Auditioning

Here’s something to think about. And it’s a big something too. From the moment you’re born, you’re auditioning. Sure, your mommy’s going to love you. But think about this. By the time you come out of her, you’ve been auditioning for nine months. After a lot of interviews, wallah,you’ve got the job. You’re her kid. I didn’t say her darling. That’s a whole other thing. That role may go to your older brother or sister. They may be the cute one. You may have the role of pain-in-the-butt. Remember the Smothers Brothers. Dick got all the goodies, Tom got the chicken.

What about Dad? you ask. You know we’re in deep doo-doo if he says, “I’ve got five others just like him. So you’re going to have to do some cooing and goo-goo-ga-ga-ing for him big time. Smile when he comes into the room. Always smile. Smiling works every time.  Adults like smiling. Smiling will get you into Harvard. And don’t tell me your poop don’t stink. It always stinks.

You know you’re in for bad things if mom or pop turns to big sis and says, “Go change your brother’s diaper. “ The audition with big sis ain’t going to go well. You pooped. You do not want to do that at an audition. It just ain’t cool. Later in life, she will get even. When you’ve crashed your dad’s car and you want help, she won’t be there. Because she had to clean up your poop. Get on big sis’s good side and it will serve you in good stead.

Next thing you know you’re walking and getting into everything. You know things are going well if mommy says, “Ain’t that the cutest thing.” It’s a statement, not a question. But be careful. If dad comes in and says, “Hey, he just broke my favorite coffee mug. You know the one I won at the annual bean-eating contest. The one I got for beating the crap out of Marvin,” You know where that’s going to go. And he won’t be saying “crap” either. He’ll be saying that other word that stands in for poop. So don’t break any of Dad’s stuff. He’ll appreciate it and remember what a good kid you were.

Oh, you don’t think he’ll remember. You know how you’ll know. When he hands you the keys to that really cool car for your sixteenth birthday and says, “You’ve earned it.” There’s this big smile on his face. It ain’t because your grades are good. You’re a C student at best. No, it’s because you did auditioning well. Your poop didn’t stink that bad. You didn’t break any of his precious things.

And don’t get me started about table manners. You are going to have to eat that baby crap for a while. So don’t make faces. They don’t like faces, unless they’re cute faces.

Then there’s that first class in school. You’re auditioning there as well. You can either audition for the teacher or for your fellow students. Go for your fellow students. Your teacher is only going to be around for one year. Your fellow students are going to be around for, like FOREVER. So you had better impress them big time or your life is going to be a living h-e-double-hockey-sticks. Look across the room and find the kid you like the least. Immediately walk over and hit him in the face. He’s going to say, “What’d you want to do that for?” Best say nothing. You’ve impressed the other prisoners. I mean, kids.

This kid you just socked will turn out to be your best friend for life. For life, man. You can’t ask for a better friend than that. He’ll watch your back when you steal that car. He’ll be there for you when you need a sponsor in AA. You  will be his Eddie Haskel and he’ll be your Wally Cleaver. Can’t do better than that, can you? On top of all the trouble he’ll keep you out of, his mom will be June Cleaver. And, man, June Cleaver could cook. Not like your mom.

So that’s your life. You will be auditioning for role after role. For that first date. For that college you really really want to get into. For that person you will eventually marry. For that boss whose position you want. For that bank that will give you a mortgage and a credit card. For those two-point-seven kids that will make you a real American family. For those neighbors who always keep their house in tip-top shape and their lawn well manicured. (You keep wondering how he can afford the maintenance and the really cool stuff. Embezzling would be my guess.) For that divorce lawyer you will need. And you will want a good one. Your spouse is about to take everything. For that coffin you will have to fit into.

And last, but not least. There’s God. That audition is going to be real scary.

Lost

Amber’s period came early, during the summer when she was twelve going on thirteen. That same summer her breasts filled out. The end of school that May she was a tall, gawky kid, and shy as all get out. By the dog days of summer, her body developed curves. She and her mom went shopping for a new wardrobe for her new body. They ended up purchasing several dresses that did not accentuate her body. They figured that would take care of what they saw as a problem. But it didn’t.

Amber had never been a popular girl. The first day of school the boys swamped her with their attention. Especially the older ones. This scared her. The worse part was the other girls, girls she had hung out with the previous year. They wanted nothing to do with her. She felt that they were secretly accusing her of a crime, and she didn’t know what it was.

At lunch in the school cafeteria, she took her tray over to a group of four girls she knew. They immediately got up and left her alone, ostracized. One of the older boys, a kid in the ninth grade, all the girls thought was God’s gift to girls, he came over and sat down next to her.

“How ’bout you and me,” he said, “we go out sometime. Maybe Saturday afternoon.” Then he shoved some food into his mouth, thinking she’d already accepted his invitation and glad to get it. After all, every girl in school wanted to date him.

