All posts for the month May, 2014

Oh, Christmas Tree (StoryADay 2014)

Published May 29, 2014 by kdorholt

As Brent and Kay drove to the Boy Scout’s Christmas tree sale in Shopper’s City parking lot, merry thoughts pranced through Kay’s head. Their first Christmas as husband and wife. It would be a holiday of her dreams—she just knew it and the perfect tree was just the beginning. She couldn’t wait to pick out the balsam fir that would stand in the corner of their living room, its fresh pine smell filling the house with the reminder that Christmas season had arrived. She knew exactly what the tree would look like, the strings of big lights glowing, lots of lights, showcasing the ornaments and glistening off the tinsel, the star crowning the tree and directing all eyes to the nativity set that she would place below the tree.

Her mother had given her Grandma’s old set as a bridal shower gift, and Kay was looking forward to using the heirloom for the first time. She couldn’t wait to create a manger scene, just like her family always did. She’d wrap a white bed sheet under the tree to represent snow and to hide the tree stand. Underneath the sheet she’d pile books at various strategic spots. There’d be the mountains and hills. The shepherds and their hut decorated one of these, sheep randomly dotting the hill and at the bottom, a “pond,” represented by a purse mirror, would lie, a few sheep lapping from its “water,” a shepherd or two watching over that part of the flock. And of course, angels would grace the scene bringing the “glad tidings” to the shepherds. Luckily, she had happened upon a sale of nativity figures at Woolworth’s earlier and picked up some extra angels. Some of Grandma’s figurines were too defaced now with chips here and there from years of use.

The wise men and their camels on the other side of the tree would climb another hill in their journey to Jesus. In the center of it all, the focal point, would be the manger topped with another star. Inside she’d scatter some bits of straw and in the corners would lie Mary’s donkey on the left side and a cow on the right. Jesus’s “guardian angel” would kneel between the two animals. She’d place Mary in front of her donkey and Joseph in front of the cow. In the center, in front of the angel and in between the kneeling Mary and Joseph, Jesus would lie in his manger bed filled with bits of straw for his newborn comfort.

Kay’s eyes filled with tears of joy and anticipation and she leaned her head back on the headrest as she savored her dreams.

Meanwhile, Brent was building the Christmas-tree scene of his childhood dreams. He couldn’t wait to find the best Norway, maybe Scotch, pine and decorate it with a few little lights—too many looked garish—that would highlight the ornaments and garland just enough. Underneath the tree he could picture the festive Christmas-tree skirt he planned on buying at Shopper’s City once he and Kay bought their tree. He hoped they could find a skirt like his family’s, adorned with poinsettias and Santa and his reindeer flying through the sky. On top of the skirt, he envisioned the Christmas gifts wrapped with colorful Christmas paper and bows, enticing in anticipation of Christmas. So many gifts, that most of the Christmas tree skirt would become almost invisible. At the top of the tree he’d place an angel, sparkling in gold, hands open in welcome to all who entered their home during the season.

Brent could feel the nostalgia of past Christmases and family traditions fill his heart and head as he drove into Shopper’s City parking lot and stopped the car close to the trees.

“Are you ready, Sweetie?” he asked as he turned and smiled at Kay, his eyes twinkling like the lights he hoped would adorn the tree.

“I can’t wait!” she said smiling at Brent in return, her eyes reflecting his excitement.

Arm in arm, they walked toward the awaiting snow-dusted trees leaning against the exterior fence. At the same moment they both took a breath of the pine-scented air, almost like one person, of one mind. Brent looked at Kay and gave her a quick kiss on the forehead. “Let’s go!” he said, as he turned to the left toward the Norways and Scotch. However, he was stopped by a tug. Kay was turning in the opposite direction. “I thought we were going to get a tree,” he said.

“We are, Honey,” said Kay. “They’re over this way.”

“No, they’re over here. See the Norway and Scotch pines this way?”

“Norway and Scotch? Those aren’t Christmas trees,” Kay said as she shook her head and gave a little laugh. “Those are just big bushes. The ornaments don’t even show up on them. Balsam is a Christmas tree.”

“But we always have Norway or Scotch,” explained Brent.

“Well, then you’ve never had a real Christmas tree,” Kay said as she tried to pull Brent closer to the balsams.

The newlyweds were in for a not-so-festive, long night full of discovery.


Final Torture (StoryADay 2014)

Published May 27, 2014 by kdorholt

The Final Torture

Another cold blast of air hits Alex like a steel beam forcing from her what little heat she has stored since the last blow only seconds earlier. She takes a deep breath as she moves her leaden-like legs once more up the mountain, her feet ankle deep in snow. She knows snow is supposed to be light, fluffy, full of fun, but this stuff is hard and heavy and scraps her ankles, leaving ice scratches with every excruciation step.

