Little Curtis, Part 1

The genesis of Little Curtis. Department of Social Services, please ignore the comment that my friend makes, that suggests she will marinate her baby in whiskey.

This was a snarky comment I wrote on a social network in response to my friend Jessie. It turned into a favorite serial of mine.

“Momma! Momma!”
“What is it, hon?”
“Come quick, momma! Somethin’ on the Facebooks!”
She entered the room, wiping her hard hands on her threadbare apron, weary and bedraggled. What was Curtis up to now, when he should be shucking corn for supper. She looked around. He was nowhere near his shucking tub, instead, she found him in front of the computer, staring gape-mouthed at the thing.
“Look, momma!” he said, not turning around, perched on the edge of the rickety Windsor chair, the one they didn’t trust for company anymore.
She could see he was covered in cornsilk, head-to-toe. At least that was something. At least he had started. She and Joe had argued for hours- well, maybe not argued, but certainly debated, hotly- about whether or not to get the darn thing, the computer. In the end Joe had won out, but then they realized there was nothing on the internets but time-wastin’ and dirty business. Most of the time little Curtis spent on the darn thing was with one of them peering over his shoulder, just shaking their heads when he cackled over some “Lawlcat” or such.
“Momma, a pretty lady done gone crazy on the Facebooks!”
What was this? She peered down and looked closer. Her eyesight wasn’t what it used to be, since the fire at the mill. A hard year, that was.
“Momma, they’re fightin’ in front of everyone on the Facebooks!”
Peering closer, she finally saw who he was talking about: two people, a man and a woman, engaged in a conversation of words, posted for everyone to see. She read slowly, the only was she could, sounding the words out carefully, not letting Little Curtis hear, lest she have to explain that no, his momma could not read as well as she should, but she’d be damned is he grew up with out a decent education. At least there was that.
The man in the conversation was handsome, that much she could tell from his, oh what did they call it? His “Profile Picture”. Rugged and brave-looking, his head thrown back in a laugh, and a light, scraggly beard on his face…agreeable enough, she thought, lingering on his face a little too long. Why, if she was just a few years younger, with Joe out of the picture…She shook her head, clearing it. Now for the woman.
She looked closer. The woman looked pretty enough, with kind eyes, but upon closer, but difficult inspection (damn that mill fire! she thought briefly), she thought she saw a certain- mania?- behind those kind eyes. Yes, yes, she was certain now, this woman was mad. Madness personified, p’raps…there was a hardness behind her kind countenance that came only with the loss of sanity. She had seen that look before, once, when she traveled up to the city to visit her distant cousin Dot in the sanitarium. Dot seemed well enough, but then started talking, and revealed herself to be the madwoman that this woman clearly appeared to be.
She read the dialogue between them. The woman started making logical, cogent points, but then lettered her “letter C” points twice…Betty sighed. Hope this woman didn’t have a family. Or, God forbid, if she did, she hoped they loved her enough to get her help. To love her, despite her raving lunacy.
Betty stood straight, and then instantly regretted it, holding the small of her back with a flour-covered hand.
“Come on, Curtis, back to shuckin’, mister.”
“Aw, mom…” he started, but silenced when she gave him a sharp look. He wasn’t a bad child this one, nossir. He sulked back to the shuckin’ tub and got back to work.
Betty went back to the kitchen, rolling out the dough, looking out the kitchen window at the setting sun. Joe would be home soon. She had a good life, despite the hard spots…you could always rub those out, rub them out like a sore muscle. She liked her life. And unlike the madwoman, what was her name, Jessie? A boy’s name, that was. Unlike the lunatic let loose on the Internet, Betty had her sanity.
At least there was that.

Continue to Little Curtis Part 2

6 thoughts on “Little Curtis, Part 1”

    1. The man paused where the sidewalk met the path up to the large, cream-stucco building. What, he thought to himself, am I doing here? He shifted uncomfortably, the flowers damp in his hand. They were gerbera daisies: not Jessie’s favorite, but they were all the grocery store around the corner had. The grey-suited man squared his shoulders, took a deep breath, and walked up the path to the santarium.

