Monthly Archives: June 2012

The Perfect Daughter, Part 1—Clark Humphrey

For her “alt-graduation” party, her father Gerry assembled a computer video clip entitled “A series of moments from the eventful life of our Roxy (so far).” She didn’t know in advance what he’d placed into it; he’d only promised her he wouldn’t include any really embarrassing footage. This did not assauge her fears; she knew he had far more lenient standard than she did about what was or wasn’t embarrassing.

Sure enough, on the Saturday afternoon of the party in the house, the very first image Roxy and her friends and her father’s friends see is her as a toddler on roller skates, repeatedly falling and getting back up, with adventure-movie soundtrack music dubbed in. Over that, Gerry had dubbed in the voice of his longtime friend Rondo:

“As soon as he knew he was having a daughter, and especially when he got primary custody, he vowed to make her into the kind of woman he’d most admired. What he hadn’t really thought through was that all the women he admired most were ficitonal. Xena and Buffy never existed. And what he really wanted to make her into, a Xena or a Buffy who also loved nerd boys, could REALLY have never existed.”

The next scene shows Gerry (younger, with more hair and more gut flab) videotaping himself waving in a full length mirror at a martial arts studio, then panning around to show the nine-year-old Roxy in a white robe, stretching and preparing for her bout at the studio’s quarterly championships.

Next comes a quick cut to the bout itself. Roxy kept her feet prancing Ali-style as she stared down her opponent. Her eyes were wide open but her ears were apparently closed, as her opponent and her both did their best to ignore the aggressive parental shouts and exhortations from the sidelines.

Another quick cut and we’re after the match (whose ending was not included in the final footage). Roxy and another girl are talking about the meet and the parental rooting sections. Roxy says, “It’s like they’re Pokémon trainers putting us into battle to settle their own disagreements.” The other girl sighs, “Then they beam us back into our little plastic balls and take us home. We don’t even learn what they’ve got against the other parents.”

Next scene: Roxy is about the same age, this time at a “learning enrichment” seminar. Four classrooms at an elementary school in town are being used this Saturday. Three of them are for kids who are trying to catch up with their peers. Only Roxy’s room is occupied by kids who are trying to exceed official expectations. Gerry’s minicam is peering into the classroom from a little window inside the door. The image of her is fuzzy and slowed way down; but it’s clear she finds learning things to be a far more valuable use of her extracurricular time than fighting made-up fights against other girls. She’s attentive and focused on the workbook in her hand and the textbook on her desk.

Next scene: Staged footage of the 12-year-old Roxy on a cross-country bicycle, in a city park on a cloudy morning, being “interviewed” by her father as if she were a star athlete before or after a big game. Among the things she says:

“I think what I like most about being on my bike is I can work out outside, by myself. No competition. No pressure. Nobody yelling at me to go faster or hit harder.”

Gerry asks, off camera and almost out of mic range, “Nobody like me, for instance?”

In the video on the big flat computer screen, Roxy just looks into the camera and fidgets with her handlebars.

Back in the living room of the suburban tract house, everyone young and old stops watching the clip and stares at the 17-year-old Roxy. She stands silently, having learned to hold her ground.


TORNADO – Part 5 by Karen Uffelman

Maura sat up with a start, almost hitting her head on the table lamp by the hide-a-bed.  She fumbled for the lamp switch.

Jackson threw an arm over his face, shielding his eyes from the light and rolled over onto his side.  Maura pressed a hand to her mouth, muffling a gasp, as she surveyed the room.  Clothes, hers included, were strewn across the floor.  A polo shirt she recognized as her father’s made her almost shriek, until she remembered that Jackson had borrowed it the night before.

She turned the light back off, and leaned back against the couch cushions at the head of the mattress.  She pulled the sheet up to her chin, and stared at Jackson.   He was bathed in the moonlight from the basement window.  The window had a grate over it , and the moonlight was broken by the shadows from the crisscrossing metal  bars.  Jackson’s back and the side of his face appeared to be covered in tiny diamonds.

