Tag Archives: Kath Rodriguez

ForgeTown Cover

ForgeTown 1.16 – Sleep Tight, Stella

Buoyed by her success in settling down her restless and homesick son, Kath crossed the hall and knocked on Stella’s door. A baseline thumped spasmodically behind the door. Overtones of a whiny pop diva’s voice bled through like a mosquito on speed. Kath winced. Stella knew she couldn’t stand that song.  It was, she realized, probably why Stella listened to it incessantly. As acts of rebellion go, it wasn’t the worst. Deeply irritating, of course, but Kath could do irritating too. She grinned. You’d have one less problem without me, girl? Ha!

She knocked as she pushed the door open.

“Mo-om! What about privacy? Why can’t I have a lock on that door? What kind of hell is this you’ve brought me to?”

Kath raised her hands in front of her to fend off the attack.

“Woah!” she said. “A, I knocked; B, who said you couldn’t have a lock? The fact is the door doesn’t currently have a lock, that’s all. And C, what kind of tone is that to take with your mother, missy?”

Oh God, she sounded like her mother. In the bad old days. Still, she couldn’t back down now.

“And could you please turn that ‘music’ down? My ear drums are going to split.” Had she really just done the air-quotes thing around ‘music’? Yes, she had.

Stella, curled up on her bed, looked small in this big new room. She was clutching her iPod. Her ever-present notebook was beside her on the bed, its pages scrawled with tiny writing. She flipped its cover closed as Kath approached. It took all Kath’s self-control not to reciprocate the preteen’s eyerool. Stella did, however, turn the volume down on the auto tuned mosquito noises.

“Thank you”

“I’m never going to get to sleep. It’s too loud out there.”

Kath mentally pictured the street outside: empty sidewalks, roomy yards, token streetlights dripping weak spots of light onto the sidewalk for the occasion late night dog walker; a far cry from the busy Waterville sidewalks that had nudged up against the kids’ bedrooms bringing city lights, thumping baselines from vibrating, pimped-out Honda Civics and snatches of shouted conversations that had been an education in colorful vocabulary for every neighborhood kids down through the generations.

“Too loud?”

Stella bolted out of her bed and stood, hands on hips by the window.

“Listen,” One palm up, she indicated the offending outdoors as if her mother must be not only hard of hearing but also hard of thinking.

Kath listened.

Nothing. Well, apart from the insects doing that come-and-go chirping thing she associated with movies about country life. There were some shirrings of air conditioners too, but apart from that…then there was a scuffle as if something was digging in the flower bed outside.

“What’s that?” she asked. Stella dropped the drama queen act and stared back at her, wide eyed.

“Cats?”

“Maybe it’s a possum,” Kath said. “Out here in the wilds of Pennsylvania, they might have possums. What is a possum anyway?” Kath struck a dramatic pose. “What does a possum even look like? Are they carnivorous. Are we on the menu?”

Stella looked like she might crack a smile.

“Possum!” she repeated, letting the smile break through, briefly.

“Would it help if I let you have the iPod and headphones for tonight?” Kath asked.

She thought she saw a hint of the little girl Stella had been until about two months ago, when this move had come up and she had vaulted into the teen years. A wave of softness flooded over her, then Stella arched an eyebrow at her and mumbled. “thanks,” and the moment was over.

“It’s going to be–“Kath began.

“Fine. I know. So you keep telling me.” Stella threw herself back down on to her bed and scrolled studiously through her music, her back to her mother.

Kath slowly and silently counted to ten — which, she remembered somewhat belatedly, only ever served to make her angrier — then decided to let her Angry Young Woman stew. A thousand opening lines died on her tongue and she turned back to the door.

“Sleep tight, Stella,” she said.

After she closed the door Kath waited for a moment on the landing. From behind the closed door, she thought she heard the faintest, “And don’t let the bugs bite.”

ForgeTown Cover

ForgeTown 1.15 – Good Night, Rob-A-Tron

All Kath could see of Robbie under his covers, was a fan of black hair and two very large brown eyes. They looked like thy might go on growing wider and wider until his face was nothing but eyes — and possibly a hint of quivering bottom lip, under that sheet.

