The Body of Carla Brinkley, by Mickey Bell
“Wally Noretti, you’re 26, you live with your parents, and you’re a pervert,” says Wally Noretti out loud as he walks into his apparently empty house.
He puts down his briefcase and chucks his keys into a metal jar on the table by the door. Hole in one, nothing but net.
His aging dog Ulysses gingerly trots up to greet him. Wally bends his knees like a baseball catcher and returns the greeting.
“Hey there. How’s my mutt?” Wally says as he playfully wrestles his family’s old dog. “At least you don’t realize I’m a creep.”
Ulysses, black and white, part Border collie and part who knows answers with a lick to the face. Wally avoids mouth-to-mouth by turning his cheek quickly but still gets a whiff of some rancid dog breath.
“Oh, you’re happy then, huh? Me too. It’s Friday.”
Ulysses, already losing interest, trots back to the kitchen. Wally follows, untucking and unbuttoning his dress shirt while switching the mail to whatever hand is free at that moment. Finding nothing of importance, he drops the mail down onto the island counter. A piece of paper floats down to the floor, landing in a yellowish puddle.
“Oh, that better not be urine.”
Wally gets down in his baseball catcher crouch for the second time in 30 seconds, instantly scrunching his nose at the odor. Ulysses watches on from the vantage point of his Shame Place, underneath the kitchen table.
“Did you do this, Ulysses? Bad dog! No treat for you today.”
With index finger and thumb like tweezers, Wally extracts the foul, urine-soaked note.
Wally and Garth,
Please feed and walk Ulysses and Seamus. Debra is evil and not allowed a walk. Wally, if you read this first, make Garth dinner. Garth, if you read this first, tell your brother to make it. I’ll be at Curves exercise class till 7:30. And Wally, please don’t leave your porno movies in the DVD player. I don’t want to see that crap. I still love you. –Mom
“Hey Wally,” Garth says, as he comes into the kitchen holding a folded-up newspaper. “T.G.I.F., right?”
“When you’d get home?” Wally asks as he looks up from the urine note, suddenly embarrassed by his audible ramblings by the door and contemplating joining Ulysses in his Shame Place.
“I’ve been home for a while,” Garth says. “I’ve been doing this sudoku in the living room. I always do them in class and the teachers think I’m just taking notes. You teachers are so dumb.”
“People take notes in high school? Not during my class.”
Garth trots by Wally, his shoes squeaking with every step, and plops down at the table.
“Take your shoes off in the house, Garth.”
“Oh, my bad. I’m all caught up in this sudoku…and the fact that it’s Friday,” Garth says, launching his shoes into the kitchen wall near one big water dish, one dog bowl, and two cat bowls. Wally glares him down. “Oh, I’m sorry.”
Garth gets up, picks up the shoes, and exits the room. Out of view, a closet door opens and shuts, and Garth comes back empty handed. “I mean, I know that was inconsiderate, but what’s up your butt, Waldo?”
Wally pours himself a glass of tap water and chugs it down in a few gulps. He sighs. “Do you think I’m a bad teacher?”
“Where’s that comin’ from?”
“Just answer the question, Garth.”
“Well, I’ve never had you for a class, obviously. But I consider you a quality brother.”
“No, I mean…you’re kind of popular, right?”
“Probably in the top 15.”
“Well, do you ever–”
“–Or top 20.”
“I’m probably one of the top 20 most popular kids in my high school grade.”
“Well, whatever,” Wally says, not quite believing it. “What I meant to ask was, do you ever hear people talking about me?”
“Yeah, they talk about you. Sure.”
“Wait, like bad stuff?”
“More like indifferent.”
“Great. So do people ever make fun of you because your big brother is some loser history teacher?”
“For what it’s worth, there are some kids who said some stuff about you, but they don’t take it out on me.”
“Great news. Like what?”
“Oh…nevermind. Actually, one time, this kid I know did say you were pretty cool.”
“Oh, what’s his name? I’ll probably remember when I taught him.”
“Tyler Winslow… But I don’t think you ever taught him. Remember when I went to high school in seventh grade because I was so good at Algebra?”
“Well, you were still in college, but you drove me to school and I forgot my glasses in the car. You ran in and found my Algebra classroom and gave them to me in front of everyone.”
“And this Winslow kid thought that was cool?”
“He was one of those loser kids who had to take Algebra as a senior because he failed it as a freshman. He said you were in his Algebra class when he was a freshman and came in fifteen minutes late every day. He called you a role model.”
“You do realize that made me one of those ‘loser seniors’, don’t you?”
