You are reading Fiddleblack #5
Jeff and I stand outside the Cumby’s and look at everyone that walks in. We look at them kind of menacingly, I guess, but we’re just checking them out, no harm. Jeff’s sipping a Big Gulp and I’m eating gross beef jerky. I’m really gnawing at it.
We were going to meet some kids here but no one showed, which happens all the time, so Jeff says let’s go to his house. There’s actually a period left in the day and I have it off but Jeff has study hall and says he can skip it.
We hop in Jeff’s Civic and I leave my Civic parked at the Cumby’s. Jeff lives on Sport Hill Road. At Jeff’s house his mom is home, she’s always home, it’s hard to tell when exactly she works. I guess that’s how it goes for real estate brokers. “Hi guys,” she calls to us as we run up the stairs. Jeff says she doesn’t care if he skips periods or shows up at home in the middle of the day.
I think she’s pretty high-powered, or whatever, in what she does. People know her around the neighborhood, but she can’t even sell the house next door. It’s Jason K.’s house. His parents are getting divorced. Everyone knows the dad is moving away and the mom has to downsize and find a condo where she’ll live with Jason K. until he graduates with us in a year. He keeps telling people “I like my mom better anyway,” which is obviously a dumb thing to say.
The mom is writing a book based, I guess, on her experience selling big New Hampshire houses. Jeff’s mom, I mean. Not Jason K.’s mom, she doesn’t have a job. Jeff’s mom’s book is about the evolution of the suburbs, how the suburbs started as one thing and now that’s going away, they’re all getting built up, you don’t have to drive ten minutes to hit a Target or Best Buy. My uncle was looking at her website the other night and thinks the book sounds interesting, but then again, nothing’s really interesting anywhere, definitely nothing around here.
Up in Jeff’s room he cranks a Strokes CD and rolls one for us. I stuff a towel under the door. “My sister’ll be home from school soon and when she starts knockin’ on the door just don’t open it,” he instructs me from his desk across the room. His sister Candice is a freshman and I think pretty cute, and I think Jeff knows I think it, but to him a two-year difference is all the difference in the world, unacceptable. A junior can’t get with a freshman.
After we smoke, Jeff fires up his Xbox and we play basketball. He always kicks my ass because he doesn’t play a sport. I have track at least, so I don’t play video games.
At some point the cat slinks out from under Jeff’s bed. He pauses the game and grabs a bottle of pills. “She gets a Prozac every afternoon,” he says. “Really,” I say, “your cat is on Prozac.” He shrugs his shoulders.
While we play Xbox Jeff complains about school and we talk about girls. He talks about Sam Brantley, who he likes, and he says “I bet she would suck a mean dick,” which is what he always says about Sam and I know he learned it from someone at his summer camp. Jeff always talks about blowjobs now because he got one, which makes him better than just a virgin like me. I’ve fingered girls but that doesn’t count for much. I can hear his mom in her little office banging away on the keyboard so hard it reaches us from down the hall. She’s got one of those neon iMac computers that squats on the desk and has a noisy fan inside.
Time passes, I’m thinking about nothing, sitting on Jeff’s bed, pretty baked. I always tell Jeff it’d be better for D.A.R.E. if they just showed how boring it can be getting high instead of trying to tell us it’ll make you lose friends. Because what it does is help you make friends.
Now and then I hear Jeff’s mom on the phone and she’s really yelling, and I don’t think I’ve heard that before but I figure it’s a part of the job. Like how my uncle always says arguing with distributors is “par for the course” in the beverage business. I hear Jeff’s mom on the phone shouting something like “Susan” and slamming a drawer a few times.
Two more hours and there’s banging on the door and I think, thank god, a few more minutes of this and we’d be touching each other’s cocks out of the boredom. That happened once a couple years ago and we never mention it. But it’s probably why he goes on about Sam Brantley’s blowjobs now when we’re alone.
Jeff’s telling me not to open the door except I’m already opening it, and flipping up my hair a bit to look cool when I see her, but it isn’t Candice, it’s Jeff’s mom. My stomach turns because she must smell the smoke. “Everyone come into the kitchen,” she says, and Jeff is off his bed looking angry, ready to defend or argue or whatever. Somehow we’ve never been caught before and I think he’s gotten pretty reckless. We walk down the hall and Candice comes out of her room and I realize she’s been home a while, never came to try and bother us like Jeff thought she would.
The three of us go into the kitchen and Jeff’s mom says, “Sorry” to me and then she tells Jeff and Candice, “I want you kids to know I’ve found something in your father’s desk. They’re letters from someone he appears to be seeing.” You can hear something uneven in her voice like a little river, I’ve heard it in my uncle’s voice. “I’m going to confront your father right now about it and you kids are going to stand here with me, okay?” Jeff and Candice don’t look like it’s okay. It doesn’t seem like the thing a mom should do, but I wouldn’t know, anyway.
Candice snatches the letters from her mom’s hand and starts reading one aloud. It’s bad. “That hotel we found near the office,” she reads, “my heart lives at that hotel. And remember the jets in the hot tub…” I’m thinking this is worse than TV stuff. And that it’s not like Jeff is my very best friend; I don’t want to be here. On the fridge, I notice, is an invitation to Jeff’s parents’ 25th anniversary BBQ from two years ago.
