Kodachrome: A Novel By Douglas T. Robinson Chapter 2
Serialized Novel Chapter 2
Gil hated outdoor work - any manual labor for that matter, but loved the summer sunshine and warmth. He despised cutting grass, bagging grass - anything to do with grass. The bummer of it was lawn work or delivering newspapers was the only way a kid could make money. Cutting his own lawn – ugh. A perfectionist, his father inspected each and every lawn mowing job as if doing a once-over of a barracks. For now, on a cool otherwise wonderful August morning with the sun shining, his face felt as if it had been lit on fire. Among many things including penicillin, grapefruit, peanuts, and red Kool-Aid, Gil was allergic to grass – specifically cut grass. And it felt like he’d buried his head in a beehive.
“Wipe your feet” his mother yelled from the living room. She heard Horace coming in the rear storm door.
Gil knew Danny Boy’s phone number by heart, but Roger’s escaped him. He opened the phone book and leafed through the yellow pages to find a listing for the Chop Suey House. Like a lot of Chinese families, their restaurant was their life; they opened early at 6 am and closed down late around midnight. Family would take turns manning the kitchen, the front desk, waiting and bussing tables. He tried the home phone number; several rings and no answer.
“Hello, yes. This is Gil Jarvik – I am a friend of Roger’s, is he there?”
“Is this take-out?” a heavily- accented voice asked on the other end of the phone.
“Oh ok, you wanna Roger. Hold. Be right back.”
“Hello,” Roger said into the receiver as he stretched trying to reach the top of the high desk.
“Hey man, it’s Gil. Are you still able to come over to my house today? I got the basement all set up for the film. You have your recorder and everything?”
Roger looked at his father. The restaurant was just starting to bustle with activity. The lunch crowd would soon be in, and Mr. Lee’s face, while always smiling, turned to the serious; his brow wrinkled over the thought of having to leave the kitchen at this time of day. Roger thought, just maybe, he could get a ride over to Gil’s place. If his father couldn’t get away, one of the delivery guys might. “Let me check Gil – hold on.” Roger laid the phone down. The Lee family, with the exception of Roger and his sister Lin, had a functional command of English and often relied on Roger to act as interpreter. Gil could hear noise and commotion – funny-sounding voices, foreign, and plates clanking in the background.
“Ok, I got a ride. What’s your address again?”
“327 Hillview,” Gil answered, as he doodled on a message pad next to the phone. “Hey do you have the recorder with you?”
“Oh yeah – I left it and the boom in my dad’s van. I’ll get it out before I come over. One of the drivers said he would drop me off at your house. Is Danny going to be there?”
“He’s supposed to be. I’m going to give him a call when I hang up with you. Ok, cool beans, man. See you later.” Gil hung up the phone then called Danny Boy.
Danny answered on the second ring. “Hey man, you still coming over at ten? I just talked to Roger – he’s getting a ride over to my place, and he’s bringing the tape recorder – hey bring your camera too - with film,” Gil asked, as he fumbled around the kitchen counter top looking for his red notebook.
“Yeah, I’ll be there. I’m bringing the white lab coat too. Have you got a dress shirt to put on under it? We’re going to do some real filming today?” Danny Boy asked, tearing open the yellow foil wrapper on the cartridge of Kodachrome then inserting it into the camera. “I am bringing over the lights too.”
Out in front of the house on Hillview, Gil heard the squeaky brakes of the Chop Suey House delivery van. He opened the front door with a push of his foot; it always stuck. He walked onto the porch. Sitting in the passenger seat, Roger’s head barely reached above the top of the door panel. The driver, an older retired man in rumpled clothing with an unlit cigar in his mouth, exited the driver’s side, walked around the front of the idling van, and opened the passenger door, then the side panel door.
“Here ya go Roger, “the old man said, handing the boy a short fishing pole with a wire taped to the side leading to a cassette recorder.
