Concept: The Puritans

WARNING: The following post contains sexual situations and references to drug use. If you find such things offensive, then it’s best to skip this post. Otherwise, thank you for reading.

CONCEPT: A British couple relocates to suburbia in the deep South in the U.S. where the clash of cultures leads to an identity crisis within the community exposing long-running rifts and a vein of deep-seated hypocrisy that threaten to tear the small community apart.  

Stephen Cummings peeked through the blinds of his front window onto his unsavory brown lawn. The bright sunlight forced him into a squint as he peered out beyond his mailbox to the houses across the street in his uninspiring cul-de-sac. He hated the sameness of his neighborhood. He hated how all the houses were only slight modifications of the same insipid design. Brick facades featured only slight color variations in the largely red-brick community. Tepid colors adorned the bowed siding that wrapped around each of the mass-produced homes. The brown lawn, a byproduct of the winter season, made it all uglier, disgusting even. He sighed. He still did not like his new neighborhood. He missed the charm of his former neighborhood in New England.

Even the mailboxes were the same, completely devoid of character. Faux iron poles with cheap aluminum boxes painted a shiny black stood like ornate chess pieces at the foot of every driveway. His neighbor across the street took a particular liking to his mailbox, often cleaning and shining it like some participation trophy he’d been given for moving to the neighborhood. Stephen shot a look across the street. The Willards’ blinds were all open as if Tom Willard were inviting everyone to see into his perfect home. On such a bright day, he could see through the front windows and out the back of their house. He couldn’t see any movement. Nothing exciting ever happened there.

Stephen smirked. He didn’t like Tom Willard, either. That pretentious, self-righteous son-of-a-bitch grated on his nerves from the very moment he introduced himself one day as Stephen bent over to retrieve his newspaper from the curb. Tom had a cheesy, bushy mustache with a chubby dad sartorial style and a overly-strong handshake that suggested he tried too hard to get respect. When he spoke spittle flew with reckless abandon, and he often smacked between words, which drove Stephen mad.

The crystal blue sky that adorned this particular morning gave an illusion of warmth in the brisk, cold winter day, but Stephen didn’t care. He spied his newspaper on the curb and seeing that the sidewalks were abandoned, he ventured out of his front door in his bathrobe and slippers. He just wanted to get his paper and get back to the kitchen and read it while he drank his coffee and waited for the others to get up.

A cold breeze wafted up his robe and stung his balls. He shivered and pulled the robe tighter around his naked body as he hurried down the drive and back up to the house. On the way back, his robe caught the side mirror of one of the cars parked in his driveway and tore it away for a moment exposing his largely hairless chest and part of the grove of pubic hair above his penis. He quickly untangled the robe and clasped it shut swiveling his head around to see if anyone was watching. He exhaled indignation. He didn’t want to give his sanctimonious neighbors yet another reason to complain.

He hurried past the other car keeping his robe tight to his body with one hand, and as he closed his front door, he glanced out across the dead lawn one more time just to make sure none of his neighbors were chronicling his brief misadventure. They seemed to always have something to say about what he did in his own home. The sun winked at him knowingly and glistened in his eyes in spite of the bitter cold.

He adjusted his robe in the foyer, tightening the cord around his waist. He walked through the main room as quietly as he could, but he heard a snort and, then, a groan. He paused and looked at one of the two sofas that formed a right angle in the room. One of his guests, Bridget, lay on her back still asleep. The blanket that covered her had shifted exposing one of her breasts. Her husband, Sam, slept soundly on the sofa perpendicular to her. Stephen considered her for a moment and then continued to his kitchen.

After he filled his mug with coffee, he sat at the breakfast table on the other side of the kitchen against a wall of partially-closed blinds and opened up the paper. He still had an affinity for newspapers despite the fact that the news was readily available online. He loved the smell of the paper, the smudging ink, and the sense of accomplishment when he made it through each of the sections. He’d tried the online version, but it seemed infinite. He like the finite nature of a physical paper, and he felt smarter reading an actual paper, a prominent indication that he was an informed person.

He had made it through the front section and part way through the sports section before his wife, Rainey, traipsed into the kitchen. As usual, she wore nothing. He eyed her above the paper as he took a sip of his coffee. Never a morning person, she looked like she was sleepwalking.

“Good morning,” he said. He kept is voice low to avoid waking Bridget or Sam.

She paused for a moment, turning her squinted eyes toward him. “Good morning.” Her low voice was raspy and rough. She grabbed a mug from the cupboard and poured herself some coffee.

“How’d you sleep?”

“Like a baby.”

“Fun night.”

