Tuesday, January 30, 2007

juice and kookies

Hey guys! Here's my newest story. It started out one way and ended another. This is the first draft so please feel free to tear it up. There are places a I want to go back and add detail and solidify the story arc ( now that I know in my head what I want from this story), but I want to hear from you. Thanks!


juice and kookies

Junior curls the orange power cord around his hand and elbow, his sleepy gaze following it up and down over his sweaty dark skin. The smell of work is overpowering, it’s the same smell on his father every evening, and it makes him feel useful. Junior’s thoughts also turn round and round; thoughts of Mexico, of the hedges to be cut, of his new school which starts in a week, of his mother who’ll have dinner waiting on the table in a couple of hours. Mostly though, his thoughts swirl around the bouncing images of the blonde gringas two doors down, step-sisters both 15 years old like him, trapped, like him.

Junior, would you like some juice and cookies?

Uh, no thank you Mrs. Dukes.

Juice and kookies, that’s how your mother says it kookies. Her accent is so sweet. Kookies. She’s a delight, just a delight! Ok then, they’ll be here for you. Juice and kookies, oh my!

Junior would like to respond and tell her that the only kookies in that house are the two kooks who live there. But even that simple thought makes him feel shameful.

Mrs. Dukes moves back into the house like a balsam wood boat upon a stormy sea. Junior had started practicing CPR when he began working for the Dukes, considering their fragile existence, but then stopped when he also considered he might have to actually do it. Instead he ran a phone line down into the basement and one next to the back door of the house, the two places where he was most that didn’t have a phone.

He finished wrapping up the power cord and began pushing the electric mower back towards the garage. The sky was turning purple and plump, and when he walked by the juice and kookies (he’d have to practice his mother’s pronunciation with her) the cookies were dry and crumbly and about 5 years old. Their texture reminded him of the basement walls in the Duke’s home. The Dukes home was on the same plane as the nearby river and whenever the rain fell, the basement walls cried. The basement, where he would have to spend the rest of the day waterproofing the deteriorating cinder blocks that smelled of mold and moisture.

Hey Junior!

Hey Dr. Dukes!

Come on up here son, I’ve got a new tune for you.

Sure thing Mr. Dukes, be up in a minute.

He wanted to add and don’t call me son, I already have a father, but Dr. Dukes was going senile and there would be no point. Junior could talk to him in Spanish y no me llames hijo, ya tengo papa, and Dr. Dukes would probably just smile and laugh and pat him on the head and say you don’t say son, you don’t say. Just like the time Dr. Dukes was in the garage, practicing with his fly fishing rod, wrapping the line around a bag of fertilizer and crying out I got one, I got one! It broke Junior’s heart to see the excitement on that simple face. Junior remarked sadly that it was only a fertilizer bag, and not a fish. Dr. Dukes looked child like and had replied you don’t say son, you don’t say.

The screen door slammed behind him as fat raindrops began splatting against the driveway. It’s going to be a work in the basement kind of day for sure he thought. Junior moved through house, making his way past stacks of newspapers and dodging piles of clothes. Most of the surfaces he saw had opened packages of cookies, candy, and chips. His mother had been sick for a month with severe migraines and hadn’t been able to clean house for the Dukes. Mrs. Dukes had told Junior to tell his mom to not worry, that she and Dr. Dukes would chip in and keep the place clean until she was healthy enough to do her job. This meant herding trash or anything else that needed cleaning into piles so that Loopey could clean it up quickly when she finally got back.

Junior, come in son come in, said Dr. Dukes

Don’t get up Dr. Dukes, pleaded Junior, but Dr. Dukes did and revealed himself to be wearing faded pinstriped boxers with his dress shirt, tie, black socks and leather shoes. It could have been worse; Dr. Dukes could have simply revealed himself.

It’s no worry son, I just have to get my clarinet. Now, have you ever heard of the great musician, Satchmo?

