The Very Last Summer Vacation Ever - Prologue
by: Max Burbank
A BRIEF INTRODUCTION:
Roger and I have decided to serialize the book I'm working on. A small excerpt, entirely out of context was published here a few years ago. The version you are, and hopefully will be reading in the days ahead, is altered slightly for this purpose. Feedback is welcome, and may even be listened to, especially if the feedbacker is related in any way to a literary agent or publisher.
PROLOGUE: A FAMILY MEETING
At the ass end of the worst April ever, the Old Man called a family meeting. Himself presiding, Our Mother, Alex the eldest, Mallory the middle, me the youngest and also our dog Frodo in attendance.
"There is," said the Old Man, "an Elephant in this room."
"Not an actual Pachyderm, clearly. Nor the proverbial pink variety ascribed to cartoon dipsomaniacs, though I won't say I haven't seen that kind a time or two before, and no, not the Grand Old Party's Elephant slouching toward wherever. No, troops, the Elephant of which I speak is the classic idiomatic Elephant, i.e. a glaring and obvious truth that is being ignored or going unaddressed. And while this Elephant is here in our living room, it is also a national, if not global Elephant."
He paused then as he often did when the train of his thought was long and the last few cars, hastily attached in any case and often of a different gauge, listed; their cargo shifting dangerously. We waited with him, his last long breath still inflating his chest, the slate of his face blank, his eyes either glazed, or fixed on some distant point; waited for the great relief that came born along on a rush of new words, grateful if not for any wisdom gained then at least for the release of pressure.
"I think it's clear, not just to those of us in this room, but to everyone outside it, that the world as we have known it... will soon be over."
Well, you could have heard a pin drop, though what we did hear was Frodo panting, which I'm sure she couldn't help as I think even she had some canine feeling that what our dad has said was only just what any of us would have said ourselves had we only known a name to give the feeling that had been in our stomachs for weeks now, maybe months.
We just looked at each other like dopes.
For my own self, I had to admit that for a while now when I walked to school or took the shortcut through the woods to the General Store or if I rode my bike alone down by the railroad, a bad feeling went with me. Even in my room before I went to sleep, the safest place of all, just lately it seemed something ugly was gathering force somewhere outside and that wherever it was, it pushed on the air in every direction until the individual panes of glass on my window bellied in a tiny bit. And didn't everything sometimes just lately if you caught it out the side of your eye seem a little angry? Stuff that had no way to get mad, like tall dead grass or crushed up soda cans or a water stain on an old wall? Didn't it feel like all that bad feeling was waiting to congeal into a giant pointing finger that would come down out of the sky and crush you sure as shit like a bug?
Alex was nodding his head like something had added up for him. Like all of the eight thousand minor things designed to piss him off that he enjoyed to list for any convenient audience had been put in a bag and shaken up and thrown out on the floor into a pattern that a guy like me couldn't see but to him made a map to help you find things that weren't in the place you knew for an absolute fact you'd left them.
I looked to Our Mother, but she was looking away and down so a wind that wasn't there wouldn't keep her cigarette from lighting. I didn't need to look at Mallory to know that she blamed all of us, but I looked anyway for confirmation, which I got.
So we all had known. Dad had just been bold enough to take the bull by the horns and ride it straight into this family meeting. It was a boldness we demanded from him and which I certainly hoped was in my blood, although to be honest, I had seen no sign of it whatever in me up to this point.
"Climate change," said the old man like a drum beat, "tsunamis, earthquakes, dusky skinned terrorists blowing themselves and any freedom loving folk standing nearby to hell, one fifty pound sack of rice per customer at Costco, seven dollar a gallon gas by mid summer, negroes and women running for President, man on man marriage which is OK, but has surely taken many of us by surprise, my collection of antique World's Fair commemorative tea spoons vanishing from their rack and appearing in circulation with the regular teaspoons... I'm sad to say these are clearly the end times. I'm particularly sad to say it to you kids. To you, Alex, who ironically, in one more year would graduate college with a promising degree in Public Policy; To you, Mallory, with your fond hopes of losing your virginity; and especially to you Jimbo, for whom the world held such promise as it does, or did, for all children; and even to you Frodo, who surely dreamed of chasing rabbits and rolling in cow manure every spring for several more seasons that likely now won't come. Though you ought to be grateful for whatever you get seeing as the time left to you will seem seven times longer than the time left to us, it being clocked in dog years.
