Freedom Lane – Salud

“Oh,” Paulie said, coming out of his office in Paulie’s Pizza on State Street, dressed in a button-down shirt and khakis. “You sure you’re okay watching the place on your own tonight?”
 
“It’s fine,” Tony replied, waving a hand. He took a sip from a red mug of coffee. “I’ve closed plenty of times. Go enjoy your date.”
 
“Alright,” Paulie said. “I just wanted to make sure you weren’t up all last night again.”
 
“I wasn’t up that late,” Tony replied with a shrug. “I was watching reruns of Cheers. Remember that show?”
 
“I can’t watch that,” Paulie said. “All that fighting between Sam and Diane gives me agita.”
 
“It’s a good show,” Tony said. “I sometimes think of this place as our own Cheers. A lot goes on here, night to night.”
 
“You’re a stunad,” Paulie said.
 
“You’re going to miss everything while you’re out,” Tony said. “Every night here holds new stories.”
 
“I don’t have time for this,” Paulie said. “I’m gonna be late.” He walked out the door into the early New Haven evening.
 
“Salud,” Tony said, raising his mug to Paulie as he left.
 
 
***
 
Freedom Lane 
 
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness
 
Season 11, Episode 5: Salud
 
***
 
Tony sang to himself as he wiped down the main counters. “Sometimes you wanna go where everyone knows who you are,” he crooned. “Like some downtown Boston bar. Bum bum bum.”
 
“Hey, Tony,” Alice said, coming in to start her shift as head of Paulie’s waitstaff.
 
“Hey there, sweetheart,” Tony replied, moving in to hug Alice.
 
“Whoa,” Alice said. “That’s what I want to talk about.”
 
“What?” Tony asked. “Too much cologne?”
 
“No,” Alice said. “But it is a bit much. I wanted to make sure you know what happened last night was a one time thing, and I don’t want it to affect us working together. Okay?”
 
“Oh,” Tony said, looking a little hurt. “Sure. No problem. I knew that anyway. I was hoping you wouldn’t get attached. This is actually a big relief to me.”
 
“Really?” Alice asked. “Because you’re rambling.”
 
“What?” Tony asked in return. “Me? Ramble? I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m as cool as a cucumber. So we slept together. So what, I say. Didn’t mean anything to me. Right?”
 
“Alright,” Alice said. “As long as we’re on the same page.”
 
Tony handed Alice her apron. “Two waitresses called out tonight,” he said. “So we’ll be short.”
 
“What?!” Alice snapped. “We’re going to be jammed up all night!”
 
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Tony said, shrugging. “This sounds like a problem for the head of the waitstaff. That was you last time I checked.”
 
Alice huffed and went off to start her shift. He took a bottle of water from under the counter and took a sip, following her with his eyes. Sal came out of the kitchen, walking up behind Tony.
 
“Tony,” Sal said, his voice deep and monotone.
 
“Whoa!” Tony exclaimed, dropping his water. “Don’t sneak up on me like that!”
 
“Sorry,” Sal said. “Did Alice come in yet?”
 
“She’s here,” Tony replied. “I wouldn’t bark up her tree, though, if you know what I mean.” He rolled his eyes and left, heading toward Paulie’s office.
 
Alice came in from the seating area, her hair pulled back and her apron on. “Hi, Sal,” she said, getting her pad and pen and putting it in her apron pocket. “How are you?”
 
“My ex-wife is coming by today,” Sal replied.
 
“Oh,” Alice said. “I didn’t know you were ever married.” 
 
“It wasn’t a good marriage,” Sal said with a small shrug. “She’s driving up from Pennsylvania to bring me some things I left behind.”
 
“Okay,” Alice said. She looked around to make sure Tony wasn’t out of the office. “If you’re worried about her finding out about you and me… don’t.”
 
“Thank you,” Sal said. “I just don’t want things to be awkward when she comes. She’s a little… vindictive.”
 
“Think nothing of it, Sal,” Alice said, smiling. “I know what we did was a one time thing.”
 
“Sorry,” Sal said. “I just can’t be in a relationship right now.”
 
“Say no more,” Alice said, waving a hand. “I get it.”
 
Alice and Sal looked at each other for a bit longer. The door opened, and a customer walked in. Alice broke the stare with Sal to greet the customers. “Welcome to Paulie’s Pizza.”
 
***
 
Tony had finished taking an order over the phone. He put the paper on the spindle behind him for Sal and kitchen staff to cook, wrap, and get to Pimple Puss, Paulie’s delivery boy. The door opened, and a police officer walked in.
 
“Rocco!” Tony shouted, smiling. “How’s it hanging?”
 
“Straight down the middle and swinging,” Rocco said, sitting at a booth near the front. “They got me running a speed trap down the street, so I decided to take a walk and see what’s doin’ here .”
 
“You on break?” Tony asked.
 
“Nah,” Rocco said. “I’m just sick of sitting there. I have my bulletproof vest propped up in the seat so it looks like I’m in the cruiser.”
 
“Nobody is going to realize it’s headless?” Tony asked.
 
“What are you?” Rocco asked. “Ichabod Crane all of a sudden?”
 
“I have no idea what that means,” Tony replied.
 
“It means get me some grub!” Rocco said, slamming a fist on the table, laughing. “How about a chicken parm grinder?”
 
“You got it,” Tony said. He turned toward the kitchen. “Sal! Get me a chicken parm, stat!”
 
“Don’t rush it,” Rocco said. “You think I want to go back to zapping that laser at cars? My nuts are bound to shrivel up from that thing.”
 
“Hi, Rocco,” Alice said, coming into the main area. “I thought I heard you come in.”
 
Rocco smiled. “Good evening Alice,” he said. “I hope all is well.”
 
“And what if it’s not?” Alice asked. “You gonna arrest anyone who messes with me?”
 
“I might,” Rocco said. “Just let me know who it is.”
 
“Oh!” Tony exclaimed, coming from behind the counter. “This don’t look like waiting on tables to me!”
 
“So you can flirt with him, but I can’t?” Alice asked.
 
“Get back to work!” Tony said, waving a hand. “And I wasn’t flirting.”
 
Alice rolled her eyes. “Bye bye, officer Priolo.”
 
“Bye bye, waitress Alice,” Rocco said. Alice giggled as she left.
 
“I wish you wouldn’t rile her all up like that,” Tony said, sitting across from Rocco.
 
“What’s your problem?” Rocco asked. “I thought you and her were broken up for good.”
 
“I thought so,” Tony replied. He leaned over the table a bit and lowered his voice. “She came up to my place after we locked up last night. She ended up staying until around two in the morning. She’s every bit as wild as I remember.”
 
“So you guys are back together,” Rocco said. “That’s good. You were really messed up when you broke up.”
 
“Here’s the thing,” Tony said. “I thought we were. She had even told me how much she missed me. But when she came in today, she told me it was a one time thing. She doesn’t want what happened making things messy at work.”
 
“I can understand that,” Rocco said. “I nailed one of our dispatchers once, and it got real messy, especially when her husband found out.”
 
The door opened before Tony could say something else. A woman walked in, tall with long, curly, black hair. She held a box in her arms. Tony got up to take her order. “Is Salvatore here?” she asked.
 
“He’s working in the back,” Tony said. “I can get him if it’s important.”
 
“It is,” the woman said. “Let him know his wife is here.”
 
***
 
“Hello, Janice,” Sal said, coming from the kitchen area and sitting in a booth across from his ex-wife. The box she brought was on her right, sitting on the chair. “You didn’t have to drive all the way here.”
 
“I don’t trust the mail,” Janice said. “I wanted to be sure you got this.”
 
“Don’t play these games,” Sal said. “Why are you here?”
 
“I want you back, okay?” Janice said, crossing her arms across her chest. “Is that what you want to hear?”
 
“No,” Sal replied. “We were terrible together.”
 
“That’s what made it interesting,” Janice said.
 
“I’ve started a new life here,” Sal said, standing up, “and I’d like for you to leave it.”
 
Sal left and went back to the kitchen, not even bothering to ask what she had brought up from Pennsylvania. She put her head down, trying not to cry. A moment later, Tony sat across from her.
 
“Hey,” Tony said. “You were married to Sal, right?”
 
Janice nodded, still fighting the tears.
 
“So you probably helped him in that pizza restaurant down there,” Tony said.
 
“I worked there as a teenager,” Janice said in a mousy voice. “It’s how me and Salvatore met.”
 
“So you have experience waiting tables,” Tony continued.
 
“I guess,” Janice replied. “Why are you talking to me?”
 
“Because I’m desperate,” Tony said. “We’re short waitresses tonight. Can I pay you under the table to wait tables for a few hours, just during the dinner rush? I’m sure Sal will appreciate it too, you know.”
 
“He will?” Janice asked.
 
“Yeah he will,” Tony replied. “Go see Alice and get an apron. We’ll settle up at the end of the night.”
 
“Okay,” Janice said. She got up and walked off toward the main area, in search of Alice.
 
“That was really fucked up of you,” Rocco said from his seat in the other booth, half his chicken parm grinder still in front of him.
 
“At least it gets Alice off my ass about being short waitresses,” Tony replied. “Shut up and eat your friggin’ sandwich.”
 
***
 
Tony went through the seating area, finding Alice standing in front of a table taking order. “I’ll get that pitcher of Coke for you right away,” she said, smiling as she finished up. She turned around and nearly walked into Tony.
 
“Get out of here!” Alice snapped. “I’m trying to work, and we’re jamming tonight.”
 
“Relax,” Tony said. “I just came in to tell you that I helped you out. I found you a replacement waitress for the night?”
 
“You did?” Alice asked. “Where is she?”
 
“She’s tying an apron around her waist right now,” Tony said. “So did your guy do good or what?”
 
“Thank you,” Alice said, pushing Tony away with the palm of her hand, “but you are not my guy. I have no guy, alright? I don’t need one!” She walked off toward the kitchen area.
 
“Broads,” Tony muttered. He turned slightly to see the table of customers looking at him. “You know she’ll come around.”
 
“Is she coming back with our soda?” the customer asked.
 
