YES / CHILDREN
Two Stories by Chanel Dubofsky
Kat and Jeremy go to visit his parents in San Diego on a Sunday, and on the way back to Los Angeles, they fight. On Monday, after Kat comes back from an audition for an oatmeal commercial, Jeremy says what they’ve both been thinking - it’s not working out between them. He’ll get his stuff out of her apartment right away.
It’s not because he’s a gentleman, says Kat, he just wants everyone to think he is. This is literally the least he can do. The audition went well, though.
Issue #120 soundtrack: Donny Dinero "My Moon"
On Tuesday, I don’t have to be at the bookstore until five, so I pick up Kat and we drive out of the city, past the studios and the silver and glass agency complexes with their enormous parking lots, filled with nervous people sitting in their cars.
We are the kind of friends who will see each other for celebrations and crises, and not very often in between, and today is a little of both.
Kat has a marijuana-laced lollipop in her bag; Jeremy bought it with his weed card which he got for his migraines. He took the card with him, but left the lollipop.
“Lick it for ten seconds,” she says, handing it to me. “No more. For real. I’m watching you.”
I hold the steering wheel with one hand and take the lollipop in the other and put it against the roof of my mouth and close my lips around it. Kat counts to ten out loud, and then extends her hand.
In LA, everyone says yes to everything, Kat told me, even if they’re not sure they mean it. You never know where it will lead, and you don’t want to be left out. This is a yes town.
Matthew and I made a joke out of it - we send each other texts and leave notes that just say “Yes.” We ask ridiculous questions: Do you like spaghetti with shaving cream? Do you want to get a pet seagull? Yes, yes.
(Do you want to stay in LA with me forever? Yes. Yes?)
In Venice Beach, Kat’s agent, Irene, calls. The oatmeal people want her for the commercial. We go to a bakery whose interior is covered entirely in yellow and pink stripes and buy two enormous brownies and sit outside on the curb to eat them.
“I am going to do the shit out of that commercial.” Kat rubs her hands together. Brownie crumbs fall onto the pavement. “I love oatmeal.”
Then I look over and she’s crying, but her face isn’t any different, it’s not red or twisted, there are just tears coming out of her eyes, quickly, faster than they can dry, so they pile up on top of each other and make little rivers on her cheeks.
Some kids come by on skateboard, and we pull our legs out of the way so we won’t trip them. Along the street, palm trees, with their tousled heads, reach up to the sky.
I say to Kat, “Do you want to go home?”
And she says, “Yes, let’s call it a day.”
These are the humans that Ben and Caroline have made:
Matthew, who, when a box full of video tapes of films he’s made falls onto the driveway with a hard crush, says, “Oh, heck,” before kneeling down to inspect it.
Audrey, whose job it is to make sure her younger brother can see out the rear window of his station wagon on his drive across the country, moves boxes around with silent, angry precision. Her long, freckled legs are bruised from hours of clumsy pushing and pulling.
“How are we doing here?” Ben inspects the trunk of the station wagon, where Audrey is sitting among her brother’s crates and boxes and garbage bags. His daughter rolls her eyes.
“It’s all going to fall out,” she says. “You’ll be driving for hours and then you’ll pull over to get gas and realize that everything’s all over the highway behind you.”
In the house, Caroline empties the dishwasher. “Make sure he doesn’t forget the phone charger,” she says to Ben. He fills a water glass, drinks from it, sets it beside the sink.
“Ben? The phone charger? Please?” She’s pressing the heels of her palms to her eyes. He turns away from the sink. It’s nine-thirty in the morning. If they don’t misplace anything else, Matthew will be on the road by eleven.
The phone charger is in the second drawer of the tall cabinet in the living room. When Audrey was small, she would race to the top of the stairs, grab the blankets and pillows from the top of the cabinet, and hurl them to the ground, where Matthew, smaller, with pudgy knees and wheat-colored hair that would darken with time, shrieked with joyful surprise when a blanket floated down onto his head, covering his whole body.