Her eyes opened wide for the first time. “Oh yes.” She gave him a mischievous smile as she sat down in the chair beside him. He put the paper down and admired his wife before he leaned in to give her a kiss. Her dark, red hair hung down her shoulders and teased her breasts. He looked at the bright red hair between her legs and smiled at her before he leaned back into his chair and resumed reading his paper.

“Did you already eat?” she asked after a few minutes.

“Not yet. Waiting for everyone else.”

“I’m famished.”

“Do you want me to make some pancakes?”

“That sounds wonderful.”

“Should we wait until everyone gets up?”

“Once they smell those cakes on the griddle they’ll get up.”

Stephen smiled as he put the paper back down. He wondered if his cooking was really that good or if Rainey simply liked the fact that he cooked and she didn’t. He could never be sure.

“Alright, loads of pancakes coming up.”

“Yay!” she said in a hushed voice. She remained seated nursing her coffee as Stephen began moving about the kitchen to prepare breakfast. He tried to be as quiet as possible, but after a few minutes Bridget walked into the kitchen with the blanket wrapped around her shoulders. Like Rainey, she looked terribly exhausted.

“Good morning,” she mumbled.

“Good morning. Did we wake you?” Stephen asked, genuinely concerned.

She managed a smile. “No, I had to pee.”

“Good morning,” Rainey said as she stood up with her cup. “Do you want some coffee?”

“Most definitely,” Bridget replied.

Rainey pulled another cup down from the shelf and filled both hers and Bridget’s with the hot brew. She walked over to Bridget and handed her the coffee. Bridget cradled it in her hands and inhaled the sweet aroma.

“You look chipper this morning,” she said, smiling as she looked Rainey up and down.

“Thank you,” Rainey replied as she leaned in and kissed Bridget on the lips. “That was fun last night.”

Bridget’s smile widened, “I’m still exhausted.”

Stephen let out a subdued laugh as he turned back to the griddle on the counter. “Both of you were phenomenal.”

“Why thank you, Mr. Cummings,” Bridget said in a mock British accent.

Everyone tried to mimic Stephen’s and Rainey’s accents, but they largely failed at it in his opinion. When he and Rainey had lived in Massachusetts, the Yankees were better at it, but since they had moved down South, the locals seemed to have no idea how to enunciate in a proper British accent. He had largely rid his vocabulary of British words that raised questioning looks from Americans to avoid the mockery, but he had not lost his accent or even tried to lose it. Americans typically trusted him more when they heard him speak. It was only after they got to know him that the doubts crept in.

The aroma of the batter filled his nostrils as he poured it onto the griddle. The oil crackled and spat at him as the eight circles slowly moved from runny to solid. He flipped them once and waited patiently for them to cook. Rainey talked to Bridget behind him.

“We should start waking the others. I don’t want the pancakes to get cold,” he said to no one in particular.

“Okay,” Rainey replied. She turned to Bridget. “I know how to get Sam up.” Bridget laughed.

Stephen turned as his wife walked out of sight into the main room. He chuckled to himself. Bridget had shrugged the blanket off and sat at the table drinking her coffee. He returned his attention to the griddle flipping the pancakes once more before he moved them to the plate and poured more batter onto the crackling surface.

After he had a pile of pancakes on the plate he carried them over to the table by Bridget. She smiled and said thank you as he straightened up and looked for his wife in the main room. He could hear Sam moaning, but couldn’t see him for the back of the sofa. A crescendo of groans peaked and stopped as Rainey stood up from the sofa. She licked her lips and wiped the back of her hand across her mouth.

“There you go,” she said.

“That felt great,” Sam’s disembodied voice said.

Sam’s hand reached up and grabbed one of Rainey’s breasts. She slapped it away. “That’s all for now. Time to eat,” she said as she walked away.

“That’s what I’m trying to do,” Sam laughed. He sat up and looked into the kitchen. “Stephen, you’re cooking already?”

“Yes, we’re having pancakes. Won’t you join us?”

Sam hopped up, still naked, and walked toward the kitchen just as Stephen walked back to the griddle. He looked Sam up and down, pulled a towel from the counter, and draped it on his still-erect penis. “Might want to holster that cowboy.” He laughed as he walked to the counter.

Sam smirked and walked away. He returned to the kitchen dressed in his jeans and a t-shirt and joined them at the breakfast table. He eyed Rainey as he sat down next to his wife. He forked some pancakes onto his plate and began eating with the rest of them.

“Rob and Betsy up yet?” Sam asked after he had a couple of bites.

“I haven’t checked on them,” Stephen replied. He had almost finished his two pancakes.

“Probably still hungover,” Bridget interjected.

