Friday, February 22, 2008

Sunny Side Up

Sunny Side Up
The forecast hadn’t lied. It was going to be a beautiful day. That was all Glenn Swick could think about as the brightened rays of the sun shined in through his suburban window and onto the still arousing curves of his wife Dora’s body. She was lying on her stomach, pretending to sleep, letting all the stressful thoughts of that particular Sunday’s events pass her by as she simply wondered how much longer she had, to remain dazed. Could five minutes eventually turn into ten, or was the harsh bleep of the alarm going to force both of them to start the inevitable preparations.
It wasn’t just another normal spring day. There was an event planned, printouts of invitations sent to various corners of the county, a barrage of unlikely RSVP’s returning in quick succession. Yet the annual Swick Barbecue wasn’t on either of their minds that morning, but rather the all too reassuring thought that their eight-year-old son Julian wasn’t home, bundled his Spider-man sheets, and rising faster than the both of them to mindlessly flip through the channels, past the regularly scheduled albeit far too tame cartoons, and to the much more elaborate onsets of edited-for-cable violence.
He would brag to his friends about what he had seen in homeroom the following Monday, all of them trying to somewhat top each other’s stories of childhood grossness. At that age, sight was everything. Children like Julian could only really view the world on fuzzy screens, from the comfortable distance of the family La-Z-Boy. Glenn and Dora both thought his new best friend, Ronald Vincent, was a bad influence, but couldn’t help but feel that the occasional sleep-over across the street would provide them with the most luxurious of opportunities to indulge in overly simplistic means of escape.
Glenn let his hand drift over Dora’s back slowly moving down to her buttocks. Dora opened her eyes slightly, groaning and clearing her flem-filled throat.
“Can’t we just sleep in the extra ten minutes?” She said in a muffled pillow voice.
“I’m already awake and Julian’s across the street, remember?”
“So you wanna go there, right now?”
“We have a long day ahead of us. If we go there I think maybe it won’t be so stressful.”
She paused for what could have been an eternity, letting the thought of her husband, who she still loved more than any other temporary fantasy, bounce around in her mind like a pinball machine. She knew it wouldn’t be great sex, but rather merely another Sunday morning snore, quick and lacking some passion. Then again, it had been awhile, the stress of the office and the thought that both her parents would be at the house in a matter of hours, arriving in separate cars, only made Glenn’s less than persuasive argument for intercourse all the more convincing.
“Fine, but we’re gonna have to be quick.”
“I’m well aware hon.” Glenn pulled his boxers down past he legs and rolled over onto his wife as she stared up at the ceiling. She was right. It was fast, and did lack a substantial amount of passion. They hadn’t quite hit their slump yet, and as both got off in quick succession, it made it all the easier for each satisfied party to remember why they were together. It made sense, clicked, and didn’t ever become more trivial then their lush albeit highly normal suburban lives.
There had been inclinations of faltering, though. Glenn had been out with friends from work on several rainy nights, starring across the bar, and occasionally even starting conversations with young vixens waiting for the time of day. However, these less than frequent encounters never stretched past the confines of the neon-lit barroom. He knew he loved his wife and wouldn’t ever have to think of it as anything more than that.
Dora was far too busy for any kind of an affair. There was a lot of food on her plate. Meetings with business associates, stacks of paperwork, the occasional parent-teacher conference and something edible for dinner every Monday and Wednesday when she got off work early. On the other days, Glenn would cook, most of his misguided creations either satisfying the Swick family dynamic or ending up tossed in the garbage can after a week of lonely deterioration in the stainless steel refrigerator.
He showered before his wife, who took her birth control pill a few seconds before the alarm sounded. She was quickly downstairs, making eggs and defrosting a barrage of appetizers from the freezer. Glenn walked into the kitchen with wet hair and a more than content look on his face. They ate breakfast together, discussing the plan: what they needed and who would have to get what. Dora made a grocery list for him, it was longer than he expected and as “The Boxer” played over the sound system, Glenn found himself getting inevitably lost in the chorus, having to eventually return to previously explored aisles and search for the items he had forgotten to grab.