The searing sting of the wind and snow pierces her and she reaches to pull her down-filled coat closer to her body, maybe button the top button, pull up the collar. But wait! Her coat is not there. She feels so exposed, naked! Her stomach begins to bubble like lava and her mind is as frozen as the snow that is impeding her journey. She looks around frantically to either side and behind her. Has the wind blown her only source of heat off her? Has her coat dropped from her shoulders without her noticing? How can this be?

She must sit and think. What to do now? The warnings about freezing to death flash in her mind like the red light on a police car. She’s a Minnesotan. She knows the danger of stopping and hypothermia—-frozen digits, even death. But all the lessons she’d had in health classes can’t outweigh her need to sit.

As she does, the snow beneath her feels more like chilly linoleum, like the high-school floor too long in air conditioning. Her hip begins to ache with the cold. Her head has hit something smooth and hard, uncomfortable. Alex feels her head throbbing. Her blood vessels near her temple and left cheek are beating like a heavy-metal song. She hates heavy metal. It always gives her a headache. And she’s numb like someone has given her a shot of novocaine.

Wait! What is this? She’s not on a snowy mountain! It’s not even a snowy day! Alex shivers with the knowledge. It’s late May. The chill she feels is the air conditioning piped up to intolerable levels.
She forces her eyes open and until they adjust from her sleeping she sees only a blurry white.

She focuses harder. Ah, yes familiar concrete blocks painted that grayish white. Of course, she’s in the counselor’s conference room—-that claustrophobic den of the derided and devious students. Must have fallen asleep. But why is she here? What has she done this time? The bubble of dread gurgles in her stomach as reality riddles her body. Why had she decided to miss the calculus final? Why had she pretended to be sick so she could have one more day to study? Why had she squandered most of the day watching reruns of American Idol? Now she’s secluded in this raunchy room to take the test. She feels the cry in her chest vault to her throat, but she keeps it locked there. She won’t let it out.

Slowly, Alex rouses herself and grabs onto the cheap, plastic gray chair sitting askew at the graffitied brown table in the center of the room. She must have dozed off and fallen from the chair. Who is the idiot who decided to put those chairs with the slick runners in the rooms with linoleum? Kids are always falling off those things, especially if they tip back a bit. Why hasn’t somebody sued? Maybe she has a head injury or brain damage now. Maybe she can be the one to sue! Nah, that’d never be her luck.

As she lifts herself a bit more, Alex notices the door at the end of the small room. Her chance at freedom. Her only means of escape. The desire to run to it and fling it open, to smell the air of freedom rushes over her like the cold winter wind she felt in her dream. But she knows before she can feel that freedom, she must finish the taunting task at hand—-the calculus final!

Trembling once again, Alex sits in the gray chair, her thighs feeling the chill of the over-air-conditioned plastic and slides the dreaded pieces of paper waiting for her on the table into her view. Her chest contracts as she tries to breathe. She shuts her eyes and forces herself to calm down by counting backward from ten, a method Mrs. Jenson, the school counselor. has taught all the students to do before they take standardized tests. After she calms a bit, she breathes deeply and opens her eyes. She picks up her pencil and writes “Alex Winters, Block 3” in the top right-hand corner and begins. The only way to escape this hell is to endure one “final torture.”

One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure (StoryADay 2014)

Published May 27, 2014 by kdorholt

Tommy was just a little guy, about ten. He accompanied his mom to every estate or rummage sale she went to—and that was a bunch. His mother was trying to supplement the family’s lower-middle-class income by selling antiques or curiosities at local metropolitan flea markets, so Tommy’s weekend world whirled around scavenging through others’ unwanted items looking for discarded treasures.

He was a hit with the estate/rummage sale crowd for many reasons. Most didn’t expect such a young kid to be so interested in old items. He could carry on an intelligent conversation with anyone about their favorite collector’s item. And that face of his! Curly auburn hair, large hazel eyes surrounding by long curly eyelashes, freckles dotting his nose and cheeks, and a wide gap-toothed smile. He could have been a member of The Little Rascals reborn.

With the money he had earned doing odd jobs around the house and neighborhood tucked away in his old, brown leather coin purse that he had discovered once at a sale in the “Free” bin, he set out with Mom every Saturday with a child’s hopeful heart that that day would be the day that he’d stumble on the lucky find. Most of the time the items he loved were too expensive for his coin purse, and even though he tried to bargain down the price, he didn’t succeed too often.

