By Adam Davidow
“So it’s decided then.”
“Sounds like it.”
Marvin walks over to Helen who is sitting at the table eating a carbohydrate rich breakfast. While Marvin clumsily dumps his dishes in the sink, making a louder than normal crashing sound and hurrying over to Helen, the piercing sunlight lights up his button down shirt and reflects off his three day old facial growth. He bends down and kisses her hand, then her arm, then her shoulder, her neck just under her ear, and finally a long kiss before pulling back and running his hand through her hair.
“I love you.”
“I love you, too. But, I want you to call Doc Shanley and have him snip that thing of yours. I thought you were too old for this.”
Marvin seats himself next to her.
“You thought I was too old? You’re the one talking about the “change” all the time like it’s the end of your life.” They both laugh.
“I’ll be shooting blanks in no time.”
“Are you sure you’ll still be able to fulfill your duties after this?”
“Doc says he’s never had any permanent problems with any of his patients. I asked him if he ever had a patient go limp as a result of a snip job. He said no. That’s good enough for me. In two months we’ll never have to worry about this again.”
Helen squirms at a thought.
Marvin leans in and plants another long, meaningful kiss on her perfectly shaped mouth. She looks at him as he slowly pulls back.
“I’ll see you later.” Helen coyly looks at him as he walks out of the kitchen.
The front door closes. Oscar, tall, lanky and with not an unblemished facial complexion swiftly descends the stairs and walks into the kitchen. His mother is reading a newspaper. Oscar carries his backpack and viola. He opens the refrigerator, grabs a brown paper bag and stuffs it into his slightly unzipped backpack.
“Bye, Mom.” He leans in to kiss her cheek, supported by her neck, slightly askew. He walks out. The front door closes.
A few kids are playing volleyball in the distance while most of the kids eat their lunches on the grass or the amphitheatre at the end of the building. Oscar walks lazily over and sits down next to another boy and three girls.
“’Sup, my boy?” Arturo asks, and turns to the girls. “Our boy here got busted in math class. Tell ‘em what happened.”
Oscar slides his backpack away from him a bit and lies back on his elbows and answers without making any eye contact with his friends.
“I drew a picture of Mr. G______ in the back of my book…and he saw it.”
“That’s so mean,” Letty empathizes. “He’s just an old man about to retire. His wife is dead, he’s old and lonely…”
“He’s a fuckin’ asshole,” Arturo interrupts.
“You’re SO mean.” Letty punches Arturo in the arm.
“Whatever. Dude, so what did Ms. W_______ do when you got to the office?”
“Told me to leave him alone from now on and to sit on the bench.”
“See, she know’s he’s fucked up. Did she call your parents?”
“No, thank God.” Oscar takes a bit if a cracker and puts the rest back into the bag. He takes a juice box from the bag and drinks it down with one big swig. He then takes out his viola and plays Berlioz’s “Messe des Morts.”
“Did you guys watch X-Files yesterday?” Letty asks.
“Cancerman rules.” Arturo notes.
“Letty has a thing for Krycek.” Laughter. “It’s his amputated arm that really gets her going.”
“What? You told me that the other day.”
“At least he’s young! You like Cancerman.” They all laugh.
“Just his voice, not his looks…Close your eyes and it doesn’t matter what he looks like.” More laughter.
Oscar continues playing and upon finishing he puts the viola back in the case. The bell rings and students rise from their places and/or scurry more quickly back towards classrooms. All five rise from their places. Arturo tosses Oscar his bag of trash and Oscar combines his bag with Arturo’s and tosses both into a trash can.
The girls put their yogurt containers into plastic bags, zip them up and put them back into their backpacks. Partings are said, hugs and kisses given and everyone goes on their ways.
Helen drives home from her part-time job making desktop backgrounds out of the previous day’s baseball double play footage. Two bags of groceries sit next to her on the passenger seat of her 4-door mid-late model Japanese car. She looks in the mirror and wipes a bit of dried saliva from the corner of her mouth then rubs it into her index finger and thumb. Coming to a stop, she takes a deep breath and sighs, then relaxes her whole body and melts into the seat. She reaches down and scratches up and underneath her skirt. She shudders and then smiles.
Walking down a suburban street a couple of blocks from home, backpack hanging low from both shoulders, sixteen year old Oscar is carrying his viola in one hand and trying to rid his fingers of chewing gum with the other. A dog barks and he looks up and over without stopping. Finally he walks to the curb and reaches down, dragging his fingers across the curb until the gum rolls up and off. He runs his fingers through the grass in the yard adjacent to the curb at which he stopped. His fingers are green and wet and he wipes them again on his pants, transferring the stain. The viola slips off the curb and Oscar successfully yanks it up before it hits the street and continues his walk home.
