High school senior Ashley St. Helens
has suddenly found herself living a fairy tale life....
Which is not as much fun as it sounds.
Until... the other shoe drops.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Opening Number

From: crankingitout@gmail.com
To: info@fairytalereality.com
Date: Wed, 23 Mar 2011 13:30:19
Subject: opening number

i really struggled with myself whether or not to say this, but i have to confess i'm not crazy about the opening number you sent, 'queen for a day'. i've been trying and trying to write something but i'm not off to a good start. 

the towels are a really strong image for me, though. can you write something around that? just one verse? please don't be mad at me...i'm really trying.


~ ~ ~

From: info@fairytalereality.com
To: crankingitout@gmail.com
Date:Wed, 23 Mar 2011 13:50:39
Subject: re:  opening number

Michael, I'm not mad at you, but.... Seriously, you didn't like the rap number in Q4aD?

Ok, how's this?

Lavender bath towels, folded in thirds
A soft fluffy symbol of horrible words
A submissive package of female advice
On being more normal but not being nice.
I've been working on some more lyrics, will send soon.


~ ~ ~

From: info@fairytalereality.com
To: crankingitout@gmail.com
Date: Thurs, 1 Apr 2011 20:10:09
Subject: re: opening number

Michael, I've been trying to get hold of you for a week and a half. Since you're not clicking with the opening number, and apparently the bath towels thing didn't agree with you, either, I've decided to go a different route with this.

There's plenty of free software online that should make it easy to make a musical without you. I took some lyrics and set them to pre-programmed music. 

Listen to how great this sounds:

When you try to clean with Drain-o
And it’s mixed with Liquid Plumber,
The explosive fumes can kill you
Like they did my loving mother.

And my father died of cancer
From the toxic body burden through
A life in an environment
Filled with fossil fumes.

All that money that he left us
Goes in circles back to plastic
That will be here many eons
After we are gone from earth...


~ ~ ~

From: crankingitout@gmail.com
To: info@fairytalereality.com
Date: Thurs, 1 Apr 2011 22:19:10
Subject: re: re: opening number

ha ha, happy april fool's to you, too. (you almost got me there.) autotune sounds cool BUT!!!!

sorry i've been incommunicado. busy at work. but i'll call you tomorrow. did you get the email where i wrote and told you i love love love the new lyrics you sent? wait 'til you hear the verse that goes,

they’re slobs!
i pick up everything!
their keys and
they make me draw their bubble baths
and then clean out the hair.
they make me sweep the kitchen floor,
and vacuum every stair.
i steam the
carpets, brew the coffee, purify the air!


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Dust and Clutter

After the funeral, I started hanging out in the attic where all the boxes of my mother’s books were kept; the bookshelves in the house had long been given over to knick-knacks. A kind of peace came over me in that room; everything in it was old, and therefore uninteresting to Donna and Debra, so I had my peace. It was a very nice attic, with a window that looked over the front driveway, and let in some nice afternoon sunlight. I did a lot of reading, or so it appeared, but what I remember most was lost hours when I would find myself reading a paragraph over and over again, then let my eyes unfocus a bit, then find myself watching the dust motes float in a sunbeam, and wonder at them: Are there dust motes in the shadows, too? Am I breathing dust motes? What are they made of? Are they all little worlds like in Horton Hears a Who? These reveries would come upon me often that year, almost as if my organizing mind went into idle so another part of me could grow. The Girls teased me about being ADD; Sylvia criticized me for being ‘spacey,’ but she was right. In my mind I would hear my mother’s voice, teasing me fondly for being a dreamer, and respecting the work of a woolgathering mind.

The rest of the house, which I passed through only to get food and use a bathroom, gradually became Theirs. Whenever someone came by, Sylvia always hosted them in the parlor, with all the other doors closed, as if it were still the 1800s. Because all of the other rooms were gradually being neglected to death. A shopping bag from Target would stay in the living room, where it was emptied. A spill in the hallway, when someone was bringing food to their room, would be left, and passing feet would grind Chee-tos into the rug. Rubber bands from the newspapers sprang into corners, never to be retrieved, and the papers themselves would be left on a table when read, open to the sale pages; more often stacked up by the fireplace unread. Hair scrunchies, clothing tags, toenail clippings, gum wrappers (and gum, itself), would be left behind without consciousness; no one ever had time to vacuum. Coffee rings and spilled food stayed on tabletops. Take-out containers, straws from sodas, lids from energy drink bottles were left on every horizontal surface. A former mocha latte with a layer of mold on it sat beside the television. And all of the casserole dishes and frozen dinner boxes that friends and neighbors brought by in sympathy just stacked up in the sink.

