For the next couple of weeks, before getting back to editing Exile Issues, I’m going to be writing a bunch of relatively little stories/essays/passages/whatnot. Which means that the blog will be relatively lively for a little while.
This is something of a character sketch that is going to show up in my next big project, The Clean Hippie Murders. I started this as a reaction to some e-mails that I received, and realized how nicely Heather would play off one of the main characters there.
It’s a longish piece, about 1,600 words, so I’m splitting it in two parts.
Heather knew her mother would find out, even though she never expected it.
The dispute was politics. Heather had begun to notice them instead of boys three years prior, at the age of 13. Her mother, still “Mrs. Dupont” despite the divorce, was initially delighted by this. If her daughter took more pleasure in reading and watchng the news than she did in going out with boys, where she would engage in… well, she didn’t know, precisely, but young people these days do vague and terrifying things that might include drugs and sex of some sort in an attempt to flush their virtue down the toilet. Politics was so much more wholesome.
It took Mrs. Dupont about three months to realize that Heather fell on the wrong side.
Always a shy and, frankly, unconfident girl, Heather didn’t even volunteer her opinions at first. But Mrs. Dupont noticed the books she was reading, and as an interested parent, began asking her daughter about them. Even these direct questions failed to draw much from Heather at first: little more than vague statements in support of “freedom” or “equality.”
The first definitive evidence of Heather’s turn to darkness was in the hubbub surrounding “that awful book,” as Mrs. Dupont called it. She was attending what promised to be a heated board meeting to try to have it removed from the school library, and sensing that this was one of those rare bonding opportunities that were so hard with those monsters known as teenagers, invited Heather to come with.
Mrs. Dupont beamed with a special mix of pride and amazement when Heather took the microphone; she loved her daughter and recognized her many talents, but it never crossed her mind that Heather speaking in public like this was a remote possibility.
And then she declared that not only had she read the book (Rainbow Party, which Mrs. Dupont knew from her many discussions with other concerned parents to be filth), but that it was a cautionary tale and should be read and discussed by girls her age!
“I’ve Lost My Daughter” burned across the top of the newspaper the next day, with a huge, anguished photo of Mrs. Dupont underneath, and a much smaller picture of an eight-year-old Heather inset. This unique mother-daughter dynamic provided most of the ink for the accompanying article, in which the 38 of the nearly 1,100 words was “betrayal.”
As happens on occasion, the headline overstated the situation somewhat; Mrs. Dupont was not going to give up Heather’s morality without a fight. She began something of an education campaign, making perfectly reasoned arguments about the evils of communism and Clinton and abortion and taxes at what she considered perfectly reasonable decibel levels at the time.
At first, the girl wouldn’t engage at all. Then she tried debating respectfully. Mrs. Dupont always felt these discussions ended well; she would raise her voice, just a bit, to clarify how wrong-headed, stupid, and fraudulent Heather’s information was, and Heather would retire from the debate.
In only one of these debates did Heather ever become angry. It was three months after the school board meeting, and the topic was medical marijuana. Heather could never say why it was that topic that set her off; her opinions on the topic weren’t that strong. It was probably the stress of her first real finals week combined with the three months of regular “teachings” that did it.
In any event, when Mrs. Dupont was inspired by a news report to explain just how intensely those hippie dope smokers needed to be sent to Iraq, Heather snapped. She screamed for four hours straight, never knowing what precisely she was saying. She saw her anger close in around her, smothering. It was a dark purple, and smoky, and yelling was the only way she could breathe through it. Her mother must have participated in the debate at some point, but Heather wasn’t aware of anyone else in the room.
Sometime after eleven that night Heather ran down. She could suddenly see again; none of the furniture was smashed. She was panting and sweaty and her legs were trembling and one more word would grind her throat like sandpaper.
Heather looked at her mother, preparing herself for whatever horrors might emerge from her mouth.
Mrs. Dupont simply waved Heather over to the couch, hugged her, and declared, brightly: “You don’t believe that.”
To be continued.