“I’ll have to check with my mom,” she said after several minutes of hesitation, not knowing what the socially acceptable thing to do was.

“You don’t have to do that,” he said. “Just tell your mom you’re going to the mall with some friends. Maybe we’ll go to a movie.”

“Well, okay,” she said, not knowing how to get out of the date.

“Oh,” he said, standing up, “and any other guy asks you out. You tell them no. You’re my girl now. ‘k?”

Not knowing anything else to say, she nodded her head and agreed.

She got home that first day and she ran to her room and she cried. She cried and cried. She didn’t even like the guy who’d asked her to the movie. But all the other girls did.

Saturday afternoon, and the two met at the mall in front of the movie theater. “You got any money?” he asked.

She nervously nodded her head yes.

“Good,” he said, taking her hand and pulling her over to the ticket counter. “‘Cause I figure it’s a date, you’d be paying.”

“But I thought–,” she stuttered.

“We going to the movie or what?,” the boy said.

“Yes,” she said, discouragement in her voice. She reached into her purse and pulled out the money and gave it to him. He got the tickets. They gave them to the ticket taker. “Want some popcorn?” he asked. “‘Course you do. What’s a date without popcorn and a coke. Right?”

Amber bought the treats, then they walked into the darkness of the movie theater. The trailers had already begun. The boy pulled her to the last row of seats and they sat down. “You’re going to love this movie,” he leaned over and whispered in her ear.

The movie began, two men in metal suits shooting at each other with lasers. The boy reached into the bag of popcorn and took out a handful. She settled into her seat to watch a movie she did not think she was going to like. During the first third of the movie, he went through his popcorn and hers. Every so often he’d whisper a loud “Yes” when one of the metal suits shot a robot.

When the credits appeared at the end of the movie, Boy turned to her and said, “Wasn’t that awesome?” Then he asked, “Want to do something?”

She thought about saying, “I thought we had.” Instead she said, “Sure.” It was still early and she had told her mom that she wouldn’t be getting home till later.

“‘k,” he said. “We’re gonna do something I think you’re going to like.”

It was late afternoon. He led her down one of the side streets. They came to an empty baseball diamond. He ran up one of the bleachers and called out to her, “C’mon up here.”

She climbed the bleacher steps. He sat down and pulled her to his side. For the first time that day, he looked at her. It was the first time she had really looked at his face. He had a handsome face. More than handsome, it was angelic.

“This is my favorite spot,” he said. “You have a favorite spot? ‘Course you do.” Then he went all quiet.

Finally he said, “I’m sorry ’bout today. Sometimes I just get carried away with a thing.”

She took a chance, afraid she would upset him. “You are a little pushy.”

“A little pushy? I must be slipping. I thought I was a lot pushy.”

His humor made her smile. “You were a lot pushy,” she agreed. “I was trying to be nice.”

“I know. It’s just that…well. I get nervous when I am alone with a girl.” Then she felt like he let a wall between the two of them come down . Then he said, “Can you keep a secret?”

She said, “Yes. I think so.”

“If I tell you, you can’t tell nobody. Not even your mom. Moms can be the worst at keeping secrets.You understand?”

“I promise I won’t tell anybody,” she said. “Not even my mom.”

“I’m gay,” he said. “And I need you to be my girlfriend so nobody will find out. Can you do that for me?”

She thought about it a little. Then she said, “Only if you treat me special. Not like today.”

“I will,” he said. “I promise.” He breathed a huge sigh of relief.

For the first time since she had returned to school, she felt like she had a friend. A real friend. And she would keep his secret forever. She promised him.

“Not till forever,” he said. “Just till I can figure things out.”

The two hugged each other. As he walked her home, neither of them said anything. He escorted Amber to her door, then said, “Good night, Amber. And thank you.”

She returned his goodnight. “Good night, David.”

Near 500 words: TW and the Existential Threat

Episode 19 of The Writer.

TW (aka The Writer) wasn’t sure why he had said, “Soon.” The word just tossed itself out of his mouth as TW stood beside Cat’s graveside. As he carried his shovel, his lantern and his Bible back to the house, he wondered about what Cat would think of the word. Surely she would have something to say about it. She always had something to say. And it would have been brief. Though the words came out in meows, TW always had the drift of her comments. It was almost as if they could read each other’s mind.

He sat the shovel and the lantern inside the shed and headed inside the house. The clock on the stove said one a.m. Sitting the Bible on the kitchen table, he grabbed a bottle of water from the refrigerator. His eyes hit upon Cat’s food and water bowls. He should have placed them beside her in the grave.

Then he dropped into a chair in the living room, facing the TV. He let the TV be and closed his eyes to listen to the quiet and clear his head from the discombobulation of the day’s events.

