Savage 1986-2011 by Nathaniel G. Moore is being released later this month by Anvil Press, but at Swept, we’re featuring a chapter from Moore’s new novel, called Blue Monday! Nathaniel G. Moore is a Toronto-based writer of poetry and fiction, as well as journalism. Savage 1986-2011 is the fifth book Moore has authored. Check out his Tumblr page for the latest updates on the book and what Nathaniel is up to.
“I’m going to punch him so hard next time I see him!” Holly shouted on the phone. I shook my head and torpedoed down the stairs to my room; I had no time to spare, those idiots from school would be over in less than two hours to work on our English assignment.
I shifted my custodial activities to the basement, attempting to normalize it. Mom chimed in, with her usual mauve sweater, exhausted, dowel-eyed glare. I was halfway down the stairs.
“Better clean your room!” To which I retorted, “Those jerks aren’t going anywhere near my room!” Then I laughed maniacally. “They will never see my laboratory, my master plans, my secret hidden…”
“All right, fine,” Mom growled. “Help me unload the dishwasher!”
I knew finding material to add realism to the video project wouldn’t be hard; props were in abundance; excess wood, metal and plastic objects were everywhere. Mops, lumber, pipes .
From where I stood, I could see that my bedroom door was ajar. I had moved my geeky sci-fi props from the main basement into my room (wooden guns painted grey and black, model space ships and other odd creations were covered with clothing.)
The thought of strangers from school sitting on my bed, asking me questions about my choice in décor, or requesting an explanation after giving me a – what the hell is that? – twisted-teenaged face in regard to a Star Wars prop made me shudder with disgust and terror.
Mom shouted: “What time are they supposed to be here?”
“They’re coming at noon, I told you already!” I shouted up the dirty stairwell.
“Do they want food?”
Mom had a thing about food and people coming over, no big deal but really, even the most minor snack getting plus-oned was enough to throw her into a fit; as if another hot dog or peanut butter sandwich was the equivalent to fixing a rack of lamb followed by a deep dish seven cheese lasagna,.
“I told them to eat their own food outside in the driveway before coming in.”
“Oh be quiet,” Mom said. “Just answer the question.”
“I don’t know, think they probably will have eaten.”
“Well, you should have asked them,” Mom said, shaking her head and vanished in a wash of late-morning noise.
“I can’t think of everything.” I said, appearing with a half full plastic bag. I shoved it into the kitchen garbage can. “But it’s been a big learning experience for all of us.”
The boys arrived just after twelve, refusing at first to really speak to, or accept any offers of sustenance from mom. She helped them put their coats away, and repeated the offer of a hot drink or sandwich.
“I thought we’d start in the basement, there’s way more room.”
Politely repeating their refusals for sustenance, they swished their way down to the basement, wall-pawing in astonishment along the way.
“Just let me know if you get hungry,” Mom said with a shake of her head in all directions that at once amused and confused me. She mouthed something as I left the kitchen but I couldn’t decode it in time.
I carefully shepherded them past my bedroom door. “Uh, is this your room?” Stephen asked. “No, it’s the basement.” “Where is your room?” “Upstairs.” I lied.
Once the minuscule red record button went on, the camera was capturing us in all our bad acting glory, our ums and uhs, stutters, and I dunno’s and oh shits.
“Uh, can we start over,” Stephen Chaing asked, his braces covered in shiny elastics, bits of dribble pooling along his lips.
“No, just keep going we’ll edit it out,” I shouted,.
“Where’s the script?” Stephen asked.
In class Stephen used mechanical pencils and chewed on his eraser. I also remembered his very, very bad breath and how his braces kept his mouth constantly agape; a further public cruelty.
I moved the shoot into the next scene. “What act are we on now?”
“Still ah, act one I think.”
For some reason we decided to narrate the scenes from the play in fake British accents, perhaps taking our cues from Stephen, who began speaking in this slant when we started to shoot news desk commentary scenes.
“Jesus, if this guy owned a funeral parlor nobody would die!” I shouted.
Stephen had headgear and braces, and spat when he talked. He wore a tie and played three different roles, he was nervous, doubtful of my creative ideas, but for the most part, cooperative.
“It’s cold down here,” Jeremy12 said.
I scanned the script.
“Hey, I just thought of something! For that scene with Willy and the hose, when he tries to kill himself, we can use the vacuum cleaner!” I beamed. “It’s perfect. Those hose parts!”
“I guess,” Stephen said. “Uh, you don’t have a normal hose?”
“What’s a normal hose?” I countered. “I don’t have a box full of hoses to choose from.”
We all paused at the sound of Mom’s footsteps on the metal stairs. A pained smile and bright-eyed greeting, as if she were flexing her pupils, took over the basement. All this action previewed her inquisition.
“How’s it going?” she asked as she entered the basement, carrying a tray of food and beverages. “Thought you guys could use a break,” Mom said, setting the wooden tea tray down on a small table.
“Yum, radioactive pink water and egg salad sandwiches,” I said. I hated the strong egg smell, but thanked her.
“Let me know if you need anything else,” Mom said, leaving the basement, returning to the surface.
The boys nodded, slurped on their drinks, took quiet bites from the soft oozing egg salad on brown bread. “Let’s film the rest upstairs in the den; we have a piano, it might look good in the background,” I suggested.
“Uh, who says that line again?” “Which line?” I asked Stephen. “Ah, the one that goes, ‘He’s liked but he’s not well liked.’ I think it’s Biff, right?”
