I’m a Semifinalist for the International 2020 Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award!

I am extremely honored and very definitely pleased to announce that my first book Broken In: A Novel in Stories is currently a semifinalist for the international 2020 Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award. See the list here: Hidden River Arts News

Writers have strange solitary lives and we really do hunch over our desks at all hours, snarling at people to keep away… until moments like this one. Writing honors are rare and seldom! This is the first award listing that Broken In has garnered, and the third of my books to receive one!

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2021. Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award. My short story collection The Trail Back Out was a 2020 Best Book Award Finalist for Fiction Anthologies. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award.

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase Broken In: A Novel in Stories or my other books.

 

My Imaginary Friends: #4. Jeremy and His Tattoos

I’ve been a massage therapist for well over 30 years. The pandemic put a temporary end to that part of my activities. I may be a massage therapist again in the future; we’ll see.

I massaged some really interestingly tattooed bodies through the years.

Around 1988, one of the first tattoos I ever massaged has remained maybe the most intense and in some ways most frightening tattoo I’ve ever seen up close. A young woman had a skull, snakes crawling in and out of the empty eye sockets, inked on the breast above her heart. When I think about her now, I know that tattoo was a claiming of some dark and needed power. I have never forgotten the intensity of the energy she radiated.

I massaged a soldier of fortune with a Thai demon on his shoulder. “He has my back,” the guy told me.

One of my closest friends worked for decades as a trial lawyer. She always dressed up to go into court. She has an eternity knot tattooed on the top of her foot, and the image is elegant and discrete.

My nephew owns two bars/bistros in Hong Kong. Niko recently got himself inked with Native Americans on each arm to honor Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys. His left shoulder depicts Mount Hood and a Haida eagle. On his right forearm is a pineapple: it’s the traditional symbol of hospitality, he told me. I didn’t know this, and appreciated the fine work even more.

 

When it came time to write  my first book Broken In: A Novel in Stories, I gave my character Jeremy tattoos. His tattoo images were inspired by the massage clients I have been honored to touch over the years. His chapter is titled, Punctured.

The ink on his body is his fate. – Jadi

The first time they slept together and she saw the tattoos she said, “It’s like being at the movies. Or inside the pages of a very Technicolor comic book. Oh! There’s the snake in the grass!” Jeremy was amused, knowing she was being flippant to mask her nervousness and the erotic appeal of his colors on her skin.

Abigail traced the outline of the demon turned towards her on Jeremy’s shoulder. She marveled again at the detail in the scales. It was such a small tattoo compared to the crouching tiger. She moved her small hand and placed it on his thigh where the tiger waited. “A tiger in my tank,” she murmured in wonder, just loudly enough for him to hear. It drove him wild.

-from my chapter Punctured in Broken In: A Novel in Stories

NOTES: Text and photos © Jadi Campbell 2021.  Thanks Niko for allowing me to use the photographs of your tattoos!

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase Broken In: A Novel in Stories and my other books. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was a semifinalist for the international Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts. 

My Imaginary Friends: #3. JJ

When we were kids, my youngest sister Barb would sidle up next to me and say my name. It didn’t always come out as “Jadi”. Instead, Barb sometimes got a wicked, mischievous gleam in her eyes, leaned in close, and quietly whispered, JJ.

The way she said it made my name sound French. JJ sounded slippery and oozing sexiness, funny and very embarassing, all at the same time.

We might be walking down a road, and when I heard this slithery “Hey, JJ”, I knew my sister was calling me. (More than once I crossed the street because I was so mortified someone would hear her.)

Each and every time I think about it now, I grin. This story is (as I realize many years later), one of those between-siblings episodes that are funny and much, much more embarassing when you are young.

To honor Barb and her evil sense of humor, when I wrote my first novel I  was determined to get that name in there somewhere….

JJ’s Bistro is where the events take place in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. The food, of course, is delicious – and French-inspired! – Jadi

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2021.

