The Help (Rough short story)

My shoulder tenses under weight, and–

“Shit.” I turn to find a rock cocked in my arm targeting a large spot of light framed in darkness. Someone stands in front of the window, nude or clothed, man or woman, whatever. It turns sideways and lets down a ponytail, a slender silhouette that eases one thing down, lets another ride up over the stomach past the hair.

Yeah, lady.

I stare at her like you expect: like a shadow might stare at its object. Soon the light turns off and I turn around and walk fifty feet back into a cluster of trees.

They speak to me.

A few final embers burn in my fire. You really are not allowed to make a fire out here at all.

Fuck that. I turn the few last bits of red over and over. Arg! No warmth! Everything darkens and the neighborly crickets pound their bows and the raccoons ravage a trash back sitting in a backyard some distance away.

I turn over the coals a final time then cover up with a thin blanket. Warm weather. Objects in the darkness draw in, but I turn over and cover up. Leaves rustle as the raccoons escape back into the woods with a CLACK CLACK of a pellet gun firing after them. Please, sleep, please.

 

I can hear an electronic ‘Bong, bong’ as the high school lets out across the woods in the afternoon. That and the noise of the buses and cars and all those chatter-box kids wakes me up. I flick a spider off of my face and a slug off my blanket and shove the blanket into a pile of leaves while pulling a can opener and a can from the pile.

While walking out of the woods opposite the girl’s house something crosses the sun and I look up to nothing but a few leaves twitching. I walk on wires until I escape the strip of woods and walk toward the parking lot—rather empty lately. A few kids stare and I mutter a couple ‘screw yous’ between pouring beans into my mouth. Why should they be against me? Ungrateful kids!

I know about this time of year because I went through it not that long ago. May. High school. Ah—kids about to graduate! How precious. The little squirts soon ship off to college to earn their degrees. How great of them! Oh, what memories of those times I have.

Something bumps my shin. “Get out of the way, man,” a kid yells from his car, his little safe haven.

“All right hold on a second, dog,” I say, scooting along behind his car’s path. “You really have to push an old man along–”

“Sir, excuse me?”

I turn to a guy dressed in black in one of the parking lot medians.

“I’m gonna have to ask what your business is on the campus, sir.”

Ha, ‘campus.’ “Oh, you know; my son, I have a parent teacher conference to attend.”

He looks at me and my clothes.

“Aren’t you a little yo–”

“Don’t you think I know what my own business….” he grabs me by the shoulder. “You’re making me spill my beans, man.” He eases up some and takes me all the way down to a traffic light between the school and silhouette girl’s neighborhood.

“Take it easy, brother,” he says before walking away.

I mosey out into traffic to the yells of more high school students and parents, take a swig of beans and then skip along down the first street in the girl’s neighborhood. The houses crowd in like they conspire, and in the natureless dead silence of the streets I make my way down quick to her house with its brick front and vinyl siding and pert little suburban garden. A German convertible sits in her driveway, and after a few minutes of standing on the sidewalk her hand pokes out the door as she speaks to someone inside and then comes out texting or whatever on her mobile tracking device. She glances up, so I scratch the ground with a foot but realize she just did a dead glance at nothing, and with a final click of her phone she sits down and lets the roof down and drives off and with the sound of that foreign purring auto I hear my girlfriend in my ear as we cruise down a highway at night.

“Where are we going,” she yelled because my car hammered and the wind blew in the windows.

“Just hold on. I think you’ll figure it out.”

We cruised along steady but then I saw eyes like everything in the world plead at once. I looked at my girlfriend’s mouth opened and moving to form words I never heard. We never made it to that overlook of the neighboring town with the mountains in the distance and where the stars shine clear in the night.

Oh no, no, the pavement and I rendezvoused even though I don’t remember it. I do know that I woke up hospitalized and everyone started watching and judging. Objects, too, leered at me. No one listened to me when I say they have a conscience.

But … so … my girlfriend wore her seat belt like always so she never met the windshield or any of that like I did. They said avoiding the deer slowed us down enough so I left without much injury.

You know she said “I’m so glad you’re ok” a while later after escaping the hospital and we laid in bed together. Everything in our room felt different, though.

The girl’s mom comes out with a bunch of potted flowers in her arms. She, too, does one of those dead glances around the neighborhood. You cannot tell me that this means nothing. That people just stare hoopty la in the daylight for no reason without suspecting anything, without seeing the animalistic nature of their surroundings even in this mass-facade of suburbia.

I noticed a fly going at my beans, so I swipe him away and leave mom to her business and head down the street to a weeping willow I know of. Do people think of me as part of the neighborhood? Do they even know me any less than the guy next door or the couple down the street or whoever? I stalk their grounds because I wonder.

A group of hundreds of kids stand outside the auditorium today. They file in in clusters, and once the last of them goes in, all nonchalant at their impending graduation practice, I walk up and into the vestibule of the building and pretend to inspect a mural on the wall. Blah, blah, principal speaking, rules and regulations, uniforms and seat numbers and row leaders. Blah. They run through the entire set of students till the place finally lets out, my mural inspection hardly the least suspicious at this point. And there!