Dora began tidying up what she could, stacking magazines and newspapers in piles and later placing them in the basement. She called the Vincent’s to see how Julian was doing. Connie answers the phone, smoking a cigarette, and reiterating that the boys were fine, despite the fact that they had stayed up all night, watching various scary movie marathons. Dora cut conversation short; stating for what must have been the hundredth time that she had more than enough random tasks to complete before the two o’clock barbecue. Connie asked if she needed any help, a sentiment to which both women knew wouldn’t go any farther than the phone receiver. Dora was far too independent to accept her neighbor’s kindness, and Connie was simply saying it out of habit.
Glenn returned from the store carrying multiple blue plastic bags in his hands, setting everything down on the cleared kitchen table, and exhaling before walking back outside for the next load. He left the four jumbo-sized bags of ice on the front porch next to the two red and blue coolers. Dora looked through each grocery bag, unpacking what she needed at that very moment, and looking for any slight falter of her husband’s shopping skills. He was flawless once again, a fact that put the smallest of satisfied smirks on her face, more so than the sex had earlier that morning.
They then fled to their separate corners. Glenn started setting up what he could in the backyard. First a few long plastic tables, some wooden chairs, the grill and charcoal, and finally the two coolers, now stocked to the brim with imported beer. The canopy would have to wait for Glenn’s best friend Louis’ arrival. A two man job that would eventually have them screaming at one another to shift their weight one way or make sure the stakes were secure enough in the ground. It was inevitable that they would screw it up in one sense or another, as the travesty of the white canopy became as much of a yearly tradition as the Swick barbecue itself.
Dora started chopping vegetables for the various platters, setting up bowls of chips and pretzels, and making her neighborhood-famous taco dip. She set it down quietly next to the mini chicken salad sandwiches purchased at the local deli. Julian rolled into the house not much later after that; dark circles under his eyes and a head full of messed up hair. He looked like he had been out drinking all night, and yet the familiarity of the phrase “Boys will be boys” still somehow rang true in Dora’s head as she hugged her only son, kissing him gently on the forehead before turning into the more strict mother type, yelling for him to get cleaned up and ready for guests. People would be at the house sooner than both of them knew it.
Louis arrived mere seconds before Dora’s mother, Josephine, a fact that made Glenn all the more upbeat as the canopy travesty would give him just enough time to ignore his mother-in-law. Julian heard his grandmother’s familiar shrill from upstairs, choosing to play video games alone in his room for awhile, just until Ronald walked across the street.
Unfortunately Dora had no readily available modes of escape and was left with the uncompromisingly difficult task of first watching her mother rearrange all the various dishes on the kitchen table, and later listening to her tear apart every fixture of Dora’s life. Her daughter was getting too fat; her husband’s ass crack was showing as he bent over to stick the stakes in the ground. Julian seemed a bit weird for his age, not participating in any sports and always hanging out with that social defect Ronald. She took each sentence with a grain of salt, reiterating to herself over and over again that it was just one day.
It became slightly worse as her father Dean arrived with his new live-in girlfriend Wanda. She was about five years older than Dora, but managed to somehow fit in her teenage daughter Beth’s clothing. Unfortunately, Beth couldn’t make it to the barbecue. She was having boyfriend problems mixed with an affinity to indulge incessantly on whatever bottles were left open in Dean’s medicine and liquor cabinets.
Dora remained in the kitchen for roughly ten minutes, before venturing outside and checking up on Glenn and Louis’ canopy progress. It was a gradual affair to which both seemed less than concerned about. They had already managed to finish two beers in-between the loose-lipped profanity spouted off under their breaths in-between each step in the directions. Dora kissed her husband again, for the sake of her own longevity, before returning to the kitchen and the beyond uncomfortable silences from both her parents.