In JJ’s, the bartender and a teenaged patron plan exotic trips. JJ’s chef meets several men who’d kill for her. Valuables and peace of mind literally get stolen. Couples celebrate, or split up. In a rainy night accidents happen and people vanish. These are the stories of people whose paths cross – or crash. The tales begin in a bistro and move on to Bangkok, a carnival midway, and the bottom of a lake, among other places. Broken In: whether totally random or according to plan, after tonight life will never be the same.

Broken In: A Novel in Stories was a semifinalist for the Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts. Click here for my author page to learn more and buy my books.

My Imaginary Friends: #2. Gabe’s Necklace

My husband used to work in northern Sweden every winter. (Go to It Was a Bitterly Cold -22 Degrees) I flew up for a long weekend. On Friday he had to drive on a frozen lake, writing code for the braking system  that would become ESP, a safety feature now installed in cars everywhere.

I went exploring in downtown Arjeplog. The only tourists were people like me, family members visiting the car engineers.

It was March, a grand -6 degrees at the warmest part of the day, so I went to the Silvermuseet. I like museums anyway, and Arjeplog’s museum is a fun mix of artifacts from early settlers, a history of the now-closed silver mines, and the earliest presence of humans. I was the only visitor in the museum.

A tall glass case contained a runebomme, an old Saami drum. [1] When I moved closer for a look, lights clicked on and a recording of drumming began to play. I was surprisingly moved, and totally intrigued by the images etched on the drum hide. Animals, people, and boats were depicted.

The Saami Shaman Drum Kobdas (drum) is a sacred map. It contains drawings of people and the spirit gods and goddesses of Nature often centered around a symbol of the sun. They are used by the shaman (male and female alike) to awaken other levels of reality to guide families in their daily life, find the right path during migrations, locate things which are missing, heal diseases and help the community in times of crisis. They can also foresee the future and give guidance. [2]

The museum gift shop sold gifts made by local artists. I bought myself a necklace. It’s made with reindeer horn scrimshaw, embedded in arctic curly birch. I don’t wear it often, but when I do it always feels special.

Many years later I wrote a character named Gabe Burgess, who is given a similar necklace by his Norwegian lover as a remembrance before they part ways in Greece. I liked the idea of a burly man tucking the amulet into his shirt when he went traveling.

Eight-pointed snowflake

I thought my necklace was the image of a snowflake. Today, as I did some research to make sure this post’s information on the museum and the drums is accurate, I discovered this:

The image is really an early compass.

My world explorer Gabe has always worn a depiction of the points of the compass, guiding him safely home.

Perfect. – Jadi

Saami compass

He liked the romance of travel, in every sense of the word. His destinations veered wildly from year to year. In the beginning, Gabe’s journeys were random. As a youth Gabe traveled with a heavy, framed backpack and headed often for the beaches. He spent a blissful month camping on the southern coast of Crete with a busty blonde from Norway named Berit. At the end of the four weeks he returned to New York City with Berit’s address and telephone number tucked inside his passport, and a talisman around his neck. On their last night together she had turned her head away from him and reached for the necklace tucked under her long hair.

She made him close his eyes as she placed a chain over his neck. “Go look in the mirror,” she requested, and obediently Gabe walked to the little oval mirror in their beach hostel. In it he found his own image (now much darker and even properly black after a month spent in the island sunshine), his neck encircled with an image on wood. He pulled the chain back over his head to examine it more closely.

Signed by the artist

Berit put her arms around his waist and stared over his shoulder at him in the mirror. “It’s Saami.” She explained, “It’s a snowflake with eight points to it, carved on reindeer horn. The wooden back is birch. It is to bring you luck, dear friend,” she added solemnly, and kissed the side of his temple.

-from my chapter Waiting in Broken In: A Novel in Stories

NOTES: Text and photos © Jadi Campbell 2020. [1] Arjeplog Silvermuseet. The Catholic Church destroyed the drums, outlawed their use, and persecuted the shaman (noajdde). Many drums were buried or hidden. “Of the thousands once existing, only 71 drums have survived with their skins intact[.]” Saami Drum [2] From Arctic Saami Style Kellamknives.com

Broken In: A Novel in Stories was a semifinalist for the international Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts.  Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.

