Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dirty Rotten Goody Two Shoes (Fiction)

The apartment Isabelle and her mom shared stood adjacent to the wash. The riverbanks were cement, and the collected water didn’t flow much of the time, sitting stagnant between rains. We’re talking filthy water littered with Styrofoam take-out containers, beer bottles, pop cans, discarded cardboard boxes, and used diapers. When she looked out her bedroom window, she saw the dismal wash, and beyond that row after row of ugly stucco apartment buildings that resembled the very building she stood in.

Isabelle had something to look forward to. Boys had moved into Apt #25, four doors down. Susan from Apt #17 told Isabelle there were three brothers in the Kelly family. One of them was named Patrick, and he’d invited Susan to drop by around noon. Susan said she’d bring Isabelle.

It seemed necessary to pretend that she didn’t want to tag along. Said Isabelle, casually, after hearing the news, “Why should we go over there?”

“They’re cute—that’s why! Plus, they have some pot.”

“Pot?” Isabelle was only thirteen. Susan was three years older.

“You know, marijuana, Stupid!”

“How old is Patrick?” At this point in the conversation Isabelle began to scribble on her notebook cover. Susan’s scrutiny made it impossible to act cool.

“Pat’s fourteen. He’s got a little brother named Mickey, and a big brother named Ian. I have a crush on Ian. Wait till you see him, he looks just like Elvis.”


“Yeah, Elvis. You know I’m crazy about Elvis.”

Isabelle liked to listen to The Beatles, or Joni Mitchell. Her mom listened to Elvis. Elvis wasn't in style.

Patrick greeted them, pushing the little brother out the door just as he led the girls inside. Isabelle saw that Patrick had blue eyes and jet-black hair. A lethal combination, she’d read that in Seventeen Magazine. Another boy sat on the edge of the ratty sofa, his skinny legs were busy bouncing up and down fiercely.

Susan said, “Patrick, this is Isabelle.”

Patrick smiled at Isabelle, she didn't want to seem easy but couldn't help but smile back. “That’s Joe,” Patrick said, pointing to his friend.

Joe nodded and his frizzy gold mop bobbed in response. His cheeks were covered in sore-looking pimples.

Another boy came barreling down the stairs. It was obvious that he was related to Patrick and Mickey. The older brother walked to the middle of the room and considered Susan and Isabelle momentarily before asking, “What’re you clowns up too?”

“Gonna watch a little TV, I guess,” Patrick said.

Susan said, “Hi Ian. I’m Susan, and this is Isabelle.”

Ian turned his back on Susan, and he didn’t even consider Isabelle. “Listen Pat,” he called over his shoulder as he headed towards the kitchen, “Dad’ll be back at two you know. At two.”

“He told you that?” Patrick followed his brother into the kitchen.

They were in the kitchen arguing, and Isabelle had one of her “sick” feelings. “I got to go,” she told Susan.

Susan grabbed her by the arm, “What the fuck?”

“I got to,” Isabelle said.

“Fine,” Susan let go of her but stood her ground. “Be that way. See if I care.”

Isabelle scrambled past Susan and right out of that apartment. At home, she locked all the doors, ran upstairs, and plopped on her bed. Surrounded by ruffles and lace she thought about those boys, the strange smelling apartment, Joe’s zits, Patrick’s dark eyelashes, the way Ian ignored her, and she didn’t regret leaving one little bit. What had she been thinking? There was no way she was ready to smoke pot. No way she was ready to be alone in some smelly apartment with stoned boys. No way. 

Susan could behave recklessly if she wanted. Isabelle’s mom often said that Susan was trouble. But Isabelle’s mom didn’t have any idea just how bad Susan could be. Her mom didn’t know that Susan hitch-hiked all over town, smoked Camel cigarettes, stole a wristwatch from one of the ladies she babysat for, sniffed glue twice, almost went all the way under the bleachers at a football game, beat up a girl in P.E. class for calling her a whore, tried to kill herself once by dropping ten aspirins in a bottle of Coke one night when her mother was out on the town, becoming super sick after drinking it all down she barfed all over her brand new bedspread. Susan wouldn’t be satisfied until she tried everything and Isabelle feared how far trying everything would take her friend.

By the end of the week Isabelle and Susan were hanging out together, listening to records in Patrick's bedroom most weekday mornings before school, after Isabelle’s mother left for work. One morning Mr. Kelly was nowhere to be seen. Susan still had a crush on Ian, but he always ignored her. Patrick shared a bedroom with Mickey. Mickey liked to bug them but he was cute, seems he was turning into a juvenile delinquent. Patrick said he’d become a terror, ever since their mother had run off to Florida with another man. “He’s only nine,” Patrick said. “She broke his heart.”

