!” Lisa Ann liked secrets. She was a very good secret keeper.

“I’m not going home with you tonight. Mommy will talk about it more, but I’m just not. Not tonight.”

“Oh.” Lisa Ann was a little sad about this. Sometimes Mikey would sleep over Daddy’s house when she didn’t, and she missed him. It was nice to be able to snuggle with Mommy, and sometimes Mikey would leave her a note on her pillow, just in case she missed him. Lisa Ann kept every one of his notes. “Are you sleeping over Daddy’s?”

“No. But just be good for Mommy, okay? It’s really important.”

“I will, Mikey.” Lisa Ann fidgeted in the chair. It wasn’t as nice as the red one she was sitting in before, but it was still fuzzy against her legs. “Are you sad too, Mikey?”

“Yes. A little. It’s hard to explain to you, Ell. I love you. You’re the best sister ever.”

“I love you, too. You’re the best brother ever!” Lisa Ann beamed. She leaned in and gave him a hug and a kiss.

“Thanks, Ell. I’m really tired. Is Mommy coming back?”

“I don’t know. I heard them going somewhere else. That’s why I came to see…”

“It’s okay. Here…” Mikey held out the bear to her. “You take this for now. Don’t lose it, okay?”

Lisa Ann hugged the bear close to her face. She could smell her brother on it. “Thanks, Mikey. I promise I won’t lose it.”

“I didn’t leave you a note, but you know that I always miss you.” He paused, “Always.”

“I know, Mikey. I miss you too.” She was hugging the bear as she spoke. “I think Mommy is coming…” Mikey must have fallen asleep. Maybe he just needed a nap, Lisa Ann thought to herself. She hugged the bear and held his hand. She might get yelled at for being in here, but she didn’t think so. The room was pretty, now that she looked around a little more. There were flowers and candles, and it smelled like Mommy’s garden in the springtime.

Lisa Ann’s mother and father walked slowly into the room together. Her mother fell into deep, muffled sobs when she saw her daughter sitting by the small casket holding her brother’s bear.

The tears flowed freely, and her heart broke again.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Black Friday

Jerry was freezing as he stood outside the locked doors of Malcom’s. He’d never even been in the parking lot before last night, let alone shopped there. But the price on the Merry Mermaid doll that his daughter had been talking about was simply too irresistible. He had to have one for her, and since his soon-to-be-ex-wife was too fucking cheap to spring for it, Jerry froze his ass off with barely more than the price of the doll in his bank account and waited for the store to open. Now, Wal-Mart had opened at 6:00 PM last night, but the Malcom’s price was much better, although he was assured when he asked the clerk on the phone Wednesday that there would be a limited number of dolls available.  That’s when Jerry decided to skip the shitty turkey roll his sister made and camped out in front of the store.  He had to have one. Just this once, he wanted his daughter to get something she actually asked for. Just. This. Once.

Jerry had been here too long already. His legs were sore, and his back ached, and his fingers were thick lumps of meat waiting to be sliced into party-sized pepperoni. But in just three more minutes, Jerry would make a beeline for the toy department and…shit.  “Where was the toy department?” he wondered. He leaned in and tried to see if there was a sign. Nothing. He hadn’t thought about this until right now. Right now. Three, no TWO minutes before the store opened. He turned to the woman beside him, a largish sturdy woman with a scarf and hat covering what little was left exposed by her heavy coat. “You wouldn’t know where the toy department is in here, do you?” He smiled a friendly, if chilled smile.

“Fuck off, buddy. Next time, do your homework.” The woman barked at him and laughed. She turned to face her friend, “Fucking Einstein shows up to a store and doesn’t even know where shit is. Fucking moron.”

Her friend laughed nervously, sounding mostly like she was scared to do anything else. She was a much younger, much thinner woman, her blonde hair springing out from under her red hat.  Jerry caught her eye with his own, a look of desperation on his face. He opened his eyes wider in a silent beg. He darted his eyes, hoping she would pick up on the visual cues. She did, thankfully. She moved her eyes up then right, and then repeated the motions. He nodded, understanding. Straight in and then right. The toys must be in the back of the store. He eased up a little. One minute.