‘I have to get this in the oven!’
Helen virtually throws the casserole, landing with a “clang”, onto the rack. The oven mitt, with a move becoming a martial artist, slides from her hand and flies across the kitchen, landing little more than halfway on the cold, dark marble countertop. She wipes her hand on a kitchen towel, decorated with chickens and which she takes from the refrigerator door, and tosses it on the counter atop the mitt, which falls to the floor. As though everything rides on this, she lunges and tries to break its fall. She doesn’t. I’m fed up with this world, she thinks. She puts her hand on her slightly distended belly. ‘November,’ she thinks.
“Hold on, sweetie.” The grating sound of the oven door opening reaches Oscar’s ears. “I have to get this in the oven.”
He closes the front door and leans in just enough for his backpack to slide off of his shoulders and down to his hand. He enters the living room, last decorated in 1987, and heads toward the stairs. Using the rail for leverage, Oscar centripetally propels himself up the first few steps, slowing for the rest of the climb. At the top of the stairs he makes a sharp right into his room.
“OK, Oscar,” she leans in from the kitchen, “Oscar?”
He throws the backpack in a corner and places the viola on his bed. Pushing the viola to the side, against the wall, Oscar lies down and shuts his eyes. After a minute he grabs his remote control. X-Files is on TV and he jumps up to grab his viola. He plays along with the program’s theme music.
Oscar sits at his desk, drawing. The room is dark: dark blue music poster covered walls, purple sheets covering the window, black sheets and comforter, lightly stained, and dark brown carpet. To show he is the same as everyone else, a stolen metal “No Parking Anytime” sign hangs above his bed. The sun has been drawing a bright line down the southeast corner of his room for the last thirty minutes. He shifts at his desk to allow as much light as he can on reach his work.
His desk is covered with expensive pencils of various colors, erasers, a sharpener and two multiple pocket expanding file folders. Halfway out of one of the folders lies a few issues of manga graphic novels and comics. Next to those is a book called How to Draw Manga. Oscar’s head rotates back and forth between his paper and the book. He shuffles a couple of comics out from the folder, then looks back at the project. He erases frantically. The phone rings.
“Hello…Hey, What’s up?…Not much, I’m doing some drawing…Yeah, come on over.”
Marvin is ready to go home, having spent the better part of two weeks working on the latest in a long line of useless projects designed to keep him busy, nothing more. He checks his email one last time, sighs, then shuts down his three months since obsolete computer. His cell phone appears through his right chest pocket, warped from the weight of the phone.
In back of his 1970’s brown metal desk, on a gray-beige matte finished wall, is an inspirational poster with the caption “Perseverance” and containing a photograph of a man climbing a granite monolith. A couple of family photos stand in one corner of his desk in back of an electronic pencil sharpener. An “in-box” on the opposite corner is mostly neatly stacked with inter-office envelopes mostly addressed to Marvin. His “executive” style chair squeaks as he spins and leans a bit in all directions trying to get comfortable. Marvin dials in.
Not another voicemail upgrade, he thinks to himself, when this contract expires, I’m fuckin gone. He listens, presses a few buttons, listens some more, then chuckles to himself.
“A deleted message recovery feature…now I have to tell it twice to do what I want it to do.”
It takes him a few minutes to get through the voicemail upgrade instructions. Marvin lets out a quiet snort as he listens to his messages. He presses the delete button, packs up his bag, and squints as he rises from his desk, putting his hand on his desk and pushing slightly for assistance. After recovering he walks out and shuts the door behind him. The other denizens are locking their cubes and going somewhere. Loosening his tie, Marvin walks down the fluorescent corridor.
“Are you serious?”
“Wow. So how do you feel about that?”
“Well, I’m fine with it. I mean, I’ve been an only child for over sixteen years and they know that. They said they don’t expect anything from me except to be supportive.”
“You’re parents are so cool.” Samantha lies back on Oscar’s bed and looks up at the ceiling for a moment, then back at Oscar. “Except now you’ll be a typical two parents, two kids family, like mine. Kinda boring.”
“My family will never be typical. And as for boring…ah, excitement is overrated.”
Samantha rolls her eyes then looks back at the ceiling.
“That’s it? They didn’t say anything else?”
