Category Archives: Forgetown Follies

Forgetown Episode 1.05 – Father Tom’s Inbox

ForgeTown CoverThe ‘From’ field said “Archdiocesan Office of…” This was it.

Tom’s hand hesitated over the mouse. He knew what it would say. He was 99% sure, at least. Ninety-eight, maybe.

This is it, Tommy boy, the end of your nice quiet life. And he clicked.

DECREE
OF THE MERGER OF
 ST. STEPHEN’S PARISH, FORGETOWN, PENNSYLVANIA
INTO SAINT THERESE PARISH, FORGETOWN, PENNSYLVANIA
St. Stephen’s Parish was founded in the Borough of Forgetown in 1901 to serve Polish speaking people in Forgetown and surrounding area. As the result of an Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning initiative, a proposal to merge this parish with the neighboring territorial St. Therese Parish, Forgetown, was studied and discussed with committees from both parishes and with the appropriate Archdiocesan offices. Throughout this process, sufficient information regarding the proposal was gathered, and sufficient consultation was conducted ….

“Congratulations,” the accompanying note from the assistant Bishop said.

Congratulations. We’ve just turned your life upside down, but we’re allowed to do that because you pledged obedience, and we explained that this kind of thing would happen. Congratulations, we’ve just made you the hatchet man who gets to tell a parish full of psuedo-Polish retirees that you’re closing down their social club. Congratulations, Fr. Tom. Here’s the cross you longed to carry when you were an idealistic young boy in altar robes, gazing up at the impassioned face of your savior dangling above your head.

 

There was a knock at the door. Jean’s frosted blonde curls appeared.

“It’s arrived then, Father?” she said. “I saw the email but I didn’t peek.”

Fr. Tom Tyler smiled broadly, glad to see the parish receptionist. She had access to all his email but firm sense that she shouldn’t ever open the priest’s mail. A bit of a flaw in a secretary, and it had caused him some trouble at first, but he’d long since learned this was a battle he wasn’t going to win.

“This is isn’t going to make your life any easier,” he said, gesturing for her to come around and read the email over his shoulder — the one concession she would make to spying on his exalted correspondence.

“They’ve done it, then?” Jean scurried over. “They’re closing St. Stephens?”

Tom nodded.

“And merging her with us at St. Therese here.”

Jean sighed, then took a deep steadying breath.

“Oh!” she said. “They’re not changing the name! We’re just, what, swallowing up St Stephen’s without a trace?”

“Mmm.”

“Oh Father! I thought…”

“I know.”

The drone of a nearby lawnmower drifted in through the open window. A car honked at someone at the four-way stop Tom had insisted the town install at ‘his’ corner. It had not improved the fractious relations with the street’s non-Catholic residents with whom there there was a permanent cold war over parking.

“They are not going to like this.” Jean brought him back to the issue in hand, or rather, on screen.

“I know.”

Tom sighed deeply and looked at Jean. She looked right back at him. He saw a grandmotherly figure who had become, in his mind, younger and more vibrant during the five years he’d known her. Now that he knew her better, she seemed more maternal than grandmotherly.

Jean, for her part, saw a good man, younger than her own son, God rest him, and one with a world of trouble piling up on his plate. He looked a lot older than he had when he’d arrived, fresh-faced and full of ideas, five years ago. He hadn’t hit forty yet — young to be a pastor, but a  bit of a rising star, she gathered. Usually they kept the rising stars close — in the city — and moved them into the administration as quickly as possible. She knew he must have done something wrong to be assigned to this sleepy backwater. She’d wondered if  whatever it was might have been forgiven under the new Archbishop, but here he was, still in Forgetown. A blessing for them, of course, but she wondered how he really felt about it.

“So, when are you going to tell them?”

“Well, I expect Fr. Andruczyk will be telling the Parish Council today and then we’ll set up some kind of joint meeting for tomorrow night.”

“Have you heard where he’s going?”

“There was a rumor about the prison chaplaincy,”

Jean straightened up, rubbing her back.

“Big change for a man of his age.”

“Big changes all around, Jean.” Tom said. “And we are sworn to obedience.”

“Yes,” Jean said, with feeling.

“It’s going to be tricky for you, Jean. You’re my front line and your phone’s going to be red hot.”

“Oh don’t you worry about me.”

Tom looked at her and smiled.

“I don’t worry about you, Jean. But let’s get a statement together anyway, so we’re presenting a united front; sharing the same information, that kind of thing.”

It struck him that he had already started using the metaphors of battle and made a mental note to read some civil rights era speeches tonight. He needed to find a better class of cliché.

The lawnmower outside spluttered to a stop. There was a moment of silence, where the world seemed to hold its breath before, in ones and twos—and finally a chorus—the birds began to sing again.

