Hit and Run – 6

He entered magazine contests and it didn’t matter what the prizes were. Mrs. Bocci was the first housewife in their neighborhood to own a brand new Maytag dishwasher. He won an extra dryer, which his parents passed on to their aunt and uncle for Christmas that year when his newest cousin was born.

He loved the surprise of each free gift. Sur-prizes, he called them. Joey sent away for samples of things just for the hell of it. He had the time; what else was he going to do with all those hours stuck sitting in his wheel chair? His family received the first volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica. A through Androphagi. He kept Mom in perfume and the rest of the family in soap and shampoo. Any time a new product came out, such as the first mint toothpaste, Joey ordered it. The Boccis were always the first ones on the block to try any of them.

His past time took on epic proportions. They didn’t just have free food samples to try. Joey ordered free animal feed samples too: packets of birdseed. Hamster food. Gold fish pellet food. Pouches of cat food and dog food, even horse feed. His parents finally told Joey to stop with the animal feed already; they couldn’t even have any pets because of the danger of allergies or infection from scratches. Joey’s dad donated it all to the local animal shelter.

It didn’t stop there. Once or twice a week the mailman delivered a package containing free items with company logos. Joey would read about a new product being promoted and bing, the coupons were clipped and filled out and in the mail before anyone could stop him. The Bocci household received free tote bags, baseball caps, tee shirts and socks and other products. Actually his parents didn’t try to stop him from sending away for those items once they realized how much money his obsession was saving them on clothes.

Joey’s hobby embraced the airways. The radio advertised promotional giveaways for new stores (a raffle for a bottle of whiskey from a new liquor store chain, which he couldn’t enter because he was under age), tickets for a theater opening downtown. He won a ride in the local weather helicopter – and because he couldn’t fly because of air pressure and collapsing sinus issues, Lou and Mr. Bocci went in his place. Now that was cool!

Here the tale ended abruptly, the silence Margaret’s cue to ask questions. It didn’t matter what she asked, really, as long as it gave Lou an idea of what she wanted to hear about next. “Was he persistent or just incredibly lucky?”

“Margaret,” Lou explained patiently, “no one was ever stupid enough to call Joey lucky. But yes, he had a run of luck where it seemed like the Universe was giving him a break to make up for the crap cards he’d been dealt just by being born. He really did have fun entering contests and winning stuff.”

“What’s the coolest thing he ever won?”

Lou frowned. “I just told you: the helicopter ride. At least to me and my Dad it was the coolest,” he amended, yielding to the apologetic look on his girlfriend’s face. “And he won fourth prize in a contest for a new Pontiac. My parents took the cash from that one and put it into savings bonds. That money helped put me through college.”

“It was okay with Joe? He didn’t want the money for himself?”

“Well,” Lou said slowly, “by then his lucky streak was running out. Joey hid it from the rest of us. He’d started getting weaker again instead of stronger… He didn’t have a whole lot of time left. And I think he was trying to win money and prizes for us to make up for the gap that would be there after he was gone.”

Margaret sighed and hugged her boyfriend. “Jesus, Lou. How could your family stand it?”

Lou shrugged. “We didn’t get calloused or anything, but it wasn’t like any of us didn’t know the end was coming. We just kind of… went on as we had been. What else is there to say? Joey was the glue for a broken situation; it was broke from the minute he was born. He was the glue holding the entire family together in spite of everything.”

“I just think, I mean, I can’t imagine how you all dealt with it.”

“Margaret, I never cease to be amazed at what people just deal with when they have to. How did my family deal with stuff? We just, did. Until we couldn’t any longer. When Joey went in the hospital the last time we thought it was temporary, just more of the usual batteries of tests. When his doctors found the tumor I think everyone knew that this was going to be it.”

“At least you all had each other. Your family was so strong!”

He looked at her with a strange expression. “Babe, that’s the whole point of what I’ve been telling you. We weren’t strong. Joey was! We were people he was supporting through his illness. The only thing we had in common was the DNA connection. Joey was never related to anybody I could figure out, not really, unless it was some kind of genetically defective super hero who hasn’t been invented or born yet.”

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 – 5

Then Lou’s stories simply dried up. Margaret realized she’d need to prompt him to tell her more about his dead twin. Margaret tried to just enjoy Lou, sans shadow, but whatever they discussed would compel her to ask him about the lost brother. At first she was tentative, afraid to raise unhappy memories. But Lou welcomed her questions. Margaret merely had to pose a new query and Lou gladly launched into a lengthy story.

He warmed again to the topic of his dead twin. His confidences became more intimate and rambling, the conversations shifting like sand before Margaret could ask anything further. Joey’s dim, elusive form shimmered renewed with the next conversations.

“How did Joey deal with always being sick?” she asked.

Joe didn’t deal with it. He never adjusted to his death sentence. When he became a teenager, he began to fight back. After enduring a childhood dictated by pills and shots and special foods and what he could and couldn’t do, Lou’s brother went on both a mind improvement and body building kick. It was amazing.

