A modern love story; featuring adultery and a discussion of truth

Part I: The Consensus I

CARREY LIU

I live in a town called Winthrop in Suffolk, Massachusetts. Population: 18,303.

I attend Winthrop Senior High School along with every teenager in my block, aside from Ashleigh Brown, whose dad took her out of school after she got her front tooth knocked out in Gym in the sixth grade.

My school is only four streets away from Almont Street, where I live. The most “notable” landmark of my block is a family named Diggle, who lives across from me. Mrs. Diggle has Farrah Fawcett waves colored in flaming red, and is most fond of V-necks. She has, for as long as I can recall, always maintained an “impeccable” and extremely conspicuous fake tan. She has no children and has never joined the local book club, which, as far as everyone is concerned, means that she is sleeping with everyman in town. Mr. Diggle, on the other hand, is an orthodontist whose most remarkable feature is his oddly shaped bald spot, which, naturally, only makes the gossip better.

Part II: The Enigma

CECILIA PARIS DIGGLE

I don’t know when everyone started calling me Paris. It was before I had met Harold and it somehow just stuck. Personally, I think it sounds a bit daft, but I guess it suits my hair, and the low-cut shirts, and the shiny nails, the skin tone…everything about me that everyone sees.

I do know when people started calling me Mrs. Diggle. I married Harold when I was nineteen and I haven’t loved him since. It’s not that he changed really, or that I did, or maybe he did, or maybe we both did, I don’t know. He just got very husbandly, which is, of course, understandable, but also somehow stressful. If God ever designed me to be anything, it wasn’t a wife. I never even, for example, joined the local wives’ book club, but that wasn’t because I was too daft or didn’t want to read books. It was because I didn’t want to be a wife.

Harold is, of course, clueless. For all he knows, I spend all my time in Macy’s or watching soaps or something. Maybe, if he’s thought about it at all, he’d be theorizing about me sleeping with the boys in town, which is of course all very daft. It must either be something incredibly blasé or laughably racy like that, since Harold’s imagination is completely modeled after trashy films from the 70s.

HAROLD DIGGLE

I moved to Winthrop, Massachusetts when I was twenty-nine. I am now thirty-six, and I have lost countless things to Winthrop: my interest in my job, my hair, and my wife.

Paris and I were in love once, in the days when I had all my hair. But ever since we moved to Winthrop from Goodwater, Alabama, she hasn’t been mine. She evidently doesn’t suspect that­ I know—or that I’ve deduced, in any case—of her—her misdemeanors. But it’s all been plain enough.

First it was that kid from the post office, whose hair was bleached blonde and who would always lurk around his truck for hours beforehe got to the mailbox. Then he would sneak furtive glances at Paris’ rack. If I felt that his mouth was watering too much and went outside, he would give me a guilty little “Afternoon, sir” and scuttle away.

Then there was that boy with this ridiculous tea-colored mane at Olive Garden, a high school kid, no less. But if anything ever stopped a guy from mentally undressing your wife in public, it sure as hell wasn’t adolescence.

Then one day, when I came home, he was there, tea hippie fur and all. I swear I thought I was going to decapitate him on the spot when I saw him from the driveway. I was really going to do it—just kill the cheeky little bastard—but before I could hear myself think he had sped away. It turned out that she had gotten take-out, but as I sat down at the table I noticed her hair—so much hair—was a little straighter and bigger than usual—had a bit more poof or something — and that was that.

But that’s the past. Presently, I have a new Glock 17 in my sock drawer. Presently, there is John, the pool boy, who has a buzz cut—but that’s just as well.

JIM RILEY

I never thought I’d be here again.

I was the one with the blinding future, the sports scholarship in Boston.

I was good on the field, I was good in the pubs.

I don’t see why they cared about my head.

I was never too good at using it, anyway.

I did things by instinct, like an animal, and that’s how I got the touchdowns.

Anyway, they decided that it was better to ruin my life.

So now I’m Jim the Adidas clerk, or Jim the pool boy. Jim the lawn mower.

John.

Jack.

Joe.

I don’t know what they expect of me.

Maybe they expect me to get smart or whatnot, go back to school as a kid with wedgies.

They told me things weren’t completely over for me, that I could go join YMCA or something.

I might as well move to Canada.

The only thing that remains is that I love her.

It’s better that nobody knows.

SUE RILEY

My boy Jim was sprinting in cleats down the road of success, when all of a sudden he did a 180 and charged back the opposite direction. Just like his loser of a pa, I suppose. But unlike his sorry pa, Jimmy treats me well and he tells me everything. Between us, there are no secrets.

Unlike with his pa, with Jimmy I can tell him anything and he wouldn’t judge me one bit—just nods and smiles and says yes to everything I ask of him, even if it means flirting with older women so that my love and I can be left without suspicion.

Sometimes I wonder if he’s really an angel or if he really did knock his head one time too many, just like his loser of a pa.

Being a single mom isn’t easy work. You get excluded from a lot: tanning sessions, shopping sprees, afternoon tea, all that jazz. It used to be all right waiting tables, popping gum and chatting up some of the guys, but every single man I’ve ever chosen to take home, including Jimmy’s pa, has somehow been a huge disappointment. And I don’t mean just in bed.

