Wednesday, September 29, 2010

327 Chesterfield Road - Part 7

"I was born Alice Mae Johnson in 1932," she began. "It was January 17, to be exact. I’m told it was a cold day. I was the ninth child of 10 born to my mother and father. The tenth child, my baby sister Illa, was stillborn. Many births happened at home especially if you were poor. At least they did in the small town of Paradise Falls, Tennessee, where I was born. We were all born at home. Complications happened. Without a doctor, people did what they could. Of course, there’s nothing one could do when a child is dead in the womb.

“I can still see it, you know, the little house where I grew up. Three rooms plus the kitchen and bathroom. Can you imagine one bathroom, not to mention the lack of privacy and us kids? It was all we knew though. The house had a broken porch, falling apart on one side. It had not weathered a particularly bad winter very well. We weren’t allowed to walk on it for fear of falling through. We used to test that theory, my siblings and I, by walking on the damaged area as far as we dared. It was kind of exhilarating actually, thinking we might fall through. There was fear that made your heart pound a little faster and a feeling of bravery when you went the farthest and nothing happened. That became our challenge, going a little farther than the one who had previously gone the farthest. My father would have punished all of us if he had caught us doing it.” Jack could tell by the relaxed and pleasant look on her face that it was a good memory.

“Paradise Falls was a small town. There wasn't much work to be had. My father had to drive 15 miles in one direction to the local log mill. My mother was a housewife. That's what women still did in small towns back then.

"She never said anything to me about it, but I think there was a sadness in my mother every time she looked at me because she remembered that she had another daughter after me who was not here. Don't misunderstand, Jack, she was a good mother. She did her best to provide for her children. Having nine of them to take care of during the depression took its toll. You're familiar with The Great Depression aren't you, Jack?"

"Yes ma'am, but I've never met anyone who lived through it," he replied from the edge of his seat on the sofa where he had moved forward to get closer to her as she told her story.

“When I was born we were only three years into the depression. No one was building anything so there was no business to keep the log mill open. My father lost his job. I don’t know to this day how we managed to survive all the days of heat and cold and barely enough food, but we did. My parents took turns standing in the bread lines. I remember us having a garden. My mother used to preserve food in jars. That’s how we survived.” She had sadness on her face as she remembered this time in her life.

“As the economy began to recover, my father was one of the first people put back to work at the log mill. That happened in 1938. I was 6 years old. I don’t remember him going back to work as much as I remember he wasn’t home all of the time anymore and we had meat to eat again. I do remember the time of not having meat and then having it again. It’s a vague memory. Thankfully, I was young during the lean times. The young have a tendency to forget - or not remember. I just played with my sisters and brothers. When you’re young, you don’t feel the pressure that an adult feels. There were times I remember being hungry, but not so hungry it was unbearable. We were children. My older siblings felt the strain of the depression more than I did. A year later World War II started. My two oldest brothers, William and Charles, were both sent to fight.”

Listening to what she had lived through was overwhelming to Jack. He was so captivated he involuntarily sat back on the sofa for the first time since she started telling the story.

“Am I boring you yet, Jack?” she asked as she paused her story.

“Nothing about today is boring, Miss Genevieve.” He looked at her with the sincerest look he had probably ever given anyone. “Please, keep going. This is better than any class I’m missing.”

“You’re sweet, Jack.” She smiled at him as she collected her thoughts and prepared to continue. “Well, Charles died on the battlefield and William died in a hospital back in the States from his injuries. It was a head injury. I never got to see either one of them again. I always hated that. It’s like a hole left in the part of your heart that always longs to see your family. Do you know what I mean?” Jack nodded his head in response. “When you never get closure, the hole is always there.

“When I was 10, my mother had a stroke. It was summer. She was working out in the garden. Even after the depression, we continued to plant the garden. The country was at war. Money was precious and the money tree was an elusive sapling that was very picky about where it set down roots. My family learned a great appreciation for growing our own food and not wasting money. Mother never recovered. When she died, my father was distraught. He loved her very much. He never really recovered himself. He started to drink. Not heavily at first, but as the years passed he drank more and more.

"My older siblings were very good at taking care of us younger ones." She had another moment of staring off into the distance, lost in some memory from her past.

"Miss Genevieve, are you alright?" Jack asked, sympathetic to her sadness.

She looked at him sitting across from her. She contemplated her situation. He wished he could do something for her, but instead she gave him a smile that soothed him. "I'm fine, Jack. Thank you."

"For what, Miss Genevieve?"

"For listening to me. I haven't talked about my life for quite a while. It's been a long time since anyone cared."

"I think you're amazing, Miss Genevieve. I’m just glad you're willing to tell me."

"Where was I? Oh yes, my older siblings. So you know that Charles and William had passed on by now. My oldest sister Mary took care of us after my Mother died. She was 20 by then. Mary and my brother, George, were the only two siblings no longer in school. It may seem odd to you, Jack that we continued with school but my father wanted each of his children to have an education. He wanted a better life for each of us. That’s what parents always want isn’t it? I bet yours do too.”

“Yes, ma’am. They want me to do the best that I can. They don’t want me to waste my life stuck in a shitty…” he sucked in a sharp breath, shocked. He was embarrassed and ashamed to have cursed in front of her. “Excuse me, bad, situation. I’m sorry for cursing, Miss Genevieve.”

“It’s okay, Jack. You were just speaking the truth as you see it.”

He looked at her, astonished. Aside from his grandparents, he had never been comfortable around older people. He found her so easy to be around, to talk to, to listen to. Of course, it probably had something to do with the fact that she was a movie star and just sitting there listening to her talk about anything would have been an amazing experience. It was a bonus that she had such an interesting life story to tell.

“I want to skip ahead if you don’t mind, Jack. The rest of my adolescent/young adult story is mostly the same as any one else’s. I walked to school everyday as many do in small towns. I graduated from high school in 1950. I didn’t really have a reason to stay in Paradise Falls. I was the last one in school, you’ll recall, so it was time for me to live my life. I had aspirations. I wanted out of my small town. I had fallen in love with the movies. Under their spell is probably more precise. I lived for the new issues of Modern Screen and Photoplay that I could get in Henderson, the next town over from Paradise Falls. I loved the pictures of the movie stars. Everything was so glamorous. I don’t know why I thought it, but I thought I could be an actress too. I could just see myself on the screen. I was brazen enough to think that Vivien Leigh had nothing on my Scarlett O’Hara.” She shook her head in disbelief at her own audacity with a twinkle in her eye and a smirk on her face. “Ah, youth.” She filled the pause with a breath. “Anyway, I had worked every summer during high school and I had saved some of my earnings. So I decided that if I wanted to be an actress, I had to move to Hollywood.”

The buzzing sound coming from Jack’s back pocket called a halt to Genevieve’s story. He gave her an apologetic look as he retrieved his BlackBerry®. It was a text from Henry. It didn’t surprise him. He hadn’t seen Henry since the night before when he had run into his arms clutching him like a scared lover. Skipping out on school that day had been just another avoidance. What did surprise him was the fact that it was 4pm. He had been listening to Genevieve for hours. He had to get home.

“I’m sorry, Miss Genevieve, but I just realized it’s 4 o’clock. I have to get home.”

