Scott

His eyes never lost focus on the road ahead of him. He thought he was Pac-Man, his car gobbling up glowing lane divider pellets in the night, taking him toward a destination he couldn’t see, guided only by his faith that he’d indeed gone the right direction. Cars passed every so often, but as they got farther and farther from Cleveland, they were fewer and farther between.

In the back seat, his two best friends slept. Crank snored with his mouth agape while Robbie sort of chirped and snorted in his sleep. Scott Szabo, a third of the band that never was the SZLRS; Scott “The Hammerman” Szabo, Robbie “Dyun Kim” Szeto, and Larry “Crank” Szysz, Jr. Sz, for the common last two initials in their last names, and of course their first initials. While most outsiders would pronounce it Sizzlers, it was Zizzler, since the letter S is silent. Though they’d never actually learned to play instruments, or knew how to sing anything beyond horribly, the dream of hitting it big someday still played in their minds. Robbie still thought about digging up dinosaur bones while he dug trenches for sewer pipe, and Larry still thought he was a cop about to bust a perp, as he added one chemical to another in a lab.

Their friendship was laced within their DNA as their parents had been friends and their grandparents had been best friends, each living on the same street in Parma, Ohio for eighty-two years, and for the most part, the same block. Scott and Robbie were brother-in-laws as Robbie married Scott’s little sister, Debbie. Larry married Scott’s cousin, Marybeth who was also Robbie’s cousin by marriage. Each lived in a home on Sunset Drive, and except for Scott were happy there.

Scott was the black sheep of the families, his dreams and aspirations getting in the way of his reality: At thirty, he’d never be a Rock God. He’d picked up a guitar a few times, and strummed away imaginary tunes in front of thousands at the Garden, but that was as far as he’d gotten. Despite a genius level IQ, he was a born slacker. He didn’t care about much that didn’t involve a beer going into his body or part of his body going into some lucky lady’s body. He’d not yet made the connection that the more beer he drank, the less likely he was to get into anyone’s body and as his belly expanded and his hairline receeded, he’d needed to find other things to occupy his time and his mind.

His parents coddled him. Roger and Sonja shook their heads at the diagnosis that had been thrown to them that he’d had ADD and needed Ritalin or something to help manage his mind. “No, he’s just bored in school. You need to challenge him more,” was the answer. “Let’s move him up a grade.”

And so, in a classroom, they tested Scott with the eight grade Ohio Standard Aptitude Test. Despite being in fifth grade, he passed with flying colors and Scott went from fifth to ninth grade that summer.

“I don’t want to do this,” Scott said, repeatedly.

“It’ll be good for you. A real challenge for that smart brain you’ve got there.” Roger said, tousling his hair, ashing his always lit cigarette into his hair. “You gotta use that brain for something.”

“I do. Thinking about how I don’t want to do this, mostly.”

“Boy,” Roger’s face frowned, “don’t be a smartass.”

“Sorry. It’s true though. I don’t wanna be this smart,” Scott lamented. “I hate it. I’m going to get beat up.”

“Well, do ya think Einstein didn’t get shoved into lockers when he was writing all them poems and shit? Or, when that Bay-toffen guy made all them planet discoveries, people wasn’t beatin’ his ass?”

Scott looked at his father and blinked. “What about DaVinci? I don’t think he got beat up.”

“Oh, I dunno. I mean, he had his brother there for him.”

“His brother?”

“Yeah. Down on that hill. Where they flew the first plane? You sure you’re smart?” Roger Szabo asked, matter-of-factly.

“Nowhere near as smart as my Pop.”

“Well, not many are.”

—***—

True to his fears, Scott walked into his first day of High School scared. He’d have felt safer wearing a meat suit into a grizzly cage. At least he could turn tail and run from the bears. Here in school, where fourteen to eighteen year-old boys had their testosterone pumping for the first time through their bodies, ready to display how macho they truly could be, he’d truly been thrown to the wolves.

