A collection of short stories and journalistic commentaries depicting my simple life
and how I fit in with the modern day universe of our times

A BIT OF A DO



He was breathing hard as he took the first corner to his last lap around the park.

”One more and I’ll call it a morning. Don't wuss out on me now Thompson.” Don Thompson said to himself under his breath.

For the fifth time that morning he passed the junior school football field. He was bearing down on the asphalt covered playground. He saw a couple of adults swinging on the swings. “Aw isn’t that sweet.” He chuckled to himself.

The skinny blonde haired fellow looked vaguely familiar to him. There was a blonde haired woman in the swing next to him laughing. Don took off his baseball cap to wipe the sweat from his eyes. He slowed his jog to a walk “By god is that Chris?” He had his hands on his knees while leaning against the monkey bars gasping for air.

“Chris?” He shouted hoarsely.

His nephew stopped swinging and squinted his eyes over in Don's direction.

“Uncle Don, is that you.” He rose up slowly out of the swing. “I didn't recognize you with your jogging gear on.” He marched over and shook Don's sweaty palm.” I usually catch you in a suit and tie.”

Don stretched his arms out. ”Are you going to introduce me to your friend?”

“Oh this is Miss Stephens, I mean Gracie” Chris’s face turned red.

Gracie waved back at Don. She gave him a wink. Don strolled over to the swing. He took one look at Gracie and thought ‘man she’s too old for you kid’. Her blonde hair went along with a rouge face covering a light complexion. She wore a summer dress that hid a skinny flat-chested body. She smiled up at Don bringing out the crow’s feet around her eyes.

“I'm Chris’s English teacher. I'm doing some extra tutoring to prepare him for his English exams for next year. We were just taking a break.” She gave herself a boost on the swings and got her hair blowing in the wind.

“Glad to see you’re so dedicated, working on a Saturday and all”. Don Said.

“Oh Chris is very special to me. I'm happy to see him excel.” She smiled back at Chris, who turned strawberry red and stared down at the asphalt. Don stretched his legs for few quiet awkward minutes while Chris and Gracie exchanged looks that implied they wished good old Uncle Don would split. He soon got the hint.

“Well nephew, I’ll see you around.” Don began to jog again then turned around. “Don't forget about the barbeque your Aunt Mary and I are having next Sunday!”

*****

Later that day, Don rode his ten speed bicycle home and chained it to the garage wall. He walked into his house and opened the refrigerator looking for some flavoured water, hoping the kids had not already drunk it all.

“Mary, are you home babe?” He grabbed a packet of cheese strings out of the refrigerator.

“Sorry Dad you will have to settle for me.” His daughter Michelle stepped into the kitchen wearing a matching dark blue bathrobe and a towel wrapped around her head. “Mum went to the store to get a few things.”

“Hey Chelle, you won't believe who I just saw in the park.” Don said.

“Robbie Williams?” She looked into the food pantry.

“No smartarse.” Don was wrestling with the cheese string packaging. “Someone you know very well.”

“Robbie Williams?” She grabbed at a box of corn flakes.

“Someone better looking, your cousin Chris with Miss Stephens from your English class. You had her for English your senior year.” Don Said.

“Yeah I know who she is. What do you mean by with? Were they chatting, arm wrestling or making out?” Michelle snorted out with a laugh.

“They looked pretty chummy.” Don finally got the cheese strings unwrapped. “God these things are worse than CD's to unpack!”

“I'm here all week for the Easter holidays. I'll check with some of my friends. See if they have heard any juicy gossip.” She playfully punched Don on the arm. “Boy Dad your worse than a girl when it comes to gossip.”

“I try my best.” Don replied as he finally tore off a piece of cheese. “Ta da.”

*****

For the next couple of days Don kept it zipped about his nephew. He felt guilty about being branded a gossip hound. He sure wouldn't tell his wife Mary. She hated all forms of gossip. She thought that was the major reason they should have never moved to a small town. Everybody knows your business. But Don loved the mellower pace, the quiet, the neighbourliness and the better schools that had been their home for the past five years. It was worth the one way, forty five minute commute to get away from the big city and all of its problems.

He pulled into the driveway on Wednesday night. It had been a long drive home from work. He had to snail past two car accidents that night. He saw Michelle standing on the front porch. She waved to him.

