Hey there, reader: From time to time I wonder what’s happening with some secondary characters I can’t follow in the main story. So I’m writing 1000 word mini-stories which I will post here from time to time. — Michael Grant
Jenou's 1000 Word Story
Jenou Castain, age 13, stares at the paper she’s just been handed by her teacher, Mr. McSweeney. It’s her paper on the French Revolution and there is a very strange mark on it in red pencil.
Jenou leans to her right, bringing her within whisper-shot of Rio Richlin. Jenou holds the paper so Rio can see it.
“What’s that?” Jenou asks.
“Why, that is an A minus,” Rio says. She grins and nods, a combination that gives her an almost motherly air of pride.
“Huh,” Jenou drawls. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of those before.”
Mr. McSweeney who, like the best teachers, has eyes and ears in the back of his head says, “If you won’t be still, Miss Castain, I can always change it to a letter more familiar to you.”
“Nope. No need for that,” Jenou says and makes a zipping motion across her mouth.
After class Jenou and Rio walk at a dawdling pace toward their respective homes, a very familiar path that takes them through the town square where an band is warming up, emitting comical bleats from a tuba and sudden trills of a flute. A small crowd has already assembled, men and women in clothing that is just short of being their Sunday best: men in suits and ties, women in dresses and shawls. Some of the men wear straw boater hats with red, white and blue ribbons around them. There is to be a political rally, a speech by the Congressman Harry Lane Englebright, a man known recently for his unfortunate mustache which is cut in a style very like that German fellow, Herr Hitler.
Neither Jenou nor Rio cares much for political speeches, and they’ve heard all the songs the brass band knows how to play, and none of them are They Can’t Take That Away From Me, which is their favorite song as the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musical has only just made it to the little theater in Gedwell Falls, California.
Jenou starts humming, and Rio joins her. Then Jenou starts singing in a pleasant alto and Rio joins with her somewhat less steady and slightly lower voice.
The way you wear your hat
The way you sip your tea
The memory of all that
No they can't take that away from me.
In the middle of the square where the town fathers keep threatening to erect some sort of statue, Jenou turns to Rio with her hands raised to waist and shoulder height, takes Rio and twirls her around in a dance move that may not quite rise to the level of Fred and Ginger.
Jenou spins too fast and Rio goes flying, barely avoiding a tumble on the grass.
“Why, Fred, you’ve stumbled,” Jenou says.
“Hey, why am I Fred and you get to be Ginger?”
“Fate,” I think, Jenou says.
They go their separate ways after the square, each to their own home. Jenou’s home is very much like most of the homes in Gedwell Falls, a clapboard, two story affair with a deep porch. Jenou gazes at it from the end of the block and feels the too-familiar churning in her stomach. Her jaw clenches and she has to swallow several times. But she runs up the steps and opens the door quickly, trying to seem in a hurry.
The stairs are just after the front door. She yells, “Hello, I’m home!” She sees her mother’s bent back straight down the hallway in the kitchen. And she sees her father sitting in his chair in the living room. He’s wearing a brown suit and striped tie, the picture of a successful small town banker. There’s a newspaper folded on his lap and even a brief glance is enough to reveal to Jenou’s practiced eye that he is drunk.
“How was school, honey?” her mother calls from the next room.
“The usual,” Jenou said.
Her room is large and well-lit by slanting dormer windows. The wallpaper is a soft pink and she wants to replace it eventually, it is feeling too childish now.
She has homework to do and applies herself with unusual energy - the after effects of the A-. She goes down to dinner to find that her father will not be eating but has instead passed out in his easy chair. Afterward, she brushes her hair, brushes her teeth, and climbs into bed.
It is very late at night or perhaps very early in the pre-dawn morning when she awakes in the dark. A sound? No, a smell.
The smell of liquor. The smell of sweat. The smell of stale pipe tobacco. Immediately she knows that something is very wrong.
Pretend you’re sleeping!
Lying perfectly still on her back, she tries to keep her breathing steady. She rolls her eyes to one side, looking toward her desk chair. It is turned around to face the bed, and someone is slumped in it, someone large.
It is several long seconds before she recognizes the shape, the shadowy outline, as her father. Relief washes through her but it is short-lived. There is still something wrong.
He does not answer. He rises heavily, takes a stagger step before righting himself, and comes to stand by her bed. Never a word. Heavy breathing, strangely heavy.
His hand appears beside her face. He strokes her golden hair. His fingers linger when they touch her neck. One finger finds the neck of her nightgown and curls just under it.
There and no more.
Not a word. Just a touch. And the alcohol stink of his breath. And a feeling of. . . wrongness.
His single finger on her skin seems to burn. She feels him trembling.
“You’re having a dream,” he says.
And then, he turns away with a sigh, and leaves, tip-toeing, silently turning the knob, silently pulling the door shut behind him.
In the next four years she will have the same dream-that-is-not-a-dream many times.