He missed his first two classes after some seniors found he was the perfect height to stuff in a locker. Someone finally heard him after he’d missed his second class, and he walked the halls in shame the rest of the day. Teachers pitied him, one teacher going so far as to kick him out of class to make things “easier” on him. She rationalized that if he failed her class and other classes, the schools would send him back to sixth grade where he belonged. In group study classes, the groups he was lumped into made him do all the work and took all the credit. He was the slowest kid in gym, had nowhere to sit in lunch, if he made it to lunch at all.

And in spite of his protests, his parents stuck to their guns. “This’ll make you a better person,” they rationalized. His grades slipped progressively from A’s in his fifth grade year to just barely a C in his freshman year of high school. He was learning and understood everything, but, he was doing homework in triplicate, and even then, other kids just stole his and put their names on top. One set for himself, one set for Tony Pietruschka and whoever he was trying to impress at the time. Each night, he sat down with a letter Tony wrote him — You little jerk, you’d better do my homework and do it all right or else I’m going to beat you’re ass so hard, you’re going to wake up and you’re little fifth grade fagit friends will be seniors and will also beat you’re ass over and over. DO MY FUCKING HOMEWORK OR I WILL FUCKING KILL YOU!!!! — so that he could get his penmanship perfectly, so that the teacher would never know it wasn’t Tony doing his homework.

To his credit, Scott found he had a penchant for forgery, something that would both help and hinder him as life went on. In April, Scott sat and opened the note from Mandiee, Tony’s latest flame. She was an attractive girl, though Scott couldn’t remember what her face looked like. His eyes never raised above the absolutely amazing cleavage on her chest which she displayed proudly. He’d mastered the sideways glance, trying to hide staring at the mounds of which he still thought about. The note read — I’m sorry Tony is making you do this. Please don’t do this for me. I feel bad for you. I’ll do my own and I’ll talk to Tony to ge thim to lay off. But, please stop staring at my boobs so much. Winky-smiley-tongue-out-face, Mandiee — Over the I, there was a heart drawn and Scott fell in love, immediately. She was so nice. He made it a point to look at her face from now on, instead of her boobs. She deserved that much. He wrote her a note back, but hid it in a drawer somewhere, too afraid to give it to her. He did her homework, to avoid a beating at the hands of Tony.

In the morning, he was nervous about seeing Mandiee. He’d thought of her all evening, and had named their children already — Zeke, Travis and Shelly. She’d given him a glimmer of hope, his first true ray of sunshine into this not-quite-so-new, miserable experience. She was his light, his love and his–

“You prick!” came the shout as a sizeable fist buried itself in his stomach. His breath escaped his body as he collapsed. Tony was angry, as forces beyond his control raged at his insides. He reached down and pulled the just twelve year old up and into his face. Scott tried to catch his breath but to no avail. He felt as though he was dying. “Mandiee broke up with me last night because of you, and now I’m going to fucking break you!”

For a few minutes, everything was black and Scott woke up at home, the back of his head aching. Anecdotally, he’d pieced what happened next together from what he’d overheard whispered behind his back the next day. Tony, after throwing Scott at the lockers, dove after Scott to punch him a few times. Scott threw a right and knocked Tony out, cold.

In reality, what had happened was far less sinister: Tony has misjudged where Scott had fallen and when he dove to hit him, he also hit his head on a locker, knocking himself out. However, Scott’s arms flailed around for a moment trying to defend himself while unconscious. His right arm made contact with Tony’s face at the exact same time that Tony’s head made contact with the locker, knocking himself out.

When he returned to school, Scott was a hero; a real legend. Mandiee’s shirt seemed a little lower cut, and Tony left him alone for the rest of the year. No, that’s not what happened. Mandiee was terrified of Scott and moved away from him whenever possible. Other kids thought he was a freak, being so small and knocking out Tony. Tony, desperate to avenge the savage beating at the hands of Scott, pummelled Scott relentlessly for weeks.

