A gifted teen with a penchant for an ex-Beatle seeks reprieve from her harsh reality
All day long I've been alone,
And I must do something about it,
Yes I must do something about it.
Dinner was another silent affair – an affair with pre-packaged teriyaki, white rice and a smattering of beef around the edges of fine China plates (courtesy of a killer deal at the local supermarket that Mother could simply not resist). From the living room, the enthusiastic cry of the primetime game show host hollering over a contestant’s glamorous prize of a brand new convertible, filtered into the dining room. Somewhere above, the low whirr of the washing machine changing cycles – probably from cold rinse to warm or vice versa – added to the familiar cacophony of the tedious evening ritual.
Lena could hear her older brother pacing in his room upstairs. He had refused to join them for dinner. Like that was anything new. She picked up her fork and pushed around a few strands of green string beans. She hated this stuff. In fact, she hated a lot of things, but no one else had to know that.
Father coughed and she stiffened inwardly, her expression giving absolutely nothing away. It was one of resolute indifference, perhaps a look well cultivated and perfected by struggling teenagers over the decades. Her long black hair, which was virtually impossible to curl no matter how many times she had tried to do so with her curling iron, lay in limp strands around her pale visage. Her green eyes – a by product of her grandmother and father’s genes – were painfully dull and almost lifeless. Every now and then, however, they would seem to sparkle with awareness at their surroundings but nothing more.
“…a rather serious matter we wish to discuss…”
Father was talking and she hadn’t been paying much attention. She blinked slowly and lifted her gaze to meet his eyes. Of course, they were hidden behind his thick glasses and the soft glow from the chandelier above the table, made it virtually impossible to catch his gaze. She wondered how his eyes must look at this time. Perhaps they looked watery and ‘squishy’ like hers became whenever she cried to herself at night.
“…so I was thinking of a good way to…”
Her gaze drifted to Mother, who was still eating quietly as if nothing was being said. She was beautiful in her own way. The years had been kind to her and her features did not betray the fact that she was pushing forty come May. She picked up a napkin to dab her lips – how so ladylike of Mother – before she pinned cool blue eyes upon her daughter.
“What your father is trying to say, Lena, is that we are getting a divorce. I’m sure you understand the reason why.”
Of course she did. She wasn’t stupid, neither was she born yesterday. After all, she had been listening and paying attention to their arguments and fights over the past five years. She pushed at another string bean. She really hated this stuff.
“Eleanor,” Father reproached with a clatter of his fork to his plate. “You could have at least said it in a much nicer way. Can you imagine what it must feel like to her--?”
“It’s cool,” the girl replied suddenly with a small nod, as if hoping to justify Mother’s statement.
Mother, for her part, looked smug. “See? At least one of us is mature enough.”
“Now, Eleanor, this is no time for us to--”
The game show host was beginning to scream in excitement. Someone was going to win an all expense paid trip around the world! And for her part, Lena Hornsby wished she could be somewhere else in the world at this time.
She eyed the annoying line of string beans on her plate and without much fanfare, lifted up her plate and flung it against the wall.
No one seems to need my vote,
No one has to change a note,
No one here to hold my coat,
Oh, what a day.
She knocked on her brother’s door, and not waiting for him to reply, she stuck her head in to announce flatly.
“Mom and Dad are getting a divorce and I’ve been grounded.”
“You threw dinner again?” he asked absently, pale blue eyes pinned on the computer screen before him. “God, you’re all freak shows.”
She shrugged and eyed the chaos that made up his bedroom. Their parents had long given up trying to convince him that ‘cleanliness was indeed next to godliness’. Somewhere beneath the mounds of dirty laundry, dirty magazines and home videos, nude posters of girls and boys alike, was a bed…or perhaps a mattress to sleep on. However, she had a feeling that her big brother didn’t sleep. He was an insomniac and a very good one at that. He could drive everyone nuts…when he set his mind to it. There was a faint stench of smoke – the marijuana kind – and she noticed that he had opened his window a little to let the rather sickening smell out.