“Boy this bettered be good.” Don thought to himself as he unbuckled his seat belt. When Don stepped onto the porch Michelle waved him over. “Dad I got some hot off the press news for you. According to some of my friends Miss Stephens and Chris have been seen around town at the shopping centre, the movie theatre and out to dinner at Chillies.” She peeked through the window to see if her mother was listening. “My friend Paula saw them getting hot and heavy during the previews at the movie theatre...”

“Wow, so how long has this been going on?” Don enquired as he loosened his tie.

“Paula told me she guesses it started sometime around New Year.” Michelle wore a smirk on her face.

“Do Charles and Diana know anything about this?” Don sniggered. His in-laws were holier than thou pious people. And he would have loved to see the looks on their faces. He walked into the living room smelling the Chinese food his wife Mary had cooking in a Wok. He crept up behind her and lightly patted her bottom.

“That smells yummy.” He put his arm around her waist.

“I know; that's why you married me. That and for my money.” She laughed and kissed him on the cheek.

“Did I hear some weird news from my sister Diana? She suspects Chris has been going out with his high school teacher. You know Miss Stephens, isn't she about our age. Michelle had her a few years back.”

“Oh I've seen her around town.” Don grabbed some plates and began setting the table.

“Michelle always thought she was a big hag, especially when she only got second place in that poetry contest.” She uncovered some boiling rice. “I hope this is a temporary fling. Diana is scared to death to say anything to Charles. You know the old holy-roller would hit the roof and cast poor old Chris into the pit of hell.”

Mary had never liked her sister’s husband. He was a cold, aloof, humourless and pious man. He disapproved of their social drinking, dancing and any other kind of fun they might have. He was appalled that they let Michelle smoke at home. That their son Russell had long hair and played in a high school rock band.

“I wonder if he'll have the balls to show up with Miss Stephens for our Easter barbecue.” Don said quietly as he looked longingly out the window at his backyard grill.

“I think the kid’s got more common sense than that.” Mary opened the oven and pulled out a pan of egg rolls. “I refuse to get involved in someone else’s business.”

“We might not have a choice.” Don grabbed at an egg roll. “Not with the Reverend Charles involved.”

*****

That Easter Sunday afternoon, Don was happily scraping off the black grime from off the charcoal grill. He was always in his element behind the grill. He made his own home made rub, barbecue sauce and marinade. He was master of the steak, ribs, chicken and chop. The weather was turning a pleasant mid sixties. And they could actually use the long outside table to eat at. His son Russell stuck his head out the sliding glass door.

“Hey Pops, mum wanted me to ask you if you needed any help moving stuff around.” His long hair was still wet from a shower he had just taken. “I can pick up that keg of beer you ordered if you like.”

“Always the good samaritan there sport.” Don wiped his hands on a rag. “I don't think I'll need you for anything right now. You get back to your keyboards there Rick Wakeman. But don't stray too far.”

“All right dad, I'll keep the volume down too for you old folks...” Russell said.

“Your Aunt Diana would appreciate it, last time you almost gave her a stroke.” Don replied as he flipped over the ribs in a marinade.

*****

Everything was in place, the group Easter basket, the plastic forks, the razor sharp steak knives, the China ware, copious amounts of greens, breads and the open back yard bar. The food included potato salad, long simmering baked beans, a huge freshly dressed and tossed salad and devilled eggs amid all the meats that were to be ceremoniously cooked to order.

“Holy cow am I going to be gassy tonight.” Don thought out loud as he tied his ‘kiss the cook’ apron on.

“You’re such a romantic.” Mary laughed as she shook her head at him.

You could hear weird rumbling, squeaking and squawking sounds coming from the basement. It was Russell experimenting on his keyboards. He told them he was looking for ‘a unique definitive edgy sound’ out of the array of keyboards he had collected since he was eleven. They were hopping he’d stay with the clarinet but he gave that up in the ninth grade.

Charles and Diana rang the doorbell then let themselves in. Diana hugged Don, Mary and Michelle. Charles hung back standing in the doorway. He looked like he was being dragged to a cock fight.

“How is everyone?” Charles rumbled. He was still wearing a suit and tie from Church.

“My goodness is there something wrong with your pipes?” Diana put her hands to her ears.

“No it's just the maestro downstairs working on his next opus.” Don laughed.

“That was the number one reason; I decided to go away to school.” Michelle chimed in.

Everyone chuckled.

“Isn't Chris coming today?” Mary looked out into the driveway.

“Yes, he’s just picking up his girlfriend.” Diana cleared her throat. “I guess she attends a later church than the rest of us.”

