Some books and authors discussed in this episode:
Stephen Chbosky: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Summer Session with the Bones Brigade (from Chapter 5)
Flush with 27 whole dollars of store credit, Sid marched between the shelves of the Daisy Shop Vintage Clothes store like a sentry. The “Vintage” of the store’s name meant “used”; the “Clothes” meant “Clothes and Other Crap,” and, indeed, the shelf in front of Sid lived up to the store’s implied promise, stocked as it was with shot glasses, plastic table settings, VHS tapes with and without their cardboard sheathes, and snow globes whose miniature dioramas portrayed hula dancers, surfers, and palm trees, in short nothing that had any actual snow. The shelf was labeled “Miscellany,” but, really, the term could have applied to the entire store. Sid surveyed the goods less like a customer and more like a steward. The frosted champagne glasses passed inspection. She moved on.
The store itself was a one-bedroom house on a residential street that had been converted into a shop. The bathroom was the bathroom. Sometimes when the windows were open a breeze would billow the curtain that divided the store from the rest of the house and one could glimpse the kitchen. Weird, to be rummaging through a box of jelly bracelets and then see a refrigerator in the other room, a paper towel with crumbs on the counter. From the outside, the house looked like every other house on the block—low-roofed ranches—only it was the only one with a hand-painted sign on the front lawn and daisies lining the sidewalk from the driveway to the door. The driveway fit three mid-sized sedans, which just about equaled the number of customers who could cram inside at any one time. Any more and people would have to lift their items over their heads in order to pass. Once every spring, Daisy, for the proprietress’ name was Daisy, would put all of the merchandise on the lawn to remind everyone that she was there, which reminded people that she was there, sure, but which also reminded them that her store wasn’t so much a store as it was an indoor yard sale. A living-room sale. Part of its charm, thought Sid, who dreamed of one day owning such a shop of her own. Actually, “Miscellany” wasn’t such a bad name. Only she’d do it like two words. Like, “Miss Ellany.” Get it? “Miss….” Oh never mind.
Sid had been going to Daisy’s shop since before she had even known enough to barter about such things as store credit. Back then the shop had served as a kind of haven for her. This was during the period when the only thing that was worse than her mom not talking to her was when her mom did, and her mom used to talk to her a lot. Do this. Don’t do that. Stupid. Useless. Where did I put that drink? You’re not hiding them from me again, are you? On those days Sid would retreat to the shop, not always even knowing where she was going when she set out but somehow just ending up there. Daisy’s wasn’t really on the way to anywhere, so Sid having to go out of hers. But it was worth it. It was always worth it. The contrast between where she started and where she ended up. Everything about her own home so sparse—the closets with hangars but no clothes, the TV sitting right on the floor, the cabinets and drawers that were filled with little more than tack paper that curled at the edges. Sid had lived there for most of her life, yet it was like they had never actually moved in. Daisy’s feeling like it had never been empty. So stimulating, plentiful. On cold days, it was warm; on warm days, cool. A blanket and/or a tall glass of iced tea. Cluttered but neat. Insulating amidst all of the stuff.
Daisy herself was an oak of a woman, who wore shapeless dresses that swept the floor when she walked and whose graying-now-gray hair remained the same mid-back length without ever appearing to grow or to be cut. A circle of skin on her left ring finger was lighter than the rest, though all indications were that she lived alone. No one had ever seen her outside of the shop, let along with anyone else. The little that Sid did know about Daisy’s private life she gleaned from two framed photos on the wall behind the cash register: one, a picture of her at the top of a snow-peaked mountain, stocking-capped and sunglass-ed; the other of her holding hands with a thick elderly woman while sitting at a clean dining room table, a globe light above casting a jaundice-like pall. Who had taken the pictures? Sid didn’t know. What she did know was that Daisy wasn’t the kind of person who would tell, which was just as well because Sid wasn’t the kind of person who would ask.
