Monday, October 10, 2011

Daytime Television

This week's assignment was to write something from the perspective of someone we know. I thought about writing it from the perspective of one of my kids or my dad, but that just seemed like it would end up a little too self analytical. So I finally chose to fictionalize a family based on a real family that my dad used to see on house calls. As a kid, I used to go with him to this house, set in the middle of an auto salvage. It was one of the more bizarre experiences of my childhood... and that's saying a lot.

Daytime Television

“Carl!” she yelled. “Carl, come here!”

The sullen faced boy appeared in the doorway. “What?”

“Get me a Coke,” she demanded.

Carl turned and went into the kitchen. From where Carlene sat in the living room she could hear the fridge door open and cans rattle as one was removed from the plastic six pack holder. The door to the cabinet where the glasses were kept squealed open.

“Shut the goddamned fridge!” she said, and was rewarded with a ‘thud’ from the other room.

Carl returned from the kitchen with a glass of Coke in his hands. He stepped over his brother, Scott, who lay contorted on the floor, drooling. “Here, Ma,” he said, handing her the drink. Carlene sat in a flowered armchair beside a table covered in half empty glasses and an ashtray crammed with cigarette butts. She took a final drag on her cigarette and crushed it out in the ashtray, dislodging some of the butts already there.

“Pick that shit up,” she said to Carl, pointing to the butts on the floor. “And wipe your brother’s face.”

Scott had rubbed his face into the carpet where there was a pile of cat litter and it stuck to the saliva on his cheek. He hadn’t been right since he was born. Scott had muscular dystrophy and his hands were curled up on his forearms and back was shaped like a question mark. He was skin and bones.

Carlene turned back toward the dead console television with the smaller television on top. Rod Roddy was telling Elaine Norwood to COME ON DOWN! and a skinny bitch from Pasadena came tearing down the aisle. Bob Barker looked pleased with himself.

Carlene drank from the glass as Carl ran through the front door. She looked out the window into the yard, such as it was. The house was surrounded by junked cars, some stacked as high as the second story windows. A path led from the front of the house to the back of the salvage yard office made of old car radiators set into the sand. Everything in the house smelled of old, burned oil and grease.

Carl was halfway to the office when she shouted, “I want you back here by five o’clock!” He waved to her before disappearing through the back door of Martin’s Auto Salvage. She looked down at Scott and saw the cat litter still clung to his cheek and his tongue lolled from his mouth. She made a half-hearted attempt to get up, but realized she had nothing to wipe the boy’s face with and settled her considerable weight back into the chair.

“$2,301,” Elaine from Pasadena said to Bob. The Marine wearing his dress blues beside her had just bid $2300 and looked like he wanted to shove a bayonet into Elaine’s neck.

In the enormous, filthy fish tank on the wall adjacent to the televisions, one of the huge oscars emerged from the murk to place one eye against the glass. It looked at the boy on the floor, then to Bob Barker and then finally settled on Carlene, who was lighting up another cigarette. His gills pumped a couple of times and then with a wave of his fins, he settled back into the gloom of the tank.

Scott squalled a bit and she looked down at him on the floor. With her foot, she slid a bowl of dry Captain Crunch over in front of him. Scott immediately began pinching bits of cereal between his two hands and up to a mouth filled with crooked teeth.

Carlene turned her attention back to The Price is Right and saw that fool, Holly,  trying to close the door on a dishwasher. It kept falling open.

“When are you gonna fire that girl?” she asked Bob. Carlene was convinced that Holly was just trying to get attention ever since the time her nipple poked out of her dress back in 1981. Bob paid no attention to Carlene and kept on going with the showcase showdown. Elaine was bidding on a brand new kitchen and appliances from Whirlpool and a Hoover vacuum.

“$4570,” she told Bob.

“$5100,” said Carlene.

Scott grunted and spit out bits of Captain Crunch, disgusted with Elaine’s poor estimate of the value of the showcase.

Carl hollered outside as he cut his leg on the rusty fender of a Karmann Ghia.

Elaine jumped up and down on the television because, despite the fact that she was not as good as Carlene in guessing that the actual value of the showcase was $5213, she was better than the Marine in his dress blues who had overbid.

And one of the fish, the female this time, appeared. She pressed against the glass and looked out the window at the junked cars and then at Bob and Elaine. She then stared at Carlene for a bit before she finally settled on Scott, who had given up on using his hands and now ate from the bowl like a dog, but kept his horsey-eyed gaze on the television. A single bubble emerged from her mouth. Then she swam back into the darkness, and remembered when she was just a small fish, and lived in the Amazon.

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