After a month or so, I couldn’t stand it anymore; passing through the living room on my way out the door turned my stomach, and I never knew what I might step on. In a way, in a very twisted way, The Hills (that was their last name before Sylvia married my dad; I still think of her as a Hill) did me a favor. Their clutter brought me out of my shell. After everyone went to bed at night I’d go attack a problem—the stairway, the kitchen, a bathroom. It was my house, my mother’s house, and I didn’t like to see it looking so awful.

Besides, all the yelling, the whining, was getting to me. “Where’s my magazine?” “Has anyone seen my other leg warmer?” “I put my reading glasses right here and now they’re gone.” “I swear, this house is eating things!” “I swear, this house hates us!” “Mo-o-o-om!”

So, little by little, I took back the house.

When I told Linda this story, she was very impressed. “You know, dust and clutter create a very negative spiritual energy,” she said. “There is a stickiness to it that attracts more dust and clutter, and this energy affects our minds, too. It’s why the Chinese start their new year with firecrackers, scaring that energy away; cleaning every corner of their house, getting new clothes and haircuts. It’s good Feng Shui to have clean corners.” There, I told myself, when I heard this. There, I had been doing a spiritual service to myself, the Hills, and my parents. Without even knowing it. I had once read a book I liked that had this sentence in it: when she cleaned up her house, she cleaned herself up inside, too. Now I understood why my mother had been so dedicated to her household tasks.

I found some old clothes of hers in a box in the attic, cute summer frocks and sweaters, mostly, and a box of sweatpants and t-shirts that had been my dad’s—he had apparently collected them from every college he’d visited when he was my age. The sweatpants became my uniforms when I cleaned. Eventually I started wearing them out of the house. I found I was growing out of all of my old clothes, anyway, and wearing my memories made me feel so much better. I tore my worn-out pajamas into flannel rags. Sylvia would screech in disgust when she saw me clean, diving for the chemical wipes that were now being advertised on TV. But one day she came home to me carting a box of her chemical cleaners out the door. I replaced everything in the house with non-toxic substitutes. She had a fit but I held my ground. When she was done yelling, I just came right out and calmly reminded her how my mother had died.

That shut her up for a while.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

My Father’s Face

Suddenly Sylvia was standing there, just out of her bath, wearing her fluffy robe, her hair in a yellow terrycloth turban… and holding a stack of lavender bath towels.

“You folded these, didn’t you?” she asked me. I nodded, glad she had noticed. She had asked for help with the laundry, and I was glad to do it. Well, the next thing she did was drop the stack on the board, scattering our game across the polished tabletop. “Didn’t your mother teach you anything? What is this?” She picked up the top towel and stared at it. “The edges are showing!” She shook the towel open and laid it flat across the mess. “You fold towels in thirds. Pay attention.” She turned first one long edge in, then another, her movements intense with efficiency… and some weird rage I did not understand. Then she brought the folded ends over, one at a time, until the towel was a submissive package of gentle, well-behaved, and definitely humbled corners.

Debra and Donna had changed in her presence, from carefree companions to stiff and snooty judges, rolling their eyes, shaking their heads. Sylvia shoved the pile of towels at me and left the room with her girls. I sat there, stunned, kind of just trying to catch my breath. Didn’t your mother teach you anything? 

Didn’t yours? I wondered.

At dinner that night the three of them chatted away with my dad, as if nothing happened, but I kept fighting back tears, trying to act normal for the family’s sake. I was still stunned by what she’d said and how she’d talked to me. After dinner, Sylvia swept my dad away from the table to show him carpet samples for her redecorating plans, so I never got to talk to him. The Girls went off to talk on the phone, and I sat there at the table, surrounded by dirty dishes, feeling empty, listening to the grandfather clock in the hall chime the half hour, then quarter of, then the hour of seven. Finally I decided to clean up. After all, it was my kitchen, too. And when I cleaned it, I could put things back where they belong.

When Sylvia came back to the kitchen I had just started the dishwasher and was wiping the counter. She didn’t say thanks or anything. Just, “Ugh, I don’t want to see those pots and pans in the morning.”

That was about enough. I remembered the tender moment after she had yelled at me the first time—but this was different. I squeezed the sponge in the sink and was hyper-aware of how my shoulders were positioned. I forced the words out, not wanting to start an argument, but something had to be said. I said it: “Do you treat your daughters this way?” I mean, she did treat them pretty bad, but she never left the cleaning to them.

She shrugged her shoulders as she took two wineglasses out of the cabinet. “Well, you’re not my daughter.”

When I told my friend Linda (we were in college at the time) about Sylvia, she said Sylvia’s cold manner was her way of masking her own buried pain, created by parents who never gave her the love she needed. Okay, I get that. But at that moment I only felt confused at the wave of contempt that washed over me. That blatant statement of rejection was completely unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. I stepped back at the force of it, feeling my chest tighten around my lungs. And when I stepped back, I could see my dad’s shadow blocking the door to the hallway. He had heard us speaking. I saw his face, gone white. Sylvia turned and saw him, looked stricken for a moment, caught with her guard down. Then she steeled herself, narrowed her eyes, waiting for a challenge. She didn’t get one—my dad just stood there with this incredibly pained look on his face—so she gave one.