My Imaginary Friends: #1. Strangers on a Train

I am ALMOST done with The Animal Kingdom thread – Posts #39 and #40 are on the way! As 2020 comes to an end, I’m starting a new thread on where some of my story characters originated.

As a writer I’m guilty of borrowing (okay: outright stealing) experiences of people I know. Some become vehicles for me to muse about the world. Years ago, my father and his girlfriend came to visit me in Germany. I couldn’t spend every day with them, so one morning I set them on a train to Trier. They spent all of that day with a stranger, an American who was working in Germany. When they finally parted ways, the last words the man said to them were “I love you guys.”

The man was African-American.

I thought about this story over and over after that visit. Dad told me, the train stopped on the tracks as railroad workers cleared away brush from a storm the night before. The train was stuck and the three of them sat for hours, swapping tales as they waited for the train to start moving again.

I loved my father dearly. He would talk to anyone, and he enjoyed meeting people and finding out about their lives. He is the example I hold up, to anyone who cares to listen, about how travel turns us all into better human beings. My dad saw most of the world after my mom died. They spent the last year of her life in Italy, and I like to think that his later travels were an homage to that final, wonderful year. After decades spent traveling, my father Bobbo, a pretty typical older white male, became truly worldly in his outlooks.

But, a black man who tells an old white couple that he loves them? What an extraordinary human being he must be.

As open as my father was, he had all the privileges of time and place and skin color. What fired my wonder and imagination was that a black man in this century would have the greatness of heart to tell white retired folks something so profound. Maybe it was the meeting of like-minded souls. Maybe it was the setting: a temporary encounter on a train in Germany, a country that continues to work hard to overcome prejudices.

Maybe at some point in his life he had made a conscious decision to take people as he found them. I wanted to put myself into his head and heart. I wanted to learn from him.

He is  the kind of human being I aspire to be.

Can you tell that I was captivated and moved by my father’s story of this encounter? A decade later, when I finally (finally!!) became a writer, I discovered myself writing his story. His name is Gabe Burgess. He’s the head bartender at JJ’s Bistro in my first book Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Gabe spends time every year traveling the globe.

He has secrets.

Gabe has a tender heart.

He retains the memory of a terrible experience which has refused to fade.

And in the chapter titled Waiting, one year he meets an old white couple on a train that breaks down on the tracks outside of Trier….

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2020.

In JJ’s, the bartender and a teenaged patron plan exotic trips. JJ’s chef meets several men who’d kill for her. Valuables and peace of mind literally get stolen. Couples celebrate, or split up. In a rainy night accidents happen and people vanish. These are the stories of people whose paths cross – or crash. The tales begin in a bistro and move on to Bangkok, a carnival midway, and the bottom of a lake, among other places. Broken In: whether totally random or according to plan, after tonight life will never be the same.

Broken In: A Novel in Stories was a semifinalist for the international Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts.  The following link get you there: Broken In: A Novel in Stories

Click here to learn more about me and buy my books.

 

The Animal Kingdom: 35

Here for your reading pleasure is Installment #35 of the ever-growing blog thread describing what to call groups of animals … See how many you can guess. Answers listed at the bottom of the page.

  1. The creep creeps, but isn’t creepy.
  2. An ugly is cute in a kind of ugly way….
  3. The consort consorted.
  4. The tribe hunted the tribe.
  5. A wobble does seem wobbly on its feet.
  6. Don’t you dare tell a buffoonery that they’re buffoons!
Grande Dame of the Buffoons, Semenoggoh Nature Reserve, Borneo
  1. Creep of tortoises [1]
  2. Ugly of walruses
  3. Consort of corgi
  4. Tribe of antelope
  5. Wobble of ostriche
  6. Buffoonery of orangutans [2]
Creep member creeping, Loro Parque, Tenerifa, Canary Islands

NOTES: [1] “All tortoises are in fact turtles—that is, they belong to the order Testudines or Chelonia, reptiles having bodies encased in a bony shell—but not all turtles are tortoises.” https://www.britannica.com/demystified/whats-the-difference-between-a-turtle-and-a-tortoise  [2] Sigh. Orangutan status: Critically Endangered www.orangutan.org.au © Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s animal photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de. Fun animal names from en.wiktionary.orgwww.writers-free-reference.com, Mother Nature Network and www.reference.com.

