Tuesday, June 22, 2010

nobody, somebody, coffee & merlot

The air dances in a hazy steam that rises from the asphalt, as if any minute the road that runs in front of Billy's house might start bubbling and swallow the next car that comes along. I share this with him in a weak voice, all strength sapped by the heat of the day, and he chuckles. The shadow of the tree we laze under does little to break the sun's unrelenting assault. Sweat drips in slow rivulets into the dirt between the tufts of grass, hardening into crusty pebbles as the moisture evaporates immediately. The birds save their breath...it is hot and quiet, sleep overcomes us.

Billy was a nobody, recognized by nobody, acknowledged by nobody...he was just there, a nobody. We all knew where he lived, but no one had ever been to the little white house where he lived with his mom. The school bus would squeal to a stop by the tall grass that bordered the road and we would watch him jump the culvert and head toward the tree in the front yard to drop his book bag. He never went straight to the house, just the tree and he'd wave, as the bus pulled off toward the next stop, but no one would wave back.

I guess it was my mom's idea of instilling goodwill towards all men, that led to the phone call. We stood in the kitchen, my bare feet digging into the linoleum as she flopped the phone book on the table, running her finger along the neat columns. Finding what she was looking for, she spun the dial on the rotary phone and introduced herself to Billy's mom. I pleaded silently in the background, but she waved me away as she made plans for me to visit Billy and be his friend. At least that was the plan she concocted, like mothers often do, when we fail to make them ourselves.

Billy's mom stood in the door, brown barrel coffee mug in hand, smiling as we rocked gently in the car with the motion of their gravel driveway. Noticing my eyes wide, searching the yard, my mom gently reminded me to be nice, play the things he wanted to play and that she would be back that afternoon to pick me up. Her kiss on my cheek carried the weight of her expectations, a final goodbye before my death sentence was carried out.

Billy peeked from around the tree at me shuffling my feet in the dirt, as our mom's exchanged pleasantries, a safe distance between us as we measured each other's intentions. The awkwardness lasted only as long as it took for him to flash a pair of dart guns and a grin, and we fell into a game of secret agent, using our shoes to communicate encoded messages to each other as we snuck through the house in search of enemy spies.

Billy's mom was cool, at least in that she seemed happy he had someone to play with, and she let us do what we wanted without hassle, giving her ample opportunity to watch her stories on the television, always sipping from that brown mug. On commercial breaks, she would slip into the kitchen, to refill her mug, first from the coffee pot, then adding from a green bottle she kept in the fridge. That was the only time she moved from the couch, not saying a word to us until it was time for lunch.

I heard her calling us, but I had just found the perfect hiding spot and could hear billy's feet on the carpet around the corner, knowing if I answered he would blast me with an orange dart. Billy, likewise, thought he had the advantage, so we were in a silent stand off when his mom came down the hall. Our darts arrived about the same time, catching her mid chest, dropping into her coffee cup with a splash that polka-dotted the front of her house dress.

The red hue of her cheeks darkened, first crimson, then purple, lips sputtering as if the words were caught in her throat. I knew we were in trouble, but could not move, just stand and watch the last few seconds tick off the bomb before it exploded. When the words finally broke loose, they rocked us back our heels, all fuck and shit, as she grabbed us dragging us down the hall to the door, tossing us into the yard. The boom of the door slamming was followed by a resolute click of the lock driving home in the frame.

For a time we just sat, where we had fallen in the grass, by the stoop, staring at the door in shock. Billy finally stood, breaking my stupor, dusting himself off before heading toward the tree. Rising slowly, I followed him, finding my own patch of ground by where he sat drawing in the dirt.

"What just happened?"

"Nothing, just mom.", he answered as if that should explain it all.

I really did not know what to ask, it felt odd talking in the thickness of the air, so I watched his mom through the window to the kitchen, once again refilling her mug. She could feel my gaze and her eyes met mine before she closed the blinds with a flick of her wrist, leaving us at the mercy of the afternoon.

"It's the medicine she puts in her coffee that does this. Merde~low." his voice seemed distant, detached.

"What's it for?"