Uh, sure, Louis Armstrong.
Right right, you’re so smart. Now, he had this little song not too many people know about called What a Wonderful World, and I’ve been practicing this sheet music all week. Tell me what you think. One, two, one, two, three, four SQUEEK, SQUAWK, BLEET BLEET. . .

Dr. Dukes choked the song from his beat up clarinet, much as he did the many other songs he played for Junior. In his time, Dr. Dukes had been a man of prestige in South Bend. The walls in his office were covered with certificates, awards, and photographs with other powerful and influential members of the community to prove it. Dr. Dukes had opened clinics for the poor, had served on several boards for art and education, and had served on a panel in Washington D.C. testifying to the health hazards of lead paint. Dr. Dukes even had a Purple Heart and Bronze Star awarded to him after serving proudly in World War II. Dr. He’d been a man of distinction and integrity. If only the certificates and photographs could talk, what would they say? Would they chastise him for answering the front door with no pants on, or for wandering into the basement at night and picking up an old shoe and calling in for reinforcements?

The Dukes had disappeared from community life some time ago, when Dr. Dukes’ episodes became too much to explain away. Mrs. Dukes had always been the strong woman behind the man, and now was content with just being a woman who could still thread her own needles and who could still drive her own car, albeit slowly, to the weekly sewing cirlce. Mrs. Dukes also enjoyed visits from the grandkids, who didn’t come often enough, chats with her neigbors. She was so neighborly in fact that she was more than happy to loan out her Loopey and Junior whenever someone else in the neighborhood needed a job well done. In fact, she enjoyed the celebrity like status her neighbors granted her for having the best help. She showed off her landscaped yard, or organized kitchen whenever she could. Oh, they’re wonderful people, she’d say, just wonderful.

Junior moved over to Dr. Dukes’ office window because over the sound of a dying goose that Dr. Dukes was imitating, he heard what was truly music to his ears. He heard the high pitched squeals of Amanda and Sarah. Dr. Dukes had closed his eyes and was playing away and didn’t notice what Junior had noticed. The girls were jumping on their trampoline, and from Dr. Duke’s office window he had a bird’s eye view of their frolicking. They were dressed in bathing suits and jumping in the rain. Their breasts moved in delayed reaction and the girls laughed into the sky, full throated laughing, pushing that glorious sound into the heavens.

Junior had first spotted the girls a month ago at orientation. The freshman class had gathered in the gym to pray for a great start and a great school year. Most of the kids held hands and had bowed their heads as instructed by the priest, Father Marques. He looked down at the pale white hands that held his own and he was amazed at the softness of them. He’d never touched a gringo for this long before, he could feel their pulses thudding away in their fingertips and it was disconcerting.

He was quick to pull away at amen and began looking for the exit but was forced to look around when one of the football players called out his name.

This is Junior guys, he’s from the Westside, he’s been holding his own out there.

Junior had been practicing two a days for two weeks and recognized some of the faces now approaching him.

Did you think you were trying out for futbol? asked a strawberry blonde haired girl.

Junior gave her a deadly stare as the group laughed.

Come on, lighten up, she said, it was only a joke.

This is as light as I get he replied and continued staring at her.

What an asshole, she said and as she walked away the brunette girl who had been standing next to her called out for her to wait up.

Junior turned around and walked out of the gymnasium.

Those two girls were now doing somersaults in the rain. In two piece bikinis. The whiteness of their skin in sharp contrast to the dark of the trampoline made Junior think of the sun. Indeed, they reminded him of shooting stars. He wanted to reach out to them, to touch them, to hold their hands in his. The closest he’d gotten was when they discovered he was working only two doors down. They waited for him in the alleyway most days at the end of the evening as brought out garbage, or yard waste, or just to getaway for a moment in the cool dark provided by the trees hanging over the back of the garage. At first they would just peek around their fence and giggle and duck back into their yard. Soon they would just stand and stare, sometimes drinking beers and sometimes smoking cigarettes and sometimes doing both.