“Thanks Mr. Tom – hey if you can, let mom and dad know on the CB that I got here ok and that I’ll call in later to get a ride back to the store.” Rattling down the hill, the Chinese food delivery van left in a puff of blue, oily smoke.
“Hey man,” Roger yelled to Gil as he manhandled the cumbersome sound boom aka modified fishing pole and cassette recorder up the hill. His hair, black and shiny, glistened in the late morning sun. A trail of cooking grease and garlic followed him from the restaurant.
“Danny’s on his way over too,” Gil said, as he walked down the front steps to give Roger a hand.
Up the hill, Danny Boy rode his 10- speed Columbia; it was shifted into tenth; his legs turned furiously to make it up the steep incline. An army surplus ruck sack strapped to his back carried the camera, lab coat, and light, but just barely.
“You really ought to live on a steeper hill, Gil fucker,” he joked, breathless, “this chain slips whenever I ride up this God damn hill of yours.”
“Yeah, but look how easy the ride is on the way home – you don’t even have to peddle!” Gil joked. “Ok, you got the camera, light, and lab coat, right?”
“It’s all in the bag, “Danny Boy said, pointing to the bulging, khaki green army surplus bag on his back.
“Horace, HORACE – if you go down in that basement, don’t leave it a mess,” yelled Glenda Jarvik, as she squirted hair dye onto her roots. Glenda was in the downstairs bathroom off the kitchen performing her monthly touch-up.
Walking down the basement stairs was tricky on narrow wooden steps and near total darkness. “Watch that next-to-last-step from the bottom Roger – it kicks out on you,” Gil said matter-of-factly. It was the descent into a dungeon. Along the back wall, an old Maytag washer and dryer combo sat silent. Gil remembered the not-so-distant-past when he would wake to the sound of the washer filling and be rocked by the rhythmic beat of the dryer drum turning clothes dry to sleep. His mom had been a servant to the home, an indentured servant, or that’s what she claimed in a few drama queen arguments with her husband. Over the years and with the turning of her hair, her external order turned inward, and the house, while not dirty, was messy and disordered, and clothes stacked up on the basement floor.
“What’s that?” Roger yelled, pointing toward a chest in the opposite corner of the room. It resembled a treasure chest, but the only gold inside was the slightly rusted, brass strap acting as a lock that secured the top lid to the bottom.
Gil laughed. “Ok,” he said in a quiet voice holding his index finger up to his lips, “that is my dad’s fuck box.”
Roger giggled. “Fuck box, what the hell are you talking about?” He spoke just above a whisper.
“Open it,” Gil insisted. Danny Boy’s eyes rolled as he had been through this routine a dozen or more times with Gil before.
“Wow,” Roger’s eye lit up. Don’s box was full of Oui and Hustler magazines.
“He used to have a bunch of Playboys, but he sold them to some guy who owned a used book store,” Gil added. “Ok, put them back the way you found them, and let’s get started.”
“Why did you want me to bring my movie light – don’t you have one, the one you got from your uncle?” Danny Boy asked unpacking his ruck sack.
“Well yeah, the one bulb that was still working finally burned out. I asked my old man how much they cost. He told me if they are Photoflood lights, I am looking at about $12.00 to replace it, and I ain’t got $12.00 extra right now.”
“Dang – that is a lot of money for a freakin’ bulb!” Danny Boy plugged the light bar into the swinging chain lamp and switched it on. Instantly the dungeon was illuminated in a harsh, white light that chased the shadows from the walls. Dust burned off the bulb creating a thin stream of smoke, and Danny thought he saw a mouse scurry to a dark corner of the room.
“Ok, damn – turn that thing off for now,” Gil said, “Jesus, I got these orange spots in front of my eyes. Danny, where’s Roger?”
In all the commotion, Roger had made his way back to Don Jarvik’s fuck chest and was paging though the back issues. “Dude – get over here! Frickin’ walkin’ around with a boner and shit. If my dad finds out we were in that chest, he’ll thrash the shit out of me.” Of course that was a lie – Don had never laid a hand on Gil, but Roger didn’t need to know, and Don Jarvik didn’t need to know Gil had discovered his secret chest.
