Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Frankie's Party

[This is a total repost, but it's got the benefit of brevity. You could consider it a freebie but then you'd have to imagine actually paying for this crap.]

Frankie sat quietly in his apartment. The dishes were piled high from the party, but he observed the mountain without expression. It was, he was aware, nearly 7:00, and, since he still had time, he preferred to play his CDs over washing them just now. Power chords banged away in the background as Frankie inspected the underage lingerie models in the new Maxim. It would be cool to do stuff with girls like that, he concluded inwardly--the guys at work were always laughing about that sort of thing, and he’d finally be the center of that conversation. He skipped to the joke page, and began picking out words.

The music could not stay on past eight o’clock, and at that time, Frankie rose from the couch and turned it off. He began, with neither resolution nor resignation, to work on the dishes, methodically rinsing them out, and placing them in the dishwasher, as he’d done for years when his mother was still alive. When the dishwasher was full, he started it, and since it was nearly bedtime, he made sure that all the doors of his small apartment were locked, the lights off, and, with nothing else to check, he got into bed. Frankie knew that he had to get to bed early in order to get to work on time. Mr. Johns didn’t like him being late, and so he never was.

When Frankie awoke, he showered, shaved slowly, dressed himself, and drove carefully over to the store. It was in the new mall, and he liked telling people about all of the shops and restaurants there. He walked through the employee entrance, found his time card, and punched it as he was instructed to do every morning. He pulled out his bucket and apron from the closet, looking around for Charlie, his best friend at work, who was strangely absent. Frankie wheeled out his gear and got to work swabbing the aisles, rehearsing some small talk for anyone he might run into, but no one got close enough.

When the floors were done, he started on the garbage. Finally, he saw Charlie laughing with Julio by the main entrance, next to his first two cans. As Frankie got his customary smile and script prepared, a thought occurred to him, which, unplanned, found no intermediate purchase and tumbled directly from his lips. "Hey Charlie," he stammered, "h-h-how come you didn’t make it to the party?" Charlie looked painfully at Julio, choking on the last of his smoke. He turned his tearing, bloodshot eyes to the janitor. "Sorry Frankie-man," he coughed, "maybe next time." Julio clasped Charlie's shoulder, less able to conceal the guffaw, and guided the smaller man back inside, leaving Frankie to haltingly craft a reply to only the receding laughter, muffled now, on the other side of the swinging glass.

As his words slowed and failed, Frankie looked at the place where Charlie and Julio had been standing. It was not an expression you'd normally call thoughtful, but Frankie was, in fact, thinking. He was thinking about Charlie, his best friend at work, and how his brother had brought over extra burgers for him and Julio to eat, which Frankie himself was not allowed to eat, but which he had to put away in his own fridge yesterday all the same, at least till his brother visited again. He thought about the red, narrow eyes and the greasy, black, bobbing ponytail that served as his address and his goodbye. As his mind explored this unfamiliar territory, something was getting hot in his head, a kernel of warmth flaring uncomfortably behind his brow. He inspected the heat like it was a photo spread, and found he did not like it. It made him think about the first and only time he’d been late to work, when Mr. Johns had yelled so much, about the fucking dishwasher, about his mother. There was also something more, close now. "This...is...not..."

Frankie started to a halt in front of the dumpster. He had been walking. He looked up at the buzzing flies and then down at the bags in his hands. He was at work, doing the garbage. He put the bag down and touched his forehead, found it cool. Wasn't there something? Yes, the joke. He hoped the guys at lunch would like it.

9 comments:

Keifus said...

So maybe y'all missed that when I posted it on the Fray. Maybe you just had no comment.

The Frankie character is based loosely on a person I know. He's a simpleton: a good heart, but suggestible. What I wanted to capture was a moment when light briefly passes across his normally benighted thoughts, where his broken mind comes tantalizingly close to catching a simple truth, but then fails. Those of us with more functional brains have moments like that, or at least I do. In Frankie's case, we have the benefit of knowing what's on the other side.

Unfortunately the little vignette comes out trite to my view. Frankly, it took a lot of revisions before it didn't majorly annoy me.

Ozy said...

Are you planning on going further with the character? I can't help but like him in a "Radio" sort of way.
I think everyone knows a Frankie and can relate to what is happening to him. Not a suggestion, but it would be cool to see a story where a Frankie type character is the actual hero rather than at worst, a victim or at best an accidental hero. This is the kind of protagonist that usually is a bit player or is only in "based on a true story" sappy feel-good books and movies.

Keifus said...

Hi ozy. This was "based on a true story"--good observation on that sort of character. Veeerrry loosely based I might add, but aren't they all. I like the idea of drawing him out to do something: I'm chuckling at the idea of a detective story, but then that would be at Frankie's expense. I will think about htat.

Ric Caric said...

A suggestion for possible extension. In my town in Kentucky, some guys like Frankie get a fair amount of social support from friendly people, people in their churches, etc. Maybe that kind of friendly assistance could be a complicating factor or provide relief from the general gloom of Frankie's existence.

Ric Caric said...

Oops. I wanted to identify myself. I'm Ric Caric and I post under ElephantGun.

Keifus said...

Ric: I am wondering to myself now why I made Frankie's life so bleak, because you are right, it is sort of dismal. My real-life Frankie has a support system, especially his mother, which is basically how he manages to be independent at all.

All of my stories I'm noticing have taken a dim view of people. In this case, I was thinking more of myself than "Frankie" I think. Or maybe I have just been seeing the darker side of life lately.

Ensley said...

I think that a "dark" or "dim" view of humanity in general is helpful to a writer, maybe even essential.

I agree with Ozy here in that I wanted the story to go further. It has the hook but doesn't quite land the catch. I could picture this moving in several directions. Maybe the story's message is too suble--he almost reaches a point of understanding, and then it slips away. Or maybe I'm not quite getting the message.

I liked the story and could relate to the characters easily--all three. My thought, after feeling left dangling at the end a bit, was that it would be a good story for the village-idiot character to prove to be more cognizant than his acquaintances gave him credit for and for those who laughed at him to be shown to be not so bright as they imagined themselves to be.

Just a thought. There are numerous ways a dark theme could be drawn from that one, IMO. I liked the story and wanted more of it.

Eidolon said...

Hi Keifus,

I enjoyed this story, although one word choice did 'clank' for me, where his friend is described as 'strangely absent'. I think you could lose the strange and I wouldn't suddenly lose the flow of some excellent descriptive writing in a cliche.

The bit about the burgers was brilliant, exemplary of how people in Frankie's life are treating him and his lack of awareness of being used.

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