Yep, he was outnumbered there, so he relied on what most adults didn’t want to do—go through the trash that the people holding the sale didn’t even think would have any takers in the “Free” bin. He’d walk up to the people running the show, usually at the table where “salers” paid for their finds and ask if he could maybe look through the discards, usually overflowing in trash cans or multiple garbage bags. Few could resist the charm of that polite, hazel-eyed, gap-toothed,freckle-faced urchin, and only once had anybody said, “No.”

One Saturday, he and his mom had hit about ten sales and Tommy’s take was pretty paltry—a couple old pictures of people he didn’t know and some raggedy postcards. Mom hadn’t had a very good day either, so even though their limit for a Saturday was usually ten stops, Mom suggested they try one more. It wasn’t that far out of their way. They could afford a few more minutes. By the time they reached the rummage sale in Northeast Minneapolis, he and his Mom could tell that items had already been quite picked over just by driving up to the place. The garage was pretty empty and only a few items of particle-board furniture remained in the driveway. “Should we stop, Tommy, or just drive on?” his mother asked him with a look that told him she was disappointed and tired.

“Yeah, Mom. Let’s just try,” he said, giving her his most sincere expression. “Their trash bin is overloaded.

“Okay, Tommy. We’ll go in, but we only have about ten . . . fifteen minutes.

Tommy looked at the trash bins at the side of the garage. He’d have to work fast if he was going to comb through all that junk—that is if the owners even let him near it. But he wanted to try. Something was calling to him in those trash bins, like they were giving out vibrations that only he could decode.

The owners gave him the go ahead but not much reassurance when he asked if he could look through the trash they threw away. “Go ahead,” said the rotund man behind the cash table, as he wiped beads of sweat from his forehead. “I don’t expect you’ll find much. It’s been gone through already. But you’re welcome to give ‘er a try, son.”

Tommy thanked the man and went to work, that vibration calling to him. However, about twelve minutes later, he was near the bottom of the trash and almost out of time. So far, he had zilch, nada, nothing even close. Yet there was that vibration he had that something was there for him. He stretched as far as he could into the last trash can and removed a crumpled piece of brown packaging paper when he uncovered a small cardboard box. As Tommy peered closer he could see that it was decorated with embossed colors of orange, pink and gold. Interesting. He reached to grab it, but the side of the can kept blocking him, even when he bent in as far as he could go, he couldn’t quite grasp the box. Finally, he tipped the can to its side and the box and the rest of the rubbage at the bottom slid down the side until he could claim his prize. The box had seen better days. It was smashed down in corner a bit and the gold leafing was worn on the edges. Tom opened the box and found a round ball of white, homemade soap inside. Like the box it was pretty rustic. To Tommy it looked like some kid had rolled up some Play Doh and left it. Still something about the weirdness of it intrigued him.

He took what he had found to the check-out table and asked if he could have it. The man behind the table took the box and examined it. “Doesn’t look like this is worth anything.” Then he opened it as Tommy had done and found the ball of soap inside. He scoffed as he turned it around in his hand. “I can see why someone hid this!” he said and laughed. “I wouldn’t want anyone to see this if I’d made it either. If you want it, it’s yours,” he said to Tommy as he offered him the box.

“Thanks, sir,” Tommy said as he took the box from the man.

When Tommy got home, he placed the box on one of his many bookshelves in his bedroom and it lay there, untouched for five years where it was totally hidden from view by other oodles of curiosities Tommy had picked up during that time. Finally, one day his mother said, “Tommy, you have to clear off those shelves. There just too crowded. Do you even know what you have on them anymore? Just do one a day. In a week, you’ll be done.”

Tommy had to agree he did not, so reluctantly, he began sorting through the free finds on his book shelves. Two days later, Tommy came to the bookshelf that held the soap box. Tommy shook his head as he grabbed it and remembered the vibration that called him to that box years ago. He opened it and the soap ball landed in his hand like a heavy stone. With a smile, he tossed it a few times into the air and caught the thing. Once it fell and big chunks of soaps smashed into his bedroom carpeting.

He still can’t tell you to this day what made him take the ball to his desk and begin chopping away at it with his letter opener, but he did. Little by little he chopped away until he came to the center. Something was wrapped in what looked like a blue jewelry-cleaning cloth. Carefully, Tommy unwrapped the parcel. Out dropped a ring—quite a gaudy thing, really. Tommy was pretty sure it was some old costume piece, but maybe it would get him ten dollars at a flea market. Actually, it reminded him of an engagement ring—gold band, one round diamond-like stone in the center with four smaller diamond-like stones on either side. He laid the ring on his desk and continued his task of cleaning the shelf.

