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american gothic redux: morning rituals
by robert a. melos
1.18.04
writing

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.

Scott Crawford’s hand came down on his clock radio before the second drumbeat of some unidentified song brought him to a fully conscious state. He rolled over. God, I hate mornings, he thought. He plucked his cell phone from its charger next to his bed and hit speed dial 7. “Come on, pick up,” he mumbled to himself as he stretched his bare legs over the edge of the bed.

“Hey Todd, it’s Scott. Can you pick me up on your way to school?” He asked his friend.

Todd Benzinger blinked his eyes a few times. Morning light was too much as usual. “Um, yeah.” He mumbled, half yawning. “Amber is picking me up.” He flipped his phone closed, stumbled from his bed and headed to the bathroom. He heard the knocking at the backdoor. “Hey dad, can you open the backdoor? Amber must be here.”

Todd Benzinger Sr. wandered from his seat on the couch where he was watching some morning news show, scratched his bare stomach, adjusted his black boxer-briefs, placed his coffee mug on the countertop and opened the backdoor. “Morning Amber.”

“God, can’t you put some clothes on to answer the door?” Amber Leigh Krakowitz said, making her way past her former stepfather, and dropping her pocketbook on the table.

“You saw me in a lot less when I was your stepfather,” Todd Sr. said.

“You perv,” Amber hissed. “If my mother ever found out—“

“Chill out, Missy. You weren’t all that dressed either, and as I recall you were the one sneaking out to the garage to see me working out,” Todd Sr. said, cutting her off. “You and your mother were always so high and mighty, but you, little girl, have some dirty secrets.”

Amber rolled her eyes, opened the refrigerator and grabbed a can of cola. She reached for her pocketbook and took out her cell phone. She turned and glared at Todd's father. “Do you mind? I’m going to make a call.” She watched him scratch himself and walk out of the kitchen. What a pig, she thought as she dialed.

“Hey Tiff. Am. Did you do the history homework?”

Tiffany Marie Dombrowski blinked her eye a few times and popped the contact lens in. “Yeah, it was boring. Like I really care about some war that happened before I was born?”

“We have to pass the class, then we can forget about Vietnam,” Amber said. “I was grossed out the minute Mr. Vetter told us those people ate dog. I swear I almost puked right in class.”

But you waited until after lunch to purge, Tiffany thought. “Yeah, that was gross. Are you at Todd’s?”

“Uh huh. You want me to pick you up on the way?”

“Can you?”

“Sure.”

“Cool. I’ll see ya in a bit.” Tiffany hung up her phone. “Mom, can I borrow twenty dollars?” she called out.

Jo Crawford stuck her head into her daughter’s room. “Honey, I didn’t get a child support check again this month, and the brokerage isn’t raking in the bucks. Do you really need twenty?”

Tiffany rolled her eyes. “Mother, do you always have to tell me how daddy didn’t send a child support check again? I know he didn’t. Dad’s never good at remembering me or Heather.” She ran a brush through her dirty blonde hair and turned away toward her dresser mirror.

Jo saw the hurt look in her daughter’s eyes. “I’ve got the money for you. Let me grab my purse.”

Heather bounced into the room and flopped down on her sister’s bed. “Can you have Amber drop me at school on your way?” She asked.

Tiffany made a huffing sound. “If your school wasn’t on the way—“

“Be nice to your sister,” Jo said, returning to the room with the cash for her daughter.

“Why?” Tiffany and Heather asked in unison.

Jo almost sighed. “Because sisters are supposed to be close and supportive of each other.”

“Just like you and Aunt Chrissy?” Heather asked.

Jo was about to snap at her daughter when a car horn outside signaled Tiffany and Heather’s exit. “That’s Amber. Move it, squirt.” Tiffany said, gently pushing her sister.

Jo shook her head and watched her daughters from the bedroom window, as they climbed into Amber’s convertible. Damn, I wish Joy hadn’t bought that car for Amber, she thought. The ringing of the phone pulled her attention from the children driving away.

Amber zipped down the block and out on to the main road. “Hey, isn’t that Coach Phillips?” Amber asked, as she slowed down and pointed toward the parking lot of the Playtime Boutique on the far end of Main Street.

Scott and Todd turned their heads toward the adult bookstore parking lot. “Yeah, that’s his car,” Todd said. There was a hint of laughter in his voice.

Amber blew the horn as they passed the gym teacher. “Hi coach!” they all shouted, as they drove by.

Tony Phillips felt his face flush and his body tense with fear. Dammit! He thought. I should’ve waited until tonight and went over to Harding for my videos. He tossed the brown paper bag into his trunk and slammed the lid. He wondered which kids had seen him? And more importantly, how long before rumors would start circulating of his being seen at the Playtime Boutique in the morning?

He looked up and saw an ambulance racing down the street.

Jo Crawford raced through the front door of her parent’s house. “Dad! Where are you?”

Floyd Crawford came running from the kitchen. “In here. Hurry.”

“What happened?” Jo asked as she followed the old man to the kitchen. She stopped in the doorway at the sight of her mother lying on the floor. “Mom!”

“I don’t know,” Floyd told his daughter. “Scott had just left with Amber and Todd. I came into the kitchen and your mother was talking about making cookies for a bake sale or something. Suddenly her voice slurred, and she slumped to the floor.” Floyd wiped his hand across his face.

“Mom? Can you hear me?” Jo asked, kneeling down next to the frail looking woman on the floor.

Jean Crawford moved her eyes, as if acknowledging her daughter. She opened her mouth, but only a slurred mumble came out. Jo reached out and grabbed her mother’s hand. “Mom, it’ll be all right. I hear the ambulance.”




ABOUT ROBERT A. MELOS

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.

more about robert a. melos

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