Joey spent his time in the library leafing through every magazine in the school racks. Being weak meant he perused anything to be found in print. The other kids basically left him alone; even the bullies went out of their way to avoid him. Joey was a pariah because kids are even more superstitious than adults. His peers looked at him and were scared just being near someone so sick might make it catching.

His fragilities didn’t stop him from attempting to do what he wanted. Joey was the 90-pound weakling, desiring to recreate himself. Or Arnold Schwarzenegger, wanting to build a perfect body from scratch. Joey never did steroids, though. He was on so many delicately calibrated medications that when Joey got healthy for a short while, a magic period of hope, he refused everything except aspirin.

“Remember the Bazooka Joe bubble gum wrappers?” Lou said. One of them advertised a booklet Joey could send away for, ‘How to transform yourself from a 90 pound weakling into a muscle mass.’ Okay, the booklet was a joke, and Joey recognized the joke immediately, but that booklet was merely the start. He started following more serious bodybuilding manuals. He got hold of an old Air Force exercise booklet, which began with 5 girlie push ups a day, working up to 50-75 real push ups, the ones complete with clapping hands between each push up as you lift off the floor. Joey didn’t actually get that good at them. But, he changed his body. If his limbs still twisted, he managed to gain a significant amount of control over his motor functions. Once he felt as if he had his physical body slightly more in his power, Joey turned next to improving his material environment.

Joey sat in the school library for hours. He hid there during recess and lunch periods, but the sounds of everyone out on the playground came through the open windows. Hearing the sound of other children shrieking was bad, and as Joey listened he tried to imagine it came from children somewhere far away. When he did see them the distance apparent between what they could do and what he could not was too terrible. He would perch at the dark wood of the windowsill, holding himself upright and steady with one hand as he watched. Children in groups skipped ropes, chased balls, played tag. The teacher with recess duty wore a light jacket and an expression of endless weary patience. He or she sometimes called out across the tarmac, “Hey! That’s enough of that, Loreen!”

Unseen and unimportant, from the high window Joey observed when the teacher rushed to the aid of a fallen child or broke up a playground fight. He hated it. Watching reminded him that no one would ever need to run to prevent him from doing something he shouldn’t; watching only reminded him that he couldn’t run.

Joey moved to a table where he could sit with his back to the windows. Determinedly Joey closed his ears to the cries of his peers playing outside the walls and forever beyond his ken.

Eventually Joey made his way through all of the school magazines. He began to take the bus to the public library. After school Joey sat among the adult publications where he felt less excluded. Around him sat members of his home city’s increasing homeless population, noisily turning pages and keeping a careful eye on their oversized bags of belongings. There were a few students, or grown ups coming in to claim the copies of recent novels they had put on hold, and every so often a class of younger children arrived for reading hour. Otherwise though, Joey could feel like he was simply another library user, ageless and without handicaps.

At the school library Joey had pored over National Geographic Kids, Odyssey, Ranger Rick, Highlights for Children, and Boys’ Life. He took that same determination and perused the magazines he imagined his mother and father would each read if their time hadn’t been taken up with his care. This was when he discovered adult magazines with their endless advertisements for write-in contests, coupons to win prizes, and teasers to learn more about great deals. Joey flipped pages hunting for things to win, things to present to his parents. Joey wanted, Lou said thoughtfully, to present them with distractions from the nonrefundable item they’d brought home from the hospital: their youngest son and his damaged body.

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 – 2

A few nights later she sat on the nubby brown couch at Lou’s apartment. They had eaten a mediocre pizza and watched a movie to match, set in a future containing a wooden Keanu Reeves. Margaret slid the DVD back into its case and yawned.

“You know, Joe loved science fiction.”

At the sound of the twin’s name Margaret suddenly resembled a house pet, a cat or dog with ears perking up. Lou hadn’t mentioned him again since that Saturday afternoon in the coffee shop, and she’d been trying to think of a way to reintroduce the subject.

“Is that how you ended up watching so much Star Trek?”

Lou nodded and crammed the last piece of pizza into his mouth. She held her breath and waited. Then, in a posthumous portrait of words as his surviving brother spoke, Joey began to take form.

Sickly children either become television addicts or they are voracious readers; Joey was both. Joey read the Dune series over and over and over, loving the complex mythology and the idea of using will power to rule others, and oneself. His favorite quote was how fear is the little death. Despite his fragility, Joey’s whole existence was a total lack of fear of death.

He hated his disabilities, and avoided mirrors. But he loved anything to do with Star Trek. What he found so inspiring was the idea of a future society where beings with all sorts of handicaps or differences still had their places and their strengths.

When the boys were still little, Joey became a connoisseur of serial television. The amount of time Joey could go out and play was limited. Sometimes Lou watched old series on television with him during the afternoons. Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, Star Trek and Lost in Space were their particular favorites. Margaret had been a closet fan of most of those shows all her life. Hearing how Joey cajoled his twin Lou into watching the shows, and then turned him into a follower of them, was fun.

