by K.A. Franks
A high school senior struggles to maintain his sanity as his life spirals out of control.
It’s sixteen minutes past eight, I lay on my side intently staring on as the neon green number six turns into a seven on my black, digital alarm clock. I turn onto my back as I reach for the silver remote with the soft felt, blue and gray buttons. I un-mute the television when I realize that the commercials have finally passed and immediately hear Charles Osgood’s comforting voice.
I close my eyes and imagine that he's talking just to me, informing only me. I imagine I'm his grandson, secretly awaiting for the next commercial break behind the scenes. As the show comes to a break, I look on joyously as my pretend grandfather sits down behind a piano and begins teasing the crew with his unexpected talent for the keys. Slowly but surely, a smile begins to form upon my face as I continue to gaze upon my smooth speaking grandfather. A sudden sense of pride overcomes me, before I'm interrupted by a bothersome commercial, peddling it’s dissatisfying fruit juice.
I re-mute the television and slowly remove the covers on top of me. I get out of my bed and carefully open up my bedroom door. Silence, good--I’m still the only one up. As I cover myself back up, I turn to my left side and stare through the black metal bars that line the back of my bed and look at the rough looking white wall. I turn on my back and look up at the ceiling, but I can’t help but be distracted by the bits of bright light gaping through the dark colored curtains that guard my window.
I once again remember to un-silence my television when I glance in its direction and notice the grave looking sun that symbolizes the show I’d been watching. A graph of happiness appears on the screen and shows that most people are the happiest between seven and ten p.m. I look away to my clock and sigh as it’s only five minutes until nine. I shake my head at the thought and listen on as one of the show's correspondents goes on about the perks of being a New Yorker.
I lift my head up at the ceiling and stare at the pearly white ceiling fan that hangs from it, which no longer works. I pull the blanket underneath my chin as I feel a gust of air blowing from the standing replacement fan. I wiggle my toes in an attempt to divert my attention from the cold, assuredly regretting not having put on a pair of socks the previous night. A sudden sense distracts me from my warming regret. Hunger. But what to eat? What to eat? Three day old Chinese takeout leftovers? Two week old strawberry yogurt? Whatever’s in the McDonald’s sack in the fridge? I decide on a few chocolate chip cookies and a quick refill of my water bottle. Chocolate and water--yum! I should probably throw the bottle away, on account of I can’t remember when I first got it. But my current lazy mood gets the best of me and I decide it would be more of a waste to get down a perfectly clean glass.
When I finally get back to my room I turn the channel, having given up on the previous show I’d been watching. Too many commercials--you can only mute the television so often, you know?
As I bypass channels consisting of sports, kitchen cookware, and fitness regime’s, I come across a classic--The Godfather. And although it’s already twenty-two minutes in I decide to keep it on. I watch on as Marlon Brando dances at his daughter’s wedding and I half, selfishly want him to randomly call out for “Stella,” then laugh, when he doesn’t. I watch as Diane Keaton tells Al Pacino about the ‘scary’ guy whose talking to himself, and laugh again. Lasagna doesn’t sound half bad, right about now.
It’s still pretty early in the morning when the telephone decides to ring. I take a random guess--hang up caller, maybe? But then after so many rings, I realize that it’s my dad’s voice beckoning from the answering machine in the living room.
“Jake? Reagan? You two up yet? You didn’t forget what today is, did you?”
I have a gut feeling that my little sister is screening the call, if in fact she’s even awake to hear it. So I drag myself over towards the cordless phone in my room.
“Jake, hey! Morning, bud. You and your sister didn’t forget where we’re going today, did you?”
“Good, good. Well, I’m on my way out of the house right now, so you two make sure you’re ready by the time I get there. Alright?”
“Alright then. See you in a bit.”
When I get back to my room I wonder in disbelief at where the time has gone. It’s four minutes past eleven. I walk down the hall to my sister’s room, “Hey, Reagan, I say as I tap on her door. “You up?”
“Come on. You know why, Rae.”
“Evan,” I hear her grumble.
“Yeah, Rae, Evan. Our brother. It’s Sunday after all.”
“Hey, watch it!”
“My bad, bro. I didn’t realize you were so ‘G.’”
“Yeah. As in rated G, Jake.”
“Well look at you, so in the know. What would I possibly do without you?”
“I don’t know. Have a life, maybe?”
“Let’s just hope you’re as fast getting ready as you are with your words.”
Reagan opens her door and heads towards the bathroom, “Why? What’s the rush? I’m pretty sure that no matter what, Evan will still be there.”
“Well, dad called and said he was on his way.”
I lean on the side of the bathroom doorway and watch as Reagan grabs her toothbrush.
“I don’t see why we have to go visit Evan anyway. It’s not like he ever has anything to say. He just sits there. And we just sit there, looking at each other all tragic-like.”
