Jess stood on the front porch of Grandma’s house in rural Maryland, staring at the set of keys in the door, which was ajar. It was 8:55 am on a Tuesday, as most adults were going to work, Jess was just getting home. The energy drinks that gave her “writing fuel” for the long, boring graveyard shift also left her in too zombified a state to process why Grandma had left the front door open all night. She put her own keys back in her bag and took a deep breath before entering the house.
Grandma was sitting at the kitchen table, sipping coffee and munching cinnamon toast. She was watching her favorite channel, Coyote News Network, on a tiny white TV that had never moved from the spot on the counter next to the fridge until Jess cleaned, discovering a rectangular imprint burned into the green Formica from decades of window-adjacent sun exposure. Grandma wore her favorite Led Zeppelin t-shirt, jeweled cat-eye glasses and rainbow pajama pants. Her blue beehive wig was so retro, it was stylish again. Jess saw her without a wig once when she was five.
“Does Grandma look ugly?” Grandma asked young Jess as she sat at her bedroom vanity in a white bathrobe, sparse wisps of gray hair covering her bald head. Jess thought hard about her answer. She put her balled-up fists deep in her jean short overall pockets and looked down at her Minnie Mouse Velcro sneakers.
“Your face doesn’t?” Jess offered with a look like she wasn’t sure if she just made a joke or not. Grandma paused, her face lit up and she laughed out loud. Jess thought Grandma was laughing at her for saying something stupid. Since Jess was in high school, family members had been telling her that she sounded exactly like her grandmother when she laughed, so it took a lot for her to laugh out loud. 26-year-old Jess walked in the kitchen with Grandma’s keys in her hand.
“Jessie’s home! Happy birthday my sweet granddaughter!” Grandma jumped up and hugged Jess with a ferocious, bone-crushing strength and kissed her cheeks five times. Jess’s uniform consisted of an ill-fitting black pants suit with a wrinkled white-collar shirt. She was afraid the shoulder pads would knock Grandma’s wig off due to the ferocity of her hugs.
“Simmer down, teapot! I have a birthday literally every year!” Jess borrowed one of Grandma’s catch phrases as she patted her back. Grandma held Jess by the shoulders, big blue eyes searching her weary green ones for any trace of joy. Jess smiled and held up Grandma’s keys. “So, we’re inviting the neighborhood to come in and steal your tiny tv, are we?”
“Oh, god damnit! I hate being old!” Grandma exclaimed. She took her keys from Jess and hung them up on the hook by the backdoor. Jess went to the fridge and took out a diet coke. She scanned the shelves for a decent breakfast. They were stuffed with jars of pickled fish and vegetables in various states of expiration. Among the family photos that covered every exposed inch of the outside of the fridge, Jess saw that Grandma had moved the one of her high school pictures to the front.
17-year-old Jess wore all black plain clothes, had the back half of her head shaved with long, jet black bangs split down the middle, further rounding her perpetual baby face. She was giving the camera the finger and her hand was positioned so it looked like she was picking her nose. Martha, her long-lost sheepdog, looked up from the bottom of the frame, adoring Jess. 26-year-old Jess took a donut-shaped magnet and put it over the picture.
“You’re not old, Grandma. Old people don’t street canvas for abortion rights or go gallivanting off to Kundalini yoga retreats all weekend.” Jess cajoled. She sat at the table with her soda and kicked off her all-black converse sneakers, which weren’t up to the uniform code, but nobody ever saw her feet behind the desk anyway. Grandma sat next to her and lightly pet the back of Jess’s smooth, pale hand with her arthritis gnarled, liver-spotted hand. Her glittering diamond engagement ring was getting looser on her bony finger.
“Are you sad I wasn’t here for your real birthday yesterday?” Genuine devastation settled over Grandma’s wrinkled face, elegant cheekbones and captivating eyes retaining her beauty through her age. Jess took Grandma’s old hand, her skin as delicate as vellum, and put it to her pallid cheek.
“It’s okay, Grandma. I’m 26, nobody cares about my birthday anymore. Besides, I had to work. Did you have fun?” Jess smiled, gave Grandma’s hand a light squeeze and popped open her soda.
