Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Trophies for No One

Her children are less a responsibility and more of a reminder of victory, however Pyrrhic. She's bored by them and doesn't even really want them around, but her divorce was ugly and, well, she wanted to "win." Full custody escaped her, but the 50/50 arrangement is enough to make her smile. Her ex-husband already has complete custody of three other children by two other women, and she'd be damned if he got her three. It is an empty victory, but a victory nonetheless.

***

"Mom, can we play Battleship?" Jasmine asks. She's the eldest child, 11 years old, and a complete tomboy. She's going to be attractive, of this there's no doubt in anybody's mind, but she doesn't let her mother comb her hair or dress her up. It's a secret source of annoyance for the mother.

"I'm watching television. Play in your room and be quiet." One might think there'd be a pang of guilt in such a response, but the doctor is just about to save the life of a wounded paraplegic who looks like the doctor's dead fiancĂ©e and, come on now, who wants to miss that?

Jasmine walks away, her frown barely hidden. She pauses during her retreat when she hears her mother stir suddenly, but apparently that is simply the result of a cliffhanger ending eliciting a subdued disappointment at reading "To Be Continued..." on the screen. Jasmine can barely make out the beginning of a Viagra commercial as she closes her bedroom door.

***

Harlon is 10 and plans on being a ninja when he grows up. Or a pirate. Despite his youth, even he finds it silly that adults seem to canonize such ridiculous historic figures as being the epitome of bad-ass. It wasn't too long ago that he was afraid to think of the word "ass," but ever since his parents split, it somehow worked its way into an acceptable vernacular... though some of the faculty at his school don't seem to think so. He called himself the Ass Ninja on the playground one day, and subsequently endured a conversation with the Principal over an inappropriate topic that Harlon knew nothing about. Ah, well... the bliss of childhood.

So now he's just "The Ninja." Use of "The" when addressing him is mandatory.

His mother has fallen asleep at her computer, and he can't resist the target. After all, ninjas have to practice stealth constantly, lest the skill erode from disuse. In any other moment, the slight trail of drool on the left side of his mother's mouth would have made him laugh. This time, though, he's on a mission. Memories of hide and seek and scary stories rush through his young mind. He imagines his mother laughing - something he's not seen in a while - and submitting him to tickle torture.

The gash on his forehead from the now-broken laptop was not what he'd been expecting.

***

The youngest child is Sage, and she's 8. She's also the smart one. Sounds odd, sure, but anyone who has spent time with all of the children come to this conclusion. Not as pretty as Jasmine, though much more girly, her ability to read people is likely what caused ancient man to start believing in ESP. As soon as she was old enough to form an cognitive thought, she knew her mother to be an angry woman. She recognized every smile for a facade and despised the puppy-dog voice when her mother was pretending to be comforting and caring. As a result, Sage didn't let her mother comb her hair or dress her up, either. Those activities were reserved for her aunt.

Sage just stayed out of her mother's way. She did exceedingly well in school, reading at a grade level three above her own, and excelling in the arts. It was during a drawing exercise that her teacher noticed Sage's illustration of her family contained a female monster, tinted in blue. Upon questioning, Sage replied, "That's mom. She hates us."

***

The father is, naturally, oblivious to any of this. Dealing with five children - one had finally left the roost - is more than he can realistically handle. But, he, too, savors the empty victory from the custody arrangement. Still, though one cannot argue that he genuinely loves and enjoys his children, he fails to provide them with a sanitary place to live and healthy meals to eat. Nature and nurture do not peacefully co-exist in the lives of these children.

***

Her mother is less a responsibility and more a reminder of victory, however Pyrrhic. Sage is the smart one, and her education and subsequent career proves this beyond any reasonable doubt. Like a clichĂ©, Jasmine became a stripper, struggling to support two children of her own. As his stereotype, Harlon became a thief and makes his home in a state penitentiary. Sage, though, earned a doctorate in history - her favorite subject - and became a published author. She never married; never had children, choosing instead to concentrate on her work and reside within her own mind... the only safe place she's ever known. Her imagination prolific and adept; surpassed only by her memory.

Such a combination could only lead to tragedy, and it has.

By the time her father died, he needed a cane to walk. At the end of it all, he became an apologetic and sentimental man, evidenced by the names of his eight children - he had remarried - etched in his walking stick. Always his favorite, he gave the cane to Sage, knowing that she would not want or need anything else in his relatively frivolous estate.

The day after the funeral, with dad no longer around to bear witness and be disappointed in her, she beat her mother to death with it.

A final trophy, stored in an evidence bag, forever lost to the world.

18 comments:

She Writes said...

Hmmm. This reminds me of the writing that attracted me to your blog to begin with. Like you crawled into the heads of all of these people you know intimately well and revealed what was hidden. Maybe among my favorites of yours, because it seems real and haunting on a number of levels.

Alan Burnett said...

You trick me, you lead me along, giving me about as much freedom as a truck rattling along iron rails. Your story takes me where you want me to go and, despite the darkness of the place, I enjoy the journey. Such is irre x 2

joanny said...

This story makes me cringe.....more truth then tale....I have seen families like this when I worked with the state-- A fated quality to it -- an angry woman just like her mother.

"Her mother is less a responsibility and more a reminder of victory, however Pyrrhic"--

Love the implication here and use of the term Pyrrhic so Apropos so fitting to the situation.

Edgy piece.
Joanny

Tom said...

great character study...the best authors delve deeply into background like this.

Brian Miller said...

you sucked us right in with the little snapshots...nicely done jeff...one of my favorties of yours recently.

Kate Hanley said...

Crazy good depiction of a family. I love that the mom didn't want the children but wanted to win - oh, I've seen that! By the way, on an unrelated topic, I read that Southland has been picked up for another season, you must be happy about that.

Wings said...

I think, if you have drawn this out into a short story with that kicker of an ending, Hitchcock would have loved it.

Tess Kincaid said...

Wow, I didn't see that smacker of an ending coming. Heh, the typical American family, right? I totally agree with Wings. Hitch would have loved it.

PattiKen said...

One more such victory...

This was a very engaging story, Jeff. I enjoyed it, though the speed of the narrative as it zoomed past Sage's life at age eight and adulthood made me want to know more of what was happening.

Catalyst said...

Jeff, that's more Stephen King than Hitchcock, isn't it? But a gripping tale.

Harnett-Hargrove said...

You have the gift (?) of writing with the ring of truth, or meaning , believability. Your written sculpted characters make me want to draw up character studies. -J

Baino said...

All been said. You're back on form! Although it ended a little sharply for me then I guess that's what made it surprising and strangely sad.

Tumblewords: said...

A well-crafted dark tale. The characters are incredibly real and resemble folks I've known, even though that ending has escaped them. :) Excellent.

Bitsy said...

I liked the ending. :)

Jingle said...

common issues,
skillfully told!

amazing tale!

Jingle said...

http://jingleyanqiu.wordpress.com/2010/04/27/magpie-tale-the-magical-wish/
mine is up.
thank you for the feedback!

rosaria said...

I came in from Amy's. Great place to land.

Life with Kaishon said...

This was just astounding. So well written. And so sad. Very, very sad.

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