3818 MYSTIC COURT
by Deborah L. Reed
The feeling would not go away. Most feelings come and go, especially at her age. One day she’d be on top of the world because the new kid in algebra class sat by her in the cafeteria. The next day she’d awake feeling depressed, for no discernible reason, and stay that way the rest of the day. But this feeling, the Bad one, the one she’d had since Uncle Mark moved in, was a constant companion, the only constant, in fact, in her life now. And it was getting worse.
It was important that she hide it, of course, for many reasons, her mother being one of the main ones. Kelly was all too aware of the pressures her mother was under, she was reminded of them daily. Her mother’s plate, it seemed, was too full for her to handle alone. Four kids under the age of thirteen, husband overseas, this huge house to run on precious little money and no one but Kelly to help her. Kelly the oldest, Kelly the most dependable, Kelly the good one who never caused her any trouble. No, she could not tell her mother that she was Kelly, the one who was slowly, irrevocably sliding into madness.
The house was clean when she arrived home and her mother was reading on the couch. Both good signs. Apparently today had been one of the good ones. Her mother had coped, had not spent the day in front of the TV mindlessly eating junk food, or stretched out on the couch, staring at nothing while the Little Ones destroyed the house. This morning she had prepared breakfast for Kelly while the Little Ones slept, had sent her off to school with a quick kiss—I hope you have a good day, honey—and then had gone about the business of being a homemaker, cleaning the house, tending to the children. She’d been a normal mother today, a fact Kelly was grateful for. The Darkness had been particularly bad this afternoon, hitting her right before lunch and remaining until she had boarded the bus after school.
“Hey, baby,” Jacqueline looked up from the book. “How was your day?”
“It was okay, I guess,” Kelly sat on the side of the couch near her mother’s feet. “The house looks nice.”
Jacqueline scooted a little on the couch, moving her legs to give Kelly more room. “Break any hearts today?”
“Mooom. I go to school to learn, not look at boys.”
“Yeah, right,” Her mother deadpanned. This is good, Kelly thought. Mom’s doing just fine today.
“Where is everyone?”
“Mark took the Little Ones for ice cream. They should be back soon. He wanted to spend a little time with them before he leaves Wednesday.”
“Kelly…” her mother admonished. Don’t start, her tone of voice implied.
“How long will he be gone this time?”
“Just a few days. Honey, I wish you’d make more of an effort with him. He’s been such a help with your father away. He loves you so much, he’s told me how much it hurts that you go out of your way to avoid him like you do.”
I can’t avoid him enough, Mom, and that’s the problem. Kelly kept the thought to herself.
“He’s taking my car,” her mother was saying.
”The brakes are going out on his; he might not have the time to fix them until he gets back.”
Kelly closed her eyes in disgust. Couldn’t her mother see? Surely her brother’s lifestyle must look odd to her. Mark didn’t work, not really. He took periodic “sales trips” every other week or so, returning home with large amounts of cash. He never told them where exactly where it was he was going, what he did when he got there, or precisely what it was that he sold. The phone calls he received right before he left went unexplained also.
Uncle Mark, Kelly was convinced, was a dope runner. A mule, she’d heard they were called. The only hole in her theory was her uncle’s beloved car, a 1975 cherry red Mustang. A little too conspicuous when crossing the border, it seemed to her, but then what did she know? Maybe he rented another one in San Antonio or something. At any rate, her uncle was a criminal in more ways than one, the reason for the Darkness.
She detested the very thought of him.
Okay, this is not good, Kelly thought when she woke the next morning. The room was dark, darker than it should be at 6:30 in the morning.
She had slept fitfully since 3:15, when her uncle had finally departed. He’d awoken her in the middle of the night—the only time he could assure of being alone with her—with his hands around her neck. It would be so easy to kill you, he’d said, then slipped into bed beside her.
Kelly had gone to another place after that, the place she’d taught herself to go to, a place where she wasn’t Kelly, wasn’t anybody in fact. She was nothing. It was getting harder and harder to return from that place, she was discovering, and when she did, the Darkness was usually stronger.
And now her whole room was dark. Kelly had often fantasized of explaining the Darkness to somebody, a family therapist perhaps, one who would take the tangled threads of her family and reweave them somehow, transforming them into a healthy, happy unit, like the ones her friends had. It’s sort of like being in a movie theater after the movie has started, she would say. You know there are people there, and chairs, and a screen, but you can’t see them very well, they’re just shadows and gray figures. You have to get to your seat, so you must somehow maneuver yourself around the objects, the ones you can barely see. And most importantly, you must not let anyone else know the handicap you are struggling under. Because they would surely put you away, and then what would happen to Mom and the Little Ones?