That’s where we are, Fr. Tom thought. In the silence. I wonder how many voices will be in our chorus when all’s said and done.


Enjoying the story so far? Why not share the link with a friend? Use this message for a quick email, Facebook post, or update to your social-network-of-choice:

Subject: A Daily Escape For You
Hi! I thought of you today, because I know you love to read. I’ve been enjoying this series of short stories set in the fictional Pennsylvania town of Forgetown and I thought you would too. They’re fun and short, and new ‘episodes’ come online three days a week. My favorite character so far is …

Hope you enjoy them too. The series starts here: http://julieduffy.com/forgetown-episode-01

Next week we settle into our regular Monday, Wednesday, Friday, schedule. Come back on those days to keep up with the inhabitants of Forgetown, or subscribe to receive new episodes by email.




Forgetown Episode 1.04 – How Stella Lost Her Groove

ForgeTown Cover“I’m going to kill you, you little creep!”

Yeah, that’s what I said. Top of my voice too. I know Kath’ll be all ‘pipe down, missy, what about the neighbors’, but I don’t care. The little snot was dangling a bird — a dead bird — right in front of my face. Who wouldn’t yell?

I don’t want anyone in this stupid town to like me, anyway. I don’t even want to be here. I was dragged —no choice — like a prisoner transfer, against my will. Really there should be a Geneva Convention for kids or something.

I know, I’m being a total cliche: pre-teen drama queen. I can’t help it.  I’m the one who’s had her whole life ripped out from under her. I was all set to start the coolest middle school on the face of the planet…ok, probably the coolest middle school on the planet. Granted I don’t know all of them. In fact do they even have middle schools in other places? I mean, like, do they have middle schools in England? I’m guessing probably. But what about China? Or Thailand? We did a whole unit on Thailand with Mrs Murphy last year but nobody ever thought to tell us whether or not they had middle schools. They made us learn all about the boring system of government and the food and drink but seriously, no adult thought that we’d be interested in where the kids in Thailand spend most of their waking lives?

Anyway, I was so over that school by half way through last year, but then I was supposed to be going Boston Latin and that’s like super cool and Olivia was coming, and both Emilys and, OK McKenzie Gravas was going to be there too, but none of her evil gang of friends made it, so we might have been able to turn her away from the dark side…

Now I’m here with stupid Robbie dangling dead birds in my face and laughing like a maniac and I’m going to some unnamed public school with who-knows who else. And oh yeah, here comes Kath, round the corner of this ugly new house, and she’s got ‘that’ face on. What do you want to bet I’m the one who gets in trouble for ‘making a scene’ while sweet little Robbie will get a pat on the head and a quick ‘tut tut’?

It’s all right for her. She’s an adult. They make friends no problem. Meet in the market? Oo, we’re new here, we should be friends! Leaving church? Oh hi there, you must come to the parish picnic, let’s be friends. And this, this summer was going to be great. We were finally old enough to be allowed to take the T all the way to the Common. We were going to do picnics and hang out at the pond and pretend we were movie stars. And now I’m going to be in my room, a recluse, with no-one to do anything with. I”ll have to spend the whole summer on Instagram with Olivia and the Emilies. I’ll probably get so pale I’ll get sick from Vitamin D deficiency and have to miss the start of school because I’m in hospital undergoing some special light therapy and then I’ll be The New Kid for the next three years, even though I only came two weeks late. Oh God.

“What are you two doing?” That’s Kath. She hates it when I call her that, but what am I supposed to do? She’s always been “Mommy” and I can’t call her that now. Changing what I call her is weird anyway, so why not just use her name?

“Is that a dead bird? Oh God, Robbie, get rid of it and go inside and…I don’t even know if we have running water yet so you can wash your hands. Oh Robert Julio Morris, how could you do this?! Stel, you OK? Young man, come with me. We’re going to the car. I’ve got some Purell. Don’t make this day any harder than it has to be!”

She hugged me! Robbie’s giving me that ‘help me’ look over his shoulder but there’s nothing I can do when she’s in a mood like this. Ride it out, little brother, and I’ll see you on the other side. Poor kid.

And that’s my mother for you. Completely unpredictable. How is a girl supposed to know what to do with a mother like that?


 



Forgetown Episode 1.03 – Kath And Evan-Devon-Maybe-Ethan

“Robbie? Stella?” Kath’s voice hissed across the still morning air.

“Kids!” Don bellowed and was rewarded with as swift punch to the upper arm from his loving wife.

“What?”

“Shh! Do you want us to be ‘those neighbors who yell at their kids’?”

“Do we care?”

