Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Stub story: The Football Game

I'm in a bit of a funk these days. I don't know if it's because I'm in between projects or the impending winter or what, but I haven't really felt much like writing. 

But I still feel like I should be writing. And I guess there's no better way to de-funkify yourself than by (begrudgingly) doing the thing you feel like you're supposed to be doing even when you don't really feel much like doing it. 

So tonight I thought I'd dust off my box of ticket stubs and tackle a story I meant to write more than a year ago. For my own amusement (and maybe yours as well), I included photo illustrations. 

For those of you who know me and my family, I feel the need to point out that while there might be some familiar themes in this story, it is a work of fiction. No adorable cars were harmed in the real life.

So without further ado ...

The Stub:

The Story:

Brandon grabbed the phone vibrating on the nightstand, praying the almost soundless disturbance would not startle the baby nestled between Gemma and him. 

It was 4 in the morning. Those two must have just fallen asleep. Brandon vaguely remembered hearing the baby whimpering at midnight and then again around 2 or 3. The twilight creaking of the floor as Gemma did laps around the room hoping to soothe the fussy 7 month old stirred him slightly. 

He slipped out of bed. The dog stretched out lengthwise at Gemma's feet lifted his head halfway, confused. "Not yet buddy," he whispered and the dog yawned and lay back down. Somehow relieved that the internal clock that dictated meal times was not, in fact, broken.

Like a spider slinking across a ceiling, he slipped down the hallway, holding his breath as he passed Azalea's room. With any luck, she'd sleep another couple hours before demanding Corn Pops and cartoons at the top of her strong, 3-year-old lungs. But given the last couple days, he wasn't feeling all too lucky where the kids were concerned. 

He relaxed slightly once he made it downstairs. In the kitchen, he changed out of his pajamas, layering jeans over a pair of long johns, then a short-sleeved shirt, followed by a long-sleeved shirt, topped with his favorite jersey. He put on two pairs of socks then his shoes. Re-checked the backpack for the sweatshirt, hat, gloves and Pepto. After brushing his teeth in the powder room he headed into the garage where he flung the backpack and coat on the front seat of Gemma's beloved car and wedged a cooler filled with Miller Lites into the back, cursing the shoebox-sized trunk before slamming down the hatchback. 

The engine rasped as he turned the key. He ignored its blustering and backed out of the driveway.

He fucking hated this car. 

When they learned they were going to have a baby they decided they'd trade in Brandon's red two-door, for a more carseat-friendly SUV. Gemma never did get the hang of driving stick, plus she put on those big eyes of hers when he brought up possibly getting rid of her car. 

"But I love my car," she said. All faux frowny faced, rubbing his leg. "It's so cute."


Of course, the real weight of that decision wasn't measured until after the baby was born. And after Gemma left her job to stay at home. 

It wasn't until Brandon was the one driving the Ms. Pac-Man yellow VW Beetle to work every day, sharing the road with bearded men on Harleys and flanneled truckers in 18-wheelers that he came to terms with the full castration of parenthood. 

He wasn't looking forward to all the shit he'd hear from the guys when he pulled the thing into the parking lot at the tailgate either. But fuck that, anyway. At least he was going to the game. He hadn't been to one since before Azalea.

And after last night, he needed the game. 

He needed to talk about something other than the contents of that last diaper or the merits of Queen Elsa versus Princess Belle. He needed giddy, pre-9 a.m. inebriation and a belly full of every grilled meat imaginable. He needed to cheer for his team playing his game with tens of thousands of other fans who were just as thrilled as he was to be standing face-numbing temperatures watching the greatest show ever. People who knew how important a third-down conversion was and who would never, ever ask, "so who's winning the match?"

Most importantly, he needed to get away from That Face.

The worn, disappointed, you-really-don't-give-a-shit-about-us face that Gemma always seemed to be wearing as he walked into the house and right before he left. 

As he merged on to the deserted highway, Brandon started humming a Wham! song unconsciously. An image of the Azalea galloping around the kitchen in some strange interpretive dance tugged his lips upward for the briefest of seconds before he began punching buttons on the car stereo and turning up Public Enemy jamming through the speakers. 

With one hand drumming the steering wheel, he ate the breakfast sandwich he'd picked up at the gas station. Chugged the ice tea. 

God it was great to eat a meal in peace. Like, to be able to chew and swallow an entire bite of something without having to ask someone to get their feet off the table. Or tell them they have to eat a second green bean. Or, race for a roll of paper towels to sop up an entire glass of milk that was toppled by the 3 year old who's now screaming as if she's been doused with flaming oil. 

What was it about dinner time that made everyone lose their shit? 

Last night's dinner had ended in an unusually dramatic fashion, when, after being told that she could not have dessert unless she ate three carrots, Azalea lay down in the middle of the kitchen table screaming. Her complementary flailing sent plates of food and cups of water sailing to the floor. Not to be left out of the dramatics, the baby had given herself a pureed green-bean facial, throwing the remains of her meal on the floor as well. The only resident who seemed to be enjoying the action was the dog, who happily lapped up the smorgasbord, until the half of stick of butter he gulped down decided to make an encore appearance all over the living room rug.