“When are you going to go back to school?” she asked blandly as she picked up a red t-shirt that belonged to her. She wondered how he had gotten a hold of it. Was he raiding her closet again?
“I got suspended remember?”
“Dunno. Don’t care.”
“You can’t continue to live your life behind a computer.”
“I can’t. My teeth aren’t sharp enough.”
“God, you sound like Mom now.”
She froze and eyed the back of his head. His thick black locks were wavy…almost curly. He was lucky in that respect. She wished she could have his hair, but right now, she wished she could bash his brains in. She stared at his shoulders and at the tattoo of a dragon that seemed to cover his entire back. He was only in a pair of jeans and she could see that he had no underwear on…again.
“I’m not like Mom,” she said flatly. “If you say that again, I’m going to tell them what you did to me last month.”
That got his attention. He spun around quickly, his eyes now darkened with mild panic. “Aww come on, Lena! It was only a small kiss, it’s not like I frenched you or anything, damn it.”
“You stuck your tongue down my throat,” she stated matter-of-factly.
He blanched and got to his feet. “I was…was just practicing…you know I wouldn’t do that to you.”
He was tall. That’s why most girls liked him. She had seen them try to get his attention all the time like he was some kind of rock star or something. The coach had wanted him to join the basketball team in school, but he had ditched it after a day. The football coach had wanted him to become the quarterback for the team. He had ditched that after one week. He might look cool to everyone else, but she knew he was a complete and total loser. Like now - how he looked so panicky and afraid. What was he so afraid of? She had been surprised at the daring move, yes…but it was nothing to be scared about. Unless…
…he was really into her like…that.
“You’re weird,” she said with a snort as she turned away with her shirt tightly clenched in her hands. “I’m going to my room. I can’t come out of there until Dad and Mom straighten things out.”
He sat down heavily on his chair and ran fingers through his hair. “Say…Lena…”
“Don’t worry, Sean. I’m not telling them anything…for now…”
She left with a small smile on her face, knowing he would be pacing all night again in worry. She wasn’t planning to tell anyone anything anyway. It was no one else’s business but hers.
“How should I say this? Your daughter is…”
“Gifted is the word I was looking for, Mrs. Hornsby…”
“So what seems to be the problem? I mean why are we here if she’s gifted? Isn’t that a good thing?”
“Oh, it’s marvelous and wonderful. It is rare to have such children like this in our school, and we are doing all we can to cater to her needs or should I say demands. Children like Lena are hungry and greedy for knowledge.”
“So…what was the problem again?”
“Well…” He looks uncomfortable at the intense scrutiny he’s receiving from the adults before him. He can see the young girl sitting quietly in another chair in the now claustrophobic office. She seems to be reading one of his books on Education – How To Win Them Over. He swallows tightly and forces another smile on his face. “Well…we are trying to promote good social skills and open communication between students and their teachers as well as with other students and we have been quite successful so far…”
He can tell they are getting even more impatient. He notices that the girl’s father keeps looking at his watch. The girl’s mother is trying hard not to rise to her feet in irritation. He knows he must talk faster to get their attention.
“Lena…your daughter…seems to be the only one who isn’t responding to the program…”
“The Program? You make it sound like it’s an underground Nazi regime scheme thing.”
“Oh, no, no! I assure you, sir, it is no underhanded scheme. Rather it’s a program designed to teach children the importance of being friendly and communicative with family and friends.”
“Lena…well…she’s very antisocial, Mr. and Mrs. Hornsby. She doesn’t like to interact with the other students and seems to drift off during classes. Oh, don’t get me wrong. Her grades are as always, excellent, and she has a firm grasp of what’s being taught, but she just doesn’t seem to respond to anyone but her older brother. We have to call him sometimes to make her…speak…”
“So? Lena’s a quiet child. There is nothing wrong with my daughter, Mr. Pepper and I’d appreciate it, if you’d stop calling us in the middle of the day like this to speak to us about something this irrelevant. Now, if she had stolen school property or vandalized anything, we could understand. But this…this is ridiculous!”