I nod my head in agreement, “I know, but he’s still our…”
“And how unfair is it that we have to go when mom doesn’t even go anymore.”
“I’m sure she has her reasons.”
“Yeah. A tall, young, athletic boy-man reason,” she laughed. “Well, I guess I should start getting ready. I don’t even know what I’m gonna wear yet.”
“Well, I’ll leave you to it. I should go and get dressed myself.”
“What are you wearing?”
“Jeans, t-shirt. Simple.”
“Lucky! God, why wasn’t I born a guy?”
“It’s not like you have to dress up or anything, Rae. That is unless you’re looking to bait yourself a crazy.”
I duck as she throws a dirty towel at me.
“No, but I want to look semi-decent, at least. What if I run into someone I know?”
“You’re probably right. Considering the people you hang out with. Anyone of them could be a potential roommate for Evan.”
“What? I was just trying to keep it real. Isn’t that what you kids are saying these days? And I thought I warned you about that mouth - that’s twice now. Keep it up.”
“Sure thing, dad.”
“Oh, you’d be so lucky.”
I go back to my room and lean down in the floor to pick up a pair of jeans. There's a red graphic tee lying next to them, so I feel compelled to smell it just in case.
Not too bad, I think. But it could use a little something.
I grab a can of body spray from the dresser and spray it all over the shirt.
“Ah, now that’s more like it.”
I pull on the shirt and slip on my jeans.
“Ready,” I call out from the hallway.
“Not even,” I hear Rae’s voice call out. “Did you even bother combing your hair?”
“No need to, when you’ve been blessed with locks such as these,” I joke as I shake my hair back and forth. “Eat your heart out, Willow Smith.”
“As if! What about deodorant? Did you put any on? Because I’ll tell you right now, I am not sitting next to a sack of onions for three hours.”
“Good point. Now who’s playing mommy?”
I sniff my underarms and begin to feel my stomach turn. Deodorant, deodorant. Where did I put it? A chance glimpse into my trash can answers the question for me. I race to Rae’s room and grab her deodorant from her dresser. As I lift it to my nose, I notice that it is purple and smells like flowers. I think for a brief moment, It’ll have to do.
I slide Rae’s purple deodorant under both of my arms a few times, then briefly pause to smell myself after. Totally fem, but not a total let down. I take another brief smell of Rae’s deodorant. Unfortunately, it now smells somewhat less flowery then it had before I used it. I attempt to wipe some of the non-flowery smell off of it on the reverse side of Rae’s blanket. Smell it one last time, before recapping it and putting it back where I found it. I knock on the bathroom door as I run through the hallway to the living room.
“You almost done in there or what?”
Suddenly I heard the bathroom door open, “Almost. Did you put on some deodorant, like I said?”
“But of course, mom.”
I open the blinds in the living room so that we can be on the lookout for dad. Then I write Mom a quick note explaining where we’ll be, just in case she gets back before we do.
Rae takes a seat on the loveseat and begins looking out the window, “You think he’ll bring her?”
“I doubt it. Visiting your crazy son at the nut house doesn’t exactly scream attractive.”
“I hope you’re right. I don’t really feel up to the whole shiny, happy people thing today.”
“No worries. Not even dad’s that dense.”
“So dad, what kind of mood do you think Evan will be in today?”
“A good one, hopefully.”
“Hopefully, being the keyword there.”
“So what have the two of you been up to? Are you ready for school to start back up?”
“Fine,” I say.
“Well don’t hurt yourselves trying to come up with more than three words now, you two,” Dad jokes.
“Well it’s not exactly like we’re answering essay worthy questions.”
“And she’s got a tongue that lives up to her name, ladies and gentlemen. Good for you, Rae. Good for you. Well, how‘s your mom?”
“Well, how about you, Jake how’ve you been?”
Now this question wasn’t exactly the easiest to answer, seeing as the context of the question was sort of difficult. How’ve I been since you left? Since mom stopped being a mom? Or since Evan tried to kill himself?
“The days just blur, really.”
“I imagine so, Mr. Senior. It‘s so great that you get to spend your last year of high school with Rae as a sophomore, no less.”
“Yeah, super great.”
“Well I have a bit of exciting news myself, but it can wait until after we see your brother.”
“Can’t wait,” Rae says as she rolls her eyes.
“You and me both, Rae. You and me both. Now do you kids want to grab something to eat on the way or do you want to wait until after we see your brother?”
“I’m kind of hungry. I didn’t have breakfast this morning, plus…”
“You didn’t have breakfast? Why not? Didn’t your mom…”
“She had to leave early for work, this morning,” I lie.
“Alright. Well I hope you know that if you guys ever need anything. And I mean anything you can just call me and I’ll see what I can do. Okay?”
“Okay, dad. Can we get something to eat now?”
