Excerpt from The Family Jones
Siddhi and I conquered I-95 from Miami to New York with thumb wrestling, hangman, and sleep. “Gonna be great for us, munchies…” Jackson muttered, waking us both up just in time for a look at the City skyline. I wondered if we would ever see home again, or if we even had enough money to live in the real world, and I whispered my worries to Siddhartha, but then he started to look down and wring his hands like he always did when he got scared, so I cut it out.
“The Catskills,” Jackson said, pointing his finger at the purplish shadows rising out of a never-ending bed of green forest. A mom would have packed snacks. The three whole years of whatever I’d experienced with my own mother had long been squashed into the forgotten corners of my brain by the next nine years of newer, shittier memories, like the past sixteen hours of Jackson driving ninety miles per hour, the constant beeeeep of his Fuzzbuster insisting he slow down, and all the while with him mumbling how this guru was going to help him straighten out, get right.
Jackson turned onto a gravelly road that led to a huge, grassy field in the forest, then up a hill past a pair of old brown barns where a bunch of goats stood around nervously, like they were waiting to take a math test. Another quarter mile from the barns, and Jackson pulled up to a circle of little cottages—yellow clapboard with lacy white porch rails—and parked at the sign that said, “MAIN OFFICE.”
On the lawn outside, a circle of naked women in socks upended themselves into headstands. They looked like a rack of lamb. Continue reading
Crawfish pie, succulent as any dish at Galatoire’s, beckoned from the counter alongside a platter of baguettes and, glistening under the skylights, a heap of romaine tossed with strawberries. Were cilantro and pine nuts wedged in there too? Either way, the silver platter caught Beth’s crab-like hand scuttling toward the baguettes, and her eyes as well, looking to elude her mother’s gaze. “I’m twenty-one years old, Mom, and I don’t care if I’m not emaciated like you,” she might have said.
But she didn’t. In this polite envelope of a crowd, gathered together at Uncle Adrian’s beach house, a rejoinder to her mother’s silences would be unthinkable. Every June they visited. As usual, her family had traveled from Chattanooga, though this time she’d driven alone after work, first with the radio blaring, then As You Like It on CD. While for her the trip to the Gulf Coast took seven hours, her cousins, who lived in New Orleans, except during and after Katrina, could make it in four.
“Okay, everybody!” bellowed a pious great-aunt. Continue reading
Emily was the sort of six-year-old who would squash the end of an ant, but not the front, to prolong its suffering. Life had dealt her an unfair hand, and now life was dealing the insects an unfair hand. Her mother worried that she would become a serial killer and sent her to a child psychiatrist. Every Thursday she paid $300 for Emily to build Lego spaceships that symbolized her apparent penis envy. Mrs. Harris, who had never studied psychoanalysis, thought that the doctor meant that Emily had gender confusion, and donated all the child’s pants to the Salvation Army. She dressed her daughter in lacy, flowery dresses and party shoes. When Emily sat cross-legged on the floor, everyone could see her underwear. Her teachers forbade her from participating in sports. What a fat child she became! By the time she was eleven, she weighed one hundred and eighty pounds and Thomas called her Jiggles.
Everyone liked Thomas; he was the most beautiful boy in the world. He was small and thin and had curly brown hair. Emily wanted to envelope him inside herself and absorb his body into her bones. She thought about what it would be like to wake up one morning in his bed, with his curls and his penetrating eyes. How were his parents? What did his room look like? Emily saw the trophies lined up on his desk, the framed awards hanging above his bed. He won prizes in math every year, she knew because they had class together, and she knew he had baseball and basketball trophies because the principal gave them to him in special assemblies that took the students out of English class. He was always surrounded by girls but never dated any of them, and people told all kinds of lies about him, but in fact he was a gentleman and never told his friends what he did when he was with women.