“That’s alright, Jack. Today was lovely.” She smiled up at him as he quickly stood up from the sofa to leave. “Come back soon won’t you, Jack?”

He smiled down at her. “Can I?” he said like a child that had just been told he could have anything in the store he wants.

“Of course you can. Maybe you could even bring your friends with you.”

“Henry and Kevin? I’m going to tell them all about today. I’ll ask them to come with me next time.” He crossed to the door.

“Wonderful,” she said. She looked very happy as he turned back to look at her. He was suddenly aware of the music again.

“Miss Genevieve? The music? It was also playing last night. Who is it?”

“That’s Bing Crosby, Jack. He was very popular in the 1940’s. I was very fond of his music. I guess that’s why I enjoy playing this record over and over. Or maybe it’s because when I met him, he was even more smitten with me than I was with him.” She raised her eyebrows and gave him a look that seemed to say Whatdya think about that?

He couldn’t help but smile at one more interesting, completely unexpected element of her life.

He had a sheepish grin on his face as he gave her a wave goodbye.

“See you soon.”

“Goodbye, Jack.”

He shut the door behind him and cautiously ran down the stairs. He made sure to shut the door and latch the gate before running toward his house. His mom wasn’t going to be home for at least another hour so he ran straight to Henry’s to recount everything that had happened to him today.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

©2010 Michael Rohrer

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

327 Chesterfield Road - Part 6

As he opened the door, music began to fill the air. He wasn’t sure if it was the same song he had heard the night before, but the scratching sound of the record was still present. She was sitting on the round chair, still in the peach-colored robe. She smiled at him when she saw him; the same welcoming smile from the previous night.

“Well, come on. Come inside,” said the woman. Her voice had a gentle lilt that reminded him of Olivia de Havilland in Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, almost free of its accent, just a hint of its Southern root. It was inviting and non-threatening. Jack stepped inside the room and shut the door. He turned to face her.

“Ma’am, I-I just wanted to a-apologize for last night,” he said with a nervous stammer.

“There’s no need to apologize, Jack, “ she replied. “Come sit down on the sofa. Talk to me for a minute.”

He started toward the sofa when it suddenly struck him that she had called him by his name. He stopped and looked at her. Her eyes met his. He had a look of confusion on his face.

“What is it?” she asked.

“You called me Jack,”

“Well, isn’t that your name?”

“Yes, but how did you know that?” he asked.

A sly little smile curved on her face. “Silly boy, you just announced yourself coming up the stairs. How else could I have known it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, now you do. Will you please come sit down with me? Sit there on the sofa.” She pointed to the end nearest her. “I know it’s a little saggy, but it’ll hold you just fine.”

Jack finished crossing the room, walking behind her chair, and sat on the sofa. They sat for a moment in uncomfortable silence. He felt awkward sitting on the sofa in the home he had broken into last night with the owner sitting across from him. I wonder if this is what it feels like to be in the Principal's office? he thought to himself. What seemed like an eternity was merely seconds ticking away on the clock.

“I just want to apologize again for last night,” said Jack with remorse in his voice as he broke the silence. It was real remorse, not just something he was trying out like the dry-throated voice he had used with his mother earlier that morning. “Judging from my reaction when you were standing next to me, you can imagine that I didn’t know anyone lived here.”

She sat there listening to him, saying nothing. Her focus was completely on him and what he had to say.

“I’m sure it must have been frightening to walk into the room and see someone, a-a stranger, standing there…talking out of your window.” Jack was nervous and alternately stammering and running his words together. “I guess what I’m trying to say is, I know that I must have scared you last night because you scared me and for that I’m very sorry.”

She was not angry. She gave him an understanding somewhat compassionate smile and said, “Thank you, Jack. I accept your apology and we don’t have to talk about last night again.”

He thought she would be angry or at least scold him a little bit. Her reaction put him at ease. He found himself suddenly filled with relief and a sense of freedom.

“May I ask you a question?” said Jack.

“Of course, as long as the answer won’t incriminate me,” she replied with a little chuckle.

Jack thought she was funny and maybe just a little feisty.

“Are you Genevieve Malloy?” he blurted out. There was nothing subtle about it. He felt slightly stupid and embarrassed. “I’m sorry to blurt it out like that, but your face was on my mind a lot last night and this morning. I think I even dreamed about you. Anyway, I kept thinking you looked like someone from a movie I had seen recently so I went to my DVD’s and there on the cover of Before Tomorrow Ends was your face. At least I thought it was your face.”

“I must say, it’s been a long time since anyone has dreamed about me.” The expression on her face was euphoric as she stared off into the distance. Jack wondered what she was remembering. Her stare was so intent that he wanted to turn and see what she was seeing, but he didn’t. He let her have the memory without disturbing her concentration with his movement. As her awareness came back to the present again, she began blinking her eyes and settled her gaze on him. “Yes, Jack. I am Genevieve Malloy.”

“Miss Malloy, it’s so nice to meet you,” Jack said as he stood up and extended his had to shake hers. It was an automatic response. He couldn’t stop it. He felt a little childish and star struck as he stood there waiting for her to accept his gesture. She chuckled again amused at his gentlemanly manners and accepted his handshake by placing her hand inside his.

“Please forgive me if this is too forward, but why are you living here?” he asked her.

“Do you mean here in Astoralyn, or here in this house?”

“Here in this house.”

“Well Jack, that’s a long story.”

"I’ve got time, Miss Malloy,” said Jack. He couldn’t believe that he was sitting in the living room of Genevieve Malloy. What were the odds of that? Life is funny. What could have been a terrible afternoon resulting in a call to the police had actually turned into one of the most thrilling moments of his life.

“Please call me Genevieve,” she asked in response to his eagerness.

“How about, Miss Genevieve?” he said as he smiled at her. Jack had been taught to respect his elders. It just didn’t seem right to him to call her by her first name alone.

“Okay. I think I can handle Miss Genevieve. Miss Malloy just seems way to formal for two people sitting around talking, especially when you are going to be listening to me tell you about my life.”

“You make it sound like you’re holding me against my will and making me eat worms. Trust me. I can’t wait to hear it.”

“You kids,” she chuckled. “You have such an interesting way of saying things. I would never make you eat worms.”

He looked at her with rapt attention. He felt like he was in his favorite class and couldn’t wait for the teacher to start teaching. He was a sponge just ready to absorb all the information she could throw at him. His anticipation was disrupted by the buzzing of the BlackBerry® in his back pocket. He was annoyed at the interruption, but knew he had to check the caller ID.

“I’m sorry Miss Genevieve, it’s my mom.”

“Hello…Hi Mom…I’m okay…No, I got up a little while ago…I’m feeling better actually. I think I just needed some sleep…Yeah, I ate some cereal…Okay Mom. I’m probably gonna lay back down for a little while. Maybe watch one of the movies Grandmother sent…Okay. I’ll see you when you get home…I love you too.” He pressed the “end” button, locked the keyboard and put the BlackBerry® back in his pocket.

“Sorry about that,” he said to Genevieve.

“That’s okay, Jack. I understand you needing to answer a telephone call from your mother. Tell me, why did you tell her you were going to lie back down? Why didn’t you tell her where you are?”