But I’m all right now, all thanks to Jimmy. So for that I suppose I’ll have to thank his sorry loser of a pa.

Part III: The Consensus II

CARREY LIU

The Diggles are the preferred subject whenever the town needs gossip. However, whenever the benevolent townspeople need to deposit surplus “sympathy,” they turn to the Alexanders, who just so happen to live next to the Diggles.

The Alexanders are quite the “miserable” bunch and the town mascots for pity-gossip: they lost their boy, Brian, to cancer seven years ago. Mr. Alexander is now rumored to be clinically bipolar. Mrs. Alexander now spends most of her time indoors. Their daughter, Carmen, is a year above me in school and hopelessly in “love” with her fellow junior, a guy named Kyle Logan, a piece of information which everyone knows that Mr. Alexander doesn’t know.

Part IV: The Romance

KYLE LOGAN

All my life, I’ve resented dads. My own dad has never really been good at much, and has not seen a promotion since he was thirty. My mom has therefore been obliged to work at the local library all her life, watching from afar as other mothers gathered round for their petty discussion groups.

Then there is the other hindrance of a father in my life: my girlfriend’s—though that word seems insufficient, for we are much more than that—my girlfriend Carmen’s father. Mr. Alexander is strongly opposed to the idea of his daughter having any obstructions to extreme success in absolutely everything. In his eyes, I suppose, Carmen is meant to carry the combined weight of the aspirations he had for both his children now that little Brian is gone.

Carmen says that I must be understanding of her parents because of the impact of her brother’s tragedy six years ago. It shattered her mother, she says, and it lit something up in her father—some sort of internal hellfire that burns the brightest whenever the subject of his daughter comes up.

Naturally we did not tell him about our relationship, especially not after he had looked like he was going to strangle me if I blinked one time too many when I picked her up for our first winter formal.

I can be understanding, but there is an extent. We mustn’t hide any longer. We must act.

CARMEN ALEXANDER

My boyfriend Kyle may not be the most athletic or musical, but if he’s known for anything, it’s his eloquence. He always manages to speak as if he were from another century. In fact, after spending so much time with him, I don’t even feel that out of place when watching period drama.

And it is with that eloquence that he has convinced me, convinced me of all that we are and all that we can be. That sounds stupid coming from a seventeen-year-old, but I really don’t see how we can be more in love than we are. In a badly paraphrased version of Kyle’s words, if true love were anything more than what we share, then those who have loved would have combusted from emotion already.

My friends would call us clichéd, but I don’t see how we are. How can we be a cliché when nobody else around us shares this sort of feeling? Our friends think we are cute, but when they talk of marriage and happily ever after they are only teasing. But who can understand? Who’s actually in love in this neighborhood? Not my parents, obviously, not after what happened five years ago. Nor Kyle’s. Nor the Diggles, who are so disinterested in each other that I don’t even know how they stay together, nor the Watsons, the Lius, the Rileys, the Popes…all these unfeeling people so wrapped up in money and sex and benchmarks and the latest sale at Macy’s that they smirk at the idea of true love.

But Kyle and I, we know better. He’s thought it through, and he’s talked to me, and we have thought it through together. We know that this is more than melodrama and adolescence.

So we’ll leave Winthrop the day I turn of age.

MARGARET ALEXANDER

My daughter is in love.

She thinks I don’t know about it, and to be honest she has done quite a good job of keeping it from me, but she underestimates the abilities of a mother to see through her child.

My husband Paul remains clueless, mostly because he is so focused on rage and liquor that I doubt he can see any love on the planet.

As a consequence, I have been starved of love for years, with a husband who is so caught in grief for the loss of our little boy and a daughter who believes that I will ostracize love like her dad does.

After Brian’s suffering finally ended seven years ago, I did not wish to watch films with happy endings. I did not wish to listen to music I used to enjoy. I did not wish to go to Carmen’s school and see children running about. I admit that at one point, Carmen was right in thinking that I didn’t want to be reminded of love at all.

But that all changed with him; when he first came into my life, I was the last person to associate with such a character. But in getting to know him, I have found something new under my aging skin.

If only Carmen knew what similar boats we’re in.

Sometimes I’m surprised she hasn’t run away yet. I would have run away long ago if not for her, if not for fear of leaving her to Paul’s devices—though I’m sure he would be much more careful with her than he is with me, even when intoxicated. He loves her because she is his flesh and blood, but he has no reason to hold me in that regard.

Sometimes I fancy that, if Carmen does run away, I can run away too.

Part V: The Night

JIM RILEY

I’m meeting with her tonight, when her husband is gone for some conference in Connecticut.

She told me that we will have the whole house to ourselves.

My mom will be busy with her date, and though she does not know about mine, I will most definitely be busy at it too.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s the thrill that gets my blood pumping.

But no, I think it’s more the thrill of having her to myself.

It wouldn’t be the same with anyone else.

