Delia Leonne woke up with the sun on the first of November. She could feel the sunlight spill through the sheer curtains that hung in her bedroom and lamented the fact that her mother would not allow her to hang blackout curtains.
“You’d never wake up if it wasn’t for the sun!” her mother had told her. “Besides, if anyone could use some sunlight in their life, it’d be you!”
Delia rolled over onto her stomach and tried to bury her face in her pillow so she could fall back asleep, but after a few minutes she gave up. She looked at the digital alarm clock that she had gotten at a yard sale and saw “12:00” blinking on its face.
Delia climbed out of bed and pulled a robe and slippers on over her pajamas. Through the years, the 70s model trailer house that she and her mother lived in had degraded bit by bit and every year more and more cold air leaked through the windows and the doors. When Delia was a child, her mother had started hanging blankets wherever she could feel a draft but some nights the temperatures dropped so low that the blankets could not compete with the bitter cold. Every year the energy company sent Delia’s mother a letter offering to come and hang plastic over the windows and doors and to replace their wood stove with a more efficient natural gas furnace, but Delia’s mother always stubbornly refused.
She walked out to the living room and sat down next to the wood stove. She crumpled up some old newspaper and put it among the ashes in the bottom of the stove. Then, she used a hatchet to chop some kindling from one of the bits of wood that was neatly stacked next to the stove and laid it over top of the newspaper. Finally, she took up a self-lighting propane torch and lit the newspaper on fire and watched as the fire spread to the other crumpled balls of paper and eventually to the kindling. Delia warmed the fronts and the backs of her hands over the small fire as it grew and then crammed two full logs into the stove and shut the door on the front. Soon the warmth would spread to the rest of the living room.
She turned on the decades old analog TV and began changing the channel. The knobs had long since fallen off so the channels and volume had to be adjusted with rusted vice-grips. After settling on the news, she sat down in a smoky old green lounge chair that her mother had had since before she was born.
She reached next to the chair and picked up a bong that was worth more than anything else that she and her mother owned and took a rip off of the still-loaded bowl. She exhaled slowly and coughed as she heard the newscaster talk.
“Northern Passage Energy still hasn’t commented on the mass outage but a general consensus has been reached that it occurred at 5:13 AM and affected dwellings as far as 120 miles out. Power was restored within ten minutes, but locals can only speculate about the cause.”
The program cut away to various clips of locals talking about what they thought caused the power outage. Theories ranged from a squirrel falling onto the power lines to aliens testing their tractor beams on the transformers. Delia closed her eyes and let the words roll over her as she cleared her thoughts and focused on nothing. She could feel the heat of the fire ease its way through the rest of the living room and push back against the cool air that was seeping through the windows. In that moment, she felt a strange sense of tranquility fall over her, something she had not felt in quite some time. Her anxiety melted away as if it were ice in the warm summer sun and she was taken back to a moment from her childhood: Floating on her back in the Deercliff Reservoir as nature moved and blended around her. She could see newborn fawns licking dew off of rapidly growing verdant leaves and beavers dancing in and out of the water as their brethren gnawed on logs and built dams.
Delia snapped out of her reverie as she heard the story on the news change: “Here’s one of those stories I just hate to cover, Marie. It appears that tragedy has befallen Deercliff in the early hours following Halloween. Eighteen year old Maggie Nice was found comatose this morning outside of Kate’s Diner. Her clothes were torn and her body was covered in bruises and scratches. Authorities have confirmed that a SAFE Kit has been administered but the results have not yet been revealed. SAFE Kits are commonly used to…”
Delia lost track of what the newscaster was saying as tears began to stream down her cheeks. She buried her face in her balled up fists for a moment and sobbed uncontrollably. Slowly her sobs turned into laughter. She held tightly onto the arms of her chair and laughed into the air, throwing her entire body into it.
“Yes!” she said. “Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!”