“What else can they say? I told them congratulations and of course it’s gonna be kinda cool to have a brother or sister. What else is there to say?”
Samantha gets up from his bed and walks to the desk.
“What are ya working on?”
Oscar covers up a piece of thick paper with a comic book.
“I’m trying to get ideas for drawings. Manga looks so feverishly drawn, it gets my mind racing and helps me come up with ideas.”
She leans over and tries to get a peek but nothing is exposed.
“Trevor likes that Japanese porno cartoon stuff.”
“Trevor, eh? Funny. You’re parents let him?”
“They don’t know. Are you drawing that stuff?”
“Some of it might cross that line between Hentai, what Trevor has, and plain Manga.”
“I don’t want to know what Trevor does with that stuff.”
“Some of those chicks are pretty hot.”
Sam looks jealous and then laughs.
“Some of the guys are too.” She winks. Oscar looks appalled then laughs. He grabs her around her waist and pulls her in close. She smiles then leans down; he forcefully pushes his mouth into hers.
“Chris Carter has another series,” calls Helen from under the grey jersey-knit covers of their full-size bed. She looks over at the bathroom door, slightly ajar. The space between is full of Marvin’s pleasingly nude body applying shaving cream. Steam wafts into the bedroom as the bathroom cools down. Helen watches a towel spread out and wrap aound his body. He turns, allowing her the small of his back, his shoulders, his legs. She leans a little.
“Did you hear me?”
He leans to see. “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.”
“I just said that Chris Carter has another series. It’s called ‘Millennium.’”
He continues with his shave. She watches through the cracked door as his arms move up and down and then shake, rinsing the razor in the sink. A swishy sound. Scrape. Scrape. Swish. Finished, he emerges wiping his face on a towel.
He looks down and winks. She rolls her eyes.
“What’s this one about?
“What’s the new Chris Carter series about?”
“Bah. Serial killers were always a bore in my book. About as intriguing as retired people in Winnebago’s.” He goes back to the bathroom, turns off the light and returns without the towel.
“Why is a series about serial killers called ‘Millenium’ anyway? Is it about the tribulation?” He laughs to himself. “God’s gonna kill everyone one by one?”
“Always the misanthrope.”
“Joking about serial killers, old people and God is not the sign of a true misanthrope. All three are hardly lie-affirming ideas.”
“Just come here, old man.”
He climbs into bed and pulls the covers up. Helen moves close to Marvin, nuzzling her head against his chest, his arm around her. She reaches down to touch him.
“How do you think things are things down there? Doc Shanley said you should do it this week?”
“I’m gonna do it tomorrow.” He opens his drawer and shows Helen a clear plastic cup, sealed, sterile, with an orange top and Marvin’s name on it. He smiles.
“Oh, well, do you need some privacy?” She looks at him, almost laughing.
“Nah, he didn’t say anything about not contaminating it with saliva. So you can do your duty.”
Helen looks at him, appalled.
“What are you gonna do with it?”
“Put it in the fridge I guess. What else should I do with it?”
“Do they need to be cold? They’re gonna die, right? Or should you freeze it?”
Marvin laughs, then looks at her, puzzlingly.
“I suppose it doesn’t matter if they’re dead so long as they are there, right? They aren’t gonna go anywhere.”
“I don’t know, what did Doc say?”
“He didn’t.” Marvin hands her the cup.
Oscar and Arturo sit on a sloping green bank sufficiently away from the rest of the student body yet close enough to be within reach of the audible sounds of the lunchtime hour. Arturo, sitting with his back against a tree, eats a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and is having trouble removing bread from the roof of his mouth, looking much like a cat spastically trying to capture something that exists only in it’s own mind. Oscar, sitting cross-legged and hunched over, flips through a series of tri-folded papers with drawings on them.
“Alright, you wanna know what I’ve been working on all this time?”
“I don’t really care anymore,” Arturo snidely replies.
Oscar arranges the tri-folds, four of them, into a fan in his hand.
“They look like those safety card things you see in the seat pouch on airplanes…the ones that tell you what to do in case you’re gonna die.”
Arturo opens one that is lined on one side with solid one-inch band all across the top. On the front is a drawing of an airplane very similar the kind seen on passenger airline safety briefing cards. A small gust of wind blows the front-page open. Arturo secures it in his hand, opens it up and looks at it. He looks at a smiling Oscar. Arturo bursts with laughter.
“Pretty good, huh?”
