THE CAVEMEN IN THE BACK YARD

Introduction

This story can barely be referred to as such. It is true that it is fiction, but it also lacks a strong hold or pursuit of many of the basic conventions of story. It is an immature piece written about love and loss – a kind of loss that is completely foreign to me – and it is fragmented into sorts of post-cards sent from pivotal moments in a relationship whose reality is always bent to some degree. It was written in the spring of 2006 for a Fiction 1 class at Ithaca College and the titled sections are directly taken from the list of vague exercise prompts our professor gave us. This draft is the first I had written, touched only slightly since.

There were other versions of this story now lost. One such draft included additional sections not written from the class prompts, the only one I can really remember having something to do with cavemen fenced off in the backyard and how one of the characters saw some sort of beauty in watching these troglodytes “fighting and fucking one another.” The draft that contained some facsimile of that line seems so utterly lost now that I have very little ambition in attempting to either  recreate it or add anything to this piece to fill it out a little more, which is why I decided to no longer sit on this and put it up.

I rather liked that section and I mourn its passing, so to sloppily honor it I’ll henceforth be calling this slap-shod, incomplete, confused and previously untitled “story”, The Cavemen in the Backyard, which makes very little sense without this preface. I just thought it would be respectful to let you know that there is no hidden meaning behind the title, no deep digging to do on your part; it’s not a bullshit metaphor or an obscure intertextual  reference. It’s just this thing, you see.

The Reluctant I

The face is so innocent: no motives behind the expressions. No expressions at all, unless something interesting happens inside your dream. What is it you are dreaming of, anyway? Who is hiding inside your head? And what is he doing? Is he rubbing your back? Kissing your hands? Does he buy you whole cities for you to drive around in fancy-free? Do his hands turn to talking fish with British accents just to make you laugh?

“Your gills are most attractive, young lady trout!”

“Bite your tongue, sir! Such talk is prohibited on my father’s estate.”

It would be nice to know that you are dreaming pure color. It would be nice if patterns would mesh and merge and darken and brighten as your mind and body rest. It would be nice if you could be given back all the beauty you exude to the world. That would be nice.

When the sun was still awake you danced about the streets and rolled around in the grass and laughter was born and it was sweet to hear. When the moon took over, a shy invitation was sent out and was eagerly accepted. Before you fell so deep inside the gentle jungle of your dream, your eyes sang sonnets and your lips and tongue painted a sunrise with brush strokes that tickled and comforted. Tiny hands caressed lonely skin, putting smiles on so many blood cells living underneath. Then the yawns, then slowed motions. When your eyes closed, the room dimmed.

Your chest will rise and fall, making blue swirls of sweet-smelling breath pour out of your nostrils. Hands hang open, by your side, cradled by the canyons in the blankets. Another hand would sit atop yours if there weren’t the fear of disturbing the dream.

Your hair is a light brown waterfall stopped in time, flowing off pillows and onto your shoulders.

Your left foot is moving. Tapping. Up and down, fast. It sends itty-bitty waves through the bed. You had said that you do that. That your mother does that, and so did your grandmother.

Your hand goes to itch your nose and before you place it on your stomach, it moves across freckles here and there on your cheek, on your neck. They sit on your skin, a white tinted with peach by just a drop. The eyes now move under their lids. Hopefully that doesn’t mean your dream has taken a wrong turn. Oh good. Your lips curve to a half-smile.

A flicker of light – your eyes open. A startled confusion for a short while before your brain makes sense of what it is seeing. You smile and I don’t deserve it.

True Feelings

The wallpaper sings soft symphonies to two turtles on a bed of pillows. Barbara’s shell is purple and Kenneth’s shell is speckled red and black. The bed sleeps, snoring quietly. Up and down, the turtles rise and fall on the breath of the mattress. They search in one another’s eyes. But for what?

I wish I knew what it was like to be inside your shell. I wish the secrets you keep inside there could slip out and into mine, where I would keep them safe and warm, wrapped tight (but not too tight) in tiny boxes lined with cotton. I wish lots and lots.

I wish too, you know. I wish your mouth were a button I could push to inflate your body with notes belonging to violins. I’d tie a string to your tail before you could float away and I’d carry you around at the carnival.