He was in hell.

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The Life — Part II

I started not sleeping well at night, haunted by an orange light that grew brighter and brighter as it followed me, the burning cherry of a madman out to hurt me. At the age of five, I had no clue what murder was, and barely had an inkling that people died. But, I knew pain, and I did not enjoy it in the slightest. A scraped knee was agony, and a stubbed, bleeding toe was horrible. And yet, I had a feeling that this orange light, this symbol of my terror, this unholy demon of hate wanted to do something more than hurt me, in my psyche.

The Smoking Man swore to the police he didn’t know me, had never seen me before, and wasn’t even watching our house. He’d admitted to a few burglaries in our neighborhood over the last few months, and that he was casing out houses, but kiddie touching wasn’t his thing.

I swore to police that I’d heard this voice before, and it was familiar, and that I was scared. That I could swear that there was rustling in the bushes every night and it just had to be him. I admitted to a fear of the Boogeyman, but he lived in my closet somewhere, not across the street in Mrs. Mara’s azalea.

In the end they turned him loose. Aside from a few cigarette butts in the bushes, and his admission of being a bit of a cat burglar, there was no evidence. I remember watching the steps outside the police station for him to walk out, and when he did, my blood turned cold.

Two things happened that day in July. First, I learned what terror was, and felt gripped by it, completely and wholly. A ringing in my ears echoed through my entire body as though I were a bell my body throbbing and aching as he looked at our house while lighting a cigarette. Nevermind that he didn’t know where I was. That orange flame grew brighter as he stared directly at me.

Second, I learned what a motherfucker, a cocksucker, and dirty fucking prick were anecdotally from eavesdropping on my father talking to the “no good, dirty fucking prick cocksucker motherfucker of a detective” assigned to the case.

Fuck was a word that got me into worlds of trouble. A boy two years older than our pre-kindergarten class walked up to us at recess a few months earlier, while eight of us played Four Square. I’d worked up to Queen, eliminating the always tough to get out Randy. “You guys look cool,” he said. We looked at him shocked. Us? Cool? Cool, dude. “Wanna know a secret?”

I nodded profusely. Anything to look cool, I thought to myself. My friends were apprehensive, but it had already become apparent that I wasn’t all that cool to begin with.

“You guys love your parents, right?” Again, we nodded. “Well, when you go home tonight, if you want to tell them that you really love them, walk up to your mom and say ‘Fuck you, Mommy’, and watch what happens.”

And so, I did. She explained to me that you never, ever, ever use that word ever. And my rear end, that could barely sit down for days understood, too.

A Glimpse into Roanoke.

I’ve written somewhere around 3200 words today. Here are my favorites thus far.

She ran down the beach to the water line, giggling in both terror and excitement as she looked over her shoulder. This man — this new man who said his name was John Smith, a sure sign he was a terrorist and or a liar — chased her at least fifty yards behind. Lilac wasn’t sure what had come over her; she’d always been sure of herself, confident that nothing would get between her and her Calvins. And yet as she ran from him, she knew she was teasing and delaying the inevitable.

John called after her, words she couldn’t hear, but sense. She turned again and saw he closed the distance to just twenty-five yards. Her heart raced from the exercise and excitement and anticipation. She took her eyes off the darkness in front of her and tripped over a piece of driftwood, sending her crashing into the sand with a great poof and an audible laugh from her pursuer.

Great, she thought. Graceful as always.

John stopped short of her. “Are you alright?” he asked, smiling from about five yards away.

“Fine. Just my pride is all. I should mention I’m not very graceful, especially after a few drinks.” Their eyes locked and she expected him to pounce and take her, right there on the beach. She’d let him, probably. This wasn’t her; not at all. Instead he held a hand out with a smile.

“Come on.” She took his hand and stood, blushing at him, saying thank you with no words coming out.

“You caught me,” she said, biting her bottom lip. She never bit her bottom lip while looking at a man with a stolen glance.