Maura tried hard to remember how she ended up in the basement on the hide-a-bed, IN the hide-a-bed, with Jackson.  Her head was pounding and her mouth felt incredibly dry.  She was definitely still drunk, and maybe a little stoned.  She noticed a skunky edge to the dank smell of the basement.  The sheets were tangled and damp and there were suspicious crusty remnants on her thighs and belly.

“Ah hell.”

Jackson stirred at the sound of Maura’s voice, and rolled toward her, throwing an arm across her hips and burrowing his head under her arm.  She started to push him away but then decided it would be a mistake to wake him until she had a plan.  Her head hurt so much!

She kind of remembered finding some brandy in the china cabinet, and pulling it out after her mother went to bed.  Drinking it straight from the bottle with Rebecca and Andrea and Jackson, as if they were all teenagers.  Jackson rolling a joint and Andrea freaking out.  Maybe some flirting with Jackson?  Yes, definitely some flirting.  Getting in a nasty fight with Rebecca.  Rebecca yelling.  Somehow ending up alone in the living room with Jackson and making out with him.  She didn’t remember coming down to the basement, though.

Jackson murmured something into her armpit and ran a hand up her inner thigh.  She could feel a budding erection against her other leg and started to panic.  The physical affection, after all of the stress of the previous day, wasn’t totally unwelcome, but all of Maura’s previous sexual relationships had been with women (at least those she could remember), and she wasn’t sure she was ready to knowingly switch teams.

She slipped out of the hide-a-bed, grabbing the closest piece of clothing (which happened to be Pastor Bell’s polo shirt) and tiptoed to the bathroom.  She was just pulling the door closed behind her when she heard footsteps coming down the stairs.

“Jackson?  Jackson?”

“Hey,” Jackson mumbled, “where’d you go? Come back to bed…”

“Um, I thought you might want some water,” Andrea approached the hide-a-bed uncertainly, holding a glass in front of her.  Maura could see from the crack in the bathroom door that she was still wearing the pink sweater along with a surprisingly racy pair of underpants.

“Ah, thank you baby.  Come ‘ere,” Jackson reached a hand toward Andrea, “it’s cold in here without you.”

“Um, I don’t know,” Andrea set the glass of water down on the side table, “I guess I could lie down for a minute.  It smells kind of musty down here…”


“Um, okay…wait a minute…okay.”

Maura wasn’t sure what to do.  She was worried about embarrassing Andrea, and also worried about leaving her with Jackson, but mostly she was just distracted by the glass of water that Andrea had put on the side table.  It seemed like the most delicious thing in the world.  Only ten feet away.  She dropped to all fours and started crawling toward it.

“I don’t know…are you okay, Jackson?  You’re so warm…you seem a little feverish.”

“For you, baby, feverish for you.”

Maura kept her eyes on the glass as she elbowed her way across the carpet.  The water looked so crystal clear.  With a few bubbles, maybe?  Yes, there were definitely bubbles.

“Oh!”  Giggles, kissing sounds.

“Where did this sweater come from?  Let’s get this off of you…”

“I don’t know…okay, I guess…for a minute…”

The side table was very close now.  Maura’s knee came down on something sharp, a hook from her bra , probably.  She gritted her teeth and reached for the glass.

Pastor Bell entered from the garage, flipping on the overhead light and finding his daughter on the floor on all fours, wearing only a polo shirt that looked disturbingly familiar, and some naked man he’d never met in his hide-a-bed with the neighbor girl sitting on top of him in her underwear.  Her breasts were bigger than he’d ever imagined.


The Adventures of Lily Leigh—Ch. 3—Elaine Bonow

Lily Leigh Chapter 3

            “You should rest girl. But first, while you eat, let me answer some of the questions you must be having.”

“First, tell me why I am here. I could have a concussion or something worse. Are you a doctor or something? Why didn’t you take me to the hospital? I must have been completely unconscious? I could have…”

“Oh, stop your fretting lassie. You were breathing and I didn’t want any publicity about you being here. Edinburgh is a small town and your name would be all over town in a matter of hours.”

“Cousin Ed just told me to come up here and find out where you were. I didn’t think it would be a matter of national importance.”

