Wednesday, March 6, 2013

march 6th, 2013

This may be the first proper short story I've ever written, and it's a true one. Is that something you can fucking handle? Is it? The characters are based on my own mom and dad back in the 70s or 80s, before I even existed. Hopefully you laugh and enjoy it. I SAID LAUGH, GOD DAMMIT.

And just a quick side note—ignore the orange highlighted words that keep coming up on this damn site. I don't know why they provide links, nor do I care enough to find out. 

Family’s Family

My wife and I were newlyweds, living in a two bedroom apartment in Marina Del Rey. We didn’t need the extra room, but the space was nice and we could afford it. I was working as a financial advisor for a firm in Century City, and Pam was a bank teller in Santa Monica. We didn’t have kids or a dog or a cat or even a hamster—it was just the two of us. The weekdays were long and stressful, but come Friday night we kicked off our shoes and lived it up. Nice dinners. Good red wine. The kind of contentment that only two young, married lovers can have. Everything was pleasant. Until the phone rang one Tuesday night while we were watching TV. I told her not to answer it. She didn’t listen.
    “Hi, Pammy.”
    “Yes, it’s your Mother. You sound surprised.”
    “No–well, yes. It’s just a little late, especially for you. Everything alright?”
    (Pam’s Mother and Father live in the small town of Bridgewater, Massachusetts. At the age of 18, she hopped on a Greyhound bus with her best friend and headed to Los Angeles. Starry-eyed and full of teenage hope. Her friend left just six months later, but she stayed. Waiting tables paid the bills, and it wasn’t long until she met me. The rest is history.)
    “Everything’s fine, Pammy. Everything’s fine. But...”
    “But what?”
    “Well, you remember your cousin Harlan.”
    “Yeah, I remember Harlan.”
    “Well, he was living in Texas, as you know.”
    “And was thinking about moving to Southern California.”
    “And I kind of told him...”
    “Mom—what did you tell him?”
    “That he could stay with you until he found a job.”
    “Why would you tell him that?”
    “Oh, Pammy. Come on, he’s family. Family’s family—you know that.”
    “Yeah, yeah. You could’ve asked first at least.”
    “I know, I know. I’m sorry.”
    “I don’t know, Mom. I mean—we have an extra room, but I have to talk to Richard. You really should’ve asked first. Is he already on his way?”
    “Yes, he’s driving.”
    “Great. I don’t know, Mom.”
    “What’s the problem, Pammy?”
    “Well, I always remember Harlan being kind of...”
    “Kind of what?”
    “Oh, come on. He’s a good kid. You two always got along.”
    “I think that’s a bit of an exaggeration. I only met him a few times.”
    “Well, he’s fine. He’s just trying to start fresh.”
    “Sounds like he’s running from something.”
    “Oh, that’s just ridiculous. He’s a good kid.”
    “Mom, he’s only a year younger than me. He’s not a kid.”
    “Then he’s a good man. Just help him out, will ya? I’m sure he’ll be out in a week.”
    “He better be.”
    “Oh, Pammy.”
    “Well—I still have to talk to Richard. Okay?”
    “That’s fine. How is your lovely husband?”
    “He’s good. Working hard.”
    “MY MOTHER. And you don’t need to shout.”
    “Then try getting up and walking over here.”
    “Is that him I hear?”
    “Yes, Mom. He’s in the living room shouting over the TV.”
    “What are you two watching?”
    “Nothing, Mom. Look—I gotta run, okay? I really wish you had asked first.”
    “I didn’t think it would be a big deal. And you’re the only family who lives out there. We’re all stuck back here, in the snow and the rain and the cold and—”
    “I get it, Mom. Fine. How can I reach him?”
    “Honey, you don’t have to shout.”
    “NO ONE. SHUT UP, HONEY. Ugh, I have to go, Mom. So how can I call him?”
    “I gave him your home number. He said he would call when he gets to California.”
    “And then what? Show up on my doorstep?”
    “I don’t know, Pammy. He’s a good kid.”
    “He’s not a—forget it. I’ll talk to Richard. Thanks, Mom. Love you.”
    “I love you too, honey.”
    “Say hi to Dad for me.”
    “Mom—jeez. You didn’t have to say it that second.”
    “Bye, Mom.”
    “Bye, honey. I love you.”
    “Love you too.”
    And that was that. She asked me after hanging up and I begrudgingly said yes. What was I supposed to say? The man who tells his wife no in that situation is in for a short marriage.