"Kids. Fuckin' kids, that what she says. I don't know why, I am usually the only one here."

There seemed so much more to say, but we just sat in silence, letting the sun comfort us, until it started to smother us. We tried banging on the door once, but the silence shooed us back to the shadow of the tree, begging for a little relief...

The rocking is soft at first, then more violent and I hear my mom's voice calling me. A stark whiteness greets me as I open my eyes, slowly gaining texture as my mom's face appears. I am wet, clothes saturated in a sweat, hair matted to my head, curled up by the roots of the tree. She is talking but I look for Billy, who is starting to stir, his blue shirt almost black he is so drenched.

Seeing we were alive, my mom crosses the yard, pounding the door for a few minutes, but gets no answer, so she starts yelling, while Billy and I stand behind her, still groggy from the sleep. We follow her around the house absently, as she steps through the shrubs to knock on the windows. Finally, getting no response, she puts us in the car, our pores tingling as the air condition washes over us. At first it feel so good, but then we start to shiver uncontrollably as she starts for home.

Billy stayed with us a few days, before a lady in a dark suit came and he got a new family, one that did not need Merde~low in their coffee. On hot summer days, like today, I still think of Billy and I like to believe he became somebody. Somebody people recognized, somebody people acknowledged, somebody that was there and loved.

This was written for the prompt "Merlot and Coffee" at The Tenth Daughter of Memory.

89 comments:

lakeviewer said...

Ouch, quite a play day you had there, secret agent man! These things stick in your heart for a long time, etch your character. Your mom was the hero here. I am wondering about the moms who knowing about a kid like Billy, choose to mind their own business, carry on in their sanctimonous way never lifting a finger. She is my girl!

Valerie said...

Wow, that was riveting, Brian. Thank goodness for Mom's that care. Wonder what happened to Billy.

Raven said...

Such a sad story, but so beautifully written. I had tears in my eyes by the end. Wonderful!

Dianne said...

well done, and from a child's perspective

Magpie said...

It's like you've lived a thousand lives and can access memories from any one of them at any time. Wonderful.

TALON said...

A ticking time bomb...thankfully Billy didn't have to live like that anymore. I did smile at the "merde-lo" (I love how kids mispronounce unfamiliar things)and couldn't help thinking that merde is French for shit and that seemed exactly appropriate.

Tina said...

Well crafted tale. Loved your vivid descriptions of the heat. I felt it. True story?

artist60164 said...

I just love your stories. Thank you for being a part of my day.
Jeanne

Susan Deborah said...

From the heart, I should say. So many times mothers prod us to do so many things which we don't like but we end up feeling good about that many years later.

Enjoyed the narrative. Quite riveting and absorbing.

Joy always,
Susan

Pat said...

You write so vividly that I feel like I'm watching it all take place on a big screen in the movie theater. I felt the heat of that day, the desperation of those boys, the panic of Billy's mom. I felt it all. Wow. Great, great story, Brian. Thanks for sharing it.

buffalodick said...

My best friends mom had one of those coffee cups too...Manhattans in it. Never saw her drunk, never saw her sober..

ds said...

Wonderful. For some reason I was reminded of "To Kill a Mockingbird" & Boo Radley. That Billy was your Boo & you Scout (sorry to switch genders on you). Great, great writing.

Mrsupole said...

We all either meet or know a Billy in our lifetime. It is a great thing your mother did and obviously what you learned during those few days stayed with you since that time. It might have something to do with why you are a counselor. Have you ever thought about it? So many things shape us into what we become as we grow older.

Great story and I hope that someday Billy is able to read this. Those few days probably meant more to him then you will ever know.

God bless.

Monkey Man said...

My best friend in 4th grade was a foster child. He moved away. 40+ years later, I wonder what happened to Brian. Great story.

Nancy said...

Bless your Mom. This story made me sad in so many ways. I wonder how many little children are treated that way every day. Your writing is soulful, Brian.

She Writes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
She Writes said...

(Round two at comment. Spelling Urg!)
"Her kiss on my cheek carried the weight of her expectations, a final goodbye before my death sentence was carried out.