As of today, my first book Broken In: A Novel in Stories is 8 years old. And as of two weeks ago, my new book is finished and available for purchase! In The Trail Back Out, two strangers meet in the woods. Children wear masks. A gambler hides in the cellar during a Category Five hurricane. A wife considers a hit-man’s offer. Princess Rain Clouds searches for happiness. An entire village flees, a life is saved, and a tourist in Venice is melting. Everyone keeps trying to make sense of strange events far in the past or about to occur. Let these characters be your guides. Join them on the trail back out – to a familiar world, now unexpectedly changed.

Click on one of these links to order a copy:

The Trail Back Out: USA

The Trail Back Out: Germany

Information on Broken In: A Novel in Stories and all my books is available here:

Jadi’s Books Amazon Page: USA

Jadi’s Books Amazon Page: Germany

 

Hit and Run – 12

“Don’t put the lies on me!” Margaret began, but Lou refused to let her interrupt him now that he was finally describing the truth.

“Oh, come on. Admit it, Margaret. Thinking I had some tragic event in my past, or wait, even better, a tragic flaw somewhere in my own genes that a dead twin inherited and lived out to the bitter tragic end, rather than me – thinking those things made you look at me twice. Three times. But when you get down to it, the human condition is the same for everybody. We’re all either hit and run victims or slowly dying of chronic mortality.

“After the first story it just got harder and harder to tell the truth. I was going to cop to it, the very next time we met for a date, but you were so insistent on hearing about Joey. Suddenly you were interested in him, and really by extension, in me. The tragic survivor who’d lost the identical twin he was nothing like but boy were they close.”

“The factoids about twins and genetics?”

“Googled,” he admitted. “But the postcards are real. I did actually collect them in the dreams of making a Grand Tour.”

“You, not Joey,” she spat the words.

“Me, Joey, it’s the same thing, you mean you still don’t get it? Whatever you want to name Joey’s hopes and dreams: if I made them up, I realized something over the course of doing that. They’re all mine. My dreams, my hopes, my wishes for a life I didn’t have. You helped me see what I really wanted to be, but never had the courage to go after. Margaret, I changed my life because of you and because of Joey both! I even planned on buying us tickets for a Europe trip, the one I told you Joey always planned to go on, but more importantly the one I might have liked, too!

“Fuck me,” he cursed violently. “I’ve gone along being so content to be safe in a normal, middle class life. I like this life. I want a decent paying, steady job, and a partner to love. The house with the white picket fence. A shaggy dog, and the tire swing for the kids strung up in the back yard. All of it.

“I want all those things,” Lou repeated. “But thinking about Joey made me think about all the other things that might be out there, too.”

“He doesn’t even exist!” Margaret shrieked. “He’s a figment of your imagination! Worse, he’s based on a stuffed elephant.” She stuffed her keys back into her coat pocket and grabbed her purse. “I’m going to Ginny’s. Pack your things while I’m gone. I don’t think I want to talk to you or see you for a while.” Margaret made a wide circle around the part of the room where Lou stood, and the door clicked shut.

Lou crouched, picking up the fallen postcards on the floor. Carefully Lou collected the images. What he’d told her was true. In the course of constructing a more and more elaborate lie about an identical twin, who died, Lou had listed all of the qualities and personality traits he secretly wished were his. Oh, not the tragic genetic defects, of course; but even those had become precious. They had set his imaginary doppelgänger apart and made him special.