Kath stopped, one foot on the first step of their new house and stared at Don. So perceptive in so many ways and completely thick in so many others. No shame, that man, that was his problem. Still she had enough shame for the whole family.

“Mrs Morris?” The youngest and most distractingly good looking of the movers met them on the top step, hand outstretched.

“Hi, so nice to meet you,” Kath smiled her friendliest style, the one that said ‘I’m totally not looking down on you because you do manual labor for a living, in fact I respect it and I’m desperately uncomfortable because I’m sort of your employer for today and I’m not the kind of person who has servants…’. Stop it. Don’t lose the plot, Kath. Back to the gorgeous man-boy-for-hire. “Actually it’s Ms Rodriguez.”

The man-boy’s eyebrows twitched upwards and he glanced briefly at Don who, as usual, was enjoying the moment.

“I, uh,” the adonis began. Now he was checking his clipboard. “Sorry, I just, uh…”

“It’s OK, Bud,” Don swept in, reaching into his pocket for the shiny new front door key. “You have the right place. She took me, but not the name. She’s old-fashioned that way.”

It was true. While it had been all the rage to keep your own name back when Kath and Don had married, Kath had been faintly annoyed to notice that it had remained, on the whole, a fringe trend. Younger women shed their names as quickly as they had previously shed their inhibitions, adopting their “Mrs” and a pre-packaged set of conservative social values as soon as they marched back up the aisle. It was very strange. It hadn’t been so bad in the professional world of Boston’s advertising industry but she had started to notice a lot of her friends leading a double life after kids came long: Ms Individual at work, Mrs FamilyName at the Home and School Association. She should probably do the same but she couldn’t. No matter how much confusion it caused she couldn’t stop the “Rodriguez”slipping out.

Don had the door open now and was asking the chief moving guy his name. Kath missed it — it was something like Evan or Devon or possibly Ethan — and was kicking herself for being so damned awkward around new people. She had sworn it wasn’t going to happen here. She was facing a whole life of new people and she was just going to have to figure out how to do the small-talk thing without sticking her foot in her mouth or dissolving in to a puddle of perspiration every single time.

“Tell you what, let’s keep it simple,” her husband was saying. “I’m Don and this is Kath. The holy terrors are Robbie and Stella and you just feel free to give them a kick up the rear if they get under your feet.” And then everyone was laughing like old friends. It wasn’t fair. Smart and charming. She cast and appreciative eye over her husband. He had grown out of that awkward male-in-his-thirties thing and was looking — though she daren’t say it to his face — quite distinguished now. Rugged. Streaks of grey. Smile lines setting in around the corners of his eyes. Yeah, she’d picked a good one. And he made beautiful children too…

The thought had barely started to form when it was cut short by a piercing scream from somewhere down the side of the building. She and Don reached the corner of the building at a run together. Evan-Devon-Maybe-Ethan, to his credit, was only a pace or two behind.




Forgetown Episode 1.02 – On Phoenix Street

ForgeTown Cover“Kids? Kids! Wait!”

Kath Rodriguez struggled to shift the bags around her feet and untangle herself from her knitting so that she could get out of the car and make her entrance on to her new street with some dignity. It hadn’t been a long drive from the hotel but knitting calmed her nerves: the more complicated the pattern, the more she forgot about outside stress. She had selected her most complex work-in-progress for the 20 minute ride. Some people medicate, she would joke when people commented on her habit. Or pray, said her grandmother’s reproachful voice in the back of her head. Kath rattled off a quick mental “Perpetual rest…” and aimed it upwards (Happy, Gran?) and, at last, stepped out of the car.

“Kids!” she hissed, seeing no sign of her wayward children. She was not about to start yelling for them. Who knew what time of day it was acceptable around here to start yelling at your family? Back in Waterville there had been a 24hr dispensation, but she had had friends from neighborhoods where no-one would ever have dreamed of sticking their head out the screen door and simply hollering. She didn’t know yet which kind of neighborhood this was and if she was going to have to play stay-at-home mom here, she didn’t want to be causing all the blinds to twitch on the first day. And yes, I’ve already spotted you, Nosy Nora, Kath thought, deliberately not looking up at the top floor of the split-level across the street.

“Witnesses!” Don stepped out from behind the steering wheel and stretched, winking towards the neighboring house. He waved cheerily at the old woman peering out through her blinds. “We’d better take her some of your mom’s famous shortbread later to butter her up.”

“Don!” They’d only been here five seconds and already he was making her blush. Don turned his Irish charm up and gave her his best cheeky grin.

“Let’s give her a show,” he said. He danced around the car, slipped his arms around her and planted a long, lingering kiss on her lips. She managed to endure it somehow, but swatted him away when his hands started to creep down over her shorts.