“Who do you love the most?” Audrey demanded. Below, her little brother had already struggled out from under the cover, shaking with laughter, his hair standing on end. When he didn’t answer (he never answered), Audrey would throw another blanket, and Matthew waited, arms flung open, eyes squeezed shut, as though he were expecting to be hit with water instead of with wool, and then he was once again shrouded, a soft blue giggling ghost.
Ben and Caroline had watched from the sofa, waiting patiently for the children to be done with this game, so that they could gather up the blankets, fold them and return them to the top of the cabinet, and move on to supper or baths or bedtime.
Now that this small boy is a young man who will soon be far away, Ben thinks he should have intervened, even at the cost of incurring the quick, fiery burst of Audrey’s six-year-old anger, or the chubby wobble of Matthew’s lower lip. Anything to show them that love is not a game.
They eat breakfast together – the pancakes Ben has been making them for years – banana, piled with bacon and maple syrup. He arranges the bacon in smiley faces for Matthew and Audrey, and when he puts their plates down, his children laugh and roll their eyes, looking at their father and then leaning forward towards the smoky sweetness, eager to break it all apart.
Ben watches Audrey cut her pancakes into tiny triangles, then place a piece of bacon on each slice, then lift her fork to her mouth, then chew with such attention that Ben is afraid to interrupt her.
Beside his sister, Matthew’s quiet, and it occurs to Ben that maybe he’s sabotaged it all. Those carbohydrates will make Matthew too sleepy to drive, and he will have to lay down on the couch for a bit, and then a bit will become an hour, but still, his odd, dreamy son, with his penchant for drawing dragons, will sleep.
Last night, when the house was still, he climbed the attic stairs to the room where Caroline had been sleeping by herself for almost a year, starting the summer when Matthew, newly licensed, began driving the station wagon into the woods, where he’d set up his video camera to take long, lonely shots of the trees and sky.
He lay down beside his wife, his head on the pillow that smelled like her hair. On a shelf above the bed were candles, scented, never opened, and a row of bottles, which looked so fragile they could have been made of onion skins. Caroline rolled towards him, coming close, but not touching.
In a way, he was grateful for it, the way she kept her body from him, the way he’s now grateful for Audrey’s meticulous chewing.
At ten-forty-five, Matthew’s car is completely packed. Ben watches him talking to Audrey from the kitchen window. Audrey’s saying something, her hands making big loops in the air, and then Matthew starts making the same loops with his hands, his motions becoming wider and more exaggerated until Audrey drops her arms and bends over at the waist, shaking with laughter.
Fifteen minutes later, Matthew starts the car. Ben keeps his hand on the roof until it starts moving, and then he hits it, once, twice, and Matthew looks at him and smiles and nudges the car out into the street, leaving the three of them standing in the glare of a razor blade sun.
Chanel Dubofsky's work on gender, sexuality, religion and reproductive justice has been published in Cosmopolitan, RH Reality Check, The Billfold, The Toast, The Forward, Previously.TV and more. She is the creator of the Marriage Project, an interview series about marriage in the media, experience and imagination. Her fiction has been published at Atlas and Alice, Matchbook, Monkey Bicycle, and Quick Fiction. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Ryan Garvey grew up in Massachusetts, where became fascinated with drawing at a young age. He attended the Massachusetts College of Art, where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in printmaking in 2006. He currently lives and works in New York, and his work has been exhibited in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Inspired by the deluge of media, visual patterns, and detritus that emerges from daily city life, Ryan Garvey’s work captures the fast-paced intensity of the urban experience with a sense of bursting mania. For more, visit ryangarveyartist.com.
Donny Dinero was born and bred in the land of American music. Like many before him, his songs reflect the true nature of hardship, the pain of loss, the loneliness in a day and the beauty of life. For more, visit donnydinero.bandcamp.com.