Sunday, February 16, 2014

Bonus Think: Guffs and Snuvs in literary fiction

This story was inspired by one of the "Thinks" proposed by Dr. Seuss's "Oh the Thinks You Can Think!". If you are unfamiliar with the book, you can find an online version of it here. Every day from now through February 15th, I'll be posting a short story or poem based on one of the "Thinks" in the book. Enjoy! 

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Back in my own room, I slam my fist into the wall. The wall may as well laugh at me for all the damage I have done.
My phone rings and I slide it from my pocket, hopeful.
It’s not Mullins, but I smile anyhow.
“Bennett! You’re home?”
“Almost. I’m ten minutes out on Highway six, headed your way. Want me to pick you up?”
“Oh God, please do. Everyone in this town is nutballs and I’m afraid it might be catching.”
Bennett is my boy best friend, the chromosomal opposite of Chrissy, but otherwise very like her. I used to think they should date, what with their similar interest in saving the world, but I’m glad it never happened. How would a break-up between the two of them affect my friendship with them both?
“Nutballs? Is that British?”
“No, it’s not bloody British.”
“Bloody is though. Bloody is bloody British.”
I laugh, and it feels good. I don’t think I’ve laughed once since my Mom called the Gladbury’s. 
“Priss, you need to sit down,” she’d said.
“I am sitting down,” I’d lied.
But then, she told me, and I wished I hadn’t lied. I wished I had sat down, because my legs went all wibbly wobbly and Mei had to shove a kitchen chair under me before I fell.
“Put on some make-up, and wear heels.”
“What for?”
“Because I’m giving up a night at a frat party with more hot college girls than a man can dream of to come home and take care of you. The least you could do is put on your hot chick costume for me.”
“You are such an arse.”
“British. Definitely British.”
Oh Bennett, I think. I am so glad you’re you.
It takes me fifteen minutes to change clothes and to dab on eyeshadow and lip gloss. That is about as made-up as I get. I do slide my feet into a pair of silver sandals with extra high heels. Honestly, the majority of the fifteen minutes is spent setting the new world record for fastest shaving of legs ever in the history of womankind. And not one nick on my pale skin. I don’t tan in the best of circumstances and London wasn’t exactly the best of circumstances sun-wise. 
“Bye,” I says when I walk past my brother’s spot on the couch. He’s still engrossed in his racing game, so he doesn’t actually look up, but I wave anyhow.
“I’m going out,” I call through Marly’s still-closed door.
No answer. I’m sure she’s disappeared back into her sad songs and mystery-tears.
Downstairs, Mom is sitting at the kitchen table, surrounded by fabric swatches, her laptop open on a chair.
“I’m going out with Bennett,” I say to the back of her head.
“Have fun,” she replies. 
I wave at yet another person who doesn’t look up to see.
Dad isn’t home. Surprise surprise. I picture Investigator Mullins at home tonight, sitting at the dinner table with his wife and daughters, laughing. Rodney never knew how good he had it.
It’s not quite seven when I step onto the front lawn. It rained yesterday, releasing the grip of humidity just the tiniest bit. The grass is tall and the dirt is damp. My heels start to sink as I cross the grass to check the mail.
Nothing.
I hear Bennett’s car turn onto Gosling Circle, my street, and wave. For once, I get a wave in return. At least I’m not being ignored by everyone tonight.
As he pulls to the curb, he rolls down the window. “Hi, pretty lady? Going my way?”
I laugh and snatch the door open.
“God, it’s good to see you,” I say, planting a quick kiss on his cheek.
When we were little, Bennett and I thought we were cousins. He called my mom Aunt Abby and I called his mom Aunt Jillian, but we aren’t actually related. By middle school, we figured out that our mothers were sorority sisters, not biological sisters, both having been Chi Os in college.
“I’m glad you’re back in the states. An ocean is way too much water between us.”
“I should just be flying home today,” I remind him. 
“I’ll have to think Chris for bringing you back early.”
“That’s not funny.” My smile dissipates.
He frowns. “You’re right. Too soon.”
We go to the mall and land in the bookstore. This is another thing Chrissy and Bennett have in common. They’d both rather be rambling about a bookstore than doing just about anything else. No matter how many frat parties Bennett jokes about attending, he’s a nerd. He’s a rather well-built, green-eyed, perfect-skinned, ex-football playing nerd, but a nerd nonetheless.
“What’s that?” I ask. He’s holding a children’s book that’s been left behind on a shelf between volumes of poetry.
“Dr. Suess.” Bennett grins. “Remember this one?”
I step close enough to smell his Stetson, a scent I like to make fun of him for wearing, even if it does smell pretty good. He wraps his arms around me, pulling my back to his chest, and opens the book so we can both read.
“Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!” I find my smile again.