In the embroidering of their story, his and Joey’s, Lou had slowly inhabited that figure. At first he’d worried about convincing Margaret, afraid the deception would be noted. But she fell in love with him as the surviving, desolate half. Little by little, Lou did more than imagine himself in the role. Lou dug around in the dirt of his nonexistent twin’s grave. Out of the Petrie dish of that humus he rewrote his DNA code, twisting the strands anew.

What would you be if you could be anything? If you could rebuild your past, your family, the developmental arc of your genetic arrangement, what would it look like? Lou had dived into the conundrum and slowly constructed a human being who was still himself, boring, dull, predictable, good enough but not spectacular; and yet, so much more than the sum of his parts.

Lou retrieved the last postcard from underneath the coffee table. Lost in thought and regret, Lou shuffled them together and dropped them in a pile. God and Adam looked up at him, hands stretching out to meet.

NOTES: ©Jadi Campbell 2012. “Hit and Run” is the first chapter of my book Broken In: A Novel in Stories.  This story will run all month. Broken In and my other novels are available at Amazon as paperbacks and eBooks.

Click here for my author page to purchase my books.

 

Hit and Run – 11

Margaret surprised Lou by silently allowing him to go back to her apartment with her. His hopes she’d let the topic lie were dashed as soon as they were in the door and had taken off their coats. She crossed the room without speaking. Margaret kept her back to him. She paused in front of the sideboard and pulled out a large manila envelope.

Margaret flicked a quick wrist. Flip. A post card of an Algarve fishing village sailed through the air of the room and landed at Lou’s feet. She gave her wrist another vicious flick. Flip. God and Adam skidded through the room and glanced off his shoulder. Flip. Hadrian’s wall in northern England crashed to the floor. Flip. The believers at Mont St. Michelle landed hard on their faces down under a chair. Flip. Flip. Flip. Lou was attacked with a blurred fury of paper, but he made no move to ward it off.

When she ran out of Joey’s postcards Margaret stood clenching her hands open and closed. “Was it fun? Stringing me along like some little kid believing in Santa Claus? Or was that the Easter Bunny, some rabbit being pulled out of a hat by you, faking me out, making me believe in magic when it was all sleight of hand? When it was all lies?”

“Margaret,” he begged. “Listen.”

“To what? More stories about Joey? Jesus Christ Lou, I listened to you talk about a stuffed toy!”

“You listened! For the first time since we’d started dating you were actually interested in what I had to say. You listened to me, you heard what I was saying for once! Because when I talked about myself, Lou, good old dependable predictable boring Lou Bocci, you couldn’t care less.” Lou’s body was shaking. “I know you were thinking about breaking up with me, because I’m not shiny enough. I know the signs warning when someone’s getting bored. All this bullshit about how you women want to be equal, you’re as good as any guy, you can do the same jobs we can and earn the same incomes, you don’t need us to survive! Well, that part’s certainly true. But you still want a shiny-armored knight, or at least some pinch of romantic scenery. Gondolas in Venice or a barge on the Nile.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Margaret almost shouted the question; somehow her voice remained level.

“You wanted to be carried away, sail off starry eyed down some river. Women need to drown in a sea of love. Oh, my love was real enough. Is. But the package it comes in, me, that’s not flashy enough. My last three relationships broke up for no reason whatsoever, just, ‘It’s not going to work, let’s end it while we’re friends.'” Lou’s arms waved as he angrily mimicked a female falsetto.

His anger faded as quickly as it had come. “Margaret. About Joey,” he said in a low voice. Despite herself Margaret quieted, still eager to know what he was going to reveal next. “It wasn’t planned. You kept asking me about myself, my past, I knew you were genuinely curious, but I knew too I’d better come up with something to keep you interested in sticking around. By the third time you asked about my childhood, I knew the question to follow was going to be, What time can I drop off your things back at your house?

“I’m so…not interesting. I’m just a guy with a decent job who follows hockey in the winter. Haven’t I always been good to you? Treated you right, followed all the rituals? I brought you flowers, waited until you gave me the signal to make the next moves.