“Pssht. That yogi had no idea what he was talking about. I told him that I studied under Mahareshkaresh Basu and the Maha would never stand for such lazy annunciation of the Shanti mantra. It’s gonna take weeks of meditation to get my chakras realigned!” Grandma got up from the table to search for something in the fridge.
“Fascinating.” Jess responded. She stared at the news crawl on the tiny TV, a sour expression growing on her face. She ignored the politician on the screen who was giving an apology speech while standing in front of an angry wife. Jars of pickled herring clinked and sloshed as Grandma searched the fridge. “What are you looking for?”
“Rita and I stopped in the city on the way back from New Paltz, I picked up a birthday treat for ya! Oh! Here it is, I put it in the crisper for safe-keeping.” Grandma pulled out a brown paper bag with a round-ish object in it. Jess unwrapped the present, her nostrils filled with the smell of fish. Two halves of a poppy seed bagel were mushed together with a thick layer of pink salmon cream cheese. Jess could tell by the smell it made the trip from New York to Maryland un-refrigerated. Grandma’s sweet, hopeful expression expected a thrilled response.
“Aw, thanks!” Jess said with a brave smile. She took a small, consoling bite of the smelly bagel. “Mmm. Yum.” She chewed what she knew was bacteria-riddled out of love. Grandma grinned, her hands clasped under her chin as if in prayer.
“Do you remember when I used to pick you up from preschool and we would go to Saul’s deli for a bagel? Everyone would say, ‘Look at that beautiful little redhead! She’s a riot!’ Aw, those were the days…” Grandma stared off into a distant wistful memory. Jess pushed the once-bitten bagel away and washed the spoiled bite down with soda. Grandma looked offended. “What are ya, on a diet?” She admonished.
“Always.” Jess admitted. The white plastic wall phone started ringing. “You should get that.” Grandma jumped up to answer the phone. When he back was turned, Jess tried to feed bites of the bagel to Peppy, Grandma’s ancient, constantly shaking Yorkie. The cataritic-eyed dog sniffed the bagel and growled.
“Hello? Oh, hi Lizzy! I’m so glad you called!” Grandma twirled the curly yellowing phone cord around her twisted index finger. Jess froze at the sound of her mother’s voice on the other end of the phone.
“Tell her I’m not here!” Jess whispered. Grandma waved her off and started searching the junk drawer for something. Well, one of the junk drawers. There were a lot of them.
“Yup! She just got home and now we’re having a little birthday breakfast party!” Grandma glanced at Jess with a shiny-dentured smile was so sweet that Jess took another reluctant bite of the rancid bagel. Her stomach growled in protest. “Do you want to talk to her? Here she is!” Jess waved her arms and shook her head. Grandma gave her a stern look, handed Jess the phone and started rummaging through the drawers again.
“Mom?” Jess had to hold the phone away from her ear while her mother belted an off-key “Happy Birthday”, hitting a high falsetto at the end. “Thank you… Yep, 26… About the same as 25, actually… I worked… Yes, overnight… I can’t quit, I need the money… I’m working on it, there aren’t a lot of jobs out there for a college drop-out with half a costume degree… Yes, Grandma is taking her heart medication… No, I won’t forget… Yes, I’m looking forward to it too… I’ll try… I won’t! Mom, I just worked all night, I really need to get some sleep! Yes, I’ll make sure… I love you too… I’ll talk to you later! Thanks, mom. Bye! Love you!” Jess hung up the phone with a heavy sigh.
“Here they are!” Grandma cheered, holding up a pack of half-burnt pink birthday candles.
“What are those for?” Jess asked, hoping her assumptions wouldn’t come to fruition.
“For your wish! You have to make a birthday wish!” Grandma stuck one of the pink candles in the middle of the glob of cream cheese filling the hole in the twice-bitten bagel. She lit the burnt wick with a match from the box next to the stove.
“For real?” Jess was incredulous and exhausted, but there was no denying Grandma when festivities were afoot.
“Yes, sit your ass down in this chair and make a wish, you snarky little bitch!” Grandma pushed Jess’s shoulders down into the chair. She stared at the lopsided candle dripping pink wax onto the bagel, then looked up at Grandma’s hopeful face. Grandma hugged her.