“I didn’t feel well this morning so she let me stay home from school,” he said with a little bit of regret in his voice. Of course the regret was that he had lied to his mom. He didn’t regret sitting with Genevieve at all. “It’s because I didn’t sleep very well last night. After I saw you I was scared and confused and I just couldn’t fall asleep.”

“I see,” said Genevieve. “Shall I begin?”

“Yes, ma’am,” replied Jack unable to hide the eagerness in his voice.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

©2010 Michael Rohrer

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Death of Love in the Afternoon

Another fictional city goes dark; at least on our television screens. The
Residents of Oakdale will continue to live, just not where we can see them.

Do you ever wonder if Joanne is still alive and living in Henderson? Do you think the Capwells and Lockridges are still enemies? What kind of havoc do you think Tabitha is wreaking? Can you still get a beer at Ryan’s? How about Sunset Beach, do you think it's had more earthquake/tsunami problems? Do you ever wonder if Ruth reconciled her past and present in that white man’s mansion? Was Sloane executed? Does anybody still live in Corinth? Do you think a vampire still walks the dark streets of Port Charles unbeknownst to the other residents? Is Reva still raising hell? Does Cory Publishing still publish Brava magazine?

Summer 1985. It was a big one for me. Two things happened: I was told I would no longer be attending private school but would start public school in the Fall for my freshman year of high school and we got a television. Both of these things coincided with my family changing churches. We left one very conservative Baptist church for another more liberal Baptist church. This meant we could get a television. Not just a television either. We got a VCR and cable to go with it. The combination of these things introduced the soap opera into my life. Don't misunderstand; I was familiar with soap operas. My grandparents had a television. My grandmother, June, watched The Young and the Restless from the first episode. She would take her lunch hour from 11am – noon, the time Y&R still airs in my hometown. Ah, love in the afternoon.

When school started in the fall of 1985, our VCR got put to work - overtime. We recorded Search For Tomorrow, Days of our Lives, Another World and Santa Barbara (my personal favorite). I would come home from school, do my homework and then watch the soaps. I'm not sure how I did it all. I got my homework done and devoured 3.5 hours of sudsy afternoon melodrama. I feel like there was a rush to get the soaps watched before Dad got home from work, but I could just be making that up. He didn't like them though. Sometimes Mom would wait and watch with me instead of watching them in real time. Real time; who does that these days? I loved knowing that I had my soaps to watch when I got home from school. It was exciting, something to look forward to. Of course there were occasional preemptions and the unfortunate mishaps of forgetting to set the VCR. My mom forgot to record Cruz and Eden’s wedding. All that time spent waiting for it to actually happen and then…nothing. Devastation. There was also the time that my sister forgot to record Tuesday and Wednesday of Santa Barbara’s final week. Anger! I managed to record Monday, Thursday and Friday myself. I sill have the VHS tape.

I watched the residents of Salem, Bay City and Santa Barbara for all 4 years of high school. I watched the residents of Henderson until Search For Tomorrow was cancelled in December of 1986. The residents of Chicago quickly replaced them in the form of Generations. It was the first soap I ever got to watch from the beginning. I wish I could say I had started Santa Barbara from the beginning, but I joined it a year into its run. It started in 1984, almost a year before I had a television.

I have been fascinated, or infatuated, with soap operas ever since. I love daytime drama. I love the never-ending possibilities. A character can do almost anything that a writer can dream up. The good turn bad, the bad get redeemed, the redeemed get amnesia, the amnesiac remembers and the memories cause all hell to break loose. It amazing. When the story is good, the unfolding is more exciting than the anticipation of the first bite of my Aunt Cindy’s homemade chess squares.

I used to want to be a soap actor. It was a dream, a goal. I had one afternoon of extra work on Guiding Light. I enjoyed it. On set, I was a customer in the diner and ate a burger. I talked to the actress playing the waitress. I was chosen to cross the room and go to the bathroom. You could actually see me cross, exit, and reenter. I used the money from that day to buy a comforter. I tried to get back on the show. I sent postcards all the time to the Extras Casting Director. I told her how I would love to come back to Springfield. I asked her if Springfield needed a singer, as that was my strength then. I tried, believe me, to get back on the show. She never responded. I’m not sure if I just wasn’t good enough at eating the burger or crossing to the bathroom, but I never got another opportunity on Guiding Light. I still have the comforter though. It’s been more than 10 years and that comforter now keeps my guests warm if ever they sleep over on my sofa or aerobed®.

When I went away to college in the fall of 1989, I moved into a dorm on the campus of Western Kentucky University. I was crestfallen to find out that the only channel I could get on my 13” black and white television was ABC. I couldn’t imagine what I was going to do without Santa Barbara. At this point, it was the soap I cared about the most. Anyway, my only option was to watch Loving, All My Children, One Life To Live and General Hospital. And watch them I did, all of them. I must say that my favorite of the ABC soaps was and continues to be OLTL. I came to it at a very interesting and important time. The first big storyline that resonated with me was a gay storyline. It was about homophobia and the fight to destigmatize gay people. That storyline culminated with the AIDS quilt coming to Llanview. It was very emotional for me. I wasn’t out yet. I knew I was gay, but was terrified to admit it.

Eventually, I moved into an apartment off campus and had cable and a VCR back in my life. I set that timer for Santa Barbara time immediately. I also started watching The Young and the Restless. It was my grandmother’s favorite after all. It was 2 hours of heaven everyday to come home and travel to Santa Barbara and Genoa City. I loved it.

I went so far in the summer of 1990 as to create my own soap opera. I really thought about it too. Where I wanted the setting. What I wanted it to be about. I wrote to the Chamber of Commerce in various towns in the states that interested me. I researched those towns. Once I decided on the state, I chose the town. At that point I wanted a real town. The piece continued to be a living, breathing, changing entity right into the ’00’s. I made changes periodically, but then, one day, it all just solidified. I settled on a fictional town because I thought it would give me more flexibility. I have the families in place, the businesses. I know who is related, who is single, who is dating, who has dated. I know what the houses look like and where they are. The map of the town is currently rolled up and stored in a poster tube in my bedroom. Yes, I mapped out the town. I was/am very serious about it.

There have been times in my life when I watched 3-4 soaps a day. Other times I’ve watched a couple. Most recently I only watched Y&R. I had a brief return to Llanview in the mid ’00’s when a friend of mine became a contract player. I started watching As the World Turns when they dove head first into a gay love story. I had to give my attention to a show willing to go to a place that for too long has been taboo in daytime drama. I found myself bored with the storyline fairly quickly though. The characters had one kiss. One amazing kiss, and I was excited beyond belief. After that kiss though, I never saw them kiss again before I gave up the show a few months later. It would always seem like the kiss was coming, but it was never seen on camera. It was treated completely different than a heterosexual couple falling in love. I was annoyed with the writers. I was happy they took the chance with their audience, but upset that they didn’t seem to have the guts to show the passion. We gay men can be very passionate. As the end of ATWT was approaching, I decided that I had to watch it again. I needed to see it end. It seemed the only option for a soap opera lover like me. I got angry pretty quickly though when the most predictable death happened. A gay character, after professing his love to another man for the first time, died in a car/train accident. My first thought was why couldn’t the gay couple have a happy ending like the hetero couple? I continued to watch though. I learned that the surviving gay character had never made love to one who died. He wanted to wait. He wanted to be sure. He wanted it to mean something. I then understood the slow moving process of the first storyline. He wanted to wait. Sex was important to him. He didn’t want to just jump into bed with any one. I feel that way. I had a moment of regret that I hadn’t stuck with the character and the original storyline. An important character and moment in daytime history. I was too frustrated by the pace; thinking that gay men move faster than this, to realize that the character was like me. Maybe my frustration with the storyline was a reflection of my frustration with my own life.

