So Said Lynette
When she was five years old, Lynette began rewriting her life as a novel. (She was three when she started reading.) Now she is nine.
Lynette’s real-life parents, Bill and Sarah Smythe, put back vermouth and inhaled Marlboros. Bill, six feet, four inches, possessed the frame of a man who eats only when prodded. Sarah, thin but shapely from afar, up close exhibited a fine network of facial wrinkles often bestowed upon the nicotine-addicted. Lynette’s friends thought Mr. and Mrs. Smythe exotic, envied Lynette her flaccid parental bonds.
Lynette never told her friends that, most weekend mornings, she vacuumed heaping ashtrays and washed sour-smelling highball glasses; and then prepared pancakes, sausages, and fresh-squeezed orange juice for herself and older brother Jimmy. She washed and dried breakfast pans and dishes. Checked on her parents, always finding them, fully clothed and snoring, on their extra-long bed. This was comforting as well as worrisome for nine-year-old Lynette.
John and Judy Wilson, the parents in her book, drank only cold water or tea, and toked Jamaican weed solely on special occasions. They didn’t throw parties for adults; they planned fun and educational family events.
Lynette’s alter ego, Kendra, an average-height brunette with above-average looks, had no trouble making friends, and was expert at double-Dutch jump rope and on-line games.
In her novel, Jimmy did not exist. Rather, Lynette replaced him with a Dalmatian dog, Tintype. Was Tintype a silly, quaint name? In her book, So Said the Wilsons, no name was silly.
Lynette kept the novel a secret. Once in a while, when Bill or Sarah tried to shake free of an alcoholic haze, one or the other would ask why Lynette took her “little briefcase” into the bathroom. They didn’t wait for an answer, just mentioned it to their boozehound friends as if it were the cutest thing in the world.
The girl disdained the lot of them.
In the bathroom Lynette could think. Cry. Write. Breathe. Some days, locked in for an hour at a time, she felt lucky no one in the family suffered digestive problems.
She wanted to make the Smythes suffer. Bender Bill micturated in his pants in front of his daughter. Sloshed Sarah exhaled smoke rings into Lynette’s face. Jism Jimmy addressed Lynette as “Skelet-o” or “Miss Ug.” For all that and more, she wished them ill. Or dead. It didn’t make her proud of herself. It gave her relief.
Paragraph one from So Said the Wilsons:
“Every year John and Judy Wilson planned intricate escapades for their only child, Kendra, to bolster her intellectual, social, and physical well-being. This Saturday was ‘Excavate Your Treasure Day,’ complete with crayon-wrought treasure maps, hand-sewn pirate costumes, and Judy’s special combination pink lemonade-honeyed green tea. John had been planting ‘little boxes of fun’ for a week, on the grounds and inside their two-story home. Both parents worked hard to provide Kendra—and pet Dalmatian Tintype!—a ‘bootyful time! ’”
Her opening paragraph makes Lynette want to retch. She will improve it, as she’s a fearsome editor. Plus, writing the book transports her to another zone: a caring-parent, self-abusing-brother-free, loyal-dog zone, where every living creature is hers to mastermind.
She’s sure So Said the Wilsons will sell. Longer term, the kiddie novel should allow Lynette Smythe to emancipate herself. To leave this booze-soaked dunghill and its denizens behind.
That Saturday the Smythe parents were throwing one of their disgusting soirees, which meant Jimmy would have to go to the basement, or a friend’s house, or under a rock, or behind a giant trash cart to obsessively masturbate. Lynette would have to stay in her room most of the night, or ride miles away with her laptop on unicorn Destiny.
Oh, for a day with John and Judy Wilson! An afternoon whispering to Tintype and brushing his coat! Lynette would swear off Candy Crush. Quit jumping rope. Even lock away her laptop—No access to So Said the Wilsons! No texting friends!—for a month.
On Sunday morning Jimmy was not in his room. His bedcovers were in their usual disarray. Backpack and cell phone were gone. No stench of sweat. No cum-stained socks. Lynette felt flutters of panic in her stomach and throat.
She ran to her parents’ bedroom to alert them. No Bill! No Sarah! Wrinkled bedspread. No keys on the dresser; no wallet, no purse!
Lynette covered her mouth with her hand to slow her breathing. She sat on the rug in the living room and shook back and forth. The nine-year-old envisioned Bill and Sarah, bloody, under a truck; Jimmy, mangled, inside a dumpster, face half-hidden by apple cores and paper coffee cups.
For the first time that morning Lynette noticed the living room was devoid of full ashtrays, dirty glasses, and soiled cocktail napkins. No cigarette smell, either. She peered through the windows overlooking the Smythe driveway: No SUV! What was going on here?
How would Lynette be able to continue her schooling? What would happen when she ran out of food? Who would pay the mortgage? How would she celebrate her tenth birthday tomorrow?
As unlikely as it seemed, Lynette knew that had to be it. Her parents and brother must have left early─and stealthily─to buy her a birthday gift! Sarah and Bill must have cleaned up all party detritus last night before collapsing into bed, and conspired, along with Jimmy, to make Lynette the happiest ten-year-old in the neighborhood.
Lynette could barely believe her luck. Could Bill and Sarah Smythe live up to John and Judy Wilson? The nearly-ten-year-old felt tired from sudden excitement and good fortune. It was, after all, early Sunday morning. She hadn’t slept enough─or eaten. Now was a perfect time to sit on the couch and wait for her family. Surely they would bring breakfast back.
Warm. Warm…and soft. Movement. Licking. Lynette raised her head. Dalmatian puppy breath warmed her cheeks. This adorable creature was running around her, then to her, panting in her face and licking her cheeks.
“Finally!” Judy took a drink of cold water, laughed, then called to her husband, who was rolling a diminutive joint in the kitchen. “John, Kendra’s back! Bring that weed in here.”
Judy turned back to her daughter. “I think Tintype was scared he’d never play with you again! Be a dear and bring us some rolling papers now, would you?”
Iris N. Schwartz is a fiction writer, as well as a Pushcart-Prize-nominated poet. Most recently, her work has appeared in Grabbing the Apple: An Anthology of Poems by New York Women Writers; and insuch journals as The Gambler, Gravel, Jellyfish Review, MUSH/MUM Journal, andSiren. She has work forthcoming in Pure Slush (Volume 12).