OH MY GOSH. You nailed it. If I was writing for 10th DoM (and I am not), I have a feeling you would be my number one (though I haven't read the others).

You captured memories of being a child perfectly! I knew moms like yours, I have been a mom like yours, and I knew moms like Billy's.

I remember a woman like Billy's mom from when I was in high school. I may have to write about her.

BRILLIANTLY done ;). Loved the scene of the her and her coffee and the darts.

drybottomgirl said...

You touched a nerve....I used the old "coffee mug" trick a lot but it mellowed me so the kids could drag the whole neighborhood over and it wouldn't bother me...and as you can see from my blog title I thought I loved Merlot. I am glad that this story had a happy ending, and that I am getting a second chance to be a "nomoremerlot" mother......:)

Steven Anthony said...

You are truly talented my friend, turning pain to beauty the way you do.

PattiKen said...

Wonderfully written, Brian. As I often am when you write from a young boy's perspective, I was reminded of the Stephen King novella Stand By Me.

I had a friend with a "coffee"-addicted mother. We learned to stay out of her way.

Tabor said...

This was a particularly scary story for me as my mother did lock us out of the house one hot summer day and I ended up with heat stroke. She was drinking...just mad that she never had a clean house.

slommler said...

I felt as if this was written about another era. 1950's let's say. I could see the house and I definitely felt the heat of the sun. Baking the life out of them. Poor Billy...such a sad, sad story! I could feel the grass and see the big old tree.
Wonderfully written Brian.
Hugs
SueAnn

Meeko Fabulous said...

All that from three words. Wow! Was this a past experience? Is this based on truth? Your mind is an amazing place! Riveting story! I loved it.

Zuzana said...

Beautiful and touching. Tragedy that is the reality of an every day life for so many kids.
Now, this is probably a fiction (or not?), but I experienced something similar as reality when I was a child. It effected me deeply.
Today I think how lucky I was that I never felt fear when I was at home, only love and security.
xoxo

LadyFi said...

Is this a true story? So sad, and tender.

Brian Miller said...

lady fi, it is true, but it is not my story. it is the true story of a friend, and how he came to be in foster care...the creative license was putting myself in first person perspective...

Eva Gallant said...

Wow. That was excellent. And I'm sure true of some kids' experiences. Well written!

JeffScape said...

Yeah, buddy! Not that the story is all that cheery; just that your prose-prose is excellent!

Not sure I've ever actually put Merlot IN coffee, but now I'll have to try it to see how bitter it makes me.

Keep this stuff coming, yo.

Tom said...

is that mother's little helper? nice job, bri...good story telling

soundoffreedom said...

I don't know what to say..your words speak for all the Billy's in the world..cverybody in this story is a hero including the writer.

soundoffreedom said...

oh except for the one with the cup of bad medicine I got some words for her but..well that's all that needs to be said about that! sometimes there just ain't enough rocks.

Heartspell said...

The world becomes too big when I realize how many kids have had to endure a life such as this.All will not have the strength of will to pick up the pieces. I am always amazed at the ones who do. Beautiful, sad story told most perfectly. Heartspell

The Urban Cowboy said...

Such a vivid and sad story! You have me hoping he became somebody. Excellent, once again.

Together We Save said...

Wow - that was a wonderfully written story!! It left me wanting to know more about Billy.

Betsy said...

So very well written. One of my dear friends had foster kids...eventually adopting one...what a special soul she is.

love merlot, love coffee...but together? hmmmmm....

Sam Liu said...

This was such an engaging drama, Brian...I was hanging off your every word, anxious to learn Billy's fate. This is such a sad story, and also very poignant, yet your beautiful ending inspires a certain sense of hope. Once more, you illustrate marvellously your versatile and accomplished skill as a writer :)

Birdie said...

So sad! Crossing my fingers for Billy. There are many Billies out there sadly. Sometimes though to have a tough childhood can make one strong and compassionate person! Great post Brian!

william said...

BRIAN I LOVED THIS, WOW, A GREAT STORY TO END MY DAY, VERY CLEVER :)

Daniel said...

