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Thursday, May 17, 2012

"What You'd Expect"

a short story by T. Remington
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Originally published in Storyglossia, Issue 38 (2010) ~ this story was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

image by aleXander hirka - click to enlarge







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It gets to where you kind of expect things. People yell first, usually, but if there's yelling, there's hitting. And people bigger than Teeter hit.
     "Quit that."
     "What?" She's a little startled by Weston's tone.
     "Quit chewing your nails. It makes you look retarded." He doesn't even glance over at her.
     Teeter sulks a little. He was nicer to her before she'd moved up here. They're sitting in his dad's living room, watching "Combat" on the TV. It's the ugliest living room Teeter's ever seen with the couch and the old man's chair set to face the TV like in a theater. And the floor's covered with linoleum.
     The old man never talks much, but Danny, Weston's little brother sure does. He talks to the TV.
     The funny thing is there's no yelling with Weston. He just hauls off and cracks Teeter across the face. She'd been chewing her nails again, not even realizing it. Her face registers shock and then she's gone, flying up the stairs two at a time. The old man doesn't even look up.
     When Weston gets to the room, Teeter's throwing her stuff into the suitcase she brought along six weeks ago when she was coming up for the weekend. It's all show. She's got no money and doesn't even know how to get down to the Greyhound station if she did. Weston sits down on the edge of the bed.
     "Ah, baby, c'mon. Stop that. Come here." He reaches out and takes her arm. When she snatches it away and keeps packing, he smiles. She can feel the charge in the air and packs faster for all the good that's going to do her.

I've sent the help home. After everything today, I can stay with Grammy. She's been pretty lucid, seeming like her old self. Maybe it'll be ok after all.
     "Teeter? What time is it?" Grammy's on the move, wandering. I've double checked the doors. All the alarms are set. She won't get out this time.
     "Grammy, I'm Angie, Teeter's daughter. I know you remember that, so don't play that you don't." I don't know why I keep correcting her, but it never fazes her. And it never sticks.
     "Oh right. Angie. Where's Teeter?"
     "On her way." I've learned to pick my lies with Grammy. Some calm her down and some just raise the devil. "You hungry?"
     "No, child, I'm not hungry. Where is everyone? That bastard didn't scare everyone off again, did he?"
     "I sent Delia and the girls on home." I side step any mention of that bastard, my father. My father the ex-con. My father who ruined my mother's life and is responsible for my Auntie Lil's suicide when she was fifteen. My father who knocked my mother up and ditched us before I was born.
     "I never should have let them move in after the fire." Grammy's voice trails off. Here she goes. It might not be so easy tonight.
     I follow her into the vast living room at the back of the house, past the grand piano and the fully stocked bar with its rows of booze shimmering in Baccarat crystal. Of all the stuff that Grammy does forget, I expect the thing she'd most like to forget that it was my mother, Teeter, who provided all this. Not for the first time I feel a crawl of dread at the thought of what's in the will. I was a crappy daughter, Moms, please remember that.

"Teeter, why the fuck are you wasting your time on these things?" Weston's tone is kinder than his words mostly and Teeter keeps on drawing. She can't afford presents for all Weston's nieces and nephews, so she's cut the last of her illustration board into sections and is drawing a picture for each of them. She's working to keep the pictures not too weird. These are little kids after all.
     It's Christmas Eve and Teeter's finishing up the last picture. Danny's out warming up the Buick. She bundles them all up and heads out. She doesn't bother saying anything to the old man, sitting in front of his TV after another double shift at the factory. He won't respond anyway.
     "Let's get a move on, Teeter!" Weston's ready to go. She doesn't notice that the candle on top of the tree has been lit. When they couldn't find a star or angel for the top of the tree, Danny tied a small white stub of a candle to the top branch.
     Hours later, they're standing in the snow with all the neighbors, waiting for the sirens and watching the house burn. The old man is in there, but there's no way anyone can save him. Heavy columns of black smoke rise from the open front and back doors and the first flames appear in the living room windows.
     "Oh Jesus, the dog!" Teeter cries.
     "Fuck the dog." Weston clenches his fists. "My dad's in there!"
     Fuck your Dad. My journals are in there.
     Teeter thinks a lot of things she never says.

Grammy's asleep on the couch and I think I'll leave her there. It's just easier for now, even though it means she'll be even more disoriented in the morning. I'll deal with that then. For now, I'm content to sip some more fine bourbon and flip through the thousand and ten channels on the high def television. This, I'll miss back in Scranton.
     I wonder if he'll really be there like he said. Generally I don't have much use for men, but this one with his gorgeous, sad eyes has me going. Doreen's been calling all day long and I suppose I ought to call her back. She didn't used to be like this back when we first started dating; it's only since she moved in that she's got to know where I am and what I'm doing every minute of the day. And night.
     We buried Teeter yesterday and that's when I met old Sad Eyes, coming out of the cemetery and there he was, leaning against the brick pillar by the gate, smoking. He nodded as I passed. I ignored him, but wasn't surprised when he was at the pizza joint later that night.
     I'd had enough of the rending of garments back at Moms. There's something to be said for having hired help and I was relieved to hand Grammy off to Delia and get out.
     "Sorry about your loss." Even his voice sounds beat up. "Mind if I join you?"
     I just nod and take a long pull off of my beer. There's no beer back at Moms' mansion.

Teeter wishes Weston was as ugly on the outside as he is on the inside. It's a gorgeous May morning when they bury Lily and Weston looks like some grieving Victorian with his widow's peak and pale skin. He looks genuinely broken. Teeter braces herself slightly; being pregnant has thrown her off balance in every way imaginable.
     "Weston, dear, you'll ride with me." Teeter's mother is as blind as the rest of the fools gathered around the hole they're putting poor Lil into.
     "Of course, Gaile, c'mon." He reaches for Teeter, but he's looking at her mother who drops her eyes at the sound of her name.
     "No, Teeter needs to stay and make sure everything gets taken care of properly. Right, Teetie?" Gaile replaces the simper with a brave smile.
     "Go on." Teeter pushes Weston's hand away. She's done all she can and no one's ever listened, so to hell with them.

He's here all right. My flight out is tomorrow, but I've lied to Grammy and Delia so I can sneak off to this cheap motel for something I never thought I'd want. Yes, I've been with men but it was never all that. All that grunting and pushing, like they turn into pigs when they get their clothes off.
     But he's different just like I knew he would be. He's slow and deliberate, starting out gentle. There's this odd smile he gets and when he winds his hand into my hair to pull my head back hard, I like it. Sometimes with Doreen, when her eyes get big and wet, I want to slap her hard across the face. It surprises me to be the one behind those big, wet eyes. Maybe she just wanted me to crack her a good one all along. The impact is satisfying, loosening generations of crusted over denial.
     It's a long night. I don't scream, but I wonder how much more I can take. We go right up to where there's gonna be yellow tape across the door in the morning and still I don't fight to save myself. He flips me over and it hurts worse than anything yet. I wipe my face and, finding my fingers bloody, suck them and growl.

I couldn't have known who he was that night. Right? But then again I like to think I did because that makes all of this even more wrong and awful. And inevitable. The doctor says the baby is developing normally. I'm due around the end of December. Doreen, the one who always wanted a family, has packed and disappeared. Just as well.
     The will was every bit as bad as I'd feared. I've inherited everything.
     Everything.
Copyright©2010 Tammy Remington

• An interview with T. Remington at Storyglossia here. •