“No, you fell. You can keep running if you want to,” he started. He got as far as the word running, before she kissed him. She never made the first move, though sprinting from the bar, and acting like a girl was also not something she ever did.

She could get used to it. His hands never moved from her shoulders, despite the feeling as though she was about to be ravished, that she was about to be taken as she’d never done before. And in truth, she barely had. Once, The Boy of The Broken Heart, her last beau tried and failed miserably before her heart shattered in a million, billion pieces.

Lilac heard rockets, the staccato beat of something she thought to be her heart. She heard a flute, somewhere in the distance as the sounds of rockets became more drum like. A snare drum playing a pa-da-pum-pa-pa, each beat punctuated by the wires below the snare drum. There were at least ten, joined by flutes, playing something whimsical, as though to announce the presence of something, someone. She broke the kiss, looking in Johns eyes.

“I found you,” he said, smiling. “It’s really you.”

Tickets and Trouble.

“You got a ticket,” He said, both taunting and laughing. She; being always Miss Perfect, Miss Always Right, Miss Whatever Buddy, stood and took the abuse, her arms folded as He pointed and laughed.

“YOUUUUUU got a ticket!” He shrieked, clenching his fists, as though lightning would strike behind him, a viking helmet appearing on his head, and somewhere, a wabbit dead.

“Are you done yet?” She replied, fawning over her left index fingernail which was badly in need of a coat of polish or two. She chipped at the microcrack, not letting her Husband get to Her by letting Him get to Her.

“Yes.”

“Good,” she signed, tired of it already.

“For now.”

“Come again?” He looked hurt as his face shriveled, and his knees slightly buckled. “Oh, right.”

“That hurt.”

“I’m sorry,” She said. “I didn’t mean it,” She lied.

“Ugh, you vile She-beast. Even when I get something over on you, this is how you treat me?” He seemed upset. He wasn’t. “You keep this up for another four or five hundred years, and it’s over.”

She walked to Him and kissed Him on the lips.

“Stop that,” He asked, not wanting her to stop.

She kissed Him again, deeper this time.

“Stop it. You’ll ruin my lipstick.”

She hugged Him tightly.

“Are you trying to seduce me?”

“Do you want to be seduced?”

“Do you want me to answer that honestly?”

“Is that a stick in your pants or are you just happy to see me?”

“It’s a stick. I was hoping you’d grab it, and throw it to me in the backyard awhile.”

“You’re not very good at this game, are you?” She said, nuzzling into his neck.

He picked Her up and carried her to the bedroom.

“Don’t think this gets you a pass for the ticket.”

Glimpse: Alan Franklin Summers

There is some debate on the true age of Alan Summers.

Some of his stories take place five years before the Great Depression, when he was just a small child, living in a farming community outside of Pittsburgh. The Summer Farm specialized in spinach, a delicate leafy vegetable that Alan had grown to hate, thanks to it being the only food they could eat during the Depression. There was spinach fries, spinach casseroles, spinach with spinach sauce and spinach ice cream for desert. All of which Alan confided to Lila was a bunch of malarkey. Doreen made the worst, most waterlogged and oily spinach he’d ever had the displeasure of tasting, a fact that each of the family members agreed upon. Stories set around this time put Alan’s age somewhere in the late 80’s.

Other stories took place fifteen years before the start of the Great Depression, making his age somewhere in the hundreds. In these, he was a beet and potato farmer from Missouri, watching helplessly as the Beet Beetles ate his family’s sole crop, forcing him to take a job as a boot black for a man who’d lost both legs in the Civil War. This story especially offended Doreen.

“What on EARTH would a man with no legs be doing with boy to shine his shoes when he had no shoes?” she would ask, flabbergasted each time Alan told the nonsensical story.

“Who’s to say? General Cornelius C. Cornpone wanted to ensure that by the grace of God, if he did grow new legs, he’d have shoes on the ready.”