“Check, check, “Roger repeated as he listened through a tan-colored earpiece – the kind that came in the box with a transistor radio. His Westinghouse recorder had a plug jack for an earpiece as well as a variable recording volume button.
“Ok, so does it work?” Danny Boy asked.
“Perfectly,” Roger answered, straining to hold the boom up. The recorder was slung around his neck on a black leather strap.
Gil had slipped into his best Sunday dress shirt. Snug, but it would work – particularly with the deli coat over top of it. “How does this look guys?” he asked. Danny Boy switched on the movie light. The white of his lab coat reflected most of the light and washed out the image.
“It’s too much light – need to bounce it off the ceiling – it’s too harsh,” Danny Boy cried, as he switched the light off.
“Ok, off the ceiling – we got that part fixed – at least we know there’ll be enough light.” Gil walked over to the table, opened a cloth bag – the kind with metal clasps that ladies often have, “I borrowed some eyebrow pencil from my mom. I tried it the other night – it’s perfect for making lines on the skin. I figure after Jekyll drinks the potion we can stop the camera and move in for a closer shot – each time the camera moves closer with the cut, we’ll darken the lines on my face – put dark circles under my eyes. I think it will look cool on film.”
“Well ok, now that we are recording sound, are you planning on saying anything?” Danny Boy asked blowing smoking dust from the bulb.
“Well, the problem is we can’t synch up the dialogue, so I figure if we get grunts and groans from me on the recorder it will add some drama to the scene. Maybe later we can record some spooky music in with it. At least that’s my idea.” Gil walked over to the other side of the laboratory table and mimicked the clutching of his throat when Jekyll drinks the potion. “We can stop the camera about here the first time, “he said, “then again here as I slowly fall toward the ground.”
“Who the hell is directing this thing?” Roger asked.
A moment of silence. Both Gil and Danny Boy looked at each other and shrugged shoulders. “I guess maybe we’re all directing it – I mean it’s thirty seconds or less of film – don’t need a director, “Gil said.
“You know what you want to do, “Roger added, “but we don’t know what’s in your head – did you write any of this down?”
Gil’s red notebook was on top his dad’s chest. “Yeah, I made notes and all, but it’s not a talking film Roger!” Gil’s tone went sour and snarky.
“Ok, well I am here to record whatever, but I am just saying it might be easier to film if you had it all worked out ahead of time – you know, like storyboarded.” Roger pulled the earpiece out of the recorder and switched it from pause to off.
“Let’s just do this,” Gil said as he straightened the lapels on his lab coat. “Ok, the first shot is me taking the test tube from the Bunsen burner. That will last a few seconds. Then we can stop the camera, and you can move in for a close-up of my face as I am getting ready to drink the potion. Then we’ll stop the camera again and pull back to a medium shot while I grab my throat. Then let’s stop it again and come in for a close-up of me, but tilt the camera – will add to the effect. Then we can stop again, put some eyebrow make-up on the folds around my mouth, under my eyes, etc., and take it from there. Does anyone object?” Gil felt a little like a prosecuting attorney strategizing, drawing war plans for a big case.
“I’m good, “Roger answered plugging the earpiece back into the jack and switching the recorder back to pause.
“Me too,” Danny Boy added.
The boys took their places. Danny Boy switched the light on and bounced it off the dingy ceiling above, and it was almost perfect. Danny manned the camera. There was this great rush when he pulled back on the trigger and the whir of the motor and the fast click of the shutter filled his ears. Gil walked slowly behind the lab table, in character, and gazed intently at the bubbling potion over the burner. Hesitating a moment, he picked up the test tube and brought it cautiously to his mouth and took a sip. “And ok, cut,” he yelled, “now let’s move the camera in a little, and if you can Danny Boy, zoom in on my face.”
