Ramblings From an Apathetic Adult Baby

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Bathroom Defibrillator

FADE IN:

 

EXT./ESTAB. HARTSFIELD-JACKSON ATLANTA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT – DAY

 

INT. MEN’S BATHROOM – DAY

A maintenance man mounts a defibrillator on a men’s room wall. He boots up the machine and paces the four steps to the doublewide handicapped stall—this bathroom’s infamous “hot corner.” Completed, he steps back and sighs. He rounds the corner out of the bathroom and is handed a pink slip. A whistle pierces the chatter of the terminal.

 

INT. CONFERENCE ROOM – MORNING

A wasp-y group of older men in suits bicker around a conference table. One stares out of the massive picture window overlooking the airport. He exhales slowly, adjusting his tie clip. He steps up to the podium and the room quiets. The presentation screen behind him has a bulleted list: “Tarrington’s Law. Budget cuts. Less maintenance personnel and less emphasis on ‘clean’.” Next slide reads: “One handgun for all of Security; give the rest whistles.”

 

INT. LIVING ROOM – EVENING

A TV News reporter babbles. Below him the headline reads “Tarrington’s Law Official: Hartsfield-Jackson Guilty, Must Accommodate”. Alone, an obese man watches, rapt, from his cramped living room. His excess spills over each armrest of his Jazzy Scooter. He’s nodding approvingly and begins to slow clap. Cheeto dust haphazardly flies, lightly coating the disability check and popcorn tin magazine in the scooter’s basket. After two attempts at standing for this ovation, he concedes defeat. Beads of sweat pool on his lack of neck.

 

EXT. DOWNTOWN ATLANTA COURTHOUSE – AFTERNOON

Reporters flood the courthouse steps in downtown Atlanta. The Tarringtons and their legal team emerge. A cheer rises and flashbulbs fire as the widow and daughter toddle down the courthouse steps. The news syndicates jockey for position amidst the motorcade of parading mobility scooters tooting their horns in support. Hurried interviews follow. The Tarringtons speak through joyful tears and countless hugs. Reporters evoke inappropriate hyperbolic comparisons.

 

INT. COURTROOM – LATE MORNING

The daughter weeps on the courtroom stand. Makeup runs down her jowls. Between sobs she recalls a story about how her dad made it to every single one of her high school theater events, seeing all eight performances of Grease her freshman year even though she’d only been in the chorus—a feat not one of her friends’ parents could claim. She and the lawyer speculate on the immense amount of love he still had left to share. Tears well in the eyes of the monster truck driver seated in the jury box. The David Blaine impersonator next to him offers a tissue. The defense team and the airport executives restlessly fidget.

 

INT. COURTROOM – MORNING

A white board is propped up at the front of the courtroom. At the top of it the defense team has underlined “Free Will”, “Rational Choice”, and “America”. Below is a cartoon drawing of a bloated man and a heart with a frowny face. A doctor in a white coat is on the stand, pointing at and concurring with the unscientific diagram. The airport execs confidently nod.

 

EXT. HARTSFIELD-JACKSON ATLANTA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT – AFTERNOON

A chanting mob pickets outside the airport entrance. Police barricades create a narrow corridor into the terminal. Travelers and families with suitcases struggle through the rabid mass. Multiple signs read “Executed By Neglect” with Frank Tarrington’s picture. Others signs include “More Reasons to Hate Airports” and “Don’t Support Your Local Murderers.”

 

INT. NEWSROOM BULLPEN – MIDDAY

A reporter hangs up his office phone and frantically scribbles out a note. He briskly walks into the adjacent conference room. Two banners stretch across one end reading “ABC—Always Be Controversial” and “Cite Everything, or Don’t!” He quiets the room and writes “Frank Tarrington” in huge letters on the white board. Below he writes “List-y,” “Blame-y,” and “250-Word Maximum.” He examines the side of the board with the day’s articles. The ideas about the best Atlanta dog parks and favorite Halloween pasta recipes for  are kept; instead he crosses out “More Conflict in Syria” and writes “Tarrington.”

 

INT. ATTORNEY’S OFFICE – MIDDAY

An attorney sits behind his giant desk examining a legal document. The widow Tarrington and her daughter sit across from him. Between dabbing their eyes, the Tarringtons, together, polish off a box of mini muffins. The attorney puts the paper down and leans in. He grits his teeth. He gives a little shrug and the widow’s tears come faster. Her daughter tries to console her. The lawyer squirms, mouthing “I’m sorry.” The Tarringtons both continue to cry. After pondering for a few seconds, the lawyer holds up one finger, and picks up the phone.

 

INT. MORGUE – NIGHT

Frank Tarrington’s massive body is laid out under a sheet on a coroner’s table. The warped tattoo on his upper arm depicts a pizza in the shape of a heart. The coroner hands the widow a plastic bag containing the keys to Frank’s Dodge Shadow, his wallet containing six dollars and his Chili’s VISA, his flip phone, and his cigarettes.

 

INT. MEN’S BATHROOM – MORNING

Frank shuffles into the near-empty airport bathroom, strategically entering the doublewide corner stall. He unbuckles his belt and collapses onto the toilet. A tranquil instant passes as he looks up at the ceiling. He loosens his tie. His entire face starts to tighten and he emits a deep groan, like the slow bending of steel. Struggling, his breaths take on a Lamaze-ian quality. Tremors echo throughout his doughy legs. A blood vessel behind his left eye breaks and his iris gains a scarlet shadow. The breaths are coming even shorter now. His eyes widen as he stares up at the ceiling again—this time for God. He extends his right arm, readying it to knock his body back into rhythm, but instead he collapses onto the damp tile. Two packets of Metamucil tumble out of his shirt pocket along with a receipt to a fondue restaurant.