As Kelly lay thinking, the darkness receded a little. Perhaps it wasn’t the Darkness at all, but rather the natural grayness of early morning. She’d leave the light off while she got dressed. The room would get brighter and brighter, she decided, until it was flooded by light. Mom would make her breakfast again, she’d set off to school like a normal teenager, and tomorrow Uncle Mark would be gone, for a few days anyway.
Kelly stumbled around the room, groping in her closet for jeans and a shirt. Her underwear drawer presented a problem as she had to feel blindly for a bra and panties. No jewelry today, she decided, it was just too complicated. She fumbled her way down the hall to the kitchen. The house was preternaturally quiet—she was the only one awake. No breakfast today apparently.
Slowly the Darkness receded, so subtlety that she was unaware of the precise moment when it was gone, like the moment when night gives way to dawn. Except for coping with the Bad Feeling, which was always with her, Kelly was able to convince herself that all was right in her world, that she would have a normal school day like everyone else.
When the bus let her out at the corner that afternoon, the first thing she saw was Uncle Mark. He was crouched beside the Mustang, removing a jack from the underbelly of the car. Kelly’s hopes rose. Perhaps he wouldn’t be taking Mom’s car after all.
“Kelly-O,” he greeted her. “How was your day?”
How could he, Kelly thought. How can he just pretend like last night never happened?
“Fine,” she answered shortly.
Mark stood from his crouch to grab her arm as she passed him. “We’re taking the Little Ones to Waco. Red Lobster and a movie. Your mom thought you might want to go with us.”
Kelly angrily shook her arm from his grasp. “Well, she’s wrong.”
“Hey, don’t go away mad,” Mark yelled to her retreating back.
The house was a wreck, the Little Ones unkempt, clad in little more than their underwear. Mom was on the couch, her head in her hands. She looked up as Kelly entered the living room. “I can’t get them dressed,” she said dully. “They won’t stay still long enough.”
Kelly sighed heavily. The sooner she got her brothers dressed, the sooner everyone would leave. Then she could order a pizza, watch a little TV, maybe straighten the house.
“I see Uncle Mark managed to fix the brakes himself,” she said casually as she pulled an almost-clean shirt over her younger brother’s head. Her mother, struggling to dress the other twin, shook her head.
“He thinks so, but the inspection sticker’s expired. He’ll have to wait until he gets back to get another one. He doesn’t want to get stopped.”
Oh, I bet he doesn’t, Kelly thought. It wouldn’t be just your average traffic stop, would it, Uncle Mark?
It was thirty minutes before she finally had the house to herself. Her mother had left her a twenty, and she watched the last half of a Friends rerun as she waited for the pizza. She’d sit on the front porch when it ended, she decided, maybe eat her supper there.
A man was standing beside Uncle Mark’s car when she stepped outside. At first Kelly thought it was a policeman and her hopes rose. Perhaps he was here to arrest Uncle Mark. But when the man turned toward the sound of her footsteps she recognized the City logo on his shirt. Some City official, she wasn’t sure what kind, was interested in the Mustang.
“Is your father home?” the man asked as he spanned the distance between them. “I have a letter I need to give him. Well, a copy actually, the original came back unclaimed.”
Kelly could only blink at him, trying to imagine why the City would send a letter overseas to her father.
The man glanced at the letter in his hand. “3818 Mystic Court. Mark Wellington. The owner of this car. He lives here, right?”
The man handed Kelly the letter. “Be sure to give it to him. We don’t usually hand deliver these letters. Most of the cars we pick up are just junks, abandoned vehicles nobody cares about. But my boss wanted to give your father plenty of opportunity to come into compliance with this baby. It’s a classic, isn’t it?”
Kelly stood rooted to the pavement, letter in hand. Although she had no clear idea what the official was saying, she did catch the words “pick up.”
"You're going to take the car away?”
“Not if he gets it in compliance by tomorrow. Just have him get it inspected or at least put it in the garage. I’d sure hate to tow it for something as simple as an expired sticker, but the law is the law. We’re obligated to follow it for everybody.”
“Tomorrow?” The official was becoming a little angry. The snooty people on this side of town with their big houses and fancy cars always seemed to think the laws were made for everybody but them.
“Look, I told you. We sent the certified letter weeks ago. Mr. Wellington chose not to pick it up. He either gets the car in compliance or we tow it.”
"Tow it?" Kelly was still confused, although it was beginning to dawn on her that something serious was going on here. “Yes, kid, tow it. If we tow you can’t get it back.” He thrust an angry finger on one line of the letter Kelly was still holding. It was in a larger font than the rest of the letter, the words in heavy bold. This means that once your vehicle is towed, we cannot lawfully return it to you. Above that line, in regular print, was the sentence: State law requires that all confiscated vehicles be demolished.
