Elegy - Cover


Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 4

Healing my relationship with my mom has been a top priority lately, so I’ve been swinging by her place more often, trying to squeeze in some quality time. She worked so hard, jumping between her two jobs, that I decided to surprise her with a dinner better than boxed mac and cheese or ramen. I was expecting to grab something from Weaver Square, a plaza with a bunch of restaurants and fast food places that mostly catered to cars on the highway headed between Ashville and Virginia. Chef had other plans, handing me a bag with a couple of burgers and fries to go, which Vinney had made while I was training.

“You didn’t have to do that,” I told Chef, genuinely touched by his gesture, as he handed me the bag.

“Your mother works too hard to eat some nasty fast food. This is better. Go, or you’re going to be late. I’ll see you in a few hours.”

I knew better than to argue, so I just nodded, gave him a bow, and said, “Thanks.”

When I got to Mom’s trailer, her car was already parked outside. I bounded up the steps and swung open the door, finding her at the stove, about to tear into a package of ramen, with steam swirling up from the pot.

“Hey, I told you I was bringing food,” I playfully scolded.

“I know. I was just thinking I could make some ramen too, just in case.”

“Well don’t. I have the food right here. Chef made you a burger just the way you like it, with the avocado on it and everything. How you eat that I’ll never know. He also sent fries and they’re still hot.”

“Umm, sure. Okay,” she agreed, but there was something off in her voice.

“Everything okay?” I asked, concern creeping in.

As she turned, I caught a glimpse of her red, puffy eyes; it looked like she’d been crying.

“I’m fine. Let’s eat,” she said, sniffling and grabbing the bag of food from me.

“Are you sure?” I pressed, not convinced.

“Yes. Get some glasses of tea for us. I just made a jug of it last night.”

I grabbed the old milk jug she used for the tea and a couple of glasses, setting them on the table. She made this great sweet tea with cinnamon sticks and enough sugar to put a dentist’s kids through college. It was a guilty pleasure of mine, despite Hanna nearly choking on it the one time I shared it with her.

“How was your week?” she asked, likely trying to keep me from asking her anything else.

“Good. We had baseball tryouts, and I did pretty well. I think I’ll make varsity again this year.”

“That’s great, honey. I’m glad you’re doing baseball again. I know you get a lot of exercise with Chef, but participating in a team sport is really good for you.”

She continued asking questions about school, Sydney, and the band, but her questions felt robotic. Her mind wasn’t on our conversation, and it was obvious she was upset about something. I noticed that she was gripping her hands tightly, almost pulling on her fingers, a telltale sign of her nerves.

I took a bite of my burger and tried a different approach.

“Do you remember that time I tried to make fries in the Winnebago?” I picked up a fry, holding it out as an example.

Despite her mood, her eyes sparkled as a laugh escaped. “Oh God, yes. You thought you could just cut a potato into strips and put them in that little microwave.”

“It had those preset buttons for popcorn, potatoes, water, and stuff. I thought, hey, this is a potato.”

“Yeah, but that was for baking a potato. Your little strips turned into mush. Half of them got mashed into the tray when you were trying to pull them out.”

“I was so confused why they didn’t turn into fries.”

“I think you missed the reason they’re called fries,” she chuckled softly.

“I was seven. What did I know?”

“True. Man, your father was so mad. I remember he...” Her voice trailed off as she looked down at her burger. “That was a long time ago.”

I’d forgotten how that story ended. Dad had been furious when he got back and started to beat the crap out of me. Mom had intervened, and he’d beaten her up instead. I’d only tried it because I was starving. Dad had gone out to get us dinner but ended up at a bar drinking. Mom had left to see if she could get something from the convenience store down the street with the few bucks Dad had missed when he’d left. The potato was all shriveled, a leftover from the last groceries we’d gotten weeks before. I’d found it pushed to the back of a cupboard.

“Mom, what’s wrong? Don’t tell me you’re fine, because it’s obvious you’re not.”

“It’s nothing, Charlie. You have school, your show tonight, and your baseball to worry about. You don’t need to deal with any of this.”

“Mom, we’ve talked about this. We can’t make this work if you’re trying to protect me and take on everything by yourself. When we decided to fix things between us, I said the one thing I didn’t want was for you to keep sweeping everything under the rug. We’re going to do this as a team, or it isn’t going to work.”

Her eyes misted up as she said, “You’ve grown up into a good man, Charlie. I’m really proud of you.”

I couldn’t help but feel a lump in my throat, but I also knew she was dodging the subject.

“I appreciate that, but you’re changing the subject. Something clearly happened since we talked last night. What’s going on?”

She wiped a tear from her eye and said, “It’s just hard sometimes, you know?”

“I do, which is why we have to lean on each other, and not try to take on the world by ourselves. What’s going on?”

She hesitated, opening and closing her mouth a few times, struggling to find the words. I didn’t keep pressing. It had to be something about Dad. He was the only one who could affect her like this. With everyone else, she was usually so strong and independent.

After a few minutes, I gently said, “Mom. Just tell me. Let’s do this together.”

“Your father called from jail.”

My heart sank. I’d expected something like that, but it still hit me like a punch in the gut.

“What did he say?”

“He wants help with bail. He’s tried the bail bondsmen in town, but he doesn’t own anything he can put up as collateral. He swears if I get him out, he’ll take off and we won’t see him again. He just really can’t take it in there.”

“You know that’s a lie, right? When he gets out, the first place he’s going to go to is here. He’s going to demand more and more, just like he always does. Getting him out of our lives has cost us almost everything. Don’t open the door for him to come back in.”

