Sunday, September 30, 2012

Fiction #39: Sean Johnston

How Blue

This mad fucker rolled by him real fast, which was stupid, because he was carrying an ice cream cone and he almost dropped it. His mother would have been pissed. He would have dropped it right on his shirt. Why would that be his fault anyways?

Stupid. But he licked the purple ice cream quickly, in case there were other skateboarders on the way. In fact, never mind. He sat down on the curb to eat it. Who cares?

His father was walking up the street. Oh no. He was late. Wait, his father would be by him soon. What kind of place is this where a man wears a dark suit like that here in the suburbs on a sunny day. Question? No. A statement. But you don’t need a black suit, that’s for sure. An ice cream cone is what you need. Purple. That big book his dad reads while he chuckles madly to himself. Never mind. Get ready.

"Hi Dad."

"Hi chum."

Who is that coming out of the door? Oh Christ, it’s that dumb old lady from church. His dad would stand and talk to her, though Ronny heard every Sunday evening that she was a hypocrite. He heard it through the walls, along with stuff like take that hat off. It’s inappropriate. And so on. Why? Not in this setting.

There was a lot he wanted explained.

"Hello Mr. Wilson," the old hypocrite said. Ronny licked the ice cream and watched his dad’s moustache.

"Good afternoon, Minnie," his father said. "I am just walking home by my son on the sidewalk. He’s enjoying this purple cone while sitting on the curb."

"Of course," she said. "Now listen. We have to get a few things straight here."

"Absolutely, straight is the best way, I am sure," he said. He needed moustache wax or something. Ronny saw old guys in cartoons with sharp-ended moustaches big as some kind of wild animal’s horns. Instead, his dad wore a new-fashioned moustache that was shaped like a broom. Sometimes when he laughed it looked like his teeth hung directly from the moustache. Now that is cartoony in a bad way.

It appears he has no lips at all. Ronny shook his head sadly and imprinted his own cold lips on the purple cone. Who invented purple? Some people would call it pink but he knows it’s purple. Some people think wrong.

His dad was going on and on. They would both be late. But at least on the car ride over, his father would tell stories about the sorry old bitch he was jabbering to now.

"Listen, Ronny. Do you hear what Ms. Smith is saying?"

The old woman shaking her head, tsking, tsking.

"It’s not really the sort of thing you tell a boy, Mr. Wilson."

The big toothy smile opened up under the moustache and his dad said "Oh, that’s my mistake then. He’s right here after all, a part of this very environment. If I were to describe him I would say he fits in quite nicely. A boy with an ice cream cone sitting on the curb while his elegantly dressed father speaks to one of the elderly ladies from church."

The old lady with her old dress and her big dumb nose just stared at his father. Ha.

"Yes. I suppose you’re right. An intervention is not best subject for a boy. Drugs, right?"

"Booze," she said.

There is a lot of stuff that is bad but booze is the worst. Sometimes the kids that make him smoke are drunk. Sometimes they must be. You see it on TV. Sometimes he hears about the booze through walls. Wait a minute.

He stood up off the curb and stepped close to his father. With his coneless hand he reached for his father’s free hand. Wait a minute. A quick lick of the ice cream before his father leaned down. If he did. He did.

He leans down to kiss him on the top of the head when he’s been drinking. That’s the booze alright. He can smell it. Step a little closer you old hag. Why can’t a man enjoy a drink with his friends, and so on. The bottle, his old aunt called it. But she lived in a different province or state. Here they call it booze.

He kept missing pieces of the conversation. But this is good ice cream. Glad to get the waffle cone too. Old cones are stupid; they only get their flavor from the ice cream. This is from the cone itself. Waffle. Not really waffle but still. Waffle.

"Hey buddy, this nice church lady is coming over to our house tonight."

"What?" said the boy.

"Mizz Smith," his dad said. "Mizz Smith is coming to our house."

Both those characters stared at each other not saying anything. Can the booze just hit a man like that all of a sudden? The old woman wasn’t wearing anything on her feet. That’s odd. But, odder still is the look on her face. That’s right. He had two more bites left on his cone. That’s right, my dad is on the booze. He’s tied one on after work, I guess. Now mom will have to drive—

"Aren’t we going out to the Mediterranean Inn tonight?"

