Tangerine

Below you will find the results of my having challenged myself for a number of days to write a short story with a beginning and middle and an end inside of 30 minutes.  Here is what I came up with.  I hope you like it.

My parents were really big into Ouija boards for a long time, back in the 1970s.  They’d have cocktail parties and invite all these freaky people over.  They’d drink vodka and spin records by Hank Mobley and Freddie Hubbard on the hi-fi, an imposing cross-grilled thing that crouched in the corner like a gargoyle.  

Between 11 o’clock and midnight, my dad would begin the process of sending me to bed.  Instead of shunting me off, he’d start paying even more attention to me; telling me what a great kid I was and letting me pick out records. Tangerine, by Dexter Gordon, was my favorite because of the simple, yet lush, beauty of the cover.   It was a genius tactical move on my dad’s part.  When it was time to put me to bed, he’d look at his watch and comment about late it was; he and I were having so much fun that time slipped by.

I’d lie in bed, underneath the big velvet portrait of Bruce Lee, listening to what was transpiring downstairs.  My parents, I knew, would place the Ouija board in the middle of the living room, on the red shag carpet.  The house would become conspicuously quiet.  All the boozy hooting and hollering, all the Polish jokes, would waft off into the night, leaving a coiled, unknowable silence.  I couldn’t sleep.  No one could.

In summer of 1979, I told my mother I could hear somebody in the sink.  A voice coming out of the drain.  It was more like a thin, whistling sound than an actual voice, but it was obviously trying to communicate something, some base idea.  I’d started hearing it the night after my parents’ friends, The Coffees, got into an evil, boozy argument at one of the Ouija board gigs.

Anyway, I told my mom about the voice in the sink, and she cried.  That was the end of the Ouija board.

My mom began going to church, a lot.  A whole lot.  Three or four times a week.  My father had some kind of weird episode in his car, and, soon thereafter, joined her in attending Mass.

They looked into an adult church group, but that proved too unstructured for them.  Instead, they started making treks to Shrewsbury, every week, to meet with a significantly harder-core prayer circle organized by a defrocked priest.  Real renegade stuff.

No Ouija boards.  No comic books.  No rock and roll records.  No TV.  No movies.  My parents encouraged me to pick fights with other kids at school.  “Beat the hell out of them,” they decreed.

Beating people up got good to me, real tough stuff.  When I got older, I tried to join The Marines.  My last week of boot camp, I shot two guys.  I didn’t like them and they didn’t like me.

I got life, and I still hear the whistling in the sink.  It’s fucking great.

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