Most recently, I lost my love for The Young and the Restless. It’s not the show that my grandmother watched anymore. It’s not even the show that I watched back at the beginning of this decade. They have resorted to plotlines that seem out of character and very far removed from the stories that Bill Bell, the creator, used to tell. I remember several of Bill Bell’s edge-of-your-seat storylines thanks to watching with my grandmother. She watched until she passed away in 2004. I often wonder what she would think of the current storylines that have caused me to give up the show in disappointment.

It's sad, really, when an entire genre of television entertainment starts to die. It's been a slow death, a long time in the dying. Ratings have been declining for years. I know that the programs are expensive and need sponsors; advertising dollars just aren’t what they were. However, I continue to be shocked when I hear of a long running soap like ATWT being cancelled. Fifty-four years is a long time. A lot of stories have been told. I’m not personally invested in ATWT, but I do love the genre. Irna Phillips, sometimes called the mother of daytime drama, is now no longer represented on television by a show that she single-handedly created. Days of our Lives, a co-creation, remains on the air, but her longest running serials, Guiding Light and As the World Turns are no more. When ATWT bids adieu, so does Procter & Gamble. As the World Turns, according to The New York Times, was the last of the twenty soap operas produced by Procter & Gamble, the company that gave soap operas their name. So, no more Irna Phillips, and no more PGP. It’s the end of an era.

I occurred to me as I pondered my thoughts for this blog that I could just tune into my own family for a daily dose of drama. I mean we have out-of-wedlock pregnancies. We have engagements, broken engagements, weddings, and divorces. We have social drinkers and heavy drinkers. We have crazy. We have a gay man. We have a Vietnam War vet. We have car accidents. We have false paternity. We have job loss. We have heart attacks, open-heart surgery, kidney failure with dialysis, cancer and death. We have wonderful, traditional holidays. My family has the makings of a soap opera. Just add a little over-the-top drama, stir, and watch.

No longer committing my time to watching a daytime drama has opened the door for me in my writing. I decided to write a piece of fiction and publish it on my blog in serialized installments. I envisioned it as something that would play out over the course of the final episodes of a storyline. It was so much fun to write. Ending each installment with a cliffhanger. I put myself in the scenario. I would speak the words and walk through my own apartment to see if the action would work. I would often translate my physical reaction into words or descriptions and apply them to a character in the story. According to the Museum of Broadcast Communications, “Phillips created her stories by acting them out as a secretary jotted down what she spoke. Her process of creating by assuming the identities of her characters was so successful it was later adopted by many of [her] protégés.” My love of soaps helped me create the piece I called “Ocean Point.”

So to all the residents of Henderson, Chicago, Bay City, Santa Barbara, Sunset Beach, Harmony, Corinth, Springfield, Port Charles and Oakdale. We will never forget you. We will always remember the joy, the tears, the laughter, the fears, the sadness, the triumphs and defeats. Thank you for letting us share in your lives.

IN MEMORIUM (cancelled between 1985-2010)
As the World Turns 1956 – 2010
Guiding Light (radio) 1937–1956 (television) 1952–2009
Passions 1999 – 2007
Port Charles 1997 – 2003
Sunset Beach 1997 – 1999
Another World 1964 – 1999
Loving 1983 – 1995
Santa Barbara 1984 – 1993
Generations 1989 – 1991
Ryan’s Hope 1975 – 1989
Capitol 1982 – 1987
Search For Tomorrow 1951 – 1986

"None of us is different, except in degree. None of us is a stranger to success and failure, life and death, the need to be loved, the struggle to communicate." Irna Phillips

©2010 Michael Rohrer

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

327 Chesterfield Road - Part 5

Jack’s mouth went dry. He wanted to run, he wanted to scream, but he just stood there and stared at her. His eyes were wide with fear and wonder. His mind racing with the fact that there indeed was someone inside the house and that she was looking at him. Standing right there next to him. Not with anger on her face that he had broken into her home, but with a smile. She looked excited, and maybe a little relieved. Yes, that seemed the best way to describe her expression. Her eyes shined with the smile that softened the wrinkles on her face.

He was overwhelmed. He couldn’t stand there anymore. He moved to the right of the woman and ran for the door. He threw caution to the wind as he ran down the creaky stairs. Henry had made it inside the house by the time Jack reached the bottom. Jack ran right into Henry’s arms. He clung to him. Henry’s heart beat strong in his ear. It was only a few seconds before Jack realized what he was doing. He dropped his arms from Henry’s body in shock. He made a quick move to the left and ran out the door. He couldn’t look Henry in the face. He kept his head down as he passed Kevin.

Henry ran to the door. “Jack,” he yelled after his friend. Kevin turned from watching Jack running down the street to look at Henry.

“What happened?” asked Kevin.

Henry looked at Kevin and shook his head with a dumbfounded look on his face and shrugged. He wasn’t sure himself what had just happened. Henry took off across the porch and down the front steps running toward home, toward Jack. As he passed Kevin he said, “There’s a woman in the house. Come on.” Henry looked up at the window. The woman was gone. The curtain was closed.

Kevin followed Henry without a second thought. He didn’t shut the gate. He didn’t look back. He didn’t want or need to see the woman in the house.

Jack heard Henry call after him. He didn’t turn around. He just ran. He ran all the way to his house. He didn’t worry about being quiet. He just wanted to be in his room, surrounded by its four walls, locked behind the safety of his door. He couldn’t believe he’d stood there holding onto Henry. How would he ever face his friend again?

Jack laid on his bed as still as he could. He heart was still racing, his breathing erratic. He was taking slow breaths to calm himself down. He heard a tapping on his window. He knew it was Henry. He couldn’t move. For once he was thankful that his blinds were closed because that meant Henry couldn’t see him lying there, ignoring him. He just wanted Henry to go away.

“Jack,” said Henry. “I know you’re in there, buddy.” He tapped the window again. “Come on. Open the window.” He tapped again. Henry waited for a few more minutes before walking away.

Monday morning. When Jack woke the next morning he wasn’t so much rested as surprised he had actually fallen asleep. The details of last night were unclear. What he did remember was the dream he had about the woman in 327. Her face flashed in his mind. He could still see it as if she was right in front of him. He didn’t know why it seemed so familiar. He knew he had seen her before, but he didn’t know how it was possible. He dismissed the idea that he had actually seen her in the neighborhood

Jack had to get ready for school. He stumbled out of his room and to the bathroom. He shut the door and started the shower. He took off his boxers, stepped into the tub and under the water. He just stood there with his head against the wall letting the water beat down on the back of his neck. He must have lost track of time because he heard his mother yell at him to get out of the bathroom. He quickly washed his hair and body, turned off the water and jumped out of the tub. He dried off, but not thoroughly. He wrapped the towel around his waist and made a beeline for his bedroom.