Bertram strode purposefully across the room and stirred the fire, which blazed and sparked, his gangly frame. I assessed the man and helped myself to another cup of coffee.  In spite of my bizarre kidnapping, I quite liked the look of my newly discovered uncle. He was a tall man; about six foot three, thin to the edge of gauntness with a wild shock of white hair. I guess he must be pushing eighty or more. His huge gnarled hands stuck out from the sleeves of his tweed jacket. Despite his age he had an aura of strength, which reassured me.

“Who stitched me up? ” I asked as I hungrily dug into the crispy bacon and soft yolk of the poached egg he had so kindly brought me.

“Ah, well lass. I raised sheep for many years and had to fix up all of my animals from time to time when they got hurt. I am very proud of my stitching. You only needed a couple of wee stitches. You’ll have a wee scar but that will disappear in a few months. Now don’t worry, you’ll be just fine after a good night sleep.”

“I guess I’d better thank you Uncle. I better call you uncle after all we’ve been through. I must still be in shock and I still don’t get all this secrecy. I really need to talk to Ed. This all seems like a bad dream.” I could feel the tears starting to heat up my face. I took a large gulp of coffee and munched on toast until I could get myself together.

Uncle Bertram paced the floor, from me to the fireplace and back again. “I’ve already called Ed.” He said stopping mid pace turning towards me. “I wanted to wait until we could all talk together. This might be something really big that we are after something really important. But we’ll get all of this clarified tomorrow when Ed gets here. He cut his trip short, actually his sale was successful and he finished early.  He is taking the train from Paris and will be here tomorrow afternoon.”

“Well, do you think I can have my phone and laptop now. I feel so lost without my electronics. This whole caper sounds interesting. You can count on me, Uncle.”

Bertram stopped pacing at the door. He turned to her and looked hard at her with his steely grey eyes. “Aye lass. But I want you to rest and promise me you won’t be a wandering around the house tonight. I’ll bring your things to you. Mrs. Stewart, my housekeeper will be here in the morning to fix you some food. I’ll go personally and fetch your luggage from Mrs. Broomfield’s.” He turned on his heels and left the room.

I sat back against the headboard and closed my eyes. The events that I remember tumbled through my mind. I wonder what Ed and Bertram are looking for? I have been Ed’s assistant for the past few years now and we’ve had anything so exciting happen before.

I opened my eyes and touched my damaged forehead. “Ouch!” I silently cried out. There was a tap at the door. No one entered. I put the tray on the chair next to the bed. I got up and tip toed to the door. I opened the door a crack and peered out. My laptop and phone were leaning against the wall. I whisked my meager belongings from the icy corridor into the toasty room.

I set up my laptop on the table in front of the fire. The Wi-Fi connection was fast. The first person I emailed was Ed. He’s not as tech-savvy as I am and that is one of the reasons he needed me. In fact I have to give myself credit for getting Ed’s appraisal business into the twenty-first century.

I checked my Facebook page scrolling through all of the random hodgepodge of crap you have to wade through. I didn’t post anything. I really didn’t even know what I would post maybe something like “Help. I’ve been kidnapped by my ancient Scottish uncle that I don’t even know so we can become involved in some strange mysterious adventure that we are going to embark on.” No, I don’t think that would be such a good idea, plus I was feeling pretty tired by now. The best thing to do is sleep and wait until morning.

I closed the laptop and set the alarm on my phone for eight AM. It was now 23:49.  Eight solid hours of sleep should get me in shape for tomorrow’s mysterious unveiling. The fire warmed the room nicely and with the lights off the coal glow was comforting. Lying there I mulled over what Bertram had told me. I wonder what we would find on this quest. I felt a bit scared here in a strange house with a damaged skull. I don’t even know where I was in Edinburgh. Tomorrow I would do a location search and find exactly where I was being held. I wish I had someone I could call but my friends are all so far flung. Ed is my closest friend here in the old country since I left my old life behind. I closed my eyes and I could see the green rolling hills of Dundee Oregon. I felt so alone. I wanted to cry but crying might make my head hurt. Suddenly I remembered that Bertram had told me not to wander from my room.  I wonder if I locked the door after I got my things. I decided I’d better check and got up from the bed and re-checked the lock. Feeling safer, I could sleep now. I snuggled into the covers and fell into a deep sleep only to be awakened by the feeling of someone sitting on the bed. The room was entirely dark. I cracked my eyes open and screamed.