***
 
Sal came out of the kitchen, walking behind the counter with a large cup. He walked over to the soda machine and filled it with ice. He then moved it over and started filling it with water. He looked around while he did, spotting someone who should have left.
 
“What are you still doing here, Janice?” he asked his ex-wife. “And why are you wearing that apron?”
 
“I’m working here,” Janice said. “Your boss said he needed an extra waitress and offered me a job for the night. I figured it would give us a chance to talk while we work.”
 
“This is a terrible idea,” Sal said.
 
“Remember the old days?” Janice asked. “You and me working in Buchananshire Pizza, stealing kisses when it was slow, dancing by the dumpsters on our breaks?”
 
“Oh!” Tony said, coming from the seating area. “I know you’re new here, sweetheart, but you need to get in there. It’s prime time!”
 
“Okay,” Janice replied. She turned back to Sal. “Bye for now.” She walked toward the seating area.
 
“Why did you hire her?” Sal asked.
 
“Relax,” Tony said. “It’s only for one night. Besides, I’m not asking you to sleep with her or anything.”
 
“Smooth,” Rocco remarked from his booth.
 
“Aren’t you supposed to be catching speeders or something?” Tony asked, turning toward him.
 
“Yeah,” Rocco said with a shrug. “So?”
 
“You should have asked me first,” Sal said. “I would have told you not to do it. You have no idea what that woman did to me.”
 
“She seems sweet enough,” Tony said.
 
“She may seem sweet,” Sal said, “but deep down lurks an evil from which there is no escape. I still see her face in my nightmares sometimes.”
 
“What she do?” Tony asked. “She cut off your dick or something?”
 
Sal sighed. “You’re playing with fire here, Tony,” he said, walking back into the kitchen. “Don’t blame me if you get burned.”
 
“Wow,” Rocco said. “How ominous.”
 
“I’ll show you something ominous,” Tony said. “Why don’t you and me go around back for a minute.”
 
Rocco put his hand on the butt of his gun. “You sure you wanna do that?”
 
***
 
“You seem to catch on quick,” Alice said to Janice, crossing paths near the pickup window. “Thanks for helping us out, by the way.”
 
“It’s no problem,” Janice replied. “The owner was in a jam, and I figured I could lend a hand.”
 
“Wait,” Alice said. “You think Tony…” She snorted with laughter.
 
“It’s alright,” Janice said. “I really don’t mind. It helps me get closer to Salvatore anyway.”
 
“Sal?” Alice asked. “You have a crush on him or something?”
 
“You can say that,” Janice said. “You can also say that we used to be married.”
 
“Like, to each other?” Alice asked.
 
“Yeah,” Janice replied. “What else would I mean.”
 
“I don’t know,” Alice said. “I just never knew Sal was married until today.”
 
“Look,” Janice said, moving closer to Alice. “I’m just going to warn you once. If I ever find out you’ve ever been physical with my Salvatore, I’ll cut your tits off.”
 
Alice watched Janice walk off, taking a pizza from the counter and walking it toward one of the tables.
 
“Tony!” Alice called, walking back into the main area where Tony was just hanging up the phone.
 
“What’s up?” Tony asked, putting the ticket in the kitchen area.
 
“Where’d you find Janice?” Alice asked.
 
“She just came in here,” Tony replied. “She wanted to see Sal, but she ended up with a job. She used to be a waitress with him back in Pennsylvania. Funny how everything worked out.”
 
“They use to be married,” Alice said. “Do you have any idea how awkward that is for everyone?”
 
“No,” Tony replied. “I just figured it would be awkward for the two of them. The rest of us should be fine.”
 
Alice sighed. “She threatened to cut my tits off.”
 
Tony stared at Alice for a moment, his eyes moving toward her breasts.
 
“What are you doing?” Alice asked, crossing her arms across her chest.
 
“I’m taking mental pictures of them while I still can,” Tony replied.
 
“You’re such a dick,” Alice said.
 
“I’m kidding,” Tony said. “I’ll talk to her, straighten her out. Sound good?”
 
“Fine,” Alice said. “But I just hope you talked to Sal about her being here.”
 
“Don’t worry,” Tony said. “I did.”
 
“Good,” Alice said, heading back to work.
 
Rocco cleared his throat. “I think she meant you should have talked to Sal before hiring his ex-wife,” he said, “not after.”
 
“Then she should have been more specific,” Tony said. “What am I, supposed to be a mind reader?”
 
***
 
Sal brought a pizza on its service tray to the window facing the seating area. Janice came to pick up. “Hi, honey,” she said. “I’ve missed you.”
 
“You put in this order ten minutes ago,” Sal replied.
 
“So,” Janice said. “Every minute apart is torture now that I’m back in your life.”
 
“This is one night only,” Sal said. “Don’t forget that.”
 
Janice gave Sal a dirty look and walked away. Alice was there a moment later with her pad. “I got an order for a large pepperoni pie,” she said. She waited a moment, watching Janice walk to the other side of the seating area. “I’m sorry we haven’t been able to talk all night. Are you okay with your ex working here?”
 
“Not particularly,” Sal replied, “but she’s here, and Tony assures me it’s only for tonight.”
 
“Why did you agree to this if you had a problem with it?” Alice asked.
 
“I didn’t really have a choice,” Sal said. “She was already working when I found out.”
 
“What?” Alice asked. “That lying rat bastard. Come on. We’re going to have a chat with him right now.”
 
Alice marched back to the main area through the entrance. Sal came as well, using the kitchen exit. “We don’t need to do this,” Sal said. 
 
“Yes we do,” Alice said. “Tony, why did you tell me Sal was okay with Janice working here?”
 
“I never said that,” Tony said. “You asked me if I talked to him about it, and I did.”
 
“It was after she had agreed to waitress for the night,” Rocco chimed in. “That’s what we call in the law enforcement community a ‘technicality’.”
 
“But out, Rocco,” Tony said.
 
“Hey,” Rocco said. “I’m on your side!”
 
“Why don’t you use that pea-sized brain sometimes,” Alice said. “Why was it a good idea that Sal have to work with his ex?”
 
Tony shrugged. “I work with mine,” he said. “I know it’s hard at first, but maybe the two would come to be civil, maybe even friends. It worked for you and me after all.”
 
Alice looked taken aback, words failed to come from her mouth.
 
“You were with Tony?” Sal asked. “You told me there was nothing between the two of you when we were together the other night.”
 
“Wait,” Tony said. “You were with Sal the other night? Then what was it when we were together last night? Am I sloppy seconds or something?”
 
“You slept with Tony last night?” Sal asked. “After what you and I did?”
 
“I told you what I’d do if I caught you to together,” Janice said, coming into the room. She dropped her tray of dirty dishes and charged Alice, holding a plate over her head to bludgeon her foe. Alice flinched, ready to have her head and face smashed by the plate when Janice was forced to the ground by Rocco, who had gotten behind her in a flash. The plate smashed into the ground, shattering into a hundred or so pieces. Her wrists were tied behind her back.
 
“Aren’t you going to read her her rights?” Tony asked.
 
“No need,” Rocco replied. “She hit the ground pretty hard. She’s out cold.”
 
“Look, guys…” Alice said.
 
“Don’t explain yourself,” Tony said, spreading his hands. “Sal and I are just two more notches on your bedpost, right?”
 
“I always swore not to get involved with anyone from work again,” Sal said, “and now I remember why.”
 
“Amen, bro,” Tony said.
 
Alice looked hurt.
 
“You gonna be okay?” Tony asked Sal.
 
“Yeah,” Sal said, nodding. “I just thought her and I had something special.”
 
“Me too,” Tony said. “Looks like she toyed with both of our emotions pretty bad.”
 
Tony brought Sal in for a hug, patting his back. Sal returned it, sniffling into Tony’s shoulder. Rocco tried to drag Janice to her feet, shaking her to get her to wake up from her probable concussion.
 
The door opened and Paulie walked in. He stopped dead and looked at the scene. Tony and Sal broke their embrace, Alice ran off toward the restroom, crying, and Rocco was picking up a bloody-faced Janice, who was looking around in a daze.
 
“What the frig happen here?!” Paulie exclaimed. “I can’t take one night off, I swear.”
 
***
 
Alice was wiping down the tables in the main area when the door opened. The bells above chimed. “I’m sorry,” she said, not looking up. “We’re closed.”
 
“I just came to see how you’re holding up,” Rocco said, walking up to her.
 
“What do you care?” Alice asked, going back to her task. “You left before the real fireworks started. Tony and Sal spent the rest of the night trash-talking me, comparing notes, and being complete asses. Sal forgave him soon enough once they had me as a common enemy. And Paulie lectured me on starting love triangles with his employees. They’re so lucky I need this job.”
 
“I know I may be out of line here,” Rocco said, “but I think you just need a real man to take you out and show you a good time.”
 
“Do you know one?” Alice asked, setting her rag at the table and looking at Rocco.
 
“Nope,” Rocco said, “but I can take you out in lieu of one.”
 
“Even after what you saw tonight?” Alice asked.
 
“You need to get your head out of this place,” Rocco replied. “Look at what messing around with the guys at work did to Sal and Janice. He’s miserable, and she’s in lockup for attempted assault.”
 
“What about Tony?” Alice asked.
 
“What about him?” Rocco asked in return. “I’m only asking for one date. We’ll worry about Tony if if becomes serious. How’s that sound?”
 
“I like that,” Alice said.
 
Rocco left a card on the table. “My cell number is on there,” he said. “Text me your next day off.”
 
“Okay,” Alice said.
 
Rocco smiled and left.
 
“Who was that?” Tony said, coming from the back.
 
“A customer,” Alice said, locking the door. “I told him we’re closed.” She walked by the table to pocketed Rocco’s card.
 
“Good,” Tony said, turning the lights off. They were the only two left in the restaurant. “About tonight… I’m sorry.”
 
“Me too,” Alice said. She kissed Tony on the cheek. “Good night.” She went to the back to get her things. She came out a minute later and went to the front door, unlocking it. 
 
