Right Between The Eyes, story by Bill Tope, at Spillwords.com
Aberrant Realities

Right Between The Eyes

Right Between The Eyes

written by: Bill Tope

 

When I was very little, my family used to visit my dad’s Mother twice a year: once during summer vacation, when school was out, and again in December, for the Christmas holidays. The main thing on our minds during those trips was, would the old jalopy my dad drove make it all the way to Franklin County, located about 100 miles South of our home, which was just across the Mississippi from St. Louis. Bessie lived in a one-time mining community called Buckner, named after an incompetent Confederate general who served during the Civil War.

We were joined at these get-togethers at my grandma’s house by my Aunt Blanche, my dad’s sister, and her husband Art and their two children, David and Christine. Now, the Millers were everything that we weren’t: my dad worked in a glass factory as “unskilled labor,” while Uncle Art was a foreman at General Motors in Flint, Michigan. Which meant That Art made about three times as much money as my dad. And never let us forget it.

Where my mom had dropped out of high school at 16 and my dad never went beyond the 7th grade–he enrolled in FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression, probably helping to grade the park where you grill your hotdogs on the Fourth Of July or making the redwood benches at the forest lodge you use come autumn–the Millers were “educated,” which in those days meant they had finished high school. Aunt Blanche had even had a year or so of secretarial school, making her the family intellectual; she was very much looked up to! She had worked for Public Assistance, which in those days was called “Relief.” Being mean to poor people gave her an additional sense of superiority.

Dad’s sister’s family always seemed to arrive at Grandma’s at the same time that we did. Perhaps it was a coincidence; maybe Uncle Art just wanted to show off the new Cadillac he bought every year. In any event, the Millers always commandeered the one spare bedroom, leaving my parents to rough it with the kids, scattered across the living room floor. I guess it had something to do with Dad being the older brother who had always helped take care of his sister, the “baby” of the family. He had actually helped pay for the secretarial school she had attended, a fact no one ever mentioned. And so it was one Christmas when I was four years old; my brother Gary was eleven; David was six and Christine two. During these adventures, my brother always seemed to escape, to pal around with his “hoodlum” friends; wherever he went, he must have sought them out, because he sure found them. More on that at another time.

As we pushed through Grandma’s door, we beheld there on the hardwood floor a miracle: the tallest, fullest, most beautiful Christmas tree that– even to this day–I ever saw. There were crystal, sharp, brilliant lights– not like the old ones I was used to, where the red paint on the bulbs was scraping off–in all kinds of magical shapes: doves, reindeer, gingerbread men, Santas, and many others. They glowed bright and clear as stars.

There were the “perpetual motion” ornaments, with little seesaws or propellers which were powered by the heat of the nearby Christmas lights, and the millions of shimmering icicles. Someone had spent long, arduous hours hanging them individually, no one touching the other and each strand reflecting the vivid colors of the ornaments and lights.

They were like metal–probably lead-based in those days–stalactites hanging in a Christmas grotto.

There were miniature Nativity scenes–done in wood, not the plastic that you see today–with each individual wise man and angel clearly delineated in pewter. There was even a very tiny silvery Christ child in the creche. Elaborate sun-colored garlands were draped majestically over the boughs, like strands of Golden Fleece. These were intermingled with others, thicker and fluffier and red as the planet Krypton. And the Scent of that balsam fir was–heavenly.

And there were presents! Literally scores of beautiful, individually wrapped Christmas presents, all swathed in the finest, prettiest wrapping paper I had ever seen… I wondered, how could any present do justice to such wonderful wrappings? I just stood rapt and absorbed the scene, admiring. My dad said, “Lotta presents this year.” “Yeah, and most of them are probably for Christine and David,” my mother muttered darkly. It didn’t quite register at the time, just what she meant, but I understood later.