“If he’s so nice, why does he call you Jiggles?” asked Emily’s mother. Continue reading
Copyright © James Hale
All Rights Reserved
note: Space is of critical importance in this play. space between the characters, between the beats, even between the lines. All intimate spaces, whether physical or regarding delivery, should be taken as close to discomfort as possible without reaching it. Conversely, let there be an almost uncomfortably large space between beats, both in an immensity of physical distance between the characters, and in length. it is allowable for the play to speed up noticeably towards the end, if desired.
[The holding cell at a federal prison. A metal table, a couple metal chairs. Bare walls, bare floor, a single window overlooking the yard, presumably. A heavy, swinging door opens and PETER enters, getting his shackles removed by an unseen guard at the threshold before the door closes loudly behind him. PETER is in his mid-30s, handsome, with eyes that used to smile.]
[PAUL enters, 40s, a man of faith haunted by doubt, wearing a clergyman’s collar. The door again clanges, both opening and closing. Keys are heard, bell-like, locking them in.]
Well. Continue reading
The starling paced back and forth on the windowsill making a low clucking sound, his bill catching here and there on the screen. Mostly it rushed from one end of the sill to the other but sometimes it only made it midway before it stopped and pushed its head into the screen and darted back to the point at which it started. Mark felt bad for the thing in its panic and wanted to lift the screen and let it out but he knew how John felt about the bird and didn’t know what to do.
Anyone who met Mark and John assumed they were father and son. They were both 5’6” and lean with wide set blue eyes and had an affable stoop to their shoulders. Both were amiable and soft spoken and both liked the Mets and the Jets. John was appropriately older than Mark to be his father, but they were not related at all. Neither had had children and neither had been married, both for no other reason than it just never happened. And even though they conveniently wore the same size clothes and shoes, they never borrowed or shared. Continue reading
Freudiana, I’m not a screw factory. It has to be something special to be with him. Otherwise what’s the point?
Freudiana, how are you? I haven’t seen you in a long time. Your hair is styled; not mine. Can’t stand my hair. Let it fall. It glistens, you tell me.
He said, Cutting ages you.
Longer is younger, I said. Do I need you telling me about my hair?
Vogue says, Shorter is younger.
Also, who’s Hal to tell me not to help my child? Before we flew to London, I handed my son, Van, four signed emergency checks.
Children need to be independent, Hal said. Continue reading
Life wants to be; life doesn’t always want to be much; life from time to time
goes extinct…. Life goes on.
—Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything
I have to write everything down while I still remember.
Dispatch called at 3 a.m. A hospital in Monterey. Insurance had sent a car.
I sat on the porch in the dark, reading the patient’s file. Erik Hagestad. A marine biologist and diver, a scientist at the research institute. He’d brushed against deepwater coral. The abrasions were severe. Antibiotic noncompliance led to sepsis. Headlights swept over me. My ride.
The driver had a serene soul. As he drove, he was thinking of his wife and daughters. Not words, just images. Very specific. The little one grinning, having lost a tooth. His wife’s hands forming masa into tortillas. It made for a peaceful drive.
In Monterey the sky was lighter. The air smelled of cypress and the sea. I tipped the driver $2,500. It was all I had on me. Nurse Devon Jagler met me in the lobby. She walked me to palliative care. A man stood outside the patient’s room. He was weeping. The nurse introduced him. Somebody Smith. Milton?
“Are you the husband?” I asked. Continue reading
“Why’s it matter? Why’s it matter?” Shelda—she calls herself Shelda now that enough years have passed — is yelling and she’s in the living room and she knows better than to yell in the living room, but she’s yelling and she’s yelling, and repeating, “Why’s it matter?” but it’s as much a yell as it is a point-of-fact that she knows (that we all know) can’t be taken as fact if it ends in a period, so she makes it look like a question—it’s that same loud spoken yell the desperate do at the last minute, or no , it’s that sudden fact that dresses for the occasion, always in season, or is the—
“Shut up, Curtis.” From Shelda.
“I’m not talking to you.” From Curtis.
“Goddamn, he shit on the floor. He shit on the rug. Our father shit on the rug in the goddamn living room.” This is Denise talking.
And he had. Continue reading