“Being normal, a decent human being trying to do his best just isn’t enough anymore. We guys somehow fall short because we’re decent. So, I faked it.” Lou raised his chin and stuck it out at her, defiant. ‘Tell me more about your life,’ you said, and really what you meant was, ‘Can’t you be a little more interesting or special?’ To give you what you really wanted from me, I made something up.”

NOTES: ©Jadi Campbell 2012. “Hit and Run” is the first chapter of my book Broken In: A Novel in Stories.  This story will run all month. Broken In and my other novels are available at Amazon as paperbacks and eBooks.

Click here for my author page to purchase my books.

 

Hit and Run – 10

Margaret and Lou were in love with one another, deeply so, the night they went to dinner in the city at JJ’s. The restaurant was packed, and they had to wait although they had reserved a table. It didn’t matter; they had drinks in the bar and laughed as the bartender bantered with his customers.

Food at JJ’s was always worth a wait and when it arrived the meals were perfect. Margaret’s meal began with spaghetti with white truffle sauce, while Lou ordered the homemade squash ravioli. He talked while he ate and his girlfriend listened, happy to give her full attention to the divine flavors of simple cheese and pungent mushroom. Lou ordered another carafe of the house red wine while amusing her with the story of Joey’s invented secret passwords. “He’d read all these old fairy tales of princes trying to enter secret caves or transformed into toads and needing a password to change back. He thought the old tales were lame.

“‘Open sesame?’ Joey said. ‘Sesame? How about, Open ambergris? Or what about a tongue twister password, now here’s one the wizard won’t ever figure out! How about something like Lonely lovelorn laddies’ lips lie, and lay luckless ladies low.’ God, Joey could be a moron.”

Margaret choked on her wine. “Enough already!” she said when she stopped coughing. Margaret was wiping tears of laughter from her eyes when a voice interrupted.

“Lou Bocci? Lou?”

Lou and Margaret looked up from their pasta bowls. An attractive woman their age in a business suit stood in front of the table smiling widely. “I thought it was you!”

“Ruby!” Lou’s chair scraped as he stood up. Lou and the woman known as Ruby hugged each other tightly.

“This is my fiancée Margaret. Margaret, this is Ruby Warner. We went from nursery school all the way through high school together. Sometime in there we lost track of each other! Ruby, how the hell are you!” Lou beamed at her, delighted. “This was my best, best friend at age 4!”

“So she knew Joe!” The words were out before Margaret could stop them. She couldn’t help it; it was so exciting to meet someone who’d actually known Lou’s magical, tragic twin.

Ruby looked at her and frowned. “Who?” Then her face cleared. “Oh, do you mean, Joey?”

Margaret felt bad; his dead brother was probably a taboo topic between Lou and his friends from back then. “Yeah. You know, his brother,” Margaret said fumbling; but she saw Ruby knew whom she was referring to.

Lou grimaced and mouthed a “no” at her.

Ruby poked Lou in the ribs. “Brother?” She looked back over at where Margaret sat. “Lou told you he had a brother named Joey?”

“I’m sorry,” Margaret tried again as she flailed for words. “But. You know, his twin. Joe, who died. I’m really, really sorry; I didn’t realize talking about him was off-limits for those who knew him.”

“A twin, who died?” Ruby repeated incredulous. She began to laugh. “Oh, I get it! When we were little kids Lou’s favorite companion was a stuffed toy he got when he was born. It was a pink elephant he named Joey. God Lou, you dragged that raggedy thing everywhere! I thought you were going to have a nervous breakdown when your mom finally took it away from you!

“So Joey morphed into a twin brother, eh! That’s great!” Ruby poked him in the ribs again, this time more gently. “Don’t be so embarrassed, dude. I promise I won’t reveal anymore of your secrets.”

Softer now, she turned back to Margaret and went on talking. Behind Ruby stood Lou. His face had gone absolutely white, like the ghost of his non-existent identical twin brother: Joey, who had just exited the restaurant for good.