Kenneth opens his mouth and out tumbles innumerable blueberries to be licked up by Barbara. Yum. Yum. Yummy. She moans happiness that settles itself around Kenneth and causes him to rustle and rumble till he shakes and shivers into a fuzzy teddy bear.

I’m so sorry! I never meant to change you.

Don’t be sorry. To be a turtle is not what I need to be happy in this life. At the moment, you are. You could change me into water, as long as you promised to lap me up and hold me within you.

But did it hurt?

It was easy to find the beauty in the pain.

Kenneth touches his synthetic fur to the tough, leathery skin of Barbara’s head. The pleasure fills her shell with pink mosquitoes that tickle her to tears that smile. She lets them out and they whiz up to dance their wings about the room, high above the electricity buzzing between his fur and her shell.

Warmth. Oxygen. Endorphins.

You make my chest feel dizzy.

I fell in love with your brown eyes.

The mosquitoes cling to the walls and suck the music out till they fall to the floor, fat and dead. The room sits still and quiet as Kenneth puts his arm around Barbara, waiting for her eyes to shut, so he can do the same.

Kenneth dreams of a water slide leading to a pool where Barbara waits for him. He can never reach the pool. He just slides over and over and over again, hoping next time he might crash into her.

Barbara dreams of a birthday cake the size of a castle. She chases after Kenneth on different layers, trenching through frosting of blue and white and gold. She giggles as Kenneth cries out, Catch me, catch me, catch me if you can!

Their dreams snuggle in close with one another – dreams that hold hands and press lips against cheeks. When the dreams fall asleep, the teddy bear and the turtle will awake in one another’s arms.

Walking

I had to get out of the house. Driving wouldn’t work. I need to be moving. I need my body to do some talking. And I really need to listen. My shoes squeak and clap on the sidewalk and then eventually on the sizzling black tar of the street. The sun is twenty feet above and there are no shadows in sight. I sweat until all my clothes are a solid shade darker. An army of kids is out here absorbing the light, using it as fuel. They are running around and riding bikes and climbing trees – all that shit.

My legs speed up and take me away to Main Street. The kids here are not as many, but the one’s that are present are all holding their mothers’ hands. Going in and out of stores. Some of them perfect angels that tighten my lungs with their faces; others are awful little shits  that scream horror stories into my heart so loud that it makes it beat harder. A man smokes a cigarette as he passes by and I want so badly to ask him for one. I want to calm my nerves with nicotine. I want to chain-smoke whole cartons and corrupt every last cell of my body with cancer.

But I don’t.

My breathing quickens and my feet gain weight. I begin walking in slow motion. A child zips by me from behind and his foot reaches the curb as the white figure changes to an orange hand. The core of me lets out of a shriek for help that echoes for miles and shakes the sky. I sprint to the street, grab the boy by his waist and swing him around. I shove his chocolate covered fact into my chest, staining my shirt, and I let out huge sobs.

I shout, “Don’t you ever do that again! Do you hear me? Don’t you ever scare me like that.”

The boy claws his way out of my stranger’s arms and runs away to his real mother.

The world has paused with its fierce eyes on me and I start walking home with my mind made up. I am keeping this baby.

Déjà vu

Barbara sits naked on one of the two chairs at the small kitchen table. Her belly is a skin-colored beach ball waiting to pop. She fingers her bellybutton and says, “Is it ready?”

Kenneth screams without screaming, “If they were ready I wouldn’t still be standing here, would I?” His eyes don’t move to her, instead they keep watch on the scrambled eggs in the frying pan as he pokes at them with a red spatula.

Barbara says, “Fuck you, smart ass” with her eyes and spits black acid on the floor near Kenneth’s feet, burning holes in the wood, and to her disappointment, not in his flesh.

Kenneth turns the knob to “Off” and the burner goes from orange to black. It’s a slow fade. He tilts the pan so the eggs fall to the plate. Slow steps to reach the table before Kenneth drops the plate on the surface when it would have been just as easy to set it down, but had he done it that way it wouldn’t have been loud and jarring – the not-so-subtle things people do to avoid an altogether different shade of overtness, directness.

He turns away and walks to the fridge.

The sound of glass breaking steals Kenneth’s strolling attention. Yellow fluffs of scrambled eggs and white triangles of glass on the floor.