“I bet. Fucking Rob snorted half my stash last night.”

The table fell silent for a brief moment as everyone looked at each other. Stephen swallowed his last bite. “You shouldn’t have brought that stuff over here,” Stephen said.

“Why not?” Sam asked.

“We’re not into drugs,” Stephen replied.

Sam’s face dropped as it morphed into a look of incredulity. “We fuck each other like animals and you’re not into cocaine?” He laughed at his own observation. “Come on, it helps us relax and get into the mood.” He flipped his hand toward Bridget to include her in his reasoning.

Stephen paused and took a breath before he responded. He and Rainey had reluctantly included Sam and Bridget into their parties only because Bridget was so attractive to both of them. Sam was something of a wild card, unpredictable and selfish, but he was part of the package, for better or worse.

“All I’m asking is that you don’t bring it here. Do it at home before you come here if that helps,” Stephen replied calmly.

Sam looked at Stephen and Rainey. Then, he looked at his wife for support. She offered none. “Fine. If we’re going to invite the Pastor again, then I’d rather keep it to myself anyway.”

As if on cue, Pastor Rob Davis and his homely wife Betsy walked into the kitchen. Stephen jumped up. “Rob, Betsy, can I interest you in some pancakes?” He picked up his own plate and carried it to the sink to make room for the couple. Both of them moved slowly. Rob winced at Stephen’s words like he had shouted at them.

“Thanks, Stephen, but I think we’re going to have to go. We feel terrible and I have a sermon to deliver tomorrow,” Rob said, his voice croaking. He stroked his forehead as if to emphasize the pain. He leaned forward a little as if he might vomit at any moment. Betsy didn’t look any better. When Rainey stood up at the table, Rob noticed her nakedness and turned away. Betsy did the same.

“Do you mind if we go now, Sam?” Rob said without looking toward the breakfast table.

“Right now?” Sam asked.

“Yes, please.”

Sam seemed agitated as he looked Rainey up and down. He rolled his eyes at Bridget, and she gave him a meager, pleading smile.

“Okay,” Sam sighed. He took one more bite of the pancakes on his plate and stood up. He flipped his napkin on top of the food. “Bridget needs to get dressed.”

Bridget grabbed the blanket and wrapped it around her shoulders before she disappeared into the main room behind Rob and Betsy.

“Did you enjoy the evening?” Stephen asked the anxious couple trying to shush away the awkwardness that had settled across the room.

Rob looked at him as if Stephen had spoken in a foreign language. Then, it seemed the question registered. “Uh, yeah. It was…fun.” Stephen watched him grab Betsy’s hand and squeeze it.

Bridget dressed quickly as Sam put on his shoes at the breakfast table near Rainey. Stephen walked over to the coat closet and retrieved the visitors’ coats and hats. All four bundled up quickly without many words among them. Sam and Bridget kissed Rainey goodbye. Sam shook Stephen’s hand before Bridget gave him a peck on the lips. Stephen and Rainey gave the Davises a wave as all four moved toward the door.

Before he opened the door, Rob turned back to Stephen. “Hey, Stephen, do you know if Willard is home now?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t see him when I got the newspaper this morning.”

“Don’t worry, Rob, he won’t recognize you in that hat,” Sam laughed.

Rob grunted his annoyance. “Tom doesn’t miss a thing. If he sees me leaving here this morning, there’s no telling what he will start saying.”

“Just tell him you were here to save Stephen and Rainey,” Sam retorted. Both Sam and Bridget laughed, but no one else did. Rob quickly opened the door and the two couples hurried to Sam’s car. Rob and Betsy slumped down in the back seat as if some paparazzi had their cameras trained on them. Stephen could see Sam’s lips moving rapidly as he backed out of the driveway almost knocking down the terrible mailbox. Stephen shut the door before the car pulled away and exhaled a sense of relief.

Rainey approached him as he stood in the foyer. “I’m going to shower. Care to join me?” She didn’t wait for an answer but turned and walked up the stairs. He watched for a moment before he darted up the stairs after his wife.

Concept: My Father’s Daughter

As I stood in the elevator alone and watched the doors close in front of me, my heart sank. I felt my heartbeat throbbing in my throat. A weakness in my knees threatened to topple me to the floor of the elevator as it rose five stories. I feared what I would see. I didn’t want to believe it was true, and I thought, just for a moment, that if I turned around and left the hospital, refusing to see it, that it wouldn’t be true, that my father wouldn’t be lying in some hospital bed clinging to what remained of his life.