      It had been a long, hard road for Jessie. Some said it was the Mill Fire that had done her in. Some said it was having her second child that finally unhinged her already fragile psyche…whatever the cause, she deserved better than this. Mike had been there at the end, of one of his regular East Coast visits, when Jessie went to the grocery store. They had been shopping with a group of friends, when Jessie had gone into a seeming trance, rocking back and forth holding a box of Boca burgers, a thin rivulet of spittle slowly diving from her mouth. Mike and the two other friends shared a startled look, eyes wide with concern. When Jessie had finally snapped out of it, she dismissed their worried questions with a wave of her hand: “Oh, that was just one of my spells I’ve been having.” Now, in retrospect, it was something far more sinister: it had been the beginning of the end.

      Mike signed in at the front desk of the sanitarium and nodded at the receptionist, who gave his flowers an arch look with one raised eyebrow. When she buzzed him in to the hallway, he saw why. Gerber daisies lined the hallway all the way to the end of the corridor, the plastic vases adhered to each door. Plastic, he mused, not glass. Never glass. It appeared that the grocery store around the corner did tidy business with their flower department, if the hallway was any indication. The suited man remembered suddenly what he’s learned on an earlier visit: that even the flowers could be used as deadly weapons in the right hands.

      The orderly, padding ahead of Mike in white, Velcro-ed shoes with rubber soles, paused in front of the door and took out an enormous keyring. While he fumbled with them, Mike unexpectedly thought of That Day, the name he gave the horrible day everything crumbled for Jessie. That day in the courtroom, when the court order was handed down. When the thin string holding Jessie’s sanity had finally snapped. It was a dreary, rainy day, and the courtroom smelled like wet dogs and bad decisions. The judge handed the ruling down while Ed and the two children sat stony-faced at the other table across from Jessie. He hadn’t thought of it since then, but Mike had surreptitiously swiped Ed’s phone off his chair, opened his Facebook application, and typed Ed’s status as “poopin’ hard” before Ed even noticed the phone was gone. Probably not the best timing, but Mike couldn’t let such an opportunity pass. Strange, Mike thought while the heavy metal door to Jessie’s cell- er, room, finally swung open, but Ed had never mentioned the incident.

      Jessie crouched in the corner in her filthy straightjacket, rocking back and forth and muttering to herself, “Bugs bugs bugs…”. Mike rolled his eyes: what a cliche.

      “Jessie” he called. No reaction. “JESSIE!” This time louder, more forcefully. She stopped rocking and whispering, and her eyes seemed to clear for a moment. She appeared to be struggling to focus on him, but was on the verge of lucidity. He nodded with his head at the flowers in his hand, looking at the attendant. The attendant considered it for a moment, then nodded. Mike approached Jessie slowly, almost timidly, the one hand outstretched, the other open wide to show that there was no threat, nothing to fear. Suddenly Jessie exploded out of her crouch long anough to snatch the flowers out of Mike’s hand and retreated back to the corner. Startled, the attendant swiftly unholstered his stun-gun from his side, but it wasn’t necessary: Jessie was now fixated on the flowers.

      Mike looked at her: maybe she wasn’t so far gone. Maybe there was hope. There was always hope, right? Jessie broke her gaze with the flowers and stared straight at Mike. They held this for a full minute. Then slowly, almost imperceptibly, Jessie lowered her face down to the flowers. This is it, thought Mike, Come back to us Jessie. Jessie’s face finally reached the flowers, but instead of smelling them, she opened her mouth wide and stuffed the heads of the flowers into her mouth. While the attendant called for help, and Mike became crestfallen, Jessie let out first a mewl of satisfaction, and then a primitive shriek of pure abandon, crushed petals of the gerbera daisies falling out of her mouth.

      She was never coming back, Mike thought as he beat a hasty retreat back to his car.

      Maybe she had never been sane to begin with.

      1. I. Will. Kill. You. (and, btw, it’s not very comforting knowing you’re even less of a compassionate friend during my fictional moment of need.)

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