“I hope he met a girl a little more mature this time.” Charles said not knowing. “He always seems to attract those air headed girls who don't attend church.”

The next hour involved the lighting of the grill, mixing of drinks, Diana having only two to be a good sport. Charles sat with his ginger ale and Don with a Tall glass of lager. They had their usual discussions, Charles going on with his right wing rants. Don patiently listening to him while drinking beer and sneaking small drams of Jack Daniels. Michelle came outside with a lit cigarette. She walked over to the women and began chit chatting with them.

“Don, I can't believe you let your daughter smoke in front of you. That's just a sign of total disrespect.” Charles commented as he ran his hand over his comb over.

“I'd rather her do it out in the open than think she has to sneak around behind our backs.” Don answered as he glanced over at the grill. Thank god the coals were ready. “Excuse me Charles, it’s time for me to go perform some magic.”

“Yes, believe it or not I was thinking about your ribs all morning at church, I hope the lord will forgive me for this indulgence.” Charles chuckled and slurped down the last of his ginger ale. “Diana I need another refill as soon as possible.”

“Certainly dear.” Diana sprang out of her chair and grabbed his glass to refill it.

Don saw the look on Michelle and Mary's faces. They glared at Charles with a smouldering resentment. Diana had always been more a maid than a wife to Charles. He loved to show off his dominance in front of company. He was a member of the male chauvinist society for sure, and it showed.

“Thank you Diana, but not so much ice next time.” He stirred at the ginger ale with his finger.

Diana walked meekly back to the table, where the women in Don's life stared daggers into the back of Charles’s Skull.

“You suck Uncle Charles.” Michelle remarked as she flicked ash onto the ground. “Why don't you get your own drink?”

Charles got out of his chair and stared red faced at Michelle. “You need to respect your elder’s young lady. Throughout the bible there is verse after verse about respect for one’s parents and their peers.”

The Screen door slid open and out came Chris with Gracie Stephens. They were holding hands.

“Hey Dad, Mum, everybody. You know Gracie don't you?” Chris wore a big grin. He introduced the members of his family and they all sheepishly shook her hand.

“I really enjoyed your English class Miss Stephens.” Michelle opened to break the awkward silence.

“Please, call me Gracie. I'm not grading you anymore.” She and Chris laughed forcefully.

Don put the ribs on the grill. He was hiding a grin behind the spitfire smoke. Russell came up to join everyone from out of the basement and bumped fists with Chris.

“Hey Chris you'll have to come down later on, I got some new sounds for you to hear.”

Russell waved at Charles. “Hey Uncle Charles, I hope my beats didn't give you a headache this time.”

Charles just picked at the knees of his neatly creased slacks and glowered.

Michelle was gabbing away with Gracie about her current English classes. “Right now we’re reading Noel Barber’s Tanamera. I'm also taking an Intro to Creative Writing class and the rest of the classes are what I call required filler.”

Charles came stumbling out of his chair, then took the chair and tossed it into the backyard nearly hitting the bird bath. He marched over to the sliding glass door nearly taking it off its hinges. He slammed it so hard it made the casing shake.

“What’s his Problem?” Michelle said lighting another cigarette
.
A few minutes later they all sat down to dinner. There was a distinct feeling of unease that settled over the table. Bits of small talk would break out and then quickly die away. You could hear the forks and sharp knives clinking.

“Diana would you like to go talk to him... right now?” Mary requested while passing the salt and pepper.

“No, I'll just let him cool off a few more minutes.” Diana spoke out in a half sob. “Though at this time, I couldn't say I should blame him.” She turned her watering eyes at Chris. “How the hell can you pull a stunt like this on your Father and Me?”

“What stunt are talking about Mum?” Chris proudly said through a mouth full of devilled eggs.

“Oh come on. You’re dating a woman old enough to be your Mother and you don't see a problem?” Diana’s voice was rising to a height that Don had never heard before. “You’re trying to be a rebel just like your sister. What with her becoming a lesbian and then flipping her nose at us when we reached out to try to convert back to the truth of the church.

“Hazel's a lesbian?” Mary and Michelle both said in unison.

“Yes, Charles and I found out a few months ago.” Tears were running down Diana's cheeks now. “At least she attends college out of town. But you two are the laughing stock of the entire town. I've known about it for months but I seriously thought you would have come to your senses and drop this perverted and twisted bitch.”

“Mum you don't understand, I love Gracie.” Tears were welling up in Chris’s eyes.