“Sure thing, Rae. Sure thing. And you're sure you’re not hungry, Jake?”
“Positive. I grabbed something to eat this morning and I’m still pretty full.”
“And what exactly did you…”
I shove Reagan gently before she can finish saying what she was going to and she immediately gets the hint.
“Reagan here, just woke up too late to put anything together. It’s no wonder she’s so hungry.”
“Typical me, right? Almost as typical as the Emperor‘s New Clothes,” she says under her breath.
“Yeah, Rae," I say as I force a smile. "Almost.”
When we get to the facility it takes a while for the staff to inform the patients that they have visitor’s waiting, so we wait in the lobby as we put on our nametags. I rub mine hard on my shirt. Maybe it’s a nervous tendency or maybe it’s a way to feel some sort of control in the situation. When the lady at the desk motions for us to go back into the visiting area we stand up and follow the attendant on duty to the backroom.
A group of young girls walk past us, each one making their own comment as we walk by.
“Yo, pops,” one calls out at dad. “You mind helping a girl hop up out of this bitch?”
“Hey there, sexy,” another winks as she blows me a kiss.
“What the hell you looking at,” one yells at Reagan.
“They probably just got back from lunch or something,” I try and assure Reagan, who already looks uneasy.
When we finally reach the visiting room, it takes a minute, but we soon spot Evan. He’s seated in the very back of the room, looking around as if he’s been waiting for us to visit him. But when he finally sees us he immediately puts his head down in his folded arms, on the table, as if we weren’t who he was expecting.
“Hey, buddy. How’ve you been? They treating you pretty good around here.”
Evan doesn’t even bother to raise his head to answer, “What do you think?”
“Well I don’t know, Evan. That’s why I asked.”
“Sure. Five-star luxury, all around,” Evan breathes from beneath his arms. "Just drop it, dad."
“Alright, son. Whatever you want. Your brother and sister and I drove all the way down here just to come see you today. The least you could do is say hello.”
Evan raises his head from his arms and takes in the sight of Reagan and me, “Rae. Jake.”
“You know, Evan this year will be Jake’s senior year and Reagan will be a sophomore.”
“You don’t say,” he says as he lays his head back down. “Where does the time go. I’d hardly known summer was almost up.” Suddenly Evan raises up, makes eye contact with a facility worker nearby and begins raising his voice, "It'd be nice to go outside once in a while."
I flinch slightly at the anger in his tone and try to think of something witty to say. Something that will make him at least crack a smile, if not just half of one. My best friend, Max would know what to say. He’s always so good with conversation, no matter who he’s talking to. But with me, the first thought that comes to mind is: “Hey Ev, do you remember that movie, "Over the Hedge"?”
I watch as he raises his head slightly, “The cartoon?”
“Yeah, that one.”
Evan shrugs his shoulders and looks back at me, “Yeah, and? I tried to kill myself, Jake. I didn't suddenly get amnesia. What about it?”
I glance at Rae, to no avail. She’s too busy pretending to check her phone, in an attempt to stay out of the line of fire. So, there I am--alone. Stuck on an irrelevant topic, even for forced small talk.
“Well, it was on the other day and it occurred to me that Bruce Willis really makes for one great raccoon. I mean, the voice casting on that was just perfect, don't you think?”
Evan’s blank stare clues me in that I’ve lost him, so I try another approach.
“It’s got some pretty decent music in it too, don’t you think? Ben Folds. Have you heard any good music lately?”
And just as the last few words escape from my mouth, it dawns on me that I’ve made a huge mistake in asking him this question.
“Have I heard any good music, lately? No, Jake. Not lately. Unless you consider the various screams at night music, which I don't think anyone would want to. I wish I could listen to music instead of that, but they don’t exactly allow us to in here. You see, they're afraid one of us would abuse the privilege and try and strangle ourselves, if not someone else with our earphones. Pretty ingenuous if you really think about it.”
“I’m sorry, Evan. I didn’t…”
“You didn’t what, Jake? You didn’t know? They don’t even let us wear tennis shoe laces in here, for Christ sake. Actually, you know what? Don’t even bother apologizing. I mean, as soon as I saw that it was you guys again, I should've asked to go back to my room. Tony, Tony,” Evan calls out. “I think I’m done here,” he says as he stands up. “I’d be lying if I said I was glad to see you all, so I won’t. But good luck with high school, you two. Oh and Jake, I hope you take to college much better than I did. I hope you all have a safe drive back, and I‘m sorry to have wasted your time.”
"Now Evan," Dad said, as he readjusted himself in his seat. "You didn't waste our time."
"No, dad?" Evan said, without so much as even a glance in our direction, as he walked towards the visiting room exit. "Well, you sure as hell wasted mine. Do me a favor and don't come back, unless you're coming to get me out of here."