Eventually Delia regained control of herself. She jumped out of the chair and ran into her room while wiping the tears from her cheeks. She picked up her phone; an old model that was simply designed for texts and calls. She scrolled through her old texts until she found the thread that she was looking for: A correspondence with a number that had not been saved into her contacts.
She typed, “I think it worked!” and hit send.
Jackson found Ferris Bueller’s Day Off among the VHSs that sat on top of every surface in his bedroom. He had a good idea about where it was since it was among his favorites. He hadn’t been a big fan when he was a kid. A lot of the humor went over his head and the teenage angst made little sense to him. But as soon as he reached high school age it quickly captured his heart. The anxious and overwhelmed Cameron, the always overshadowed and insecure Jeanie, the charming, careless, rebel spirit of Ferris; Jackson identified with each character.
There was only one drawback to watching the film for Jackson: Every time he watched, he had an existential crisis. He always had to ask himself, “Do I identify with these characters because they are like me, or because I am like them?”
The TV that was in Jackson’s room and all the VHSs that sat among it had belonged to his father. Jackson’s father had been a successful landscaper in Deercliff. He once told Jackson about going to Sears and buying the TV set and VHS player brand new after he had finally paid off the loan that he bought his landscaping equipment with. He remembered his father’s charming smile, his neatly trimmed full beard, and the bald spot that had been forming at the crown of his brownish-blond hair. He remembered his father’s gentle but firm embrace on nights when Jackson could not fall asleep after they had watched a scary movie. He remembered the sweet smell of the Miller High Life that his father used to drink every night before bed.
Jackson’s mother and father never really got along. As far back as Jackson could remember, they had always bickered. It didn’t really matter what they said or did to each other; there was simply too much between them, years and years of built up arguments and disagreements that made it nearly impossible for them to communicate. Jackson could not remember them having a civil discussion in the time that they had been together. Finally, when Jackson was seven years old, his father came to him after a particularly bad argument. He remembered his father exhaling and the smell of warm beer that was on his breath.
“Jackson, I am leaving your mother,” he said. “I know that it won’t make much sense to you, but you have to understand that your mother and I aren’t happy together and that we will be much happier if we separate from each other. Just because we won’t be together anymore doesn’t mean that we don’t love you. It just means that we will love you in different places.” Jackson listened patiently, unsure of what to say or what to ask. “I am going to go away for a couple of days till I can find some place to stay and then you can come and be with me for part of the week and with your mother for part of the week. It is important to both of us that we both get to see you.” His father smiled at him, a little red in the cheeks. “Goodbye, son. I love you. I will talk to you soon.”
He remembered crying in the middle of the living room next to his father’s TV and among his piles of VHSs as he heard the 1985 Chevrolet Scottsdale start up and drive off into the night. Jackson could hear his mother sobbing in the bedroom. He wanted her to hear him crying and come out and hold him, but his mother did not leave the bedroom for the rest of the night.
In the morning, when Jackson came out of his room, he found his mother staring blankly into the off screen of the television, a Marlboro cigarette burning between her fingers. He walked over and put his hand on her arm and she slowly turned and looked at him with tears welling up in her eyes. She said nothing as the tears spilled over and rolled down her cheeks and neck and wetted the neck of her shirt. Later in the day, his mother received a phone call telling her that the night before her husband had blown through a stop sign and hit an SUV with a family of four in it. There were no survivors.
Jackson’s mother never recovered. She began living off of the money that her husband had saved with his landscaping business and took to spending her evenings in the bars. She was constantly drunk and soon became popular within the party scene in Deercliff. The older gentlemen of the town took a strong liking to her and began to offer her compensation in return for her company. She found this an easy way to fund her habits with drugs and alcohol and pay the bills. She spent the mornings sleeping off her hangovers, the early afternoons preparing herself for the evening, and was back in the bar every night by dinnertime.