“Can do,” Danny replied, feeling like the studio-boy lackey on a B-movie set.
Stepping several feet in toward Gil, Danny Boy pulled back on the trigger.
“And cut!” Gil walked off camera to grab the eyebrow pencil from the cloth bag, “Roger, come over here and draw some lines on my face – there in the folds and under my eyes – kind of light at first -we can darken it up on the next cut.” Roger drew in the lines as Gil had requested and darkened Gil’s eyebrows making them fuller, more menacing – a trick he had learned in the comic books illustrations. And everyone returned to their places. “And action,” Gil cried.
With another pull of the trigger, the camera whirred. Danny Boy tilted the camera close to Gil’s face, and Roger stood by with his boom just off camera. Gil began to gurgle and writhe as his body slowly made it to the floor. Gil wanted to ask, are you guys getting this? But he needed to stay in character. “And cut.”
“Ok Roger, this should be the last shot. Come over and highlight the lines on my face even more – make certain the areas under my eyes are really dark.”
The boys retook their places. Danny Boy blew more dust off his movie light. The trigger pulls, Dr. Jekyll falls to the floor. He is writhing in agony. His death rattle is coming through loud and clear in Roger’s earpiece. “And cut. Ok guys, I think we got it. What do you think?” Gil asked as he searched at arms’ length for a towel to wipe the make-up off his face.
“Damn man, that was good, “Roger’s eyes opened wide with surprise – everything went off as planned. And that never happens, he thought.
“Yeah, damn good!, “Danny Boy added, “I got to believe the light was right and that this will come out once we get it back from the developer.”
“Oh it will,” Gil said confidently, “now can you guys help me clean up the basement, put this stuff away?”
“Uh Gil, I think I have to go back to the shop – can I use your phone?” Roger asked.
“You’ve got a few minutes to help me get this shit back in order – I don’t want to listen to my dad bitch if it isn’t straightened up.”
The boys went to work. The lab table was once again stowed away for a holiday dinner that may never come, his dad’s chemistry set was neatly packed with each tube and chemical bottle in its proper place, and the deli coat was crisply folded for return to Flo’s work. There wasn’t a trace that anything had ever happened in the basement. With the packing away of the movie light, the dungeon, again, became the dark and scary place of his memories.
“Gil, can I use your phone? I have to call my dad at the shop and see if one of the drivers can pick me up,” Roger asked as he climbed the narrow basement stairs to the kitchen landing.
“Sure, the phone’s in there, “Gil pointed toward the back kitchen wall.
“Gil, Gil,” Roger said in a whisper, “I think there’s something wrong with your mom – she’s in the living room kind of slumped over in the chair.”
“Horace, are those boys done in here?” Glenda asked. Her voice called from the living room, and her words were slurred.
“Roger, just call and get outside. Danny Boy, uh, listen I will talk to you tomorrow – you guys better leave.”
Roger made a quick call to the store. His mother answered and dispatched a driver to 327 Hillview to pick him up.
Glenda sat slumped in the chair with a half-smoked cigarette burning down to nothing in the ashtray. A glass was tipped over and its contents had run out and stained the brown-shag carpet.
“Are you ready for MY close-up Horace, do I look pretty to you?”
“Mom, please don’t.”
There was a frosted bottle of Gibley’s in the cupboard above the sink. She liked vodka - it had little to no odor, and no one could smell it on her breath. Or so she assumed. It was innocent giggles, she claimed. And she didn’t drink every day – that would mean she had a “problem” or worse yet, that she was an alcoholic. But the drinking came in mini binges without God damn reasons. One day it might be something she saw on television, the next a moment of introspection, evaluation of her life and how life was somehow cheating her. Don ignored it mostly and found reasons, after TV news and the newspaper, to go out for the evening. He was no boy scout, and some said he was quite the wolf in town. He skipped out for a few drinks – that was no big secret. But his carousing fueled her insecurity. And that lead to more trips to the cupboard. Two months since her last scene, and Gil had convinced himself she was getting better.
