Fiction, Monologues, Plays & More
Digging through one of his father’s old trunks, Dennis sneezed. He rocked back on his heels for a moment, rubbing the tickle from his nose. It was amazing, all this crap! Apparently, his father never threw anything away. He’d moved five times in the last two years of his life, moving trunks and boxes of junk each time. Dennis had been joking for years that he needed to “get rid of his father’s baggage!”
Not that it wasn’t interesting stuff. He’d found a folder with every teaching contract his father had ever had, the first as a high school swim coach and English teacher for less than five grand a year. And he’d been supporting his wife and first child at the time, with a second on the way.
He’d also found stacks of loose cards and letters, some from students that first year of teaching all the way back in 1963. They loved him. Of course, it was all girls. And who writes cards or letters that say they hated you? If they had, though, Dennis was sure his father would have kept them. He’d reveled in his warts along with his beauty, apparently expecting some kind of biography would be written upon his death, detailing all the great failures of his life – needing to keep records of everything.
His mother had joined Dennis for the afternoon. She’d been divorced from his father since he was 9 years old, but she’d attended the memorial service for the father of her children. She seemed weirdly interested in going through this old stuff. Kind of creeped Dennis out, but what the hell, he needed help.
It was hard for Dennis to throw anything out. He kept thinking he should let the other siblings, two with his mother and three with two other women, take a look – just in case they wanted any of it. It was sort of fun, at first. Like archeology or something. His mother was walking down memory lane.
“I wonder if he fucked this little girl,” she said. Dennis looked up, startled.
“Here’s a card from some high school girl, gushing about how she’ll never forget him. I bet he fucked her.”
“What? Your Uncle Richard told me your father fooled around with many of his students. He told me that after we’d split up of course. Not sure why it was okay then, when all it did was reinforce the correctness of me getting out of that damn marriage. Is ‘correctness’ a real word?” she said, putting the note into a special pile she was collecting.
“I don’t think so, Mom. What’s that stuff? I thought we were trying to throw some of this stuff away.”
“Odds and ends of that bastard’s infidelities. I found a card from his first wife, a couple of years before we met. Sounds like she had an abortion before they got married.”
“Oh, honey, I’m dead serious,” she said, and calmly went back to pulling out more papers to examine, searching for evidence of crimes it seemed to him should no longer matter.
Dennis was tempted to take a look at the pile she was collecting, but he decided he didn’t have the energy. He hadn’t heard his mother talk about his father with such rage in a very long time.
It was hot as a motherfucker in that garage, and he was pouring sweat – a trait he’d gotten from his father, another glorious inheritance. Pushing the sweat from his forehead into his hair to keep it off his face, he turned to another old trunk. Smaller. He opened it up.
Inside he found dozens of different head shots, his father as various characters – a very young version of his father. All black and white. Must have been taken in the ‘50s, back when he last gave professional acting a shot. A cowboy, a college fraternity boy, football player, an army guy, a swimmer, a “Rat Pack” look, a businessman, a doctor… Every conceivable character. The doctor character made Dennis smile. His father had started out in medical school, but he hadn’t quite cut it. The acting bug got him. And, no doubt, the many, many women were distractions. And all that drinking. And sports. His father had settled into professorship at a community college teaching Theatre Arts, but he still checked the sports page first each day when he opened the paper. Of course, that might have had something to do with his gambling.
Dennis collected the photographs into a separate pile of things to keep.
Underneath the photographs was a paper sack. Old – the paper was different than paper bags today somehow. More crinkly. Dennis opened it. Inside was a shawl. It smelled a bit musty and had the roughness of age. The silk fabric was the thick color of heavy cream in coffee. Same for the fringe. But the deco was rich and vibrant. Embroidered flowers and vines in sharp oranges and yellows and greens and pinks and blues.
Dennis spread the shawl out, noticing a few spots of brown at one corner and a small tear. He turned to draw his mother’s attention and found her staring at the shawl with tears in her eyes.
“What is it, Mom?”