The image of the lady’s face continued to play on a loop through his mind. He couldn’t let go of the fact that he felt he knew her. As he stood in his room drying his hair with his towel he saw his reflection in his television. He stopped what he was doing and dropped the towel. He walked over to the television and looked at his stack of DVD’s. He had the craziest feeling that she looked like an actress in a movie he had recently seen. He looked through the stack of DVD’s laying to the side of his television. Nothing but a bunch of current comedies. He knew that wasn’t where he’d seen her. It was something classic, something black and white.

Jack loved old black and white movies. He was an amateur movie buff. He had discovered his love of old movies purely by accident one day. He was spending a weekend at his grandmother’s house and she asked him to watch Casablanca. He loved it; enjoyed every minute. His grandmother recognized his enjoyment and started sending him classic movies that she herself loved. He treasured every one. He didn’t always love the story, but always appreciated the film.

He knew that this woman’s face was reminiscent of a woman in one of the films his grandmother had sent him. He started looking through the stacks of DVD’s he had on the top of the entertainment system and his desk and the floor. It was in a stack on the floor that he found it. It was the fifth DVD in the pile. When he uncovered it, her face was on the cover staring back at him. At least it looked like her face, albeit a much younger version. The film was called Before Tomorrow Ends, and its star was Genevieve Malloy. She had won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Motion Picture for the role in 1964. He was beyond confused. Could the woman from last night be the woman in this film? he thought to himself.

He put the DVD down on his bed, picked up the towel and finished drying off. He couldn’t concentrate. He was on autopilot as he went about his room getting dressed. All the thoughts running threw his head were giving him a headache. He couldn’t believe he’d broken into 327 last night, that there had been a woman inside who might be a famous actress and that he had run into Henry’s arms and held him. He felt a wave a nausea join the headache. He went down the hall and into the kitchen to find his mother.

He knew he looked like shit; so convincing her that he didn’t feel well shouldn’t be a problem.

Using his best imitation of a dry throat, “Mom, I don’t feel so good today,” he said as he stood in the door of the kitchen.

She turned around and looked at him. “Well, you look like hell. What’s wrong, honey?” she asked.

“I feel nauseous and my head hurts.”

She walked over to him and put her hand on his forehead as moms are prone to do. “You don’t have a fever.”

He looked at her with desperate, puppy dog eyes. “I didn’t sleep very well last night.”

She looked at him with compassion and put her hand on his cheek. “Why don’t you go back to bed, honey? I’ll call the school and let them know you’re sick today.”

“Thanks, Mom.” He kissed her on the cheek and headed back down the hall to his room. He was thankful that she didn’t know he’d been out late last night otherwise she would have known why he didn’t get much sleep.

He took a couple of Excedrin® for his headache and laid down on his bed. He closed his eyes and laid as still as he could. Inhaling deep and exhaling slowly. Over and over he was thinking I am pain free, willing the headache to go away. And then he would get a flash of her. Her hand, her face, her smile, something about the lady would dance behind his eyes.

Eventually the headache did go away. He got up from his bed and went straight to the DVD pile and picked up Before Tomorrow Ends. He just stood there looking at the face on the cover. Was it possible that the lady down the street and the one in this movie were actually the same person? Regardless of whether it was the same person or not, he owed her an apology.

He went down the hall to the kitchen. He was pretty hungry. It made sense, as he hadn’t eaten breakfast. He poured himself a bowl of cereal and stood at the kitchen counter to eat it. When he was done he rinsed out the bowl and put it in the sink. Sick or not, his mother would be some kind of pissed if she came home to dried cereal on the bowl.

He went to the bathroom and brushed his teeth. He looked at himself in the mirror. His hair was fine. His teeth were clean. He looked like a nice young man, someone to be trusted. At least he hoped he did. He hoped that returning to the scene of last night’s crime wasn’t a mistake. He hoped he could smooth everything over. He ran to his bedroom and grabbed his jean jacket off the bedpost.

Outside, the sun was shining and the air was crisp. It was a beautiful day. He was hoping that the happiness he was feeling about the weather was contagious and that the lady would be in a good mood as well.

He didn’t prolong getting there. He walked briskly. He wanted to get it over with. He wanted to face whatever was coming his way. When he approached the gate, it was latched just as it had been last night. He wondered if Henry or Kevin had done that? He wasn’t sure what was creepier, going into the house at night when he couldn’t really see anything or going into it during the day when everything was visible. He walked across the porch and stood in front of the door. He started to knock, but noticed it was ajar.

“Hello,” said Jack and he pushed the door open. “Anybody here?”

He wasn’t sure if she could hear him. Hell, he wasn’t sure she could even get down the stairs.

“Ma’am, my name is Jack. I was here last night,” he said as he started up the stairs. “I just wanted to apologize to you.”

He continued up the stairs. There was no movement on the second floor.

“Hello.” Again, no answer. “Ma’am?” He stood outside the door. As he prepared to knock he could hear the faint sound of the record player. He wondered why he hadn’t heard it outside the door the night before, but didn’t linger on the thought too long. He knocked on the door. He waited for someone to answer it. Nothing. He knocked again.

“Come in,” said a voice from behind the door. Jack’s heart began to race. He was prepared to accept the consequences of last night’s trespass if she was angry with him. He turned the knob.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

©2010 Michael Rohrer

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Summer of Discovery & Rediscovery

It's been a while since I've concentrated on writing about what I'm doing. It's been since August 19th to be exact. I've been doing things. Living life.

It's been a great summer. I hate to think of it as being over. Technically it isn't, but the kids have gone back to school.

This was my first summer as a resident of Astoria. I enjoyed the peace that my home brought into my life. I've had to remind myself that what I'm feeling these days is happiness. It's been a while since I felt truly happy.

One major thing that has been going on with me this summer is: I've been meeting with my friend Mandy on Tuesday nights to read. We're not reading books. We're reading what the other one is writing. It's been amazing. We meet for dinner and catch up on the goings on in each other's lives over the past week. We talk and laugh and eat. After the plates are taken away, we order coffee and pull out the pages for that night's reading. It has been so exciting and pleasurable to read what Mandy has been working on. It's a funny story and I can't wait to read the new pages each week. I look forward to finding out what new, ridiculous experience she puts her characters through. Sometimes it's just a paragraph or line that is the stand out. Other times it's the entire scene. I never fail to laugh though.

It's also been a confidence boost for me to have her read and critique my first foray into fiction writing. She sort of acts as an editor. She helps me clarify things that don't make sense. She doesn't necessarily know that I listen to her entire reaction though. There were things in my first story, Ocean Point, that I wrote because she mentioned that she couldn't wait to find out about such and such. They were things that I maybe wasn't even concerned with. However, writing those descriptions or explanations made the piece better. So thank you Mandy for just being you and wanting to know.

I have now moved on to another story - 327 Chesterfield Road. It's a different tale than the first. More challenging really. The first one was a challenge, don't get me wrong. When I'm writing about something that I did or experienced, I can give you every detail because it happened to me. I can describe it to the point where you feel like you're there. Writing something that is unfolding in my mind makes the details very difficult.

