Bill Steiner

‘The new television just doesn’t feel right. As if I wanted to know what shade of red the dancers got on her lips.’ Howard Steiner is talking to his wife Gladys in their sitting room. They live in Mclean, Virginia. ‘I don’t want to know, hon, I just don’t.’

The sitting room in question is modestly furnished with two armchairs, a glass coffee table, an antique armoire (passed down through generations, as Gladys eagerly tells any neighbor who’ll listen), and a brand-new colored television, which is the source of Howard’s displeasure this night.

‘I mean for chistsssake, who do these people think they are? Really, it’s about time someone went over ther-’ Howard, pink in the face, is interrupted by his wife.

‘Which people, dear?’ He is puzzled, not being used to getting disturbed mid-rant in this fashion.

‘What?’ he demands.

‘You said ‘who do these people think they are?’ and I was wondering which who you were referring to.’

‘It doesn’t matter now, does it?’ says Howard.

Howard is a rather tall man; he weighs 175 pounds and is 58 years old with graying brown hair. His wife, Gladys, is a skinny thing who spends half her time playing bridge with the neighbors and the other half worrying about whether or not her husband finds her attractive anymore. They have a seven-year-old son, Martin, whom they call Marty. They have another son, but he’s not at home.

Gladys retires to the bedroom, muttering something about how the early bird gets the worm. She nearly trips on a toy truck, presumably left by their son, in the middle of the doorway.

Marty walks through the door which Gladys exits. They exchange kisses goodnight and continue on their respective paths. Marty lays down on the ground next to his father, head in his elbows, watching the new TV.

‘Did you get all your homework done?’ Howard looks down at his boy.

‘Yes dad,’ the boy mumbles, not looking up.

‘I said did you get all your homework done?’ the father asks again, growing irritated.

‘Yes, I already told you.’ The boy looks up at his father and then back to the screen.

‘Good.’ He clears his throat. ‘Sit up straight, boy. Don’t you want to be tall like your broth…’ Howard’s voice trails off, he looks down at his son with watery eyes and looks back to the screen. He then promptly clears his throat with a mucus filled cough. Marty doesn’t know much about his brother, Bill, who left before he can remember. There are few pictures of him in a green outfit, lined up on the mantle next to various assorted pictures of Howard, Marty and Gladys. But other than the fact that Marty knows he was stationed somewhere near a place called Thailand, Marty knows next to nothing about his brother. He does know, however, to say nothing when his father mentions the name Bill. Howard reaches for his drink.

Martin sits up with an annoyed expression. He subsequently pulls himself into the armchair adjacent to his father’s and lies upside down, his fair light brown hair falling into his face. He smiles the smile of one who loves to test his father’s patience.

‘Isn’t it past your bed time anyhow?’ Howard asks, looking down at the grinning face of his only son. Marty laughs and falls from the armchair, neatly performing a backwards somersault nearly into the coffee table. ‘Careful lad! You’ll be the death of me one of these days.’ Howard mutters.

Marty rushes out of the room, only to reenter a couple seconds later, tiptoeing on the hard wood floor.

‘I can hear you, you know,’ Howard calls out, not bothering to look behind him. Martin laughs again and crawls army-style underneath his father’s armchair, eventually poking his head out in-between his father’s legs, looking up at the man’s face.

‘Go to bed. Now it’s really past your bed time.’ Marty giggles once more and runs out of the room.

Howard checks to make sure his son has left before reaching for the remote. He points the thing at the television and changes it to a newscaster, reading that day’s body count from a sheet of paper. Then reading the body count for the week, the month, finally for the whole time of America’s presence in Vietnam. For a second Howard thought he saw Marty’s face flash among those shown on the upper right hand of the screen.

But he dismissed it as an illusion and reached for his drink.

Hudson Cooke
Age 14, Grade 9
Saint Ann’s School
Gold Key

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