“Did your mother break your heart too,” Isabelle asked.

Patrick stuck his Marlboro butt into his Pepsi can. “That bitch can't hurt me.”

It was so obvious that Susan wasn’t listening to a word they were saying, she asked, “Isn’t Ian going to school today?”

“Who knows,” Patrick said. “Probably not.”

“Won’t your dad get mad?”

“Naw, he don’t give a shit if we skip school or not.”

Things were heating up in the Kelly household. Patrick told Isabelle that his father had a new girlfriend, and he was thinking of moving into her house out in Victorville, she had a built-in swimming pool. Ian said he wouldn’t go if they moved. Patrick wasn’t happy about his father’s announcement either, pool or no pool. He didn’t want to live in the fucking desert. And Mickey had gotten into big trouble after dropping a tab of acid that he'd stolen from Ian and wreaking havoc at the playground at the elementary school. Isabelle feared that they would move. It seemed that every family in the building was fractured. Someday her Mom was going to buy a house, she was saving up. Isabelle was pretty sure that Patrick was working up the nerve to kiss her, but if he moved she’d never see him again. “Has he felt you up yet,” Susan asked. Susan could be so stinking nosey.

Isabelle and her mom went away for the weekend. Her aunt had gotten a bonus from work so she rented a couple of motel rooms at the beach. They splurged on new bikinis. They roasted hot dogs and marshmallows in the fire at night while the wind blew sand that stuck to their food, flew up their nostrils, and clung to their scalps.

After returning home Sunday night, Isabelle took a long hot shower, washed her hair three times to get all the sand out, and turned in early. After school on Monday she knocked on Susan’s door. No answer. Isabelle figured that Susan might be hanging out at Patrick’s. She strolled over, rang the doorbell, and wouldn’t you know it, crabby old Ian answered. “What the hell do you want?” he snapped.

“Is Susan here?” Isabelle asked, feeling insecure. Why was he giving her such a dirty look? God, he was such an angry sort. If looks could kill, she’d have keeled right over.

“No, your fat ass friend isn’t here.”

Isabelle frowned. “Is Pat here?”

“Nobody’s here, you dirty rotten goody two shoes!”

“Oh, all right then,” she said, taking a step backwards. Isabelle turned away. Before she even left the stoop—it happened. Ian’s motorcycle boot hit her tailbone—hard. She flew forward, pitched straight over the sidewalk and onto a small patch of brown grass, breaking her fall with her knees and hands instinctively. The door slammed and she managed to get to her feet. Looking around, she saw nobody. Why, he'd kicked her in the butt, out in plain sight, and not a witness! She spotted Ian peeking through the curtain at the plate glass window. He held up his middle finger for her to see. What had she ever done to him, anyway? Why did he hate her so?

Safe at home, she began to cry. She cried and she cried and she cried. Something pretty and good inside her had been snuffed out instantly. Ian had brandished power over Isabelle for no good reason. And she vowed not tell a soul about what he’d done. How could she?

The Kelly’s moved out the next day. Off to Victorville. Ian had taken Isabelle’s innocence away in one swift move with a pointless cruel act that had changed Isabelle forever. She was glad to see those Kelly’s go.

All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley.


Cloudia said...


momcat said...

Damaged children damaging other children.

Kim said...

WOW! Your writing is so fantastic! I'd be interested to know where this was set. It sounds like Arizona? We used to live in Tucson and had washes.

Your characters are so real and heartbreaking.

Elizabeth Bradley said...

Kim--the setting is North Hollywoodish. The San Fernando Valley, land of apartment building after apartment building. Disfunctional family after disfunctional family.

lakeviewer said...

More, please. Very typical fare in those apartments anywhere in Southern California. The teens' personalities are captured with clarity and telling details.

Lover of Life said...

This was amazing writing, Elizabeth! You have a way of making desperation come alive.

Sniffles and Smiles said...

What a story!!! I'm so sorry for Isabelle...what a tough spot she's in...and I wholly sympathize with her at the conclusion of the story...I'm glad she's free of those boys as well...you lead us so skillfully through this mine-field of teenage interaction...Obviously, I had a moment, and thought I'd stop by...Thanks~Janine

The Things We Carried said...

Oh, I can't bear it, heartbreaking. Well done!

cw2smom said...

Wow! Great writing and a story that I can relate to as a child growing up in Los Angeles and Orange Counties...in one of those dysfunctional families. I could have been Isabelle! Love this! Thanks!