“I suppose,” Garth says, “but I looked up to you even then. That makes you a role model to at least two people. Anyway, I’m supposed to play Call of Duty on my XBOX with some friends at 5:00. Better prepare.”
“Shit, It’s almost five?” Wally looks at the oven clock to confirm. “I gotta go.”
“But this note says you gotta walk the animals and make me dinner,” Garth says. “Ew, gross. This note smells like a school urinal.”
“Garth, can’t you make your own dinner for once?”
“But that’d be direct disobedience to mom,” Garth says.
“Top 20, huh?”
After putting on water to boil, Wally hurriedly takes 409 All-Purpose Cleaner out of the pantry, sprays the urine-stained floor, and wipes it clear as Ulysses still looks on from under the kitchen table.
While the water heats up, he leashes Ulysses and Seamus, a cat. Wally is well-aware that Seamus is the only cat in the world that goes on walks, but his mother is very particular about it.
As recently as last week, she said, “If you don’t like my rules, move out.”
So with that guilt, he pointlessly walks these animals. If he didn’t walk the dogs, his spoiled 18 year old brother Garth would probably tell on him anyway.
Ulysses is about thirteen years old and senile and Seamus is, well, a cat so both of them venture no farther than ten feet from the house at the same time. Leashes are probably even unnecessary, but in the past a neighborhood dog’s bark has been enough to send Seamus around the corner and up a tree. So the leashes stay on.
Wally sneaks a glance at a photo he keeps in his pocket most days. It’s a yearbook picture from a girl’s junior year. She has straight blonde hair and straight white teeth. Wally smiles every time he looks at it, even though he feels guilty about that too. Wally holds a lot of guilt inside him these days.
When Wally finally pulls into the Alameda High School parking lot in Atlantic County, New Jersey, he impatiently taps his steering wheel as some old lady takes her time pulling in before him, his dashboard clock reads 5:34.
She could be done already. Great.
He jogs to the gymnasium entrance and heads in. Minutes later, he’s back outside, now decked out in an skin-tight, UnderArmour long-sleeved shirt showing off his decent muscle definition (best it’s ever been) and gym shorts. He spots her still jogging around the track, gains on her while she’s not looking, then slows down to her pace.
“If it isn’t Carla Brinkley,” Wallys says.
It’s the girl from the yearbook photo, now a senior at Alameda High.
“Oh hey, Mr. Noretti. You always seem to catch me here, huh?”
“Yeah, funny how that works, huh? Small world,” Wally says, averting his eyes by looking down at the track. “So…as long as we’re both here, you wanna–?”
“Mr. Noretti,” Carla Brinkley says and comes to a sudden halt, “I don’t think we should run together anymore.”
“I know, I know,” Wally says, stopping and bending over, hands above his knees. “I can’t keep up with you these days!”
“No. I’m serious.”
“Really? Why? What’s the problem?”
“There’s a rumor going around the school that you’re, like, obsessed with me. One of my friends even heard we’re having affair. It’s getting out of hand. Are you, Mr. Noretti? Are you…obsessed with me?”
“No, no, no, no, Carla. I just think you’re a good person. Do I like you? Sure. But not in that way. Not in any…inappropriate way. So to clarify, do I think you’re great? Sure. Am I in love with you or something ridiculous like that? That’s just… I can’t believe anyone said that. Who said that?”
Carla scowls at Wally and starts to jog again.
“Carla, wait,” Wally yells out. He jogs to catch up to her. He feels desperate and knows he looks that way too. But he wasn’t…done…talking. “I don’t come here because…” He realizes it’s hopeless. “I guess I should just go?”
“No, I should,” Carla says, her voice getting fainter as she picks up speed and gains distance from him. “Don’t bother me anymore, okay? And don’t follow me ‘cause I’ll outrun your old ass.”
“Carla. Carla! FUCK!” Wally shouts. He stops jogging and realizes a bit of a crowd has gathered; five or six people, both young and old, had been eavesdropping by jogging slightly behind the commotion. “Go fuck yourselves,” Wally says and heads towards the school.
A few minutes later, Wally sits at his desk in the History/Social Studies shared offices, back in street clothes. Only two other teachers, one man and one woman, remain in the room, making conversation with each other by complaining about this student or that supervisor. Finally, they walk out together.
“Good night, Walter,” the female one says.