Kath pick her way through the scattered contents of moving boxes (tomorrow!) and sat on the edge of her son’s bed.

“Hi buddy.”

“Beep.”

“Beep, yourself.”

The little piece of his face that had been showing slid under the sheet. She reached out and stroked the tuft of hair.

“You had such soft, fair hair when you were a baby,” she said. “And look at it now.”

A hand emerged from under the sheet and batted hers away. A muffled but decidedly disgruntled “beep beep” accompanied the gesture. One beep for yes, two for no. Kath pulled back the covers.

“You have to use words, Robbie. Remember?” Her voice was carefully soft.

The ‘beep’ was barely audible and followed by a louder,

“Yes. Mom”

“So, what do you think of your new room? It’s a lot bigger than your old one, right?”

Robbie stared up at her, still saucer-eyed. His gaze flicked around the room and came back to her.

“When are we going home, Mama?”

He never called her that anymore. Kath fought to keep her face from scrunching. She was definitely not going to let her eyes fill up.

“We are home, Rob-a-tron,” she managed. “This is our lovely new house and I’m sure it’ll start to feel like home as soon as we make some new memories to put in it.”

Robbie sat up, blinking.

“Is that what happens? The memories live in the house?”

Kath was just about to congratulate herself on engaging him when he cut across her private party with a rush of questions.

“What happens to all our memories from the old house? Are they still there? Can’t we bring them with us? Am I going to have to forget about Bobby and Cole and my little cubby and the climbing tree? And what about Santa and the Tooth Fairy? Are they going to know where we’ve gone? And how can I go to sleep without rubbing the little flap of wallpaper by my pillow?”

He ran out of breath and stared at Kath, forehead creased.

What could she say? That it’d be OK? (It would, by not necessarily tonight). That she knew how he felt? (Even though this was the first she’d heard about the wall paper? It did, however, explain a few of the quick fixes she and Don had had to execute after the big orange moving truck had packed up their lives and carried them away).

She did the only thing she could do: hug him until he squirmed. Then she snuggled in beside him, as she had every night of his life, book in hand. Nowadays they took turns reading paragraphs to each other. She had cried silently, on the last night when she had read to him in what he just now learning to think of as his ‘first bedroom’. She hadn’t been able to picture reading him bedtime stories anywhere else. Now, this strange new room was auditioning for the new role of ‘home’. With the lights low and their voices filling the air, Robbie and Kath took turns closing their eyes and willing this new place to do its job.

ForgeTown 1.13 – Lisa Weaver Comes To Call

ForgeTown Cover“Hi-hi!”

A perky, petite blonde lunged at the window in the front door as soon as Kath got near it, and began waving like a hurricane warning flag that takes its job very seriously. Later, Kath would wonder why that particular image had sprung to mind. She added this coincidence to the “pro” side of the ledger that she’d begun to keep in her head for the arguments for and against the existence of a divine being. The woman herself she would later add to the column tallying the ‘con’s.

But all that was in the future.

For now, all that Kath Rodriguez knew was that there was a very excitable stranger on her front door step and she was carrying a sheaf of leaflets and what looked like an honest-to-God picnic basket. And she could swear there were brownies in it.

Oh what the hell, Kath through. She doesn’t look much like a serial killer. Plus: brownies. She opened the door.

“Hi-hi!” the woman squeaked again, even higher than before. “I’m Lisa Weaver. I saw the moving truck this morning so I guess that means we’re neighbors! That’s us over there,” she pointed to somewhere behind the house, on the diagonal. “Not the awful red house, but the Orchid White one — you’ll be able to see us from your deck. The people before you never used the deck much, but we are always out on ours. Can’t get enough of the fresh air. It’s so good for the kids to be outside, don’t you think?”

Bustling forward while she spoke, the woman had managed to end up inside the front door and was charging towards the uncleared kitchen table that cowered in a corner of the dining room, surrounded by packing crates.