Each floor ticked off with a light chime that seemed too cheery for this place, a little ding that you might hear on an annoying child’s toy. I watched the tiny screen above the buttons change as I rode higher. My chest felt constricted and became more so as I saw three, four, and then, five appear on the monochrome display. The car came to a soft stop, and the doors hesitated for a moment before they slid open revealing another set of elevator doors across the hall and a small sofa with green plants on either side at the end of the space with the six metal doors.

I stared at the empty sofa for a moment when I stepped off the elevator. It seemed to be an odd place to put a sofa, and the plants, although lively, didn’t really make this space any brighter.Three long windows sat high above the sofa and drew light into what would have been a dark and lonely space. I could see the blue sky through the windows, brightened by the warm fall day that I had been enjoying just hours ago. Things can change so quickly.

I turned right and stepped from the plush carpet of the elevator area and onto the matte tile lining a long hallway that ran the length of the rectangular building. To my left, under the glaring, unkind fluorescent lights, I saw nurses and doctors gliding across the hall, moving from one door to another and disappearing and reappearing like actors exiting and entering the stage in some macabre play, their chatter calm and indecipherable from where I stood. None of them noticed me watching them even though I stared for a good minute or two without moving.

To my right, a waiting room had been wedged into the corner at the end of the hall. Unlike the antiseptic pathway leading to the patient rooms, this area evoked the warmth and welcome of a mountain lodge. Faux wood paneling covered the ceiling. The walls were painted a soft yellow color. Plush, tan sofas matching the fabric of the one behind me stood back to back in even lines along the walls and down the middle of the room. At the other end of the room was a fire place with a soft flame licking the gas logs behind thick glass.

Only one person sat in the waiting room – an old man whose head lolled to the side on his chest as he napped on the sofa. I could only see his profile from where I stood, but I could feel his exhaustion. It emanated from him like the heat from the fire on the other side of him. He wore a red and black checked flannel shirt and had the sleeves rolled up to his forearms, which rested on his prodigious gut as he slept. His skin was pale and spotty, and his thinning white hair clung to a reddened scalp that looked as if it had been freshly sunburned. He wore faded jeans and black tennis shoes with Velcro fasteners. He reminded me of my maternal grandfather from many years ago, and I tried to smile at the memory, but I wasn’t in the mood for smiling.

“Can I help you?” a sweet, feminine voice said to me.

At first, it startled me, but as I swung my head around from the waiting area to the space in front of me, I realized that I had completely missed the reception desk that stood at the entrance to the elevators. I didn’t think anyone was there when I first arrived, or else I would have noticed her.

I looked at the young lady before me. She couldn’t have been more than 20 years old. I felt sorry for her, stuck here all day among the old and infirm and death. I was at least twice her age, and I didn’t think I could handle it if I were her.

“I’m here for Charles Parsons,” I said mechanically. I felt like I had been reciting that line repeatedly for a long time, and maybe I had. Maybe that’s what my mind worked on as I made the anxious drive over. Maybe a part of me had taken over from the part that was shattered to ensure that I could function somewhat.

“Are you family?”

“I’m his daughter.”

She gave me a look of pity, something she probably did many times every day, and peered into a computer screen I could not see beneath the counter in front of her. She wore glasses, and I could see the reflection of the bright screen in her lenses. I watched the screen flicker as she pecked and pointed until she arrived at an answer.

“He’s in 514.” She stood up from behind the counter and leaned toward me. She pointed down the hall with her right arm. “Go about half way down this hall, and the room should be on the left.”

I looked down the hall and squinted as if I were trying to see the door leading to room 514. My knees felt like they were going to buckle. My legs wobbled, while my feet refused to move at first. Somewhere deep inside me, I found the will to take that first step and I shuffled down the hall. I could feel the young lady’s eyes on me. I felt subconscious about it and tried to look normal; although, inside, I felt nothing like normal.

Each door had a number on the left side of its frame near eye level. I could see the tiny dots of Braille beneath the large printed letters, and a part of me wanted to stop and feel those tiny dots on my fingertips. I needed something to distract me from what I was about to see. Anything really. Even something I did not understand was preferable to what waited for me in Room 514.

I slowed my pace. Doctors and nurses whizzed by me. Some nodded and smiled, but most just went about their business like seeing me in the midst of their sullen ballet was perfectly normal. I could still feel my heart beating in my chest. I felt weaker, and I wondered if any of the doctors or nurses realized what was going on with me, if they would suddenly stop and ask if I was okay. I was not okay.

I stopped at one door – 512 – and took a deep breath. I listened carefully, trying to determine what was going on next door, but I could hear nothing other than the steps in the hall around me and the occasional beep or wheeze of a machine. I swallowed hard and stepped over to the next room. I took one more deep breath before I opened the door.