“Goodnight,” Tony said as Alice let. He followed to the door, locking it again. He stood there for a moment, deep in thought. He nodded and walked toward the back, going to the stairwell that led to his apartment upstair, lightly singing.
 

 

“You wanna go where people know,” he sang, “their bullshit is all the same. You wanna go where nobody wants to know your name. Bum bum bum bum bum. Bum.”
 
 
 
The End

Freedom Lane – The Ebonic Plague

“The New Haven Board of Education is rolling out a new program to help stamp out Ebonics usage in school,” the bubbly news anchor said, standing outside a public school, smiling and holding her microphone. “The controversial program has come under heat from the African American community as being racist.”
 
The scene shifted, showing a black professor, addressing a small crowd from his podium. The name “Cole Boatwright” was displayed on the screen under him. “They’re trying to stifle our voice,” he said to murmurs of agreement from his audience. “Ebonics is a language, our language. It should be taught in schools, not silenced!”
 
The anchor was back, smiling once again. “Despite the community’s pleas and protests to stop the program,” she continued, “programs are expected to start in some schools as early as Monday.”
 
“Dis some bullshit!” Da’Quarius shouted at the TV.
 
“Calm down,” Helen said. “If you come to this country, you should learn the damn language the normal people speak.”
 
“I was born here!” Da’Quarius snapped. “Dammit, biddy. I was born in da’ same city as you!”
 
“That’s enough shouting,” Rose said. “Now I don’t agree with the severity of all this, but you could probably benefit from some speech coaching.”
 
“Oh shit,” Helen muttered. “Rose is being racist again! I love it when that happens.”
 
“I am not being racist,” Rose said. “I’m just saying that maybe some of the more… ethnic school children could benefit from learning how to speak properly at a job interview or wherever.”
 
“Both biddies turned on me,” Da’Quarius said, crossing his arms.
 
“Hey,” Helen said. “I’m with you, kid. Nobody’s gonna tell us how to talk in our own damn city!”
 
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “Fight da’ power!”
 
Rose sighed. “This isn’t going to end well at all.”
 
 
***
 
Freedom Lane 
 
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness
 
Season 11, Episode 4: The Ebonic Plague
 
***
 
“Starting today,” Mr. Hessman said, addressing his sixth grad social studies class, “some of you will be joining our new speech class, abolishing Ebonics in our prestigious school.”
 
The class stared at Hessman, not taking his bait to get him going on another of his signature rants. Luckily for them, he didn’t need such prompting.
 
“I, for one,” Mr. Hessman continued, “don’t think my students should be judged on the way they speak. Ebonics is the language of the streets, and god forbid someone curtails their accent to make another not feel uncomfortable. In a minute, they’ll be calling those selected by this school to the special class, eradicating their voices, turning them into the sheep and followers they want for this white-washed society.”
 
The intercom above the door buzzed, and Principal Johnston’s voice filled every room in the school. “The following students are to report to the assembly room,” he said. “Da’Quarius Masters.”
 
The students waited for more names, but none came. The intercom clicked off with a buzz of static, and the room was silent. Every set of eyes was on Da’Quarius.
 
“Well ain’t dis a mo’ fucker.”
 
***
 
Liz Tyson, Miss Tyson to her students, sat in her new classroom in Haven Hills School. She was chubby, had short brown hair, and wrapped in a blue-green shawl. She thought she’d have a full class of students, but only one sat in the back row of the class, a bald boy with yellow glasses named Da’Quarius; a name that told her breaking his usage of Ebonics was going to be a challenge.
 
“Good morning,” Miss Tyson said. “My name is Miss Tyson.”
 
Da’Quarius sat with his arms crossed, a look of annoyance on his face. “’Sup?”
 
“Do you want to sit closer?” Miss Tyson asked. “It looks like it’s just the two of us today.”
 
Da’Quarius huffed and picked up his things, moving toward the front of the class. He sat in the front row, directly across from Missy Tyson, once again crossing his arm.
 
“What do you expect to get from this class?” Miss Tyson asked.
 
“Lemme set one thing straight,” Da’Quarius said. “You an’ I ain’t fuckin’. I don’t care how many times da’ white teacher seduces da’ black kid on da’ news. It just ain’t happenin’ here. So you can get dat notion outta yo’ head right now.”
 
Miss Tyson sighed. “I wasn’t expecting anything like that to happen,” she said. “I just want to teach you proper English.”
 
Da’Quarius huffed again. “Proper English? Lemme ask you somethin’. What if some kid comes from England an’ talks with an accent? I bet dat’s okay. But I talk with an accent, and you wanna make me talk more white.”
 
“It’s not about talking ‘more white’,” Miss Tyson retorted. “It’s about being able to speak well enough to go to college, get a job, and keep up with others in the workplace. Your quality of life will be much better if you don’t sound like a walking stereotypical joke.”
 
Da’Quarius looked over Miss Tyson. “So bein’ black is a joke now?”
 
“Look,” Miss Tyson said, taking off her glasses and pinching the top of her nose. “What the hell do you want to hear?”
 
***
 
“How’d your first day of speech lessons go?” Rose asked, passing over a casserole dish full of broiled chicken over the dining room table toward Da’Quarius.
 
“How do you think?” Da’Quarius asked. “I’m one of da’ only black kids in dat school, an’ I’m da’ only one dey picked to toss in. I’m sittin’ with dis white bitch every gotdamn day, hearin’ ‘bout how I talk is a fuckin’ joke an’ shit.”
 
“I wish you wouldn’t use that language at the dinner table,” Rose said.
 
“Oh,” Helen said, taking her chicken and placing the dish back in the center of the table. “So you’re going to chime on the way he talks too? I told you, it’s just street talk. He’ll grow out of it.”
 
“That’s not what I meant,” Rose said. “I was talking about the swear words.”
 
“OK,” Helen said. “Kid, don’t friggin’ swear at the table.”
 
Rose sighed while Da’Quarius chuckled. “It’ll be good for you,” Rose said. “I hope you see that in the end. I’m sure your student advisor thinks so too.”
 
“You mean Hess?” Da’Quarius said. “I think you’ve pegged him wrong on dis.”
 
“What do you mean?” Rose asked.
 
***
 
“Aight,” Mr. Hessman said, standing up from his desk. “Get’chu some paper, you jive-ass mamma jammas. We’s ‘bout to have a quiz up in here.”
 
The class murmured, looking at each other as they took their notebooks out, except for Da’Quarius, who couldn’t hide his smile.
 
“Okay, turkeys,” Mr. Hessman said. “Listen up, cuz I’m only gonna give yo da’ ‘structions once. Ya feel me?”
 
The class all got their pencils ready, nervous looks on their faces.
 
***
 
“YOU DID WHAT?!” Principal Johnston roared, turning read as he roared at Hessman.
 
“I’m giving the students a small taste of the language of the streets,” Hessman replied. “Do you have an issue with that?”
 
“You know how the Board of Ed is right now with this Ebonics nonsense,” Johnston replied. “They’ll have my ass if they find out you taught a class talking like that.”
 
“I thought it was good,” Da’Quarius said from his seat in the corner. “E’ryone gets to see what we’re ‘bout to lose, even if yo’ jive talk is dated.”
 
“Bingo,” Hessman said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve conversed in jive, Da’Quarius, but im glad you appreciated it at least.”
 
“Why’s he even here?” Johnston asked. “He’s not the one in trouble for once.”
 
“I’m his student advisor,” Hessman replied. “And this time I needed a student to advise me, so it made sense to flip the script. He’s also the only one who passed my quiz today. He got an A-plus on it if you must know.”
 
“He’s the only one who can understand you when you talk like that!” Johnston exclaimed.
 
“Like what?” Da’Quarius asked. “Like a nigga?”
 
Johnston turned red. “Get out,” he said quietly. “Both of you, get out before I suspend you both.”
 
“You heard him, Daq,” Hessman said. “Let’s get you to speech class.”
 
“Shit,” Da’Quarius muttered. “I was hopin’ to get outta dat class.”
 
***
 
Miss Tyson aimed her wooden pointer at the dry erase board. There were words written all over it. She pointed to “this”, waiting for Da’Quarius to repeat it.
 
“Dis,” Da’Quarius said.
 
“This,” Miss Tyson said. “The ‘T’ and the ‘H’ do not make a ‘D’ sound. Try another.” She moved the pointer.
 
“Dat.”
 
“No,” Missy Tyson said. “‘that’. 
 
“Dat’s what I said!” Da’Quarius exclaimed. “Dat!”
 
Miss Tyson sighed. “Let’s try something else,” she said. She uncapped the marker and wrote a new word on the board. “Thick.”
 
Da’Quarius stared at her, calculating. “Dick.”
 
“No!” Miss Tyson snapped, dropping her pointer on the ground. “You’re doing this on purpose!”
 
“No I ain’t!” Da’Quarius retorted.
 
“I’ve heard you make the ‘T-H’ sound correctly before,” Miss Tyson said. “You’re choosing to say ‘dis’ and ‘dat’ instead of ‘this’ and ‘that’. You are more than capable of making the sounds needed to say these words.”
 
“Dis is how I talk!” Da’Quarius shouted. “Wha’chu want me to do? Learn a whole new language so you can get yo’ paycheck an’ bounce? I ain’t goin’ down like dat.”
 
Miss Tyson looked down and shook her head as the bell rang. Da’Quarius picked up his backpack and left without another word. She looked up and followed him with her eyes. “Why won’t this kid even try?”
 
***
 
“Who’s up next?” Miss Reynolds, and ancient English teacher, asked her sixth grade class. “We haven’t heard from Da’Quarius yet. Come up and give your report.”
 
Da’Quarius walked to the front of the class, holding his oral book report. He cleared his threat and began his assessment of Watership Down by Richard Adams. “So dis book ‘bout a bunch of bunny rabbits, but don’t let dat fool you. It all starts when one of da lil’ bunnies sees da’ future, and dey all doomed to be kilt. Den -”
 
“Let me stop you for a minute,” Miss Reynolds interrupted. “What are you doing?”
 
“My oral report on Watership Down,” Da’Quarius replied. “It gets better. Da’ bunnies go to war just to get laid in da’ third part. Fo’ real, yo.”
 
“I mean the matter of which you speak,” Miss Reynolds said. “Weren’t you among the students taking the classes to stomp out those disgusting ebonics?”
 
“It’s only been a week,” Da’Quarius said. “’Sides, you ain’t gonna tell me how I can an’ can’t speak. Dis is America, an’ dis is my voice.”
 
“I suppose not,” Miss Reynolds said. “I am, on the other hand, your teacher, and I can grade you as I see fit. I believe your report, the parts I was able to understand, earned you a D.”
 
“Dat’s bullshit!” Da’Quarius exclaimed. “I didn’t even get to finish! You let Todd go on for like twenty minutes on that stupid red fern book. We know da’ dog dyin’ made you cry, Todd. Shut the hell up about it!”
 
“Sit down,” Miss Reynolds said. “Or the D will turn into an F.”
 
“Umma take my ‘D’ an’ ‘F’ yo’ face with it, bitch,” Da’Quarius muttered, moving back toward his seat.
 
“What was that?” Miss Reynolds asked.
 
“You prob’ly wouldn’t have understood,” Da’Quarius replied. “Bein’ ebonics an’ all. Just know dat dis won’t go unpunished.”
 
“Indeed,” Miss Reynold said, smirking. “I don’t suppose it won’t.”
 
***
 
“The teachers in this school are actively giving students bad grades because of their accents!” Professor of African American Studies, Cole Boatwright shouted, standing outside the front steps of Haven Hills school. “I’ve been inundated with stories from every school, hearing how these teachers are treating ebonics as something that needs to be stomped out instead of nurtured. Maybe ‘white-washed’ is a better word. I speak for many when I say that this type of behavior toward black students will not be tolerated!”
 
“He speaks awfully well for a black guy,” Helen said, muting  the evening news. “I wonder if he sees the irony of speaking so well, defending children’s right to speak like slobs.”
 
“You were all for us speakin’ da’ language of da’ streets,” Da’Quarius said. “Now you’re callin’ out dis mo’ fucker.”
 
“I’m calling him out because he’s making the rest of you look bad,” Helen said. “If he wanted to support your cause he’d use the language of the people, not this high-born professor talk.”
 
“Please stop arguing,” Rose said. “Da’Quarius, I got an email from your speech teacher. She thinks you’re not even trying to learn.”
 
“Dat ho dimed me out?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“Also,” Rose continued, “your English teacher is concerned about an outburst you had during class that resulted in you getting a D on an oral report.”
 
“Reynolds dimin’ on me too?” Da’Quarius asked. “My whole school is full of snitches. I bet Reynolds didn’t mention how da’ whole thing started cuz she was bein’ racist an’ shit.”
 
“Shank them in the shower,” Helen said. “They’ll learn.”
 
“We don’t shower with our teachers,” Da’Quarius said.
 
“Regardless of snitches and this professor on television,” Rose continued, “I want you to put an effort. I know you don’t like this teacher or the class, but she won’t go away until she sees that you can do what she’s asking. Trust me. You’re better off just putting in the time and the lip service.”
 
“Alright,” Da’Quarius said, getting up. “I’ll see what I can do. I ain’t guaranteeing nuttin’, doe.”
 
“Thank you,” Rose said.
 
Da’Quarius went up toward his room. Helen waited until he was gone before commenting. “This whole thing is going to die down soon anyway.”
 
“Probably,” Rose agreed. “But Da’Quarius may just learn something in the end.”
 
*** 
 
Da’Quarius walked into Miss Tyson’s speech class. “You ready fo’ another round?”
 
Miss Tyson sighed. “I think I’ve had enough of the arguing and fighting,” she said. “Teaching one student proper English shouldn’t be this hard.”
 
“Dat’s da’ spirit!” Da’Quarius exclaimed. “You mind if I play on my phone until class ends? I’m in a twitter feud with Corey Feldman. Mo’ fucker thinks he should still be alive.”
 
“I just want to know one thing,” Miss Tyson said, sitting near Da’Quarius. “Why don’t you want to learn this stuff? Why is the whole world against this cause.”
 
Da’Quarius turned and put his phone down. “It’s not dat I’m against you,” he said. “What you an’ da’ schools are asking is fo’ us to be less black. Nobody seems to see dat.”
 
“That’s not what I’m asking,” Miss Tyson said. “As much as you want to call ebonics an accent or its own language, it’s not, and it will never be recognized that way. It will always be perceived as gibberish. It’s fine for where you’re at now, but you’ll never be taken seriously as an adult if you keep speaking this way.”
 
“What if I’m a football player?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“You know what I mean,” Miss Tyson said, smirking a bit. “I just worry about you and kids like you. You can be over-qualified for a job, and be turned away because of the way you talk. You have it hard enough with the racism that won’t seem to die in this country.”
 
Da’Quarius sighed. “I’m going to tell you something,” he said, “but it has to stay in this classroom.”
 
“Sure,” Miss Tyson replied. “What a second. You said that perfectly fine.”
 
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “Do you really think I don’t know how to talk this way? They made us take these classes in the orphanage. They thought white parents would adopt us if we talked like them.”
 
“Oh my,” Miss Tyson said. “They really said that to the kids there?”
 
Da’Quarius shrugged. “It’s the truth. What you’re saying is the truth too. I wouldn’t talk like that on a job interview or anything. I know some people who would, but I know better than that.”
 
“Then why do it at all?” Miss Tyson asked.
 
“It’s about my identity,” Da’Quarius said. “Look at my regular class. I’m the only black kid in there. I’m one of maybe four in this school. I’m the only black kid in my family too. I can conform and talk like everyone else, but I don’t want lose that part of myself. I came from the ghetto, where they talk in what white propel call ebonics. Maybe it’s just my tribute to them.”
 
Miss Tyson nodded, at a loss for words. She was about to say something when the door opened and Principal Johnston walked in. “That’s it,” he said, waving his arms. “Class dismissed.”
 
“Wha’chu talkin’ ‘bout?” Da’Quarius asked, lapsing back into his normal way of speaking.
 
“That professor and his protesters got the whole program shut down,” Principal Johnston said. “Why am I even talking to you about this?”
 
“I dunno,” Da’Quarius said. “Maybe we friends now.”
 
Principal Johnston glowered.
 
“Finish up this last class and get him to his study hall, Miss Tyson,” Principal Johnston said. “This whole failed experiment is over.”
 
***
 
“The board of education has come to a good decision today,” Professor Boatwright said, speaking into his normal microphone on the news at noon. “No longer will our voices be stifled.”
 
Helen muted the TV. “I’ll be glad when his voice is stifled. What a blowhard.”
 
“I thought you were all for ebonics and the ‘language of the streets’,” Rose said.
 
“People can talk how they want,” Helen said. “This is America after all.”
 
“Then what’s your problem with Boatwright?” Rose asked.
 
“I’m just sick of hearing all of this,” Helen said. “Promise me you won’t ride the kid about learning to speak properly when he gets home.”
 
Rose sighed. “I guess I can’t now, not if it’s labeled as racist and his school isn’t teaching it. I just hope he uses common sense when he’s older and picks up some good habits from us.”
 
“That’s the spirit,” Helen said. “You gonna make some sandwiches now or what?”
 
***
 
“I guess this is it for us,” Miss Tyson said, walking Da’Quarius down the hall toward his study hall. “All I can say is that it was… educational.”
 
“It was,” Da’Quarius said. “I’m sorry I gave you such a hard time. I’m not a fan of being told to change who I am to accommodate others.”
 
“I get it,” Miss Tyson said. “I never looked at it from your perspective. I’ll remember our talk next time I teach one of these classes.”
 
“The schools aren’t gonna let you teach,” Da’Quarius said. “What are you gonna do now?”
 
“There’s other things I can teach,” Miss Tyson said. “Don’t you worry about me.”
 
“This is it,” Da’Quarius said, stopping outside the door to Mr. Hessman’s room. “So this is goodbye?”
 
“Maybe,” Miss Tyson said. “We may run into each other again.”
 
“Look,” Da’Quarius said. “I meant what I said when we first met: we ain’t fuckin’.”
 
Miss Tyson laughed. “See you later, Da’Quarius. You better get in there.”
 
“Later, teach,” Da’Quarius said. He opened the door to Hessman’s classroom and entered. “’Sup mo’ fuckers?! Guess who’s back in da’ hizzle?! It’s da’ Dee to da’ Quizzy! Outta my way, Todd, you big-ass bitch!”
 
Miss Tyson laughed as the door closed. She lingered for a moment before turning around to leave Haven Hall and her one, solitary student.
 
 

 

The End

Budgie’s Journal #26 – The Summer of Editing Begins

For most people, summer begins on Memorial Day. For me, this summer means a whole lot of editing for yours truly. I’ve done a ton of writing, and it’s time to push these projects into their second drafts.

I have a novella, a novel, and a short story completed, and it’s high time I start revising and editing, not an easy or short process. There’s no shortcuts in this long and arduous process. 

So I’ll be spending my summer revising my first drafts, editing my errors, and putting three books together when I’m not doing yard work or whatever else is keeping me busy. It’ll be a long and hit one!
-Budgie Bigelow
5/28/17

Cover Reveal – The Fortress on the Lake

I just got the cover for my short story “The Fortress on the Lake” today, and I figured I’d share it with you, my loyal readers. With barely any ado whatsoever, here it is!

Art by Dan Civitella.

The Fortress on the Lake will be available in the “Awakening” issue of SubQ Magazine available at the end of June.

Happy Birthday

You are the start of every day.

You are my torch in the dark, my understanding in the confusion, my path through the wastelands.

You are the witch in my life, my purveyor of magic, my spell caster, my vision in the night.

You made me what I am: a man, a husband, a father. I owe that all to you; a debt that can never be repaid in full, but I am willing to try.

I remember everything about you when you’re not around: your touch, your scent, your beauty, the sound of your breath, your taste. My senses long for you when you’re away.

You are my romance, my passion, my fate.

You are my breath, my pulse, my every thought.

My heart and soul are yours; they always have been. I’d give them up a thousand times over for you and not regret it for a single, solitary moment.

You are my rage, my wrath, my ever lasting forgiveness.

You are my island in a sea of uncertainty, my peak above the clouds of despair, my sanctuary in a land of chaos.

You are every written word, my lyric, my ballad. You unravel cliché. You make the wrong right. You give life meaning.

You are open, understanding, unwavering.

You are my girlfriend, my babe, my wife, my soul mate, the literal love of my life.

And I am yours.

Freedom Lane: Double Daq Attack

Da’Quarius sat in his homeroom, waiting for the day to start. Mr. Hessman was sitting at his desk, reading the paper after he took a quick attendance consisting of him asking if anyone was out that day. The door opened, and Hessman quickly stashed his newspaper as Principal Johnston appeared with a new student.
 
“Sorry to interrupt your morning ritual,” Johnston said. Hessman gave everyone a look that told them to shut the hell up about what he was actually doing.
 
“I’ve got a new student for your home group,” Principal Johnston continued, smiling. “I want you all to welcome Daquan Brown.”
 
The boy came in. He was tall, wore thick glasses, and was black. His eyes seemed drawn to Da’Quarius who had been the only black kid in his group, and one of the few in the school, up until a few seconds ago.
 
“Aw shit,” Da’Quarius said. “Dere goes da’ fuckin’ neighborhood.”
 
 
***
 
Freedom Lane 
 
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness
 
Season 10, Episode 4: Double Daq Attack
 
***
 
“I want that thing out of my house!” Helen snapped, following Rose from the kitchen to the den.
 
“You’re overreacting,” Rose said, carrying a small cage with a green parakeet inside. “Besides, I recall you trying to keep an alligator as a pet.”
 
“And you never shut up about it,” Helen said.
 
“There’s a huge difference,” Rose said. “This parakeet won’t kill and eat Da’Quarius’s dog.”
 
“You don’t know that,” Helen said.
 
Rose sighed. “This was my cousin’s pet bird,” she said. “She left it to me in her will, and I’ll take care of it per her wish.”
 
“I didn’t even know you had a dead cousin with a friggin’ flying booger,” Helen said.
 
“I haven’t heard from her in years,” Rose said, “but for some reason she left me Ronald in her will.”
 
“Ronald is a stupid name,” Helen said. “Let’s name him Ass-face.”
 
“We are not renaming him,” Rose said. “He already answers to Ronald.”
 
“ASS-FACE!” Helen shouted. Ronald leapt, flapping his wings. Feathers fell to the floor from between the bars. 
 
“Looks like he answers to that too now,” Helen said.
 
The doorbell rang, and Rose went to the door, still carrying the bird cage. She opened it to find Manny and Antonio Garcia, their neighbors from across the street, standing on their porch. “Hey, guys,” Rose said. “What’s up?”
 
“We’re here to see Helen,” Anotonio said. “We have a copy of the movie with the snowman and the-”
 
“Whoa,” Manny interrupted. “Nice parakeet.”
 
“You like him?” Rose said, holding the the cage. “This little guy is named Ronald. He’s a happy little bird.”
 
Helen scoffed from her spot on the couch.
 
“We’ve had a few of them,” Manny said, poking his finger through the cage bars, watching Ronald shuffle away along his perch.
 
“Yeah,” Antonio added. “We’ve never had one that wasn’t addicted to pot.”
 
The Garcia brothers tittered as Helen sighed loudly, rolling her eyes. “Even their pets are potheads.”
 
“Our last bird gained like five pounds,” Manny said. “He had the munchies all the time.”
 
“That’s impossible,” Rose said. 
 
Manny shrugged. “He liked his sweets,” he said. “Little bastard had no self control.”
 
Helen stood up. “Well, I’d love to stay and chat about your fat, drug-addict birds,” she said, “but I need to take a shit.” She left toward the downstairs bathroom.
 
“Bye Helen!” Manny called, waving.
 
“Hope everything comes out alright,” Antonio added.
 
The Garcia brothers turned back to Rose. “Does your parakeet know any tricks?” Manny asked.
 
***
 
Da’Quarius sat at lunch, the new kid, Daquan, was getting in the line, trying to decide what to get. “Dis some bullshit,” he said.
 
“What?” Flounder asked. “Are you talking about the new kid?”
 
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “Mo’ fucker thinks he can come up in here and start shit.”
 
“Are you upset they got another black kid in class?” Flounder asked.
 
“No!” Da’Quarius said. “Dat’s racist. I’m mad cuz da’ only black kid dey can find wears glasses like me an’ his name sounds kinda like mine. Just imagine if another Korean came here, an’ his name was Cuttlefish.”
 
“But you guys are loads different,” Flounder said.
 
“You’ll see,” Da’Quarius said, scowling. “Shit ain’t gone down yet.”
 
Next period, Da’Quarius sat in Ms. Kotter’s math class. Daquan entered, showing her his schedule and explaining that he was new. “Oh,” Ms. Kotter, a woman who looked almost as old as Helen, said. “I’ll sit you right next to your twin brother.”
 
Da’Quarius slammed his book shut. “Da’ fuck?!” he exlcaimed. “Dis some racist-ass bullshit!”
 
***
 
Helen sat in her favorite chair, flipping through the TV Guide. The top of her head was itching, so she scratched it, returning her hand to turn the page a moment later. Seconds later, she felt the itch again. She returned her hand to her head to scratch, and it bumped into something.
 
“What the hell?” Helen said. She moved her hand around her head, and she knocked whatever was there off. It flew off, circling her.
 
“YOU GODDAMN BIRD!” Helen shouted, swatting at Ronald with her TV Guide. “I’LL KILL YOU!”
 
“What’s going on in here?!” Rose exclaimed, coming in from the kitchen, finding Helen swinging her arm at Ronald as he flew about the den, wings beating to keep himself away form Helen, chirping frantically. Dutchie started barking and jumping around in excitement.
 
“Eat that fucking’ bird, dog!”  Helen shouted at Dutchie.
 
“Don’t tell him that!” Rose shouted, trying to catch the elusive parakeet.
 
“He ate my damn canary that time!” Helen retorted. “This dog loves eating birds!”
 
“Eating birds isn’t good for his stomach!” Rose shouted.
 
“HE’S A KILLING MACHINE!” Helen screamed. “LET HIM KILL!”
 
Rose huffed, going into the kitchen. She returned with a dish towel, tossing it in the air at Ronald. She hit her mark, and Ronald fell onto the couch under its weight. Rose rushed over and picked him up before Helen could swat him or Dutchie eat him.
 
“Your leave that flying rat in its cage,” Helen said, panting.
 
“I don’t even know how he got out,” Rose said. “You leave him alone. He was just scared.” She left to put Ronald back.
 
“He better be scared,” Helen muttered. Dutchie whined next to her. “Don’t worry. We’ll get him.”
 
***
 
“Can you tell me why Miss Kotter has ejected you from her class?” Principal Johnston asked.
 
“She sent a referral,” Da’Quarius said. “You know why she sent me.”
 
“I’ve told you before that outburst and profanity are not permitted in my school,” Principal Johnston said, folding his hands.
 
“Yo’ teacher bein’ racist is okay, doe?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“That is a very heavy accusation,” Principal Johnston said. “Can you tell me exactly why you’d think that?”
 
“She insisted dat I’m twins with dat new kid,” Da’Quarius said.
 
“Which one?” Principal Johnston asked.
 
“You know damn well which one,” Da’Quarius said.
 
“Miss Kotter is very old,” Pricilla Johnston said. “She gets confused easily. She’s from a different time.”
 
“Can I go now?” Da’Quarius asked. “You’re a second away from tellin’ me her bein’ racist is cool cuz she old an’ white.”
 
Principal Johnston sighed. “Go,” he said, waving his hand toward the door. “Just try not to shout and swear like that again.”
 
“Maybe I’ll calm down after you euthanize Miss Kotter,” Da’Quarius mumbled.
 
Da’Quarius left, making his way up toward Mr. Hessman’s class. He was early for Social Studies, but waiting for Johnston to reprimand him had taken up most of Miss Kotter’s class. He opened the door, expecting Hessman to be alone. Instead, he found that Daquan was already there.
 
“I know it’s tough to be new,” Hessman said. “You don’t fit in with the others in the honors program, but I bet you’ll give them a run for their money if you apply yourself. Oh, hi Da’Quarius.”
 
Daquan turned around, noticing that Da’Quarius had entered. He didn’t offer a greeting.
 
“Look,” Mr. Hessman said. “Daquan was telling me about what had happened in Miss Kotter’s class earlier. I know you’re not twins or brothers or even related, but I think you two can be friends.”
 
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius scoffed. “You’d like dat I bet. Two black kids doin’ yo’ biddin’ instead of one.”
 
“There’s no need for this jealously,” Hessman said. “I’m giving the class a black history month paper to do. I want you two to work together.”
 
“But it’s March,” Daquan said. “Black history month was last month.”
 
“Sure,” Hessman said, “if you believe what our white government wants us to believe.”
 
Daquan gave Hessman an odd look and then turned to Da’Quarius.
 
“Don’t look at me,”. Da’Quarius said. “Hess does shit like dis all da’ time. I bet he just forgot to give us da’ report to do.”
 
“Regardless,” Hessman said, “consider the two of you paired up, and I’ll be looking forward to see how you work together.”
 
“Should we study at your house or mine?” Daquan asked.
 
“Shit” DaQuarius said. “Better be yo’ house unless you want to see an’ lady stranglin’ a little green bird?”
 
***
 
Rose sat at the kitchen table, holding Ronald in her left hand. She held a tiny pair of nail clippers in her right. A book she got from the library called “Caring for Your Budgie” stood open in front of her.
 
“Sorry about this,” Rose said, “but it looks like your previous owner didn’t do this much. Also, I don’t want Helen screaming how you’re ripping the skin from the top of her head if you land on her again.”
 
Ronald chirped, showing his disdain for the whole situation. Rose took one more look into the budgie book and clipped.
 
Ronald screeched, the tip of his toe dangling. “Oh no!” Rose said. “I’m so sorry.”
 
Ronald escaped Rose’s grasp, flying erratically through the kitchen, dipping tiny droplets of blood. He flew through the door, making his way into the den.
 
“That damn bird is loose again!” Helen shouted. “It’s on the rag now, dripping blood all over!”
 
Rose sighed, picking up the dish towel and heading into the den.
 
***
 
Da’Quarius and Daquan were at Daquan’s house, starting their report. Da’Quarius had ben adamant about switching partners, but Hessman wasn’t willing to let him team up with Flounder as usual. “Who should we do this report on?” Daquan asked, clicking through a list of prominent figures from black history on his computer. “How’s Rosa Parks?”
 
“Nah,” Da’Quarius replied. “All da’ white kids always pick her.”
 
“Then who?” Daquan asked.
 
Da’Quarius thought for a moment. “How ‘bout Zachary Boddy?”
 
Daquan typed the name into Google and scrolled through results. “Oh my God,” he said, reading. “I’d do my report on Malcom X before I chose this guy.”
 
“You don’t know Hess like I do,” Da’Quarius said. “Dis is da’ shit dat gets his nut.”
 
“This guy got arrested for poisoning whites-only water fountains,” Daquan said. “He pleaded guilty and was killed in prison after stabbing a guard.”
 
“All fo’ da’ cause,” Da’Quarius said. “He burned down a church in a white neighborhood too, but dey never pinned it on him. Dat was right here in old New Haven. I bet my moms was around fo’ dat. Helen might’ve roasted a marshmallow in it.”
 
“Alright,” Daquan said, going through the information. “If you think this is the best guy to do the report on.”
 
“Trust me,” Da’Quarius said. “Just make him look like a hero. White America tried to vilify him an’ shit.”
 
Daquan started to cut and paste information when something caught Da’Quarius’s eye. He opened a yellow folder on Daquan’s desk, finding white papers covered in drawings. “Shit,” Da’Quarius said. “You draw all dis?”
 
Daquan move quickly, closing the folder and moving it away. “Don’t look at that,” he said.
 
“Dat was good doe,” Da’Quarius said. “You a comic book artist or something?”
 
Daquan beamed. “It’s just a hobby,” he said, fixing his glasses. “My parents say that I should give it up and focus on choosing a career.”
 
“Don’t give it up,” Da’Quarius said. “Fuck wha’cho parents say. Draw yo’ ass off. Bring some to school. I know some mo’ fuckers dat can help write some dialogue an’ shit if you want. You guys can put an issue or two online and see if anyone likes it.”
 
“Really?” Daquan said. “You’d do that?”
 
“Fuck yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “Now lets get dis report written.”
 
Daquan smiled, and the two got busy preparing their oral report on the life of Zachary Boddy.
 
***
 
Rose was cleaning out Ronald’s cage. He had lost his toe due to the accident with the clippers. She had called the Garcias, and they told her to seal the wound with superglue. It had worked, but she still felt horrible. Ronald kept lifting his leg off his wooden perch.
 
“I know you’re hurting,” Rose said, putting a fresh piece of gravel paper on the base of the cage. “It’ll heal, and you’ll be yourself in no time at all.”
 
Ronald turned away from Rose and jumped onto a lower perch.
 
“I guess I deserve that,” Rose said.
 
“Rose!” Helen shouted from the den. “Don’t forget to take the meat out of the freezer!”
 
“Oh,” Rose said. She had forgotten. Helen wanted to make a lazy lasagna for dinner, and she needed a pound of ground beef. Rose went to the freezer and took it out. Once it was in the sink to thaw, she closed the freezer. She turned toward the cage and noticed that Ronald had gotten out again.
 
Rose listened, waiting for Helen to start screaming about the bird flying around the house again. When no scream came, she walked into the den. “Did Ronald fly in here?” she asked.
 
“Who?” Helen asked, flipping channels.
 
“Ronald,” Rose said. She sighed. “The flying booger.”
 
“OH!’ Helen said, feigning surprise. “That little shit hasn’t come in here. Is he loose again?”
 
“He got out of the cage,” Rose said. “Did Dutchie get him?”
 
Helen looked over at Dutchie, who looked at them lazily from his bed. “Nope,” Helen said. “That lazy mutt hasn’t moved in a while. It’s mongrel nap time.”
 
“Where could he have gone?” Rose said, looking around.
 
Helen sighed and got up. “Let’s go find him before he shits all over my pillow.”
 
***
 
“…and that’s why we should all be more like Rosa Parks,” the red-headed and freckled Cecilia said, finishing her report along side Todd, who was smiling handsomely.
 
Mr. Hessman sighed. “Alright,” he said, making an animated checkmark in his book. “That’s three Rosa Parks reports now. Raise your hand if you also did Rosa Parks, so I can give you a C plus and write down that you did make your report.”
 
Hessman marked his notebook of who was raising their hands. He gave two other students C pluses. “Anyone else?” he asked.
 
Flounder’s hand shot into the air. “Stop it!” his partner, a boy named Seamus, said. “We didn’t do Rosa Parks.”
 
“I know,” Flounder said. “I just hate talking in front of people.”
 
“You’re giving your report, Flounder,” Hessman said, “but I think we should hear from Da’Quarius and Daquan next.”
 
Da’Quarius got up and walked to the front of the class, followed by a nervous Daquan. They stood and faced the class.
 
“Who is your report on?” Hessman asked. 
 
“We did Zachary Boddy,” Da’Quarius said proudly.
 
“Zachary Boddy?” Hessman asked.
 
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said.
 
“The guy who poisoned the water fountains and set fire to the churches in the name of civil rights?” Hessman asked.
 
“Dat’s da’ only Zachary Boddy I know of,” Da’Quarius said.
 
“You know some view him as a sociopath and a serial killer, right?” Hessman asked.
 
“Daquan and I disagree with dat statement,” Da’Quarius said. “We say he’s a New Haven civil rights hero, vilified by white America.”
 
“Excellent,” Hessman said, straightening up and looking intrigued for the first time that day. “By all means: let’s hear your report.” 
 
Da’Quarius cleared his throat and looked at the index card in his right hand. “Zachary Boddy was pivotal to da’ civil rights movement, right here in New Haven,” he said.
 
“Prior to his arrest,” Daquan continued, “Boddy was a key member in the New Haven Black Tigers, an organization he had started with a longtime friend, Richard ‘the red blade’ Freeman.”
 
“Boddy and Freeman led the Black Tigers through the streets of New Haven,” Da’Quarius said, “burnin’ an’ lootin’ in a time when it wasn’t part of every day life. Boddy was even said to have taken out -”
 
The door opened, distracting Da’Quarius and Daquan from giving their report. Principal Johnston stuck his head in. “I’m so sorry to interrupt,” he said. “I need to have Daquan.”
 
“He’s in the middle of giving a report on Zachary Boddy right now,” Hessman said. “It’s quite riveting too.”
 
“The lunatic?” Principal Johnston asked.
 
“Civil rights activist,” Hessman corrected. He scoffed. “You over-privileged whites will never understand what he did for his people.”
 
“Well I need Daquan nevertheless,” Johnston said. “Come with me, young man.”
 
“No,” Hessman interrupted. “I’m his assigned faculty advisor, and I demand to know what this is about.”
 
“Not in front of the others,” Principal Johnston said through his teeth.
 
A girl came in behind him. “That’s him!” she exclaimed, pointing at Daquan. “He’s the one who is drawing nude pictures of all the girls! He left his folder in the library.”
 
“Really, Daquan,” Hessman said, turning toward him. “Did you have to be that guy?”
 
“What happened to da’ comics?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
Daquan shrugged. “I like nudes better,” he said.
 
“Come along, Daquan,” Principal Johnston said. “Grab your bag and lets go. Your parents are waiting downstairs for you.”
 
“Not again,” Daquan said, grabbing his backpack and leaving. “This is how I got booted from my old school.”
 
“Damn,” Da’Quarius said as Daquan was escorted out of class. “I was startin’ to like dat guy.”
 
“What are you waiting for?” Hessman asked. “Let’s hear more about Zachary Boddy.”
 
***
 
“So your new friend was expelled?” Rose asked, sitting at the kitchen table during dinner.
 
“I don’t know if he was my new friend,” Da’Quarius said. “We just did da’ one report together. But yeah, he got kicked outta school.”
 
“Anything would be an improvement on that gook kid,” Helen said. “Did he get expelled from your school too?”
 
“No,” Da’Quarius replied.
 
“Damn,” Helen said, eating a piece of lazy lasagna, followed by a swallow of water.
 
“What happened to da’ parrot?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
”He was a parakeet,” Rose said. “I don’t know where he went. He may have somehow gotten out and flown away.”
 
“Good riddance,” Helen said. “That little shit was a handful and a half.”
 
“You barely did anything with him other than throw a fit,” Rose said.
 
“Can you get me some ice?” Helen said, handing Da’Quarius her glass.
 
“Sho’, biddy,” Da’Quarius said. He got up and opened the freezer. “Fuck!”
 
“What?” Rose asked, getting up.
 
Da’Quarius turned back toward the table and dropped an icy green chunk on it. “Yo’ bird was in da’ freezer, Rose.”
 
“He must have flown in when I was taking the meat out for dinner,” Rose said.
 
Helen poked it with her fork. “He’s dead alright.”
 
Rose shrugged. “At least he’s with his old master now,” she said.
 
“That’s the spirit,” Helen said, eating some ziti.
 
“You just poked da’ dead bird with dat fork, biddy,” Da’Quarius said.
 
 
The End
 
****
 
Coming this summer:
Rose, Helen, Paulie, and Da’Quarius will take you to new heights in Freedom Lane da’ Movie 2: In Space.

 

 

Freedom Lane: Nuts in the Attic

Helen sat in her favorite chair in the den of her home on Freedom Lane. She had a tiny screwdriver and her hearing aid in front of her. It hadn’t been working right, so she was fiddling with it. She popped in the new battery and closed it up, placing it in her ear. She turned on the TV, satisfied with her work. 
 
“That’s better,” she said, watching Doctor Fatshit talk to some extremely fat woman about why she eats the way she eats. Helen heard something else and muted the TV.
 
“What the hell is that noise?” she asked the empty den. “I swore I heard a scratching. I probably screwed up my hearing aid.”
 
Helen shrugged, turning the sound back on while Doctor Fatshit was explaining how traumatic events can trigger eating disorders. Helen muted the TV again. “I know I heard it that time,” she said.
 
“Rose?!” Helen shouted. “Kid?!”
 
There was no answer. Rose was outside gardening, and it was too early for Da’Quarius to be home from school. The scratching noise returned, and Dutchie, Da’Quarius’s pitbull terrier, lifted his head from his doggy bed, his ears perked up.
 
“So you hear it too,” Helen said. “It’s coming from upstairs. Let’s go see what it is.”
 
Helen shuffled up the stairs, followed by Dutchie. The scratching was louder in the upstairs hallway, and right above her head. Dutchie gave a growl. “I hear ‘em,” Helen said. “Let’s see what we’re dealing with here.”
 
Helen reached up, groaning at the ache in her back, pulling the cord on the ceiling door to the attic. It came open, and she pulled down the stepladder. “Don’t tell Rose I did this,” she mentioned to the dog as she mounted the steps.
 
The attic was full of dusty boxes of old holiday decorations along the walls along and plastic bins full of sheets and blankets. Helen looked around, putting her hand on the ground as she hoisted herself up. Acorns scattered, spilling onto the insulation that covered the floor.
 
“What the hell are these nuts doing up here?” Helen asked herself. Her question was answered a moment later, as two squirrels ran past, heading toward the circular window near the front of the house. “YOU BASTARDS!”
 
Helen climbed back down the stairs and found a patient Dutchie, who was staring up into the attic. He gave a short whine. “Your kind was bred for this shit,” Helen said, pulling on the dog’s collar. “You get up there and get those fuckers.”
 
Helen led Dutchie to the ladder, but he refused to climb. “You stupid mongrel,” Helen said. “Get up that damn ladder!” She wrestled with Dutchie, trying to haul him up by his mid-section. She paused to catch her breath and found Da’Quarius home from school, watching her.
 
“Wha’chu doin’ with my dog?” Da’Quarius asked. Dutchie, glad to see his master finally home, slipped through Helen’s grip and jumped around, wagging his tail.
 
“I’ve got nuts in the attic,” Helen replied.
 
Da’Quarius stared at Helen for a moment, shook his head, then silently took his dog downstairs.
 
“What?!” Helen shouted.
 
***
 
Freedom Lane 
 
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness
 
Season 10, Episode 2: Nuts in the Attic
 
***
 
Da’Quarius sat at the kitchen table, papers spread out on top. Paulie came in through the back door. “Hey, D,” he said. “What are you up to there? Looks like a hell of a report.”
 
“Dis ain’t no report,” Da’Quarius said. “I’m glad you stopped by. I’m doin’ dis fo’ you.”
 
“What?” Paulie asked, looking over the notes. “Is this for my remodeled pizzeria? What do you have in mind?”
 
“No,” Da’Quarius said. “Dis ain’t fo’ dat. Dis is my final revenge for Luca.”
 
Paulie groaned. Luca DiGenovese was his enemy and rival restauranteur. “Drop it,” Paulie said. “I want nothing to do with Luca. I almost lost my business, and there’s no reason to start off with another feud with him with the new place.”
 
“But he was tryin’ -”
 
“I don’t care,” Paulie said, taking Da’Quarius’s various papers off the table and stuffing them into the trash can in the corner. “I want absolutely nothing to do with that creep. Capeesh?”
 
“Yeah, yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “Just remember I tried when he shows his fat ass at yo’ new place, tryin’ to fuck yo’ shit up.”
 
“I’ll be sure to keep that in mind,” Paulie said. “And don’t you dare breathe a word of this to Tony.”
 
“I won’t,” Da’Quarius said. “Wha’chu doin’ here tonight anyway?”
 
“Rose called me earlier,” Paulie said. “She wanted me to see about some squirrels in the house.”
 
“Oh yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “Helen is declarin’ an all out war on ‘em.”
 
“Come on,” Paulie said, walking toward the door leading to the den. “I’m sure she’s annoyed, but I think ‘all out war’ is probably an exaggeration, even for my sis.”
 
***
 
“I’m gonna nuke those little rat-fucks like Hiroshima!” Helen exclaimed, pacing the around her couch wearing her green army helmet and and carrying her crowbar. “Make no mistake, the war on squirrels has never been more real. You don’t come into my house, leaving acorns strewn about like you’re at some maple tree orgy.”
 
“Madon,” Paulie groaned. “They’re just tree-rats. You just need to get them out and fix the window. They’ll move on.”
 
“It’s the middle of winter,” Rose said. “They’ll die outside.”
 
“We have no need for hippy nonsense right now,” Helen said, putting a hand on Rose’s shoulder. “Thank god you’re one of the pretty ones.”
 
“Thank you,” Rose said, “but can’t we just leave them until spring?”
 
Helen scoffed. “No, my dear,” she said. “They can face the elements as nature intended.”
 
“I got a have-a-heart trap at home,” Paulie said. “I’ll send Tony over first thing tomorrow. There’s not much for him to do while everything is being installed at the pizzeria, and he’s going stir crazy in my house. All of my wooden spoons have faces drawn on them, and I don’t even want to think about why.”
 
“So you’ll trap them,” Rose said. “Then what?”
 
“We’ll let them out somewhere they’ll be able to thrive,” Paulie said. “They’re resourceful rodents. They’ll be alright.”
 
“You can try to trap them,” Helen said, patting her hand with he crowbar, “if you can get to them before I find and disembowel them with my teeth.”
 
“Oh, Helen,” Rose said, putting her shaking head in her hand.
 
***
 
Da’Quarius sat at the lunch table, eating his sandwich across from his friend, Flounder. “What do you have today?” he asked.
 
“Ham an’ cheese,” Da’Quarius replied.
 
“How’d that thing go you were working on?” Flounder asked. “Did you avenge your uncle?”
 
“Fuck no,” Da’Quarius said, slamming his sandwich on the table. “Unca Paulie won’t let me do shit! He doesn’t wanna be involved, and I cain’t even ask Tony. Dis some bullshit.”
 
“Wait,” Flounder said. “Did he say you can’t do it, or does he just not want to be involved?”
 
Da’Quarius thought back tot he conversation with his uncle the night before. “He just said he wants nothin’ to do with Luca. Shit, Flounder. You just found a loophole!”
 
“I did?” Flounder asked. “What are you going to do now?”
 
“I dunno,” Da’Quarius said. “Maybe I’ll get a pipe and kneecap dat mo’ fucker when he’s walkin’ to his car.”
 
“That’s not good enough,” Flounder said.
 
“’Scuse me?!” Da’Quarius said. “Do you have a better idea?”
 
“Yeah,” Flounder said. “I think I do.”
 
***
 
“I don’t know why Paulie wants me to help you,” Tony said, following Rose and Helen to their second floor, carrying the steel cage trap Paulie had lent him. “He knows I’m scared shitless of squirrels.”
 
“Why is that?” Rose asked.
 
“When I was nine or ten,” Tony said, “one climbed up my pant leg and tried to bite my acorns off.”
 
“That was had to be forty-five years ago,” Rose said. “How could you let a phobia stick with you this long?”
 
“Clowns,” Helen muttered.
 
Rose looked around, darting her head back and forth. She settled her hand on her chest when she realized there were no clowns in her upstairs hallway. “Don’t do that,” she scolded.
 
“Sorry,” Helen said. “I couldn’t resist.” She reached up and pulled down the stepladder leading to the attic. “Up you go.”
 
Tony looked up into the darkness. “Are they up there now?” he asked.
 
“Stop being such a pussy,” Helen said. “Just climb up there, set the trap, and put some dog food in there to lure them in.” She handed Tony a ziplock baggie of Dutchie’s food.
 
“They won’t even notice you,” Rose said.
 
Tony gulped. “OK,” he said. “I’m going up.”
 
Tony climbed the stepladder, slowly. He got into the attic and put the cage on the ground, opening it. He took the baggie of dog food, opening it to put in the cage. “THEY’RE UP HERE!”
 
Helen and Rose looked up through the trap door as Tony thrashed on the attic floor. “Cut that out!” Helen shouted. “I’m going to beat you senseless if you come through my ceiling!”
 
“Just stand still, and they’ll leave you alone!” Rose called, a worried look on her face.
 
Tony finally got enough control over himself to climb down the ladder, landing hard on the floor between Helen and Rose. “Close the door!” he panted.
 
Helen closed it. “Did you get the food in the trap with all that commotion?” she asked.
 
“Yeah,” Tony said, sweat pouring down his face. “You told me there were only two. I counted four that I could see!”
 
“What happened?” Rose asked. “Did they attack you?”
 
“No,” Tony said. “They were running along the beams.”
 
“I thought a shark got you by the sound of it,” Helen said.
 
“Please don’t make me go back,” Tony said.
 
“Fine,” Helen said. “Get out of here.”
 
Tony didn’t have to be told twice. He ran down the stairs and straight out the front door. 
 
“There’s four now,” Helen said, looking toward the attic. “I bet they’re having their bushy-tailed orgy right this second. Da’Quarius will have to take the trap up and down until we get them all now that Tony is out.”
 
“I’m calling a professional,” Rose said. “This is too much.”
 
“Give me twenty-four hours,” Helen said. “If they aren’t gone by this time tomorrow, you can hire your exterminator.”
 
“Why not just let me call someone?” Rose sighed.
 
“Because I never admit defeat,” Helen said. “Not to gangs of butch bitches on the inside, and definitely not to a bunch of furry homos.”
 
Rose sighed again. “Alright,” she sad. “I’ll give you until tomorrow.”
 
Helen smiled.
 
***
 
Da’Quarius sat in Flounder’s room after school, silently watching Flounder furiously click away at his keyboard. Da’Quarius wanted to know what he was doing, but he decided to let him work, unhindered by questions. “OK,” Flounder finally said. “Done.”
 