“You’re only sixteen for God’s sake. You don't know anything about Love. What you have is some experience with pussy. And she's just in love with your young hard dick. That's not chemistry. You have nothing at all in common you idiot.”

Diana took a hand full of Potato salad and threw it in Gracie’s face and left the table. She walked around the side of the house still crying her head off.

“Hey Dad can I have that last rib?” Russell wiped some sauce off his chin while trying to break the tension.

Don handed the plate over to Russell. He watched out of the corner of his eye at Gracie trying to gracefully remove food from her face. Chris handed her a napkin, she put her hand out for it. Her crow’s feet were growing to the size of crow’s wings now and she was turning a deep red in colour.

“I think we should go now honey. I believe we have caused enough trouble for today.” Gracie knocked over her chair as she got up. She picked it up with trembling hands and lightly put it back at the table.

“Are you sure? Mum makes some slamming cherry pie.” Russell said as he ripped apart a rib and began to gnaw.

“No that's okay. Thanks for a terrific Easter dinner Aunt Mary and Uncle Don.” Chris's voice was hoarse. “Russell make sure to burn me some of your new stuff.”

“Right on man.” Russell waved a bone at him.

They all sat in silence until they heard the front door slam. Michelle and Don both broke out into laughter. Mary tried to shush them but was having a hard time keeping the smile off her own face.

“Man oh man, I didn't know Aunt Diana had that big a potty mouth. The worst I've ever heard was holy cow and dog gone it.” Michelle commented as she reached into the cooler. She grabbed herself and Don some beers.

“You don't see her in the beauty shop like I do. She really lets her hair down then.” Mary Said. All the Thompsons at the table groaned. A loud scream came from the front of the house and it was quickly followed by some muffled shouting.

The Thompsons all sprang out of their chairs and dashed around the side of the house. Don noticed that someone had unwound the garden hose. There was water leaking out of the tap nozzle.

There stood Gracie in front of the garage door drenched from head to toe. Charles was wrestling with Diana for control of the hose. The water was spraying everywhere. It looked like they were watering the whole street.

“I'll drown, and then kill the fucking bitch.” Diana screamed.

Chris grabbed Gracie’s arm and made a dash for the car. Gracie was frantically looking for her car keys in her handbag. It was too late, she got water blasted again.

“Mum stop it!” Chris yelled.

Russell ran around to the side of the house to shut off the water. The wayward lovers made a break for it in her red Sierra, backing out of the driveway at breakneck speed. They sheared off the mirror and door handle to Charles’s brand new Citroen.

“You stupid, stupid women! Look what they have done to my car. I only drove it off the forecourt just last month.” He slapped Diana hard across the face.

“Hey, you son of a bitch, don’t you hit my sister.” Mary pulled a plastic fork out of her pocket. She charged at Charles, fork held high. Don chased after her, too late, she jabbed the utensil right into his cheek. He emitted a surprisingly high pitched squeal. Don got between the two warring relatives. “Everybody chill out, before one of the neighbours decides to call the police.” There was nothing left now but sobbing and heavy breathing.

“Hey Thompson, don't expect to see us ever darken your doorway again.” Charles held a handkerchief to his bloody cheek. “Get into the car Diana!”

“Unless you plan to drive over to that Gracie Stephens house forget it. You big coward you’re going to let our son fuck some middle aged tart?” Diana yanked on Charles’s tie as hard as she could. This caused him to make a sharp strangling sound.

“Until you decide to straighten this mess out, which is eighty percent your fault anyway, I'm staying right here with Don and Mary.”

“And me to.” Russell piped up, still desperately trying to change the course of things.

Don shushed Russell with an index finger to the lips. With as much dignity he could muster, Charles pulled out of the drive way.

*****

The next morning when he was at work Diana packed a couple suit cases of clothes. Two weeks later she was still living with the Thompsons. She called every school board member she knew and told them about the cradle snatching situation. They had all assured her they were going to get to the bottom of it right away. Two weeks had passed and still nothing had been done. Diana was beside herself.

“Why are they not doing anything for God’s sake?” She paced across the Thompson’s living room. “People still see ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ all over town. Being all lovey dovey, and yet nothing.”

Don had talk to some people who were chummy with school board members. They claimed their hands were tied. The teachers union was stoic in standing by a member of good standing for the past thirty years. As long as he was sixteen and not filing a complaint they were limited in what else they could do.

