The End of the Matter contest: a short story
On a Hot Summer Day1834 words
“And now… we have…the host of Family Fracas, Kevin Barney! “
The sounds of the audience’s applause mingles with tapes of previous audiences. A little canned excitement leavens the loaf. Onstage, the two families scream and jump up and down in an unpracticed but not unprecedented ploy for viewer attention.
See how eager they are, how feverishly excited! See how nervous they are, how difficult it is for them to hold it together, especially the really hyper woman who is dressed like a teenager. Watch the cheerleader moves, trying to make this look like a team, filled with team spirit. Notice how some members of each group have not responded well to coaching. They’re giving it a try, but they don’t really ‘get’ what’s expected here. They’re shaking their arms in the air and shouting ‘Yea!’ but their eyes are darting from one person to another looking for cues.
“Thank you, thank you. Now quiet down. I want to introduce you to our winners from last week, the Quick family from Peru, Indiana.” More yelling and clapping erupt.
Kevin strolls over to the group of contestants on the right of the stage. He makes a broad gesture with his arm, indicating the defenders, all of whom are dressed in red.
“Nice to see you again, Quicks. On your right is Stan, the oldster of the bunch, right, Stan? Are you still as quick as you always were? Ha-ha.” He puts his hand briefly on Stan’s shoulder, then proceeds along the booth. “This is his daughter Ginger, and his other daughter Sherry. Hi Sherry, looking mighty nice today,” Kevin says. Sherry smiles demurely. “And here’s Stan’s wife Georgene and his sister Veronica. How’d it go last week, Veronica? Did you feel like a celebrity when you got home?”
“We sure did, Kevin. Actually we didn’t go home, we stayed right here in Hollywood, but we talked to lots of folks from home on the phone,” Veronica says, nodding her blond head up and down enthusiastically. “My cousin Molly wanted me to give you a big kiss for her.” Veronica throws her arms around him and plants a big one on his face.
“Do I know Molly?” Kevin asks, panning for the audience. “I think I’d like to get to know her. Come back here,” he leers and the laugh track plays. Veronica bounces up and down, clapping and nodding her head. With every movement her short shirt rises, exposing more and more midriff. She makes no effort to pull it down.
“Moving right along,” Kevin chuckles, rolling his eyes and dramatically wiping his brow. “I want you to meet your challengers, the Shout family from Alarm, New Mexico. Let’s hear it for the Shouts!” The sounds of loud applause and miscellaneous bass hollering boom from the speakers.
“Okay, okay, that’s enough shouting. Is that really your names, by the way?” Kevin asks, staring at the camera.
“Yes, that’s it, Kevin, but it’s pronounced ‘shoot.’”
“You mean, like ‘shoot the gun?’”
“Yes, that’s right, Kevin,” the man says, with a look on his face that says he is prepared to be made fun of and he'll allow it. “My name is Donald Shout.”
“Well, isn’t that dangerous? I mean, if someone calls you by your last name, they yell 'Shoot!' right?” Kevin shakes his head as if it’s very baffling. “What if somebody takes it literally?”
“I suppose that might happen,” says Donald, smiling. “But most people don’t know how to pronounce it and so they yell ‘Shout!’ There are occasionally some strange consequences, but they aren’t dangerous,” he says patronizingly.
“I’ll just have to take your word for that, Donald. Now, how about introducing me to all the little Shouts?”
“I’ll be happy to, Kevin. This is my wife Nancy.” She smiles, and Kevin shakes her hand. “Next to her is our son Joseph and his wife DeeAnn.” Kevin solemnly shakes hands with each of them. “Then next to them is my sister, Lily Spaulding.”
Kevin moves to stand beside Lily, a tall brunette who is obviously pregnant. “I’ll bet you were glad to get married, weren’t you?”
Lily looks blank at first, and then aghast. She stands there with her mouth open. Then she remembers she should be smiling, but she still can’t think of anything to say.
Quickly trying to repair things, Kevin says, “I mean, I bet you were glad not to be a Shout or a Shoot, either one, any more. And I hope you don’t ‘shoot’ this one out right here on my stage!” He pans a look of shock, then gives her a big smile and a little shoulder squeeze. She recovers slightly. “You’re right about that, Kevin,” she stammers uncertainly.
“Okay!” he says, moving quickly toward his podium. “Let’s get ready to play the game. You all know the rules. The category is displayed right there on the game board. We want you to come up with the answers that were supplied most often by our studio audience. Are you ready?” Veronica jumps up and down and the applause track plays.
“All right, we’ll start with our winners and returning champions, the Quicks. Here’s the first question. What is your favorite thing to do on a hot summer day? “
The music plays, and the family all talks at once. The bell rings and Kevin turns to Stan. “What’s the answer, Stan?”