She stands just outside with her group of ditsy-looking but reasonable-enough-looking friends. I follow her and her friends with my eyes out to her car and then I notice the camera perched in the corner of the vestibule. I try to nudge my way in with the last group to leave the building and scamper across the parking lot in time to see the German sports car leaving the lot, probably only to turn around at the stoplight and drive back into the neighborhood. I cut across the woods and follow the backyards around the cul-de-sac then jump over the fences and into a front yard across the street from hers. “Stop trying to give me away,” I mutter to a dog barking in a backyard.

Sure enough the girls round the bend, the ones in the back sitting like model citizens. They unload into her house.

Yet, I do not bother much with her until she walks out the door a couple of weeks later in her white robes and hat, which obscures her silhouette form beneath its billowiness. She does look pretty, though, with sweat already standing out slightly on her forehead, the feeling of having the future before her and all that shit. Before the car leaves I cover my ears, and it starts up and backs away in silence as I dance circles in the big asphalt loop a ways down the street.

Just like I found myself dancing after earning my bachelors. My girlfriend struggled to smile for the pictures, though. After the ceremony we ate out at a decent restaurant alone, and about midway through she said, “I’m concerned. I don’t know what’s going on with you.”

A lady from across the restaurant looked at us and I denounced her in a few silent words, only to look at my girlfriend with her puppy but puffy-from-studying and lack of sleep eyes and I said, “Well. I don’t know what’s wrong honestly. I don’t really think anything is. My view’s certainly changed. The crickets chirp a different way now and your furniture is weird—I mean it’s the same furniture but I can’t place what’s wrong about it. Everything just keeps pressing in and all I see of my life is this little compact sphere with you and school. I feel like objects are tapped but like they aren’t really, more like they’ve always been and I just became conscious of their consciousness.”

She stared at me with her poofy and black-underlined yet puppy eyes, swirled spaghetti onto her fork but let it slip off again. “… I, I don’t know what you’re talking about, Anthony. This is what I’m talking about. I don’t understand what you’re saying anymore most of the time.”

I stare into her eyes and watch the shadows cast by the fucking flickering fake candle lights as the world swirls and flushes into the centerpiece while the same bitch glares at us from across the restaurant. I grit my teeth and stare at her face staring at spaghetti climbing then falling off her fork over and over, its bulk going up then falling and pooling as she stares and it climaxed when her lips parted to say something but then they do not. “You don’t know what to do anymore,” I said, “about this problem you think I have, like I’m KEEPING something from you or whatever.”

“You’ve been so distant that I….”

She never finished it until later when she said, “This isn’t working.” I suppose that’s not really finishing it but who gives a shit? What did it matter? I packed up my shit and threw most of it in the dump, no way I would go back to the asshat dad or the tombstone mom. I wandered away for a while and stewed, hitched a few rides to reach the ocean like a stupid roadtrip movie but without the situational humor or friends or happiness. I live with objects now instead of people, but I feel the same about both. Oh, I see the dark spaces of light and I know the sinister cricket chirp. You want it all to be neighborly when you go on a camping trip or just sit outside on your porch but nature pits itself against everything else and everything whispers in its own way. I can fucking hear it and I just wanted her to know.

And just so you know, we’re saying good by to our off-to-college girl today. Remember: the end of the beginning or whatever. Yeah whatever because it does not matter. Her and her dad spent all morning going back and forth from the German car adding bits of foldable furniture and everything to pack a small house. Leaving feels like some grand moment, but try being out in the woods and having it all press in around you, having known all that graduation mumbo jumbo and just living on donated cans. I know their stares, and I know they look at me like I’ve done nothing, like I’ve no right to stand in front of a camera like anyone else or enter some private property without being kicked off. She’ll never know that but I don’t begrudge her it.

And now dad, he wipes away a few tears and gives his daughter a hug, and mom does the same but for a long time. Silhouette girl waves and dangles her keys like she might entertain a baby and backs out with the stuff packed high in her front and back seats, and even though they’re crying the parents jump in another car and follow her out. Oh, to know that feeling.

And I do feel something out in the darkness. A light.

“Shit. A light, finally a light!” From the house next to the girl’s. I scramble to find a rock, kick over my pile of leaves and trip over roots. Aghh, my hand lands in the coals of the fire and instead I just pull a small burnt piece of wood and chuck it into the lit window. “You should’ve helped me you stupid bitch! How was I supposed to live with this? I run up to the house with tears in my eyes and rattle on the back door. A man appears on the other side of the door with a cell phone in his hand and already I know his intent but scream, “Who the hell are you?” instead of running. “Where the hell is my ex?”

Come to think of it, I never did see her or anybody for that matter. I assumed she went abroad for a master’s program or whatever the hell else she might do. As the cop car carries me down to the station objects and shadows follow me. I cannot shake them and I just wanted her help.

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