At dinner time he brought the ring to the table showed it to his family during dessert as they enjoyed there pudding cake. (He’d washed off all the residue “gunk” on the ring so the stoned glistened more brightly.) The family reactions ranged from, “Where’d you get that fake piece of junk?” to “Wow, it hurts the eyes!”

His mother gave the best advice, “You should go have that checked out by a jeweler. It could be real. You never know.”

He did. It was! He and his mother tried to recall where he had picked up the treasure, but they had been to so many estate sales and rummage sales by then that hey couldn’t remember which house it came from. He put an ad in the “Lost and Found” section of the paper. No response.

Tommy learned a valuable lesson from this experience: Pay attention to those “good vibrations.” His next big find—a photo album filled with original pictures of Jimi Hendrix. He tried to give the album back to the owners. Their response to him was quite clear, if brief, “We know what it is. We threw it away. You can keep it.” Obviously, they weren’t sharing in Tommy’s “good vibrations.”

Arnold Jameson Prisner (StoryADay 2014)

Published May 23, 2014 by kdorholt

Most of the seniors reacted to the student-chosen quote under Arnold Jameson Prisner’s picture in the yearbook with the same thought. It was 100 percent Arnold all the way— something from Shakespeare, of course. Most of them had just googled “inspirational” or “yearbook quotes” and used something listed there that reflected them somehow. Others chose lines from favorite songs. A few singled out a quote from literature or poetry. But only one was geeky enough to pick a three-sentence quote from Shakespeare—Arnold Prisner. It would be read aloud during the night’s graduation ceremony, now underway, along with his plans after high school like every other graduate. That had been Highland High School’s tradition ever since anyone could remember.

Why some had designated Arnold for their torturous treatment of him during his high-school career was clear enough. He was weird—easy as that. What was up with those ties and white shirts he wore every day to school? He always looked like he was about to “Jehovah Witness” the whole classroom when he walked in. Arnold wasn’t a Jehovah’s Witness either. Nope, he attended Our Glory Lutheran like plenty of other graduating seniors—was confirmed with them and everything. Why did he insist on being called “Arnold”? Any one of his classmates would have established another name by then. His middle name was “Jameson.” Anybody with half a brain would have insisted on “AJ,” but not Arnold. Even “Arnie” would have been better, but not for this dweeb. He stuck to Arnold. And it wasn’t like he was too stupid to think of something else either. He was graduating near the top of his class. He would have been valedictorian if the school hadn’t just changed its policy this year and counted P.E. in the grade point average. Not that he was all that bad in P.E.—he just wasn’t A-range, that’s for sure.

Arnold’s name and choice of dress weren’t the only reasons this guy was the class joke. He always had the longest answer to any question on any subject a teacher asked. His hand was the first in the air. Teachers often used his work as exemplars. Not to mention, he had been selected as “Student of the Month” by some teacher or another more than anyone else in their high-school career. Talk about teachers, he was polite to every one, even the substitutes. He didn’t use his phone to play games or text during class, always asked if there was extra credit—even though he was assuredly getting an “A” anyway, said “Sir” and “Ma’am” when he talked to someone “in authority,” gave them a smile. It wasn’t that the other kids weren’t nice, too. Most of them had learned their manners, but Arnold was always overboard, didn’t seem to realize he took everything to the next level, a Twilight Zone the rest knew not to enter.

Arnold Jameson Prisner never seemed to notice. He just steered along on his own course like he knew some secret nobody else did. How many “swirlies” did a guy have to endure before he figured out he should change his ways if he wanted to be left alone? This guy took his cousin from Iowa to the senior prom and wore “his late father’s” (that’s how Arnold referred to his dead dad) wedding tuxedo. Had one of his senior photos taken in it too. As a matter of fact, that’s the one Arnold chose for the yearbook. There he was on the page, in between Josh Prior (who was surrounded by various athlete equipment and trophies) and Jessica Privlan (standing in a meadow of white daises), smiling like he was the happiest, coolest kid in town in some dead guy’s old-fashioned get up. Sure it was fine to miss your dad. Other kids had had fathers who had died, too, but they weren’t wearing his old clothes. (Some of the seniors had to admit that their moms had tears in their eyes when they saw the picture. That in itself was a clue.) Actually, the senior picture didn’t look enough like Arnold Jameson Prisner. They’d photoshopped out his three cowlicks and the acne breakout usually dotting the left side of his face like the South Sea Islands.