“Oh, look at me! I feel quite at home. We have the same model, only ours is flipped from this, our door is over there and our family room is here. And of course we upgraded our kitchen last year, you must let me give you the name of our contractor. They were just the best. I can’t believe the Patels never did anything with this kitchen in all the years they lived here, but you know how those people are. Never want to pay for anything and always moving in more relatives until the house is overflowing. I mean, I’m don’t mean to sound racist, but, sometimes these stereotypes get made for a reason, you know what I mean?”

Kath, who had been trailed after Lisa Weaver, sweeping up cheesesteak wrappers as she went,  started to laugh. Then she stopped, realizing Lisa Weaver wasn’t joining her. Had she just imagined that? Or had Lisa Weaver introduced herself with a casual crack about 20% of the world’s population?

I should tell her that’s unacceptable, Kath thought. I should ask her to leave and come back when she’s got a civil tongue in her head. I should tell her I’ll get my friend Monisha down here to set her straight on a few choice issues and then we’d see where we stand. But none of these things came out of her mouth. In truth, she didn’t have the words to deal with this. In Kath’s circle you hid your prejudices, pretended they didn’t exist and felt guilty about them until you trained your brain to (over)compensate for its bad behavior.

“That’s better,” Lisa Weaver said, placing the basket down on the table. “Now, I didn’t catch your name.”

Kath stared. What was her name, again?

“Kath,” she managed at last. “Kath Rodriguez.”

“Well, hi Kath!” Lisa Weaver chimed in the tones of a support group leader. “And I saw a handsome man and some gorgeous kids running around this morning?”

Lisa Weaver blinked expectantly at Kath.

Suddenly Kath didn’t want to tell this woman anything about her family. She didn’t want the names “Don” and “Stella” and “Robbie” (or was it “Robert” now?) coming out of that mouth. Somehow she knew that Lisa Weaver would be spending the rest of the day wearing her badge of First Contact With The New Neighbors and polishing it up in front of everyone she met, telling them all the little details she’d manage to winkle out of Kath, speculating and judging and packaging and popping them on a shelf. No matter where you lived, no matter where you worked, there was always one.

She briefly flirted with the idea of telling Lisa Weaver that she had hired some actors to play her family in order to seem more acceptable to the Home Owners’ Association. Or maybe she could tell them that Don and she weren’t married and those kids she’d seen had been bought from gypsies and kept only for household chores. She pictured the pert little face forming a horrified ‘o’ and then reassembling itself into fake friendship. Then she heard herself saying,

“That was my husband, Don Morris, and the kids are Stella and Robbie. Eleven and nine.”

She even smiled.

“Oh!” Lisa Weaver said, eyebrows arched, blue eyes widening. “You’re a Rodriguez, but he’s a Morris. Do you hyphenate? Isn’t it mostly an African-American thing? Oh, and it sounds like your son will be in fourth grade, right? How wonderful! He’ll be in my Loren’s grade. It’ll be so great for them to have each other right here in the neighborhood. It’s a good school, of course, but Loren hasn’t really hit it off with too many of the boys — he’s so bright, you see, it’s hard for them to communicate on the same level — but he has plenty of friends of course. Will Robbie be signing up for football in the Fall? I can have a word with Coach Tony and see if we can squeeze him on to my Loren’s team. Of course that’ll mean you can’t go away for Labor Day — were you planning to? — Because they have mandatory practice for their first game that weekend, but it’s so worth it — such a great team, division champions every year — and it’s never too soon to start thinking about that college scholarship, is it? I think Loren will be QB this year, he’s such a fast little thing. Oh! We can carpool, that’ll be just great, because Kaelyn’s soccer schedule conflicts sometimes — she’s the youngest in the club but the coaches keep asking if they can move her up to the competitive teams because she has such a gift for the game. It’s hard because you know you want them just to have fun, but on the other hand you don’t want to hold them back.” At last, Lisa Weaver paused and took a breath. “You know?”

Kath’s grip tightened on the greasy foil she had scooped up from the table. She was holding on tight because otherwise she a feeling that her world would spin away from her somehow. All she managed in response was a noncommittal nod of the head.

Lisa Weaver brightened again and pointed at the leaflets she had strewn across the table.