There was a shadow in profile of a woman in a grey diaphanous gown. A disembodied voice spoke, not aloud, but directly into my head.

“Lass don’t afraid

Your path is well laid.

The first clue to you will show

At the Castle of Linlithgow.”

            I turned on the light but there was no one there. My body was cold and my forehead bathed in sweat. What the hell was that? I asked myself. It was a ghost for sure. I told myself. I pressed my phone. The time read 4:44. I hugged myself. I kept seeing the image of the Lady in Gray; at least that’s what she seemed to be, my first haunting. The message she spoke was quite clear. I had been to Linlithgow once before when I was in school. It was such a magnificent ruin full of ancient memories.            I was too afraid to sleep and just lay there hugging myself tightly until the first light of day brightened the room ever so gently and I fell into a deep dreamless sleep.


The Perfect Daughter (Chapter 3)—Clark Humphrey

Roxy re-openned her laptop and silently asked herself: Where had she gone wrong? 

Not the kind of “wrong” her teachers and school administrators had once accused her of being, but “wrong” by her own definition. 

She’d stumbled into what could be her life’s career.

A childhood of always doing something in seemingly every waking hour (usually biking, playing sports, studying, reading, writing, arguing with some authority figure, or arguing with some other kid) had led to a young adulthood of very similar routines (research, writing, editing, promoting, recording podcasts, giving speeches).

In the past year and a half, her name and face had appeared on a series of e-books based on the “re-education” she’d researched in the topics of sex education, U.S. history, and environmental science. She and her father had planned to add a whole line of e-books in other censored-in-red-states topics (evolution, ethnic studies). 

Only now it could be over. 

Just because she was, and had continued to be, herself. Independent, free thinking, ready to speak her mind no matter the consequences.

Because of one little public remark, Roxy faced the end of her little cottage business. 

For the first time in her highly structured life, she might be left with nothing to do.

The comment threads revealed the extent of the reaction, from people whom she’d thought were loyal customers and who’d thought she was “one of them”:

“YOU TRAITOR! Why don’t you just put on a brownshirts uniform and join in with the rest of the right wing Nazis???”

“You, madame, were oh so eager to take our money and our support when it suited you. Then you turned right around and stabbed our movement in the back!”

“This woman calls herself an alternative schooler. She’s REALLY just a CROCK OF SHIT Con Artist!”

“No worthy parent will ever, EVER trust their beloved daughters and sons with your WORTHLESS so-called courses, EVER AGAIN.”

And those were just the comments addressed personally to her. The ones that referred to her in the third person described her at best as a “Teabagger In Sheep’s Clothing,” and at worst as “a Patriarchal Tool of the Oppressor Class” who, come “the Revolution,” would face “a glorious future stamping out license plates in the prison of the 1 Percent and Their Lackeys.” 

Some of these commenters had pseudonyms such as “RespectAll” and “PeaceBeginsAtHome.”

None of the commenters had ever met her in person.

After she’d skimmed through about 30 of these comments, she opened an online chat with her father. He’d said she’d “broken their hearts. These people had this complete image of you. Then you broke it, by just being the real you.”

“But what did they think I was?”

“They thought you were the goddess of unschooling. The left wing version of homeschooling. For one brief moment, you were the heroine to every Occupy Wall Street parent and Ralph Naderite grandparent in the country. You were the role model for schooling without The State.”

“But I wasn’t. I just got that early-graduation exam in my junior year.”

“Instead of getting expelled. I was there, remember?”

“And I’ve always told my life the way it was.”

“But your fans and customers. They take from you what they want to see. They see this defiant girl who knew the teachers were lying to her. Who set out to learn the truth, then set out to retell the truth to all the other kids.” 

“But I never said parents should pull their kids out of public schools.”

“Doesn’t matter. They thought you said it. Because they wanted you to.”

“So I make this little aside in this little blog post.”

“You say you’d like public schools to use your e-books.” 