Seems to me that you have seen so much hurt and pain and abandonment to last a life time. Too many stories like this are out there with consequences more dire than bad language and yelling. Pains me to know these truths are out there.

joycefied said...

I feel the need to comment. Just as you felt the need to tell that story. It was beautifully written. I was quite drawn in.

Tracy said...

Oh, wow, what started out as so much fun ended up so sad. Your description of the heat was spot on, and I could feel the blazing sun on my neck even though I'm sitting in the air conditioned comfort of my home. I hope Billy became somebody, too.

Luisa Doraz said...

The power of our will leads us to many wonderful times. I loved this one. :) Have a great week. :)

Caty said...

Great writing, Brian! Unfortunately, I know too many parents like Billy's mom. I think they have kids just for the title; not because they want to actually care, love, and pay attention. But kids are the ones who show love unconditionally. Nice piece...and great job at putting yourself in first person :)

AngelMay said...

This was an enjoyable read, Brian. Well done!

Luisa Doraz said...

http://dorazsays.wordpress.com/2010/06/22/special-delivery-from-the-doraz-boutique-5/


Please join me in wishing JINGLE a quick recovery.

Thanks,

Luisa

Menina said...

Always a joy to read your writing, Brian, even when it's such a heartfelt story. Your stories are wonderfully expressed.

otin said...

Hands down, without a doubt, the finest thing that you have ever written.

I picked a good time to come back.

I had some situations where my mom decided that I should be friends with kids who had few friends. Sometimes it worked out and sometimes it didn't.

Ed Pilolla said...

terrific story. love the concepts dropped in, like nobody and medication.

Brian Miller said...

appreciate it all...while not a happy happy post..it was a fun one to write...usually i keep it relatively short but allowed the story to play itself out this time...

do know that billy adjusted well to his new family...so there is a hppy ending to go with the hope..

Emmanuel Ibok said...

It is always a Pleasure reading your works...You are one of my favorite blogging pals. I loved the twist in the story. It became touchy afterward. I hope Billy really becomes a "somebody"

Your creativity is outstanding...cheers!!!

Lori said...

Thank God for people like your mom who are a salvation for the Billys in this world. I was one of them and even though people knew, they minded their own business and did nothing. I am really touched by this post Brian. Please thank your mom for caring enough to reach out. I think of Billys mom and I pray that she at some point turned her life around. I feel really blessed to have read this. XX

only a movie said...

Dude. That was great. I know a lot of Billy's and Billy's Moms. You captured it perfectly.

buttercup600 said...

I am putting you on my blogroll....so entertaining and always a pleasure to read. oxo

Ronda Laveen said...

My wish echoes yours. I hope everyone gets to be somebody, someday. Quite a tale there, Mr. B.

G-Man said...

Brian....
That My Boy was simply...Great!

That's all you need to say.

You did good!

Cinner said...

Secret Agent Man. Glad he had someone to play with, if all could be so kind. riveting.

Bernie said...

Loved, loved this story Brian. Kept me holding my breath until I finished it.....:-) Hugs

The Retired One said...

Wow Brian...such a touching story...I bet he never forgot you or your mom who saved him from a neglected life.
Your family was like throwing him a liferope.....he got a glimpse of worth and what being in a real family could be....
thank goodness your mom came to his salvation and that he got to have a friend in you!

PattiKen said...

I'm so glad to hear that things turned out well for Billy.

Joanna Jenkins said...

That blew me away! The words, the tone of voice, the sadness-- Perfection.
Thanks Brian,
jj

Mmm said...

Is this a true story because it was completely riveting. I have known too many people like this and I can tell you, when from a broken home, rarely , if ever, do they arise out of it. It's not so much about the money one has growing up but with a lack of attention ad love, or worse, yet,child abuse from those in your own family, it is crippling. how others judge, I have no idea. When people think they have accomplished something and feel so proud they need to realise just how much is owed to those who loved them along the way. We would not be where we are without it.

Great story Brian. Sorry to have been gone so much. I will try to come by more often. I have so many people to catch up on. thanks too for dropping by whenever you do. It is always so appreciated

Mmm said...