“Oh, and I picked these up for you at the visitor’s center in Valley Forge Park. There’s SO much to do in this area, and then of course, there’s sports for the kids and all the festivals that they run in town these days. I keep my kids so busy that there’s no time for them to get into trouble! Good practice for when they’re teenagers, don’t you think? I’m so happy we’ve met and I’ll be glad to be your Welcome Wagon. I’ll make sure you know about all the neighborhood happenings,” (she said ‘neighborhood happenings’, Kath would later tell Don. She really did.) “and we must-Must-MUST get the boys together soon!”

Getting no further response from Kath, who looked as dazed as she felt, Lisa Weaver nodded briskly and said,

“Well, I can see you have a ton to do here.” She cast an appraising eye around at the packing crates and mover-strewn furniture. “I’ll let you get on. But if you need anything — ANYTHING — just come on over. Or you can always stand on your deck and yell. We’re always out there! See you soon, neighbor!”

And with that, she was gone.

If Kath had felt marooned before, now she felt utterly shipwrecked. And possibly beset by pirates.




ForgeTown 1.12 – A Meditation On Belonging

ForgeTown CoverPicture the scene: the movers have left, her husband has left to keep his appointment with the priest, and the children have bolted for their new rooms to look at their new view (Robbie) and tear into boxes filled with their most prized possessions — deeply lamented during the ten whole days of internment at the Homewood Suites five miles down the road (Stella).

The living room was free of boxes but only because every other room wasn’t. The kitchen table, looking lost in the middle of the large dining room, still held the crumpled aluminum cocoons that had disgorged te Philly Cheesesteaks, mainly because Kath had yet to locate her trash can and had told the kids that (“just this once”) they could go without clearing the table.

Now that the familiar bits a pieces of her Massachusetts life were here in the new house, something broke inside Kath. She was really going to live here. They had really done this.

The weight of it… Kath cast around for a metaphor, but the only thing she could come up with that matched the dense mass that now lay in the pit of her stomach, was an image of the tragically home-made birthday cakes her mother had attempted every year of her childhood until Kath had been deemed old enough to touch the oven and had taught herself to bake. Her mother’s cakes had been lumpen, lopsided things that had topped out of the cake pan and onto the serving plate with a clunk heard ’round the neighborhood. “Uncle” Tony would pop his head out of the kitchen window next door and yell, his face mere inches from their own window, “Grab your hammer and chisel, Maria! Carla’s been baking again.”

Kath closed her eyes and pictured it. Uncle Tony reaching across the tiny alley between their houses. Carla grabbing the much-maligned cake by one charred edge, as if it was a frisbee or, more accurately, a hockey puck, and making as if to wing it through the two windows and possibly cause Tony a concussion.
Who would Kath have, here, to throw pastries at through windows? She didn’t know a soul and she couldn’t imagine that these nice, sweet Pennsylvania small town folks were the bakery-flinging types. Not to mention that it had to be a good 24 feet to the closest neighbor’s window and she wasn’t sure her aim was that good. Were her children doomed to grow up without crazy neighbor stories? What kind of an upbringing was that?

Kath pressed her knuckles to her mouth to stopper the ridiculous sob that surprised her as she stood in her new home contemplating its cake-winging potential. Her hand went to her pocket to call Gina to tell her all about it, but Gina was 600 miles away. How long could she rely on her long-distance friends for comfort? Aborting the maneuver, Kath instead jammed her hand in the pocket of her capris. She would just have to make it work, that was all. They may not be her people, but surely there had to be some potential friends here in the wilds of small town PA.

And with that, the doorbell rang — a singsong chime, tinny and metallic.

“That’ll be our new doorbell,” Kath said to no-one in particular. “I don’t like it.”

She added ‘new doorbell chimes’ to the impossibly-long mental to do list and tiptoed cautiously towards the door.




