Chapter 3: Everlasting Eyeball
Meanwhile, John drove home. He put Shishkebaby into the tape deck and sang along cheerfully with "Love #1." "Love beads, love me, like I love my dad, beads lick me like your love handles" he carolled to a group of amazed fourth graders at a stoplight. "Ear!" he called as he pulled away. Two of the girls giggled and waved. He smiled to himself and drove on, continuing his song. "Let me love your carpet. Show me how to lick your love like I need to love your big book. Okey dokey."
When an ambulance wailed past him, John first slowed down and then, seeing the ambulance turn into his subdivision, accelerated to follow it. John and the ambulance arrived simultaneously at his door. He ambled up to the paramedics and said, "Hi. Can I help? And if I do, what's in it for me?" The paramedics ignored him completely as they unloaded their equipment and hurried up the front walk. Mrs. Christ met them at the door, an expression of determined calm on her face. "We've been expecting this," she said firmly. "Please don't use any extraordinary measures. I'm sure he's gone. It's this way." John followed, merrily whistling "Everlasting Eyeball." His mother extended her arms to him. "Oh, John," she said, "something awful has happened."
"What's for dinner?"
"No. This is not the time for your Rikki Rockett foolishness. Something's happened to your dad."
"What do you mean, something's happened? Did he fall? I've only been gone an hour or so. Nothing terrible could happen that fast."
"No, John. I think he's gone."
"Gone? Did he get lost?"
"He's dead, John. If you want to say goodbye, he's in the living room. I brought him home from the clinic ... he was sitting downstairs....I guess he put on your CD ...." She broke down temporarily. "Nono....I'm all right. I went upstairs for a minute ... and when I came down, I thought I heard opera ... something about a foodball ... and I started to laugh ... and then I saw him. He was lying on the floor ... his face ... he looked so angry. He said something ... I'm not sure what it was ... and then he just stopped ... stopped breathing. I knew he was gone."
Mrs. Christ moved to hug John but he deftly avoided her embrace.
"The last thing he listened to was 'Foodballs?!'"
"I think so. I think your music was the last thing he heard in this world. I hope that brings you some comfort. You know he loved you, and was proud of you in his way. He knew you loved him, even though recently the two of you hadn't been getting along. I know he respected you deep down. Maybe you'd like to go and say goodbye before they take him away."
John walked into the living room, where the paramedics were halfheartedly attempting closed chest massage on the already stiffening corpse. "Fuck off, " said John. They backed away and began to assemble their stretcher. The words to "King Zob and His Green Aliens abd Ham" echoed in the otherwise quiet room.
"Oh God, King Zob. You're such an ass. I'm going to rip off your fucking ass because I hate you. You're so mean. You're so weird. Bye, Dad. Have a nice trip." John sat down in a chair and watched emotionlessly as the paramedics loaded the lifeless body onto the stretcher, covered it with a blanket and wheeled it out of the living room.
Janet stood in her kitchen chopping vegetables for salad. "Dirk, do you know if we have any radishes? I can't find the radishes anywhere." Dirk stomped over to the refrigerator and pulled out a bag of radishes.
"If," he said pregnantly,"you ever bothered to come home and take care of your family any more, you might know where to find things in your own refrigerator."
"For heaven's sakes. I am standing right here, right now, cooking dinner for my family. What is your problem?"
"You are my problem. You are everyone's problem. You don't have time for any of us anymore. You missed the conference with Nick's teacher. Did you even know that the whole school is complaining about Nick's drawings? He did a drawing of the Easter bunny - he called it RamHare - that was so violent, a first grader had hysterics and had to be sent home. Mrs. McCloskey has called four times, but you never even bother to return her calls."
Nick spoke up. "Mrs. McCloskey is a dork. I'm going to kick her in the balls."
"Well, Nick, I don't know about kicking her in the balls, but I agree that she is a little too rigid. I think your drawings are lovely."
"Lovely????? Obviously you haven't looked at any of his drawings lately. Any more than you've looked at any of us in the last four months. You're too busy going to rock clubs and recording sessions to have time for your own children. What kind of role model are you, anyway?"
"All right, Nick. Have I been ignoring you? Or your drawings?"
Nick mumbled something, his head inches from the page. The argument in the kitchen interested him much less than the details of the troll under his nose, as he struggled to foreshorten the severed ligaments and muscles of the human leg hanging from the troll's belt. Nick was endeavoring to teach himself perspective, and having a hard time of it. In an effort to minimize distraction from his parents' argument, Nick turned up the volume on his Walkman and clamped the headphones securely over his ears.
