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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Unexpected Company, or Scary Story 2 of 3

Here we are again, a virtual Friday on an actual Thursday. Working 80% is not a bad thing, as it allows me to spend more time polishing my front steps, finding useful things to do with old pantyhose, and forming leftover pie crusts into alternately humorous and obscene shapes.

But enough about that! What does the iPod predict? Today is the day we predict my immediate future with the songs played on my morning commute.

Nobody Cares by The 88
Colossal by Wolfmother
No Smoke Without Fire by James Hunter
F**k You by Lily Allen
The Story by Brandi Carlile
Deft Left Hand by Babyshambles
Bonin' in the Boneyard by Fishbone

What's it all mean? Could it have anything to do with the fact that I've not had a cigarette since 4:something a.m. last Sunday?

Yes. I'm going to go with that.

And now, without further ado, we come to Scary Story #2 in our trilogy.

As a precursor, I'll tell you that I grew up in a trailer in a number of different "courts" or "parks". Same trailer, different locations.

Trailer parks aren't necessarily bad places to live any more than, say, taking the bus is bad transportation; but your chances of meeting the sad, the disenfranchised, the lonely are certainly enhanced.

Anyone reading this from Minneapolis may recognize it from one of my performances (aka, reading to an audience). To those people, I apologize; but I only have so many scary stories!

The following needs no further set-up other than to say it was about 1974 or so in a small town in Central Minnesota.


Trailer homes are not known for being soundproof in much the same way that they are not known for their excellent plumbing or their ability to stay earthbound in a stiff wind, and I was awakened one night by a shift in the usual nocturnal noises. I was a light sleeper, the result of sharing a bed with my sister, who wet it until she was six. There are few things as distressing as waking in a puddle of someone else’s urine.

I looked at the clock next to the bed: 12:20. Dad was at a gig. Mom should either be in the living room, watching TV, vodka gimlet on the coffee-table, or in the back bedroom, listening to talk radio, vodka gimlet on the nightstand. I could hear neither the TV nor the radio.

I pushed Karen’s leg off me and she snorted in her sleep. “If I tole you once,” she droned, “I tole you a t’ousan…” Her muttering collapsed into a snore.

I got out of bed and opened the door. My mother was dead-set against children creeping around the house at night. We were allowed up only if we had to “p, p, or p” -- pee, poop, or puke. Anything else could wait until the morning. Mother enforced this rule by making waffles, sloppily, the first available weekend and requiring that the offender do the dishes. In our house, this was a good deterrent.

I had just entered my parents’ half-closed bedroom door when I heard the sound of a man’s voice behind me. It was not my father’s.

I turned toward it, then back to my parents’ room. The radio on the nightstand had been turned down, the ice in the vodka gimlet was melting, iridescently, but where was my mother?

I heard the voice again, coming from the living room.

“Come ‘ere!”

I was suddenly aware of my blood moving through my veins, pudding-thick. I didn’t know this man’s voice. I didn’t like its tone.

I got on my hands and knees and crept down the hall toward the voice. All of the rooms were on my left: the bathroom, mine and Karen’s room, our brother Kevin’s, and then the living room.

I pause, less than a foot from the living room. The drapes are closed. The only light in the room filters in from the streetlights through the sheers behind the couch.

My mother is standing just inside the living room. I can almost touch her, but I don’t. She is staring in the direction of the couch.

The outline of a man’s head is framed against the window. It is dark enough in the room that he is all outline, no details. He is sitting on our couch, smoking a cigarette.

“Come sit by me.”

“No, thank you,” my mother says. There is a tremble in her voice I have never heard before.

“I said, come ‘ere!” the man says, louder. His voice is slurred. I raise my hand to my mouth, afraid I will cry out. I don’t want him to know I am here.

“And I said, no, thank you,” my mother says. She does sit, though, in the chair just to the left of the entry into the living room. I can no longer see her. On my hands and knees, I move in as far as I dare. I can make out her profile. Fear leaches the iron from my blood, and I am boneless.

“I was in ‘Nam,” he says.

“I see,” my mother says.

The man on the couch leans forward. “I died,” he said. “I DIED. They putta metal plate in my head, man, an’ I don’t know why --” he trails off. There is silence as he lifts a bottle out of the shadow of his lap and takes a long drink. I feel nauseous. The only phone is in the kitchen, and it’s on the other side of the living room. The back door cannot be opened without making noise. The windows are louvered six-inch slats.

The man on the couch suddenly shouts. “I DIED!”

“I’m sorry,” my mother says, quietly.

“She’s sorry,” he slurs, head slumping forward. “I died f’yer sins,” he mutters. He raises the bottle to his lips, tips his head, then the bottle. Framed by the streetlight through the window behind him, he looks like a piece of art, as if he’s been cut out of black construction paper. The absence of sound presses on my eardrums. I fight the urge to swallow, afraid he will hear it.