“Watch baseball,” says Stan, confidently.
“’Watch baseball,’” Kevin repeats. “Is that on our board today, Samantha?”
The beautiful Samantha flips a card, and, sure enough, ‘BASEBALL’ is there for 500 points. The Quick family cheers and says, “Good job, Dad!”
“Now, what is another favorite thing to do on a hot summer day? Sherry, what about it?” The family confers, and Sherry answers, “Drink lemonade.”
“’Drink lemonade.’ How about it Samantha?”
The buzzer rings its bleeping sound, and Sherry gets a consoling hug from her dad..
“No, sorry, that answer doesn’t match with our studio audience. Okay, Ginger, you tell us. What’s a favorite thing to do on a hot summer day?”
“Go for a walk?” Ginger offers. Everyone cheers encouragingly.
“Is it…’Go for a walk’?” Kevin yells, his arm upraised.
Bleep goes the buzzer.
“I’m sorry but that’s not the answer. You have two strikes against you. You need this answer or the question will pass to the other team. Now, Georgene, what is your favorite thing to do on a hot summer day? “ Kevin intoned.
“Kevin, I think the answer is: Go shopping in the air conditioned mall!” Georgene looks pleased with herself. Ginger and Veronica squeal "Good answer!" and Sherry gives her a high five.
Kevin raises his arm, holding the question, and reads it to Samantha again.
“What is your favorite thing to do on a hot summer day? What does our audience say, Samantha? Is it ‘Go shopping in the air conditioned mall?’”
The buzzer sounds. “No, I’m sorry. The Quicks have struck out on this round. Better luck next time." There's an audible moan of disappointment, followed by some clapping and smiling as they show themselves to be good losers.
"After this commercial, we’ll be back to turn the question over to our new contenders, the Shout family."
The Quick family huddles around, hugging and patting each other on the back consolingly.
The Shouts file into their places, and Kevin waits for the signal for the show to begin again. “Here we are,” he announces, “with our challengers, the Shouts, who are going to tell us what is a good thing to do on a hot summer day. Let’s start in with you, Donald. What do you think is a good thing to do on a hot summer day?”
Everyone chimes in with ideas, and Donald is ready. “Kevin, I think a good thing to do is stay home and drink beer.” Everyone cheers, although no one had made that suggestion.
“What do you think, Samantha? Is it ‘Stay home and drink beer?”
Samantha pauses dramatically, and then the buzzer rings.
“Sorry, Donald. That was a good one, but not one the audience came up with. Now, Nancy, what do you think is a good thing to do on a hot summer day?”
“Movie, movie,” the girls yell; and Nancy says, “Yes, Kevin, I think it is Go to a Movie.”
“Is she right, Samantha? Is it Go to a movie?”
Samantha flips the card that reads MOVIE, and everybody laughs and claps.
“All right, give us another one. Joseph, what do you think is a good thing to do on a hot summer day?”
Joseph says, “Baseball!” and all the family hushes him.
“No, you can’t say that one. It’s been said already. Now think. What’s another thing?” Kevin encourages.
The family is looking nervous. Lily appears to have written down some words, and she tries to show them to Joseph, but he ignores her.
“Picnic!” blurts out Joseph, and everyone looks relieved.
“Is it Picnic?” asks Kevin, and the word PICNIC appears on the board.
“Just one more good answer and you’ve won the round. Dee Ann, what do you think is a good thing to do on a summer day?”
By this time everyone is tired of hearing the question repeated, and Kevin is looking a little haggard.
Lily pulls out her list again and pushes it at Dee Ann, pointing at one line. Dee Ann nods excitedly. “It’s Go Fishing, Kevin,” Dee Ann exclaims.
"That just might be it, Dee Ann. Samantha, is it ‘Go Fishing’?”
The women are squeezing each other, so sure they have it right, but the buzzer sounds its flat ugly tone again.
“I’m so sorry. You still have another chance though. What’s it going to be, Lily?”
Lily’s expression, once again, goes blank. Then a look of despair spreads across her face as she sees it, crumpled into a ball in the middle of the floor where she'd tossed it. “I can’t think of anything,” she murmurs.
Kevin looks at her hard. “Just take it easy. What do you think is a good thing to do on a hot summer day?” he asks.
The moment stretches out, and the bell rings. Her eyes dart around and a blush starts its way up her neck. Hurriedly she says, “Make love. That’s not the answer I had written down, but I can’t think of it now. I thought ‘Go Fishing’ would win and the game would be over. I balled up my list and threw it away. Wouldn't you know that the second I tossed it out, I'd want it?”