He had gone to work early, then seen the director. The director had given him a year’s sabbatical beginning that afternoon. He went over to H.R., filled out the paperwork, then came home. The door was unlocked. He heard a meowing at the door. It was Cat. She was bleeding. He rushed her to the veterinarian hospital. Helen had been the vet on duty. She had gently let him know that Cat was…dead.

It was ten p.m.when he made it home. He buried Cat. And now here he sat in the living room in the dark.

The curtains to the front window were parted. As if in a dream, he saw Cat lying on the back of the couch, looking out at the half lit street. Her tail was moving like a windshield wiper. Her focus was amazing. She’d lay there for two, three hours at a time, looking. He’d lay his head next to her, trying to see what she was staring at.

His eyes moved around the thinly lit room. Everything reminded him of Cat. Her toys. The scratch board. The wadded up paper he threw at her and she kicked back at him, like the two playing soccer.

Then the loneliness hit him. His only friends, other than Cat, were his colleagues at work and a few of the faculty. And he wouldn’t have them now that he was on a sabbatical. He had never been someone who needed or wanted a lot of friends. He’d fallen in love with the idea of the writer as a solitary creature.

An idea came to him. He would write Cat’s biography. He had dozens of pictures. He was good enough of a writer to make it a book people would want to read. People would discover the person he’d spent his last eight years with.

The next thing he knew the doorbell was ringing.

Near 500 words: A Halloween Story

Friendships had never been easy to come by for Jane. Then she met Eleanor Whitaker. It was a Wednesday and she was late for work. She barely caught the bus. The bus was already packed with only one seat left. That was beside a white haired elderly woman wearing a white cashmere sweater.

“Would you like to join me?” the woman suggested.

Jane nodded yes and took the seat. “I’m late for work,” she said, still trying to catch her breath.”

“I used to hate that. I lost a lot of jobs being late for work.” Jane wasn’t in the mood for talking. The woman was. “I don’t have to do that anymore. I’m retired.”

Jane looked at the woman. “Yes,” then she went back to what she was thinking. How she was going to have to finagle her way with her boss?

“You know what I finally did to prevent getting fired,” the woman said.

Not really curious but trying to shut her up, Jane shook her head and turned away from the woman.

“I cast a spell,” the woman said.

Now curious, Jane turned back to the woman. “Did it work?”

“Did it ever? And it was my first one too.”

Near 500 words: The Clothing Store on San Miguel Street

Janet was named after her grand mama. Aida was named after the woman in the opera. They had been friends since high school. When she was forty, Janet’s husband left her for a slut named Helen just like Helen ran off with that slut, Paris. Her husband got the clap and murdered Helen. Janet got a divorce and went to work.

Aida lost her husband to cancer when she was sixty. She needed something to occupy her spirit. She could have taken up with the church. But she was not the praying kind. So she bought a clothing store on San Miguel Street and went equal partners with her friend. “Fifty-fifty,” she said when she made the suggestion to Janet.

Their families warned them. Anywhere else but San Miguel Street. San Miguel Street was a part of the worst part of town.

Janet and Aida had faith. They left the door open. If someone wanted to take their money, they would surrender the cash with a smile. They didn’t have much and it wasn’t worth losing their lives over. Besides they liked the people there.

They opened the shop at eight sharp. Not a minute earlier or a minute later. The neighborhood could set their clocks by it. Day in, day out, the two women sat in the doorway, waiting for someone to drop by. And people did.

One morning Senora Alicia came by. “I need a hat for my son’s wedding. Do you have a hat for me?”

“Of course,” Aida said. She went back into the store and over to the hat stand and pulled down a bonnet all decked out with flowers. “I think this one will do.”

Senora Alicia tried it on. She looked in the mirror. She smiled. “Oh, it’s beautiful.”

“And it fits snug,” Aida said.

“Yes, it does.” Then Senora Alicia laughed.

“You’re going to be the hit of the wedding,” Aida assured her customer.

Senora Alicia’s face went serious. “How much is it?” She was afraid she could not afford it.

“No charge. It’s a wedding present.”

“Oh, I have to give you something.”

“You already have. You came to our shop for a hat.”

Senora Alicia handed Janet the hat. Janet took it and sat it on the counter. She went in the back room and brought out a lovely box and gently sat the hat into the box. Then she tied the box up with a pink ribbon and handed the box to Senora Alicia.

“Would you like a cup of tea and a cookie?” Aida offered.

“I would love a cup of tea and a cookie.” Of course, she wanted a cup of tea and a cookie. The cookies were notorious in the neighborhood. Some of the kids thought they were magic cookies because people were always happy after they ate one.

The women sat in the chairs in front of the store. For several hours, they laughed and cried and had a good time. Aida told her stories. Senora Alicia shared her worries about her son. Janet listened. Aida’s stories and the love Senora Alicia had for her son filled her up to the brim with happiness.