The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes stories
The Discount Barn Emporium is one store in Andwichville's shopping district beloved and distained by all. Advertisements describe the store as "a selection of high-end odds-and-ends geared toward an eccentric yet pragmatic clientele."
Yet, some in town describe it as a "junk store full of cast-offs," but even they might admit to having shopped there once or twice. And all would agree that nothing within its offerings is of shoddy workmanship, of perishable materials or design, or of a type that they themselves would be ashamed to add to their own collection of possessions.
Today young Monica and her mother are at the Discount Barn Emporium. Monica is a lass on the cusp of pre-adulthood. She is a tidy girl who never once disobeys her parents' direction. For the last month since she started wearing her white sneakers, she has not once scuffed them. Her long, mousy brown hair is perpetually in neat banana curls that her mother sets in rollers overnight. Monica always does more homework than is necessary and practices the violin for an hour a day after school. Since last spring, however, Monica's parents have been aware that soon she will no longer be a child, and hence, she will face all the trials of adolescence.
Browsing amidst the diversity of stainless steel seafood forks, patio accoutrements, lawn mowers, garden equipment, holiday decorations for festivities months away, Monica perceives how her mother examines the merchandise with such exactitude. Mother and daughter look much alike, though Monica's mother is shorter and plumper with bobbed hair. Ever since Monica can remember, she has stood at her mother's elbow when they are out shopping. Today for the first time, Monica requests her mother's consent to circumnavigate the store alone.
Fortified with her mother's assent, Monica waltzes up and down the aisles, taken in by the picture books that she now deems too childish, by the racks of dungarees, bathing suits, wading boots, plump winter coats, pet food, and school supplies. At last she finds herself in the aisle of toiletries and cosmetics. Her gaze falls on the soap her father uses, the powder her mother keeps in the glove compartment of the car, the lipstick her elder sister hides from her mother under the mattress, and the face wash her older brother used to use before he left for college. Monica's peregrinations of the Discount Barn Emporium continue until she ventures back to her mother who is at the checkout. Then they drive to Monica's weekly violin lesson.
Monica's mother promises to return in 45 minutes as she leaves her daughter at the brick cottage of her violin teacher, Mrs. Manheim. In the cozy living room Monica waits for her lesson, absorbed in one of the tattered comic books left there by her instructor's two sons. Today before her lesson, she reads a story about a mad scientist kidnapped by Satanists and forced to use radio waves to control his children.
After her lesson, it is time for supper when they return home, and Monica's mother sets out a selection of dishes assembled ahead of time: a tuna fish casserole, a spinach salad, mashed potatoes, and homemade rice pudding. Everyone sits down together. Monica's father is tall and balding. He works as a scientist in the industrial park near Andwichville junction. Monica and her older sister sit next to each other. They look much alike, although her sister is taller and a bit reticent.
"How was work today, Dear," Monica's mother asks her father.
"We are testing a new calibration device to measure development of the organic tissues we are growing under different conditions," he replies.
"Oh, it sounds very involved," her mother comments. "Have your tests been successful so far?"
"The preliminary set of trials looks promising, but it will take several weeks," he replies.
"Your department did something like this before, didn't it?" her mother asks.
Her father nods his head, "Yes, but since then the technology has improved. And the cell cultures are at a new stage of development."
The dinner conversation continues. Sometime later, Monica's mother turns to her youngest child, "And how was your day, Monica? I saw those boys at the bus stop this morning looking at you. They weren't bothering you, were they?"
Monica shakes her light brown ringlets and says, "No Mother, not at all. They were just making some jokes. They're my friends."
"Did you do your homework?" her father asks.
"Of course, Father," Monica replies.
"And how was your violin lesson? Have you been practicing every day?" he inquires.
Her mother chimes in, "You should hear her practice. She's getting better every day."
Some weeks after this, one afternoon Monica catches her reflection in the mirror over her bureau as she is reaching one of the plastic toy horses she keeps there, next to the empty powder case and used-up lipsticks from her mother that she sometimes plays with. Monica perceives with no little revulsion that sometime that afternoon an entire colony of puss-filled corpuscles invaded the skin of her nose and cheeks. She pops one and it oozes. The plastic horse is forgotten. Monica opens the window of her sunny suite that looks out from the second floor onto the side garden. Why did everyone in her family have to get these awful pimples in middle school? And why did she have to get them the day before the first dance at school?
It is nearly time for supper, and Monica can hear her parents conversing in the kitchen below through the open window. She catches only part of their exchange. They are debating something. She hears her name and the word "pimple cream" and "did you do it yet" and "I don't think we should let her" and "it will start soon." Monica looks in the mirror again, this time with her thoughts a jumble. She knows that she has not seen her mother or father since the pimples appeared, because she came home before either of them and was in her room the entire time. Did her parents somehow cause the pimples? Why? Last week her parents argued for an hour about whether or not she could go to a friend's sleepover birthday party.