Well, not too much longer and they wouldn’t have to think about Arnold Jameson Prisner or Highland High any more. The superintendent was already rattling off the students whose last names began with “P,” and once she got to Scott Zellman, they were out of here.

She clears her throat a little and says, “Joshua Charles Prior. ‘Set your goals high, and don’t stop till you get there,’ (Bo Jackson). Joshua will be attending South State University on a football scholarship. Congratulations, Joshua.”

There’s a good bit of applause for Joshua as he shakes the superintendent’s hand, then holds his diploma in the air, gives a “Whoop!” and leaves the stage in a swagger.

“Arnold Jameson Prisner. “If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?” (William Shakespeare). Arnold will be attending Harvard University on an academic scholarship. Congratulations, Arnold.”

The graduates can hear the superintendent say that last part a little more proudly than she has about any other graduate so far. Arnold smiles and shakes the sup’s hand. They can see him slightly bow his head in gratitude and read his lips, “Thank you, Ma’am.” He turns and smiles at his classmates. A few of them applaud along with the invited guests, but most of them sit in the silence of the dead. What Arnold? Harvard? What the . . .? When did he do that!? Some of them cough a bit, trying to catch a breath.

Arnold smiles at his classmates, tips his hat. (As he does the crowd can see the bottoms of his father’s tuxedo pants.) Then he walks off the stage likes he’s just won an Academy Award—which all of his classmates know he kind of has—and proceeds into his future.

Bunch of Balloons–*based on a third-grade spelling list (StoryADay 2014)

Published May 23, 2014 by kdorholt

“I want to be a bunch of balloons for Halloween,” Holly announced as she helped her mother wash the lettuce for the night’s supper.

Holly had always been a precocious little girl with creative ideas that challenged her parents’ creativity, too, and Halloween was one holiday when she made them work extra hard. Her mother savored the opportunity. She, too, had a creative streak and loved to sew. You could usually find her at the church rummage sale the first week in October scavenging through a gold-mine selection of old cast-offs looking for materials to Holly’s costume idea a reality. She welcomed the gratification of meeting the challenge to make something from something else.

On weekends, in between grading papers, you could to find her at the dining-room oak table cutting and sewing her rummage-sale finds into costumes of Holly’s and her sister’s choice. So far she had stuffed the “costume basket” with a taxi-cab driver, the puppet Pinocchio, the Gremlin monster from the movie of the same name, a unicorn, and a leprechaun, Little Bo Peep, Gizmo, a dragon, a can of Mountain Dew and others for Holly and her little sister Kelly. While the mother sewed, Holly’s dad put his skills to work, too. He was a whiz with the technical ends of the process like how to keep the Pinocchio nose from falling off, how to turn empty toilet paper rolls, aluminum foil into to devise the taxi-cab driver’s change maker or how to devise a system of straps to hold up the Mountain Dew “Can” a take the pressure off Holly’s shoulders.

Holly, her eyes glistening with possibilities, chattered away about how she would look as a bunch of balloons and what colors she wanted them to be as she and her mother finished the supper’s salad, slicing tomatoes, cutting carrots, and coring green peppers.

As Holly’s dad and Kelly entered the kitchen to grab the items needed to set the table, Holly turned from her salad creation and said like the town crier, “Hey, Dad, Kelly! We’re going to make me into a bunch of balloons for Halloween!”

Immediately, Holly’s dad’s mind began to whirl with ideas. All of them brainstorming together would set the subject of the night’s supper. By the end of it, the family would have a good plan in place for Holly’s costume and some ideas Kelly’s costume, too—maybe an exploding firework or winter fairy.

*Based on this third-grade word list: Lettuce, Happen, basket, Winter, Sister, Monster, Supper, Subject, Puppet

We’ll See (StoryADay 2014)

Published May 21, 2014 by kdorholt

It’s past midnight when I come to the intersection of Xerxes and 63rd. I have Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz” playing at maximum volume. I’m belting it out myself, hitting the steering wheel along with the beat, so I almost miss seeing the strange image in the middle of the road. Is that some old guy directing the traffic? I wonder. Yep, it is. He’s throwing his arms out in intricate sequences as he shows cars who’s next and which way to turn like some interpretive dancer on Broadway. I slow down a bit to make sure I don’t hit him. He stumbles unsteadily periodically, like he’s tripped over something. Who knows what direction he’ll turn next?