I think about where I want the piece to go. Then I concentrate on getting the words on the page. Then I concentrate on editing and clarifying and making sure that what it says conjures the image I have in my head. That's why I'm publishing one installment a week.

I'm constantly thinking about whatever piece I'm writing at the moment. The ideas swirl around in my head like water swirling down the drain of the sink after the plug has been pulled. And just like that stray piece of corn or that manages to cling to the sink, instead of going down the drain, I have kernels of ideas that stick. I have pulled out my BlackBerry® on the train more times than I can count and started to write about the people in these stories. Thank God for memo pad or I'd be screwed.

Anyway, it's been a great summer. My blog turned a year old. I went to Newport, RI. I went to Amagansett in East Hampton. I went to Boston - twice. I hung out in Central Park. I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge - twice. I ate at new restaurants in Astoria and Brooklyn. I hung out with friends in Astoria. I smoked a hookah for the first time. I published my first piece of fiction. I watched a lot of True Blood, Mad Men and SYTYCD. I reconnected with a cousin and met his family. I started publishing my second piece of fiction. I tried new wines. I cooked new dishes. I read three books. I got new music. I got a couple of new pieces of furniture. I took lots of pictures. I found happy again.

Thanks to all of you who continue to keep up with my life. Keep reading. I'm going to keep writing about me and keep creating characters with interesting stories to tell.


327 Chesterfield Road - Part 4

"I think we should meet tonight, at 11pm at the end of Jack's driveway," Henry stated like a person in charge of some highly classified event.

"You wanna do it tonight?" said the startled voice of Kevin. He was completely taken by surprise at how quickly Henry's idea was morphing into an actual plan.

"Why not?"

"Henry's right. Why not just do it," said Jack. "If we give ourselves too much time to think about it we might start to have second thoughts. I agree with Henry. However, I think we should wait until tomorrow night"

“Why wait?” asked Henry a little confused by the mixed signals.

“Less people on the street on a Sunday night,” answered Jack like a person who had put some thought into the scenario.

Henry let what Jack was suggesting sink in and nodded his head to Jack at the rightness of his thought.

"I think we should meet on the corner though," said Jack. "It will make us less conspicuous than meeting at the end of my driveway." He had a good point. It would be more difficult to figure out who the three figures were if they weren't associated with any particular place.

"Okay," said Kevin as he reluctantly resigned himself to the fact that they might be going inside 327.

Sunday night was as good a night as any to break into 327. There was work and school the next day so the amount of people milling about on the sidewalks of the neighborhood was bound to be less than if it was Saturday night. They would have to sneak out of their houses. That would probably be harder than getting into 327.

Sunday night. Henry had no problem getting out of his house. His parents typically took sleeping pills before bed, so they were dead to the world by the time 11pm rolled around. Kevin and Jack had a different path to navigate. Kevin’s dad was a light sleeper and tended to wake at the slightest sound that wasn’t part of the normal night sounds of Westshire Street. Jack’s mother liked to watch television until she fell asleep on the sofa. She wasn’t necessarily a light sleeper, but there was a chance that she might still be awake at 11pm.

Kevin slowly eased his way down the hallway, away from his parent’s bedroom, toward the kitchen. He left the sliding door unlocked before bed. He slid the door open with little effort. He had made the right choice of exits. The door made no sound. At the same time, Jack walked down his own hallway toward the sound of the television and right into his mother’s path. He breathed a sigh of relief when he noticed that she was indeed asleep. He slipped right past her and out the back door.

Henry was already waiting for the two of them on the corner when they arrived.

“Took you guys long enough,” he said.

“Sorry, not all of us have parents that take sleeping pills,” replied Jack with an edge of humorous sarcasm to his voice.

“I can get ‘em some if you want,” replied Henry. “You could just crumble ‘em up and slip the powder in their food or whatever.” He was joking, but also sincere. He would do it if they asked him. The ease at which Henry made this comment resembled the ease at which he approached life. He didn’t seem to let anything get him down or catch him off guard.

“No thanks. I don’t need to be grounded until I leave for college,” replied Jack with a big grin on his face.

“No problem. You just let me know if you change your mind,” said Henry with a lighthearted air of someone with no concerns at all.

“Will do.”

“You’re awfully quiet Kevin. Everything okay buddy?” asked Henry.

“Yeah. I’m fine.” Kevin said trying to mask the apprehension in his voice. “Let’s just get going. Can we?”

“Sure.” Henry looked at Jack. “You ready?”

“As I’ll ever be.”

They started walking toward 327. There was no one on the sidewalk at that moment. They were dressed head to toe in black, walking with their heads down. Jack noticed they were walking slower than usual. They were keeping pace with each other, but whoever set the pace made sure it was a slow crawl. There was no one to point the finger at for it. He figured they were all a little nervous and trying to prolong the moment where they actually committed a felony.

When they reached the house. They stood there for a moment staring up at the empty, blank windows. There was nothing but a street light shining. The house was completely devoid of any sign of life. They crossed to the other side of the street so that they could see all the windows of the house. This way they’d be sure to see a light in any of them.

The scene on the sidewalk was a been-there-done-that-scene. Jack was sitting between his two friends, the three of them smoking cigarettes, waiting anxiously. Tensions were running high as the minutes ticked away. They didn’t have a plan for how long they would wait for a light. Kevin was getting restless just sitting their surrounded by the quiet of the late night, staring at a house that gave him the creeps, even in the daytime, waiting for the chance, or misfortune, to enter it.

Jack was getting tired himself. It seemed like a waste of time tonight. They were keyed up to enter the house. They hadn’t taken into consideration that there might not be a light that night. They had made no plans to enter the house if the light didn’t come on.

“I know going inside was my idea, but I’m not sure it’s going to happen tonight,” said Henry. “I think we should maybe try again another night. What do you think, Jack?”

“I’m getting kinda tired myself. I’m good to call it a night if…”

And as if powered by the universe to keep them from leaving, the light behind the front door flickered into existence. There it was, the light they had hoped for. They were ready to give up for the evening and go home and now they had to decide if they were going to do what they actually came there to do. The fear had passed as the possibility of entering the house faded into another night’s adventure. Now they were thrust back into the present with the glow beckoning them from across the street.

Without looking at Henry or Kevin, Jack stood and said, “I’ll go in.”

“By yourself?” asked Henry slightly thrown by the statement. “Are you sure you wanna do that?”

“I’m sure,” replied Jack in a trance-like state, just staring at the house. He was trying to keep his own fear at bay. He wanted to do this, needed to do this. His curiosity was stronger than his fear. If he was the “cat” in the old proverb, he hoped his curiosity didn’t kill him.

“Just stay out here and when I get inside the room on the second floor I’ll motion for you both to come inside.”

“I don’t think you should go in by yourself,” said Kevin raising his voice slightly with concern.

“Me either, Jack,” said Henry.

“Look, I’m going to do this. I need somebody to stay out here and make sure nobody’s coming. Both of you just hang out. I’ll be fine. The light’s probably on a timer anyway, right?” Henry could tell that Jack was getting frustrated.

“Dude, if you’re sure, I’ll back off and wait out here for you,” said Henry.