He wants to ask if they care about their daughter at all. He wants to lean over the table and shake the impatient look off their faces. He wants them to see how much their attitudes affect the silent girl in the room. But he can’t. Society has forced him to become what he is today - the perfect principal of the most exclusive private school in the country. It was parents like these that put food on the table for him each day. He had to bow to their will.
“Forgive me then. It was my mistake, Mr. and Mrs. Hornsby. I apologize for bringing you here when you clearly didn’t want to.”
Mrs. Hornsby rises to her feet with a snort of derision and walks over to the girl. Plucking the book away from her small hands, the woman smiles as warmly as she can. “There is nothing wrong with you, Lena. But you’ve got to learn how to talk to others or they might take you to the Loony bin. You don’t want to go to the Loony bin now, do you?”
She stares at the big woman standing over her with the fake smile and the too bright blue eyes like her brother’s and the too red mouth and the painted face. She knows she’s supposed to say something but she’s not sure of what it is. Father walks over to smile at her too. He is bigger and stronger and smells like brother. She can be happy with Father.
“Dear god, Richard. She won’t even speak to us,” Mother whispers harshly. “Make her talk, damn it!”
“In due time, Eleanor. In due time.” He falls to his haunches and places a strong hand on her shoulder. He smiles again. “Be good for Daddy, okay? Now why don’t you talk and then Daddy and Mommy won’t have to come to school to embarrass you in front of your friends, hmm?”
She nods slowly. She understands them now. She is an embarrassment to her parents and she always will be.
She lifted her lashes slowly and glanced at the bedside clock. She wondered why that particular memory had come to mind tonight. She had been eight years old at the time – a supposed gifted child with an IQ of 150. In theory that made her a genius but she didn’t really put much stock in that. Sean, who was older by two years, was the one who was the genius in the family. He had gotten perfect scores on his SAT. Now, if he could only stop being such a pain in the butt, he could be a bit useful to society.
Baby, I'm amazed at the way you love me all the time,
And maybe I'm afraid of the way I leave you.
Maybe I'm amazed at the way you pulled me out of time,
You hung me on the line.
Maybe I'm amazed at the way I really need you
She continued to brush her hair almost absently – a monotonous motion of brush through limp strands. Some of them stuck to the bristles resolutely as if in defiance of her actions, others falling upon her shoulders like wisps of shredded feathers. She stared at her reflection in the mirror, singing along with Paul McCartney, while wishing she could have been Linda, his once beloved wife before she was snuffed out by an untimely death. She had a whole collection of Beatles albums, CDs and then Paul’s solo efforts over the years. Her time at Sid's Records, browsing through LP classics, 8 tracks, and rare unreleased recordings, had paid off handsomely. She could rattle off stats about the Beatles, especially when it came to Paul, at the drop of a hat. So much so that old Sid had pleaded with her to join him on a Beatles Revival Tour last month. A group of fans would be stopping at various small clubs to do cover songs in tribute. She had declined politely. No one else needed to know her obsession with the musician. And besides, she was underage in case Sid had forgotten.
The only decor on her wall was a classic black and white poster of the British musician with his guitar when he was a Beatle. He had definitely been a hottie back then. Of course, Sean had never understood her obsession with the ‘old timer’ and had teased her mercilessly about it. But how could she convey the serenity she felt whenever his voice spewed from the speakers? That his words had the power to calm the demons that screamed within her all the time. How could she let the ignorant masses know that Paul McCartney was God in human flesh? If only he could come to her rescue now. She definitely needed him more than ever at this time.
She finally stopped brushing her hair as the song came to an end. Placing the brush upon her dresser, she eyed its contents with a wary glance. There were the obligatory hand and body lotions – she noticed that a particular brand was missing and assumed that her brother had come ‘borrowing’ it again for that thing he usually did every other hour. There were a few, rather expensive, perfumes that Mother had bought for her and a few necessary make-up items which she rarely used. She was only fifteen and knew that wearing such things was the least of her worries. Besides, Paul might like her without makeup.
“Oh, Paul!” she sighed dramatically and rose to her feet. “My parents are getting divorced. What should I do?”
