With All the Trouble Jesus Went Through He Should at Least Get a Jelly Bean

By Heather Tucker

Dad’s taken Charlie ahead to ball practice while I continue to scour Sideline 22 for Mom’s uterus. Mom’s always losing something. I don’t mind being left to carry out search and rescue. I suck at ball. Besides, any minute now Lori Penter will be coming home from her piano lesson. She’s forbidden to talk to me on account of the holy war, but if she was allowed, she’d say hi — maybe.

jelly beans

What I should be doing is working on my report. Though, a guy’s gotta ask, in what kind of a crazy world does a kid of fifteen have to write his biography? Don’t get me wrong, I have a life. It’s just not the kind I want a word of recorded in ink. If I don’t hand something in by Friday, my perfect record will be ruined. I’m the first student in the history of Mason High to have 100% in all subjects. I’m actually sitting with 103 in math. No, I’m not a genius. The Bell Curve is standard equipment for every teacher at Mason.

The old Plymouth clunks into second as Dad coasts up behind. “Find anything, son?”

“Yeah, think I figured out the trouble.” I scuff at a shrinking party balloon caught in the roadside bramble. “I’m guessing Mom was running again, tripped over this and thought her insides fell out.”

Dad reaches to the back seat for a box. “Better grab it so we can give it a proper burial.”

Mom is two feathers short of a complete cuckoo. We have two choices: put her troubles in a box and bury them by the sentinel pines guarding the yard, or give her extra white pills.

She’s precariously balanced on the kitchen counter, painting the ceiling when we return. I can see the connection between the lemon-scented Mr. Clean near the bucket on the floor, to the lemon cake in the oven. Who knows what led her to the ceiling, but like the old lady who swallowed the bird to catch the spider to catch the fly…there’s a momogical reason.

Charlie punches my arm. “Hey, guess what, man. Juanita Crenshaw showed me her tits.”

Dad steps up on a chair. “Come on, Emma love, Matt will finish this. Let’s go see to the day’s troubles.” I peek in the boxes by the door. In a shoe box is last week’s TV guide. In an Eaton’s box, a spoon, and in a little gold jewelry box, a tea bag.

Mom jumps easy as a kangaroo to the worn linoleum. “Matty has to come. He says the best RIP words.”

I don’t mind the ceremonies because I’m allowed to swear without a cuff on my ear. As Dad shovels the sandy soil and places the first box in the hole, I clear my throat. “Asses to assholes.”  The second box is lowered. “In the name of the bother, bum and moldy toast.”  Now the third is placed in the ground. “Mighty sender of pestilence and floods, here’s a locust up your arse and mud in your eye.”

Mom stops Dad’s hand. “Let me see it.” Dad lifts the corner of the last box to the tired pink balloon. She sighs, “There’ll be no more Pennys, will there.”

“No, Emma, there could only ever be one Penny.”

She nods. “Make this one special, Matty.”

“Oh, Lord of liver and onions, for what we have received we are truly hateful.” A chorus of amens lands on the dirt.

Mom will sleep now, for a night or maybe a week. We leave the kitchen ceiling looking as if tires have crossed a freshly lined road, pitch the cake that smells a little too lemon fresh and make hamburgers.

Crosby barks as Coach Parker’s shiny new Biscayne cruises down the drive. Hurrying out and securing the door is standard procedure for hiding what’s inside. Aunt Lillian comes on Tuesdays to put the house in order, but by Thursday the law of maximum momtropy has taken over. Charlie hops out. “Thanks, Coach.”

It’s fair that Dad and I clean up troubles while Charlie practices ball. This family’s salvation rides on Charlie’s talent. The town of Mason Hill can overlook just about anything when their baseball team is eighteen wins and no losses thanks to star pitcher, Charlie Green.

Hurrying people away just isn’t done in Mason Hill. I glance at the window where at any moment Mom could emerge starkers, ass-first onto the roof. Dad quick-steps Coach Parker to the everyman solution: the garage, a garage with a fridge, peanuts, a cedar-strip canoe project and a mouse-riddled sofa. A sofa the Green boys frequent on nights when Mom is singing Some Enchanted Evening while hurling condiments.

Coach Parker tests the curve of the bow. “She’s a beauty, Chuck.”

“It’s mostly Matt’s doing. One summer we’re going to take her from Superior down to Lake Ontario. Eh, Matt?”

Sure, everyone needs a dream. Dad gives Charlie and me a Molson’s to share. I get possession since Charlie’s busy coaxing the rake into playing Peggy Sue along with the crackling radio. I look more like Buddy Holly than he does. Buddy Holly without the talent, that is. Charlie’s more of a smooth Elvis.

I step outside to check all’s quiet on the Green front and to see if lights are on over at the Penter house, and if Lori is near a window. Charlie follows for his share of the beer. He punches my arm. “Hey, guess what, man. Juanita Crenshaw showed me her tits.”