The Thick Woman jostled him against the door, laughing at his surprise. Jerry turned to face her, really pissed off. As he began to turn his shoulders towards her, the doors sprung open and she pushed his chest hard, sending him sprawling into the security pole alongside the entryway. Jerry was flailing, trying to regain his balance as the crowd poured into the store. He panicked when he saw the number of people rushing past. “Shit!” he cried, getting steady to his feet and breaking into a run. “I hope that fat fuck dies in this”

He ran as directed, looking right again and again to gage where the hell the toys were. Then he saw the sign, skidded right, and broke into a full run as he saw more people looking at him from other aisles. They descended on the toy department like starving locusts to a cornfield. Shelves were stripped clean as they passed, but Jerry wheeled and spun, searching for his treasure. He saw the pile almost too late, as there were only three left when he got to the pallet in the aisle way. He reached through the throng of rabid shoppers and grabbed one of the boxes, his heart beating hard in triumph. As he pulled the box through the flailing mass, he felt a sudden tug. The Thick Woman had her hands on Jerry’s doll, her eyes narrowed to slits and she barked at him “Loser!” as she pulled the toy from his grip.

Jerry lost it. He sprung over the heads of the struggling crowd and landed hard on The Thick Woman. She fell to her knees and sent the doll spiraling away under a rack adorned with smiling elves and children’s coats. He scampered after it on his hands and knees, scurrying at first before getting his feet under him. He grabbed the doll and began to run down towards the registers, the voice in his head screaming at him “JERRY! IT’S A FUCKING DOLL!” “Goddamned right it’s a fucking doll. It’s MY fucking doll, and that fat fuck isn’t going to get it” he answered to himself as he admired the red hair and bright smile of the toy.

The Thick Woman slammed her carriage into Jerry from behind, hard. His heel blossomed in pain and Jerry fell onto the white tile. Blood exploded from his nose and his forehead as his face struck the floor. He was in agony. The Thick Woman picked up the doll, leaned down, and told Jerry to go fuck himself before retrieving her cart and dropping the doll in with the other items. Jerry struggled against the encroaching gray around the edges of his vision. Blackness threatened to take him, and his body wanted to give into that silent bliss.  He heard The Thick Woman laugh from somewhere out in the nearby aisles.

Jerry got to his feet and fought against the dizziness. He could see The Thick Woman sauntering triumphantly down the lane, the seams of her pants threatening to burst their banks and flood the store with her dimpled, gelatinous cellulite. He focused like a cat on a mouse and decided that he was not going to lose his doll to her. Not ever. He moved slowly, stalking her though the store. He pushed other carriages out of the way, once actually walking almost a full aisle with someone’s overfull cart. The owner yelled, but Jerry paid no mind. If the chance ever came. he'd kill her with his own bare hands.

He caught up with The Thick Woman in the garden center. She was rifling through a large bin stuffed with small stuffed animals. Her back was towards him the whole time. Jerry grabbed a cart full of snow shovels and pushed it past her in the slow procession of others trying to get by. Thinking how delicious it would be to strangle her instead, he reached out as he passed, lifting the doll from her abductor and returning it to her rightful home: Jerry’s arms. He pushed silently past, ditched the carriage so it would impede her potential pursuit, and made a dash for the registers.

Jerry was free, and the Merry Mermaid would bring a smile to his daughter in a time when there were few smiles to be had. He saw The Thick Woman cross in front of his car, barking at Blondie the whole time. Blondie did a double take as she saw Jerry through the windshield. Jerry winked, feeling cheerful for the first time all morning. His head ached, his nose throbbed, but Jerry was one happy guy. He beat that old bitch to the present of the season and he would never have to look at her fucking face again, since this was the last time he would ever come to this shitty store.


Home and clean, Jerry grabbed a plate of cheese and crackers and dropped into one of the old stools that served as kitchen seating. His recently-furnished bachelor pad was decorated in “Modern Ghetto” as he put it. But after the big D was finalized, he would invest in something better. Either way, his daughter would have a good Christmas this year.  Jerry slid one of the slices of cheese into his mouth as he flipped on the countertop TV to watch the news. The segment was apparently on the “Black Friday Mayhem” that occurred all over the nation, and several videos of trampling and stampedes, one of a woman and a midget fighting over a 40” TV at Target or something, and then several of people fist fighting at registers. Jerry chuckled at the videos, remembering his own struggle this morning. The announcer, a good-looking woman in her 40’s dressed in a festive (and very low-cut) dress that flattered her shape, turned the story over to Chuck, who would share a local tale of sadness.