By now, Lilac would giggle, and Doreen would become even more infurated at the man’s spendthrift ways. Nevermind that Genereal Cornpone was a figment of her imagination, so far as she knew. That he spent his money frivolously angered her to the point of the vapours, and he knew it. “Now, Doreen, relax. My time was spent well. When not shining his shoes, I was tending to his horses which he’d ride daily.”

Had she been a tea kettle, her outburst would have signified that the water was ready. “How can a man with no legs ride a horse?!” By now, Steven would put his head down to cover his laughter while Lila would excuse herself from the room to giggle uncontrollably while the fight raged on, Doreen arguing with her father-in-law, who stayed steadfast in his dedication to Cornelius T. Cornpone and his ancestors, the real champions of the Civil War.

Still other stories about his birth lead him to be a childhood friend of Christ, the man who gave the name “dirt” to the object which had no name before he came along, and sometime within the last week, depending on how witty he was feeling. Only Alan knew for sure his birthday and date, and he wasn’t telling. Inspite of that, he lived a wonderful, vibrant life at his “around ninety years” of age.

It’s not that Alan was secretive; no, Alan was an open book, for those willing to get past the foreword. His stories were long and worth every word, if you were willing to look past the grandiose and absurd exaggerations placed within each story. Alan could see everyone as he told his stories, and the second someone looked around, incredulously, he’d had him and began speaking only to him, gradually ramping up the absurdity until the subject burst. It was his favorite thing to do, and he was an old pro at setting Doreen off.

What’s known about Alan Summers is: He stood six feet, three inches tall for most of his life, and weighed a perfectly healthy one hundred and eighty pounds. His eyes blue, his hair blond, his skin fair with Germanic features. He was an athlete in high school, and very nearly won the Wisconsin State 100m dash some year of his life when he was eighteen. And, until ten years ago, he’d likely never had a bad day in his life. His first day of life, he was born in a hospital next to Gertrude Opal Smith, who would become his best friend and wife. Alan was born first, Gertrude seconds later. Their parents — William James and Anna Ruth Summers and John and Jane Smith, both men farm hands on the same farm, both women servants on the same farm were like best friends.

Each stayed on the farm in Lower Wisconsin growing soybeans on the largest soybean plantation in Wisconsin until the death of the John D. Rockefeller of Soybeans, T. Harold Wilson. Wilson, not having children due to an accident as a child, left his vast plantation to the Summers and Smith, which was inevitably passed on to Alan and Gertie, which will then be left to Steven and Doreen and then Lilac Flower Summers.

Fifty-two years ago, they welcomed their first child into the world, Steven William John Summers, their first son. Fifty years ago, they both welcomed and buried their second and last child, Mary Anna Ruth Sanders.

Alan and Gertie, until September 6th, ten years ago had not spent more than half-day apart, when Gertrude got sick. She passed quickly, her heart failing her after sixty-four years of marriage. From there, somewhere in his eighties or nineties, Alan’s health started failing, too. He was sicker more often, tired more often. Still tending to his hundreds of acres of soybeans, he finally allowed Steven to take over more of the day to day operations of the crops.

Alan barely remembered the days, barely knew he was alive anymore. Without Gertie, life just didn’t seem to matter, aside from Lilac and Steven. He’d do anything for Gertie, he’d do anything to have her back again, and through his granddaughter, he felt her still there, even slightly. She loved him, and he loved her. They hadn’t spent more than a day apart since Gertie died, and likely never would again.

That is, until it was time to tell her the family secret.

Glimpse: Roanoke.

She’d never intended to wait tables and tend bar for more than a few months, maybe a year. Ten years later, Lilac had seen it all and done it all, starting sentences to fresh-faced newcomers with words like “Back a while ago” and “Before everything changed” as though she were her grandfather, talking about the Great Depression. She wanted to smack herself each time.