Wally ignores them and pulls out a manila folder with ‘ASSIGNMENTS’ written in Sharpie on the cover. Assignments are, in fact, inside, but Wally’s interest lies only in what is on top of them: a newspaper article yellowed from time. The headline reads Alameda High’s Brinkley takes first at Semis. Next to the article is a picture of Carla Brinkley looking, in Wally’s opinion, incredibly gorgeous, even regal considering she just ran five miles. He looks at it one last time before reaching into his pocket, pulling out a lighter, and setting the newspaper article on fire. It burns slowly and he throws the remains in the garbage can located under his desk. He unlocks his bottom drawer with a key to reveal a bottle of Jim Beam. He drinks a little. He chugs a little more. He wipes his lips with his shirt sleeve.
It’s almost completely dark out. Wally stumbles a bit, bourbon in hand, across the parking lot to his car. He drinks one last swig then lets the bottle drop under his feet. It makes a plopping sound more like wood and doesn’t shatter. Wally chuckles at this, fuddles for his keys, and unlocks the front seat. Suddenly, he thinks better of it. He opens the back seat door instead, crawls in, shuts the door, and sprawls out on the cluttered seat, passing out immediately.
Wally wakes up to the BEEP BEEP BEEP of a truck backing up to the front door of the school, delivering something. “At this ungodly hour?” He mumbles. Each BEEP cuts into his hangover like a shiv. The sun’s out but hasn’t been for long and impudently shines into his windows horizontally. Sea gulls are playing, landing on the tops of lampposts, ridiculing and torturing Wally with their laughs. Wally’s own breath stings his nostrils and disgusts him.
He opens the door, his first step landing right on the fallen Jim Beam bottle, twisting his ankle, and sending him to the asphalt. Wally checks his palms as blood starts to form behind the asphalt pebbles wedged into his cuts.
Wally gets into his front seat, sits down, and buckles up. He takes a deep breath and grabs ten and two on the steering wheel. Then he shakes his head, unbuckles, and exits the car. “You’re still shitfaced,” he tells himself.
The NJ Transit bus misses the stop for his house. He pressed the ‘REQUEST STOP’ button, but the bus driver blew by it anyway. Wally’s head pounds from the unnecessary two mile walk he now has to complete. He thought luck was going his way when the bus came a minute after he got to the bus stop. He entered the bus but then realized he had left his wallet in the car. The female driver had said, “That’s okay, hun, just have a seat.” And Wally did. Garth would have to drive him back to the school parking lot later.
When Wally finally gets to his house, he struggles with the keyhole which seems so impossibly small and with the strangest curvature. When he finally solves the door, he trudges up the stairs and to his room to find Garth curled up in his bed without any covers on. He’s using a newspaper as a pillow.
“Hey buddy,” Wally says, “What you doin’ in my bed?” Wally shakes him awake gently. “Trying to find my nudie magazines again?”
Garth looks startled at first, but it doesn’t take long for his expression to change to anger. “What did you do, man?!” He questions.
“Whaddya mean? I got plastered. Big deal. Jesus, you’re more uptight than mom.”
“Did you kill her?!”
“Mom? What?” Wally asks, but he now realizes his brother is serious. For the first time, he realizes the strangeness of Garth having used a newspaper as a pillow. “Oh my God, what happened?”
Garth hurls the paper at Wally who, considering his still drunken state, surprisingly catches it. Track star, Honor Roll student Carla Brinkley Slain. Wally cannot speak.
Garth speaks through sobs: “I stayed up all night, waiting for you. You know I get worried when you don’t come back. I played Call of Duty with my friends for most of the night. Then I got the paper for mom and dad like I always do when I’m up late.” Garth’s sobs and sniffles come harder, faster. “I decided to check my yearbook from our junior year, ‘cause you know, she was in my grade. Her picture was gone. Cut out. You cut her picture out of my yearbook, didn’t you?! Then I came in here and I found newspaper clippings of her in your top drawer.” Garth points to the newspaper articles strewn all over the top of the dresser.
Wally yanks Garth’s arm back down and gets up in his face. “Garth, calm down.”
“I heard rumors at school, Wally. I told them they were wrong. I stood up for you… you, you, you freak!”
“But I didn’t…” Wally says. “Garth, this is not good. We have to burn…”
Three booming knocks come from the front door downstairs. A faint siren is audible. Ulysses begins to bark. Wally and Garth look at each other with the wide eyes of absolute fear.
Mickey Bell lived in Korea for four years after graduating from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia with a BA in English. While in Korea, he taught English as a second language and published a writing textbook. He has another book coming out this year in Korea about helping parents teach their children English. Since returning to Philadelphia recently with his Korean wife, he has been teaching, tutoring, writing, and eating way too many Twizzlers.
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Tags: family, mickey bell, obsession, relationships