Once they spoke to him, just once, in soft girl voices. They wanted to know if he remembered them and he said he did. They wanted to know if he had a girlfriend and he lied and said he did. They wanted to know if he had ever kissed a white girl and he lied again and said he did. They stepped closer to him and the butterflies in his stomach were as heavy as stones and he couldn’t move. The girls told him a story of being home alone and trapped like prisoners, but he didn’t listen to much of it. Instead he watched their eyes and mouths. He liked the way they moved. He stared at the angles of their lips and eyelids and was mesmerized by the way their skin pulled and relaxed. The blonde, Sarah, had freckles and her skin was lighter than Amanda’s. Amanda had darker skin, olive colored. The girls smelled like a sunny day. They were stepsisters but they loved each other they said. And they kissed each other to prove it.
The stiffness in Junior’s underwear was proof enough that he believed them. They pointed at his pants and started giggling. Junior became shameful and angry. He moved back into the Duke’s yard and slapped the gate shut. They begged and pleaded for him to come back out into the coolness of the alley, but he moved into the garage instead. He found a couple of two by fours and some nails and set them aside for later.

Well, look at those ripe melons, wouldja said Dr. Dukes. He was now standing next to Junior and was looking out the window also. Nothing compared to these though, said Dr. Dukes as Junior backed away in panic.

Take a look at these Junior said Dr. Dukes. He had opened an envelope that had appeared in his hand and pulled out a photo. Come on, take a look, he said.

Junior reached out and held the photo in a shaking hand. It was the image of a nude black woman in a banana skirt. It was signed, love Josephine.

That’s a dancer I met in France, before I came back from the war. That was a time I don’t wish on anyone. I was young and full of vinegar Junior, just full of it. I was just a medic then, but I could shoot just as straight as the rest of them, and I was out to keep those good for nothing jerrys away from America.

Junior was taken aback by the doctor’s sudden lucidity. His eyes twinkled and his brow was furrowed deep in thought. He no longer had the blank look of lumpy dough. This was the Dr. Dukes of the medals and certificates, not the Dr. Dukes of food stained t-shirts and bad body odor.

This woman, she was a dancer, he said. And when she danced she made me forget where I was. I was back in New York City where I shipped out from. Hell! I was back in Chicago where I grew up. I met her briefly, once, she said hi and smiled back at her. She asked me how she should sign the photo and I said sign it anyway you like. She gave me a quick peck on the cheek and was on to the next joe standing in line. The next day I was shipped home, the war had ended, I was no longer a man, I was a college student. That time over there, those dead boys, bits of them are still stranded over there with bits of me.

Dr. Dukes moved to a leather sofa in a dark corner of the office. The sky thundered and the rain fell as if thrown. Junior looked out the window again and noticed that the girls were no longer there. The trampoline was empty except for the water that now created a heavy belly on it.


He’s sleeping Mrs. Dukes.

Dr. Dukes was indeed asleep, a balsam wood plane, a WWII replica of a Grumman Bearcat, resting on his chest, moving up and down. Dr. Dukes slobbered on himself.

Oh, that man. That’s all he does. Well, what do you think of my new painting?

Junior reviewed the image and was immediately taken in by the bright colors of the painted sunset. Two people in a tiny sailboat in the bottom corner of the frame, sailing into a vast pink and orange and purple ocean. The boat was so small and there was no land in sight. It made Junior wonder if they would make it to wherever they were headed. Would anyone make it?


Charmi said...

Okay. Pare it down. More action. Less words. More dialogue, though. I always tell people that, but of course I always need to go the other way!

Charmi said...

I thought of something else. You need to be closer to this story, or maybe the reader needs to be. There is some sort of distance that I want erased. I wish I could put my finger on it, but I can't. Maybe it's too much passive voice. I'm not sure.

Jesus said...

Had the story workshopped tonight and I'm pleased with the response. people got the big picture and now I have to decide how/what to revise. I agree with you, I want more action and dialogue. The voice does seem to change as does perspective a few times which creates the distance I believe you are referring to, i agree too passive.