Jackson was left to his own devices. His father was dead and his mother was essentially absent. The closest thing that he had to a real family were his friends, which kept him going to school and among the popular social scene of Deercliff. The only things that he had to remember his father by were his TV and the VHSs that his father vehemently collected before his death. By the time Jackson was sixteen, he had begun to realize that he had learned more about being a man from Clint Eastwood than his father had ever taught him, he had learned more about morality from Mr. Miyagi than he had ever learned in high school, and he came to expect life to play out like a movie at the end of the day. Unfortunately for him, he did not often get to ride off into the sunset, his enemies did not usually spell out their plans before he stunned them with a one-liner and pushed them off of a skyscraper, and girls did not usually come around despite telling him that they weren’t interested from the beginning.
By the time Jackson was seventeen, he was completely disillusioned about his life. He realized that everything that he thought was true existed solely in fiction. Thus, he had to ask himself when he watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, “Do I identify with these characters because they are like me, or because I am like them?” He had no idea if he was an angsty teenager because that was how he truly was or because the movie had told him that that was how he was supposed to be. He simply could not figure out where the movies ended and his own self began.
Jackson was pondering all of this deeply when he heard his mother stumble in the front door. Usually, she would come home in the early hours of the morning, but today she didn’t come home until the early afternoon. Jackson assumed it had to do with Halloween. His instinct was to ignore her and to let her go to bed and sleep it off, but he heard a glass break in the kitchen and decided he should go and help her out just to be safe.
He found his mother on her knees in the middle of the linoleum that checkered the kitchen floor. She was gingerly picking up glass with her right hand and placing the shards into her left. He walked over and placed his hand on his mother’s arm and said, “Leave this, mom. I’ll take care of it.”
She slowly turned her gaze towards him. “Oh, Jackson,” she said. “My sweet boy, what are you doing up?”
“It’s three in the afternoon, mom. See? The sun’s still out.” He pointed at the ground where the sun was shining through the window.
“Oh, dear. I stayed up later than I thought…” she said, trailing off at the end. She closed her eyes and nearly swayed over onto her back, but Jackson caught her.
“Mom, let’s get you to bed. You need some sleep.”
“Yes, that’s probably for the best…Oh, but Jackson…Jackson?”
“I spilled some glass. I need to pick it up first.”
“No, mom. I said I was gonna take care of it. Remember?”
“Are you sure? I really don’t mind.”
“Yes, mom. It’s time for bed.”
He grabbed her by the hand and helped her stand up. He put his arm around her waist and walked her to her bedroom.
“It was a wild party last night. Halloween.”
“I know, mom. Sounds like it was a little too wild, huh?” Then he said, almost under his breath, “I mean, shit, did you hear about Maggie Nice?”
“Oh, Maggie Nice,” his mother said, falling onto her bed. “What a sweet girl.” She laid back and said slowly, “It was so…nice…to see her…last night.”
Jackson furrowed his brow. “You didn’t see Maggie last night, mom. She was at Big Mac’s party.”
“No…she was…there. With the…Heart of Darkness…and…Bridgette…and those Griffens…” his mother said. And then suddenly she sat up and opened her eyes and said, “They all started fucking!”
Jackson stared at his mother, his mouth agape.
“Not Maggie,” she said. “She just watched.” And then his mother fell back onto her back and closed her eyes again.
“Jesus Christ, mom. What are you on?”
“Ecstasy…and gin…and morphine. Mmhmm.” She sounded like a beat poet.
Jackson exhaled. “Yikes,” he said. “Look, just go to sleep. We’ll talk about this later.”
“Mmhmm,” said his mother. He pushed his mother’s legs up onto the bed and then rolled her as far over onto her side as he could. Then he pushed some pillows up behind her back.
“I love you, mom,” he said and he kissed her on the cheek. She was already asleep. He stepped out of the room and walked out into the living room. He took a moment to collect his thoughts and then he pulled out his phone and called Big Mac.
“Dude, my mom just said the craziest shit…”