 

FADE TO BLACK.

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Welcome Home, Captain Patterson!

 

Running through the tunnel, his stomach knotted for the first time since Kandahar last May.

 

The thunder of 70,000 football fans intensified as he passed through the smoke and laser lights. As he emerged, the ovation crescendoed and the public address system burst into “God Bless America.”

 

Jess, his wife of fourteen years, stood at the thirty-five-yard line with their three boys. He started sprinting. After eighteen months of photos and tablet screens, they were finally right here, all of their faces frozen with shock and joy.

 

He grabbed her with both arms, twirling her around twice and nearly falling before locking into a deep, overdue kiss. His eyes welled; Randy had been right. Of course he was going to cry. Why had he even argued? Of course there wouldn’t be any more deployments. Never again. No question about it.

 

Jess dug her face into the nape of his neck and planted a succession of kisses. The three boys, all under thirteen, tackle hugged the two onto the turf. The grin across Captain Patterson’s face stretched, further and further. He was almost thirty-four, but, at long last, adulthood was in focus.

 

The music ended. An usher corralled the Patterson bundle over to the sideline so the second quarter could start. The boys scampered ahead. Captain Patterson and Jess held hands, still savoring.

 

They moved slowly towards the exit. His psyche had been calloused witnessing the ghastly depths of humanity over three different tours, though looking at Jess—his other battle buddy—that all seemed like lifetimes ago. He didn’t see his past. He saw their future. He saw the landmarks and milestones ahead: the boys graduating, marrying, and starting their own families. He saw himself and Jess, two soulmates who would challenge each other daily to become better people, continuing to reap each other’s rewards year after year.

 

The crowd noise quieted to a low rumble as they followed the security attendant into the concrete labyrinth under the stadium. The attendant and kids sped ahead. Jess looked up at her husband. She smiled and struggled to stifle a giggle, just as she always had since they’d first started dating at eighteen. “ I can’t believe you’re really back.”

 

“I’m not leaving you again. Not ever.” She cooed. “Wouldn’t matter what they offered. I’m stationed right here. Indefinitely.”

 

He pulled her close and draped his arm around her. “I think we can follow those orders,” she said, coy.

 

His heart felt heavy and thawed, more so than ever before. “Me too, kid.”

 

She nestled into him as they kept marching on through the tunnels. “ I do have to ask you one thing, though.”

 

“Anything.”

 

“I wasn’t expecting you for another three weeks. Did you fly in this morning? I know we haven’t Skyped in a few days. It’s just a lot.”

 

“Landed Wednesday, actually.” He paused, emitting a little chuckle. “So glad you guys were surprised!”

 

“Wednesday?”

 

“Yeah. Randy picked me up.”

 

“Of course.” She pushed away from him. “Of course it was Randy.”

 

“He was free—”

 

“He’s always free. He doesn’t have a job.”

 

“Four days you were home, after being gone for eighteen months, and you don’t see your wife or children?”

 

“Would’ve ruined the surprise.”

 

“It’s a surprise that you’re home early at all. Who cares if we’re at a football game?”

 

“I thought the boys would like it.”

 

“Four days. What have you been doing?”

 

“Waiting to surprise you, of course! And, sure, Randy and I went to Dave & Buster’s, Red Lobster—”

 

“Friday I almost had a panic attack trying to drive Kevin to soccer practice.”

 

“…”

 

“I’ve been juggling three boys alone for eighteen months. Zero days off.”

 

“I—I hadn’t considered.”

 

“Four fucking days. Not being with your family and just drinking at Red Lobster and Dave and Buster’s?” She bit her bottom lip. “Red Lobster was supposed to be our first family dinner back.”

 

“I don’t think I’m allowed back. Randy and I were pretty wasted. I broke a table and Randy tried to kiss a waitress.” Jess seethed. “I mean, we can drive to the one in Springdale.” Her face remained fixed. “What I’m trying to say is that there are other Red Lobsters.”

 

Her lips tightened.

 

He shrugged. “I didn’t think it would be a big deal.”

 

“It is a big deal.”

 

“I’d been stationed Kandahar and Kunduz for eighteen months. I’m so sorry that when I returned from defending freedom that I so selfishly took a few days to just veg out, decompress from being at war, and stuff my face with beer and Cheddar Bay Biscuits.

 

“It was selfish.”

 

“Well it’s never happening again. ” He tried to pull her close for a hug, but she resisted.

 

“Anything else? You have fun?”

 

“Randy did want to go the titty bar.”

 

“And?”

 

“…And so we went to the titty bar! Don’t worry, nothing happened. I mean, this one girl—I guess her dad died in Iraq—Randy said she had a soft spot for veterans and I was all, ‘No, Randy. You go with her and I’ll stay here. But check if she’s got a discount for brothers of veterans.”

 

“Randy isn’t allowed over anymore.”

 

“This isn’t Randy. This is my fault.”

 

“I’m not disagreeing. Randy still isn’t allowed over.”

 

“You’ve never liked him.”

 

“He cheated on my sister!”

 

After your sister tried to stab him in his sleep.”

 

“She mixed up her meds.”

 

“Mixed them up with vodka, Jess!”

 

Jess quickened her pace, pulling away. “I’m not rehashing this now.”

 

He sighed.

 

The attendant held the door for them as the five of them emerged into daylight from under the stadium. Jess marched them silently through the parking lot up to where their van was parked. She threw him the keys. “Get in. We’re going to Springdale.”

 

 

 

 

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