"I think that you're jealous, Dirk. I also think that you're being ridiculous. And childish. You knew when I accepted this position with CO-HORT that it would take alot of time. You were mighty glad of the extra money, too. Now that I'm actually working, actually making some progress, now all of a sudden you start calling me a bad mother. How dare you? How dare you undermine my self-confidence? My commitment to this project? Just because it makes a little more work for you. You are sooo selfish. Do you actually think that my involvement with these boys is anything but professional? How stupid. I believe these boys and their music hold the key to the entire phenomenon of teenage angst and suicidal despair that has been destroying the youth of this community. Somehow this band, Big Poo Generator, has tapped into the feelings of apathy, of pointlessness, of isolation that is overwhelming today's teens. Understand this band, this music, and you will understand adolescent suicide. This is my hypothesis. But you - you would rather have me home folding laundry. How short sighted can you be?"
"I have never objected to your professional commitments. When you decided to get the PhD, I was right there for you. We all were. But now... Now you go out every night, running around like a teenager. You never get any work done that I can see. You didn't even get to Britty's music program. She was so hurt. She wanted you to see her be a butterfly. But you were off in some basement listening to songs about toilets. Something isn't right."
"We all have to make sacrifices. Right now I know you feel neglected. I admit I haven't been home as much as I would like. But Dirk, if I'm right - if the answer is in this band - in this music - if I can figure it out, think of all the lives that could be saved. Isn't the saving of even one human life more important than being home every night to cook dinner?"
"When we got married, we agreed that our family would always come first. How can you say that you care about human life and then ignore your own children? What's happened to your values, Janet?"
"Don't be ridiculous. My values are sound. You just feel neglected, and now you're trying to make me feel guilty. Well, it won't work. Your manipulative mindgames don't do it any more."
Nick suddenly jumped up and dashed into the living room. "Mom! Mom!" he exclaimed. "They're on the radio!" He turned on the receiver and "Mr. Hamburger" blasted into the kitchen, drowning out any reply Dirk might have made. Nick danced back into the kitchen and hung his completed drawing on the refrigerator with a magnet. Janet glanced perfunctorily at it while replacing the radishes.
"Very nice, dear," she said absently, not exactly taking in the severed limbs, the troll's gory fangs, or the huge pile of excrement in the foreground of the drawing. "Very good use of shadow and perspective."
Dirk turned on his heel and stomped out of the room, snapping off the receiver wordlessly. He took his coat out of the closet. "I'm going out," he said. "I won't be needing any salad. Dear." He shut the door carefully, making a point not to slam it.
Janet sighed and began to return salad ingredients to the refrigerator. "Nick? How about grilled cheese?"
"Cool," said Nick, "can I eat it in front of the TV?"
"Sure, why not," Janet replied and began slicing cheese. She was just melting some butter in a pan when the phone rang.
"Hello? Oh, hello, Dr. Powers. ... No, I didn't realize .... Yes, tomorrow is the fifteenth, you're quite right .... Yes, I do recall that you asked me for a draft of my report by the first .... No, I didn't know you'd called my office four times. As you may know, I share a secretary with the Health Office and sometimes my .... Yes, I realize that this is an important part of the project, Dr. Powers .... Yes, I am aware that our funding is contingent on prompt and accurate reporting .... Yes, Dr. Powers, I'm sure I will have the report completed on schedule. I can't imagine how it slipped my mind .... No, Dr. Powers, I think I can manage, thank you. I have been very occupied with the clinical aspects of the study. As you know, I requested funding for a fulltime clinician as well as a research assistant, and your department denied me both ... No, Dr. Powers, I'm not making excuses. I am merely pointing out .... No, Dr. Powers, I do not mean to suggest any such thing .... Yes, Dr. Powers, no later than the twentieth. Thank you for calling, Dr. Powers. Good night." Janet hung up. "Bitch," she muttered, and discarded the burnt butter in the frying pan.
Nick came back into the kitchen. "I made a new sign for my door," he said. "How do you like it?"
Janet peered at the drawing. "I can't quite read the words," she said. "What does this say? Please what?"
"Please Strangle Me with Wire," said Nick proudly. "See, he's got that kind of pointy wire around his neck? See the blood where it cuts in?"
"Barbed wire, that's called barbed wire. Here's your sandwich. Try not to get any crumbs on the carpet, you know how that annoys your father. Would you like some juice? Or some carrots?"
"Yeah," said Nick, and he returned to the TV.