Fall 2008, Volume 5

Fiction by Larkin Weyand

Straight from the Tube

Paige walks through the halls toward her choir class and realizes she has never understood two things about the world: popular culture or love. She doesn’t understand the meteoric rise of the half-talents that fill the airwaves on the radio and the screen on the television and the subsequent magazines, posters, and tee shirts their doctored mugs cover. When she misses a question on a test (this happens rarely) or just exercises poor judgment in life, like the time she bought a new pair of pants with vertical stripes and wore her jacket with the horizontal stripes, she calls it a Britneyoops, I did it again. She makes smoldering clever little comments like this but no one ever laughs. There must be something she just doesn’t understand. She’s never had a boyfriend. Maybe she’s the Britney. No one ever seems to want to warm themselves at her fire. Her bright, hot-like-the-sun fire.

She thought things would change after tenth grade when she forced her parents, despite their lack of money, to let her quit Latrobe High (a public school) and enroll her at the ever-regal Christian Prep. (a private school). Too many times she’d been made fun of for her appreciation of obscurities like bluegrass music (Kids at Latrobe High, if given a list of choices, would be as likely to select dulcimer as Denver as the capital of Colorado.) or her knowledge of ancient Egypt (She knows some Latrobe High Warriors who considered King Tut to be a part of the female anatomy.). She made efforts to fit in at Latrobe, but on her devastatingly sarcastic terms. In art class, she drew a picture of Spike Lee arm in arm with a member of the KKK. In her history class, she made a poster of Hitler lighting a candelabra. These scrofulous drawings only made her more of an alien from her classmates. Paige was labeled a racist. She had only wanted to be labeled funny, but she gets it now. She’s not a racist, just a collector of wisdom. Still, Paige longs for someone she could really talk to. She dreams about finding a boyfriend and not just any boyfriend, a Fauvist boyfriend. She enters the choir class and looks for Kirk Evans.

He’s not there. With the rest of the students, Paige plods through the hour.

Paige knows there are precious few males on the planet that could qualify as her Fauvist boyfriend and Kirk is one of them. Fauvism (Paige loves isms) comes from the French word fauves which literally translates to mean “wild beasts” or in other words, wild beastism. Paige adores the idea of living what she calls the Wild Beast Life Plan and hopes someday to author a book by that title. What she doesn’t adore, and thus the reason for the life plan, is that maybe she’ll live her entire life and be nothing more than a cultural document. She worries over her reluctant sips of popular culture. She doesn’t want her life to be held up as an example of a trend or a time period based on her choices concerning her clothes or her hair or her music. She thinks stylish is the worst thing she could ever be because, truly, if a person is stylish, they have no style.

As they begin singing, Paige decides upon a goal. She aspires to be a Fauvist painting, art for art’s sake. In a perfect world, she’d find a boyfriend just like that: art for art’s sake. A wild beast, but nice. She thinks of Matisse’s famous painting of his wife: the one with the arbitrary green line running down the middle of her face. The green line doesn’t symbolize anything. The green line is for Matisse and the mood he wanted to create for himself. The color exists for the composition. It is spontaneous. It is expression. Put down the color. No preconceived plan. Alter all the colors already there in your life. Bring attention to yourself as a picture. Who cares about fitting into the inexorable march of history? Just transcend all of that. Be your own color, straight from the tube.

But that’s all a dream—she knows she’s destined for spinsterhood or a job at the public library, or, she cringes, she’ll be a spinster and a librarian. Even if she did find a nice wild beast of a boy that liked her, would she have the guts to be a wild beast herself?

“Most mellifluous,” says Mrs. Chambers. “Again please.”

Kernels of music pop from the piano again and Christian Prep’s Chamber Choir scuttles through their lyrics; Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match.”

Kirk Evans, wearing a tangy-looking raccoon coat, hops out of formation (He is here! How did Paige miss him?) and spins crazy eights on his toes, accentuating each turn as if an invisible grappling hook is cinched around his waist and yanking violently every second measure. Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match . . .YANK. Find me a find, catch me a catch . . . YANK. The result is a measured dance full of torque. A couple more of these swivel-spins and he’s going to break something. Paige cringes at the possibility of his splintered bone toppling out of his punctured flesh. She’d run to him then and maybe that would be a way for things to work out. There’s always hope. Despite her fears, she nibbles on sacrosanct chuckles as do all the others. Kirk’s belligerence is adorable.

No one is singing now but the piano keeps going. They’re clapping too. Kirk’s crazy eights have devolved him to half his normal height doing prisyadkas (squat kicks) and even a couple coffee grinders (one leg circles the leg remaining in a squat position). Tiring, he falls back onto both hands and crawls with his belly to the sky—looking very much like a crippled spider. He’s chanting imaginary Russian:

Ba Ba-Babushka!!