Forgetown Episode 1.08 – Don Dismisses The Movers

ForgeTown Cover“You guys are good,” Don Morris made an exaggerated show of checking his left wrist, even though he had long since stopped wearing a watch, then of looking up at the sky as if to gauge the time by the sun’s position like the rugged outdoorsman he was not. Finally he whipped his iPhone out of a side pocket of his grey cargo shorts. “11:49. You said you’d be done by noon!”
Evan-Devon-maybe-Ethan, chief moving guy whose name neither Don nor Kath had caught properly, grinned with all the boyish charm that had been making Kath lose her train of thought all morning. Don had come across her four or five times, staring into the space recently vacated by Evan-Devon-maybe-Ethan. He grinned. He had no illusions. He knew his wife was particularly susceptible to a cute smile and a bit of charm. He thanked God for it, daily. It was, after the best tool in his belt for getting around her when he’d done something to set her off. This guy though? He couldn’t be more than 22.
“Summer job?” he asked. The boy nodded.
“Where d’you go to school?”
“Penn State.” He had said the words with a reverence that Don noted and filed. He had learned young to spot these signals, local intelligence he called it, and use it to start making himself a ‘local’ as soon as possible. A useful skill in a gypsy childhood like his had been.
Now he took the clipboard from Evan-Devon-Ethan and scanned the paperwork, not really seeing it. Instead he was running through a mental list of college mascots. Penn State. Penn State. Ah, there it was.
“Nittany Lions!” he flashed a grin at the boy, who beamed. What else? Oh. Best not to mention the football team, after it’s recent “troubles”. That’d be a sore spot and this kid looks like he might have been hoping to play on a Championship team. Oh well. What then? In a last, heroic lunge, Don plucked the school fight song from some unused corner of his mind.
“Fight on, State,” he said knowingly and received an approving,
“Roar, Lions Roar,” from the proud collegian. Not that it mattered, impressing this boy he’d likely never see again, but he was a good test run for how to charm his new colleagues.
“Well,” he said, handing the clipboard back and shaking Evan-Devon-maybe-Ethan firmly by the hand. In one smooth move, he transferred a stack of folded bills from his pocket to the boy’s free hand. “Be sure and tell your crew we appreciate all their hard work.”
Even-Devon-maybe-Ethan looked down at the money with his big wide-open face.
“Well, thank you, sir,” he said. “And I hope you’re happy in your new home.”
It was probably line he was contractually obliged to delivery but he did it with such sincerity that even Don wanted to believe he meant it. It was…sweet. That was the only word for it. Don had been living in the scrappy Boston suburb of Waterville for so long (and spending his working day amongst the Boston intelligentsia, too) that he’d forgotten what it was like to be this close to the south. People were…different here. He wondered how Kath, Waterville born and bred, was going to adjust to all this unfiltered sweetness.
“Are they all set?”
And here she came now, through the screen door, dark hair pulled back into a ponytail, all except for that one strand that she always missed which looped enticingly over her collar bone and down into the neck of her t-shirt. Don enjoyed the moment. Kath brushed the stray hair away and stared at him.
“What?”
Don, suddenly, horribly aware that he was far from 22 years old these days, gave her his best smoldering look. At first, he thought it wasn’t going to have any effect.
“I should go and say thank you,” Kath was saying, looking at the boys piling into the cab of the moving truck.
Don grabbed his wife around the waist and held her beside him, feeling the warmth of her body through his thin t-shirt.
“They don’t need you,” he said, low and slow.
“Oh,”
Kath turned to him, her cheeks reddening just a little. She leaned into him and wiggled just a little.
Don pushed her away with a playful,
“Yup. Still got it.”
The smack she administered to the back of the head was, he reflected, both justified and worth it.
“So hey,” he said, looking around. “Now that they’re gone, how about I wander down to that Pizza place we saw on the way in and pick us up some cheesesteaks for lunch.”
Kath screwed up her face, but Don carried right on.
“Don’t give me that face. Those things they served you on the Cape were nothing like Philly cheesesteaks. Trust me, I know. If you’re going to live here, you’re going to have to learn to be a connoisseur of the fine local cuisine.”
Kath groaned and he knew he’d won. Not least because it meant she didn’t have to figure out where to get food.
“And don’t forget I’ve got that appointment with the parish priest at 2,” Don said.
Kath groaned again.
“Yeah, I still don’t understand why you have to do that today.”
Don spread his hands wide.
“I told you. It’s what my mom always did: first day in a new home, you get the priest to come over and bless it.”
‘But surely you don’t need that kind of..” she faltered. ‘Nonsense’ was the word that hung in the air between them.
“You know I’m not superstitious,” Don said. “And I promise I’m not going to fill the garden with statues and wreath the whole house in palm fronds, but there are some things I just can’t fight. This seems right.” He gave her his best big-eyed look. “It’s important to me, love.”
He watched as she fought a valiant battle not to roll her eyes and almost won.
“Fine.” She said. “Just as long as I don’t have to come.”
“Never a question, my love.”
“And don’t sign me up for fourteen different committees.”
“Would I?”