Other than that, they quickly came to the assumption that Diana made quite a good house guest. While Mary was at work she would clean the entire house. She was a good cook, no wonder Charles was overweight. And the two sisters bonded again like back when they were in high school together. Every dinner hour was taken up with tales of their childhood adventures. Don had never seen Diana so care free before. Diana even appeared to get used to Russell’s edgy key-board doodling.

*****

Don arrived at home on the Friday evening. He had the place all to himself. The two sisters were out shopping. Russell’s band was actually hired for some rich girl’s sweet sixteenth birthday party and Michelle was out with her friends. Don grabbed himself a beer and relaxed on the sofa hoping to finish the rest of his P.D. James novel. He was nearing the last chapter when the door bell rang. He could spot Charles’s big frame filling the doorway. He was chalky white and looked like he had dropped a few pounds.

“Is Diana around Don?” He enquired and calmly plopped himself into the easy chair.

“No the gals are out terrorizing the plastic.” Don smiled.

“What? Ooh yeah, ha ha.” He forced a smile. “Don, I’ve got to talk to her. This whole ordeal’s turned into one big mess. Chris won't talk to me. Hazel's been screaming at me on the phone calling me a home wrecker. The house is a pigsty. This can't just go on forever.”

“Charles, it sounds like you and the wife are going to have to bash this whole thing out. They'll be here in the next hour.” Don Said.

They sat around watching Top Gear on the television while saying very little to each other. Mary and Diana walked through the door. Seeing who was there, the sisters dropped their packages near the coat rack and entered the room.

“So big man, what brings you here?” Diana had her hands on her hips. “Run out of laundry, sick of eating take-aways. Afraid you might have to speak to your son?”

Charles looked up at her with pleading eyes. “Honey, I'm sorry about everything that's happened the last two weeks. I can't do much about Hazel but I'm going to figure out this mess with Chris. Can we please talk on the patio? “

Diana nodded her head and slid open the door to the patio. Charles followed.

“Boy would I like to be a fly on the wall right now.” Don said as he turned off the television.

“I think she’s over it anyway.” Mary said. “She found out all her credit cards were cancelled and he’s moved their checking and savings accounts to another bank.”

“Wow, for a Christian fellow he sure is devious.” Don put his arm around Mary.

“I hope they manage to work it out, I'm getting a bit sick of having Diana over every day. She's cramping my style. She constantly bitches about Russell’s keyboard playing. It was great for a little bit but I hope she goes home.” Mary leant against a surprised Don's shoulder.

Within the next hour, Diana had repacked all her belongings, offered some money for her stay and hugged out some tearful goodbyes. They backed out of the driveway; the Citroen was fixed and looked like the sparkling chariot they were paying for once again.

*****

The next day Don was jogging around the park. He was on his second lap when he spotted Gracie swinging on the swing seat all by herself. Don wandered over to the playground. Gracie’s face looked puffy without any makeup. She wore some old sweat suit with food stains on it.

“How are we doing today Miss Ste..., I mean Gracie.” Don said.

She squinted at him. “Your Chris’s uncle aren't you? Sorry I didn't put in my contacts this morning. They keep washing out from all the crying I've been doing lately.”

“Trouble with you and Chris?” Asked Don as he sat at a nearby picnic table.

“It's over between the two of us if that’s what you mean. I probably knew in my heart of hearts it couldn't last.” She dabbed at her eyes.

“Charles and Diana gave you a hard time. They are pretty hard core religious people, very set in their ways.” Don assured her as he started to retie one of his running shoes.

“No, they had nothing to do with it. In fact, I never heard a word from either one of them in the past two weeks.  But it started to dawn on me that the age and generational difference between the two of us just wasn’t going to work. You know how many times I got mistaken for his mother? Too many to count. We couldn't be in one of my favourite Karaoke bars past nine o'clock either. Then there was his juvenile friends he tried to integrate me with. They looked at me like I was the school pedo. And if I have to listen to anymore Slayer and Monster Magnet music, I'm going to scream.”

“Yeah, I forgot Chris is a real metal head.” Don Chuckled.

“Well I won't forget; it’s still ringing in my ears now.” She hopped off the swing and started walking away.

Don couldn't resist. “I'll tell Diana you said hi.”

She swung around and gave Don the old snake eye. “Tell that chick I'll see her at the next church charity car wash!”

Don Thompson shook his head. “Boy spring and autumn romances can really bring stormy weather.” And he smiled to himself as he went on with his jogging.





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