She didn’t respond for several moments, but Dennis knew she had heard him. She reached out and let some of the fringe run through her fingers.
“This was my mother’s,” she said. “She bought it in the Philippines on her honeymoon in 1921.”
“How did Dad end up with it?”
“I wore it the night you were conceived. On my second date with your father.”
“On your second date!?! Wait a minute…” Dennis paused. He’d already kind of guessed that his mother had been pregnant when she married his father, but it had never been discussed. However, a wedding date in late October and a full term delivery in May – it didn’t take a rocket scientist to do that math.
She pointed to the brown spots and the tear in the corner. He tried to hand it over to her, but she wouldn’t take it.
“It was stained and torn. We had a bit of a tussle. You were the product of date rape, my dear,” she said, without any remaining trace of emotion.
Did he hear that right? Date rape!?! But she married the guy. They were married for nearly 10 years. She had two more children with him.
She had told Dennis his father had forced himself on her in his mother’s living room the first night he introduced her to his family. On their second date.
“Back in those days, when you got pregnant, there were two choices. Well, three if you didn’t mind disgrace and your family disowning you. Date rape didn’t exist. If the guy managed to do it, it was because you weren’t a good enough girl. He offered to marry me or to pay for an abortion. Illegal back then. He knew where to go and everything. I decided to get married instead.”
Dennis couldn’t think of anything to say, but his mind wouldn’t shut up. Here they sat, surrounded by the remains of his father’s life, and he realized some of those remains were hers, too. She’d been 19 when he was born. By her own account, a bit wild and daring when she met his father less than a year earlier. Thrilled by life and possibilities. She was a beauty. They had many photographs of his mother from her first year at college because photography students were always asking her to model for them.
Those pictures had fascinated Dennis all his life. She was so young and seductive. He realized now there was no brittleness in those pictures. Brittleness best described his mother in all the years he’d known her. Laced with bitterness.
“After our tussle…,” she paused. “After he’d forced himself on me that first time, he felt bad when I cried over the rip and the stains on my mother’s shawl. I couldn’t think about why I was really crying, so I became consumed with shame over ruining my mother’s honeymoon shawl. I had begged her to let me wear it. I wanted to look pretty that night.” She hesitated, and her mouthed tightened. “He promised he’d get it fixed for me. He liked to think he could fix things. I figured he’d lost it or thrown it out. Just like him, holding onto it because he really meant to fix it someday. But he couldn’t.”
She stood up and went out to the patio to smoke a cigarette. Dennis folded the shawl. It occurred to him that he might get it fixed – if that was possible: the shawl was almost 100 years old. He could have it framed, to hang on the wall as a piece of art. But then he realized he would never be able to hang it.
A weird keepsake. Dennis wondered if he was keeping too many of those. Like his father’s ashes in a cardboard box with his name misspelled on the outside in black Magic Marker. Inside: a plastic bag with a twist tie holding thick, gray ashes and bits of bone. His mother hadn’t wanted anything to do with them.
Dennis put most everything back in the trunks they had planned to clean out and stowed them back in place in the garage. It had been 7 years since his father’s death. The rest would keep for a while longer.
Dennis examined his mother as he went out to the patio to bum a cigarette. He was trying to quit, but he wanted to share a smoke with Mom. She seemed clearer somehow. More solid. Less brittle, he supposed.
He kissed his mother on the cheek as he grabbed her lighter from the arm of her chair. It was pretty nice of her, after all, to marry the guy instead of having an abortion.
Funny. Dad kept the shawl. Mom kept him.
Taylor Ashbrook’s current favorite quote about writing: “Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones, in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.” By one of her favorite playwrights, Tom Stoppard. A born and bred “Theater Geek,” Taylor aspires to write more than she actually manages to put words down on paper. Having written mostly with partners for live theater projects, she hopes to someday write a novel she would enjoy reading. Currently, she’s working on a dark, full length play – sans partners – just to get it out of her head. Except she takes a lot of breaks to direct, act and produce. Taylor has been a Member of The Eclectic Company Theatre, except for a couple brief years, since 1990.