As I come closer to the intersection, I notice his coat looks familiar. It’s hard to tell for sure because it’s night and the streetlight glare blurs things, but it sure looks like something I’ve seen before, a wrinkly blue windbreaker. I can barely see that there’s some kind of logo over the left breast. It’s drizzling a little but the guy just lets the rain wet his head. I can see the glow from the cigarette dangling in his mouth. A sick feeling of awareness and dread fills my stomach as the image gets closer. I do know this sorry, soused guy performing his “civic duty.” He waves me on with a flourish and a stumble. I drive on through like I haven’t noticed his direction. My dad.

It’s not the first time I’ve been too embarrassed to acknowledge him. A true, kind heart would stop and pick him up if they knew him. Tonight, I’m not that person, I tell myself. I’m tired of the story and just want to ride away. Unwanted tears fill my throat as I wait for what’s coming next.

“Drink it now!” the father demanded in his foreboding Eastern European accent.

“I don’t want to, Pa. Please?” the miniature reflection of the father pleaded.

The father glared at his son, a look that could scare the devil, “I said drink!” He slammed the shot glass of cheap whiskey down in front of his son, a few drops fell onto the worn table. “You drink. I’m raising a son. You must drink or I’ll beat you!” the father said as he reached for his wooden walking stick.

The son knew this was true. He had felt the beatings before. Not again, so he took the shot glass and swallowed the bitter, fiery liquid. Tears filled his eyes—both from the whiskey and a guilty conscience. He’d failed himself again.

Behind the half-open kitchen door an older sister watched, witnessed the too familiar scene. Helpless. She’ll share this story of father and son as a defense for her brother’s future behavior with her goddaughter to be born `years later.

I don’t want the rationalizations to invade my mind. I just want my car to take me home. Take me away. There are too many memories. I feel the ball of tears in my throat once again and try to swallow them.

The man with a roll of mauve carpet, tied to the top of his gray Gremlin turned to pull into his daughter’s driveway, but missed it and careened into the ditch on the left side. His wheels spun as he tried to back out, only succeeding in getting the car more deeply entrenched in the ditch.
The daughter watching from the back screen door felt the familiar lump of sorrow and shame form in her throat as she turned to her husband. “He needs your help, Sweetie,” she said.
He nodded in compassionate resignation and headed out the door, having been put through similar situations before.

As the husband walked toward the car, a neighbor stopped to help. The daughter’s embarrassment grew. She was already planning how to explain the incident to the neighbor. Her father’s shame is hers, too.

You should have stopped; you should have stopped. That was your dad, I berate myself. You’re probably thinking the same thing, my reader, and perhaps in normal circumstances I would have, but I’m just too tired tonight. I don’t know if I could sit through one of his drunken states even for the few minutes it would take to get home. Understand, when he’s had “one too many,”
which he does all too often, he’s either as mean as a trapped badger or soaked with sappy tears. Either way, it’s hard to deal with. So is this ball of tears as it rises again.

My mom, brothers, and I were sitting down at the kitchen table having our supper. We had waited and waited for him to get home but he, obviously, was going to be late again. JJ had just finished a hilarious tale of selling six pair of shoes at the mall to an eccentric customer, and we were all in the middle of a good family laugh, when we heard the tires and the hum of Dad’s car’s engine in the driveway. All of us instantly quieted and a pall of dread replaced the merriment. We all knew he was probably drunk. JJ and I quickly took a piece of bread from the stack in the center of the table. Neither one of us wanted to be the victim of the “eat-a-piece-of-bread” tirades he was famous for when he had been over the limit.

My mom sighed heavily. I never knew if she did that every time because she was glad Dad made it home safely or she was preparing herself for the approaching scene. I reached over and patted her hand. She gave me a grateful nod and a little smile.

Suddenly, the door to the kitchen burst open, hitting the wall with a definite thud. My dad’s head peered through the doorway and eyed us all at the table. “Couldn’t wait for me, huh?” he said as the rest of him clumsily entered the kitchen. His blue eyes were rimmed with blood vessels. We knew we were in for it. “Why couldn’t you wait for me? I wasn’t that late. Seems like a family could wait until everyone is home,” he snarled like some chained bulldog.

“We tried to wait, Sweetie, but the kids were really hungry and . . .”

He waved Mom to silence like the director cutting a scene, “Enough!”

Mom stopped and we all watched as Dad stealthily searched the kitchen. He halted when he saw the washcloth bunched up on the counter and pointed to it, “And look at that washcloth. How many times do I have to tell you guys how to fold a washcloth around here? Huh? Bad enough a guy can’t eat with his family, but does he have to come home to a mess, too?” he said through gritted teeth. He said more, too, as he stomped his way to his bedroom to get out of his work clothes—some cheap Montgomery Wards suit—his footsteps shaking the pictures on the wall. It didn’t matter that we couldn’t hear what he was saying, we’d all heard enough. One by one, we asked Mom if we could be excused. cleaned off our plates, set them in a neat stack by the sink and went our separate directions in silence, another normal family supper—for our house, anyway—completed.