So, Thursday night rolled around and we got another phone call. It was Harlan. He said he was a few hundred miles out and would arrive sometime that night. I was less than thrilled.
    “Babe, it’s already 8:00. He’s gonna knock on our door at, what, 1:00? I have to be up at 6:30.”
    “I know. I didn’t know what to say.”
    “What’s this guy’s deal, anyway? When’s the last time you saw him?”
    “I don’t know. A year or two before I left, I guess.”
    “That’s like... more than ten years. He could be anybody now.”
    “What does that mean?”
    “I don’t know. I’m just a little frustrated with this whole situation. Apparently your Mom thinks we run a Motel 6.”
    “Richard—he’s family.”
    “I know. Sorry.”
    “It’s fine. I’m not too happy about this whole situation either. I just want him in and out. One week, alright?”
    “One week.”
    “And then he’s out.”
    “You gonna give him the boot?”
    “Right in the ass.”
    “That’s the woman I married. Love you.”
    “Love you.”

Five hours and 27 minutes later, three pounding knocks on the door awoke us from our slumber.
    “Can you get it?”
    “Yeah. You’re not getting up?”
    “Honey, I need to sleep.”
    “What if he’s a murderer?”
    “Little late for that, don’t you think? He’s your cousin, just answer the door.”
    “Fucking hell, can’t he knock a little quieter? It’s... 1:30 in the morning.”
    “Go back to sleep, Richard.”
    “Aye aye.”
    And I did.
    When I left for work the next morning, the door to second bedroom was closed and my wife was still alive, so I figured everything went alright.
    The three of us ate dinner together that night and other than Harlan’s quiet, introverted nature, he seemed alright. I guess. I set my expectations were pretty low, though. After we all finished, he excused himself to go read in what was now his bedroom. I told him he was more than welcome to join us and a few friends at a nearby bar, but he declined. I wasn’t too broken up about it. When we got home later that night, his door was closed and the light was off.

The next day we all walked to the beach. Pam did her best to catch up on old times, but Harlan’s answers were less than descriptive. I asked him what kind of job he was looking for and he said, “I don’t really know yet.” “Okay,” I replied. I then asked him why he decided to come to California, and he said, “It looked nice in the pictures.” I believe my response was the same.
    After finding a spot, we put down our towels and took off our shirts. Harlan had borrowed a pair of my swim trunks which I no longer wanted back after seeing his chest. Other than his gigantic nipples, a thick rug of hair covered just about the entire visible area. It was impressively off-putting. I’ve never been much of a beach person, so I just laid on my towel and pulled a magazine out of the bag we brought. Pam and Harlan, on the other hand, wasted no time and headed right for the water. Pam returned alone about 20 minutes later.
    “How was it out there?” I asked.
    “Really nice. Cold, but nice.”
    “How far’d you go?”
    “Eh, not too far. Just past those first waves.”
    “Farther than I’ve ever been.”
    “That’s not saying much. Harlan just kept going, though.”
    “Yeah. As soon as the water reached his waist, he dove in and just kept swimming. I lost sight of him pretty quickly.”
    “Guy’s a little weird.”
    “I know. Thanks again, honey.”
    “Mhmm. Can you see him now?”
    “Yeah, neither can I. I wonder where he is.”
    An hour went by and he was still gone. Then another. And another.
    “Where the fuck is this wacko?”
    “I don’t know, honey. I’m really worried.”
    “I am too. Should we call a lifeguard or something?”
    “I think so.”
    “I’m guessing you want me to take care of that?”
    “Could ya?”
    I walked for what seemed like half a mile until I spotted one. I told him the story and we jogged back in the direction we were sitting. But once we were a hundred yards away or so, I could see Harlan drying off next to Pam. I told the bronze teenager that everything was fine, so he headed back.
    “Where the hell were you, Harlan?” I asked as I got closer.
    “I was swimming.”
    “For three hours?”
    “Doesn’t that seem like a long time, Harlan?”
    “Not really.”
    So we gathered up our stuff and walked home.

Eight days later and he was still around. I told Pam that he needed to go, that we only agreed on one week. She bargained me up to two weeks, giving him four days left. The man was an adult, and as much I wanted to help, he was cramping my style. And frankly, he wasn’t my responsibility. I feel bad for making a man sleep in his car, but it was his own damn fault. For all I know, he hadn’t been to a single job interview. And he kept disappearing at odd times in the night, returning whenever he felt like it. This was our first new place since being married. It was our sanctuary, not a hostel. I’d had enough.

Two days later, Pam called me sobbing in the middle of the afternoon, so I got in my car and rushed home. A group of masked men had stormed into the bank she worked at and held the place up. One of them pointed a gun at her head as she emptied the register. I was horrified to hear this and consoled her on the couch, holding in her my lap like a frightened kitten. She hadn’t been injured, nor had anyone else, but she couldn’t get over the fact that one of the men was wearing a white pair of pants—the same kind she had seen Harlan in earlier that week. After an hour or so, she stopped crying and calmed down, then her free-loading cousin walked through the door. He was wearing a regular pair of blue jeans. Pam’s face was still red with fear.
    “What happened?” Harlan asked.
    Pam re-told the story, maintaining her calm this time. After she finished, Harlan put his hands on his hips and curled his mouth.
    “Did he look like me?”
    We gave him the boot right there and then and never saw him again.

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