(This is the first chapter of a book I’ve been working on for quite some time. It is one hundred percent autobiographical and reasonably all true in every way that counts.)
CHAPTER ONE: A FAMILY MEETING
At the ass end of the worst April ever, the Old Man called a family meeting. Himself presiding, Our Mother, Alex the eldest, Mallory the middle, me the youngest and also our dog Frodo in attendance.
“There is,” said the Old Man, “an Elephant in this room. Not an actual Pachyderm, clearly. Nor the proverbial pink variety ascribed to stock cast dipsomaniacs, though I won’t say I haven’t seen that kind a time or two before; and no, not the Grand Old Party’s Elephant slouching toward wherever. Troops, the Elephant of which I speak is the classic Elephas Idiomaticus, i.e. a glaring and obvious truth that is being ignored or going unaddressed. That Elephant is here in this room. It is omnipresent in our nation. It stampedes amuck across the globe.”
He paused then as he often did when the train of his thought was long and the last few cars, hastily attached, often of a different gauge, listed; their cargo shifting dangerously. We waited with him, his last long breath still inflating his chest, the slate of his face blank, his eyes either glazed, or fixed on some distant point; waited for the great relief that came born along on a rush of new words, grateful if not for any wisdom gained then at least for the release of tension.
“I think it’s clear to those of us in this room and everyone outside it. The world as we have known it… will soon be over.”
Well, you could have heard that pin so often spoken of dropping, though what we did hear was Frodo, whose ragged panting indicated her canine sense that the Old Man’s words were only what any of us would have said ourselves had we known a name to give the feeling that had been in our stomachs for some length of time.
We just looked at each other like dopes.
For my own self I had to admit that for a while now when I walked to school or took the shortcut through the woods to the General Store or if I rode my bike alone down by the railroad, a bad feeling rode with me. Even in my room before I went to sleep, the safest place of all, just lately it seemed something ugly was gathering force outside, pushing in until the individual panes of glass on my window convexed a tiny bit. And didn’t just lately everything if you caught it out the side of your eye seem a little angry? Stuff that had no way to get mad, like tall dead grass or crushed up soda cans or a water stain on an old wall? Didn’t it feel like all that bad feeling was waiting to congeal into a giant pointing finger that would come down out of the sky and crush you sure as shit like a bug?
Alex was nodding his head like something had added up for him. Like all of the eight thousand minor things designed to piss him off that he enjoyed to list for any convenient audience had been put in a bag and shaken up and thrown out on the floor like entrails that a guy like me couldn’t see but to him made a map to help you find things that weren’t in the place you knew for an absolute certainty you’d left them. I looked to Our Mother but she was looking away and down so a wind that wasn’t there wouldn’t keep her cigarette from lighting. I didn’t need to look at Mallory to know she blamed us all personally, but I looked anyway for confirmation, which I got.
So we all had known. Dad had just been bold enough to take the bull by the horns and ride it straight into a family meeting. It was a boldness we demanded from him and which I certainly hoped was in my blood, although to be honest I had seen no sign of it whatever in me up to this point.
“Global warming,” the old man intoned like a drum beat, “tsunamis, earthquakes, dusky skinned terrorists blowing themselves and any freedom loving folk standing nearby to Kingdom Come, one per customer limits on the basic staples at Costco, Seven Dollar a gallon gas by mid summer; Negroes, Women and the Living Dead running for president, ‘smart’ phones, my collection of antique World’s Fair commemorative tea spoons vanishing from their rack and appearing in circulation with the regular teaspoons… unmistakable signs of the impending dark future we always hoped to travel back in time to prevent.
It pains me to speak on this subject. The end is particularly unfair for you kids. To you, Alex, who ironically, in one more year would graduate college with a promising degree in Public Policy; To you, Mallory, with your fond hopes of finding male companionship of a stripe that would render me incurably insane; and especially to you, young Andrew, for whom the world held such as yet unspecified promise seeing as none of us has figured out what all your special talents and proclivities might be yet. Even to you Frodo, who surely dreamed of chasing rabbits and rolling in cow manure every spring for several more seasons that likely now won’t come, though you ought to be grateful for whatever you get seeing as the time left to you will seem seven times longer than the time left to us.