“I love you my sweet grandbaby… I’m so glad you were born!”
Here goes nothing… Jess thought. She blew out the flame.
Henry O’Connor thought about killing himself a lot. His innate need to create art kept him from going through with it. An imagination so vast it could create and destroy entire universes, delve the deepest depths of desire, and refract the most powerful elements of human nature… Could get a little overwhelming. He had been putting ideas on paper since he could scribble a crayon, the constant flow of words and drawings were the pressure-release valve for his mind. The characters that naturally sprung from his personality found something like a real sentient existence within the animated worlds he created. They had their own fan bases, entire histories and lives of their own. Henry was God of them all and kinda sick of it some days.
A table read always recharged Henry’s batteries. The thrill of live performance, working out jokes with his best friends, making each other laugh, and crafting good comedy… slaked the suicidal ideations. He walked into the writer’s room wearing his personal uniform of loose jeans, an un-tucked white button-down shirt and black converse. A green tea tag hung out from his coffee cup and the script in his hand was fresh as a morning daisy, still warm from the printer. Henry pushed his black-framed glasses up his nose and took his regular seat. He needed to be comfortable while he performed, but he also wanted to seem like a boss. Everyone knew who was really in charge when Emmy Goldstien lumbered in after him and slammed a stack of scripts on the table in a furious rush.
“I’VE HAD IT WITH YOU PEOPLE!” Emmy yelled to the room full of interns and writers. She was a six-foot-tall Jewish lesbian with a motherly shape, a short, black bob, and hawkish hazel eyes. Her black cardigan had cat hair on it and her tortoise shell glasses were askew on her nose. She was no one to be trifled with. Henry respected the hell out of her as a stand up comedian back in Chicago, which is why he cast her as Angela, “American Family’s” ball-busting housewife. He kicked back to watch her typical Tuesday morning rant.
“Every time I assign scenes to specific teams, you motherfuckers go off into your little cubby covens and come up with a whole new roster behind my back! I can’t keep up with all the god damned treachery! What do you want from me, my blood, sweat and decades of my life just to squeeze as much slave labor out of me as it takes to drive me FUCKING CRAZY?!” The room stood silent in the wake of Emmy’s rant. Ben ran in the room with a cup of coffee, sunglasses perched on his forehead and keys in his hand.
“Aw, did I miss the rant?” Ben looked dejected. Henry snickered. Emmy dragged Ben by the ear to the front of the room while Ben said “Ow, ow, ow…”
“Attention everyone!” Emmy’s powerful voice carried over the din of the room. She had inherited her opera singer mother’s lung capacity. “What do we have here?” Emmy indicated Ben, who stood in a gray polo and black jeans, a mixture of emotions displayed on his ginger bearded face over this public shaming.
“An actor.” The room responded in rumbling familiarity.
“That’s right! And what happens to actors if they piss off the head writer?” Emmy pulled on Ben’s ear, making him wince and clasp his hands in front of his pants.
“Written into a wood chipper…” The room responded in startling sync. “American Family” had exactly one episode featuring a wood chipper.
“Good, I’m glad we’re clear on that! Sit the fuck down, Ben! Let’s get to work!” Emmy sat in her seat by the whiteboard, peering over her glasses into a white macbook while she flipped through the script. Ben took his place next to Henry, rubbing his ear. Henry gave him a smug “you just got in trouble” look. As executive producer, Henry made the most money by hiring the best people. No one could command a room like Emmy.
“Sheila, did we take attendance? Who are we missing?” Emmy demanded of the mousy assistant to her left.
“Sorry I’m late, Eric’s uncle got arrested for human trafficking, so we’ve been dealing with that all morning.” Patrice Azkallam swathed in the room wearing a bright, white Brandon Maxwell Plunge Neck Fit & Flare Shirtdress and Gucci sunglasses. tpowerlesstHer black hair was perfectly coiffed with the exception of one out-of-place wisp by her ear. She was flanked by two assistants… or body guards? One of them was a beefy bald body builder in a dark suit and aviators. The other was Lucy… or Lillian? Henry could tell it was the same woman who threatened him in his office and made his trip to Las Vegas… memorable.
