Once again I'm working the screenplay for a film version of my first novel, HELLO, UGLY. This first pass at a new draft has been fruitful---I've gotten the damn thing's length down to somewhere in the “Star Wars” ballpark. As the drafting continues, I'm sure it'll get tighter, me being the chronic revisionist that I am.
One bit that won't make the cut is this nugget of dialogue between Jack and his Mom. And I love this scene, but for the screenplay, it's going 'bye-bye.
Serving me a tuna melt, my Mother says, “you look awful, Jack.” It's just the two of us for supper tonight. The old man's taking care of his own business. Dad's running away from his dead son. Daddy's little dead boy.
I mumble thanks to my Mother for the sandwich, Mrs. Congeniality who yelled at me from the window of a strange house and I start hating myself. Jesus Christ, I think, it was a dream, a dream, just a dream, but I'm scared and I don't feel too guilty for thinking that because deep down I know it really went down.
“What happened to you?” She asks. It's the tenth time she's asked me. She's asking again because I didn't say anything the other nine times. “How did your clothes get so dirty?”
“Fell,” I mutter. It's a lie, but hopefully it'll shut her up.
“Where did you fall?”
“On my way out. I was going to the, uh, the student parking lot.” I can't think. What do I want to say? Words are all jammed up in my throat.
“Uh....I don't know. I slipped on the wet grass and I fell down a slope. I landed in the mud.”
“Did anyone see you?”
“Yeah, sure. I guess lots of people saw me.”
“Well, did they help you?” She asks.
Shrugging my shoulders and reaching for the Pepsi bottle, “why should they? None of their business.”
“Well, Jack, I find it hard to believe that all those people saw you fall and none of them helped you.”
“I know if I saw anyone fall down the way you did, I'd help them,” she offers and I smile but I think she's lying. I mean, she's told me before that she was a member of the Varsity Club when she was in school and I know none of those people would ever pick me up if I fell. And then there's the whole dream thing where she shouted at me. Anyone who would do that wouldn't help me if I fell in a mud puddle. But I know it was just a dream. No, it wasn't. Yes, it was.
“Not everyone's like you, Mom,” I reassure her.
“Oh, well, Jack, come on! I don't think that everyone's that bad, do you?”
“You can ignore it if you want,” I tell her, “but people prove it to me every day.”
Oh, Jack, oh, Jack. “Oh, Mom.”
“Pass the chips,” and I fork her over the bag of Ruffles.
“You know what Anne Frank said,” she informs me as she digs into the bag, “in the middle of the Holocaust, hiding from the Nazis, she said that she still believed people were basically good inside.”
“Anne Frank is a lampshade.”
“My God, Jack!”
She pauses for a minute to rethink her strategy. “Zoe would have helped you,” she finally says.
“Yeah, well,” I deadpan and don't look at her. She's quiet for a minute and I think she's gotten the hint not to go there.
We sit in hair-trigger silence. Eating our sandwiches. Crunching our chips. Drinking our drinks. Thinking our fear.
She breaks the ice with a new subject. “Jack,” she says, “do you know a boy at your school named Billy Arsenault?”
I stop, mid-munch. “Who?”
Punch in the face, notebook over the head, oh, Jackie, Jackie, suck my left nut just once, “yeah, I know him.”
“Do you know his mother's in the hospital?”
Raising my eyebrows, “that right?”
“Yes,” she says with some kind of childlike concern eclipsing her face.
“I guess she suffered a stroke. She was tending to the flowers in her garden and it started to rain. She was gathering up her gardening tools and then she clutched her head and fell down. She's in the hospital, now, and I hear she's in serious condition. They say she might not live through the night.”
“How did you find this out?"
“I was talking on the phone earlier with Shirley Eagen. You remember Shirley. She lives next door to the Arsenaults.”
“Isn't that awful? Imagine how Billy must feel.”
I munch on my sandwich and I mull it over for a minute. The first thing I think of is my childhood. Going to the beach with Mom. Collecting seashells and getting a sunburn. Her rubbing ointment on my sore, red arms and back. Mom telling me stories, reading me books. Mom and Grandma taking me to movies. I wonder if Arsenault has a lot of memories like these. I bet he does. I bet this situation's rough on him. I try to imagine what it must be like, going through this kind of shit with his mother. I think and I think and I stare at the neglected bread crust on my plate.
“Good,” I say.
Copyright 1990 C.F. Roberts/2016 Molotov Editions
I was contemplating the irony of this scene today---the story is about at its tipping point and the cheese is really sliding off Jack's cracker. He doesn't trust his mother, mostly due to delusional notions, but he enters into this debate with her about the ethics of helping people who've fallen into mud puddles and the fact is, this did not happen. He's lying through his teeth about the entire story. So who, here, is untrustworthy? Sadly, Jack himself isn't even sure what the truth is.
THIS WEEK'S PLAYLIST:
THE TUBES-Love Bomb
THE SCORPIONS-Fly to the Rainbow