CECILIA PARIS DIGGLE

            We are meeting tonight, which is all very well because I can’t wait to get out of this endless cycle: cleaning the house, watching daft reality shows, going to the mall, and coming home to try and please Harold—not that I’ve been working really hard at any of these things. I’ve been saving up all my energy for our little rendezvous.

MARGARET ALEXANDER

We are meeting tonight. It is a little risky, to be sure, but it always is and his mom has plans tonight. Paul has business in New Haven until eleven, and won’t return for hours after that. It is Carmen’s birthday, so she will be out as well. We will have the house to ourselves; we will love each other for ourselves and as ourselves. As long as he leaves before twelve.

SUE RILEY

            I’m meeting with her tonight. Jimmy’s being all understanding, something his loser of a pa never was, and is going out—probably on a date with some pretty girl, but that’s only the wishes of a mom.

Paris—she isn’t like other people. She really gets me. We’re one and the same. I’ve never felt like this with a man, not even Jimmy’s sorry pa, whom I actually thought I loved enough to marry. What we have, it’s nothing like anyone’s ever imagined. The laughter, the conversations we have trashing the horrendous men we’ve loved, and of course, the passion—like there’s a furnace burning right in my rib cage, like someone shot me through the lungs and I just can’t breathe.

Part VI: The Happening

CARMEN ALEXANDER

Shh,” Kyle says as I shut the door. He’s brought two backpacks, making his silhouette look like that of a morphed turtle. I purposely left the back door in the kitchen unlocked when I was doing the dishes after dinner, which I ate alone. My mom has been in her room doing God-knows-what and my dad didn’t get home until sometime past midnight.

It is two A.M. exactly, and I’ve listened and watched with painful discretion the door of my parents’ room until all the lights went off, my dad’s breathing evened and the rustling of the bed sheets reduced to practically none.

While I waited, I contemplated for the last time what will happen after I leave. My dad will be furious, of course, and will probably not speak to my mom for weeks, or months, as if it were her fault, which was what he did when Brian died all those years ago.

In my perfect scenario, my dad will feel a sudden wave of guilt when both his children have left him, and will search the country for me and beg for my forgiveness for all he has shouted and done, as my mom watches from the side with tears of reconciliation streaming down her cheeks.

Shh,” Kyle repeats as we climb over my fence to the Diggles’ yard.

He turns to me, with a brilliant grin unfolding across his face, and he makes as if to hold my hand, when out of nowhere his torso gave a violent jerk and a pool of crimson began spreading with alarming speed on his shoulder.

HARROLD DIGGLE

Nobody would have thought that I’d be one to go out with a bang.

But I couldn’t help it, not when I saw him sneaking through my yard—with her in tow —

What bothers me most now isn’t that my life is officially ruined. It isn’t that she’s now screaming in our backyard. It isn’t even that a man had been in the backyard with my wife at two in the morning.

What bothers me the most is that I feel less remorse for him than I do my hair.

Part VII: The Consensus III

CARREY LIU

Everyone’s been babbling nonstop about what happened last weekend. I’ve had many of my schoolmates bothering me about what happened, seeing as I have the honor of living right across from the site of all the commotion.

The story goes like this:

Carmen and Kyle are “rebellious” teenagers in “love,” with parents that either don’t know or don’t care. They therefore decided to run away the day Carmen turned eighteen, which was a great disappointment coming from two of the “brightest” kids in school.

So anyhow, they decided to run away; meanwhile, Mr. Diggle was being “extra careful” with his property because Mrs. Diggle has recently befriended Mrs. Riley, the local café waitress, who has a son with a shady academic record. This “secret liaison” between the two women was discovered when Mrs. Diggle was found to be absent from the scene when the thing happened—she was at Mrs. Riley’s place, it turns out, and they were playing poker while watching reruns of Gilmore Girls.

Nobody suspected that Mrs. Diggle would be friends with Mrs. Riley, but it is said that Mr. Diggle disapproved of the affiliation from the outset, being as uptight as he is, and most likely suspecting that the Rileys were some sort of conmen, what with Jack Riley’s stony expressions and buzz cut and Mrs. Riley’s “scandalous” past.

So naturally Mr. Diggle was all fidgety at night—word is that he’s been suffering from mental breakdowns because of his receding hairline—and when he saw someone sneaking around in his backyard, in his “state” he decided they were burglars and immediately fired his handgun.

Poor Kyle was shot by Mr. Diggle in the left shoulder; Carmen was screaming harder and louder than any paid actress in a horror film, and both her parents and my family and virtually everyone else down the street ran out. 911 was called, Mr. Diggle was restrained, Kyle was taken to the hospital, and Carmen has not been seen by anyone since.

It is generally agreed amongst the townspeople that this whole sorry incident has been the most tragic and romantic “love story” Winthrop has ever witnessed.

 


Alternating first person point of view works well for the setting and subject matter.  The characters are well built with intriguing back-stories, machinations, and parallel constructs. The ending surprises the reader. It’s well rounded overall with some effective dark humor.
—Cynthia Leitich Smith, 2011 Hunger Mountain Prize for Young Writers Judge