One afternoon, Lou told her, the television show credits had begun rolling down the screen. In the green glow of the darkened cellar room Joey looked over to where his brother slouched and methodically cracked peanut shells.

“Sometimes I get this feeling,” Joey said quietly.

“What’s that?” his brother mumbled, his mouth full of peanuts.

“Like I have a hit and run life.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“A couple different things.” Joey kept looking at Lou until he was convinced he had his brother’s full attention. “I get born into this cool world, but I can’t run, or play ball, or even walk right. My life is a hit and run accident. First the accident happened (my birth) and afterwards life left me behind at the scene of the crash to deal with it.

“Or maybe the whole point of it is, it’s like I was always meant to deal with it. That I have to get up and run, even after being hit. Make the best of things.”

Lou swallowed the last of the nuts. “Maybe there’s a third option,” he objected. “Do you ever stop to think that maybe it’s the same for everyone? All of us live in a random universe, where every day totally random stuff happens. Good or bad, it’s always a surprise.” Lou sat up and leaned over the messy, scarred table to emphasize his words. “Maybe,” he went on slowly as he thought it through, “maybe it can be positive. Good stuff happening. Hits like hit songs or movies, runs like home runs and a player’s lucky streak.”

“Maybe,” Joey said. “But not for most of us. And not me, that’s for sure. My hit and run life is the version that occurred on the back road in the middle of the night. The next morning there I was, lying by the side of the road.

“But I know what you’re saying.” Generously Joey added, “I guess I’ve been trying ever since to turn it into the hit and run version you mean.”

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 – 1

It was almost a year before Lou mentioned his brother. “You already know all the details about me, Margaret,” he repeated flatly. “The most unusual thing about me is that in Italian my last name means lawn bowling.”

Margaret composed a mental grocery list as she listened. In Italian… Italian food. Ground meat, ricotta cheese, maybe lasagna?

“Now, my twin, he was extraordinary.”

With that comment her attention snapped back. “What did you say? I didn’t know you had a brother! I thought you just had two sisters who were a lot older. And I sure didn’t know about a twin. How come you never told me you have a twin?” Margaret stared at him, astonished.

“Had,” Lou corrected her, and shrugged. “Had. What is there to say? His name was Joe. Joey. He lived, he died. He’s gone, I’m here. Although I wonder sometimes what it would have been like the other way around.”

Margaret felt she was viewing something she took for granted for the thousandth time, an inanimate object, and it suddenly winked at her. “What’s that supposed to mean, the other way around? What was he like?” she prompted, intensely curious.

Lou looked away into the distance for a minute before he eyed her sideways, considering whether or not to talk about his brother. Finally he came out with, “Joe was great. He was born 25 minutes after me, but that was the only time I did anything ahead of him. We were yin and yang.”

They sat with their coffees in the café as Margaret waited for him to go on.

“My twin, who died,” Lou said with difficulty, “was a great guy. Much more fun than I was. Am.” Lou sat on a straight-backed café chair with his left leg crossed over the right, his foot tapping up and down ever so slightly. “We were what they call change of life babies. By the time we came along, both my sisters were almost out of the house already. I remember them taking care of me when I was a really little boy. They helped my parents a lot, to prepare them for the time after both my sisters left to go lead adult lives.
“But my brother,” Lou went on slowly, “Joey almost didn’t get born.”

He stopped talking and Margaret knew he was revisiting old pain, hesitant to open up a new aspect of himself (his brother, she amended as she waited) to review. Margaret carefully nodded to show she was listening and wanted to hear more.

Finally Lou went on. “I was born first, an easy delivery, but Joe was turned sideways or something.”

“He was a breach birth?”

Lou was annoyed at the interruption. “Breach. Right. Whatever. I was only 25 minutes old, so I don’t remember the details. Anyway, they had to do a Caesarean on my mother.”

“Don’t hospitals automatically do those for multiple births?” Margaret kept interrupting the flow of Lou’s story, but she couldn’t help herself.

“Damn it, Jim, I’m an office manager, not a doctor!” Lou grinned.

“Sorry,” she said contritely. “I promise, no more interruptions. Tell me about Joe!”

Joey was the youngest Bocci child by 25 minutes. He had a difficult birth but was an easy child. Joey was sweet natured from the moment he entered the world. Lou was a normal boy, engaging in activities such as Little League or pick up kickball games in the park. Lou liked stories about astronauts and wanted to be one when he grew up. Joey, though, was fragile.

For the most part, their parents left Lou on his own. He had friends and did passably well in school. They didn’t need to worry about him, and that meant they could concentrate on Joey.

Joey spent much of his own childhood at doctors’ offices or in the children’s ward at the hospital. It was impossible to pinpoint what was wrong with Joey’s body. Each new medical team identified new problems; each specialty branch of medicine claimed a piece of the little boy. Congenital disorders, the original hospital report stated.

“Congenital disorders. What a term!” Lou stood up. It was the signal it was time to go, and disappointed, Margaret trailed him to the front door of the coffee house.

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.