Gemma looked as if she was prepared to roll up the entirety of her life in that moment like a dead mobster in a carpet.

He'd never seen her look both so defeated and so homicidal at the same time. 

So while she gave the baby a bath, he calmed Azalea, scrubbed the carpet, cleaned the kitchen and washed the dishes. 

It's just like pre-gaming he'd told her after both kids were in bed. Hoping to coax that laugh he missed. She'd feigned the smallest of smiles. 

Then resumed The Face.

And he got it. Mostly. He knew it wasn't easy at home for her. Sometimes, he found himself almost looking forward to Mondays after punishing weekends at home. 

Though it wasn't all that fun at work either. The ceaseless drumming of email. The problems left in his cubicles that his bosses expected him to solve within the day, but only after he attended eight hours of meetings first. The initiatives started by corporate that he was left to implement right away without any of the right tools or resources. 

He loved the kids. God they could be so sweet -- especially when Azalea told one of her stories or the baby giggled at him. And he loved Gemma -- the way she took care of all of them. Though the way he loved her had changed, too. Since the kids.

They both tried. Really tried to hear each other out. Be the same empathetic, supportive couple they were before kids. But now their worlds seemed so foreign to each other. Like a zookeeper trying to explain the challenges of corralling a runaway lemur to an accountant.  

Speeding down the open highway, a thread of light just starting to glow on the horizon, Brandon tried not to think about The Face. He knew he'd be seeing it for sure again that night, but for now. For now he was free. 

And the sweet release of freedom flowed through his body, loosening his bungeed shoulders, relaxing his grinding jaw. Today was gonna be great.

He was almost across the bridge over the river when he felt the car jerk. The gasping from earlier became more pronounced. Brandon smelled something burning.

He turned the hazard lights on and pulled over to the side of the road.

He popped the hood and smoke billowed off the engine. 


He tried to start the car again. Nothing.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. 

He kicked the tire. That felt good so he kicked it again.

He could call AAA. They could come and tow the car. Take him back to the house. 

He watched his whole day -- the tailgate, the game, all of it, speed away across the bridge. 

He sat down next to the car. Not wanting to make the call just yet. 

A pair of headlights came toward him and slowed as it got closer. The big SVU had an Eagles license plate and two Eagles flags flanking the driver's and passenger-side doors. It pulled over in front of Brandon.

A stocky man with jet black hair and a kelly green sweatshirt hoped out of the car. 

"Hey man, you need a hand?"

"Nah. Nah. I just need to call AAA. You going to the game?" He stood up and pointed at the man's sweatshirt.

"Yeah! Never miss one. That where you're headed?"

"Yup. Well. Probably not now. Not with this POS." Brandon kicked the tire again, Though not has hard as earlier. "It's my wife's."

He always made sure to clarify.

"Bummer. Well, can I give you a lift somewhere or something?" 

"No. Thanks, but no. I'm not far from home. My wife can come and get me and we'll get someone to tow the car. You should get going."

"Alright. You sure? It's gonna be a hell of a game."

"Yeah. Thanks again." Brandon now knew exactly how Azalea felt on that dinner table last night. He pulled out his phone as the man lumbered back to his car. Dialed home. Gemma would be annoyed he was calling so early. He could almost hear her voice. Picture The Face. 

"Wait! Hold on a second!" he yelled at the man who'd just gotten back in his car. He jogged over to the SUV. "Hey ... you think you could give me a lift to the game?" 

"Sure man! But uh ... what are you going to do about that thing?" He motioned back to Ms. Pac-Man. 

"I'll figure something out. Just give me a minute. If it's not too much trouble." 

"No trouble man. Do what you need to do."

"Do what I need to do," Brandon thought to himself. Savoring the advice. 

With that he went back to the Beetle. unloaded the cooler, his backpack, coat, CDs, umbrella and the Eagles seat covers his wife had given him last Christmas. Then he put the car in neutral and started pushing. For once he appreciated how little the car weighed. At the end of the bridge, there was a steep embankment that led down to the river blocked only by a small, tired-looking fence. Brandon stopped pushing and turned the wheel to the right. Then he got behind the car and gave it a shove. It inched forward slowly at first. Then gained speed, easily dispensing of the fence before bumbling down the hill onto an outcrop of rocks and landing in the river with a satisfying plop. 

Brandon trudged up the embankment. And looked over the side of the bridge. In the dim light he could barely see the car bobbing in the water.

The man -- Butch he soon learned -- helped him load his stuff into the back of the SUV.

"You found a good place to park your car? Don't think it will get towed do you?"

Brandon watched the bridge in the side mirror as the sun began heaving over the horizon.

"Nah. It's all good."

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