“Chicken soup that somebody peed in…”

 

This excerpt from my novel You Don’t Think She Is (chapter 37) was also published, with some slight modification, as a stand-alone story entitled “Planet Of The Brians,” first in the Vermont newspaper Green Mountain Trading Post, and then in my short story collection What’s With Her? For more info on those books, click the titles… or… scroll down to the bottom of the page.


Setting: Summer 1972; Quaker Valley, Adams County, PA (“Like Gettysburg, except nothing happened here.” ~ Margo LeDoux)

 

I got back too late on Saturday to see Margo, and unfortunately, two weeks at church camp did not earn me a free pass, so on Sunday morning at 10 am, there I was, sitting in a pew, dressed in a “light cotton” blazer, white shirt, and clip-on tie (perfect outfit for 90 degree weather), sitting tight between my parents, sweat rolling down between my shoulder blades and from my armpits down the insides of my arms.

“Wish they’d crack open a stained-glass window…” Dad whispered to me midway through the sermon.

Still, for as hot and as humid as it was, I didn’t take a shower when I got home. I’d already taken one before church. From this point on, the day was about doing something that would make me need another one… even though, judging from Margo’s note, we were probably going to do Something Cool.

So: no shower.

When I went over to meet Margo after Sunday lunch so we could go to the movie, she looked a little different to me. Not a lot different; just a little… nothing I could really put a finger on… maybe it was just the tan. In the summer, Margo’s skin got dark tanned and her hair light, almost platinum like Christy’s. Plus a detail I suddenly remembered when she opened her back door: “Up at the lake,” she told me a few summers before, “we skinnydip! So no tanlines!”

Skinnydipping… didn’t really want to think about that… so of course when I saw how dark her skin was, what was the first thing I thought of?

(Did they even have topless native girls in Canada?)

Margo brushed her hair out of her face. “Hey, Bri… wait… wait just a sec,” and she ducked back inside. “Dad?” she yelled. “My allowance…” and a few seconds later she was coming back out the door, five dollars in her tanned hand. “Late again,” she said. “I’m supposed to get it on Saturday after Mom and me clean. He always makes me ask for it.” And she zipped open her purse (!) and then caught my eye. “What?” she tittered.

I felt like Margo could see herself and the bevy of Topless Native Girls frolicking on my mental movie screen… but, fortunately, I had an out:

“When did you start carrying a purse?” I said.

Margo stuffed her money down into the neat red leather pouch. “Since Grandma got it for me in Kingston. Tres chic, huh?” and she pulled out a pack of Juicy Fruit. “Gum?” I took a stick and she unwrapped one for herself, and we walked downtown to the theater for the matinee.

battle for the planet of the apes - cinema quad movie poster (1)
Original Cinema Quad Poster – Movie Film Posters

I told Margo about Jean (“So you asked her to dance? Yay! Good work, Bri!”) and Ginny (“Awwww… she wanted you to ask her. Well, what can you do about that?”) and she told me about Canada (“No skinny dippin’ anymore. Aside from Jompaw, there is now a family from New York in the cottage next door. Who stare like Steve Kelly.”), and by 1:45 we were buying our tickets, the only two people in line. “Don’t people know this might be the last one?” I said as I held the door open for Margo.

“It’s like mom says, Bri,” Margo said. “People don’t care about art.”

As soon as we stepped inside, I knew we’d made the right choice. After the moist church service, and the sticky walk downtown, the dark, air-conditioned theater felt like a walk-in freezer… better than the pool. We followed my Seat Selection Formula (middle of the theater, width of the screen back) and we picked our seats, but as Margo reached for her purse so she could give me money toward popcorn (I always bought the tickets; she always bought the snacks), she got a sick look on her face.

“Yeesh…” she said.

“What?”

“What’s that smell?” She screwed her nose up funny as she checked the air.

“What smell?”

Margo zipped open her purse. “Come on… you smell it. You don’t smell that?” I shook my head no. “It’s gamey… like a zoo.” She handed me two dollars. “What, do they pump monkey odor into the theater to make the movie more real?” Margo always called the apes in the Planet of the Apes movies “monkeys.”

I took her money. “I don’t smell anything,” I said.

“Well, you must be… smell-blind,” she said as she zipped her purse shut, and then she slouched down in her seat, knees up on the seatback in front of her.

I walked back to the lobby to get us our cokes and corn (making sure they buttered and salted Margo’s popcorn halfway up, then buttered and salted it again when it was all the way full), and when I got back (“Did they butter and salt it halfway up and then butter and salt it again when it was all the way full?”), she was settled in her seat.

“Can’t believe you don’t smell that,” she said as the lights went down and the movie started, but all I could smell was the sweet buttered popcorn in my lap.

As the previews rolled, I could hear Margo munching away next to me, and just as I was about to say “Jeez, it sounds like a zoo,” she leaned over, right up against me, and sniffed.

“Ewwww…” she said as she sat back.

“Ewwwww what?” I said.

“It’s you.” She shrunk back into the far corner of her seat.

“What do you mean, ‘it’s me?’”

“I mean‑‑” and Margo pinched her nostrils shut with her fingers and sang “BEEEEEEEEE-OHHHHHHHHH!”

I laughed. “Shut up.”

“Brian, I’m serious… you smell!” She shriveled back into her corner. “Battle… for the Planet… of the Brians!”

I laughed. “It is not me…”

The movie started, and as I leaned forward to pick my coke off the floor, I caught a whiff of something that smelled like someone had peed into a cup of chicken broth.

I sat back… very subtly bent my head down… lifted my left arm… inhaled… and…

Margo, God bless her, didn’t say another word about it the whole rest of the movie. I was braced for insults, questions, wisecracks ‑‑maybe even a lecture‑‑ but she was silent all the way through the closing credits, right up until we started out of the theater.

“No, Bri,” she said as we started walking into the breeze. “Me in front.”

We walked up Dartmouth Street toward home, but she detoured across the street to Holbert’s Apothecary. “Wait here,” she said as she opened the front door, and I sat on the stoop in the heat, sweat dripping down my face, my back… every part of me sticky and damp.

O.K…. so maybe I shouldn’t have skipped the shower.

Less than two minutes later, Margo came back out, a small brown paper bag in her hand. “Did you even take a shower today?” she said as she removed a wax pack of baseball cards and some Juicy Fruit from the bag.

“I thought we were gonna go swim…”

“‑‑Pff! ‘Swim.’ O.K.” She handed the bag to me. “Here. Use this.”

I was kind of afraid to open the bag. What if it was Snakes In A Can (“BOY-YOY-YOY-YOY-YOING!”)?

Don-Rickles-Right-Guard-Commercial-1974-493x400Nope… no springloaded snakes… just a wax pack of baseball cards… and… an opened-front cardboard package with a bottle in it.

Right Guard. Extra Dry Roll-on.

I looked up at Margo. “You really think I need this?”

Margo tsked. “Brian, seriously… you smell like… chicken soup that somebody peed in.”

I laughed. “I do not‑‑”

“‑‑Brian!” Margo put her hand on my wrist and looked me in the eye, and I noticed she was wearing eye shadow: lightly applied turquoise powder that flashed when she blinked.

“Use it,” she said softly. “Trust me.”

I nodded. “O.K.”

She let go of my wrist. “Now let’s go home so I can hose you off…”


 YDTSI booksYou Don’t Think She Is by Max Harrick Shenk…


“…You Don’t Think She Is
by Max Harrick Shenk reveals a brilliantly composed coming of age novel… The short chapters speak volumes about the notion of first love, the workings of puberty, and the understanding of a blossoming sexuality …(and) give the reader a keen insight into each of the character’s youthful thoughts and ideas… Shenk’s book will take any reader back in time to their emotions and explorations during middle school. It is reminder of the innocence of youth and the burgeoning feelings of desire.  –Kathy Buckert, author and English instructor

Available in print and e-book editions.
Click here to order.

 

“Numb Numb Numb Numb Numb”

While my characters interact as adults on Facebook, it’s kind of hard to get a sense from those Facebook posts and comments of how they might interact IN PERSON. This unpublished excerpt will give you a little bit of an idea. 

It’s circa 2008, and Christy and Marty and their daughter Maggie are visiting Brian, Margo and their daughter Becca. “Tony” is Margo’s grown son whom she raised as a single mom, and “Maura” is Christy’s grown daughter, whom she also raised as a single mom.

This unpublished piece (from a draft of my MFA graduate thesis for Goddard College)  is also notable in that it was one of the first pieces I wrote in which Christy hinted at the part-time vocation that is explicated in the Facebook posts and in my book Interviews With A Porn Star.

Enjoy!


“–Did Tony ever want to dye his hair or anything?” Christy asks, looking over my shoulder at Margo.

“Oh, yeah!” Margo calls out from behind me. “Dye jobs, piercings, tatts, the works.” I hear the fridge door open, and Margo’s voice gets muffled as she speaks into it. “Actually, the only time I remember was when he made varsity in tenth grade. He wanted a tattoo. ‘Everyone on the team’s gettin’ one!’ To which I said, and I quote: ‘No, everyone on the team’s not getting one, because guess who isn’t?” She shifts over to her Tony-at-15 voice– “‘But maahhh-ahm'” –then back to her own. “‘No way, sonny boy. N… effin’… O… way… no!‘” I hear beer bottles clinking in her hand as she talks, and then the CHFF! of the fridge door flipping shut and pressurizing. “And that was the end of it.”

anbesol-extra-strength-liquid-13-ml-instant-pain-relief-600x600Christy looks down at the tabletop. “Maura would have just done it herself…”

Marty laughs. “You think?”

Christy nods. “She pierced her own lip.”

Marty’s eyes widen. “Really?”

“Yep. She wanted a ring, and I said, ‘I am not taking you to get your lip pierced!'” She brushes her hair back. “And of course that loophole was big enough to drive a truck through…”

“Loophole?” Marty says.

“‘Not taking her,'” Margo clarifies.

“Ohhhhh…” Marty says, another Important Parenting Lesson imparted. But he still isn’t getting it. “Just…”

“What?” Christy says.

“Well, just… she pierced her own lip?”

Christy nods. “Yeah.”

“How?”

Christy takes a breath. “Well, she just… she got some anbesol or whatever that stuff is you put on a toothache… orajel…” She’s looking down, smiling with faint pride at her eldest daughter’s resourcefulness. “…anyway, she smeared that on her lip until it was good and numb, you know… then she got a sewing needle… heated it up over the gas burner to sterilize it… and then–” and she pulls out her lower lip with her left hand and, with her right, pantomimes plunging a needle through her lip–

“Ouch!” Marty shifts in his seat. “Really?”

Christy nods. “Yep.” She’s still looking down, still smiling, and that smile resonates with so many thoughts and memories: the gentle look I remember from dates, lunches, classes, study halls, band bus rides back in high school… and, from ten years ago, dinners out and coffee dates, not to mention a half-dozen or so weekend mornings where we awoke and had coffee at this very same kitchen table in our pajamas, if that…

If that

For the first time in a long time, something about Christy’s expression makes my mind flash back to a small stack of pictures she gave me for Valentine’s Day the spring before we broke up and she and Marty got together–

“AHH!” I tense up as Margo presses a cold beer bottle to the bare back of my neck, right in the spot where the barber puts the electric trimmer. My shoulders tighten and I shiver as she pulls the bottle away, then, from over my left shoulder, she holds it out to Christy, her breasts smooshing against my shoulder blades, and then wraps her arms around my chest and nuzzles my neck from behind, warm and cozy. “Mmmmmm…” we purr together, and she kisses my neck as I put my hands on her forearm, and once again, I am at home, in the moment with her.

Marty, though, is still All Puckered Up down there from the piercing story. “How could she do that?”

Christy has covered this a million times with Margo and me; I can’t believe she’s never told Marty. “Well, it didn’t hurt, Marty… I mean, she numbed it.”

“Numbed it, Bri,” Margo whispers in my ear. “You should tell ’em that joke…”

And now we’ve got two conversations going:

“Yeah, but still… it bled, right?”

What joke?”

“No, Marty…”

“You know, that one you told me about the girl at the doctor’s…”

“…the needle cauterized the wound…”

“…numb numb numb?”

“…I mean, she sterilized it, so…”

“Ohhhh… that joke…”

“Yes, that joke…”

“But didn’t it burn her fingertips?”

“Didn’t what burn her fingertips?” Margo says from behind me.

“The needle,” Christy says, and she looks at me. “What joke?” she says, and Margo sits down in the seat next to me and looks at me, waiting for me to tell That Joke.

“All right…” I say, sitting up, lowering my voice, even though Becca is nowhere near and wouldn’t get it even if she was sitting right at the table with us. Still, Marty and Christy lean in, too. I sit up a little. “So this woman goes to the gyno, see…”

Christy shakes her head. “Of course…”

“…and she gets up on the table, in the stirrups, and she starts crying…” I glance at Margo; she’s grinning like she can’t wait for the punchline, even though she’s heard me tell this one at least a dozen times. “And the doctor says ‘What’s wrong, ma’am?’ And the woman goes–” I screw on a Daisy Duke accent and push my voice up an octave “–‘Well, this is mah first time at the parts doctor–‘”

Margo snorts a laugh. “Pff! ‘Parts doctor!'”

“–‘and ah’m afraid. It ain’t gonn’ hurt, is it?’ And the doctor says” –I screw on my Doctorate Of English Lit voice– “‘I assure you it won’t hurt, but if you want, I can numb you down there.’ ‘Ohhhhh, would yew?'” I look right at Christy. “So the doctor sticks his face right in her crotch and goes ‘NUM NUM NUM NUM NUM NUM NUM NUM NUM!'” I say, shaking my face side to side, jowls loose, and Christy throws her head back and pulls her knee up and laughs with her whole body. I sit back, pleased with myself; meanwhile, Margo is laughing next to me: laughing at Christy laughing, and at Marty’s Commander Data straight face.

“A doctor wouldn’t do that,” he says.

Christy wipes a tear away and calms herself enough to speak. “Ohhhh… Dr. Park would have, right, Margo?”

Margo nods. “Jesus, yeah…”

Marty looks at Christy. “Who was Dr. Park?”

“Our gyno in high school.” She looks at Margo. “Dick Park.”

Marty’s eyes get wide. “You’re kidding.”

Christy looks at Margo for confirmation, and she nods. “Nope. That was his name,” Margo says. “Dick Park.” She takes a sip from her beer.

Now Marty is laughing. Same as ever: he never got jokes, but whenever I’d bring a new National Lampoon into study hall, he’d go straight to the TRUE FACTS section at the back. “That was really his name?” he says. “Dick Park?”

Christy nods. “Swear to God. Dick Park.” She shakes her head. “He was a weirdo. Kathy complained about him, too.”

“Well, he just wanted to play in your dick park, Christy,” Margo said, and Christy nearly sneezes the beer she’s just sipped. Margo drops her voice low. “Would jou like me to… examine jou, little missy?” and now Christy is whooping laughing, same as Rae was in the piano rooms when they played the cartoon music…

…just as the light pounding of two-year-old footsteps on hardwood floor comes down the hallway to the kitchen. Christy wipes another tear from her cheek –“You are evil,” she says to Margo– and then looks down at her daughter, Marguerite Kathleen Morone (Maggie Kay), standing in the doorway with the polaroid clutched in her hand.

“What’s so funny, Mommy?”

“Oh, we just…” Christy straightens herself up and wipes a tear away. “Aunt Margo is making us all laugh, sweetie.”

Maggie glances at Margo quick –“Oh”– then up at her mommy, and the words cascade out, all smeared together with the hard consonants missing: “Weh, you wahseewah WEEbin laffun ahh?”

I find myself translating a half-sentence behind her (Well… you wanna see what… WE’VE been…) but Christy is currently steeped in Toddlereze; she doesn’t miss a beat, but just leans forward and looks Maggie in the eye.

What have you been laughing at?”

“THIS!” Maggie exclaims as she holds the picture out and up to show her Mommy. “Your HAIR is PURPLE!

Christy takes the Polaroid and does an exaggerated Not this again take, rolling her eyes dramatically as she sets the picture on the table. “Maggie, you’ve seen that before.”

“Yeah, and it’s silly!

Christy reaches down and picks her up. “No,” she says, “you’re silly…” and she kisses the top of her daughter’s head.

“Huh-uhhh!” Maggie says. My eyes dart from Maggie’s face to Christy’s, then over to Marty and back to Maggie. Her hair is dusty blonde like her dad’s, but her jaw is strong like her mom’s, her eyes emerald green like her mom’s. I look again at Marty, who, I feared, was getting lost a few moments before, but now seems enchanted by and amazed at his wife and beautiful daughter.

Then I feel someone tugging at my sleeve, between Margo and me. I don’t even have to look down, but I do anyway, because I like looking at Becca as much as Marty likes looking at Maggie. “Daddy,” Becca says, her face serious, “did Maggie give you the picture back?”

Christy holds the Polaroid up. “I have it, sweetie.”

Becca eyes the picture, then Maggie. “Good. I told her she better… “

“‘She better’ or what, bossy?” Margo says.

Becca stiffens, offended. Affronted. Never been so insulted in her life. “I’m not bossy!”

Margo reaches down and brushes through Becca’s hair. “Ohhhhh, no… not you–”

“–I’m not.” She looks at me for backup. “I just wann’ed to make sure she gave you the picture back.”

Now Margo is smirking. She pets Becca’s hair. “Daddy has enough pictures of Aunt Christy, honey…”

I look at Christy and she shakes her head and rolls her eyes, her face flushing bright pink…

 

 

“Christyweed on your soot…”

Book cover 6x9 - front - FINALUnpublished “Epilogue” from my novel You Don’t Think She Is

This short epilogue was originally tacked onto the end of You Don’t Think She Is, and I hated to cut it, but I liked the ending I went with, and so I cut it… but no one said I had to keep it to myself. So here it is. Consider it not really an “alternate ending” to You Don’t Think She Is, but, rather, a “bonus track.” –Max


 

At the end of tenth grade, after Christy and I started dating, I thought it might be cool if maybe sometime Margo would go out with Steve Kelly; that way we could all double date. Christy seemed lukewarm to it –“Well, he’d have to ask, and he’s been seeing Beth, and Margo’s seeing Scott, so…”

Nonetheless, I sort of mentioned the idea to Margo at lunch the next day, and she was anything but lukewarm.

No way! Steve Kelly had his chance!” And then she stifled herself and blushed, like she knew she’d already said too much.

“Had his chance, huh?” I said.

Silence.

“When?”

Silence. Smile.

“Back in our fort?”

Margo kicked me under the cafeteria table. “Shut up!” she shrieked, her face turning red. “You know nnnnnnnnoth-ing, Colonel Schultz, and don’t you forget it, either!”

“First of all,” I said, “it was Sergeant Schultz, and second–”

Margo giggled. “–Nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnothing!”

I laughed. “You played Doctor?”

Margo laughed. “Did you?”

“We’re not talking about me,” I said.

“Well,” Margo said, looking down and picking up her carton of milk, “we will be.”

I wasn’t letting her distract me. “You played Doctor,” I repeated.

Margo took a sip of her milk, blushing, smirking, and then wiped her mouth with her napkin. “If that was ‘playing Doctor,’” she said at last, “then it wasn’t much of a checkup.”

“What’s that mean–”

Margo acted like she didn’t hear me as she took an Oreo from the baggie in front of her. “You, on the other hand–”

“–What do you mean, it wasn’t much of a checkup?”

Margo screwed the top off the Oreo and then scraped the white iced filling from it with her front teeth. “I mean…” She took another sip of her milk. “O.K.,” she said, and she lowered her voice and leaned in. “That same summer that Christy and you…”

I smiled like I had no idea what she was talking about. “That Christy and me what?”

KICK! Right in the shin, lightly, but firmly, like you’d yank on a leash if you were training a dog. Which she was, kind of. “You know what!” She shot a sideways glance at Karen Harner, who was sitting an empty seat away but looked poised to take out her steno pad. “Rhymes with ‘Christyweed on your soot,’ O.K.?”

“‘Christyweed on your soot?’” I repeated, laughing.

“Yeah,” Margo tittered, popping the icing-less bottom half of the Oreo in her mouth. “Christyweed on your soot, while you were bake-ed in the horn shield.”

We were both laughing so hard that everyone at the table was staring at us, but I didn’t care. I was whooping and Margo was wheezing, almost hyperventilating. “Bake-ed in the horn shield,” I repeated as I calmed down.

“Yeah,” Margo wiped her eyes. “Yeah, isn’t that funny?” she said, like someone else had said it, not her.

I blew my nose into my napkin. “I can’t believe Christy told you that.”

“Why wouldn’t she?” Margo said, unscrewing another Oreo. “We’re best friends.” Icing scrape. “Besides… she’s Catholic. She likes confession.” She popped the top half of the cookie into her mouth and took a shot of milk. “Anyway…” She looked sideways down at Karen and leaned back in, dropping her voice again. “…anyway, that same summer, right?… as soon as you and your family took off for the beach… Steve Kelly was back out at our fort, hanging around… staring… anyway, we were out there and this one morning I had to pee… so I go back into the brush, and I could feel him, you know, trying to look at me. Which skeeved me. Skeevy Stevie.” I laughed as she finally tore open the OPEN OTHER SIDE side of her milk carton so that it’d be wide enough for dipping. She dunked the other half of her Oreo into the carton and then quick popped the dripping cookie into her mouth. “You never did that,” she said as she chewed.

“Stare?” I said, and she nodded. “You said not to,” I reminded her.

“Well, you never did before I said that, either.” She unscrewed the last Oreo. “Annnnyway… I could tell, you know, that he was kinda curious… and so when I came back out, we cut a little deal… and he dropped his drawers, and I took off my shirt.” Icing scrape.

“That’s all?” I said.

Margo took a bite of the Oreo top. “Mmmmmm-hmm.”

“But you took your shirt off around me all the time.”

Margo nodded. “That’s right.” She dunked the bottom of the Oreo into her milk and popped the cookie in her mouth. “But he didn’t know that.”

“I could’ve sworn he was with us a few times when you took off your shirt,” I said.

“Nope!” Margo said, and she shot down the rest of her milk.

The bell rang for sixth period, and as we got up from the table and followed everybody out into the hall, I thought of what had happened with Margo and me in that same fort earlier that same summer –“You wanna see?”– and I wondered…

“What, Bri?”

“Well,” I said, talking low and close to her ear, “remember when you and me were out there and you…”

“…showed you the store? Yeah.”

“Well, did you ever… did you tell ever tell Christy–”

“–No way! One, she never asked, and two, it’s none of her beeswax.”

We stepped out into the hall and started toward our respective classes. “But she told you about her and me…”

Margo nodded. “Uhhhh-huh.”

I laughed once. “Well, that’s a nice little arrangement you’ve got there.”

Margo smiled proudly. “Yeah, it is, isn’t it?” And she patted my arm. “See ya in study hall,” and she cut off away from me and up the stairwell.

* * *

After school that day, the three of us walked together to the college snack bar, and Christy said “You know what I like about us? Is that we tell each other everything.

Margo patted me on the back.

“Me, too,” she said.


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YDTSI booksYou Don’t Think She Is by Max Harrick Shenk…


“…You Don’t Think She Is
by Max Harrick Shenk reveals a brilliantly composed coming of age novel… The short chapters speak volumes about the notion of first love, the workings of puberty, and the understanding of a blossoming sexuality …(and) give the reader a keen insight into each of the character’s youthful thoughts and ideas… Shenk’s book will take any reader back in time to their emotions and explorations during middle school. It is reminder of the innocence of youth and the burgeoning feelings of desire.  –Kathy Buckert, author and English instructor

Available in print and Kindle editions. Click here to order.

Meeting Fran and Tom…

cover-frontThis is an excerpt from my new novella, Meeting Margo. Scroll down for more information or click here.

It’s December 1967, and seven-year-old Margo LeDoux’s family, just moved to the states from Canada, is living in a rented house in nearby Biglerville PA while their new home is built. In this scene, Margo and her best friend (the narrator) Brian Pressley sit quietly while Margo’s parents, Francoise and Tom LeDoux, tell Brian’s parents how they met each other.


 

After dinner, Danny and John-Paul ran upstairs to John-Paul’s room to play, and Margo’s Mom got the grownups coffee, and while Margo and I both had a second piece of Jewish Apple Cake, her parents told us how they met.

1950_nick_bb-rMr. LeDoux was an all-Ontario high school basketball player– “Never could play hockey. I always looked like a giraffe out there on those skates” –and was courted by Syracuse, Temple, and North Carolina, but decided to stay north and attend Carleton, a college in Ottawa. In February of his freshman year, Carleton traveled to Quebec for a game against LaVal, and about midway through the second half of the game, he went to the line for a two-shot foul and spotted 18-year-old Quebecoise freshman beauty Francoise Trudeau sitting in the student seats, a few rows up from the floor, right behind the bucket.

“I saw her and I was totally distracted,” Mr. LeDoux said. “Tanked both foul shots. Well, that was it… later in the game, they’re fouling us to stop the clock, and of course they had my number… I mean, they were givin’ away fouls to me, and I just… as soon as I touched the ball, they’d foul me and up to the line in front of Fran I’d go. Trying not to look at her, but still…” He feigned taking foul shots as he talked. “Airball… rim… iron… rim… airball. I think I went up there six times… made one shot, the front end of a one-and-one, and I missed the second half of that one.”

“You sure she wasn’t planted there?” Dad said.

“Oh, like a rose… believe me.” Mr. LeDoux smiled as Margo’s Mom patted his hand lightly. “And I tried to not look at her… then I tried looking right at her, which just made it worse.” He looked down, shy. “I felt so weird. I mean, I’d never seen this girl before, but I felt like I’d met her someplace already.”

Wow. Just like I felt when I met Margo.

“Moi, aussi… me too,” Margo’s Mom whispered.

Mr. LeDoux shifted in his seat. “And, I mean, there it was… the middle of a game… we needed that win… I didn’t know what to do…”

“You had to make your foul shots,” Mrs. LeDoux said.

Mr. LeDoux shook his head, like the memory of those missed shots and that loss still smarted. “I know, I know…” He took another sip of his coffee and set his mug back on the table. “Anyway, the game ends… we lost… if I’d made just two of those free throws…” He sighed “…anyway… we’re goin’ back to the locker room, and on our way off the floor, all the kids are milling around, the fans, you know… so I kinda veeeeeeer off to the left, over to the bleachers, and there she is, standing at the baseline, buttoning up her overcoat. And she looks at me and she smiles, and I smile back… and I say, ‘Bon jour,’ ‘cause, you know, we were in Quebec… and she says ‘Bon jour’ back, and we both laugh. O.K. So I go, ‘I’m Tom. Tom LeDoux.’”

Mrs. LeDoux took a sip of her coffee and sat sideways. “I think, ‘That was a name…’” she said, “so I say, ‘Je m’appelle Francoise Trudeau,’ and Thomas says, ‘Francoise,’ and we both are nodding our heads… and so I say, ‘Je suis désolés que votre équipe ait perdu’… I am sorry that you lost the game, even though I was happy. And Thomas, he smiles. Very sweet smile. But it was the look you get when you speak to a tourist. No French.”

“And Fran ne a parlais pas anglais,” Mr. LeDoux said, obviously impressed with himself that, no matter what else, he could at least say Can’t speak English in French. “So there we stand… under the bucket… lookin’ at each other… and meanwhile, Coach… Coach wasn’t all that tickled with me anyway, ‘cause I blew it at the line, but then he looks over and sees me standing there with this LaVal coed… I’m surprised he didn’t come over and throttle me, you know?” Mr. LeDoux chuckled to himself. “Well, he really let me have it when I got back into the locker room. But really, I didn’t care. I mean, I cared, ‘cause we lost, but… you know. Fran was the one. This was my chance.” He took a sip of his coffee.

“What’d you do?” Mom said.

“Well,” Mr. LeDoux said, setting his cup back down on the saucer, “there was this… guy… standing there next to Fran… leather jacket… looked kind of James Dean-ish… and I thought, ‘He looks like he speaks English,’ so I said, ‘Hey buddy… you wanna translate here for us?’”

Mrs. LeDoux took a sip of her coffee. “And that ‘buddy’ was my date. Raymond.”

Dad laughed. “Did he translate for you?”

Mr. LeDoux chuckled. “Nohhhh… no, he… he wasn’t too keen on that idea,” he said, tapping the handle of his fork against his plate as he paused. “No, but there was this other co-ed there, you know… and she… she said, ‘I’ll translate…’ So we exchange… write down names and addresses on the back of a roster card… and, God, I don’t know what happened, but somewhere between the locker room at Laval and the locker room at Carleton, I lost it.”

“Oh, no!” Dad said.

“Yeah, yeah… It must have been at Laval, because… you know, I got back in the locker room and coach was just perched like a falcon waiting for me.” Mr. LeDoux raised his voice a half-octave. “‘We just lost a game and there you are, huntin’ down….’” He stopped himself again. “I mean, it was up, down, all around… ten minutes… names, words I couldn’t repeat here… and I deserved it, but…” He just smiled as Mrs. LeDoux patted his hand. “So anyway… I don’t know where I lost it, but when we got back to Carleton, I didn’t have it. I went back out in the cold… I searched the bus… me and my buddy Pat Palmer, we were out in the snow with flashlights… Nothing. Nothing. I was… I was suicidal. For a week. Seriously. I wanted to kill myself.”

“I’m glad you didn’t, Dad,” Margo said.

“Me, too, little girl,” Mr. LeDoux said.

“Well, then, how’d you end up getting a hold of her?” Mom said.

“Well,” Mrs. LeDoux said, “some of us do not lose important papers…” She mimicked removing the address from down between her cleavage “…and so I go back to the dormitory… I write Thomas a small letter…” She took a sip of her coffee. “I did not want to wait… but I did not also want to look…” She bit her lip as she thought, then looked at my Mom. “Unladylike?” she said.

“Ouais,” Mom said.

“Unladylike,” Mrs. LeDoux repeated, a little more confidently. “I did not want to look unladylike, but also I did not want to wait. So I write a letter.”

“And meanwhile,” Mr. LeDoux said, “there I am at Carleton, mopin’ around… thinkin’, ‘Man, my dream girl, and I blew it…’ And then after practice the following Wednesday, I got the mail… and as soon as I saw the envelope with ‘LaVal University’ on it, I knew who it was from.”

“Raymond,” Mrs. LeDoux said, straightfaced.

Mr. LeDoux slapped her hand lightly. “Raymond,” he laughed, and he sat forward and reached into his back pocket for his wallet. “No… it was…” He opened his wallet and took out a perfectly-preserved deckle-edged black-and-white yearbook photo of a 17-year-old Mrs. LeDoux “…this.” He handed the picture across to my Dad, who looked at the front, then the back.

“‘Je capote sur vous,’” Dad read as best he could. “What’s that?”

“Well,” Mom said as she took the picture from Dad, “it means ‘I’m crazy for you.’ That’s not literal, but that’s what it means. I’m crazy for you.”

“I write that later,” Mrs. LeDoux said. “When I send it, nothing on the back. Just my name. And the letter. I said it was nice to meet you, and I would like to meet you again… and gave my number, the telephone…”

Mom was still looking at the picture, holding it up and comparing it to Margo. “You look so much like your Mommy, Margo,” she said.

Margo looked down. “Thank you,” she whispered.

“So,” Dad said, looking at Margo’s Dad, “you got Fran’s letter…”

“…I got Fran’s letter,” Mr. LeDoux said, “and I swear… I screamed ‘YIPPEE!’ for a week. I bet… I bet I had a letter in the mail within two hours.”

“In both English and French,” Mrs. LeDoux said. “Did Pat Palmer write the French for you?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Mr. LeDoux said, nodding. “I wrote the original and he translated.”

“So… why did you not bring him along for the marriage?” Mrs. LeDoux said, smirking.

I do all right with French,” Mr. LeDoux said, as indignantly as he could manage.

“Ehhhh… quelquefois,” Mrs. LeDoux tittered, taking a sip of her coffee.

“Quelquefois,” Mr. LeDoux repeated, like he knew that one. “See,” he continued, taking his wife’s hand above the table, “she knows I can’t say anything, because her English is a lot better than my French.”

Mrs. LeDoux nodded. “Marguerite speaks both. Jompaw too.”

“Really?” Dad said.

“Yeah,” Mr. LeDoux said, looking at Margo. “She translates for us sometimes.”

Dad looked at Margo. “How’s it feel to know both, Margo?”

Margo thought for a couple seconds.

“Lucky,” she said at last.

Mom was leaning forward, her chin in her hands, with her elbows on the table!

Why didn’t I have a camera when I needed one?

“So… how’d you two finally meet?” Mom cooed. “Where? When?”

“Well, Thomas, he calls,” Mrs. LeDoux said, “and we try to talk. Somehow… we agree to meet in Montreal for coffee Easter Saturday.” She laughed gently. “Is amazing one of us did not end up in Newfoundland.”

“Really,” Mr. LeDoux said. “We could barely communicate. Until we met, of course… and even then…” He shook his head. “So anyway, we met again when the term was over, and then Mom and Dad let me have Fran up to the cottage at the lake in July, and that weekend…” He smiled big as he looked down. “…that was it.” He looked at his wife. “I just… I remember us sitting on the deck after dinner the night before she was going to go back to St. Hyacinthe, thinking, ‘You know, I could transfer to LaVal and play there,’ and just as that thought crossed my mind, Fran says, ‘Thomas… maybe I go to Carleton.’”

“Which was not as easy as it sounded on the porch,” Mrs. LeDoux said. “My Mother… very old Quebec… she did not want me to move to an English school. But I did anyway. To Carleton, with Thomas. And then three weeks into the term, we marry. Niagara Falls…” She tittered and looked at her husband. “…slowwwwwly we turn… step by step… inch by inch…”

Mr. LeDoux chuckled as he took a sip of his coffee. “And then a couple weeks before Halloween, Fran found out that she was pregnant with Margo.”

Margo popped the last forkful of cake into her mouth.

“And here I am!”

 


About Meeting Margo

Cover front

A prequel to my coming-of-age novels You Don’t Think She Is and Meeting Dennis Wilson, Meeting Margo tells the story of how seven-year-old Brian Pressley met and became best friends with Quebecoise tomboy Margo LeDoux.

Click here to order the print edition from Createspace.

Click here to buy and download the PDF e-book from my Selz.com store. 

 

 

“Black Holes”

Excerpt from the Kindle short story “Communicate”

cover jpgMy Kindle short story, Communicate, is a bridge work between my novel Meeting Dennis Wilson and the next novel, Switch. It’s a short-story-in-dialogue, a transcript of a July 1976 phone call between 16-year-old Brian and his best friend Margo, following Brian’s latest frustrating date with his girlfriend Christy, where, once again, the couple “took steps” but didn’t go all the way.

Here’s the opening passage of Communicate. Enjoy!

 

 


B: Margo!

M: Hey, Bri! What’s up? Why are you callin’?

B: What do you mean, why am I calling?

M: Well, you know… it’s 10:30–

B: I needed to talk…

M: Well, I figured that…

B: You want me to hang up?

M: No, no… touchy. Of course not. I’m just… I’m surprised. I mean, it’s 10:30… I thought you’d still be out with Christy.

B: Nope.

M: Well, what’s up? Did you go out?

B: Yep.

M: But you’re back. An hour before curfew.

B: Yep.

M: Ruh-roh.

B: Yep.

M: O.K., well… look… you want me to call you right back? Let me call you back, O.K.? Hang up and I’ll call you back.

B: You sure?

M: Brian, I don’t want your mom and dad… givin’ you grief about callin’ me up here. O.K.?

B: Well, what about your mom and dad?

M: They don’t care. So look… hang up and I’ll call you right back. O.K.?

B: O.K. Thanks, Margo.

M: No problem!

—Click!      

 BBRRRRRRRINNNNNNNNNNGGGGG!

B: Hello?

M: It’s me!

B: I figured it was.

I’VE GOT IT!

M: Yeesh… they’re not right there, are they?

B: No, Mom just started to come in.

M: Are you in the kitchen?

B: Yeah. Why?

M: Well, I can hear those TVs…

B: TVs?

M: You don’t hear that? It’s like… dueling TVs.

B: I can hear Mom and Dad’s… I just figured the other one was on your end.

M: It’s not on my end. I’m hearing loons.

B: You sure that’s not–

M: –One just turned off! See, that’s on your end. I could hear two different TVs, and now I can hear just one.

B: Crap.

M: What?

B: Hang up, Danny.

You better hang up or I’m coming down there…

M: …and don’t try and pick back up with your hand over the phone! I can tell when you do that. Your brother’s voice sounds fainter.

(click.)

What a… twerp.

B: You want me to go down and kill him?

M: Nahhhh… just bloody him up some. I’ll finish him off when we get back.

Anyway…

B: It’s safe on your end, too, right?

M: What do you mean, “safe”?

B: John-Paul…

M: Brian, there’s only one phone up here and I’m on it. No one’s listening.

I swear I still hear a TV…

B: That’s from Mom and Dad.

M: Really? Where are you?

B: In the kitchen.

M: Well, where are they?

B: TV room.

M: Yeesh. How loud do they have it, anyway?

B: Loud enough. I can go in the dining room.

M: Does your phone stretch?

B: Yeah.

M: Didn’t used to…

B: Well, Dad got a new cord at Radio Shack.

M: They have phone cords?

B: Yeah.

M: I thought they just had parts for like, robots and ham radios and stuff.

B: Parts for robots?

M: And ham radios! Although they also have blank tapes and batteries and stuff. Christy likes their tapes.

So… are you situated?

B: Yeah.

M: Good. So what happened? You and Christy did go out, right?

B: Yeah…

M: Well, what happened? Did you guys take steps?

B: Well… depends on what you mean by–

M: –wait, wait a minute, Bri. Sorry.

            I’M ON THE PHONE! WITH BRIAN!

Dad says “hi,” Bri. Mom too.

B: You’re sure they don’t mind that you called me?

M: It’s vacation, Bri. Nobody cares about anything. Mom says it’s weekend rates and Dad says by the time the bill comes, we’ll be in the states and it’ll be Uncle Pat’s problem.

So… you guys didn’t take steps?

B: Well… it depends on what you mean by “steps,” or maybe “in what direction”?

M: What… like… backwards?

B: It feels like it.

M: Awwwww…

 

january-2010-black-hole-jet
Source: Astronomy Magazine

B: No, you know… you know what it feels like? It feels like… Marty was saying about how there’s this science fiction thing with black holes…

 

M: What is a black hole, anyway? I mean, what other kind of hole is there? A white hole?

B: Well, it’s not really a hole. They just call it that because… it’s a star that has so much gravity that it’s like a hole.

M: Oh.

B: And even light can’t escape.

M: Oh.

So what’s this have to do with you and Christy? You’re not saying she’s a hole, are you?

B: No.

M: I was gonna say… that might not sound good.

B: No, no… it’s just… what Marty was saying… that there’s something about a black hole that slows down time, right? So that the closer you get to it, the longer it takes for you to get there.

M: Really?

B: Yeah.

M: That sounds like us driving up here.

B: Well, except you guys arrive.

M: We arrive. O.K. So… what you’re saying is… as you and Christy take steps…

B: …yeah….

M: …the steps get shorter and you feel farther away.

B: Right…


 

cover jpgCommunicate by Max Harrick Shenk

Available as a Kindle short story: 99 cents or FREE to Kindle Unlimited members.

Click here for more information

“Shift” – An epistolary short story

The first four individual serialized books of my coming-of-age novel Meeting Dennis Wilson each contain bonus stories that aren’t included in the omnibus edition (I had to make the seven smaller books special SOMEHOW…). This story, “Shift,” is the “bonus story” from Book Three. It was originally part of the novel that became my Goddard College creative writing MFA thesis: a sprawling epistolary mess called I Am A Note and I Am In Your Locker. Lots of great vignettes but no real plot… which is nice, because it’s easy to pull excerpts, and “Shift” is one of those vignettes: 16-year-old Margo writing to her best friend Brian about a drive with Brian’s girlfriend Christy in Christy’s VW bug.

Note that in this story and other early works featuring these characters, the setting is Gettysburg, which is why the reference to Kulp’s Hill, where Brian and Christy (apparently) snuck off before school and parked and made out in the car. I hadn’t “invented” Quaker Valley (the setting of the published novels) yet.

Enjoy!

Shift 1

shift 2shift 3shift 4shift 5shift 6shift 7shift 8.jpgshift 9

Want to read more? You’re in luck! There are two novels. The first one is

You Don’t Think She Is

Book cover 6x9 - front - FINAL“Intensely imagined and beautifully written, You Don’t Think She Is follows Brian and the two loves of his young life, Margo and Christy from childhood into puberty. Brian is a decent kid; inhibited, horny, confused – and in love. His best friend Margo may be the coolest girl ever; uninhibited, athletic, mature beyond her years. Margo’s good friend Christy likes Brian, Brian likes Christy, Margo tries to bring them together, but…The result is a wonderfully convoluted, just-go-ahead-and-kiss-her coming-of-age story.”  (Greg Comer, Amazon reader review)

Available in print and Kindle editions. Click here to order.

 

…and the second one is Meeting Dennis Wilson.

“Today marks the day that I officially add Meeting Dennis Wilson to my ‘Favorite Coming of Age Books’ list. I adore John Green and his work [and] I fell in love with this book just as easily as I fell in love with Paper Towns or An Abundance of Katherines. Meeting Dennis Wilson can easily be compared to a teenager who’s just coming of age: awkward, quirky, hilarious, and loads of fun to be around.Meeting Dennis Wilson is incredibly comical, sweet, and ultimately feel-good.”  (The Literary Connoisseur)

All seven books - bestMeeting Dennis Wilson is available in both softcover print and Kindle editions, in either seven serialized installments or as an omnibus edition gathering all seven books.

Click here to order these books in print or kindle edition from Amazon. 


Want to join in ?

Become a member of the Facebook group

WELCOME TO QUAKER VALLEY, PA. 

Facebook cover QV PA group 01Interact with the characters and become part of the story!

What could be more exciting? A lot of things.

But come join in anyway!

Click here for more information.

 

“You know what everyone’s favorite word is?”

cover jpgMy Kindle short story, Communicate, is a bridge work between my novel Meeting Dennis Wilson and the next novel, Switch, which I hope to publish by the end of 2016. It’s a short-story-in-dialogue, a transcript of a July 1976 phone call between 16-year-old Brian and his best friend Margo, following Brian’s latest frustrating date with his girlfriend Christy, where, once again, the couple “took steps” but didn’t go all the way.

Here’s an excerpt from Communicate. Enjoy!


 

Brian: I just feel like I want to know what to do all the time.

Margo: Well, I don’t think you ever will, Bri. You know? Because people don’t communicate. You know what everyone’s favorite word is? I realized this a couple days ago. “Nothing.” Think about it. “What’s wrong?” “Nothing.” “What are you thinking?” “Nothing.” “What were you gonna say?” “Nothing.” “You know what I mean?” “I guess.”

B: Shut up!

M: Seriously. And I mean… it’s not just you and Christy… or me and Scotty. Think of your parents– think of my mom and dad. They don’t even speak the same language most of the time. Dad doesn’t really speak French… he gets some of it… Mom gets more English than he does French, but still… he’s always… “What’d she say, little girl? What’d your mom say?” And then her: “Qu’est-ce que ta pere a dit?” You know?

B: What’s that?

M: “What did your dad say?”

B: Oh.

M: But what I’m saying is, they can’t communicate or know what the other is thinking sometimes and they’re married. Over dumb stuff. Birthday stuff. I was with Dad at the chemist’s in Westport–


il_570xN.228282889B:
–Chemist’s?

M: Drug store. They call it a chemist’s up here. Sorry.

But he’s… you know… “you think your mom’ll like this card?” with the English ones. And then picking out French ones: “This one’s pretty. What’s this one say?” And I said, “Condolences on the death of your dog.” “Oh. Well, what about this one. ‘Bonne fete’… that’s ‘happy birthday,’ right?” “Dad… that’s for a three-year-old. You see all those threes on it?” “Oh.” And then Mom is stubborn like me. She just gets him French ones: “He will learn to read dat.” And so he opens them and nods like he gets it, but then he comes up to me later: “What’s that say, little girl?” And all that’s just over a birthday card! Think of the big things they must get stuck on. Bills, raising me and John-Paul… romantic stuff. I mean, they have Joy Of Sex in English, so Dad can read it… I don’t know what Mom does. Maybe she does just lie there…


cover jpg

Communicate by Max Harrick Shenk

Available as a Kindle short story: 99 cents or FREE to Kindle Unlimited members.

Click here for more information and to order.