“Lou is the most decent, normal, kind person I’ve ever known,” Ruby said. “I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. There’s nothing weird about Lou. This is one great guy,” she pounded Lou gently on the bicep, “and I’ve missed him terribly since we lost track of one another.”

She frowned a little as she looked at her old friend. “But I don’t want to intrude on your evening! I didn’t mean to interrupt.” She studied Lou’s pale face more closely, began to say something, and reconsidered.

She gave him a placating please-forgive-me-for-embarrassing-you smile. “I need to get back to a business dinner; I’m here to sign a contract. We’re just waiting for the bill, and then we’re heading to the bar for a nightcap to celebrate. Here,” she said, and handed him a business card. “Call me,” she ordered, “so we can catch up and you can give me your contact info. I had no idea you lived in the area! Margaret, it was great meeting you.” Ruby shook Margaret’s hand and gave Lou a last tight hug.

NOTES: ©Jadi Campbell 2012. “Hit and Run” is the first chapter of my book Broken In: A Novel in Stories.  This story will run all month. Broken In and my other novels are available at Amazon as paperbacks and eBooks.

Click here for my author page to purchase my books.

 

Hit and Run – 9

That night they sat in his back yard drinking beers as Lou tended the grill in his methodic way. He had a system, checking and giving the sausages a quarter turn every minute or so. Lou stood and clicked the tongs rhythmically open and shut. It was a desultory summer night and they talked lazily, enjoying the warmth from the last rays of the setting sun. Once the sun set it would be colder. A covered salad and plates and silverware were already on the picnic table and Margaret got them two more beers. Lou measured out the time with his tongs, waiting for the next question to come.

Lou was surprised at how penetrating that question turned out to be. It took him off guard. “Weren’t the two of you ever jealous? I mean, you and Joey were so close, much closer than I ever was with my sisters growing up, that’s for sure. But didn’t you ever feel any jealousy or sibling rivalry?”

She waited for an answer but he didn’t say anything for a long minute. Idly she looked up from her beer. Lou stood on the grassy verge at the grill, metal tongs hanging limply from his right hand. He’d closed his eyes and as she watched something rippled through his body.

In the depictions of his twin who died, Lou willingly spoke in detail about sores that refused to close, the insidious subdermal spread of haematomas, all the strange symptoms that manifested themselves and either joined the litany of things wrong with his brother, or else vanished as abruptly as they appeared. But Lou deliberately avoided talking about the darker widening spread of another congenital disease Joey had: jealousy. It was a fatal condition festering in Lou, too, the inevitable sibling rivalry impossibly squared and cubed to proportions that could fill a room but never be acknowledged. Joey might be incurably ill, but the real elephant in the room was their shared envy. When the boys hit their teenaged years, the fights became ugly and bitter with a resentment that was never far away in either of them.

It seeped into the peaceful moments. Every once in a while they would be in the middle of doing something great together, something only possible because Joey was ill and the boys were able to hang out all the time instead of following normal kids’ routines.

Joey would stop whatever they were doing. “You can stop being the perfect big brother anytime, you know,” he’d say. “Go live your own stupid life. Stop waiting for me to die, so that your life gets to begin!”

Lou denied it, inventing all sorts of protests. “You ass, you’re my brother, the only one I’m likely to get. I didn’t get any say in whether or not I had a brother – or whether I would have picked you.”

“I hate you!” Joey yelled. “You only take care of me because you have to! Go play baseball without me! Like I even care!”

Lou wanted nothing more than to strike his twin, but of course he couldn’t. Instead he laughed, and his voice held a scraping metallic rasp. “Screw you, Joe. I can’t go anywhere, because you’re my stupid, sick, perfect little brother. Everyone loves you best!” he yelled back. “You get all the attention! Every little thing you do is perfect, and you never get punished for anything! The little tragically doomed perfect child. Wouldn’t it be great if a brain tumor or cancer or some congenital disease wormed itself into my cellular make up?”