Silence. Anger. Confusion.

“I asked for eggs over easy.”

“No. You demanded eggs. You specified nothing.”

“Watch your fucking attitude,” Barbara snaps. “When you have a heavy hunk of life in your body, I’ll make you eggs however you want…” The volume of her words lowers to pure silence but her lips continue moving. A white figure materializes behind her. His tired eyes spew little streams of exhaust and his voice lacks the appropriate effort as he says, “Boo.”

It’s the family ghost.

In a blink, Barbara becomes Kenneth’s father and Kenneth becomes his own mother, but only in spatial terms. Really, Barbara has vanished and Kenneth is standing behind his father who sits at the table. Really, Kenneth has become the family ghost.

Mr. Father reads the paper and says, “Are you done?”

Mrs. Mother says under her breath, “If I were done, I wouldn’t still be standing here, would I?”

Mr. Father spits fire with his eyes and says, “Fuck you, smart ass” with his mouth before turning back to the paper.

Mrs. Mother sniffles, keeping her eyes intently on the eggs, poking at them with the same red spatula. A black tear rolls down her cheek before it disappears under her chin and stains a bruise at the top of her throat. She turns the knob to “Off” and the burner goes from orange to black. It’s a slow fade.

Her feet move slowly across the floor until she reaches the table. She is careful when setting the plate so it touches neither Mr. Father’s arm, nor his newspaper.

Mr. Father looks down at the plate and grabs her arm before she can turn around. He stands up with the plate in one hand and Mrs. Mother’s thin arm glowing white in his other.

“I said sunny side up, didn’t I?”

“Um, I…”

An explosion of white and yellow against the wall that crashes to the floor.

“Didn’t I?”

Mr. Father’s recently vacant hand grabs Mrs. Mother by the throat, tight. He says, “Well. Clean it up,” as he drags her body through Kenneth’s transparent existence. Kenneth loses his breath for an instant. He can see two little wet eyes and a mop of brown hair peeking through the open doorway. Kenneth makes eye contact with himself and – destroyed – he says, “Boo.”

In a blink, Barbara is back and she is shouting, “Are you even listening to me?”

Kenneth’s eyes are wet, his throat is dry, and his mouth is open, incapable of forming words. He falls to the floor, his knees and hands trembling amidst the broken glass and eggs.

The paint on the kitchen walls melt away to reveal an empty whiteness – a contradiction of light.

“Oh no, baby,” Barbara says quiet, placing her warm hand on Kenneth’s back. Her other hand touches under his chin to guides his eyes up into her view. Her face contorts with concern.

Hushed: “What is it?”

Kenneth’s hands cry blood from where the small shards of white stick in his palms. He chokes, swallows, and asks in a thin voice, “How many eggs did you want?”

Silent Partner

Rob is there. So is Suzy. Beth made it as well. Frank showed up late, but he showed. These are Kenneth and Barbara’s closest friends. The ones they would go on double dates with. The ones they would run to during fights. The ones they were cry and scream to when they were scared, felt alone.

There are the five of them sitting in red velvet theater chairs that fold at the seat. Rob and Suzy to Kenneth’s left. Frank and Beth to his right. And, obviously, Kenneth is sitting dead center.

Frank: Sorry I didn’t show up earlier. Had to pick up these bad mamma-jammas.

Frank passes around cigars to the others. Kenneth has his eyes fixed on the giant screen in front of him, his elbows on his knees, his fists pushing up under his chin. Frank sticks one of the cigars in Kenneth’s shirt pocket and gives him a pat on the back. Flashing on the screen are images of Barbara on a bed in a white room filled with doctors and nurses. A close-up shot of Barbara sweating and screaming, but there is no sound to the image, just the rattling of the projector against the conversation of the others in the theater.

Beth: Oh, this guy is never on time.

Frank: Yeah, but you love me anyway.

Beth: Well… I like you a lot anyway.

(Canned Laughter)

Suzy: At least yours shows up at all.

Rob: What exactly is that supposed to mean?

Suzy: You stood me up for lunch on Tuesday!

Rob: I told you I had to cancel.

Suzy: You did not!

Rob: Next time I’ll stick a post-it note on your forehead.