“I’m sure,” said Jack with a nod of his head to both of them. He put his fist out in front of him. Henry looked down at it then up into Jack’s eyes. He bumped his fist to Jack followed by Kevin.

Jack brushed off the back of his pants from where he’d been sitting on the sidewalk. It was habit. He slowly started across the street. When he got to the other side, he turned and looked at Henry and Kevin. He nodded his head to let them know he was cool. Henry started across the street, but Jack held out his left hand in a low, caution position. Henry stopped. Jack turned and faced the gate and lifted the latch.

Jack closed the gate behind him and took one more uncertain glance across the street at his friends as he secured the latch. He turned to face the house. He was working overtime to not let his fear get the better of him as the house loomed in front of him. He could see debris and trash all around the slope of yard as he climbed the concrete stairs to the porch. He was skeptical of the boards supporting his weight. If it was anything like the rotting, uneven roof, it might collapse and him with it. He took his first step onto the porch. There was a creak, but the support was there. He took it step-by-step, slowing crossing the small porch.

He stood in front of the door having made it across the porch without harm. He wanted to turn back to the guys for support or a confidence boost, he didn't know, but he chose to face forward and turn the knob. Surprisingly, it was unlocked and he opened the door. From the look of the house, he expected the door to creak eerily, but it didn't. It wasn't exactly silent, but it didn't sound like the "creaking door" track on The Sounds of Halloween CD they used for the haunted house at last year's fall festival at school. He stepped inside and closed the door.

On the sidewalk, Henry was trying to get Jack’s attention. He was projecting a whispered "psst" as best he could. "I don't know why he would shut the door,” Henry said to Kevin without taking his eyes off the house. “Shit man, that would be the first thing I'd leave open in case I had to run outta there fast."

"I would leave it wide open. The gate too." said Kevin. His eyes were wide and staring as his friend disappeared out of view through the glass in the front door.

Inside, Jack looked around the room he was in. It was a small room with a hallway parallel to the staircase. There weren’t any options in this room except to walk down the hall or up the stairs. He could see very little, but enough, thanks to the light in the stairway. It was exactly what he thought it would be, a sconce on the wall at the bottom of the stairs. It was just the right amount of light to help a person visually navigate the stairs at night.

The space in which he stood looked like an unkept attic. It was full of discarded boxes, paint cans, buckets and pieces of wood. Every available corner and space on the floor was covered by junk except the path from the door to the stairs. There was no path for walking down the hall. The room had the musty smell of being closed for years with no fresh air to cleanse it.

There was a small table sitting at the bottom of the stairs. There were some jars in varying sizes stacked on the table. Just more junk. There was also a book. As Jack looked at the peculiar set up, he realized the book was a Bible. It was opened and there was a verse highlighted. Hebrews 13:2 Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. It seemed a creepy thing to find a Bible. It was odd and out of place. He thought it must have been some joke left by a previous person who’d broken into the house.

Jack looked at the stairs. From bottom to top he scanned them. They didn't exactly seem rotten, but they didn't exactly seem sturdy either. He would have to take them the same way he took the porch - one foot at a time and slowly.

He started up the stairs. First stair. Second stair. Third stair. So far so good. He was easing into the surroundings of the dank, dim house. Then the light went out. Without a flicker or a warning, the sconce went black. He was thrust into darkness. The streetlight was not positioned to cast light inside the house.

On the sidewalk, Henry and Kevin saw the light go out and within seconds the light in the second floor window came on. They both stared at the window waiting for Jack to motion them over. Henry was full of nervous excitement and Kevin was searching his mind for a reason to not go in.

Back inside, Jack pulled out his BlackBerry® and kept his finger on the space bar so that the light would stay on. He slowly found his way to the top of the stairs thanks to the backlight.

When he reached the top of the stairs, he found himself standing beside a door to his right. Aside from being relieved that he had made it to the top unscathed, he was thinking that this door must be to the room where he’d seen the light in the middle window. He took a deep breath of preparation and opened the door. A gust of wind blew the shear curtain at the window. The light was on inside, washing the room in pink. The room glowed with warmth. Its brilliance was vibrant and alive. This was the only preserved room, in a house full of decay, Jack had seen so far.

Everything was illuminated. The room looked to him like a living room. There was a sofa that had probably once been overstuffed, but now sagged. Not just in the center either. All three cushions looked worn with time and use. There was a coffee table laid out with a porcelain tea service. Jack walked over to it and looked inside the teapot. It was empty. There were other tables around the room, a wooden rocking chair, a secretary. There was an armless chair that reminded him of something his grandmother had. It was covered in butter-colored fabric patterned with flowers that looked like faded pink roses after they’d been pressed in the family Bible. His grandmother had called hers her Chintz chair.

He could hear music. He hadn’t heard it outside the door. It was coming from a large table-like cabinet. He walked over to it and lifted its lid. He could then here the crackling of the vinyl record more clearly. He looked up from the spinning black disk and around the room. There were many pictures sitting on tables. He closed the lid and walked over to one of the tables.

He stood there looking at the framed photographs, taking them all in. Black and white, sepia toned, color. Most of them were of a woman. If the photograph was not of her, she was at least in it. The younger she was in the photograph, the more ornate the frame.

The room was organized clutter. Maybe clutter was the wrong word. It wasn’t exactly junky. It just had a table, or chair, or basket, or stack of books in every available space. A mix of old and older pieces since none of it seemed particularly modern. To Jack it looked like a cozy place one could retreat to after a long day working in the city.

The curtain blew again with the cross breeze created by the open door. He hadn't noticed a window being open when he was on the street looking up at the second floor. He walked over to the window on his right and pulled the curtain aside. There was a hole in it where someone had thrown a rock, or a ball, and smashed it. He wondered why he hadn't noticed that from outside. He saw Henry and Kevin on the sidewalk. He moved over to the middle window and pushed the white, shear curtain to his right so that he could open the window.
He carefully unlatched, then raised it. He slowly removed his hands to see if the window would stay up by itself. In the game of window vs. gravity, the window won and stayed in place. He stuck his head through the screenless opening and whistled down to the guys. They looked up from their conversation to see Jack in the window. They stood up and did their customary fist bump then turned back to look at Jack.

"What are you waiting for? Come on," he said while motioning them to cross the street.

Henry and Kevin stepped off the curb and dashed across the street. Standing at the gate, ready to lift the latch, Henry looked up at Jack. He saw a hand, just above Jack’s eye level, slowly move the curtain further to the side. He then saw a face. It was a woman. He didn’t know what to do. He stood there frozen.

Jack felt the presence. Time seemed to move in slow motion as he turned to see what was behind him. The first thing he saw was the sparkle of a diamond. Many diamonds, rows of them. The wrinkled hand, upon which the ring was placed, holding back the curtain, quickly replaced his fascination. He turned and looked directly at her.

She looked as if she had once been glamorous, a rare beauty. Someone a photographer would take pleasure in capturing on film. She appeared to have had plastic surgery. A facelift that wasn't perfect anymore. Her arms, though covered with the flowing sleeves of her peach colored robe, looked frail and aged. It was hard to disguise the wrinkles even though she tried. Her hands betrayed her.

She smiled at him. "Are you going to just stand there or are you going to introduce yourself and invite your friends upstairs?"