Still, like most of what she did, Lilac Flowers Summers excelled with very little effort and liked it. Why be better when you’re already okay? The world needed more people like her, who were driven just enough to barely succeed, despite everything going in her favor. It gave people hope that when they were speaking to Lilac, maybe they were talking to a future CEO and could tell people that they knew her when. It was the glint in everyone’s eye that kept her from trying too hard.

She was glad that she did, especially now that Grandpa Alan slipped farther from reality each day, the throes of Alzheimer’s Disease robbing his memories unfairly. She was his primary caretaker, and loved it every moment of it. Alan looked at her with a twinkle in his eye, occasionally calling her Gertrude (his wife of fifty-two years he lost ten years ago to the cancer) instead of Lil’ Lila, the name only he could call her. They had a routine: Wake up at 6:30 (despite Lila not getting off work most nights until 3am) breakfast at 7:15 after a short walk around the apple orchard in the back. Breakfast was porridge that Lila stirred and Alan ate with gusto. Alan would read until 10am, though he forgot most of the words as soon as he read them, and often times read the same paragraph a hundred times. Lunch was 12:30, and Lila would often sleep until 3, since Alan liked to watch soap operas, since Gertrude liked them, he wanted to tell her what happened in Quarry Town when he saw her again in heaven.

At 3, it was another walk, where Alan would hold Lilac’s hand and point at things. Before, he would speak, telling stories she’d heard hundreds of times before. Now, he moved his mouth, but forgot how to speak frustrating himself to the point of tears. Lila would put an arm around him and tell the story for him, as though she were his ventriloquist puppet. Most days, his mind would be sharp enough to squeeze a hand for a correction when Lila would make a mistake, purposely. He smiled at her, knowing what she was doing.

And then, her favorite time of the day: supper time. The menus stayed the same, and the result did too. They would at at 4:30, have dishes done by 5, and then sit and watch TV with each other, holding hands. It was then that his mind was the most clear, the most vivid, when he remembered things he’d forgotten and actually formed words without much frustration. His wit was as sharp as ever, despite his mind betraying him now at the age of 87.

At 6, when Steven and Doreen came home, Lilac would kiss her grandfather on his forehead, tell him she loved him and cry all the way to work. She’d emerge from the car with perfect make-up, and a practiced bounce in her step, shoving the days hardships to the side, in order to make a few dollars that she didn’t need anyway.

Her parents were rich, filthy stinking rich, having pioneered the Lower Wisconsin Green Initiative back before anyone knew that green meant something more than a color in 1983, just before Lila’s birth. They’d promised her, their only child by design the business someday, though she regarded it more as a burden than a birthright. In return, all she asked is that she have enough time to take care of Alan so that he didn’t have to die in some sterile, clandestine nursing home. Once he passed away, she would get involved in the business. But, not yet. Not now.

Everything changed on August fifteenth of Lilac Flower Summers twenty-eighth year. It was a Saturday morning, the family sitting in their spacious kitchen. Alan, who’s mind had been more vapid than ever, stood and turned to each of them. “I would like to go to Roanoke. One more time. Pack light. It will be a short trip. Take my car. You’ll leave it there with my cousin, Norman.”

Roanoke, is where Gertrude went, and it’s where members of her family before her went to die. Lilac burst into tears immediately and Alan rushed to her side and held her. “It’s okay, Lil’ Lila. We need to go now. Be strong for me.”

Three hours later, they were on their way, Steven driving, Doreen asleep in the passenger’s seat, and Lilac and Alan in the back seat, Lila’s hair in her eyes to hide the streaks of mascara and eyeliner smeared on her face. Alan knew it, and a tear dropped from his eye as well.

It was time to go home.

I can’t tell you how stoked I am for this story. I tried for an hour or two to write a synopsis of the story, and couldn’t. There’s so much I want to tell, so much I think people should see, that I don’t think a synopsis would do it justice. I am very excited for a the four main characters, that they’ve been in my head for so long, I feel I know them as though they were friends.

This story (once finished, of course) I think could become one of the Great American Novels, and I’m stoked to share bits and pieces with each of you.