(Canned Laughter)

A wide-angle shot of a doctor speckled in blood. Cut to a medium-close shot. His mouth moves fiercely under his mask, and then the frame pans to follow a nurse who runs out of the room. She comes back in with another doctor.

Kenneth’s face cringes at the screen and it forms permanent wrinkles on his face. He watches another close-up of Barbara. Tears and sweat ride her face, down and into her mouth where her teeth clench. Cut to a shot of a nurse with her hand on Barbara’s shoulder. She mouths the word, “Push.”

Frank: Sorry, I’m so late! I had to roll these sweet stogies.

Beth: Oh, he’s never on time.

Frank: Yeah, except in bed!

(Canned Laughter)

Suzy: At least yours still wants to touch you.

Rob: What exactly is that supposed to mean?

Suzy: You haven’t gone down on me in a year!

Rob: That’s because you don’t clean your vagina properly!

(Canned Laughter)

An aerial shot looks down on the entire delivery room. It slowly pushes in as the top of a small head emerges from between Barbara’s bloodied legs.

Kenneth shakes as he watches. He holds himself tight, trying hard to keep looking.

Frank: Sorry guys! I would have been here sooner if I didn’t fly to Cuba for these primo smokes!

Beth: Ah, this faggot’s never on time.

Frank: Bitch, you best watch the lip!

(Canned Laughter)

This same shot pushes in tighter so you can only see from Barbara’s stomach to the doctor’s hands, holding the head as an arm comes out.

Kenneth’s hair goes from black to gray to white and his lips fatten as they tremble.

Suzy: At least your man isn’t fucking around on you!

Rob: If I didn’t sleep with younger girls, I’d probably beat you twice as often!

(Canned Laughter)

The shot stops pushing in when the small female child is born, wet in the doctor’s arms. Cut to a close-up of Barbara’s face and she doesn’t smile. She doesn’t move. Her eyes are open but they are not awake.

Kenneth makes a fist of his face and his eyes blur with moisture until they overflow and trickle down his weathered skin.

A close-up of a heart monitor. Predictably, the green line is flat.

Kenneth: Guys.

Kenneth sits in an empty theater.

Kenneth: I’m a father.

Letters From Inside The Story

Dear Mommy,

My name is Barbara and that is your name too. That is what daddy says. He says you never got to meet me but you loved me anyways. I like purple and tractors. And I like cats and my stuffed cat and her name is Bubble. I wish I could meet you now but daddy says I can’t do it. I think daddy is sad a lot because you are gone and it makes me sad when he is sad. I think maybe if you come back so daddy is happy and then I am happy and we would all be happy together. Will you come back and be my mommy for me? Daddy said we would like each other because we both like Uno. I am real good at Uno. I win daddy every time. Come back and we will play Uno with daddy and Bubble.

Bye Bye
Barbara

Dear Mommy,

I know you can’t come back and I know you can’t read this, but I want to write it anyway. I feel dumb because of my last letter. My teacher made me write it for my 1st grade class and my teacher made dad come talk to her about it. He came to my class when the other kids were gone and I asked him to send it for me and he started crying and it made me hate myself for making him sadder so I’m not gonna show him my letters anymore.

I didn’t want to write another letter for a while either because my last one so I didn’t. But I’m in 3rd grade now and dad started showing me his old photo albums and he tells me about you and then it made me really miss you a lot. I really love you even if you are dead.

Love,
Barbara

Dear Mom,

I kissed a boy today! I didn’t tell dad because he would embarrass me. I know he does it because he loves me, but it’s nice to know I can tell you things and not worry about anyone knowing.

The boy’s name is Calvin and he is really nice and so cute. He wanted to walk me home after school a week ago. I said okay but I told him I was walking to the cemetery to deliver you a letter. He asked me who you were and I said, “She was my mommy.”

He said he was sorry and then he put his hand on my shoulder. He kept walking me home after school after that and some days we went and got donuts at the Roth’s Bakery and he bought them for me. What a gentleman! And then today when we were outside the house I said goodbye and he said “Wait, wait! I have something important to tell you.” And then he kissed me!

I’ll tell you more about him next week.

Love,
Barbara

Dear Mom,

Dad had a stroke. He is in the hospital for a while. The doctor said he would be okay, but he will need to use a respirator when he sleeps. Don’t worry though. I’ll take care of him for you. I got to visit him yesterday he said he would find someone to help him and to keep up the house. I wish I could take some time off school and do it myself but he doesn’t want me to graduate a year late.

