American Gothic is an ongoing series of vignettes giving the reader a glimpse into the lives of the people in a small New Jersey town. Don't miss the earlier entries, as they all tie together.
Trace Woodward slammed the front door behind him, bent to release the family dog, Ponce, from the end of the short leash, and called out to his mother. “We’re back. The dog crapped all over the new neighbor’s lawn again.”
“The foreign guy?” his mother inquired from the kitchen.
Trace shook his head and closed his eyes for a second. “Yeah, mom. The foreign guy.”
“Did he see you?” she asked.
“Yes, mom. Yes he did, and I don’t think he liked it,” Trace answered, flopping down on the couch and turning on the television. He began to flip channels.
“Why? Did he say something to you?”
“He asked me to come back and clean it up.”
“Did you tell him what I told you to tell him if he said something?”
Trace wished he could get lost in a music video, preferably one with a half-naked girl who would make him forget all about his life in Taft. “Yes mother, I told him.”
“I don’t think he bought the idea that in this country it’s considered lucky to have your neighbor’s dog take a dump on your lawn,” Trace replied, his voice hinting at sarcasm.
Chrissy Crawford-Woodward stormed in to the living room and stamped out her cigarette in the nearest ashtray. “What the hell does he expect? Instant luck?”
“Mom, he expects us to clean up after Ponce.”
“Dammit. I knew when a foreigner moved in next door I’d have trouble,” Chrissy huffed.
“Mom, if you’d clean up after the dog, or buy the pooper scooper bags so I could clean up, you wouldn’t be having any trouble.”
“So is he going to call the police?”
“He’s not a bad guy,” Trace said, trying to pay attention to the television, while not looking as if he didn’t care what his mother was saying. “He only asked if I wouldn’t mind cleaning up after Ponce from now on.”
“He speaks our language?” Chrissy was awestruck.
“Of course he does. He’s from England.”
“But he looks like he’s from one of those Middle East countries. Mrs. Olchesky told me she heard he was from Egypt.”
“Mom, he is. He lived in England before moving here.”
“Why would anyone from England want to come to New Jersey?” Chrissy wondered aloud.
“He works for the university. He’s the new head of the English Department.” Trace fought back a slight smirk as he informed his mother their new neighbor was not only of foreign descent, but also a college professor.
“Really?” She asked, lighting up another Salem. “He’s educated?”
“Mom, you are so turning into granddad.”
“I just meant it’s nice to know some of them are willing to better themselves.”
“Mom, I really don’t want to have this conversation right now. Can I have twenty bucks?”
“Didn’t your father give you money this morning?”
“I had to eat today, and I need more,” Trace whined.
He’s so good at begging and whining, Chrissy thought. “Go get my pocketbook from the kitchen.” She drew a deep smoke filled breath. “So the neighbor is a college professor? Well that’s different.”
Trace returned from the kitchen with her pocketbook. “Why is it different?”
“I mean it makes a difference. Everyone in town was thinking he was just another foreigner, but he’s educated.”
“Mom, you’re a bigot.”
“Don’t call me names when I’m about to give you money. Besides, I think it’s very nice that he’s a professor. Having someone of letters in the neighborhood will increase our property value.” Chrissy handed her son a folded bill.
Trace grabbed the money and started for the door. “I’ve got to go. I’m meeting Scott and some of his friends from the basketball team. I’m gonna teach ‘em how to shoot pool.”
Chrissy wrinkled her nose. “I don’t like you spending time in a pool hall. It’s not proper for a young man to spend time in those places. Besides, it’s filled with Chicanos. I really think you should go over to the university and hang around the more refined elements of Taft.
Trace fought back a laugh. Maybe if he told his mother about how much money he earned at the pool hall hustling the suckers his cousin brought to him, she might like pool? “Mom, all types of people go there. Uncle Chuck was in there last night with his companion.”
Trace could see his mother visibly turn several shades of red. “What?” Her voice shrilled. “Don’t tell me you’re hanging out with that degenerate brother of mine?”
“Mom, he’s my Uncle.”
“Don’t think that makes you safe. Reverend Smithwold preached about the dangers of allowing young people to accept ‘those’ people into their lives.”
“Reverend Smithwold is a bigot,” Trace said.
“You contemptuous gutter-snipe. How dare you, a young man who hangs out in pool halls with homosexuals, call a fine man like the Reverend Smithwold names? I’ve raised you to be better than you are, and I know from just where this rebellious influence is coming.
“That good for nothing, degenerate brother of mine is poisoning your mind against all things righteous and holy.” Chrissy took several quick drags on her cigarette before crushing it out.
“Mom, I hung out at the pool hall before Uncle Chuck returned to town.”
“I’m not listening to a blasphemous heathen like yourself. Wait until your grandfather hears about you hanging out with your Uncle. You’ll get a lecture from him.”
Yeah, Trace thought, and forty bucks.
Robert is the author of the novels Cool Mint Blue, Melba Ridge, and the recently released The Adventures of Homosexual Man and Lesbian Lad; and the creator of the on-line comix Impure Thoughts found at his web site Inside R.A. Melos, as well as having been an on-line staff writer for QBliss where he had a monthly humor column, Maybe A Yip, Maybe A Yap. In his non-writing time, when he's not studying the metaphysical or creating a tarot deck, he sells real estate in Middlesex County New Jersey, hangs out with his dog Zeus, and spends time at the Pride Center of New Jersey in Highland Park, NJ, where he is on the Board of Trustees.
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