Her black hair was blonde again and shaved except for the top of her head, pulled back in a ponytail long enough to be used as a whip. Her face had more lethal features, ever sharpening to intimidate. She was dressed exactly like Patrice but still seemed to be working for her. Patrice took her seat next to Emmy and the agents stood against the wall behind her. Lucy or Lillian tipped her sunglasses down her nose and peered at Henry, giving him a wink and a half smile before resetting to neutral. Henry’s throat clicked.
“It’s fine, Bubbalah! How’s married life? Ya gonna have a baby soon or what?” Emmy gave Patrice a sappy look.
“Ahem, uh… Let’s get moving here, we have some meetings after this…” Henry had enough trouble focusing on his job over the past few weeks to have to deal with any of those feelings. Patrice took off her sunglasses and Henry could see she had been crying. He repressed an evil voice that rumbled “Good…” in the echoes of his consciousness. Her honey-colored eyes brimmed as she avoided Henry’s heavy hooded gaze.
“Yeah, let’s go already!” said Billy Murphy, voice of Hannah’s hopeless nerdy teenage love interest, Shawn MacDonald and sultry-voiced sportscaster Earl Huxley. Billy was a portly black YouTube music video star who won a part on the show in a contest. He was so funny, they ended up keeping him on ever since. He had been studying his lines throughout this whole scene while munching on a donut.
INT. – FOSTER FAMILY LIVING ROOM – DAY
The Foster family sits on the couch watching the news.
Mustachioed Anchor Bob Bucker (Henry) sits at the news desk with a picture of a busty celebrity as a graphic.
Kristy Kazakstan met with the president today to discuss prison reform… According to this dress, he was not listening.
And now here’s Earl Huxley with sports! Ladies…
Earl Huxley, a cartoon caricature of a young Sidney Poitier holds a basketball in front of a sports news graphic.
Thoo-wick! That’s the sound a basketball makes when it goes into a net. Balls, balls, balls, we’ve got balls bouncing all over the place! College balls, pro balls, big beefy balls, and great balls of fire! Stay tuned…
Bob Bucker looking enamored with Earl.
That was a lot of hot nonsense.
Bruce, Angela, and Charlie sit on the couch in the Foster family living room. Jack sits at their feet. 12-year-old Eddie Foster (Ben) runs in the room.
Dad! I like this girl at school, but I don’t think she even knows my name! She’s so dreamy…
I got a boner during synchronized swimming, you don’t hear me braggin’ about it.
Bruce, you told my mother about that when she called to tell me the results of her biopsy.
What do I do? This girl has such a hold on me and I don’t think she knows I exist!
Eddie swoons across all of their laps on the couch.
Ew! Can we get rid of this one? God, why do all tween boys smell like chicken soup?
Who said chicken?
Jack starts sniffing Eddie’s armpits, tickling him until he falls off the couch laughing.
Up! He said the “C” word…
Chicken, chicken, chicken!
Hey, just like my cousins were chanting at you before our wedding, Bruce!
Hannah enters with Shawn.
I have to tell you guys something!
You’re gay! Finally…
Shut up, kid! Let her talk…
You’re not pregnant, that’s for damn sure…
No, mom, geez! Why won’t anyone listen to me?
Because your mouth is glued shut with billionaire jizz?
Back in “reality” the entire writer’s room stopped and looked at Henry. Bruce spoke for him, but that line wasn’t in the script. Patrice burst into tears and ran out of the room, followed by her bodyguards.
“Damnit… I’m such a dick!” Henry growled at himself and ran after Patrice to try to apologize. An awkward silence hung in the room.
“Okay then, moving on…” commanded Emmy. “Billy, read Henry’s lines for him while he’s gone…”
Henry rounded the corner of the hallway at Coyote Studios just as Patrice was disappearing into a stairwell.
“STOP FOLLOWING ME!” Patrice screamed at her bodyguards, her voice echoing throughout the stairwell. The beefy male bodyguard obediently stood outside of the door. Lucy or Lillian held up one finger to make him stay. She followed Patrice. Henry walked up to the bodyguard, who let him by with a shrug. Henry hid out of sight in the landing above Patrice and her assistant.