I don’t know. We’ll figure something out.

I’ll write more soon.

Love,
Barbara

Dear Mom,

Guess what?

I GOT INTO BERKELEY!!!!

I know you would be proud of me, but dad is proud enough for everybody. Julia is working out well around the house, but I still wish someone in the family could take her place. Or maybe I should just go to U of O or OSU. I’m worried about leaving him along in a big empty house. Sometimes I feel like he is just hanging in there for me and if I leave to another state, he wouldn’t just give up, would he? I don’t want him to think I’m ready to be on my own, because then what does he have? Julia?

He doesn’t do much anymore. At least before he would pass the days by wasting time in front of bad sitcoms or in the garage building shelves for nothing to sit on. But now he just lies in bed or sits by the window. Except when I come home from school his face lights up and makes me tell him everything about what I’m learning, what my friends talk about during lunch, everything. It’s all boring stuff but he seems to find it interesting. Other than that he’s practically in a home already, but I refuse to send him to one of those places.

God, I wish you could tell me what to do. I know you wouldn’t want me to say this, but sometimes I really wish you never had me. I’m not ungrateful but I just love dad so much and I wish you could be

Jesus, I don’t know.

I love you.
Barbara



Hot Laundry

The first night after my parents’ divorce just happened to be laundry night. My brothers and I were sitting on the couch enjoying a television program when, all of a sudden and out of nowhere, Dad dumped hot laundry on us. My brothers and I giggled as we rolled around in the clothy warmth of shirts and socks fresh out of the dryer. Dad giggled too.

Every night thereafter for a year Dad would dump hot laundry on us. He would take clean clothes from our drawers and dirty clothes from the hamper and put all of them in the dryer and once we heard that buzzer laboring its vocation, my brothers and I would look to one another, knowing we were all about to embark on an epic giggle-fit.

We would always giggle with the same, or sometimes greater, tenacity…until one day, my eldest brother, Travis, tragically stubbed his toe. No amount or temperature of laundry dumped was a match for the resilience of his mopery. The next night there would be no hot laundry…for us anyway.

After that, Dad was always dumping hot laundry on something: the TV, the car, park-benches, stray dogs, but never us. Dad had taken Travis’ knife out his back before thrusting it into all of us, and every empty chair or box of frozen corn-dogs that got a load of hot laundry dumped on it was a slight, but painful twist of that knife.



Whisper Milk

For the better part of my life I thought you couldn’t milk a whisper, because I thought whispers were never mothers. One night on my brother’s front porch, he said, “What are you, nuts? Whispers aren’t A-sexual.” I asked him if he wouldn’t mind milking one for me. He rolled his eyes and downed his wine. With hands cupped over mouth, he slowly rubbed his thumb and forefinger as he spoke in a hushed manner. I watched drop after drop of pale white fall into his wine glass. After a sizable gulp had collected, he passed the glass to me. I thought to myself, “Fresh whisper milk must be the sweetest milk in the world,” but as it turns out, you can barely even taste it.



Shark Teeth

If I had my way, I’d replace my human teeth with shark teeth. People would have to be crazy not to fear me.

“Are you going to Jill’s Christmas party this year, Gwen?” Ron would ask.
“I don’t think so. I heard Mark ‘the shark’ Peterson will be there,” Gwen would respond.
“Oh,” Ron would say. “Maybe I’ll stay in and check my e-mail instead.”

What respect!



Wailing On My Delts

Sometimes when I’m working out, really wailing on my delts, I’ll think about all the girls with whom I’ve had sexual intercourse over the years and I’ll completely forget to stop wailing on my delts. Then I’m sore in the morning because the list of girls is so long that the time it takes to recall all of them is way too long to be wailing on your delts. Last time this happened, I thought I tore something, so I went to the doctor and he said, “What’s the problem?” I said, “I was wailing on my delts too hard.” And then he said, “It shows. You look great!” And I said, “Thanks, doc.” And then he said, “Lots of women must want to have sex with you because of your well-toned body.” And then I laughed and said, “Well, there’ve been a few.” And then he laughed because he knew I was understating the situation.