“Little bullshitter.” So there it is, first my little brother gets to kiss Diana Wimple out back of the Legion and now this. Oh, I’ve seen breasts, unmerciful Lord of Gross. They were my mother’s when she couldn’t get herself out of the tub. I bet Juanita’s are round and pretty.

Charlie and I are eleven months apart, which lands us in the same grade. When you’re a six-foot superman, grade ten is a good place to be. Having an eccentric parent only makes you cooler. But for me, an IQ greater than spring temperatures and being spawn of Crazyloon makes me less appealing than snail shit.

Charlie is on page 32 of his biography, mostly pictures and local news clippings. The sum total of my eighty man-hours of concerted thought is: I was born at the stroke of midnight as the decade changed 1949 to 50. That’s the most interesting thing about my life. Kicking at the dirt sounds like my shoe is farting. I give the dregs of the bottle to Charlie. “I’m gonna crash.”

Now I’m thinking about breasts, the preacher’s daughter’s breasts and I can’t do a friggin’ thing about it without this bunk squawking on me. Charlie hoofs the mattress from below. “Hey, man, Juanita said I could touch them if I pitched a no-hitter on Saturday.”

“Bullshitter.” Charlie and I share a room the size of an inner ear canal. There’s a third bedroom in our house, but it was our little sister Penny’s and we aren’t allowed to even go in there. Though, sometimes I do, just to see if I can remember what she looked like. Seems I should be able to since Mom’s brain and all of our history belong to Penny. I remember an Easter when Charlie lined his candy along the windowsill. Dad asked why and Charlie said, “It’s for Jesus. With all the trouble He went through, He should at least get a jellybean.” Funny how history changes owners. The story belongs to Penny now, as a precious thing she once said.

You would think The Tragedy would make for an interesting chapter in my biography, but I can’t get a straight answer out of anyone. Aunt Lillian says children don’t need to know these things. Dad says writing about it will only upset Mom. Mrs. Plumber, the librarian, whispers like she’s beginning a ghost story, “No one really knows for sure…” All I know is before I went to sleep, New Year’s Eve, ’56 to 7, I said, “Mom, tomorrow I will be seven; how old will the world be?”

She pulled the satin edge of the scratchy blanket to my chin. “Only God knows for sure. Ask Him.” Who knew His answer would be: Tomorrow your world will end. I’ve considered the possibilities. Maybe Mom put Penny out, thinking she was the dog, like she’s done with me. Januarys are cold here. Or maybe, a whack a little too hard with the broom. Penny was small and Mom’s terrified of mice. Or maybe it’s like I remember; Penny just didn’t wake up when we called her for my birthday breakfast.

Charlie is up to page 72 on his report. Mom’s taken him in the pick-up to buy a three-inch binder to hold it all. When I broke my ankle last year I waited three hours until Dad got home. When I sliced my finger with the fishing knife, Mom secured it with duct tape and said. “There, that’ll do it. Just keep it out of your nose and the pickle jar.” I prefer things this way. Mom’s not good with big moving objects.

They return with the First Baptist Church’s welcome banner tangled in the undercarriage. Charlie’s in possession of the driver’s seat, his smile and a red binder, so as trips with Mom can go, this was a good one. I bury my four-and-a-half pages of a pathetic life in one of Mom’s boxes for the day, pronouncing, “We are gathered together in the sight of Fraud, to bury this man and this sock. Amen.”

Mr. Gillespie keeps me after class, which is disappointing because it’s really windy and there’s an off chance Lori’s skirt might catch an updraft as she walks home ahead of me. She smiled at me today — well, almost smiled. Mr. G. measures me over his glasses. He’s the best teacher at Mason so I do mind the falling short. “Matthew, where’s your report?”

“I don’t have one worth writing, sir.”

“Matt, you’re the smartest boy this school’s ever seen. The whole town I’d say.”

I resist pointing out Mason Hill’s motto: The town that resists genetic diversification.

“I’m not going to let you spoil your perfect record. How about I buy you a milkshake and we can talk about it.”

“Thank you, sir, but I’ve got to get home. My mom’s been alone all day.”

“Come on then, I’ll give you a lift.” I’ll take the lecture to get a ride in his Triumph Spitfire. He’s into buck-up-boy words before I can mold my butt to the leather. “Matthew Green, there’re stories in you to fill a shelf. It’s not about stuff. It’s about character, overcoming.” He slows to take in the sign painted in giant red letters on the Penter’s garage roof. It wallops everyone as they come around the curve. REPENT, THE END IS NIGH. Mr. G shakes his head. “That Reverend’s hellfire, isn’t he.”

“Yeah.” Which makes it highly unlikely I’m ever going to see Lori’s boobs. Mom and Reverend Penter are at war. She’s right pissed with all things God and that sign sends her more squirrel-headed than usual. The Spitfire hugs the curve and my garage comes into view. “Holy jumpin’ F…”

“Is that your mother on the roof?”

Small mercy — she’s clothed, but in her left mind, and it’s our refuge she’s defiling. “Shit.”