“Mom, listen. Stand up - try to walk this off before Dad gets home. Do you want me to make you some coffee? I don’t know how to use the machine, but show me – I will make you some.”
“Dance with me Horace. Your dad never dances with me,” she said as she waved her arms in a wild arc as if directing an orchestra or puffing up some phantom veil.
“Why do you do this to yourself – you’re drunk!” he yelled. Rage welled up in him, and he bought back the tears. He wanted to strike out at her.
“I am NOT drunk, “she insisted, “I am just tipsy – there’s a big difference you know.” Glenda tripped over a book lying next to her chair, and Gil caught her fall. “There, see… you are in my arms already just like when you were little. Do you remember dancing with me when you were little? I would hum that sweet song to you, Smoke Gets in your Eyes, and back then, you weren’t embarrassed of your ole mom. I was your world Horace, and you told me you loved me.”
Gil’s heart raced; he could feel the throb of his pulse in his neck. Every word she spoke brought back horrible memories of times like this, and an ache from the belly rose to his chest and throat. “Mom, come on – please, “he begged, wrestling her back down into the chair, “you have to get right before dad gets home.”
“You’re right Horace, you’re right honey. Go on in the kitchen and make me a cup of instant – there’s hot water on the stove. You know, I was going to make tea earlier.” Glenda’s head fell into her hands.
* * *
“What do you think is going on in there?” Roger asked, looking over the crest of the hill then back to the closed porch door behind; the delivery van should arrive any minute. Roger had never seen a drunk in the flesh – no one in his family drank. There was the occasion in January around Chinese New Year when the family would all gather around, all wearing red, and drink a toast to the coming year with a glass of rice wine, but that was the sum total of his experience with alcohol.
“His mom gets like that some times. Not a lot, but yeah – it embarrasses the shit out of Gil, Roger – don’t say anything to him about it. He’ll call me up tonight and act like nothing happened. He keeps it all in.” Danny Boy stayed on the side of the hill waiting with Roger for the delivery van. “I don’t feel like riding home – do you think the driver could drop me off at my house? It’s pretty close,” Danny Boy asked.
“We’ll see – I’ll ask him if he can fit your bike in the there. Crap! I left my recorder in the basement.”
“Don’t go back right now and get it Roger – it’s not going anywhere,” Danny suggested.
Squeaky breaks at the bottom of the hill always gave the delivery van away.
“There he is – let me see if he can fit your bike in.” Roger walked around to the driver’s side. Mr. Tom rolled down his window.
“Hey Roger Dodger – you ready to go back to the shop?” Tom patted Roger’s head then ruffled up his hair.
“Can you fit Danny’s bike in the van? He doesn’t want to ride home.”
“Sure, we’ll make her fit – you boys hop in front.” Empty cigarette packs littered the dashboard, and a half-smoked cigar set balanced on the edge of the ashtray.
Mr. Tom hefted Dana’s bicycle into the side door, secured the latch then tightened his seatbelt as he shifted it out of park. The CB radio squawked.
“Mr. Tom, you gotta Roger now?” asked a distinctly oriental voice, barely intelligible unless you were used to hearing it over the static and hiss of a radio.
“Mr. Lee, yeah – I just picked him up, over. I am bringing him back to the store after I drop his friend off at home.”
* * *
“Glenda, I’m home – what’s for dinner?” Don Jarvik came in the back door, sat down, slipped his work boots off, and put his house shoes on.
“Glenda? Glenda where are you?”
“Hey dad, mom’s not feeling very well – says she has a migraine. Her stomach is upset, her head hurts. She wanted me to tell you she’s lying down for a while then will make dinner.”
“Well I guess you and me can find something in the fridge to tide us over,” Don said, placing his hand on his son’s shoulder. “Uh I noticed you cut the grass today. You are going to need to cut it again tomorrow.”