Comrades unite!

I got green at Chernobyl

Get up! Let’s fight!

With that the pyrotechnics of exhaustion raze him to the floor in a heap. He is mobbed by his classmates. The room is full of cackling.

“Mr. Evans, our paragon” says Mrs. Chambers over the riffraff. She eyes the clock. A couple minutes left. Only Paige hears her say, “We’ll pick it up there next time.”

Paige follows Mrs. Chambers to her office on the side of the room as do a couple other girls. It is a cavern full of notes on pages. Paige knows that if this was a movie, like the end of one of those ethereal high school romances, she wouldn’t be standing here; she’d be sliding through the crowd of chuckleheads out there until she found Kirk Evans. Then she’d let him take her in his arms, and accept his perfect kiss.

Before letting the fantasy pulverize her to self-pity, she says, “So how are you Mrs. Chambers?”

“Well after that performance, I feel rather sublime Mrs. Dowling—like a square of carpet in a parquet floor. And you?”

“Really well,” Paige lies.

“It may please you to know that you are the subject of someone’s Matchmaker Essay.” Ahh, the Matchmaker Essay, thinks Paige—the most bizarre assignment she’d ever completed for Choir. Despite Mrs. Chamber’s displeasure, Christian Prep had adopted a new writing program where every class, even Chamber Choir, had to assign persuasive writing. Since they were singing the music of Fiddler on the Roof, Mrs. Chambers decided to make her students go home and ask their parents, “If you were to arrange a marriage for me right now, who would you choose as my mate and why?” Then the kids had to write an essay arguing for or against the wisdom of their parent’s selection.

Paige tasted bile at the back of her throat. “Was it Kirk?” This of course, would be a dream. Kirk is everything she could ever want—funny, good grades, handsome.

Mrs. Chambers coughs into her polyurethaned hand. “I can’t really remember right now honey. It might have been. Why would you think it was him? I mean besides everyone being in love with him?”

By the time Paige realizes that she has paused too long, she has paused too long. She is blushing. Hot under the arms. Little dribbles of sweat. “I baby-sit for him.”

“My my Ms. Dowling. You baby-sit him? How scrumptious.”

“I mean I baby-sit his little brothers and sisters. In fact, I’m baby-sitting there tonight.” Paige wiggles her eyebrows and grins like a lucky soul. Then, wanting to dispose of any admission of her crush on Kirk she raises her hand to the Benedict eyebrows and rubs them.

Mrs. Chambers collapses into her padded chair and a flotsam of stuffing particles shoot into the air like confetti. She discusses the need for the school to hire an upholsterer, then launches into a diatribe on the difficulty of finding good babysitters—especially ones of Paige’s experience (Paige is 17) willing to accept the 12-year-old rate. “Teachers deserve a night on the town too, but getting a baby-sitter and going out is so much money.”

“They pay me $5 an hour Mrs. Chambers. I’m practically their maid though. I clean their house. I even do the laundry.”

This last statement is an incantation morphing Mrs. Chambers down a notch from her prototypical urbane to just urban. The world weirdly turns to Channel Inner-City. Mrs. Chambers, sixtyish, refined by jewelry, jostles her head and trunk like a buoy on high seas, and says, “No, they didn’t girlfriend. I don’t think so.” She wags her finger. “They did not hire some nearly adult woman like you for five dollars an hour to watch their kids and clean their house. You are not no maid!”

“I pretty much am though.”

One of Mrs. Chambers’ paltry hands seizes Paige by the wrist. “Do you ever find yourself in the hall here at school; see Kirk, and say, ‘I washed that shirt’?”

“And ironed it. Yeah, that happens like all the time.”

Mrs. Chambers holds a hand to the pearls on her neck and sucks in a lewd breath. “Do they make you wash his underwear?”

Paige does not want to answer this question. She can feel the gazes of Mrs. Chambers and all the girls within earshot tucking her in like a bedspread, softening her up for a pillow-talk confession (has she done something wrong?), but then thankfully, the bell sounds.

“Bye,” says Paige.

She turns to leave, but the doorway is blocked. It is blocked by Kirk Evans. “Paige,” he says. Then he barks like a dog. “I’ve got two tickets to the Demolition Derby at the Apex tonight.” He holds up the two tickets before him like a fan. “I was thinking we could dress up in wife-beaters, tight jeans, and eat nachos. You with me. Are you free?”

The world falls away, and yes Paige knows she can do it. She jumps into his arms and kisses him hard, like a wild beast.  

BIO:  Larkin Weyand recently won the Reader's Choice Award on funnydisasterstories.com. He received an MFA in Creative Writing (2003) from the University of Maryland. He works as a teacher at American Fork High School and as an adjunct at Utah Valley State College. He lives with his wife and four children by the freeway in Utah.