Guests arrived faster than expected as every new conversation allowed each member of the Swick family to avoid one another and those they were less than thrilled to see again. Glenn began to grill hotdogs and burgers for the cousins and their children. Dora gave a few quick tours of the house to new friends she had just made that year. She caught Glenn starring at Sandra Stevens’ cleavage briefly, before he turned back to the gray smoke of the grill. Julian and Ronald mostly avoided the other kids their age, choosing to play video games for awhile in-between bites of burnt fried chicken and rigatoni off of Styrofoam plates.
Glenn and Louis only briefly talked business with some of Dora’s first cousins, before deciding that they might need more ice. Louis drove his brown ford down the road, opening up the glove compartment, and lighting the dilapidated joint he rolled the previous night alone in his square apartment. Dora didn’t notice the scent and could barely focus on Glenn’s pupils long enough to realize that they were in fact bloodshot.
She avoided her Josephine’s vindictive tendencies long enough to smoke a cigarette alone in the upstairs bathroom, turning the fan on and opening the window, hoping that Glenn wouldn’t notice. The second she stepped back out into the hallway, she found Wanda perusing older family photographs and looking for a place to relieve herself as well. Dora led her downstairs to the pink-tiled bathroom and the line of children and adults waiting. She almost felt bad about such an action if she didn’t fear the inclination of Wanda letting her father know about the still somewhat prevalent nicotine addiction his daughter had maintained since middle school.
The day finally drifted to the afternoon as everyone’s full stomachs began to settle. Some people ducked out early, while others stayed for seconds. It was a moderate success, but didn’t quite live up to the expectations Glenn and Dora had for it in previous years. As time would pass, each would contemplate throwing the barbecue the next year. Julian would grow older and start sneaking beers with friends or possibly bail out all together, hiding in a potential girlfriend’s basement amongst records and tacked posters of false idols.
However, the one slightly unsettling concept that struck all of the family and regulars that day was the absence of Dora’s older sister, Susan, and her sixteen-year-old son, Harold. They didn’t quite understand why the two of them hadn’t shown up even after being one of the first to RSVP. Perhaps their car had broken down, or something strange and unexpected had happened. As Dora called her sister’s cellphone at around five, hoping for some familiar excuse or explanation, she received no answer or anything other than the machine asking if she wished to leave a message. Dora hung up the phone, and returned to the party, thinking nothing of it until the subsequent Monday morning when all the phone calls went out in quick succession.
It hadn’t been an accident. People his age just don’t accidentally decide to put a song on repeat and tie the noose tighter. Susan didn’t notice until she was almost out the door, waiting for her son to decide if he was attending the barbecue or not. She instantly became too devastated to fill any of her family in that Sunday afternoon and after numerous conversations with police officers, and finally the coroner, Susan was far too exhausted to let them know right away.
It was a closed casket ceremony. Dean paying for the majority of it, Harold’s father, Charlie showing up late and drunk, with no readily available explanation for how he was feeling at that very moment. The family came to a consensus that it would be easier if most of the younger children didn’t attend the funeral. They placed them in the church’s daycare room, Julian and his cousins being forced to watch Disney movies and stare at bins of Tonka trucks with faded paint jobs.
It wouldn’t be until years later when Glenn and Dora’s son finally found out the truth about his cousin’s death. It wasn’t an act of cinematic violence like he had become more than accustomed to, but rather simply a sad tale of forgotten numb feelings. Harold had become used to the hurt, the anguish, the betrayal and ultimately the sense that his life didn’t really matter that much in the grand scheme of things. The faceless girl that didn’t attend the funeral would continue on with her life, trying desperately not to think about it. Harold’s former friends would do the same. It wasn’t like they had any other choice. It was so much easier to simply forget and try not to remember, rather than letting it all consume them late at night.
The barbecue would be slightly altered the next spring, both Glenn and Dora deciding to pass on the miniature chicken salad sandwich platter. After all, they were his favorite.

No comments: