by Melissa Scholes Young Read author interview June 13, 2016
Tammy couldn’t believe no one else wanted him. She only had to knock over three milk jars with this ping-pong ball and he’d be hers. She squinted again at the oversized hot pink teddy bear. Its rainbow heart beat loudly calling to her, but Tammy couldn’t be swayed. On a stool next to the teddy bear was the alternate prize, and no one had scooped him up yet. She scanned the Missouri State Fair: greasy carnies, steamy crowds, sunburnt kids with half eaten sticks of blue cotton candy. Then she aimed, cleared the glass bottles and won Ferris Bueller.
“I’m not Ferris, you know,” he said when Tammy looped her arm in his and led her prize away.
“I’m Matthew Broderick. Ferris was just a character.”
“You can call me Matt. Or Matthew. Or Mr. Broderick, if you prefer.”
“Okay.” She steered him through the sweaty masses banging mallets on Whack-a-mole tables, chocolate dripping from Dilly bars, Dads with soaked handkerchiefs wiping their dirty necks.
“Where are we going anyway?”
“My grandma’s house. Where I live.”
“Aren’t you a little old to live with your grandma?”
“I’m only seventeen.”
“Well, you look a lot older. You’ve got some Sloan—I mean Mia—in you.”
Tammy slid her hand into his and grinned at the comparison.
“You ain’t bringin’ that in here, Girl. There’s no room for all you keep draggin’ home.”
“But I won him. At the fair. He’s my prize.”
Matthew held out his hand. “We haven’t been introduced. I’m Matthew Broderick, ma’am. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Grandma flared her nostrils at his hand like it was a dead fish, gone ripe, waiting for fillet. “You look like that Bueller guy. The one who skipped school.”
“Ferris Bueller was a character, ma’am. I’ve actually starred in plenty of other movies. Have you heard of—?”
“—No, I ain’t. I said there’s no room.”
“I’ll keep him in my room. In the corner. He won’t be any trouble. Promise.”
“Maybe if you’d clean out that garage, there’d be room,” Grandma huffed.
“What’s in the garage?” Matthew asked.
“Everything,” Tammy answered. “Nothing.”
She led him through the back porch, letting the screen door slam behind them, not catching it like Grandma always yelled to. Tammy paused at the garage door and closed her eyes. Gunpowder. Tobacco. Old Spice. Patsy Cline’s Greatest Hits still on the turntable, the needle scratched on song three, “Why Can’t He Be You?” The plastic guitar her father had won at the same state fair when she was nine. He’d strummed it to “Crazy” drag queen style. It came much too naturally, Grandma said.
“If it’s nothing, why are we going in?”
“There’s one thing I’ve been lookin’ for. Maybe you can help find it.”
“Just so we’re clear. Matthew Broderick is not living in your garage.”
Tammy lifted the garage’s metal door by the rusty handle. It squealed on its rollers as it gave. “Got it. You won’t live out here. And you talk about yourself in the third person. Got it. Now, hold this,” she said, handing him a rifle case that had been propped on a pile of boxes. “Careful. It’s probably loaded, knowing Dad.”
Matthew slid his hand over the leather sheath. “Least he had good taste.”
“That he did. Expensive taste, too. Grandma wants me to sell half this stuff to pay some bills. She says we can’t eat memories.”
Matthew peered inside a brimming box of cowboy boots still in their boxes. Another was labeled Italian purses in a purple scrawl. “Why don’t you?”
“Ain’t mine to clear. It’s Dad’s stuff. It’s all of him.”
“But he’s gone; He left?”
“Died. AIDS. Grandma says it wasn’t but it was.” She studied the spines of books alphabetized on a shelf. “So, he used his gun. That one.”
“Let’s just clear one corner, okay? Just enough room to sit down. That’s it.”
“But Matthew Broderick is not living in my garage,” Tammy smirked.
He nodded and reached for her hand. Tammy was too far away, though. He tripped and tumbled over a luggage trunk overflowing with feather boas snaking out like rainbow worms and dropped the shotgun. The blast shattered the only window. Jagged glass hung from the edges. Tammy wanted to shove her whole arm through, to slice her skin wide open on the retreat, to bleed on the things her Dad loved more than her. Then there’d be no point in keeping them.
“Do you want to have sex?” she asked. “I’d have sex with Ferris.”
Matthew looked around at the mess of half unpacked boxes like he was looking for a place to sit or perch for the deed. “Not really. It won’t do what you need done.”
Tammy bruised. She didn’t really want to do it, but she really wanted him to want to do it. “Fine.”
“Sometimes you can’t go around something, Tammy. You have to go through it.”
“Whatever. Okay. Let’s start. But just one corner.”
“Just one corner. Promise. But I’m not getting stuck in it.”
Tammy sniffed the garage air. Metal. Dust and grit. Old Spice, again. “You’re not much of a prize, after all, are you?”
“Not really,” he said.
“Bueller?” she called.
He cocked his eyebrow; he’d heard it a few times.
He shook his head, whispered, “No.”
“I expected more.”
“Everyone does,” he said, gesturing toward the spot on a bench they’d cleared. He used the bottom of his shirttail to wipe away the dirt in case Tammy wanted to sit down. Then he gave her a side hug before ducking between the bushes that led to the garage.
Tammy didn’t call after him, didn’t insist he was hers, but wondered if he’d return to the fair or find his own way.
About the Author:
Melissa Scholes Young's work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Narrative, Ploughshares, Poets & Writers, Poet Lore, and other literary journals. She teaches at American University in Washington, D.C., and is a Bread Loaf Bakeless Camargo Fellow. Follow her on Twitter @mscholesyoung
About the Artist:
Murugi Thande is a photographer and filmmaker based in the Washington, D.C area. She currently works in WUSA9's (CBS, Tegna) marketing department, producing promotional videos and digital media used on air, online and on Tegna platforms. Her work has previously appeared in ESPN, The Washington Post, Conde Nast, NBC's Meet the Press, State Magazine, American Magazine and other places. Follow her on Twitter/Instagram: @murugithande.
Like what you read in SmokeLong? Consider donating to us. $3 helps a writer get paid.