The moment I opened the door, a fearful image struck me – my father laying unconscious on a partially inclined hospital bed with all types of wires crossing his body. A mask with a tube connected to one of the machines covered his face. The whir and beeping of the machines sucked the life out of the room. I could barely detect the rise and fall of his chest under the blanket that covered him. His arms lay by his side over the top of the blanket, but wires and tubes attached to his skin like leeches sucking the remaining life from his body.

No one else was in the room. I moved to a chair next to the bed and fell into it. He didn’t fidget or acknowledge my presence. A wave of sorrow and fear struck me as I leaned onto the bed and put my hand in his, but it felt cold and lifeless, unresponsive. I could no longer hold back. I buried my head into the space next to our hands and cried.

I thought I heard a nurse or doctor enter the room, so I leaned up to see who was there, but by the time I wiped the tears from my eyes to see clearly, I was staring at an empty space. I looked back at the door, but it appeared to be just as I had left it with barely an inch of light creeping into the dim room from the hallway. I wiped my face with the sleeve of my shirt and turned back to my father.

He looked terrible. He had been mostly healthy after he retired and had retained much of the gusto and good spirits that had characterized him his entire life, but now, he looked all of his 75 years – worn and feeble. His skin looked loose on his large frame, and even his big hands looked frail. I wasn’t used to seeing my father as someone who was weak. It didn’t fit him, and I didn’t like it. I desperately wanted the strong man I had loved all of my life back.

I spoke to him. My voice sounded uncertain and mousy like I was a ten-year-old girl meeting him for the first time. He still didn’t move, nor did his eyes flicker to give any indication that he knew I was there. I wished my mother were still alive. She would handle this better than me; she’d tell me what to do, and I would do it. I needed that right now. I didn’t want to be the only person my father had left.

I leaned back toward his hand and kissed it. The skin on his hand felt slippery and unnatural on my lips. More tears rolled down my cheeks and blurred my vision. I felt lost and hopeless. I wiped the tears away but more came.

The door creaked behind me. The light from the hallway briefly brightened the room before a shadow stretched across the wall in front of me. I turned to see who had entered. A woman, older than me, stood in the door way, hesitating as if she had opened the wrong door. She stared at me a moment as I absorbed the whole of her. She wore loose sweatpants and a nylon jacket with a bright pink stripe that ran along her arms and over her shoulders. Her hair, stringy and rather unkempt, hung loosely above her collar. She had thick glasses and wore a lot of makeup despite her rather casual dress. Something in her eyes seemed familiar, but I couldn’t quite place where or if I had seen her before.

She stepped forward and pushed the door shut behind her but did not allow it to close all the way. “Kate?” she asked.

I struggled with recall but managed to mumble, “Yes…” I couldn’t determine if I should know this woman or not.

A half smile, somewhat pained, crossed her face. She paused for a moment as if she were waiting for me to recognize her. I stared at her intently searching my memory for those large eyes and that round face, but nothing came to me.

“It’s Tina,” she said as if her name alone were enough. She grew impatient. “Your step-sister.”

She had barely spit the words from her mouth when I finally recognized who she was. Calling me her step-sister was a stretch at most. I hadn’t seen her since my father’s 50th birthday party, and even that was a memory I had chosen to forget. We were never sisters of any kind. She was the only child from my father’s first marriage, which had ended acrimoniously when he had met my mother. My father, despite his best efforts, was not part of her life, and she slowly faded from his until she became like that unsavory relative that no one spoke of.

“Tina…how did you know he was in the hospital?”

“Ma told me.”

“How did she know?”

“They got back together.”

Her words seemed indecipherable at first and then unbelievable. My father hated his first wife. He never told me so himself, but I had overheard many of my parents’ conversations when I was growing up, enough to know that the wretched woman was an unholy burden on him. I knew immediately that she was lying to me. He would never go back to her.

Before I could refute her words, Tina moved to the other side of the bed and took my father’s other hand. She ignored me and looked at him as if she had been a part of his life all along. She had this adoring look on her face – both sad and admiring.

I wanted to stand up and slap her hand away from his. She had no right to be here. She had done nothing but cause trouble for my father from the moment she was born. She had purposefully tried to break up my parents – and failed at that – and I didn’t want her to have any part in his life now for my sake and for my late mother’s sake.

She started talking to him in a low, whiny voice and it grated on my nerves. I stood to ask her to leave, but then, my father startled in the bed and his eyes fluttered. My attention went straight to him and for a brief respite I forgot all about Tina even though she was standing two feet away from me. My surging anger shifted to hope, hope that my father would be alright and that he’d send Tina back to whatever hole she had crawled out of.