"But not talking about something doesn't make it go away. All not talking about something does is allow it to sneak up behind you and jump up on your shoulders and scare the crap out of you, and frankly I have never thought being snuck up on was the way the Gallagher family did things.
"Now," he said, raising his right hand palm outward, "now, no one should panic here. There never has been any use crying over spilled milk and crying certainly won't help now that the even the spilled milk is almost gone. Your mother and I have thought ahead and made a plan."
Here our mother turned her head on her thin neck to look at him, and in that look I saw adoration and confusion and downright loathing and a clear certainty that she had not been in on any plan at all, that she was hearing this plan for the very first time just as we were but that she would now have to pretend it was her plan too. It was a look that spoke of unconditional love but also unconditional hatred and years of piled up bitterness caused by placing all of her eggs in the single basket of this husband and family, a basket it was pretty clear had more than one hole in it, clear if not from the get go than at least from very soon after.
"This family has never been the head in the sand, build a fallout shelter type," my Father said. "We are not hunker downerers, cowerers or dead end survivalists! Troops, our family is all about hope. Hope, optimism, stick-to-it-ivness and good old fashioned, American made elbow grease. But how can we express this grease in the face of the end of all things?"
"Diaspora!" spat Mallory, her retainer flying from her mouth, a furious inevitable blush beginning at her hairline and racing to her toes. The Old Man turned his kindly look upon her, the look that said 'fooled once more by the rhetorical. "I cherish these leaps forward of yours whenever you hear the gentle eyelid on eyelid sound of a wink and mistake it for a starters' pistol, but that kind of cherishing takes time, the very thing we lack an abundance of."
"We shall go on as we have always gone on," Pop struck up once more, "Chins up, never giving in to fear, going about our business. Which in this case means a family summer vacation! But being brave enough to admit that this is the very last summer vacation we shall ever take in the world as we know it, we must make it the bestest, longest, most extremest family vacation ever! Your mother and I have spent the last year applying to every single ludicrous credit card and loan come-on we got in the mail and I am now happy to say that while we are not rich in money, we are rich beyond the dreams of avarice in credit! Credit that shall never come due, as long before the bills arrive the world will certainly end! And so we shall take to the open road as royalty and make this a family vacation you kids will never forget, taking into account that you won't have very much time to forget it in!"
We all leapt to our feet clapping spontaneously for joy, all us kids and even our Mother and Frodo yapped around our feet, happy ass wagging, jumping up onto us which she knew was forbidden. The Old Man beamed and put his arm around his bride, who to her credit, cringed only briefly.
"And where shall we go?" our Mother asked, forgetting for a moment that this was supposed to be her plan too, her glassy eyes filled with faith and pride and terror and a violent, yet for the moment contained rage.
"SOUTH!" my Old Man Bellowed, raising his fists to the ceiling, and "SOUTH!" we all cried in unison, Frodo barking her most enthused bark. "South away from the worst April ever and a May that will surely disappoint, South through Hartford, South over the Tappan Zee skirting Manhattan and Newark, Souther still into untold lands of Southness with no destination other than South! Destinations were meant for vacations that would be followed by future vacations, so let us leave destinations behind with the winter coats and the bills and the brick-a-brak, rat race bullshit that clung to our hides like barnacles crusting the belly of a great whale! South, South, SOUTH!" he chanted and we chanted with him, unified Gallaghers chanting 'till the acoustic tiles of the living room ceiling shook and let go years of dust that sparkled as it rained down upon us in tiny motes, like we were inside a snow globe souvenir of this vacation we were going to take, this most best and very last summer vacation we would ever take together or at all.
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