“But it was just a wish. Not even a plan.”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“What do I do?”

“After all this time proving you were independent, you ask your dad what to do?”

“Uh, a lot of that time I was being independent the way you wanted me to be independent.”

“As I recall, you were usually rebelling against that.”


“The way I see it, kid, you’ve got two options. You can turn to the old cliche that the customer’s always right. You can become the kind of radical they want you to be.”

“Conform to somebody’s idea of non-conformity.”

“Exactly! Or stand your ground. Keep believing in yourself. Even if the whole business goes down the shitter and takes both our incomes with it.”

“If you put it that way, I guess I have to.”

“THAT’s my girl!”

The Railway by Shanna L

This story was inspired by the Edouard Manet painting The Railway. It hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Here is the Wikipedia link if you want to look at it:


The attic was filled with boxes and trunks, odds and ends of my family’s life. The sun shining through the windows only served to illuminate the dust particles floating around the room that coated my clothes and face. The dust made my eyes water and I pressed the edge of my handkerchief to the corners of my eyes. Through the tears I looked down at the trunk in front of me, hoping that this would be the one. I drug my handkerchief through the layer of dust on the lid and wiped off the hinge. My nose twitched as I opened the trunk and peered inside.

I sighed as I saw that the trunk was empty and not filled with the baby clothes that I was looking for. Clothes that my mother said were up in the attic, but somehow had evaded me and the five trunks that I had already looked in. I grumbled to myself and made to close the lid when something in the far corner caught my eye. In the pale beige of the trunk’s interior, it was easy to make out a dark object stuffed in the corner. Reaching in, I carefully grabbed hold of the object, not quite knowing what it was. I turned it over in my hands and realized that I was holding a hat, a hat I hadn’t seen in 10 years.

The hat was floppy in my hands, the velvet ribbon faded despite being hidden in the trunk for so long. The colored flowers adorning the hat were perched precariously on the top, their threads holding them to the ribbon having been rotted away long ago. I slowly raised the hat to my nose, breathing in the scent that still clung to it. It smelled like dirt, like the Paris air, and like soot.

For a moment I imagined the girl who used to wear this hat. I could picture her so vividly, as if she were sitting right next to me. Her long, brown hair that was usually worn pulled back. Her dark eyes that she thought made her look mysterious. The gold earrings she wore that she pretended were a gift from an old suitor, but I knew she had stolen them from a previous employer. Her name was Sarah. She was one of my governesses when I was younger and I had hated her.

By the time I was eight I had a succession of governesses. It’s not that my parents couldn’t be bothered to look after me, but they were important people and were busy during the day. My father was a high-ranking member of the government and worked hard. My mother was the head of many charities and organizations. While I rarely saw them during the daytime, my parents always made time for me at night. They felt bad about leaving me on my own, so they always hired a girl to be my governess. They would tell me it was because they wanted someone who could act not so much like a teacher, but like an older sister to me. Unfortunately my father’s job made us move a lot, which necessitated the need for a new governess with each move. I had had many governesses but Sarah was different.

The room around me started to fade as I began to remember the last time I saw Sarah wear the pretty hat I was holding. Images of that day came back to me, along with the noises of the city and the smell of train soot. I could hear the hum of the people of Paris rushing to and fro intermingled with the sounds of trains blaring their horns.

Summertime in Paris was hot. Having just gotten over a lengthy summer cold, I was restless and eager to leave my stifling sickroom and house. My parents had already left for the day, after assuring themselves that I was no longer ill. Walking downstairs, I peeked my head around the corner of the door and looked into the breakfast room. I saw Sarah preening and fixing her hair in the mirror, smoothing down the flyaways. She took her finger, licked it, wiped it over her right eyebrow, and licked it again and did the same to the other brow. She pinched her cheeks and smiled at their rosy blush. Her eyes darted to the side and met my wide-eyed stare in the mirror. I gasped and whirled, hiding behind the door. Spying me in her reflection she turned around.

“I can see your nightgown Cora,” she said. I looked down and yanked my nightgown from where it had trailed on the floor. “I see you’re feeling better. Is there something that you want to do today?”