I knew that my folks had bought David some more of his seemingly unending supply of comic books and they had gotten for Christine a special friction toy, a kind of large top. When you pressed down on the handle, it spun madly around, rather like a gyroscope, with a fairy princess display encased within the glass bubble, which would unfold and sparkle as music played. I was convinced it had been created by magic elves… It was a marvel. When mom grumbled about the price, I sagely pointed out that if Santa were going to get Christine a gift anyway, then why did she need to? To my memory, that question went unanswered. I had badly wanted to play with it before it was wrapped–even if it was a girl’s toy–but my mother admonished me not to break it. “Christine will do that soon enough,” she conjectured wryly.

We had dinner: turkey, of course, like a scene out of a Norman Rockwell illustration; all the trimmings. But that was just a requisite prelude to the real order of the day: the presents, the lucre, the loot! “What if, when I open a present, I don’t like it!” David asked obtusely. Duh! It was a present, you goof! You can’t but like it. What was the matter with this character? “Just say you like it,” whispered Blanche, glancing furtively at my mom and dad… “We discussed this, David.” Apparently, his expectations weren’t too high in the present department. My jaw jutted out in resentment at the callous jab at my parents.

Finally, we all sat around on the floor to open the presents. David had a big bag of Christmas candy that he wouldn’t share. I may have growled at him. Well, truer words my mom never spoke: virtually every present there was for Christine and David. David got an electric train; David got a new red wagon; David got a first baseman’s mitt; and on and on. Christine didn’t do badly either. These were the days before Barbie dolls and G.I. Joes or else my cousins would have had dozens of each. Christine was relishing no less than six baby dolls–Tiny Tears was big then–and a crib to put them in, clothes to dress them in, and on and on again. Forgotten was the neat new friction top that my dad had worked two and a half hours to earn the money to buy.

That was left idle, still in its box, the wrapping paper scarcely disturbed. All it had gotten out of my cousin was a petulant, “I don’t like it!” I could have swatted her like a fly.

Grandma got a lot of fussy “old lady stuff” from her children and their spouses. Blanche got a fur coat of some sort that she paraded around in for what seemed like hours, and Art got yet another pipe, like the ones you saw on the back cover of Esquire magazine, with the bright yellow bows. I don’t believe my parents received anything more than a package of new handkerchiefs apiece, from grandma… But they were mollified; Christmas was for kids, after all.

My older brother got a cool Timex watch with an expandable metal band, which was all the rage at the time. My parents had spent $10–like $150 now–to buy that watch because they didn’t want their oldest son to be embarrassed by his Christmas gift in front of the snooty Millers; I was proud for him, too. Of course, David had to upstage him up brandishing his new “chronometer,” like the “kind the frogmen use.” Sea Hunt was also very big back in the day. Lloyd Bridges was a star!

What did I get? A tiny cap pistol with a translucent orange plastic handle. I stared down at it, not sure what to say. While David and Christine were revelling in their loot, I stood there, forlorn, because I didn’t see anything else for me. Whenever I made to select a present, David would jump up and shout, “Mine! Mine!” and snatch it out of my hands. What did I know? I was four years old; I couldn’t read the gift tags. I thought to myself, why did Santa doublecross me? He seemed to like the Millers so much more.

Everything in the world seemed to belong to my cousins. My mom touched my shoulder gently and murmured, “There’s no more in there for you, honey.” I caught dad’s eye and he gave me one of his grins that crinkled his eyes. I knew then that things would be alright. The pistol hung down limply from my hand. I blinked, but no tears came. Next, my Cousin walked up.

David glanced down at my pistol, looked over at his Official Roy Rogers Six-Guns–with the real leather holster–then looked back at my tiny cap pistol, and he laughed. He laughed! Ever since that night, I’ve felt like I owed my cousin David a punch in the stomach. Sure, I was disappointed that I hadn’t gotten more gifts, but I really felt bad for my parents, whom I loved very much and I knew wanted so much to make me happy. For my dad, who worked four times harder than Uncle Art but who gleaned so much less from his paycheck; and my mom, who scrubbed other women’s floors, on her hands and knees, for a buck an hour! So I aimed that wonderful cap pistol with the translucent orange handle–which I have to this day–squarely between David’s eyes and definitely pulled the trigger. And ended him!

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