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

©2010 Michael Rohrer

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

327 Chesterfield Road - Part 3

Saturday. Jack was having a hard time concentrating on anything. Normally he did his homework as soon as he got home from school. His father had always insisted he do it immediately or face punishment. He hated that as an elementary school kid. Now it was his choice and he understood his father’s rule a little better. Getting it out of the way meant it wasn’t hanging over his head. The problem was, he didn’t do it last night. He was too excited about meeting Henry and Kevin to see if there was indeed a light in 327. And because there was a light, he couldn’t concentrate on it today. He tried starting with math. He thought the numbers would make him focus. No such luck. He put his math book away and closed his notebook. He got out his literature book from english class and opened it to the marked page. He tried to read the Beowulf poem. Again, no luck.

Maybe homework was too much focus. Maybe, he thought, I need something mindless. That was easy. Video games. He popped Super Mario Brothers into his XBOX. It was an old game, but it was his favorite. He made it through a few levels but kept making stupid mistakes. His mind was wandering back to the sidewalk and the glow of light behind the glass in the front door of 327.

He turned off the game and decided to go outside. It was Saturday after all. He walked down the street to Kevin’s house. Of the three of them, Kevin was the one who had a basketball goal at the side of his driveway. Kevin wasn’t playing basketball, or even outside when Jack got there. It didn’t matter though. Jack knew where the basketball was and Kevin’s parents didn’t mind when his friends played with or without their son.

It wasn’t long before Kevin came outside. The sound of the dribbling and shooting of the basketball had made its way inside and Kevin had looked out the window to see who was in his driveway.

“Hey Jack,” said Kevin as he approached Jack in the driveway.

“Hey,” replied Jack. He bounced the ball toward Kevin. “Couldn’t concentrate. I got that light from 327 in my head and I can’t seem to turn it off.”

“I know what you mean.” Kevin did a lay up, missed, and then retrieved the ball as it bounced off the edge of the driveway into the yard. “It’s got me a little freaked out.”

“Freaked out?” Jack stood with his hands and arms in position to catch the ball as Kevin threw it to him. He caught the ball and made a jump shot from where he stood. It was nothing but net. It seemed his focus was beginning to come back. “Why are you freaked out?”

“I hate to admit this man, but that house has always scared me.” Kevin was now dribbling the ball toward the side of the driveway opposite the goal.

Jack laughed a little. One of those laughs that are kind of silent except for the air you hear being pushed out of your nose, the entire upper body shaking.

“Don’t laugh at me you Dickwad,” smirked Kevin as he threw the ball at Jack.

Throwing the ball back, “What is there to be scared of?”

“I don’t know. I’ve kind of always been scared of the place.” Kevin had a defensive edge to his voice, but not enough conviction to really be upset by Jack's mockery. “I’ve never told anyone that before and I’ll deny it if you say I am.” This time the drive toward the goal was good and the lay up went in. Kevin had his trademark “yeah, I know” look on his face.

Jack rolled his eyes and went into the yard to get the basketball.

“Gentlemen,” said Henry as he swaggered into the driveway. Jack looked up from picking up the basketball. He felt his heart speed up and a small flutter in his stomach. He felt a smile part his lips. He ran toward the driveway, throwing the ball to Henry as he ran.

“Dude, what’s up?” said Jack.

“Not much. Just wanted to come out here and see who was making all the racket that was keeping me from concentrating on my homework.”

“You weren’t doing homework,” said Kevin with the sound of “who do you think you’re talking to” in his voice. “I called your house a little while ago and your mom said you were taking a nap.”

Henry laughed as he acknowledged the truth, “It’s a hard life.”

“Yeah, you’ve got it pretty rough over there at your house with your maid and gardener,” said Jack. There was no malice in his voice or on his face. Henry knew that Jack was just giving him shit.

Henry didn’t act like a spoiled child or anything of the kind. He never treated Jack or Kevin like he was better than they were. The truth was, he didn’t feel any different than them even though his family had money.

“So, what’re you guys up to today?” said Henry.

“I couldn’t concentrate on my homework so I came out here to shoot a few hoops,”

“It was the light wasn’t it?” said Henry. He knew he was right when he saw the look of surprise on Jack’s face.

“You thinking about it too?” said Kevin.

“Yeah, it’s been on my mind.”

Jack enjoyed the fact that he and Henry were thinking about the same thing. It made him feel more connected to his friend. It was also slightly painful. He knew that he shouldn’t - couldn’t - act on the feelings he was having, but it gave him pleasure to think of them as connected mentally.

“I think we should go back,” said Jack. He looked at both of them after he said it to gauge their reactions. Kevin had no response. He was waiting to see what Henry wanted to do before he made a decision. Secretly he was hoping Henry would think the idea was a waste of time. Henry got a wicked little smile on his face and Jack knew immediately that Henry was in.

“I think that sounds like a stellar idea,” said Henry, the smile getting bigger and a little more cocked to the left. Kevin was crushed. It was noticeable in the slight slump of his shoulders. Henry hadn’t noticed, but Jack had.

“Me too. I was hoping that you guys would want to,” Kevin spoke with all the courage he could muster. Jack marveled at Kevin’s ability to lie in the face of dread. He had to keep from calling him on his shit. He chose to just shake his head and laugh a little to himself.

Each new day was like starting fresh for Kevin. Last night he felt he belonged; today he felt he had to agree to go back to the house in order to again belong in this group of friends. He was never just secure that Jack and Henry were his friends and weren’t going to dis him for not doing something he didn’t want to do. What Kevin didn’t know was that Jack and Henry both knew he was scared and it didn’t change their opinions of him. They chose to keep it to themselves though because that’s what friends do. They protect each other until they are ready to acknowledge their fears or face the truth.

“I think we should go back to the sidewalk and wait for the light to come on again tonight.” Henry spoke as if he had more of a plan that he was just waiting to unfold before them. “But I think we need to step up our game this time.”

“What do mean?” asked Jack. He had to admit that he was excited that Henry was completely into checking out the house again and was giddy with anticipation at what Henry might propose they do next.

“I think that if, or when, the light comes on again, we go inside the house and see what it is.” Henry looked at them both, waiting anxiously for approval of his idea. Kevin swallowed hard when he heard the words. Jack felt the flutter in his stomach again.

“Really?” Kevin said, his face a bloodless white.

Henry looked at Kevin. “You don’t have to go if you don’t want to,” Henry told Kevin in a tone that he hoped let him know that it was okay to be scared. However, the look on his face said, "I reserve the right to make fun of you for this in the future."

“Well, I want to,” said Jack. “I’m in. Totally.”

Kevin looked back and forth between the faces of the two people he trusted most in the world. He nodded his head. “I’m in too.”

Henry’s crooked smile broke across his face as he nodded his head with approval at the next phase of their plan. They did their customary fist bump finger explosion to seal the deal.

Jack looked at the two of them and knew they were the best friends he would probably ever have in his life. He was excited about this adventure. It was the most exciting, and dangerous, thing the three of them had ever done. Stealing a flask full of whiskey, sneaking cigarettes when no one was around and shoplifting a lighter or deck of cards from the Rite Aid was a small time adrenaline rush compared to breaking into an abandoned house.

Part 1
Part 2

©2010 Michael Rohrer