I was tired of being inside the house. “Can we go for a walk down by the train station?” I asked.  I loved going to the train station and watching the people all dressed up going on trips to far off places. I could sit for hours, my imagination filled with stories of their journeys.

Sarah sighed. “Yes, we can go by the train station. Let’s get you dressed.”

She hustled me back up the stairs and into my room. I hummed to myself as I stepped into my dress and turned my head to watch as Sarah tied the sash into a bow. I watched her as she brushed my hair and tied another bow, this time in my hair ribbon. I was excited to see the trains, but I was not excited to go with Sarah. I hated going anywhere with Sarah. All she would ever do was talk about all the young men she would see. She never paid any attention to me when we were out in public. More than once I had been forgotten about while she chattered on with some man she met on the street.

I waited while she pulled on her coat and anchored her hat, both hand-me-downs given to her by my mother when they had gone out of fashion. I knew Sarah liked to wear them because she thought they made her look like a respectable lady. “You’re going to be hot,” I told her.

Sarah looked at me and raised her eyebrow. “When you’re older, you’ll realize that ladies don’t always have a choice in what we wear.”

“But you’re not a lady, you’re a governess.”

“I am too a lady,” Sarah sneered. She grabbed her basket off of the floor and marched to the front door. “We should leave.

“Wait!” I cried. “We can’t leave Apollo home by himself!” Apollo was the new puppy that I had just received. He seemed to sleep a lot but I think that he was just getting used to my family and learning his way around the house. I hoped that when he got older he would want to run and play more. But for now, I would take him with me wherever I went so that he would learn who I was.

Sarah sighed. “Get Apollo and I will carry him in the basket.”

The air was warm as we walked to the station. Horses, carts and carriages filled the streets and I could smell the bread baking a street away. I skipped as we got closer to the train station and I could see the white steam from the engines as it floated away to the clouds.

“Hurry!” I yelled to Sarah as we reached the fence that surrounded the station. I could see the passengers walking along the platforms as the conductor hollered for them to board. I looked for someone who had a story and saw a lady wearing a black dress and veil, standing off to the side. I closed my eyes and imagined that she was going to meet her husband who she hasn’t seen in 10 years because he had been captured by pirates. He left to go to India, to seek out the riches there, when his boat was attacked. She waited, frantic with worry, for a letter from him. I imagined her pale and in mourning, as she sat in a dark room and declared that she would never love anyone except her husband. And then one day, she received a letter in the post that said her husband was coming home so now she boards the train that will take her to the ports so she can be reunited with her husband.

I stared as the train rolled out of the station, its wheels chugging on the tracks, as my new imagined friends went on their way. I grabbed hold of the irons bars of the fence and leaned back, swinging from side to side.  I giggled as the sky seemed to tilt and move.

“Cora,” said Sarah.  “Stop that and act like a lady.  Your hands are getting dirty.”  I turned to look at her and saw that her head was down.  I stuck my tongue out at her.

“What are you doing?” I sing-songed.

“I’m reading.”

“No you’re not,” I sang.

“Yes I am,” replied Sarah, turning the page of her book.

“No you’re not, the book is upside down.”

Sarah froze and then her face flushed. She said quietly, “I knew that.” She closed the book and put it back in the basket. Her hand went to the top of Apollo’s head, as she pet the puppy lying in her lap.

I giggled again and turned back to the trains. I knew that Sarah didn’t know how to read. Besides, the book was right side up anyway. It was one of the reasons I didn’t like Sarah. I knew she lied to my mother and father and told them that she could read. My mom told me that I wasn’t supposed to tell lies, but I thought that if Sarah could lie about reading, then I could lie about which way the book was facing. I giggled to myself again.

Sarah cleared her throat, smoothed her hair, and tightened her hat pin. “Come Cora,” she said. “It’s time to go.”