“Well, she’s not,” Sylvia spat. “She’s inattentive, reclusive, holier-than-thou, and defiant. You heard her tone.” My mind reeled… was I really all those things? Inattentive, yeah, to some things, but on the other hand I had about a hundred more things to pay attention to than Debra and Donna… like my studies, my volunteer work, my college applications, my sewing projects (many of which were for other family members). And I loved to read. I was working my way through my mother’s library. Sylvia’s voice went up a few notches. “Whenever I say anything to her, I can tell she’s just trying to imagine what her own mother would have said.” Well, that part was actually true.

We both stared at my father’s face, his very pale and slightly sweaty face, hoping he would say something that would support each of our points of view. I really needed him to stick up for me, to say something sweet, to tell her what a genuinely good person I was, how hard I tried to do the right thing, and how Sylvia was the grown-up, and needed to take some responsibility.

My dad’s eyes unfocused just a little bit. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but no sound came out. He turned, instead, into the bathroom off the hallway, and threw up.

Then he passed out.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Isn't it Something?


Sunday, July 1, 2012

An Air of Sweetness

From before I said my first word, which was “thanks,” my parents encouraged me to be polite and well-spoken, to polish my best qualities, and to be kind to others, something I never realized until they were  both gone. They had been drawn to one another by mutual ideals of personal responsibility, generosity of spirit, and human potential. My mother wore flowered frocks and a wide smile at all times, and brought an air of sweetness to her every endeavor. My father surrounded her, at times like a garden wall, at other times like a large and exuberant puppy. He was absolutely dedicated to our family, and always begged my mom for more children. “But darling,” she’d always say, knowing she was playing a role, and that his playful begging was an act, since they both knew it wasn’t in the cards, “we got it right the first time; we don’t need any more kids.” And so it was that I felt special, and caught my small wishes for siblings before they could turn into actual longings. I was never lonely. My mother, the consummate housewife, taught me to sew, how to cook, and so many ways to clean that it never felt like a chore. And I loved to read; reading was a big part of our lives, always the reward for when the work was done. I did well in school, and always had friends, but never felt I needed them, since my family was so whole.

When I got to middle school, though, life got more complicated, as life does for all of us when we reach a certain age and the innocence falls away. You start wondering about Santa Claus, and then you start wondering about everything else. I wondered why my father was so distractible, and why my mother was so passionate about keeping things just so. I never got a chance to answer these questions, since the fates had other plans for us all. I was in eighth grade Science class when I got called to the office with the news my mother was in the hospital. It sounds funny to say she died in a tragic cleaning accident, but that’s what happened, and it wasn’t. My friend Cadwallader, a chemical genius, has explained the gory details to me, but let me just put this out there for all of our readers to know: never, ever, mix ammonia with chlorine bleach. And never, ever, ever, let toilet cleaner near drain cleaner. Enough said.

In tenth grade, my dad got married to Sylvia, a really nice woman from our church who was very kind and clear about how she wanted to take care of him (and after a few years of living alone with him, I was starting to realize how much he needed to be taken care of). I got two sisters my own age out of the deal.

After living in an empty house with dad for a year, our life, at first, was like a slumber party that didn’t end. Debra and Donna were light-hearted, and their focus on fashion and teen-hunks was refreshing and cheered me up. I wanted them to like me. But I was uncomfortable the way Sylvia would yell at them, build them up and tear them down, in a way I had never seen before; my mom was not like that. Sylvia would never raise her voice around dad, of course. And only little by little, around me. Then one day she yelled at me on the way out the door to school to “get my ass moving.” It was weird that what I felt was a sense of relief at her harsh words and tone, but for the first time, she was treating me as one of her own. And I did secretly hope she could be a good mom to me, that we could be close. Well, I decided, if that’s what it takes….

My father was clear from the start, that he intended to treat us all equally, and I was glad for him that his wish for more kids was coming true. “I don’t want to play my kid/your kids,” he said to Sylvia, as they discussed their wedding over dinner one night; “They’re all our kids.” I admired his attitude, admired him, and Debra, Donna, and I all grinned at each other. Sylvia nodded and seemed to agree with this idea—to his face. But over time it dawned on me what was really happening. Sylvia, when she wasn’t yelling at Debra and Donna, was caring for them, talking to them, helping them in all the ways a mother helps her kids. But when Dad wasn’t around, she never really talked to me much, except in that “move your ass” tone of voice.

One day he found the truth out, yes, one horrible, horrible day, the other most horrible day in my life.