Reverend Penter is in our drive, screaming in his sinner-beware-God’s-gonna-piss-on-you voice. “You cannot make a mockery of our Lord and Saviour like this. It’s blasphemy — blasphemy.” The remainder of a gallon of red paint careens toward the Reverend’s head. “I’m calling the sheriff.”

I ascend the ladder. “Come down, Mom. I’ll make you some tea.”

“You like it, Matty?”

“It’s real nice.”

“You think Penny can see it?”

“Everyone in the universe can see this, Mom.” While easing her off the roof I catch a glimpse of Lori looking up, her hair rippling like autumn grass, an almost-smile peeking around her mouth. Mr. G’s teeth clamp to hold in the laugh trying to escape his mouth. I ask, “Can you give me a minute to get her settled then give me a ride back to get some paint?”

“Not a chance. You leave this up and I’ll accept it as your assignment and give you an A+. Matthew, a great life story is about how you arrange the letters you get handed.”

“How long do I have to leave it up?”

“A week?”

“Okay. As long as they don’t arrest her.”

“You have the Constitution on your side.”

Mom’s sleeping. Dad’s working. Charlie’s at a game. I’m sanding the boat when Lori breaches the perimeter and slips into no-woman’s land.

“Your father send you to ask me to cover it up?”

She shakes her head, no.

“Sorry. Sometimes my mom gets carried away.”

Her voice sounds like a sugar cookie. “I like boats. Will you take me for a ride when it’s done?” I nod. She tastes her baby finger. “You wanna kiss?” I try to restrain my nod from resembling the dogs at feeding time. She moves her nose starboard while mine tilts aft across the hull. Her lips are a kabillion times better than practice smooching the back of my hand. “Wanna go around together? In secret, like Romeo and Juliet?” I nod. “I’ll meetcha at the bridge tomorrow before school.” She hurries out the back in response to tires crunching on the gravel. I adjust my pants and march into battle.

Sheriff Owen pulls his hat so the Reverend can’t see the smirk on his face. “Better get your mother, Matt.”

“Sorry, sir, she’s sleeping.”

“This’ll have to come down.”

“The Bill of Rights gives us freedom of speech, sir.”

“Not against offensive talk.”

“Doesn’t my mother have the same rights as Reverend Penter to express her beliefs?”

“I better talk to your dad.”

“He’ll be home around seven.”

Dad walks in with his Ode to Joy smile. “I see your mother’s had a busy day.” He checks the box status by the door. “What? Nothing to bury today?”

“Already done. Just a paint brush and a nickel.”

“Come help me rig a spotlight.” From the crossroads the two metal roofs line up perfectly.

Word travels fast in Mason Hill. Coach and Assistant Coach arrive with half the team. Other cars take the curve as slow as Granny Douglas on a Sunday, coming to a full stop at the crossroads.

Coach pops a cap. “Don’t see how Owen can argue this. It’s solved the Reverend’s speed complaints about this corner.

I sit on the fence and admire Mom’s Scrabble of: REPENT, THE END IS NIGH —  SHIT ENDING,EH, PENTER. As life stories go, maybe this one’s not so bad. At least it makes me want to write another chapter. I raise my bottle to Lori’s bedroom window and to the middle coming before the end.

 

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About Heather Tucker

Heather Tucker is the winner of the Writers’ Union of Canada short prose competition, a finalist for the PRISM International Non-Fiction contest, a finalist for The Malahat Review’s: Novella Prize, Constance Rooke Creative Non-Fiction Prize, Open Season Award and Far Horizons Award. She is a four time winner of the WCDR Short Story competitions. Throughout an eclectic career in the health sciences, Heather discovered that playing with words is more fun than working with them. Her stories have appeared in anthologies and literary journals.

7 Comments

  1. Posted September 2013 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Heather Tucker is a fresh talent whose work deserves wider readership. Her unique stories always delight with a variety of characters whose charm or odiousness make them memorable. Her novels, as yet unpublished, are engrossing page-turners, and the above story gives readers just a taste of those longer works.

  2. Patrick Meade
    Posted September 2013 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Even the craziness of life has its warmth. While rain falls, there’s sun seeping in somewhere. Heather allows this so nicely to hapen in her writing. Thanks for the wonderful visit back to those days…Patrick

  3. Posted September 2013 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    Ms. Tucker has a natural talent for capturing uncommon brilliance in everyday worlds, where, in the end, hope lies.

  4. Posted September 2013 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful story. The way all the threads of the story weave together so succinctly is inspiring. I love the deep character development in just a few pages.

  5. Posted October 2013 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    As always, Heather Tucker leaves me absolutely spellbound, from “Ode to Joy smiles” to Penny-less tears.

  6. Posted October 2013 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Brilliant story! Complicated, compassionate.This little gem quivers on the razor’s edge between hilarious and heartbreaking. I’m still bleeding.

  7. Alex Roth
    Posted February 2014 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    This is a well written story with believable characters and an unusual, interesting mood. I really enjoyed reading it. It is much better than a lot of the ‘fiction’ that is out there today. Heather Tucker is a true story-teller.

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