The two women maintained a relationship of comfortable silence. It was the kind of silence that most people suffer through a lifetime of noise to achieve, but, for whatever reason, Sid and Daisy had it from the start. From the very beginning their conversations were like exercises for actors in which they find new depth of meaning beneath the surface of the lines. “How are you doing today?” could mean “How are you doing?,” but it could also mean “I haven’t seen you for awhile, how have you been?” or “you look tired, are you getting enough rest?” or “why don’t you eat something, why don’t you?” For her part, Sid’s responses usually meant what they said, with the understanding that “fine” almost always means something much less than.
“You sure you want to part with these?” Daisy, peering over her reading glasses.
Daisy flipped through the albums. There was some schlock in there to be sure—the motion picture soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever and Grease (somebody likes Travolta) and, oh, what’s this?, Xanadu (or maybe it’s Olivia Newton John)—but so too were there some gems: Pet Sounds, Revolver, Credence Clearwater Revival. She took a record out of its sleeve and held it with both hands along the outside of the circle, like you do.
“Are your folks sure, too?”
“Folk. Mom. And, no. She doesn’t care.”
“Because I don’t want some middle-aged woman come tearing in here looking for her lost youth.”
“Can’t look for something when you don’t even know it’s gone.”
“I’ll give you $15 cash, $22 credit.” Daisy didn’t want to take advantage of the girl but she was also running a business here. Pet Sounds, Revolver, Credence. Five bucks each. Saturday Night Fever and Grease. Three. And Xanadu. Well Xanadu was destined to be a throw-in.
Sid knew that she could get more for the records from the guys over at Stick it in Your Ear, but she didn’t want to go to Stick it in Your Ear. She wanted to go here. And anyway it wasn’t really about the money. Or at least not only about the money. It was also about the purge. When she had stumbled across those old shirts of her father’s she had also found five trash bags full of his stuff, presumably packed by her mother, who didn’t have the follow through to put them out on the street with the rest of the garbage. The way Sid saw it, she was just following through for her. Like an inmate who discards in the yard the dirt from the hole that he has been secretly digging in his cell, Sid was selling off the remains of her father piece by piece. First the ties, then the knives—pocket and hunting—and now the first wave of his albums, which she knew were worth more than $22 credit, so she surprised even herself when she said, “Thirty.”
Daisy hadn’t expected a counterproposal and the sign on the wall announced that “store credit is not negotiable,” but she wanted to reward the girl for sticking up for herself. Maybe someday they would make eye contact after all. “Twenty-seven.”
What Daisy interpreted as Sid’s budding negotiating skills was really just carryover attitude from a morning that had not gone as planned. Her mom was out and Shane had come over. Or more like her mom was out so Shane had come over. Some shared classes, an honest opportunity to see one another here, a manufactured opportunity to do so there—this had all kindled a relationship at the end of last school year that had continued smoking into the summer, even if it hadn’t yet caught fire. This morning was supposed to fan the flames, and, for Shane anyway, it appeared to have done so and then some. But for Sid? Well, the morning had left Sid feeling a little doused.
Sid was aware of her family’s reputation around town. She knew that it was the reason why Mandy I and Mandy II had cut her off. She wasn’t stupid. Her father had worked on a highway crew, painting yellow lines out of the back of slow-moving vehicles and removing animal carcasses from the middle of the road, deer mostly, some armadillo. When a previous boyfriend had “eeewwwwed” at the description of her father’s work, Sid had snapped, “Somebody has to do it.” One of the only times she or anyone else in her family had defended her father. Her mother typed up notes that doctors from the local medical center dictated. She had a medical dictionary at her desk that was full of Scrabble winners, not that she actually played. Her mom had studied to be an LPN—Sid never could remember what “LPN” stood for, though she knew it was a notch below RN, which is what Loralai’s mom was—but the best part about the job as far as Sid’s mom was concerned was that she could do it from home, as in at her kitchen table as in with a bottle within arm’s reach. She wouldn’t even consult a clock to determine for how many hours she was owed. Two empty bottles of wine in the morning equaled four billable hours from the night before. A bottle of vodka could also be four, if there was orange juice involved. Otherwise, it was closer to three. And empty cans of beer could break down the night into quarter hours. Most people who performed similar tasks thought of dictation as a part-time job, but Sid’s mom considered it full.
The tape recorder from which Sid’s mother would work was of the mini-variety to facilitate, Sid assumed, much into out and out of lab-coat pockets, the cassettes themselves no bigger than a box of matches. Sid had picked it up once, the recorder. She had strapped the headphones around her ears and pushed play. She had often wondered about the tales her mom transcribed. The medical center was known for accommodating the walking wounded: hunting accidents, bar fights, garage mishaps. Sid could only imagine the kind of gore that accompanied such visits. The question wasn’t if the word “gaping” would be used but, rather, how many times. But the tapes had very little of the stuff that fills television hospital dramas. They had none of it, in fact. What Sid did hear was so bland, so dispassionate, so numbing that she almost forgave her mom her drinking: “6:42 p.m. Patient prone. 6:43 Iodine swab applied to LUQ. 6:45 CRNA administers 4 cc’s of Fentanyl.” It was amazing that anyone ever completed a surgery without crawling up next to the patient for a little siesta. And yet. Yet…. Yet there was something stimulating about it. Not in the content but in the act itself. In having a strange, older man’s voice in her ear. Deep, resonant. Slow but purposeful. So unlike the male teachers at her school who seemed to bore even themselves as they referred to pages of notes, brittle with age. And so much unlike the boys in her class who didn’t yet know how to leverage their own recently broken voices and whose lack of experience was manifest in everything from the way they spoke (rushed and to the sky) to the way they held hands (tight, like they were afraid you might get away) to they way they signified that they were interested in something more (various).
Shane was such a boy, “such” in this case meaning both “sooooo” boy and so much like the boys that drove Sid mad. He was, for Sid, an experiment of sorts. An attempt at talking herself into believing that she was more attracted to the kind of boy that she should be attracted to than she actually was. So far the experiment wasn’t yet yielding the results she had hoped. What she had hoped was that her experience might suffice for the two of them—that she wouldn’t have to lower herself to his level—but when she had made her strongest move yet to do so he took it as a reprimand rather than as a tutorial.
“I’m just saying that you don’t have to push so hard.”
“I’m pushing too hard?”
Honestly, it was the least of his concerns. His hands were too cold, his nails too long, and his breakfast—waffles? pancakes? definitely something with syrup—was too present on his breath. But one thing at a time.
“You kiss with your lips. Not with your teeth.”
“And you know that from experience, huh?”
“I know because I know what feels good.”
She had. Of course she had. Experience, that is. But she was a girl and girls weren’t for feeling good themselves. Girls were for other people feeling good.
“Maybe we could both use a little practice.” And she pulled Shane’s head toward hers.
The doll aisle at the Daisy Shop was a doll box, and Sid found herself absently flipping through. As she sifted through detached arms and legs, disembodied and occasionally decapitated torsos she wondered why they could manufacture action figures that were durable enough to withstand an actual war but the arms of most of the dolls she had played with in her life would dislocate themselves if they too aggressively sipped their tea. She lifted one of the few intact babies out of the box. It was naked, of course. De-sexed. It’s mouth puckered, a slit between her lips wide enough to fit its plastic thumb. The doll had a piece of masking tape on it. A one with a horizontal line written in marker on the tape. One dollar. Sid thought it was a dollar too much. She put it back on the shelf and continued down the row.
Shane hadn’t improved as the morning continued. If anything, every part of him pressed even harder, the worst of it being that he seemed to derive more and more pleasure from what, frankly, for her, was less and less comfortable, the most maddening part of all that she wouldn’t have to be suffering so if only he would just…. But it was too late. For Shane, anyway.
This was the problem with nice boys. They were too, well, nice. She had watched her sister parade through the house boy after boy who was decidedly “not-nice.” She had seen what it had done to her sister’s relationship with her mother. She had heard (how could she not?) the toll that it had taken. The two women had once shared tank tops. Now they couldn’t sit in the same room together, even if the television was on. For the longest time, she, Sid, blamed her sister for the rift, refusing to believe that she, her sister, could actually be attracted to these pimply degenerates and failing to recognize that the jealousy her mom felt was not of the boys spending time with her daughter but was instead of her daughter spending time with such boys. Not until her own crop of boys starting hanging around did she feel what her sister must have felt. Not until then did she experience that sense of competition. With her own mother. Not until then did she realize that yes, actually, those degenerates could be attractive. Damned so, really. With that swagger, that surety. She didn’t like beer, yet she craved the taste from someone else’s mouth. She didn’t smoke, but she would gladly—eagerly—inhale out of someone else’s lungs. She knew that she should be drawn to someone like Shane. She knew that he was a catch. But she didn’t want a catch. She wanted to be caught, and she wanted to be caught not by someone like Shane, even if he were able to cast a line. She wanted to be caught by someone like Heath. No. Not “someone like.” She wanted to be caught by Heath. Period.
She had seen him recently, pushing his board down the middle of the road, slowing traffic on both sides, his t-shirt tucked into the pocket of his cutoff shorts, a stream of blood running down his right shin, so red it was black. That she had an affinity for skaters over, say, football players or drama nerds helped, but G-A-W-D was he gorgeous. Sweaty and gritty and lithe. There was a dummy in Mr. Woods’ biology classroom, a mannequin sliced down the middle, on the heart side the muscles and circulatory, on the un-heart side the bones. The mannequin extended no further than the waist, for obvious reasons, but watching Heath propel himself down the road completed the picture for her: his front knee bent, foot flat against the worn griptape of his deck; back leg punting across the surface of the street. Entombed bones. Muscles like raw meat, rare and bloody. Every part of him in tandem with the other. Lean. Efficient. A soft machine.
He hadn’t seen her. Not on this particular day, though he had before. Not only seen her, yes, but also taken note. One May afternoon in the school parking lot, the weather too nice for anyone to be at school, so neither of them where they were supposed to have been. Her, leaving early; him, arriving late. Passing each other by the parking spot that was reserved for the Student of the Month, not that either one of them ever had a chance, of ever winning but even of ever knowing anyone who had/would. Her eyes swept the ground in front of her as she walked, but she knew that it was him and so peek-a-booed a look when they were shoulder to shoulder and she was confident that his eyes could not meet hers, not that there was any danger of them actually doing so, trained, as they were, on something that seemed to be as far away as his thoughts. She did feel him, however, steal a glance after she had safely passed. Sensed not his eyes but his whole head turning to admire her backside. Not that she minded. Would have minded more if he hadn’t actually. That breeding again.
Looking back, she was surprised that they had both been able to carry on their respective ways. That they had been able to orbit one another without getting sucked all the way in. For recently, from afar, she had felt his gravitational pull. A force that she imagined affecting only two bodies: hers and his. She pictured them tethered to one another, hurtling through the universe, the taut connection between indiscriminately slicing through anything in its path like a reaping.
This morning with Shane? Did he really ever have a chance?
Kirby Fields is from Joplin, Missouri. He received his MFA in Playwriting from Carnegie Mellon. His play, K Comma Joseph, was produced by UP theater (Manhattan), which also recently workshopped his new play, Lost/Not Found. In June 2016, his one-act, “Steal This Play,” is being produced by the Gallery Players (Brooklyn) as part of their Black Box New Play Festival. His work has received readings in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, DC, and Kansas City. A theatrical version of Summer Session with the Bones Brigade received a reading by RADD Theatre Company in 2015. His prose adaptation of the play is his first foray into fiction. You can track his progress at Summer Session with the Bones Brigade, where he occasionally posts scenes from the play and drafts of the work-in-progress. He currently lives in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan with his wife and two sons.
Image: Flickr / My Blue Van