Of course, billy was lucky to have a new family. Most don't get that.

Bing (PinkLady) said...

what a lovely story!!!

for some people, the road to becoming somebody is long, winding and bumpy. there are those who were born lucky and don't have to do anything at all to be somebody. some people get there by accident and don't even know they're there already. some work hard for it. some... well, some... just prefer to stay where they are- being nobody, invisible, with mediocre existence.

a child would dream of what he wants to become when he grows up, not knowing that the people around him would be instrumental in leading him to the path that would make all his dreams come true. that is, if they lead him to the right path... i really hope billy found his way.

brian, thanks for the nice comment in my blog and for the birthday greeting. :)

Baino said...

Definitely nailed it Brian although the end came kind of suddenly. Brilliantly written and very absorbing.

Just Be Real said...

Brilliantly sad and touching Brian. Thank you dear for your continued encouragement as well. Blessings and ((((Brian))))

Lorraine said...

Thank heavens for universal moms...I forget I'm reading, when I'm here...stories unfold and it hurts and I forget I'm reading...

Goofball said...

you had many "interesting" people living in your neighbourhood. I didn't live nearly as many adventures as you've done.

Glad to read that Billy has become somebody. I'm sure that in your current job you're often still reminded to Billy

blueviolet said...

Otin told me last night that this was very, very good and he was right. Like you, I hope that Billy's life was changed for the better from that moment on.

sheila said...

Beautiful and yet sad. I love moms.

Boonsong said...

I enjoyed this a lot. Thanks for sharing.

All the best, Boonsong

Mr. Stupid said...

You captured memories of being a child beautifully. I was waiting, reading every word to know what had happened to Billy.
Beautiful post, Brian.

Vicki Lane said...

So well done, Brian, like all your writing.

Stacy (the Random Cool Chick) said...

That. Was. Amazing. Poor Billy! I hope he became somebody, too.

Jannie Funster said...

This kept me gripped the whole time.

I can't believe her brown barrell coffee cup did not fall and smash from the dart incident. That would've REALLY pissed her off, I think.

Awesome, Brian -- your writing is so versatile.

Jessie said...

i was there with Billy the whole time. as always, masterfully done!
smiles,

♥ Boomer ♥ said...

So powerful, Brian. So powerful.

The Lucy and Dick Show said...

What a story! Whether real or imaginary, all to many Billie stories exist. Thanks to you, perhaps somebody else's mom will "do something about it!"

kkrige said...

A sad tale of discovery. It makes your heart sick to hear stories like that, but you write it beautifully Brian.

notesfromnadir said...

I really liked this as I didn't know what would happen next--always the sign of fine storytelling.

Your mom did the right thing -- what a warm & wonderful woman to introduce you to Billy.

I hope he found a better home.

Marla said...

This really hits home for me, Brian. We adopted our oldest daughter when she was 10. She is the most amazing somebody I have ever met.

Oh, one more thing, I love your mom. People like her changed our daughters life. Changed our lives. Thank her for me, please.

Great story!

Syd said...

This is a tough one to read. I have known Billy's and still wonder about them. I was a kind of Billy in my own way. I'm glad that you were there to be a friend.

island of peace said...

This was a gripping and extremely sad story.

I too hope that billy grew up to become someone.

Claudia said...

I don't like looooong post - usually - UNLESS - something captures me and my eyes will stay glued on the lines. And that's what happened. I had no time but couldn't stop reading. It's kind of a sad story and yes - I hope he's someone now. And I agree with lakeviewer - your mom was a hero - you can be really proud of her

hvninhell said...

Oh how sad and yet we're left with a chance of hope! Really liked this!

moondustwriter said...

Poignant tale Brian

that was mind blowing

Nicely crafted

noexcuses said...

I loved this story! I first began to read it this morning, but stopped because it looked too long. Now, your story seemed to zip by. I was captivated! Very well written!

AmyLK said...

that's quite powerful. I also hope that Billy was able to be successful in his life.

JeffScape said...

You Lernean Hydra, you.

blackwatertown said...

Vivid story. Very real.