Horace looked at his father, puzzled. “Why do I need to cut it again tomorrow?”
“Well let’s see, “he said, holding his finger to his chin like some damn philosopher, “you didn’t cut around the perimeter of the garage wall. Come out here with me – let me show you what I mean.” Don held the kitchen door for his son. “See look,” Don pointed his finger at uneven strands of grass next to the garage wall, “this really isn’t a very good job, is it? I mean Horace, one thing you are going to have to realize in life is this: life will do a good job of kicking you in the nuts if you don’t do it right the first time. What is it I always told you?”
“Keep it high and tight, dad.”
“High and tight, outstanding. You gave it a little effort, and that’s worth something, but half-assing it isn’t going to fly now or later in life, boy. First thing tomorrow morning, I want you to go out and trim around the garage – if you have to use a pair of shears, that’s ok – just do it right. Now come back in and we’ll grab something to eat.”
Don went to the fridge and pulled out a half-drunken carton of milk. “Horace, grab the Post Toasties out of the cupboard. Not exactly steak, but it will do. You eat light every once and a while, and you’ll get rid of that flab around your mid-section.” Don slapped his son’s belly and smiled.
They both sat eating breakfast cereal at the kitchen counter. Dark paneling clad the kitchen walls and most of the downstairs, and it was perpetually night in the home. Horace leaned back on the metal stool and stared off into some other world while chewing his cereal. Don stood and got his pack of Chesterfields from his work jacket, lit one, inhaled deeply, and blew smoke toward the ceiling. The ceiling fan quickly dispersed it into a blue haze. “I think I’m going to run out for a couple hours tonight, Horace. You let your mom know since she’s asleep.” His eyes glanced sideways for a reaction from his son. None. Straightening the bristles out on his flattop brush and splashing Old Spice on his face, Don spruced himself up in the bathroom off the kitchen.
“What time you be back dad?”
“Oh here in a couple of hours – just going down to have a beer or two - be sure and let your mom know.” Don Jarvik took a clean white shirt from a clothes hanger perched on a cupboard drawer knob and slipped it and a pair of black dress shoes on. “How do I look Horace?” he asked.
“You look great dad,” Gil answered, without really bothering to look.
Horace dreaded knocking on his mom’s bedroom door and telling his mom his dad had stepped out for the evening. She was surely beginning to sober up, but she would be weepy and clingy – that was his biggest fear. At eleven years old, he didn’t know how to be a parent. Horace knocked on the door.
“Who is it?”
“It’s me, mom. Can I come in?”
“Sure honey, come right on in.” Her words ran less together now but were still slurred.
One leg under a sheet and the other draped over the edge, his mother lay sprawled out on the bed with the blinds drawn. A plume of smoke rose above her head, and an ashtray balanced on her stomach.
“Where’s your father?” she asked.
“Oh he and I got something to eat real quick, and then he went out for a few,” he answered.
“So you mean he went to go screw one of his tramps, is that what you mean Horace?” Glenda snapped her neck toward him and sat up in bed.
“Mom, I am telling you what he told me – he’s going out for a couple of beers and will be back after bit.”
“Well did he say where he was going?“ she asked as she crushed out a cigarette into the ashtray. Gil noticed her right hand was trembling.
“You know as much as I do mom. Mom, get some rest – watch your cigarette in bed,” he added, quietly shutting the door.
“Horace, Horace,” his mom called; her voice was muffled behind the heavy oak door. “Come back in here, honey.”
“Come here and give me a kiss Horace,” she said, motioning with her other hand. The room smelled like ladies’ strong perfume and cigarette smoke.
“Mom, no. Let me tuck you in.” Gil pulled up the cotton sheets and tucked them in under his mom’s sides.
“Oh baby boy, just one kiss for your mommy.” She rocked her head on the pillow toward the door. Horace bent down and kissed her cheek.
“I’ll check on you later mom,” Horace shut her door.
© 2017 Doug Robinson