"Oh no," his father said, rubbing the top of the boy’s head. "Oh no. Your mother has invited this fine woman over for the evening. We musn’t be going to that local pizza place tonight after all."

The teeth under the moustache get bigger and bigger. But that’s right, Mizz something—Smith—you keep screwing your mouth up like that. No lips on her, either, just a colorless hole like the one under the cat’s tail.

The cat at her feet. Get the cat back in the house Mizz.

She didn’t notice anything. She leaned ahead and hissed in his father’s ear.

"Oh fuck. Just for your years of service then, sure," he said and hugged her in his arms. The purple cone was all gone as the old lady’s face went blank and white.

Oh Jesus, the booze. It was alright. It’s the booze never mind. No problem.

"I am so tired," his father said, and took his jacket off. "It’s the sun."

Well, it is inappropriate to wear all that black in the sun. It’s not right. Not walking home like that. Where’s the car? How could they go to the pizza place anyway? Where’s the car?

That mad fucker made him sit down on the curb with his ice cream because you don’t want that purple on your shirt when you’re going out to dinner. Your mother might not be as nice as your dad.

"Let’s have the intervention right here," his dad said.

Not here. Where is here? Only two blocks from their house. Let’s go home.

"Yup. That’s a great idea," his father said. He kicked his shoes off and stepped onto the lawn in his socks.

Then he sat down and took his socks off. He didn’t want to get back up. Ronny sat beside him and the nosey old bitch’s cat came to lick his fingers.

"I don’t want to stand up," his father said. Leaning back to stretch fully out. He stared at the sky. Ronny did too, but the old woman was on the phone. Soon his dad was snoring and Ronny was lying on the ground looking up at the clouds. There were only two and you can’t say they were any shape at all. One of them wanted to be a square and one of them wanted to be a circle; neither of them wanted to be a duck or a horse.

Mizz whatever, did she? She must have thought his eyes were closed. She must have thought she was wearing something under her skirt, who knows? The older boys who make Ronny smoke talk about things but this can’t be the thing they talk about. Why did she have to walk over him. Never mind. She was in her house.

This nervous guy who plays with his watch at the back of the church drove up in a wine-colored Lincoln. He honked the horn and his sleeping father woke up. When he saw the car he smiled and had a burst of energy.

"You want to sit in the front, Ronny?"

Not really no he didn’t. It’s hot and the seats are always heated. Why can’t you turn the seats off? Why can’t you turn the heat off? His father started snoring in the back seat.

"Let’s go get some pizza you mad fucker!" Ronny yelled. "Let’s get my mom."

The man said don’t say fucker and also Ronny’s mom didn’t want pizza. But we’re all going to get some coffee and some pizza, sure. Why not?

Was it the last straw? Ronny asked the man. Was his sorry ass out of here? Was it high time he stopped fucking up?

The man stared straight ahead and handed Ronny a piece of gum. It was mint. Who wants minty gum? Grown ups like old-fashioned flavors, not stuff that makes your tongue purple.

But doesn’t he love her? Isn’t it going to get better? Ronny wanted to ask. What about the things he can’t hear? What about the way they come out in the morning with red eyes and embarrassed smiles, making pancakes for him even though he already had toast? What about the cartoons he watches while they smile for some reason across him?

His father and mother always agree those hypocrites don’t know a thing about love. What about all the windows being open and the air being fresh as hell while his father stands bare-chested in the kitchen, smiling in the morning?

*

Sean Johnston 's latest book is The Ditch Was Lit Like This (Thistledown 2011). "How Blue" was longlisted in last year's CBC Literary Awards and he won a ReLit Award in 2003 for A Day Does Not Go By (Nightwood 2002). Gaspereau Press will publish his western novel, Listen All You Bullets, next year. He teaches at Okanagan College in Kelowna, but is currently on leave to work on a new novel. You can find him at www.seanjohnston.ca.

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