After a while, Jeff says “asshole” and Candice looks scared but she keeps reading, silently now. I’m thinking I need to get home. Then the garage door opens. We all hear it, and Jeff looks at me.
“Mom I don’t have time for this,” says Jeff, voice rising, and then he really yells: “We have homework and shit! It’s already like seven!” He looks at me. I look at my watch. “It’s eight,” I say. Jeff’s mom softens but doesn’t respond. I think she’s letting him have his shame and perform for me a bit. I can feel my high slipping off me and I wish we could just go back upstairs, close the door, and smoke more. Only to soften the blow of what I think might happen right now.
Jeff’s dad walks up the stairs—the house is a raised ranch, I only know that term from messing around on Jeff’s mom’s web site—and he sees us all in the kitchen and says, “Hey gang!” He thinks he’s a really funny guy. He worked in Manhattan before moving up here, and he’s short and not that good looking, like a lot of those guys are. Jeff’s mom is Southern and blonde and very good looking. She’s scary in a hot mom kind of way. “Howzit?” he asks me. I go, “Uh.”
“We found,” starts Jeff’s mom, “your letters, the ones from your whore, and we would all like an explanation.” I keep looking at Jeff because I expect him to look at me apologetically, or to whisper, “What a shit-show, sorry you’re here for this,” so that I can smile or look comforting like it’s okay, but he isn’t looking at me. I guess I must be kind of selfish because the last thing on his mind, probably, is me, or my comfort level.
I’m learning that when something is bad it can get worse, worse than what seems like the worst, most awkward it can be. Jeff’s dad exhales: “She’s not a whore, it’s Susan Blaylor, from work, and you’ve all met her. And you liked her, Jeff.” He actually points at Jeff, which I think is kind of mean.
“Yes, I know it’s Susan, and you’re having an affair with her,” says Jeff’s mom, and Jeff’s dad continues for her: “Yes, and I’m in love with her, and I’m moving in with her.” There follows a silence that is not as long as you might think.
“Yes, Susan fucking Blaylor,” says Jeff’s mom. “Doesn’t she have kids?” Jeff’s dad nods his head grimly.
He turns now to address Jeff and Candice, and me as well, which is particularly embarrassing. He says, “It’s just… I fell in love. And I’m really sorry. Or, maybe I’m not sorry for that part. But I’m sorry that this will hurt you kids. I love you guys most, more than anything, and you know that.”
Jeff quickly says, “Well, I’m not so sure we know that right now.”
What I’d really like to do is make out a little with Candice, but in this moment, it doesn’t seem appropriate. And even if it were the most appropriate, obvious thing, and every element of the situation were perfect for it I know I still wouldn’t do it. I want to invite her to smoke with us next time, but not right now because right now I need to get the hell out of here.
Everything is so calm. I don’t think anyone likes the calm, and I’ve tuned out all the voices. The adults decide Jeff’s dad is going to drive me home. I don’t like this but can’t do anything about it; Jeff is a good twenty-minute drive from my house on Chestnut so it’s not like I can walk. I run upstairs to get my stuff from Jeff’s room and I’m hoping he’ll follow me so I can make him feel better, say or do something, but he doesn’t come. I swig mouthwash in his bathroom to kill the smoke smell.
We pull out of the driveway in Jeff’s dad’s Jaguar. He’s always outside washing it. I look at the Coldwell Banker sign on Jason K.’s lawn; it has a photo of Jeff’s mom. “She hasn’t been able to sell that thing,” he says, ignoring everything that just happened, I guess, so I tune him out again. We’re almost all the way to my house when I remember my car is at the Cumby’s near school.
“I actually need you to drive me back toward school,” I say, feeling really young and stupid, or I guess mostly angry. “I left my car somewhere.”
Jeff’s dad smiles and he says, “Fine, fine. More time out of the house.” When we get to Cumby’s I see some kids from school outside smoking cigarettes, and I think about standing with them for a few minutes, how it could be so easy, help me forget, but I don’t really know them and I don’t smoke cigarettes. I reach for the door and Jeff’s dad starts to say, “Heyo, buddy, all of this is going to be just fine, you know. Jeff will be—” and I cut him off and say, “Thanks for the ride,” and get out.
When I unlock my car, I know my high is gone. Jeff’s dad’s car is still idling beside me, like he’s making sure I’m safe, which makes me want to laugh. I look over at him and he raises his hand in a wave, but I don’t wave back. I pull out of the parking space and on to the street. It’s cold, but I don’t turn on the heat. Instead, I roll down the window and after a while my fingers kind of go numb on the steering wheel. I think about what Jeff must be doing right now—probably playing video games. And Candice, what does she do alone in her room, what does any girl do alone in her room. I think next time I’m at Jeff’s, I’ll knock on her door, make sure she’s okay, but then I realize I don’t really want to go back to Jeff’s house. I don’t want to smoke weed with him, don’t want him to beat me at video games, don’t want to watch him stick Prozac down his cat’s throat. Don’t want to see his mom.
I’m on my street and I see my house. The porch light is on and my uncle is inside watching TV. I’m about to pull into the driveway, but I want to do one more loop around our block.
Daniel Roberts is a magazine journalist in New York and also writes fiction; he is working on a collection of short stories. He grew up around Boston and now lives in Brooklyn.