“Everyone hates me, Lori. They all think I married Eric for the money, but I MAKE MY OWN DAMN MONEY! They all think he’s stupid because he’s weird, but I love his weirdness! He’s the only one who doesn’t judge me, he doesn’t hold me up to this impossible standard that makes it so hard to be a fucking human being! All I ever wanted was for someone to see me as a person rather than a god damned commodity! I’m not a part of his collection, he didn’t try to possess me, I had to pursue HIM! Out of love! I love that big, stupid weirdo!” Patrice broke into sobs and “Lori” hugged her, patting the back of her head.
“There there, sweetie. They’re all haters. Don’t listen.” Lori consoled. She saw Henry out of the corner of her eye and winked at him while Patrice cried on her shoulder. Henry crouched in the shadows like a spider.
“Will I ever get to be normal again?” Patrice sniffed, her makeup staining Lori’s white shirt. Lori pushed Patrice’s shoulders back so she could look in her tear-soaked eyes.
“Oh, Patty… There’s no such thing as ‘normal’…” Lori gripped Patty’s shoulders lightly for emphasis. “Look at me. Remember who you are. You are Patrice FUCKING Azkallam! You are a force to be reckoned with! You sparkle with the electric energy of creativity! Some people want to steal your electricity and leave you powerless. Others want to wrap you in copper and make it STRONGER! Your voice is so powerful, Eric’s money doesn’t even begin to compare!” Patty kissed Lori on the lips, hard. Henry let out a soft, involuntary growl. Patty seemed surprised by her own actions.
“Oh my god, I’m so sorry! Sorry! Sorry!” She ran down the stairwell with her expensive wedges clocking down the concrete stairs. Lori looked up at Henry, pure animalistic lust glittering in her green eyes. She pulled the elastic out of her ponytail and her long blonde hair fell in waves around her face. Her wedges clocked up the stairs until she was standing right in front of him, grinning and breathing heavy.
“May I kiss you?” Lori asked, so close he could feel the heat radiating from her entire being.
“Yes.” Henry barely got the whole syllable out before Lori kissed him. She pressed her body against his, gripped the back of his head and flicked his lips with her tongue. Henry kissed her cleveage in the deep V neckline of her dress, rubbed her voluptuous tits and pinched her nipples. Lori pulled down the collar of his white undershirt with two fingers so she could play with his chest hair while she kissed him.
“Oh my god, I missed you…” He said as she got on her knees and unzipped his pants. His boner popped out, long and white with delicate blue veins and a shiny red head. Lori grinned as her tongue circled the head a few times before she started sucking it, looking up at him with those enticing eyes full of love. Soft fingertips massaged his balls as her plush pink lips stroked the shaft of his cock. The stimulation was almost too much.
“Wait…” Henry groaned. He lifted her up to standing then crouched in front of her, lifted her leg over his shoulder so he could lick her snatch. His long, dexterous tongue moved her white thong aside and entered the dewy, pulsating depths of her pussy. He lovingly licked every delicate dark red fold of skin. She leaned against the concrete wall and swiveled her hips against his face, moaning, looked down at him, and ran her fingers through his dark pomade-slick hair. She took off his black framed glasses so she could gaze into his sweet puppy dog eyes. He pulled on the small strip of hair that remained of the patch on her mound while he suckled her clit. Her juices started running down his big chin.
Henry stood up and kissed Lori again, she sucked her sex juices off of his face. His strong hands massaged her ass.
“Can I fuck you?” Henry asked in a husky whisper against her neck.
“Nah. You should be getting to that meeting now… It is a workday after all, Mr. O’Connor.” Lori told him. She pinched his cheek and flitted down the stairs singing “Somebody To Love” by Queen, starting on the high note.
“Can anybody find me somebody to love…” Echoed up the stairwell after her. Henry stood there in a daze of an emotional melange. He wedged his hard dick back in his jeans and zipped up carefully. Ben burst through the stairwell door.
“Henry! There you are! Man, we’ve been looking all over for you! Dude… You smell like pussy!”
“I know…” Henry growled.
To be continued 9/28/18