Aryeh's 1000 Word Story
Aryeh Schulterman places both of his hands on the naked belly of Jane Meehan. He cannot feel the baby, it’s too early for that, but it’s as close as he can get to their son or daughter, and with his orders in his pocket he has only hours left.
There is a very good chance that the baby will be born before he can get back stateside. And there is a chance he will never see him. . . her. . . And the converse, that his child will never meet his or her father.
“What are you thinking, Ary?” Jane asks, placing her hands over his.
It takes him a while to answer and she is patient because she can see that there’s too much going on behind his XX eyes to allow for an easy answer.
His first response is a long sigh. Then, being Aryeh, he tries for a joke. “Just thinking I hope he doesn’t grow up to be a Dodgers fan.”
The line gets the barest smile from Jane.
“Okay, I’m thinking. . . well, will it be a boy or a girl? I’m wondering which I want. I mean, I want one of each but maybe the boy first. I keep picturing myself dropping a little girl.”
“You wouldn’t drop a boy?”
“Sure but he’d be a boy, so he’d think it was fun and want to do it again.”
“That may be a bit old-fashioned, that idea,” Jane says. “Your own sister. . .”
Aryeh smiles. It’s a Hollywood close-up smile. Aryeh Schulterman is a very good-looking fellow, with XX buzz cut, a picturesquely crooked nose, and XXXX.
“Rainy? Well, I don’t know that I’d want to drop her on her head because she’d find some way to get me back tenfold.”
“You always have a certain look when you talk about her.”
“Do I?” He laughs. “She’s my little sister, although I think she became the boss by about age seven. I’ve always looked both down and up to her.”
A silence falls and stretches.
“And I’m worrying about you,” Aryeh admits. He looks around the minuscule apartment. A kitchen that’s little more than a sink and hotplate against one wall. A narrow window looking down onto a noisy street and which, when opened, allows in smells of a nearby brewery and in summer the less welcome smells of car exhaust, horse dung, rotting garbage and human urine. He wishes he could manage a house for her and the baby, some place in Connecticut, maybe, or at least New Jersey. A place where mother and baby could see a tree without needing to ride a subway to Central Park.
“We will be fine,” Jane says. “I can’t have you worrying about us.”
It’s a brave speech, a generous speech, but of course she’s worried, Aryeh knows she’s worried, about him yes, but also about herself. And there’s not a damned thing he can do about it other than exchanging well-meaning platitudes.
The worry stays with him as he crosses the country by train. The trip is alternately boisterous - he’s traveling with a group of fellow Marines, after all - and boring, with long, long periods with nothing to look at but fields of corn and nothing to think about but Jane, alone, having his baby.
At times the emotion just rises up in him, a sudden tornado that scatters all his careful defenses to the wind and forces him up out of his seat to pace back and forth, muttering, his face a twisted grimace of loneliness and worry and shame. Shame because this is not how a father is meant to welcome his son or daughter into the world. This is not how a husband should treat his pregnant wife.
But the choice is no longer his. He is a Marine, and Marines go to war when there’s a war to go to.
In between worrying about Jane he worries about Rainy. But surely, he tells himself, there’s something indestructible about his little sister. And anyway she’s in S2, intelligence, so surely she’ll be safe on some Colonel’s staff, irritating everyone with her effortless superiority. That thought brings a smile at last and he loses himself for a while in an endless gin rummy game played for cigarettes.
He still has much of his winnings - five packs of Luckies and two of Chesterfields - when a much thinner, dirtier, sweatier and jaundiced Aryeh, still shivering from a bout of malaria, is called to his Captain’s tent in the mud and filth of an outpost beyond Port Moresby, New Guinea.
Captain Reynolds - who looks if anything even more starved and battered than Aryeh - is seated in a camp chair beneath a moth-eaten stretch of canvas that was once a tent. It’s pouring rain, pouring with that earth-pounding deluge that is a light drizzle by New Guinea standards, and water sluices down forming puddles within the mud of the floor.
“Well, well, Schulterman, I have good news,” Captain Reynolds says.
“We’re getting rotated out?”
“Mmm,” Reynolds says, shaking his head in the negative. “The generals will have to figure out that we’re still here before they can relieve us.” The tone is bitter. New Guinea and its companion island, Guadalcanal, have not been kind to the Marines.
“Yep. Too good to be true,” Aryeh says. “So what’s up, Cap?”
“This.” He hands Aryeh a flimsy sheet of paper with a scrawled note. It’s from the signal corps, a message relayed from radio to radio.
Aryeh reads. His hands tremble and tears fill his eyes which he must not shed, being a Marine and all, but can’t hold back.
The Captain stands up and offers Aryeh his hand. Aryeh takes it, numb.
Aryeh stumbles back to his buddies, three guys squatting under a poncho. His hoard of cigarettes is a bit damp and quite thoroughly crushed, but he hands a pack to each of them.
“No cigars, I’m afraid. But congratulate me, boys: I am a father.”