The weeks pass, and Monica discovers that the pimples come out only on the days she and her friends plan to hang out at the mall or see a movie. "A lot of teenagers get them. You'll grow out of it," her mother comments one day on the way to Monica's violin lesson.
"But Mom, why do I only get them when I'm going out with my friends?" Monica asks.
"I don't know. It must be stress," her mother says.
Before her violin lesson, Monica sits and finishes another comic book story, this time about a villain who enjoys using a ray machine to steal the thoughts of good scientists to put their inventions to evil ends. Then it is time for her lesson. Why do some people like to read regular books and others like to read comic books? she wonders.
Friday night, before the school dance, Monica twists her ankle at basketball practice, and she sits at home with an ice pack all evening. Two weeks later, the day before the field trip to a museum, she gets the flu and stays in bed all day. And the next month, when she goes camping with her friends, Monica gets a stomachache and begins throwing up whenever she tries to eat. Just before the basketball team sleepover party, Monica comes down with the flu again. At the end of the year there is the school field trip to the beach, and Monica gets her period for the first time. The blood gets all over her pink and white striped towel, and before the end of the day she also has a fever and a headache and begins vomiting.
The next day is Saturday, and Monica sits at the dining room table across from her parents. Her face is flushed, and she picks at the frozen vegetables on her plate. She is wearing her pajamas.
"You look a little better today, Monica," her mother says. "How's your stomach?"
"I don't know. It's still not very good," Monica replies.
"Well, if you want to, why don't you go lie down in your room? I'll bring you some grilled cheese and soup later if you want."
"Monica, you've been kind of accident prone this year, and you've been sick more than usual. Is everything all right at school?" her father asks.
Monica thinks she senses a falseness in his glance. Is her father hiding something from her? She goes upstairs and sits on her bed and reads a book. Later she refuses her mother's offer to bring something to eat, for she has no appetite. This year she got sick more times and had more accidents than in her whole life. She feels like a character in one of the comic books at her violin teacher's house. Monica decides to search her father's workroom when everyone else is gone the next day. She turns on his computers, and they all have passwords she cannot figure out. Then her rummaging reveals notebooks with strange notations, several boxes of electronics, wiring, and test tubes. Yet, nothing she sees gives the slightest clue to how he could cause all of these things to happen to her.
One day by accident, she finds it. The paperwork is in her mother's rosewood jewelry box in the hidden compartment. She sees a letter in an envelope with only a single word typed on one side: Roximatica. Inside there is an advertisement that says "Roximatica: Solutions for Precocious Adolescents" and shows a father throwing a football to his son in one picture and a girl and her mother putting a flower in a pot in another. The photocopied form on the next page lists several options. Monica sees with horror that there are little checkmarks next to "party pimples," "field trip fun-ergizer," and "outing ostracism." Outing ostracism? She scans the list of unchecked options: "breakup exit option," "blame end game," "focus interpreter."
On the next page she finds a history of the venture and struggles to interpret the meaning: "For the last 20 years Roximatica has been helping young people achieve their potential by mitigating the social distractions of adolescence. In trusting your child's future to our team of technology experts you will be making an important decision. Our company has a track-record of success in guiding students through some of the most difficult years of their lives. Ensure that your precocious child will fulfill his or her potential and grow into a successful adult by allowing Roximatica to employ its behaviorist actor-oriented technology program in the life of your loved one."
Monica carefully folds the letter and inserts the envelope back into the drawer. Then she goes back to her room, turns on her computer and turns it off. Her mother and father have software that records everything she looks at on the machine.
One day at the gym after basketball practice when she is alone, Monica uses a public computer to research Roximatica. Her search produces an out-dated company website and old blog entries by teens like herself. In their letters they complain about the pimples, the odd injuries around the time of social events, and the illnesses whenever they want to meet friends. In the results there is also a brief description of the company in one of the Internet encyclopedias, but the listing says that the company went out of business ten years before. How strange, Monica thinks, because the date on her mother's contract form was only the year before. She continues scrolling through the search results, and finds testimonies from adults who feel gratitude for Roximatica, because in middle school and high school they found it difficult to study. Roximatica actually helped them get into good colleges.
Yet, Monica wonders why her mother signed her up for this program when she was already a good student. In addition, she muses about why her mother left the paperwork somewhere in the house rather than somewhere else, like in a safety-deposit box at the bank. After all, her mother always hid the Christmas presents that she bought ahead of time in places Monica could never find. The hidden compartment in the jewelry box was not a real secret either. Monica found it when she was playing with her mother's jewelry when she was only seven years old!
She hears a voice behind her, "Monica..." and she whirls around. At first she thinks the voice is her mother's, but she sees her friend's mom standing there.
"How are you doing, Monica? Your Mom is here to pick you up," the tall, full-figured woman says.
"Oh, I don't know. I was just looking at some stuff for my project for Earth Science Class," Monica replies.
"Oh really," the woman answers, looking at the computer screen. "Roximatica, I remember that. I thought they went out of business years ago."
© Julie McSmith September 2015
t_visco at yahoo.com