A small grin played on Kelly’s lips. She looked up at the City official.
“Sure,” she said. “I’ll see that he gets it.”
The man was barely out of sight before she ripped the letter to shreds.
Bio: Deborah L. Reed currently resides in a small bedroom community in Central Texas with her daughter, grandson, and two dogs. She is a retired Science teacher who now works in Code Enforcement. She has had over twenty short stories published, one of which, Leah and Her Stuffed House, has been nominated for a 2011 Pushcart Prize.
THE UNPLEASANTNESS IN THE PEANUT GALLERY
by Henry F. Mazel
I was a child once. At least my mother thought so. With that in mind, she booked me on the Howdy Doody Show. No, I take that back, she didn’t book me on the program – it wasn’t exactly a late supper table at Sardi’s -- though she did manage to get hold of a ticket so I could sit enthralled with other five-year olds in the celebrated, multicolored, wooden-benched Peanut Gallery, a grand witness to unfolding Doodyville history.
My recollection surrounding the circumstances of the show itself is a bit hazy, but the proximate cause no doubt was the Stromberg –Carlson, which, for those not in the know, was a 1950s television set the size of a small refrigerator with a very tiny screen and a luminescent green dial you cranked to receive the four available television stations, one of which was NBC.
We owned a gray Cape Cod, my father anyway, on Long Island and the old Stromberg was placed by the center wall in the living room, right where the fireplace might have been, if we had had one. Looking back on it, the Stromberg-Carlson was sort of a wired Homeric poet, all tubes and lights, glowing in a mahogany box, recounting stories of great heroes and victories in riveting black-and-white.
I do remember Howdy was one of the first two television programs I ever watched. The other was the Army-McCarthy hearings. Make of that juxtaposition what you will, but as it turned out I would have preferred to have been at the Army-McCarthy hearing – “Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. . . . Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last?”
Mothers and dads were sequestered on another floor, while the children sat in the Peanut Gallery in eager anticipation of seeing Howdy, the cast, and the marionettes – Mr. Bluster, Dilly-Dally and the Flub-a- Dub, a kind of platypus, among the ‘A’ list puppets.
I have long forgotten the details of that particular show. My memory resides in the immediate aftermath. All the minor puppet problems that drove the show being resolved, it was time for the children in the gallery to file out one-by-one, quietly, orderly, happily to awaiting relatives as had occurred tens of dozens of times before.
Not exactly this time. Fidgety kids, as children usually are, hopped up from wooden benches and were ushered out by interns or pages or whoever the adults were. They were to scoop the kids up and escort the lot to the floor below where expectant relatives would gush at the small frys’ fifteen minutes of fame -- pre-Warhol, of course. We, that is all us kids, filed out along the back of the set and in front of the rear curtains.
Now the stagehand who was responsible for that rear curtain, I firmly believe, was to blame. Certainly not me. Let me repeat that; certainly not me! He had apparently left the curtain partially open. You could see behind it -- the marionettes were there, lifeless. The only puppet I caught a clear view of was the Flub-a-Dub. To a high strung kid, and a not particularly precocious one I fully admit, the Flub-a- Dub was limp or comatose or – in the mind of a child, anyway – just plain dead. Naturally, I felt it my duty to alert the other children to this tragedy.
All I really did was shout: “The Flub-a- Dub is dead, the Flub-a- Dub is dead!” And the children looked toward the curtain, and in that moment were devastated. They started yelling, shrieking and running in all directions, scurrying about, flailing away in a mêlée of the most extraordinary dissonance --plainly speaking it was a damned bloody riot. I don’t actually remember how long they took to get it under control or to alert the moms that something had gone horribly awry.
To this day, I’m convinced there was some sort of cover-up. The production staff certainly didn’t try. They didn’t bother at all. There was no endeavor at all to find the culprit. No one came to get me, no police knocked at my door in the middle of the night. My parents were blissfully unaware. The unpleasantness at NBC ended almost as quickly as it began. From all the tumult though, I did learn something valuable from the Peanut Gallery episode, and it has served me well. The lesson, as I now understand it, is how easy, how simple, how effortless it is to create havoc.
Bio: Henry F. Mazel has written for The New York Times, and has published numerous stories and articles in his twenty-year career. His novel, Murderously Incorrect, won the OLMA award for first time mysteries. A play, Life and Other Games of Chance, was produced on Theatre Row in New York City.
He is a member of the Writers Guild of America and The Mystery Writers of America. He is also past professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at The City University of New York. This is his second appearance in Green Silk Journal.