Doing his best impression of Morgan Freeman, which is pretty spot on, my friend reads to me from a childhood favorite. An elderly couple walks past and the woman has this soft sappy expression on her face, like she looks at us and sees her husband and herself a hundred years ago. It’s not like that though, Bennett and me. For starters, we thought we were related, remember? By the time we realized that was incorrect, Bennett had turned into one of the most handsome boys in school, only a year ahead of me in grades but lightyears advanced in getting through puberty. I’m not sure he ever had an awkward stage. By the time I noticed Bennett was a boy, every other girl in Iniwa had got there before me. For about a year, I pined silently, too afraid to even hint that my friendly feelings might have changed. And then I met Rob, and we spent most of high school as and on-again off-again couple, with a couple of other short relationships tossed in for good measure. I never loved any of them, no, but we had some fun times, and I’m glad I never ruined my friendship with Bennett over stupid middle school hormones.
“Remember the gruff?” The real live present day Bennett interrupts my memory of Bennett.
“The gruff?”
“My halloween costume, when we were kids.”
I look down at the open page. “Oh, yeah, everyone thought you were a teddy bear.”
“Yeah, I think it was a teddy bear costume, actually. Mom just made some additions and called me a gruff.”
“And you insisted I wear a yellow dress and pink gloves.”
“You were a snuv.”
“And no one had any idea what a snuv was. I was so mad at you, because I wanted to be Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz but Mom thought your idea was too adorable.”
“It was too adorable.”
“Don’t say that too loud. People might thing you’re not manly.”
“I’m super manly,” Bennett says, deepening his voice. “I’m the manliest man.”
Resting my head on his chest, I flip a page in the Dr. Suess book and remember how Chrissy was a kitten that halloween and she got to wear pink ears and a tail.
“How did my pink kitten friend become the Deadly Diva?” I almost gag on the nickname.
I feel Bennett’s whole body tense behind me, and then he sighs.
“I wish I knew.”
“Did you see her at all? While I was gone, I mean.” I step away to look at his face, and he drops the book back onto the shelf, towering over Emily Dickinson’s collected works.
“Yeah, a few times. I promised you I’d check on her, so I did.”
“And? What was she like? Was anything off?”
“Not at first, no.” Bennett takes my hand and leads me down rows of books toward the cafe at the front of the store.
“But, eventually? Something was wrong?”
“Yeah, I guess. I mean, there was nothing I could put my finger on. But she’d broken up with Morgan and she kept saying it was because he bought a gun, but that just seemed ridiculous.”
“Which part seemed ridiculous? Morgan owning a gun or Chrissy breaking up with him over it?”
“Both, honestly. Morgan’s changed a lot too, yeah, but he’s still Morgan. And I can’t really picture him shooting with anything but a camera.”
“Since when is Morgan into photography?” I pick a table in the back corner and sit down. The chair is wobbly, the back right leg loose or broken.
“He’s not. It’s just something I heard someone say… shooting pictures, shooting movies, never shooting people.”
I rest my chin in my hands and watch Bennett arrange his thoughts. It shows on his face when he’s thinking deep thoughts. His eyebrows are thick and dark brown and they go crinkly like lightning when his brain is hard at work. His eyes look darker too, the brown around the edges of the pupil thickening.
“I hate guns as much at Chris does… did. But, I wouldn’t end a relationship over gun ownership. I mean, it’s not like Morgan ever shared her views to begin with, right?”
I close my eyes and remember Chrissy in her red and gray stripes in the interview room yesterday, that unexplainable crown of golden hair.
“I don’t know, Bennett. I don’t know anything anymore.”
He reaches across the table and touches my arm. I open my eyes and sniffle, not willing to let go and cry right now. Not here, in front of strangers. And classmates. I can see at least three kids from school trying to watch Bennett and me without getting caught. I haven’t wanted to go out a lot, for this reason. I’m the Deadly Diva’s best friend, so people want to gawk at me. One lady even accused me of being an accessory to the crime. According to one source, the news says, Chris Corbett and undisclosed others planned to start by blowing up the school and then move on to the rest of Iniwa. Right. There weren’t any bombs in that school. The police have found nothing to suggest Chrissy had any plans beyond what she actually did. And, she turned herself in as soon as she was out of bullets.
“People are idiots.” I say.
“Yes,” Bennett offers a sad smile. “That much we know for sure.”
“Can we go back?”
“Back where?” 
“In time.” I watch while he plays with my fingers. I really need to take off the chipped blue polish. 
“To when?”
“Three weeks ago?” I suggest. “Three years? I don’t know. Forever. Until you are a gruff and I am a snuv and Chrissy is one in a million pink kitten costumed girls at the church fall fest.”
“It was easier being a gruf than a college student. I failed a class this semester.” 
“It was easier being a snuv,” I agree. “It was easier when pink kittens didn’t shoot guns.”
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Heather Truett writes literary fiction, poetry, and other things with deepness and feelings (I fear that sounds sarcastic, but it's not - her words are beautiful). She blogs at Madame Rubies and Middle Places. She lives in the deep American South where she's labors tirelessly to raise her children to be even half as awesome as she is. She tweets and you should tell her that her butt looks good in jeans. 

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