TORNADO Part 4 by Karen Uffelman

Andrea passed the mashed potatoes to Jackson, who was wearing the polo shirt that Janet found for him in Pastor Bell’s closet.  Jackson thought Pastor Bell’s trousers were too big, however, and was still sporting a towel tied around his waist.  He offered to help carry the serving plates from the kitchen to the dining room, but Janet thought his towel looked none-too-secure and insisted he sit at the dining table and be waited on.  Rebecca was wearing one of Janet’s blouses – a particularly matronly-looking blouse – and she glared with envy at the tight pink sweater Andrea had taken from Maura’s dresser.  Rebecca asked if she could borrow something from Maura as well, but Maura stated resolutely that nothing in her childhood closet would even come close to fitting.  Rebecca noted (out loud) that hadn’t stopped Andrea.  Maura ignored her.

“I think Maura’s sweater looks nice on Andrea,” Jackson said, retying the towel sarong that kept slipping to his hips. “It probably looked really nice on Maura, too.”

“Shut up, Jackson,” Rebecca and Maura chimed in unison.  Andrea blushed.

Pastor Bell was still in Cedar Bluffs.  He’d called and said they should have dinner without him, that it was looking like a late night and he didn’t expect to be home until early morning.  Janet had baked a chicken and was actually grateful that her husband wasn’t going to make it home.  Between his absence, and Rebecca being a vegetarian, there might be enough food.  Janet had no idea what to offer Rebecca, but Rebecca helpfully found a box of rice krispies in the cupboard and announced that was all she needed.

Janet had Andrea set the table and ordered Jackson to park himself at the head seat, since Pastor Bell wouldn’t be joining them.  Then she asked Maura to pull out some wine glasses.

“Really?  Since when did you start drinking wine, Mom?”

“Well, we don’t usually.  But one of your father’s parishioners brought us some and maybe we should drink it.  I mean, you’ve all lived through a LOT today.”

“Hear, hear, Janet, I think that’s a marvelous idea!” Jackson ceremoniously unfurled his napkin and laid it across his toweled lap.

Janet found the two bottles of red wine in the top cupboard and Rebecca helped her uncork them.  Janet also brought a bottle of diet 7-up to the table, “I find I like wine better with a little soda.”

Maura rolled her eyes, took one of the bottles from Rebecca and poured herself a full glass.  Then she filled Jackson’s.

“I feel very well taken-care-of,” Jackson smiled at Maura.

“Good,” Maura replied.

“Uh – what’s going on over there,” Rebecca asked, “I’m thirsty, too.”

“And so am I,” Andrea whispered, not quite under her breath.

“You’ve got a bottle in your hand,” Maura pointed at Rebecca, “and you, Andrea, I think would do better with some of my mother’s diet 7-up.”

“So bossy, my daughter,” sighed Janet.  She took the bottle that Rebecca was holding and filled Andrea’s glass.  Then poured several teaspoons into her own and topped it off with diet 7-up.  Andrea shook her head when Janet offered to do the same for her.  Finally, Janet poured some wine into Rebecca’s glass.  But not very much.  Rebecca drank it all in one gulp.

“I thought, maybe, a toast.”

Janet eyed Jackson, “First we say grace.”

“Oh, right, grace.  Okay.  Shall I lead it?”

“That would be lovely, Jackson.”

“Oh my god,” sighed Rebecca.

“Please!” Janet shook her head and looked down.  Everyone was quiet.

“Hey there, God, we’ve had one helluva’ day today.  I guess you know all about it.  Man, when you make your mind up you can really make a mess!” Janet cleared her throat.  Jackson continued, “But I’m sure you know what you’re doing, and as messes go this was a pretty magnificent one, so, good going,” Jackson looked over at Janet but she didn’t look up. “We’d like to thank you for letting us all live through it, and especially for sending us all here.  Thanks for Janet, and this marvelous chicken and all of the other good things on and around this table,” he shot a glance at Maura, who was staring back at him, and then looked over at Andrea whose head was bowed but was blushing furiously, “ And especially for Pastor Bell’s parishioner who decided to bring over the wine.”

Andrea said, “Amen.”

“Now the toast! Can someone refill my glass, please?” Rebecca stuck her empty glass towards one of the bottles.

“Here you are my dear,” Janet filled Rebecca’s glass.  “I don’t know how you all can drink this stuff straight – I can definitely feel it going straight to my head!”

The Perfect Daughter (Part 2)—Clark Humphrey


The scene is a principal’s office. The lady principal of Roxy’s high school has sent in Roxy and her father Gerry, to be interrogated separately. 