They had just finished lunch down in the rec room. Joey swept the half empty potato chips bag by the side of his brother’s plate off the table. His thin profile turned bright red. “I’ve had blood tests since the day I was born! Let’s trade places, shit head. You sit in the wheelchair; you go to my physical therapy appointments twice a week!”

Joey stabbed a finger at his twin. “No wait, better yet, take pills with meals and go lie in the hospital for more scans.” The small blue plastic container holding his afternoon medications followed the chips onto the floor. “You know what? You can have people whisper when you walk by the hallway, or let people’s little kids point at you in stores and ask Mommy, what’s wrong with that little boy?

“Idiot!” Lou spit at him. “People point at me anyway. Idiot! I get to hear everyone talk in low voices whether you’re there or not, because I’m the kid stuck with the sick twin brother at home! I’m not even sick, but I get the special treatment right along with you. Don’t you dare tell me about how lucky I am.”

The rage inside filled him up. Lou knew exactly how normal he was. It was exactly that normalness his brother envied, the fact Lou could race around bases and play a mediocre tune on a saxophone. Joey didn’t have the lung capacity for brass or wind instruments, and sports were out of the question.

But Joey got all the attention. Everyone treated Joey special because he was born with a death sentence. Each year their birthday cake had both of their names on it in frosting. Lou could swear the candles always clustered by his brother’s name, because who knew how many more years he’d be around to eat another birthday cake? His schoolwork was always praised, and he was Mr. Clever.

Lou understood an implicit message that said the one thing special about him was that he was totally, completely, but really totally completely average. And that was supposed to be the greatest thing in the world, just being an average, ordinary son… while in secret Lou knew Joey’s condition was the most special thing in the whole universe. It made him unique, it set him apart, and Lou was jealous.

Lou would lie in his bed unable to sleep, feeling the guilt residing in his gut. He knew he shouldn’t be envious of his disabled twin, and his jealousy was wrong. Each time the feelings were followed by sardonic inner commentary. “Is this sick, or what? Oh no, that’s right, it’s Joey who’s sick!” Lou couldn’t even feel unique with his darkness.

He opened his eyes and slowly refocused back on where he was standing in his yard. Lou removed the sausages with short jabs of the tongs. “Sibling rivalry? Were we ever jealous?” He stabbed at the grill one last time and pushed Margaret’s plate roughly across the picnic table at her.

“Jealous? Only all the time. You want to hear about jealous?”

Margaret sat without moving and listened while Lou poured out decades of anger and anguish about his dead twin. She knew the last outburst was directed at Lou the adult, and not himself as a boy with a twin brother doomed to die.

Their outdoor meals grew cold. “God,” Lou said, staring at Margaret with hatred when he finished talking. “God. You have no idea how jealous I was. And Joey was jealous right back.

“But the crowning moment when it was clear to me exactly how not special I am, was the day of a neighborhood picnic. Dad had just finished describing the last round of hospital tests they’d had to take Joey in for. The drunk down the street said, ‘At least you two still have Lou. He’s totally normal, right?’

“‘Yeah, Lou’s a good kid,’ was all my dad said before he turned away. When they saw me standing there listening, they changed the subject.

“That’s me in a nutshell: a good kid.”

Lou leaned across and grasped Margaret by both shoulders. He kissed her, hard, and bit through the cloth of her light sweater. She felt the sharp edges of his teeth press against the skin of her neck, just below her jaw line. “Ouch!” she gasped. It hurt, but she put one hand behind his head and grasped his hair to pull his mouth back up and over her own. He shuddered and bit down on her lip, and she welcomed the pain.

That night Lou made love to her as if he was trying to climb out of his own skin away from the released memories. His earlier admission hung in the bedroom, somewhere up by the ceiling. Like an angel or a poltergeist, the ghost of someone dead but not gone, it hovered. Joey’s spirit looked down and watched them.

NOTES: ©Jadi Campbell 2012. “Hit and Run” is the first chapter of my book Broken In: A Novel in Stories.  This story will run all month. Broken In and my other novels are available at Amazon as paperbacks and eBooks.

Click here for my author page to purchase my books.