“I know you’re right. I just feel so guilty.”

“Don’t. He did this to himself. You already served him with divorce papers. You don’t owe him anything else. You just need to stay strong. Besides, his being in prison makes this easier on you. He isn’t here constantly pressuring you, trying to talk you into a second, or I guess fourth, chance. We want him in jail.”

“I know. I know. I just hate feeling this way.”

“Have you looked into those support groups at the church we talked about?”

“No, but I will.”

“You need to talk to other people in your situation. From everything I’ve read, what you’re going through is common. A lot of people in relationships like this apparently feel the same way. I know it doesn’t mean much coming from me, but the people at those meetings have been through the same thing. They’ll be able to help you get through to the other side. You need to go.”

“Okay. I’ll see if there’s something this weekend.”

“Good. I love you, Mom. Even though I know you won’t, if you need to talk, I’m here.”

“I know. Thank you, baby,” she said, patting my hand.

She finally picked up her burger and started eating, so I let the subject drop. I shouldn’t have been surprised that, even in jail, Dad found a way to make her miserable. I just wished he would disappear and never bother us again.

The one downside of practicing in a garage in January was it got pretty damn cold. We huddled in our coats and sweaters while two space heaters hummed on either side, yet I couldn’t shake the chill from my bones. Rubbing my hands together for warmth, I prepared to start playing.

“All right, let’s get started,” I said, blowing into my hands one last time.

“We’re doing Little Things, right?” Lyla asked.

“Yeah. Anyone have anything for it?”

Working with Mr. French on composing and translating the music into sheet music had been a learning curve for me. Most guitar players I’d met preferred tab sheets over sheet music, but Mr. French insisted on proper scoring. Marco could read sheet music, but Seth and Lyla were just getting the hang of it.

After playing Little Things for them last week, I’d written up the tabs, lyrics, and drum notation. They were supposed to review the lyrics and build their parts, as I wasn’t skilled enough yet to write for instruments I didn’t play.

“I like the chorus, but it needs harmonies,” Lyla said. “The key change isn’t enough to give it the punch the song needs. How about we do a two-part harmony on lines two, four, and six? My range meshes well with yours, and Marco and Seth have a similar range. On each ‘little things’ line, they’ll come in. It’ll punch up the chorus and make the main part of the song stand out.”

“Sounds like a plan,” I agreed.

This was what I loved about these guys. Writing music could feel like I was spinning my wheels, trapped in my own thoughts. Hearing their perspectives was invaluable, especially when they understood my thought process and our end goal. Lyla’s suggestion was something I hadn’t even considered.

We started playing, but halted as soon as we hit the first four-part harmony.

“Nope,” Seth declared.

“Yeah. Thirds?” I suggested.

There were a lot of ways to harmonize. Unison, where we all sang the same note, octaves, which is what Lyla and I were doing, where we sang the same notes, but at two different octaves. There were also thirds, fifths, sixths, and sevenths, which were just descriptions of how far apart the notes each person sang. We’d tried unison, with Lyla an octave up, which was where all of our ranges were naturally, but it only drowned her out and muddled the chorus.

Several attempts later, we settled on Lyla and I maintaining our harmony throughout, while Seth and Marco chimed in on the ‘little things’ lines, creating a chord inversion. It took some practice, but it meshed well with my guitar playing and added a rich depth to the chorus.

“Nice,” Lyla commented as we nailed the chord inversion.

“I know, right?” I agreed.

“Don’t you think the ‘little things’ is too repetitive?” Marco asked. “Like, we get it. It’s such an easy way out, it keeps the song from really saying anything. I mean, if you’re just going for a catchy tune that no one really listens to, I guess that’s alright. I just thought we were trying to do more than that.”

“So what do you suggest we do?” I asked, bracing myself for his response.

“Rewrite it.”

“We’re not doing that, Marco. I’m open to suggestions, or you can sit this song out. Your choice,” I said firmly.

“Whatever,” he muttered, dropping the issue for now.

“Okay,” Lyla said, steering us back on track. “I like the harmonies, but the second verse feels too rigid. We need to shake up its structure, make it more dynamic. Slow it down, then return to the original tempo after the chorus. It’ll take the audience on a journey.”

“Do you have ideas for the lyrics?” I asked.

Lyla pulled out a sheet of paper with new lyrics, having clearly thought about this for a while. Her changes made the second verse about the absence of little things, suggesting tempo adjustments and a new bridge into the chorus. She also tweaked the third verse, addressing the importance of holding onto what we still had.

“Do you think this bridge will be jarring? The tempo already picks up between the verses and chorus,” I said.

“That’s the part I couldn’t figure out. You’ll have to carry it, so I hoped you’d have some ideas. We need more dynamics, as Marco keeps pointing out.”

I wasn’t sure if Lyla was teasing Marco or trying to include him, but his expression suggested he took it as a jab.

“Okay, let’s give it a shot,” I said.

After several tries, everything clicked, and the song started to really come together. Now we just needed a dozen more like it and we’d be set.

Monday, I was sitting in class, bent over an English assignment, when the door creaked open. We all looked up, most of us happy to stop thinking about Shakespeare for even a few seconds, and saw Vice Principal Packer and Officer Peck, the school resource officer, walk in. I felt my stomach drop. Maybe it was the smirk on Mr. Packer’s face or the way he looked at me as soon as they came through the door, but I knew he was here to screw with me again.

The source of this story is Finestories

To read the complete story you need to be logged in:
Log In or
Register for a Free account (Why register?)

Get No-Registration Temporary Access*

* Allows you 3 stories to read in 24 hours.