“Stylistically, yeah. I’ve only been on a couple of airplanes but from what I remember that’s pretty much what the drawings look like.”
He peers closer at the card, pulling it towards his face, sitting up and leaning in.
“Dude, this is hilarious. I wonder if there is a market for this stuff. Will people buy this?”
“They buy Hentai and K/S erotica.”
“”What’s K/S erotica?”
“It’s this genre of gay porn literature involving different scenarios, all involving sex ultimately at least, and all involving Captain Kirk and Doctor Spock.”
“No way. That’s some fucked up shit.”
Arturo looks over the card in more detail. His breathing increases a bit, he begins blushing.
“How do you know about that stuff?” he looks at Oscar peculiarly.
Oscar leans back on his elbows and brushes a couple of tri-fold papers aside, fanning them out, and twists his head to get a better look. He reaches out and grabs the card back from Arturo.
“Gimme that back. And you wonder if there’s a market for it. I think I’m best friends the market for this stuff.” Oscar laughs. He tucks the card into his folder,
“So anyway, last time I flew I wondered if there was such a thing. I was looking at the passenger safety cards and noticed that the pictures are pretty descriptive and instructional, I mean they get the message across…the ‘how to’ aspect of the safety instructions. But I was thinking that the people are so blank, non-descript, except that you can tell they are human. It’s kind of the opposite of manga characters. Then I just started drawing, fucking around.”
“What’s that?” Samantha walks up behind the boys and slides down with her legs around Oscar, grabbing one the cards that lies fanned out on the ground next to him and softly kissing and licking his neck. Oscar tries to prevent her theft but is distracted. Letty sits next to Arturo and gives him a punch in the shoulder. Arturo smiles.
“Hey. Gimme that.” Oscar finally awakens.
Sam gets up, walking away briskly a few feet away and looks at the cover inquisitively. She opens it up and starts laughing until a look of concern covers her. Letty and Arturo look on.
“Is that a good laugh or a bad laugh?”
“I don’t know. When did you decide to do this? What made you decide to do this?”
“It just seemed fun. Hey, Trevor would like that, hah?”
“She looks at the card more closely. The top of the card says “Safety Instructions: Aer Lingus – BJ-69” and shows a couple, in an airplane, step-by step and square by square, engaging in a 69 position. One representation each for: a water landing, crash landing, with oxygen masks, holding onto the seat cushions for floatation devices, sliding down the inflatable escape route. Arturo watches Sam as she shakes her head. Sam walks over and takes the rest of the ”cards.” Each one is a different sexual position in each of the airplane’s possible emergency circumstances.
“Do your parents know you do this?”
“I told you my family will never be typical.”
Marvin walks into the medical clinic holding his briefcase.
“May I help you?” The nurse asks. Marvin rustles around without looking, inside his briefcase.
“I have something for Dr. Shanley.” He smiles.
“Oh yes, Dr. Shanley.” She smiles back and winks. Marvin abruptly straightens up. He continues his search, this time propping the case up on the counter and opening it.
“It’s not here.” He mutters under his breath, laughing to himself. “I’m sorry, it’s not here. I’ll have to bring it in later.”
He closes up the briefcase and walks out to his car, taking his cell phone out of his pocket before opening the door and climbing in. He speed dials a number.
“Hey, did you do something with my boys? I opened my briefcase and they aren’t in there?”
“I didn’t do anything with it. Did they run off somewhere?” A passenger in Marvin’s car could hear Helen’s laughter through his phone.
“Very funny. It’s embarrassing enough to go in there at all, doggy bag in hand, but then to not have it at all. Shit!” He looks through his briefcase again and slams it shut. “I guess they’re at home.”
“Who is at home?”
Marvin has to pull the phone away from his ear.
“It’s not funny.”
Oscar and his friends are calming down after much laughter and Oscar puts his cards away in his backpack. Letty and Sam eat carrot sticks and celery, respectively; both with peanut butter. Arturo is eating microwaveable taquitos.
“These things always make me shit within five minutes. I don’t know why I still eat them.”
“You sure it’s not just a clandestine way of binging and purging?” Oscar asks, taking his lunch from his backpack.
“Gross, you guys, and mean.”
Arturo shrugs and continues eating, as do the girls. Oscar opens up his lunch bag and peers inside. He lifts the bag towards his face and looks closer, squinting. Lowering the bag and reaching inside, he turns his head and gives Sam a questioning look. He pulls his hand out of the bag and holds a specimen cup, no longer sterile, with the name “Marvin N_______” on the side.