Scene 1: 

Principal Rena Maitland interrogates Roxy. Because this session could potentially lead to serious disciplinary action, the proceedings are recorded on a computer webcam. Ms. Maitland asked about the following incidents: 

• Roxy leading a “re-education” group after school, at her home or other sites off of school property. 

Ms. Maitland presented, and Roxy confirmed the accuracy of, a set of emailed “lesson plans” for these once- or twice-weekly confabs. The first few sessions discussed “real” sex-ed information, disallowed from public-school curricula by the State Department of Education. 

As the weeks went on, until the other kids’ parents found out, Roxy’s lessons grew to include alternate takes on U.S. history (derived from the works of Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky) and the world’s major religions (and what was hypocritical/misogynist/fascist about each of them). 

• Roxy’s alleged involvement in a “whisper campaign,” spreading rumors of criminal activity involving two of the school’s most prominent faculty members. 

In these rumors, Ms. Davies was accused of trading sexual favors with male students for good grades; and Mr. Thom was accused of committing regular emotional abuse toward his wife and kids. Roxy apologized for participating in the whispering against Mr. Thom; she said she now knew the rumor had started with Mrs. Thom’s divorce attorney and could have been a lie. 

But Roxy insisted Ms. Davies deserved to be smeared, that her barter system gave an unfair advantage to the compliant boys (and to girls who could procure compliant boys, something Roxy avowed had happened at least once).  

• Roxy’s own status as the target of a rumor campaign against her. The rumor alleged she’d regularly seduced the boyfriends of the school’s more popular girls, as revenge for social slights those girls had supposedly committed against her. 

Normally, Ms. Maitland explained, the administration wouldn’t pry into this aspect of students’ personal lives; but in Roxy’s case, this was part of an overall pattern of disruptive behavior. Roxy proclaimed that this particular behavior had only happened once, and she’d done it because she’d felt so sorry for the boy, having to put up with that prissy stuck up girl and all her petty demands all the time. She’d just wanted to show him, just once, what healthy sex without all the brutal mind games could be like.

Scene 2: 

As he had been at all previous sessions with school administrators and teachers, Gerry expressed neither remorse nor dismay over his daughter’s actions. 

He rose to show off his casual wear-clad physique in front of Ms. Maitland. He told her he had his special girl to credit for keeping him on the workouts and off the junk food. He said he counted the day he was awarded Roxy’s primary custody as the day he began to transform, from a slovenly, depressed, withdrawn, overgrown nerd, into someone who was truly alert, aware, and alive. 

He boasted of having helped Roxy devise the lessons for her “re-education” club. She’d come home from school one day complaining about the pitiful excuse for sex-ed offered in the school—the abstinence sermons, the distortions and lies about birth control, and the sass about all guys being out-for-just-one-thing jerks who need to be trapped into marriage. 

As soon as Roxy told him about the pathetic excuse for education, Gerry put her and himself into high gear. They looked up factual sex-ed material from sites such as

Then Roxy said something along the lines of it was a shame the other kids in the class couldn’t get the real facts. He didn’t have to say anything before she got the thought to get the other kids the real facts. Together the two of them copied, cut, and pasted some of these web articles. She emailed them to a few trusted classmates. That led to the meetups. 

That led to the other lessons about other things. 

That led to the parents of some of the kids in the meetups finding out and raising a stink. 

That led to what Gerry called a smear campaign against Roxy, in which average teen gossiping and average teen sex were inflated into a “pattern of disruptive behavior.”

Gerry stood up again (his head going out of the webcam’s range). He threatened Ms. Maitland that if the district makes any attempt to suspend, reprimand, or transfer Roxy to the district’s “bad kids” school, a whirlwind of legal and PR action would descend upon the district the likes of which neither Ms. Maitland nor the School Board could even imagine.

Scene 3: 

Watching these video files two years later, an even more self-assured Roxy remarked that it was a shame the cam only caught her and her father. 

Gerry agreed, saying it would have been priceless to have a permanent record of Ms. Maitland shrinking at least three inches in height over the course of the hour.