“Welcome to Phoenix Street, Mrs Morris,” he whispered. “And thank you.”

“That’s Ms. Rodriguez, to you,” she said, pushing him away, smiling. “We should probably rescue the movers from the curiosity of your offspring.”

“Oh, they’re mine now, are they? And here I thought they were yours.”

“Only when they’re good,” they chorused together and laughed.

 

From the window across the street Mary Szabowski watched her new neighbors pull each other hand-in-hand up the driveway to their new home. Were we ever like that, John and I, she wondered. It was all so long ago. But yes, they’d had their moments.

The old woman closed her blinds with a snap — they kept the morning sun off her TV set — and shuffled herself towards John’s recliner. If he could see her now. And, with a  sigh for the mixed blessing of the massive heart attack that had carried him off before either of them had started to fall apart, she sank down and flipped on GMA where stick-thin blondes with arms that spoke of hours doing battle with gym machinery, gave her advice on how to live a better, happier,  more fretful life.

The indignities of age, she reflected, were quite possibly as nothing compared to the indignities of being young in this post-feminist world of Botox and Brazilians. Mary patted her walking frame before giving herself over to the comforts of Colin Firth on the couch with Savannah.




Forgetown Episode 1.01 – Moving Day

It was one of those big orange moving trucks. That was what caught her eye.

Mary Szabowski swayed by the window, gripping her walker. She had been on her way to John’s faded old recliner, ready for her daily dose of Good Morning America, but this promised to be much more interesting.

A big orange struck filling half the street? That meant a corporate move from somewhere far away. Or someone with more money than pick-up-driving friends. But why would someone like that move into this neighborhood? Mary shifted her weight and adjusted her grip not he walking frame. Her feet were numb in her hard-soled slippers and she would have to sit down before long. Not until I get a look at the new neighbors.

Moves around here ranged from a procession of pickups and station wagons disgorging laundry baskets overflowing with possessions, to the occasional Two Men and A Truck move — usually on the way out, when the babies were preteens and Dad and finally been promoted often enough to qualify for a crippling mortgage in one of the new developments eating up the land where Mary had spent childhood summer afternoons on friends’ farms. Not that anyone farmed anymore, except those incomer hippie-types with their brown clothing and their farmers’ markets and their godless, ungroomed children.

The long shadow of a silver Minivan slunk around the corner, followed by the car itself. It gleamed, almost pink in the early morning sun. It pulled up outside Number 4 and the doors popped open. The rear doors slid, like something from a B-movie — automatic, Mary noted. You could tell about these things, even from a distance. With a grunt, she shuffled around the break-open between her two tall living room windows to see if she could get a look at the big car’s plates. Wheezing past a lifetime encased in glass and wood — the crystal champagne flutes Mitzi had given them on their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary; a sugar bowl from her grandmother’s china set; the track and field trophy John Jr had won, senior year in high school; and frame upon frame filled with pictures of people looking as they had when Mary had still seen them regularly — she lunged at the second windowsill, slid the fingers of her free hand between the vinyl mini blind’s slats.

Massachusetts plates? They had come a long way. Putting it all together, she’d have to say he’d come to work at one of those, what did they call them now, ‘life sciences’ companies that powered the greater Philadelphia region. Or it could be ‘her’ whose job had moved them, Mary reminded herself. She felt the familiar stab of pleasure and bitterness at the fortunes of women half her age. She shoved it aside. She was turning into another Mitzi, and she would not let that happen!

Two children tumbled out of the open doors, scrambling up the driveway — a boy and a girl she thought, though this seemed to be one of those years when it was fashionable for boys and girls to wear each others’ hair and dress in bright, baggy unisex clothes, so she couldn’t really be sure.

Her knees trembled. She really would have to sit down soon — and that nice Colin Firth was due on GMA this morning. She wouldn’t want to miss that. Still, she could manage a few more minutes at the window. The new neighbors were getting out of the car now, and who knew if she’d live long enough to enjoy another moving day, at her age. You wouldn’t get to watch this kind of thing at that ‘care community’ in Ohio that John Jr kept dropping hints about. Just old fogies like her, trailed by a Barcalounger and a scant few boxes of mementos to clutter up a single, uniform shelf in their rooms. Mary clucked her tongue and raised the arch eyebrow that had once been the terror of generations of children passing through the halls of Forgetown Elementary, not to mention the former child-inhabitants of Phoenix Street. He won’t get me into a old folks’ home, she vowed. Not while I have my wits about me. Dropping all pretense now, Mary fiddled with the blinds until they were wide open and turned her full attention back to Number 4, while her legs still held out.


Come back tomorrow for the next episode: “On Phoenix Street” or subscribe to receive new episodes by email.