We moved the filming upstairs, taking the fireplace and piano as our backdrop.
Stephen was now playing Linda, Willy’s wife. He wore an old hat of Mom’s from the 1970s; a floppy felt black one with a thin pink ribbon that went all the way around. “Willy, darling, you are the most handsomest man in the world,” Stephen said, putting his hand on Jeremy’s shoulder.
“Thanks,” he said. “Shit, that’s not right,” Jeremy said.
“Should I keep going or stop it?” Stephen asked, the camera humming along, recording everything.
“Just keep going,” I said. “We’ll fix it.”
At my direction, Jeremy stood by the fireplace, walked over to the piano, paused then looked off-camera. The camera followed. “Work a lifetime to pay off a house. You finally pay for it, and there is no one to even live in it,” Jeremy said, trying his best to remember the line.
Stephen and I looked down at a scrap of paper where we had written in all capital letters: ATTENTION MUST BE PAID!
“That’s Linda’s big line,” I said.
Jeremy looked at Stephen. “You were great as my wife.”
“OK, so let’s do that line, the one about, you know, the one where he says, ‘I realized what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been,’ OK?”
Soon it was time for the abject hose scene. I intentionally overacted the scene, struggling with the vacuum hose as if it were a live snake. Everyone cracked up.
“You guys OK in here?” Mom asked, poking her head through the doorframe.
“Cut,” I yelled. “Let’s do that again, and Jeremy will try to hide the hose and Stephen you come in and ask what he’s doing.”
Mom shut her mouth slowly into a flat line. She saw me holding the vacuum hose extension and shook her head. “Just be careful Nate,” she said, disappearing again.
“We’re almost done, just the car washing scene, we can do that with Lego.”
“You have Lego?” Stephen asked, his face trussed in judgment.
“Sure.” I said. “Why wouldn’t I have Lego? Everyone has Lego.”
“Oh, Nate, I’m picking up Holly from the subway, I’ll be back in half an hour or so.”
“OK, thanks for the newsflash.”
Setting up three Lego men beside a toy car, Stephen did the final commentary, his sloppy pronouncements the results of egg salad, his severe dental work and forced British accent: “Willy becomes immersed in a daydream. He praises his sons, now younger, who are washing his car. The young Biff, a high school football star, and the young Happy appear. They interact affectionately with their father, who has just returned from a business trip.”
“That’s a wrap boys!” I said. “I’ll be right back, hold on a sec.”
I ran to the front of the house, knees on the pink couch, peering through the curtains to see if Mom had returned with Holly. The driveway was blank.
The phone rang. I hoped it was Andrew or Holly.
I picked up before the third ring. It was Dad13.
“Is your mother there?”
“Nope,” I said. “She went to get Hol.” I twirled the cord in my fingers, turning them beet red.
I could hear a faint organ playing in the background. I hung up. It was death, and now, I knew, that it was true. It was that close. He was there. Working.
Dad asked some more questions, his voice remixed in an indiscernible glaze but with the same focus. I just snapped in frustration, “I don’t know! Ten minutes ago? OK I’ll tell her, I’m busy, school project.—” and hung up.
I scuttled on my sock feet along the tiles, stopping at the cupboards, doors smacking into their frames, quick pours and plopped in some ice cubes, returned with three glasses and a bowl of chips.
Ejecting the videotape from my camcorder, I put the tape into the VCR, hit rewind and sat down on the floor.
The VCR gears whirred.
When it finally stopped, I pressed play. Instantly we began to laugh, watching the inside of my house transform into the Loman household: the bad costumes, the bad acting, the stammers and acne.
“Oh God!” I choked.
Stephen was chomping away as the opening shot played out, his braces overcome by pre-digested potato chips.
Mom was home, her feet across the carpeting, down the hallway.
“You guys OK?” she asked, When her eye scan met me her eyebrows went up high, along with her voice. “OK?”
“No, we’re all dying, help us,” I said. I hit pause on the tape.
“I went to get your sister and she wasn’t there, did she call?”
“It’s pouring out. Do you boys have umbrellas? I can drive you to the corner when
you are ready to go.” The boys nodded in slow motion.
“Oh, Mom, Dad called looking for you. He is coming home at seven he said, with two dead bodies.”
She was now upstairs, probably in the master bedroom. We returned to our academic video theatre. I hit play. From upstairs I shuttered at the shrill reverb.
“Oh come on!” Mom yelled. “Don’t give me that!”
Stephen stared at me. I blocked them out and listened to the shuffling upstairs and cringed at Mom exhaling dramatically and stomping, “Well when will you be back?”
I turned the volume up on the television.
Mom’s voice tore through the afternoon. “I WAS THERE!”
I could still feel the boy’s eyes on me but wasn’t going to let them in; it was all business, a class assignment. I focused on the television. I eyed the chips. Took a sip of icy juice. We laughed at our British accents.
“Not bad,” Stephen said, reaching for some chips. “I think it’s OK, I mean, we gotta edit it.”
“I’ll edit it,” I said.
I wiped some egg salad residue off on my pants. “I think it’s great, Fertuck will like it. When are we presenting again?” I asked.
“I think we’re third, so probably not ‘til uh, Tuesday,” Stephen said.
It was nearly five o’clock when Stephen and Jeremy left, having narrowly escaped the prospect of staying for dinner and working into the night. I felt relieved watching them walk down the driveway into tiny rainy blurs.
© – Story and Image Nathaniel G. Moore 2013