She spun around, dressed in nothing but her favorite black Beatles t-shirt, her shoulder-length hair whipping across her cheeks and into her eyes as she moved.
Faster and faster and faster - like a ballerina spinning out of control. The world was spinning out of control and she was going to lose control if she didn’t stop soon.
“Aargh!” She fell to the floor in a boneless heap. It was a wood floor with a pink rug placed right before her bed. However, she had missed that by a mile and now she had a ‘broken’ butt for her efforts. She wondered if Father or Mother would come rushing to her door to find out what was wrong. She decided to lay flat on the floor until that happened – although she knew that it might not come to pass. Her parents were so far gone in their abyss of distrust and bitterness that they had failed to recognize the needs of their offspring.
She lay on the floor and gazed at the picture of Paul – who would remain frozen in that eternal pose – singing soundlessly to her.
Let it be
Let it be
There will be an answer
Let it be
“Oh, Paul,” she whispered softly as she curled into a ball on the floor. “I knew you’d know what to do.”
She wasn’t surprised that Sean hadn’t reacted much to the news about their parents getting divorced. Maybe he was just going through another delayed reaction phase again. Like the time their grandpa had died of leukemia three years ago. Father had announced the news to them over dinner one night and Sean had promptly forgotten all about it the next day. However, on the day of the funeral, he had been the one to cry the hardest. To him, Grandpa had been his idol. Grandpa had known all the coolest stories and the most awesome hiding places in that gigantic farmhouse of theirs in the country. Grandpa had been the one to comfort and be with them when Father and Mother had to travel to other parts of the world on business or when they got into a fight. She wondered where they would be sent to now. Grandma had died several years back and so no one would be in the old farmhouse at this time. They hadn’t visited it since the funeral.
“If they make me choose who I want to live with…Father or Mother,” she mused aloud, still staring at Paul with his mouth wide open. “Who should I choose to be with? Father’s so absent-minded. He didn’t know I was on my period even after I showed him all the blood stains on my dress the first time it happened. Mother’s too busy with her career and couldn’t be bothered really. So who…who should I go with when it’s time to choose?”
She could take a wild guess as to whom Sean would want to be with. Mother. She didn’t really care what he did as long as he didn’t sully her good name. Mother would want to move to the big city, maybe downtown Los Angeles or someplace like that - where she could be closer to her clients. She had always complained about living out here in the suburbs. It was too far from work, she’d say. It’s too quiet. It’s too boring. It’s not the right environment to raise her kids. And so on and so forth. But Father would be stubborn. Father could be stubborn and he’d put his foot down and he’d say that if she didn’t like it, she could leave. And she’d always threaten to do so but she’d end up coming home at the end of the day anyway.
I guess this had been the final straw. Whatever ‘this’ was.
She shivered and realized that lying on the hard wood floor dressed in only a t-shirt wasn’t helping much. Hoping she wouldn’t twist or break any other bone in her body, she rose to her feet carefully and hobbled towards the bed. She pushed aside the white lace curtains that surrounded it and slipped beneath the thick pink blanket. Closing her eyes, she tried to imagine that the day had never happened. She was getting quite adept at that. Soon, she would fall asleep with images of horrible green string beans chasing her down a boulevard of marijuana plants.
Perhaps Sean would be waiting for her at the end of the road, or better yet, Paul McCartney – dear, sweet Paul - would come down on his white horse from the heavens and rescue her from the chaos that seemed to follow her wherever she went. To free her from the confines of this harsh reality called life.
Late at night when the wind is still
I’ll come flying through your door,
And you’ll know what love is for.
I’m a bluebird, I’m a bluebird
I’m a bluebird, lm a bluebird
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
“Like a bluebird, yeah,” she whispered as she dozed. Now, that was a dream she could live with.
Word Count: 3615
Song Lyrics Featured In Order:
Must Do Something About It - Paul McCartney: 'Wings At The Speed of Sound' (1976)
Maybe I'm Amazed - Paul McCartney: 'McCartney' (1970)
Let It Be - The Beatles: 'Let It Be' (1970)
Bluebird - Paul McCartney: 'Band on the Run' (1973)