Forgetown Episode 1.07 – Robbie (Or Robert) Meets The Duck

ForgeTown Cover“Kath Rodriguez, nice to meet you,” Kath managed, letting go of Robbie’s upper arm and taking the firm grip of the grey-haired man who had walked over to where their two yards met. You could see where his property ended: it was a bright been line that spoke of chemical fertilizer, deep waterings, militarily precise mowings and, probably a quiet desperation about the state of the grass — you couldn’t call it a lawn — on her side of the border.

“Joe Kaczka,” the main said, shaking her hand. “But you can call me Duck. Everybody does.”

“‘Duck’! Well, hello Duck! That’s my husband over there, Don Morris,” Kath watched for the raised eyebrows ,but Duck’s face was a mask. “And this is Robbie. Morris,” she added after a moment of hesitation.

Robbie, seizing the moment, had started to make a break for the relative safety of the back yard.

“Robbie!” Kath called. The boy’s steps faltered. Kath added a special edge to her tone. “Robert Julio Morris. Come back here and say hello to our new neighbor, Mr Kaczka.”

(Kaz-ka. Kaz-ka,Gray hair. Number 6. Flag in the lawn, military air. Kaz-ka, equal stress on both syllables. Call him Duck.)

“Hello Mr Kaczka,” Robbie mumbled and Duck shook his hand solemnly as if greeting a great man. Something flickered across Robbie’s face.

“And what do you think of the place so far, young sir?” Duck said, giving his full attention to the boy.

“It’s bigger than our house,” the boy said, only he pronounced it ‘biggah’ and ‘hahwz’. “I mean our old house.”

Duck looked up at Kath.

“Boston?”

“Just outside the city.” Kath said. “Is it that obvious?”

“Well,” Duck said, “Most people around here have been here so long — my mother spent her whole life in the same house — so we notice when a person has an accent.”

Kath noticed that he said and “l-wong”  and “hee-ouse”, and painted her smile on more firmly. No accent, my foot.

“That’s a really tall flagpole,” Robbie was saying, staring up at the fluttering flag.

Duck’s chest puffed out just a bit and he turned to follow Robbie’s gaze.

“Yes it is, son. I raise the flag at sunrise every morning and retire it at sunset every day.”

“Why?”

Kath watched as Duck stared first at Robbie then quickly at her and then back to the flag.

“Because that’s how we honor our flag and show our love for our country, Robbie…or do you prefer Robert?”

Robbie blinked.

“I dunno,” he said. “Either, I guess.”

“A man should be in charge of his own name, young man.” Duck crouched down so he was at Robbie’s eye level. “You decide what you want to be called and then you just keep insisting on it until people they go along with it. They’ll respect you for it.”

Kath watched this little scene and realized her mouth was open. She snapped it shut. Robbie, too, was staring at Duck.

“But you’re called Duck,” he said. Kath choked off a laugh when she realized Duck wasn’t joining her.

“Yes I am, son. I am indeed. It’s what my last name means in Polish. They called me that in the service and I’m proud to use it now. Everybody in town knows me as Duck, but you’ll note that I told your mother to use the name. That makes it my choice and that is what makes all the difference.

Kath and Robbie (or was it Robert?) came separately to the joint conclusion that there was nothing to be added to this curious sermon. Duck slowly straightened up from his squat.

“Perhaps, if your mom and dad say it’s OK,” he said, but his eyes never left Robbie’s face, “you can come over some time and help me with the flag ceremony.”

Kath watched the glowing face of her younger child. Hook, line and sinker, she thought, and braced herself for the onset of another of her son’s serial obsessions. Flags and patriotism? Well, it could be worse.