Jerry sat bolt upright. The Thick Woman was on the screen, tear tracks staining her face. Blondie held her arm. “Margie Swanson went out this morning to buy gifts for Saint Cecelia’s Home for Lost Children, a shelter for abused and abandoned children. What she found, instead, was the violence of an angry man.

“I was so shocked when I was attacked by this horrible man,” The Thick Woman explained through tears, “and then I realized later that he stole the doll from my carriage when I wasn’t looking. Renee told me later that she saw the man smiling…smiling… after the deed was done, as he was driving away.”  She began sobbing into Blondie’s (Renee’s?) shoulder.  Blondie stared into the camera silently.

“Renee McCallister is a deaf mute who grew up under the care of Miss Swanson. She shared this earlier…” the announcer trailed off as the screen cut to Blondie signing and an interpreter speaking for her. “This man probably doesn’t even know we do this. I’m sure he was simply caught up in the moment, but his actions color the season for all of us. It is this sort of uncalled-for violence that makes it more and more difficult to enjoy the hustle and bustle of the shopping season- especially when that shopping will benefit these children who are so much worse off than our own.” The interpreter spoke as Renee signed furiously.

Jerry was humbled, but angry. If that Margie Swanson is such a saint, why did she act like such a total bitch this morning? Fuck her. Fuck her and Blondie.  The news caster went on and on, saying how the children from the Elaine Donovan Elementary School were responsible for selecting gifts to be given to the children of Saint Cecelia’s. The entire fourth grade class had participated.  Jerry’s daughter went to Donovan. She was in the fourth grade there. Holy shit. Suddenly Jerry felt very small and very far away. Had he misheard his daughter? Did she talk about that fucking doll because it was a part of her class project? He scrambled to remember. He checked his texts from her, and his email. There was no mention of it.

Had he only been half-listening when she said it? Had he only wanted to find something to one-up his ex? Jerry stood up from the stool and pulled his hair in his hands. “FUCK!” he cried aloud. “FUCK FUCK FUCK!” He grabbed his phone and punched his ex’s number. It rang several times before she picked up.

“Yes?” She answered curtly.

“Hey Sharon, it’s Jerry. Listen, did B want anything special for Christmas this year? I mean, she was talking about some mermaid doll or something… did she want that? Were you planning on getting it...?”

“I know It’s you, Jerry. And no, she didn’t want that mermaid thing. She wants a bike. She told you this already. There was something at school about the doll… some shit about an orphanage or something. Don’t you listen to her, Jerr-y?” She dragged his name out venomously.

Jerry stared at the newscast. He was on TV, well, you couldn’t see his face, but there he was. “…home video of the assault has just surfaced. It’s raw, and we apologize for the quality. “ the faceless reporter spoke. In the video, you could plainly see jerry jump over people and land on The Thick Woman, send her sprawling, then grab the doll and run off. Jerry’s face was never clear enough to make out. Jerry sat back down and spoke into the phone “I gotta go” and hung up.

Jerry dropped the package into the large slot at the post office. He had wrapped it in plain brown paper and addressed it to Renee McCallister, care of Saint Cecelia’s. He felt horrible about it all. As he drove home, he listened to the news. It started to feel like a badly-scripted movie, and Jerry was starring as the Mermaid Mauler. “Nice name” he thought to himself when he first heard it.

Later that night Jerry was feeling better about it all. The buzz had died down to a dull roar on the news, and he never made YouTube at all. “Dodged a bullet there” he said to the empty apartment. His phone rang.  It was Sharon. “Hello?”

“Jerry, listen. It seems I owe you an apology.”

Jerry was stunned. “Okay, for what?”

“B WAS talking about that damned doll. She hasn’t stopped talking about it all day after you called – there was something about it on the news and she won’t shut up. I bought her one today, but I was wondering if you’d like to split it with me. We could give it to her together.”

“She wants the doll? Where did you get one?”

“You know that shithole across town… Malcom’s or something? They had a pallet of them just sitting there. I grabbed a couple, sent one to that woman who was attacked…did you hear? From Saint Cecelia’s”

Jerry laughed into his hands. A whole pallet of them. In his mind, he saw hundreds of the dolls dancing around in a ling conga line through the store, leading him into the open mouth of a volcano where The Thick Woman stood with a baseball bat and struck him in the kidneys until he was pissing blood into the lava flow. “Sure, Sharon. I’ll split it with you.”

“What’s so funny?” Sharon asked.

“I’ve had a long day is all. A very long day.”