Finally my mother speaks. “Thank you,” she says.

The man on the couch takes another long drink, belches loudly and drinks again. I finally dare to swallow, imagining that the sound of his own swallowing will drown mine out. The man on the couch tucks his bottle between his legs. He raises his arms.

“We c’n do innythin we wan’ ‘ere,” he slurs. “This MY worl’. I died, goddamit. I died, an’ now –“ He spreads his arms grandly, and his head flops backward. “I am the TIME WIZARD.”

“Oh,” my mother says. Her voice is very soft.

I watch his arms move, their silhouettes against the windows, in what I imagine to be karate moves. Suddenly he stops, his arms raised above his head. He takes a deep breath. Time stops as the world waits for what will come next.

“I’m the TIME WIZARD!” he shouts. “This MY worl’, an’ wha’ we do ‘ere, stays ‘ere, unnerstan’? Y’unnerstan’? We c’n do wevver we wan’. We ca’go f’ard. We ca’ go bakkard.” His hands weave a scrolling tapestry of drunkenness and delusion in the air. He reminds me of footage of Charles Manson.

“Forward and backward?” my mother says. “In time?”

“Wevver. In time, yeah,” he says.

“And what do you have in mind?” my mother says. Her voice sounds calm and patient – and familiar. I’ve heard this tone before. In the deep black of the trailer, my fear steps back. My mother has a plan.

“Innythin’. We ca’…” he trails off, confused.

His head drops forward again, and I watch the lit end of his cigarette as he grinds his fist into his temple. His head snaps up abruptly. “I diddit fer YOU, man! I died fer YOU. I served my COUNTRY, goddammit!” He is breathing heavily, and my hands begin to shake. I shove them under my knees, sitting on them. I think of my father on the stage of the Crow Bar on the other side of town. I imagine he is half-way through their version of “Born to be Wild”, a leather aviator’s hat on his head, smiling.

The man on the couch raises his bottle and drinks. The hand with the bottle drops into his lap. The hand with the cigarette appears. His pupils and the end of his nose glow as he inhales. “I diddit fer you.”

In the darkness, my mother speaks. “Of course you did.” Her voice is friendly, almost conspiratorial. “You served your country. You’re goddam right. You’re a hero. And believe me, I appreciate everything you’ve done“ – she stops – “ I’m sorry. I didn’t catch your name.”

The man is staring drunkenly in the direction of my mother. “Uh. Mark,” he says.

Her request for his name has caught him off-guard. He lifts the bottle to his lips and drinks.

“Mark,” she continues. Her voice is warm and firm, slow and kind, as if speaking to a child. “I appreciate the sacrifices you made. You’ve suffered. I hear it in your voice. I truly do. You think I don’t know that? Do you think I don’t know that, Mark? You’re a hero, Mark. A hero. But do you get any credit? No. They got ya comin’ and goin’, don’t they, Mark? Comin’ and goin’.”

Mark has been completely still since my mother started talking. He now bobs his head slowly, and I find myself nodding, too. “Comin’ an’ goin’,” he repeats.

“That’s right, Mark. But we know, don’t we? You’re goddam right we do. You soldiers don’t get the respect you deserve.” She pauses. “I’ve learned a lot tonight. But, Mark, I have to tell you: you know, I work in the morning. You didn’t call first…”

Mark nods heavily at this. It’s true. He didn’t call. His silhouette loses its edges as he slumps drunkenly forward.

My mother raises her right arm into the air. “Here’s to calling first next time, huh, Mark?” Mark’s head snaps up. “Come on, Mark!” she says. “Raise yer drink! To the good ol’ USA! I’ll drink to that!”

My mother brings an imaginary drink to her lips and slams it. Mark raises his bottle. “Ahl drinka tha’!”, he bawls. He puts the bottle to his lips and drinks deeply.

“Chin up, Mark! Rally the troops!”

“Ahl drinka tha’!” He drinks again. He belches loudly. “’scuse me,” he says.

My mother shifts in her seat. “I’m glad we met. You know, we almost didn’t meet, do you know that?” She rises from her chair and walks to the front door. She opens it and looks to the form on the couch.

“I appreciate everything you’ve done. I really do. You’re all right in my book, Mark. Yes, you are. Now you make sure that you drink plenty of water before you go to bed tonight, you’ll do that for me, won’t you?”

I am in awe of my mother.

Mark stands drunkenly, nodding, patting the couch absentmindedly for fallen keys or coins, makes sure he’s leaving with everything he came in with. He stumbles against the coffee table, and she catches him as he crashes into the railing around the dining room. She pushes him toward the door as if they are jostling in line for seconds. She pushes him out the front door and onto the front steps.