“But not talking about something doesn’t make it go away. All not talking about something does is allow it to sneak up behind you and jump up on your shoulders and scare the crap out of you, and frankly I have never thought being snuck up on was the Gallagher family way.
“Now,” he said, raising his right hand palm outward, “now, no one should panic here. There never has been any use crying over spilled milk and crying certainly won’t help now that the even the spilled milk is almost gone. Your Mother and I have thought ahead and made a plan.”
Here Our Mother turned her head on it’s thin neck to look at him, and in that look I saw confusion, frustration, downright loathing and a surprise born of the simple and obvious fact that she had not been in on any plan at all, that she was hearing this plan for the very first time just as we were, but would now be an unwilling accessory. It was a look that spoke equally of unconditional love, unconditional hatred and years of piled up bitterness caused by placing all her eggs in the single basket of this husband and family, a basket it was pretty clear had more than one hole in it and so was a poor choice for the carrying of eggs, clear if not from the get go than at least from very soon after.
“This family has never been the head in the sand, build a fallout shelter type,” my Father said. “We are not hunker downerers, cowerers or dead end survivalists! Troops, our family is all about hope. Hope, optimism, stick-to-it-ivness and good old fashioned, American made elbow grease. But how can we express this grease in the face of the end of all things?”
“Family Diaspora!” spat Mallory, her retainer flying from her mouth, a furious inevitable blush beginning at her hairline and racing to her toes. The Old Man turned his kindly look upon her, the look that said ‘fooled once more by the rhetorical. I cherish these leaps forward of yours, when you hear the gentle eyelid on eyelid sound of a wink and mistake it for a starters’ pistol; but that kind of cherishing takes time, the very thing we lack an abundance of.’
“We shall go on as we have always gone on,” Pop struck up once more, “Chins up, never giving in to fear, going about our business. Which in this case means a family summer vacation! But being brave enough to admit that this is the very last summer vacation we shall ever take in the world as we know it, we must make it the bestest, longest, most extremest family vacation ever! Your mother and I have spent the last year applying to every single ludicrous credit card and loan come on we got in the mail and I am now happy to say that while we are not rich in money, we are rich beyond the dreams of avarice in credit! Credit that shall never come due, as long before the bills arrive the world will certainly end! And so we shall take to the open road as royalty and make this a family vacation you kids will never forget, taking into account that you won’t have very much time to forget it in!”
We all leapt to our feet clapping spontaneously for joy, all us kids and even our Mother, and Frodo yapped around our feet, happy ass wagging, jumping up onto us, which she knew was forbidden. The Old Man beamed and put his arm around his bride who to her credit cringed only briefly.
“And where shall we go?” our Mother asked, forgetting for a moment that this was supposed to be her plan too, her glassy eyes filled with pride, bitterness, terror and a violent, yet for the moment contained rage.
“SOUTH!” my Old Man Bellowed, raising his fists to the ceiling, and “SOUTH!” we all cried in unison (Frodo barking). “South away from the worst April ever and a May that will surely disappoint, South through Hartford, South over the Tapanzee, skirting Manhattan and Newark, Souther still into untold lands of Southness with no destination other than South! Destinations were meant for vacations that would be followed by future vacations, so let us leave destinations behind with the winter coats and the bills and the brick-a-brak, rat race bullshit that has clung to our hides like barnacles crusting the belly of a great whale! South, South, SOUTH!” he chanted and we chanted with him, unified Gallaghers chanting ‘till the acoustic tiles of the living room ceiling shook and let go years of dust that sparkled as it rained down upon us in tiny motes, like we were inside a snowglobe souvenir of this vacation we were going to take, this most best and very last summer vacation we would ever take together or at all.