This story was a USA-Weekend Student Fiction Contest Runner Up. It was published on June 4, 2000, when I was 14.
“You have to tell us everything, Wog, I have to know!” said my mother. I pretended not to hear her. “Stop looking out the window.”
I tore my eyes away from the garden outside my window. My cat, Kitten, was rolling in the dirt. I had to look away quickly. The sight of the weeds choking out all the vegetables and sunflowers before they even had a chance to grow was just as bad a disaster as the one I was in.
“If you must know, I have a boyfriend, Simon. You know the guy I met at the fair last year?” The county fair takes place in August. I am looking forward to it this year because I’ll get to see Simon again and because of the Sno Cones. I love Sno Cones. I stole a glance at my mother’s face. One word applied to her face like makeup: disbelief.
“That boy! Your father is going to hit the roof!”
And with that she marched downstairs, and I could hear her saying, “Corky, did you know Wog had a boyfriend?”
Geez. Parents are such a drag, you know? I mean, I once made the mistake of trying to be humorous as a little kid. I was in the car with my father, and he asked me jokingly what I thought he was good for. Money and driving, I replied, and he took me seriously.
My dad is from Pennsylvania and my mom is from North Carolina. The only thing her parents told her to do when she went away to college was NOT to bring back a Yankee husband. When my father first went to meet Mom’s family, they hid the silver from him. It was 10 years before they stopped using plastic forks on Thanksgiving. Where’s the trust? Where is the trust? My dad is 54, and my mom, Melissa, is 46. We live on a cattle farm in the most rural part of Virginia. My school — high school, middle and elementary — adds up to a whopping 300 students, soaking wet.
You might be wondering why my mom called me Wog. That is my nickname. It comes from Molly Pollywog, which is what she called me when I was 3 months old and swimming in the pool with her. No matter how much I plead, she still continues calling me that, even in public! It’s bad enough when your parents sing along with the tape-recorded national anthem at our basketball games but when my mom booga-loos to the warm-up music before the game starts, I mean, someone hand me some cyanide! Sheesh. Now my classmates call me Wog.
Picture the three of us, outside on the picnic table in the July heat, eating hamburgers. Dad leans over and starts the interrogation.
“So,” he clears his throat, “what’s this I hear about a boy?”
“Dad!” This is so exasperating. “I’ve already told you at least twice.”
Another throat clearing. “Refresh my memory.”
“His name is Simon Davis. He lives in Richmond. We met at the fair last year, MOM met him at the fair last year, and he likes ’60s music.” I added the music part to butter the bread and avoid more throat-clearing.
He asks my mom, “What does this child look like?”
“DADDDDYYY! He’s not a child. We’ve been going for almost a year!”
“Going?” he asks.
“Going where?” she asks.
“Dad, you know, going out.”
“Going out where?”
“You know, dad, like, we’re hooked up.”
“Hooked up with what? Cord? String? Fishing wire?”
“Hear that, Melissa?! She’s on dope! She said it herself, she’s hooked!”
“”I AM NOT!”
“Whatever. I have yet to see this … this … adolescent. What does he look like?”
“Dad, aren’t you always telling me that looks don’t count as long as he treats me right? Well, aren’t you?”
“Since when have you listened to me? If you can’t judge a book by its cover, what can you tell it by? What does he look like?”
“He’s tall, skinny, with green eyes and spikes.” As I delivered the hair part, my father’s face, which had been a reasonable red, turned the color of eggplant.
“Oh, so he plays baseball. Or is it track? Mel, what other sport uses spikes on the shoes?” I think they do this to me on purpose.
“Spiked hair, Daddy.”
Truth is, I’m not all that excited about Simon. So what if he’s the first boyfriend I’ve had since sixth grade, not counting summer guys. He lives in Richmond, I live in Blue Grass, three hours away. He comes down for Christmas, spring break and the county fair, but that’s about it. So what if we talk until 1 and 2 in the morning when he’s here, doesn’t everybody? OK, everybody under 30? My own mother can only stay up until 8:30. And another thing, why do they think it so weird that some guy likes me? Can they just not handle the fact that (insert gasp here) I might be considered attractive? I mean, to anyone who didn’t change my diapers, my attractiveness might be appealing.
“So how have you two been communicating?” Dad asked.
“You know those big white boxes? The ones that make weird sounds when you play Mario on them? What are they called again?”
“Computers.” Mom shot me a nasty look.
“Ah, yes, computers. We’ve been using a thing called e-mail.”
“Are you prepared to go from e-mail to real male?” she asked. Ouch. That was a shot below the belt, Mummsy dear.
“It shouldn’t be a problem, Mommy. We’ve been talking every day. And it’s not like we cyber or anything.”
“Cyber? What’s a cyber?”
“Oh, you know, cyber sex.”
“Oh that!” Mom looked relieved. Pause. “What’s cyber sex?”
“GUYS!! I’m not going to be the one to tell you! Ask someone else.”
I went up to my room and read for a while. Later, when I went down to the kitchen for a chocolate Pop-Tart, I found Mom enjoying a healthful fruit salad.
“Chocolate gives you pimples.”
“Mother, it is clinically proven that chocolate does not produce excessive oil, causing pimples.”
“The Clearasil is in the upstairs cupboard.” It’s as if she never heard me. When she sees me heating the food, I am bombed with a Talk. A Talk is a one-way discussion concerning my weight, my grades, how insane my grandfather is, family history, anyone of the opposite sex, be it chimpanzee or goldfish, and the style of clothing I wear. After 10 minutes of this Talk, I headed back upstairs for my 18-hour beauty sleep.
AUG. 24, AT THE FAIR:
Simon and I are hanging out at the fair, our lips dyed blue and green from the Sno Cones. I’ve just spent the last hour prepping Simon on subjects my father is likely to quiz him on. We’ve covered the Beatles 1960-1967, Charles Dickens, how to give a good handshake, and the latest PBS program on the Maori tribe of New Zealand. My father, if you can’t tell, suffers from TMC. Too Much College.
I lead Simon over to my parents. Mom gives him a small smile but Dad remains ice cold. His stony face reflects the colored lights from the Ferris wheel as it moves in the background. Simon extends his hand. I can just read Dad’s mind. He’s begrudgingly giving Simon a +1 for the handshake. Dad leads Simon over to the grandstands motioning Mom and me to occupy ourselves elsewhere.
Half an hour later, I go to retrieve Simon from the clutches of my father. Dad pulls me aside before we can make our escape.
“Well, Wog, you seem to have a nice boyfriend here.”
I am blown away. Where is the “never see him again” speech? I’m walking away with Simon, who is about to fall over, due to weakness in his knees, and I hear Dad call out.
“By the way, this is the guy I tried to get you to talk to last year!”
AAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGHHHHHH!! How could this have happened?! All that prep work! I now remember Dad telling me about a boy he met at the fair last year, but his name was Paul. Or was it?
Well, my life has taken a good turn, for a while, anyway. I mean, my parents aren’t just going to suddenly wise up and learn how to use a laptop are they? They are not going to take Simon and me anywhere where there are soft, dark, warm places with no parents, cops or nuns in sight, are they? But for now, I think I can handle their Talks, their questions and making me use the dictionary. I think I can handle it.
Where is that cyanide?