You shouldn’t feel guilty about passing him by, I try to calm myself. He makes his own decisions. It’s only a mile. He’ll make it. You can’t fix everything, you know. That tear ball lodged in my throat won’t let me forget.

It was the Christmas Mom was pregnant with my youngest brother. She was resting, so I had two younger brothers in my room with me playing a Candyland game one of them had gotten that morning from Santa. I also didn’t want them interrupting Dad’s watching the football game in the nearby television room. Maybe we could have a happy Christmas Day.

No such luck. JJ hit the end first, “I’m the winner!” he shouted a couple times, arms raised in victory.

This started my four-year-old brother Mike crying big time and stamping his feet, you know how kids do, “It’s my game! I’m supposed to win! JJ cheated! JJ cheated.”

Mike was stomped out by other steps coming down the hall like beats of a war drum. The three of us kids grew quiet. I stood up and faced my doorway. I was the oldest and we were in my room. The unwritten rule was that I would pay the consequences. Like a monster in a bad dream Dad suddenly loomed over me, looking at me through demon eyes. I watched him, trapped, as he took in the scene in the room and found the game in disarray surrounded by my little brothers on the floor. For some reason my face felt wet, tiny droplets of what? It took me a few seconds to realize it had come from Dad. His spit . . . in my face. I had no time to react before his finger was pushed into the tip of my nose, “You spoil everything!” he slurred through his signature clenched teeth, pushing on my nose with every word, before he turned and left the room.

My brothers and I said nothing. Not looking at each other, we picked up the remainders of the game and put them away in the box. I didn’t want to touch the awful spit on my face, so I just let it soak in.

He was a good man once, before life went bad on him and he started drinking, I tell myself, as I pull up to the house. The lights are on in the living room. Lights, I suppose, that should signal a welcome home, a relief as I reach my parents’ house for a weekend visit, but to me those lights are just ominous reminders of who still is coming home sometime after me. My stomach instinctively churns. Inside himself he’s still a good man, I say. I’m convinced I’m right. I have many memories of Dad, not all of them bad ones, though I have many more of those, too many to pass through my mind in the little distance I’ve had to drive from the intersection to here. I want the good guy back, my insides cry out, dissipating the phantom ball of tears. . . . We’ll see.

Get by with a Little Help from Your Friends (Epistolary StoryADay 2014)

Published May 21, 2014 by kdorholt

Get By With a Little Help From Your Friends

*for my brother Mark, my never-fail go-to-guy in college and, well, life.
“You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.”

Andrew Barthus In Film 101. Each of us got an actor to research for our final project. Mine’s Cary Grant. I’ve got tons of information. Just like your thoughts on him, the paper.

Heather Hayes I think his accent is phony. It’s too forced—like he’s trying to remember to say every word that way. He should have just spoken like an American not a fake Englishman. Kind of like Kevin Costner in Robin Hood. He would have been more convincing if he just dropped it.

Austin Baily Kevin Costner? At least Grant kept his accent all the way through the movie.

Jason Kelly My grandma and great grandma drooled over the guy. Have you seen how his hair shined? I think he used a lot of Brylcreem.

Andrew Barthus What?!

Jason Kelly Brylcreem. Hair goo. You can still get it. Smell will knock you out, though!

Andrew Barthus He was born in England. In Bristol, I think.

Jake Tillman They have some great graffiti there. Saw some when I went to England for break. Hey, there’s a good detail to include. Say he was the Bristol’s “father of graffiti.” Then cite something written by Eugene Vincent Jr. to prove it. Your prof will have a hard time checking that one.

Andrew Barthus Who’s Eugene Vincent Jr.?

Jake Tillman My college roommate. He doesn’t mind if you put “Dr.” in front of his name.

Andrew Barthus He write other stuff?

Jake Tillman LMAO! His name. I haven’t seen him write anything else since the year started. His girlfriend does that for him.

Jason Kelly Lucky guy.

Jake Tillman He’s majoring in English! I kid you not! LOL! No really he’s here because his girlfriend is.

Courtney Grey I read in People that Grant’s dad put his mom in a mental institution for depression when Cary was 9. Told him she was away on a “long holiday.” He didn’t find out she was alive in a mental institution until his dad confessed on his deathbed. Tells Grant the mom’s still alive. Grant was 31. 31 and he hasn’t thought it’s weird his mom is still on vacation?