In the hall doorway, I stand, rubbing the shag-carpet indentations on my knees. I feel ridiculously relieved. Mark is gone.

“You have a restful night now,” my mother says, shutting the door. “Don’t be a stranger,” she calls.

“Hey,” he yells. My mother opens the door a crack.

“Hey,” he slurs. “Hey, hey. Ah jus’ wanna –“

“You’re welcome,” my mother says. She shuts the door and locks it.

She turns, with an enormous sigh. Seeing me in the hallway, she cocks her head quizzically; And I say what all us kids say when we are caught out of bed after lights out: “I had to poop.”

We never saw Mark again.


Lee the Hot Flash Queen said...

Great post. New follower and thanks for stopping by and commenting!!

Douglas said...

Freaky Deeky! I lived in two trailer parks, same trailer, and never had anything like that happen. As long as you don't count the time I came home and had to crawl in and across the living room floor to my bedroom at age 17 and drunk as ol' Mark there. Nope, my parks were full of old people mostly which is scary in its own way, I guess.

Jess said...

Ohhhh good lord. Yeah, no, I would have had to poop during and after that whole thing!

Jayne Martin said...

That's a helluva story and you are an amazing writer.

The Jules said...

I swear I was just there!

Such great writing. You're like some sort of . . . I dunno . . . time wizard.

I don't think much beats a combination of PTSD, head injury and alcohol for sheer bonkeritis.

Fair play to your mum.

Suzy said...

The moment I saw when you had had your last cig, I broke into a sweat. I did that for 2 years. If I even had ONE today, I'd be up to a pack in an hour.

the iNDefatigable mjenks said...

Nicely done. Nicely done. I liked it very much. I could see his eyes and nose glowing with each drag on his cigarette.

I applaud you from the darkened hallway.

Linda said...

Great post- very well written and compelling. And, nice job mom,dealing with Mark.

Anonymous said...

Oh goodness me - fabulous writing. Amazing mum! I was literally on the edge of my chair!

kimber p said...

Holy crap Pearl...that was a book in the making if I EVER read it!!! That captivated me from the first sentence until the narrow escape by closing the door end...you're amazing. Simply amazing.

and your mom...omg....that's WOW. I had to talk my way out of a very scary situation once in a truck and he was drunker than a monkey and I kept my calm too, while my insides were screaming---I totally felt her anguish and request for calm she gave her brain and knees...it turned out ok too, but omg. SCARY.

Savvy Gal said...

thank you for your kind comment on my blog. hope you have a great day.

Kr√ęg said...

Cool story.
Also, Wolfmother kicks a$$.

Anonymous said...

No cigarette in almost a week Pearl?! Your body maybe purging itself so I'd expect some of your future posts to be quite surreal if you do intend giving up!!

Ann's Rants said...

Jesus Pearl. Every time I come here I get heart palpitations.

Elliott said...

Yow. Something to keep in mind now that my daughter has moved into a trailer park 1300 miles away.

justsomethoughts... said...

if i had a dollar for every time i woke up in a puddle of someone elses urine...

amazing descriptions.
spot-on with the drunken slurring.

Steam Me Up, Kid said...

I read this a few hours ago and I've been peering out my windows today and not realizing why, but now I remember. You gave me the heebie jeebies big time. I want my mommy. Scratch that, I want YOUR mommy.

Irish Gumbo said...

Holy schmokes...every so often you lay down something that comes completely out of left field and sandbags me.

That was scary and tense and amazing. You nailed the experience.

Now, about Fishbone on your iPod: my dear, you are hipness incarnate :)

Lynn said...

I absolutely love your writing style!
You had me in the traier with you!

Green-Eyed Momster said...

Whoa, I was scared for you, Pearl! Glad you said you had to poop.
Great post!


The Retired One said...

I was holding my breath there for a moment, Pearl. For you and your mother.
We once lived in a trailer when my dad was in the Air force and while we were waiting for base housing...
One hot night outside of Topeka in this trailer court, my mom heard a couple next door arguing. Very. Loudly.
The next thing she heard the woman scream out: "Oh my God...NO!" and she heard a gun shot. Followed by another gun shot.
She got up and called the police and they came and found two bodies.
A murder suicide.
I can't believe I slept through it.

Janie at Sounding Forth said...

Wow!!! What a story. Your mom must have been something else!

Christine Gram said...

Right when you were rubbing your knees, I realized my toes had gone numb from all my weight pressing down on them.

Amazing writing Pearl!

SparkleFarkle said...

Great story! I'm headed to the bathroom.

bettyl said...


Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

Your level of detail is amazing.

Jocelyn, from O Mighty Crisis, sent me over here after reading my post about a similar situation.