Forgetown Episode 1.06 – Joe The Duck

ForgeTown CoverThe big orange moving truck in Phoenix St was attracting attention from all around. It hadn’t been there at 5:32 am when Joe “The Duck” Kaczka had stepped outside, unfolded his flag and smartly hoisted it to the top of the flagpole cemented into his front lawn, as he did each morning, that was for sure.

A well-thumbed Farmer’s Almanac was a permanent fixture on Duck’s side table by his armchair. Every Sunday evening he took some time to to memorize the sunrise and sunset times for the coming week to ensure he was ready to honor his flag and his country at the right times every day. He took some satisfaction in the fact that his was the only one of three flagpoles in the neighborhood that was always raised precisely at sunrise and lowered at sunset excepting, of course, when we was a way from home for four days each November, at the start of hunting season.

Duck pulled a cotton handkerchief from his pocket and blotted his beaded forehead. It’d be good to be out on a crisp fall morning, about now. The heat and humidity had made an early appearance yesterday and they said on Channel 12 that it wasn’t likely to break until Friday. And everyone knew Channel 12 was always right. It did bother him, though that, on hunting days, when he was gone before dawn, he came home in the afternoon light to a bare flagpole, but it wouldn’t do to raise it in the dark. If Margie and he had been able to have children, he might have had grandkids by now. There would have been some fine boys among them; boys who, when they were still too young to come hunting would have apprenticed by coming over on hunting mornings and raising Pop Pop’s flag for him.

Of course, he could always install a floodlight like Bob Zemitsky on Elizabeth Street, and leave his flag up around the clock. Duck’s stomach knotted at the thought. Lazy, that’s what it was. Without his flag-raising ceremony he might sleep until as late as 7, never leave the house all day and spend his evenings going from local news straight through to the History channel without once getting out of his chair to salute, lower, fold and stow the flag. And that would lead to sloppiness,  a lack of discipline and, before you knew it, he’d be a 400lb pasty white whale with edema in both legs, only ever sighted behind the screen door, watching the world go by. He’d be found dead in his armchair, two weeks after succumbing to a host of diseases his parents had never lived long enough to worry about, and only then because Sully the mailman noticed his junk mail  piling up in his mailbox and called in Officer Jacks to break down the door with…Duck stopped. Did the Forgetown force even possess a battering ram? They’d probably have to call out to Collegetown for one. They’d all stand around on his front porch in their uniforms, boys he’d known when he’d coached the wrestling club, peering in his front window and calling his name, talking about how sad it all was.

No. No floodlight for his flag.

Duck folded and re-pocketed his handkerchief. He stooped with a grunt, one hand on his left thigh, to puck an enemy seedling from the white marble-chipped no-man’s land that held between the flagpole’s base and his lush green lawn. Duck levered himself upright and pulled his shoulders back, parade ground perfect. The good Lord wants us humble, but that’s not the same as giving up on your standards.

As he straightened up, rubbing the tiny green sprout between his fingers, Duck at last allowed himself to turn towards Number 4 with its buzz of activity and new faces. A young family. ‘He’ looked Irish which, though it might have seemed problematic for his parents’ generation, was better than the many alternatives that presented themselves these days. The wife had an exotic look, like a 1950 screen siren — Sophia Loren, someone like that. There might be some Italian in there, perhaps. But chances are they wouldn’t be joining him at St Stephen’s. They’d probably be St. Therese types. Pity. If they were church-goers at all. Duck had surprised himself with the thought, but you never did know these days.

‘She’ appeared, hauling a boy of about nine or ten around the corner of the house that was nearest to Duck’s yard. Duck well remembered the feeling of a mother’s grip on his upper arm. He grinned a little in solidarity with the young boy and began to walk stiffly towards them.

“Hi neighbors!” he called out, not so loud as to startle them, but loud enough to show confidence. It was important to proceed with confidence, with deer, with a shotgun or with people. That was one of Duck’s Rules and it had always served him well so far.

Duck thrust out a strong right hand, causing the woman to let go of the boy and recompose her face from ‘angry mom’ to ‘friendly neighbor’.




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.