“Done with what?” Da’Quarius said. “I have no idea wha’chu doin’.”
 
“Sorry,” Flounder said, looking embarrassed. “I was writing a program to automatically produce Yelp accounts, pull random negative reviews from all over the internet, and post them about Luca’s restaurant, Anthony Conegliano’s. It will probably crash or get purged from the ‘net in less than five days, but it will hopefully do some damage before then.”
 
“Shit,” Da’Quarius said. “How da’ fuck do you know how to do all dat?”
 
Flounder turned a shade of red darker than a Korean should be able to turn. “My dad had me trained to use computers,” he said. “He was hoping I’d be able to one day hack into the penta… never mind.”
 
Da’Quarius looked over Flounder’s shoulder. “Dis is great,” he said. “I cain’t wait for step two.”
 
“What’s step two?” Flounder asked.
 
Da’Quarius looked at him for a moment. “I dunno,” he said.
 
“Wait,” Flounder said, running to his closet, He came out with a plate of spaghetti, a dead mouse on top. “I made this too. I’m going to have it posted to his Facebook once an hour.”
 
“Damn!” Da’Quarius said, stepping back from the plate. “Why didn’t you just take a picture an’ throw dat out!”
 
Flounder looked at the plate and then to Da’Quarius. “Oh,” he said. “I guess we can do that now, right?”
 
***
 
Luca was getting ready to close up his restaurant. He sat in front of his computer, his huge gut pushing the front of the desk. He clicked into Yelp to see if there were any new reviews, and there were. “What the hell?” he asked, looking at the monitor. There were four new one-star reviews. He clicked one.
 
“Quality is very poor,” Luca read. “We tried a variety of brands, and we’ve never had issues. This water tastes really bad, and there’s a distinct taste of something metallic. Water isn’t supposed to have any taste.”
 
Luca sat back, thinking about what he had just read. He got up and walked the length of his restaurant, stopping in front of his barmaid. “Give me a glass of water,” he said.
 
The barmaid did as asked, pouring Luca a class of the filtered water that’s served to his customers. He looked in the glass before taking a drink. “I don’t taste anything metallic.”
 
“Why would you?” the barmaid asked.
 
“I don’t know,” Luca said. “I read the weirdest review I’ve ever seen.”
 
A couple got up in the middle of a meal a dozen feet away, leaving their napkins on their half-finished meals and walked toward the door. “Hey,” Luca said, moving in front of them. “Is everything alright?”
 
“No,” the man said. “I was just on your Facebook page, and people are posting their meals.”
 
”So?” Luca asked.
 
The woman signed and swiped her phone open. “Does this look familiar?” she asked.
 
Luca looked at the picture on the phone, a dead mouse lying in a bed of spaghetti, some wrapped around its neck like a noodle noose.
 
“What the hell is going on with this shit?” he asked.
 
***
 
Da’Quarius sat at his desk before bedtime. He refreshed the Yelp page for Anthony Conegliano’s, reading the latest the latest review Flounder’s program had posted. “Damn,” he said. “Dis sounds like a bad review for da’ Lego Batman movie.”
 
He turned when he heard someone walking down the hall. He saw Helen, shuffling, carrying a metal gas can. “Wha’chu doin’, Helen?” he asked. 
 
“I’m going to smoke those little bastards out of the attic,” Helen replied. “Don’t you dare wake up Rose.”
 
“You gonna burn da’ house down,” Da’Quarius said. 
 
“Bah,” Helen said, waving her hand toward him. “I have a metal bucket. I know what I’m doing.” She continued her trek toward the trap door leading to attic.
 
“She gonna burn da’ house down,” Da’Quarius said. “I ain’t dealin’ with any more fire.” He picked up his phone to give the fire department a heads up.
 
***
 
“Closing it up!” Paulie called. It was late, and he and Tony were moving the new tables and booths around.
 
“You sure, boss?” Tony asked. “I can go all night.”
 
“You just don’t want me to send you back to my sister’s house,” Paulie said.
 
“You didn’t see them!” Tony said. “They were monstrous.”
 
“Well you can work here while I got stuff for us to do,” Paulie said. “Otherwise, you need to get a hobby, something other than painting faces on my wooden spoons.”
 
The door opened, and someone walked in. “Oh!” Paulie called. “We’re not open yet. Didn’t you see all the signs?!”
 
“Hey, Paulie,” Luca said, walking between the booths. “The place is looking good.”
 
“Luca,” Paulie said. “You wanted to come in before the grand reopening just to be told to get the fuck out?”
 
“I’m not here to argue or cause any trouble,” Luca said. “I wanted to let you know that I’m going to be closing Anthony Conegliano’s.”
 
“What?” Paulie said. “Why?”
 
“I’m giving up,” Luca said. “I’ve been toying with retirement for a while now, that’s why I was looking to expand with a partnership with you over the years. The prospect of multiple businesses running themselves while I sit back and collect the money is my dream.”
 
“You tried to enter partnerships through nefarious means,” Paulie said. “Your dream sucks.”
 
“But it’s mine,” Luca said with a shrug. “But after what happened here, I decided to sell and live off what I have, which isn’t bad at all. I don’t want to die in my restaurant, Paulie. I don’t know how you still have the energy for this, but I admire you for it.”
 
“Thank you,” Paulie said. “That might be the only nice thing that came out of that puss of yours.”
 
“It’s a new world,” Luca continued. “It used to be a word of mouth business. Some guy enjoys his meal, and he told a friend. That friend came in and tried the food, and I’d have a new customer. Now, a guy hears about your place, and he hops on his phone and looks it up, finding that some asshole is posting reviews about water and a friggin’ Batman cartoon and posting pictures of dead mice in spaghetti.”
 
“You lost me halfway through,” Paulie said.
 
“I don’t understand people any more,” Luca said. “I’m out. I just wanted to congratulate you being able to dust yourself off and move on. I wouldn’t be able to do it if i were you.”
 
Luca looked like he wanted to say more, but he left. Tony came up behind Paulie. “That was weird,” he said.
 
“He’s such a prick,” Paulie said. 
 
“Why?” Tony asked. 
 
“I can’t believe he ended this with an iota of self respect,” Paulie said. “What an asshole.”
 
***
 
“In the future,” the fireman said, walking out with Helen’s gas can and scorched bucket. “Call a professional before you try to catch the squirrels yourself.”
 
“Go fuck a dalmatian,” Helen muttered.
 
The fireman sighed. “Make sure she takes her meds,” he said, nodding toward Rose.
 
Rose looked away. She had just told them Helen had forgotten her meds, her go-to lie when Helen has the authorities called on her. “Thank you,” she said.
 
The fireman left. “Who the hell snitched on me?!” Helen shouted.
 
“Da’ neighbors probably saw da’ smoke,” Da’Quarius said. “Does nosey jerks are always looking over here.”
 
“Well I hope they like a big pile of dog shit in their mailbox,” Helen said.
 
“No,” Rose said. “No more. I’m calling an exterminator first thing in the morning. You could have burned our house down. What were you thinking?! What just happened to Paulie’s?!”
 
Helen looked away. “Friggin’ squirrels,” she muttered. She crossed her arms and sulked.
 
“Go get the trap,” Rose said, addressing Da’Quarius. “It’s not working anyway.”
 
Da’Quarius walked past Rose and Helen, climbing the stepladder to the attic. “Holy shit,” he said when he got to the top.
 
“What is it?” Rose asked.
 
“Da’ trap,” Da’Quarius said. “Helen caught four squirrels in it.”
 
“See,” Helen said. “They know what I’m capable of, and they want out. I think you owe me an apology, Rose.”
 
Rose sighed. “Goodnight,” she said walking toward her bedroom. “Get rid of those squirrels, Da’Quarius.”
 
“What am I supposed to do with ‘em,” Da’Quarius said. “Oh. I know where to put ‘em.”
 
***
 
Da’Quarius sat in Paulie’s Pizza with Flounder, sitting near Paulie and Tony. “You like what we’ve done with the new area?” Paulie asked.
 
“I like it,” Da’Quarius said. “You’re gonna blow Luca’s place outta da’ water.”
 
“Why are you bringing that stunad up?” Paulie asked.
 
“I wasn’t gonna say anything,” Da’Quarius said, “but Flounder wrote a program to flood him with dumb-ass reviews.”
 
Flounder flinched. “Please don’t hit me,” he said.
 
“What?” Paulie said, looking at him. “I’m not going to hit you.”
 
“So you’re not mad?” Flounder asked.
 
“I wouldn’t hit you if I was,” Paulie said. “What the hell goes on in your home, kid?”
 
Flounder looked away.
 
“So that’s what Luca was talking about,” Tony said. “Remember when he was rambling about not keeping up with the internet?”
 
“Oh yeah,” Paulie said. “You finally pushed that asshole out of State Street. Good job, kid. How about I name a sandwich after you when we open?”
 
“Really?” Flounder asked. 
 
“Yeah,” Paulie said. “Whatever you want, kid. It’s your sandwich.”
 
Flounder thought for moment. “Make it a meatball parm and seasoned fries grinder,” he said. 
 
“Sounds gross,” Paulie said, “but I’m a man of my word. That is now, and forever be ‘The Flounder’.”
 
Flounder smiled. “Thank you,” he said.
 
“But there’s no fish in it,” Tony said. “People are going to think it’s a fish sandwich.”
 
“THAT’S HIS NAME, YOU STUNAD!” Paulie shouted.
 
“Wait,” Da’Quarius said. “If Luca is closing, den we didn’t need to move to phase two after all.”
 
“What was phase two?” Paulie asked.
 
***
 
Luca looked over his half-filled restaurant. People were still coming in, despite the ridiculous negative reviews online. “I’m going to miss this place,” he said, smiling.
 
A woman screamed, running toward the exit. Two more jumped up and ran off. The whole place was emptying out, and Luca went toward the main area to see what the commotion was about.
 
Four squirrels were jumping all over the place, their tails shaking as they chased out his patrons. 
 
“I hate this fucking place,” Luca said.
 
 

 

The End