Jason Kelly Geez,can anyone spell g-u-l-l-i-b-l-e? How long did he think the “long holiday” was? I mean, wouldn’t you ask your dad after say five years. When’s Mom coming home?

Heather Hayes Did he ever go to see her?

Courtney Grey No clue. Didn’t say.

Heather Hayes Didn’t say?! Who writes an article like that and doesn’t say?

Jake Tillman Too bad, good story there.

Andrew Barthus Ask Dr. Eugene Vincent, Jr. what he thinks. LOL

Christian Belden Well, that would mess a guy up. No wonder he became an actor. Get out of that life one way or another.

Andrew Barthus Hey, Court, what People was that in?

Courtney Grey Don’t know. Saw it waiting at the salon. Cover was torn off.

Andrew Barthus No one really knows how Grant was cared for after that. His dad remarried and kind of left Grant on his own.

Christian Belden Now, there’s an a-hole for you.

Heather Hayes How do you just leave your kid? Must not have had child neglect laws around then.

Jake Tillman Yeah, but—hey, it’s still kind of the Mom’s fault.

Courtney Grey You dork! Spend a lot of time listening to Limbaugh?

Christian Belden Maybe Grant was relieved his dad abandoned him. Who’d want to live with that guy?

Andrew Barthus Did you know Grant was expelled from grammar school. How do you get expelled from grammar school? My research doesn’t say.

Heather Hayes Ah, geez.

Jason Kelly I think that Grant was troubled.

Andrew Barthus He became a stilt walker in a traveling troupe. That’s how he got to the US.

Heather Hayes If he wouldn’t have been expelled he might not have taken a stilt-walking gig, never gone to America, you know, “the finger of fate” theme.

Andrew Barthus The guy was doomed from the start. His name was Archibald Alexander Leach.

Courtney Grey Archibald???????? Right away he should have known his parents didn’t love him—or want him. Maybe he was an ugly baby? Who looks at a baby and says, “Let’s call him Archibald Alexander. It goes perfectly with Leach.”

Heather Hayes Maybe the name caused the mom’s depression. I’d be depressed if I had to go around calling my kid “Archibald” and seeing the reaction on other people’s faces!

Andrew Barthus Anyway, this story is still kind of sad.

Jason Kelly Eugene says there was a poet Archibald MacLeish.

Courtney Grey Hey! Eugene knows something!

Jason Kelly He says his girlfriend says so.

Courtney Grey My mistake

Heather Hayes Must be true then.

Christian Belden At least Grant was smart enough to change that handle.

Andrew Barthus Actually, the studio gave him the name.

Jake Tillman I’ve heard he was homosexual or bisexual. The studio name fits those theories, if you think about it.

Courtney Grey Cryptic

Andrew Barthus I got some great pictures of him and a guy named Randolph Scott at

Jake Tillman Poor guy went from one lame name to another.

Jason Kelly Yeah, no say on either one.

Andrew Barthus His daughter, Jennifer Grant, says he liked the rumor he was gay. Said it made the ladies more likely to try to prove he wasn’t.

Courtney Grey Well, at least five ladies tried. The People article said he had five wives.

Jake Tillman That proves the theory, all right!

Andrew Barthus He was a good dad, though. Quit acting when his daughter, Jennifer Grant (the actress)—only kid—was born. He let his wife, some woman named Leslie Caron,(sp?) pursue her career. He stayed home and took care of his daughter.

Heather Hayes A Renaissance man!

Christian Belden Or trying to make up for his father. Or up to his mother?

Jake Tillman Some would say that proves the homosexual theory.

Heather Hayes Like Limbaugh.

Jason Kelly When’s the thing due?

Andrew Barthus Tomorrow at 9:00.

Heather Hayes Yikes! You’d better get crackin’!

Jake Tillman Nah, you got time.

Courtney Grey How long does it have to be?

Andrew Barthus Ten pages

Jake Tillman Ten pages! Who’s the prof?

Andrew Barthus Silverstone

Jake Tillman Mr. or Mrs.?

Andrew Barthus Mr.

Christian Belden Silverstone! You lucked out. He’ll never read it. Probably just count the pages and look at format.

Heather Hayes Yeah, he’s a stickler for format. Have a good intro and conclusion and throw in a few quotes and “Cary Grants” and you’re good.

Courtney Grey I think you should write your paper about how young years affect a person’s life and career choice. You could use different psychologists’ quotes. Use that whole nature or nurture argument.

Andrew Barthus I like it. Jas, ask Eugene’s girlfriend if she’ll write it for me?

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