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Story by David Yourdon (Read author interview) June 19, 2023

Art by Mike Scheid

I meet my wife in the warehouse. She looks like my wife, or what I imagine my wife would look like if I were married. White, sandy-haired, a non-threatening jawline. I am white, sandy-haired, with a non-threatening jawline. We shake hands. Our daughter and our son are sitting nearby. She is supposed to be in high school. He’s supposed to be college-age.

They dress us in pastels. They put make-up on us. The director and the photographer tell us what to do. First, I act angry at the whole family. Then they act angry at me. Then we act angry at our daughter. Then our son. After a costume change into plain white tees, we reprise this round robin of emotion. Then we wait while they change the lighting, and do it again in blue twilight. Then we hold salad tongs. Then we hold toothbrushes. Then laptops. “What’s this one for?” my son asks. He sounds cocky, like he’s above this theater, like the world was built for him. “For? For whatever,” the director says, then orders us all to laugh for an hour.

We get a break. My daughter eats two blueberry muffins from the craft table. My wife sips tea and ignores everyone. When I try to talk with my son about the World Series, he squints at me. When the break is over, a new boy appears. He speaks Italian with the director. His skin is several shades darker than mine. At the director’s behest, we all take turns acting angry at the boy. He isn’t asked to defend himself, merely to receive our anger. “What’s this one for?” I ask the photographer. “Why are we mad at him? Is this xenophobic propaganda?” The photographer shrugs. “How should I know?” I have trouble performing anger, I don’t trust what’s happening here. Nevertheless, despite my hesitation, they get the shot. Then they hand the Italian-speaking boy a toothbrush and tell us all to laugh. Then salad tongs. Then laptops. “Laugh like you just heard the funniest joke of your life!” Then they send him away.

The sun is setting. “Game seven tonight,” I say to my son. His phone mesmerizes him. I ask my daughter if she watches sports. “Nope,” she says. I walk over to the vending machine and grab a sparkling water, then take a turn around the block, nerves jangling as I remember last night, how my girlfriend compared me to a tree stump, how she stormed off without elaborating, and how I needed a drink, desperately needed it, but my outfit looked ridiculous, so I changed into pastels, but that looked ridiculous, so I changed into all black, and went to a bar and talked to everybody and talked to nobody and came home bloated and empty.

When I open the door to the warehouse, my son and daughter are making out. His hands are traveling up her shirt. “What are you doing?” I bark at him. “She’s underage.” “No, I’m not,” she says, “and I kissed him, actually.” “It’s unprofessional,” I say, then go to inform my wife. But she only laughs and tells me to take it easy. Her jaw juts out, her eyes look harder than they did this morning. I tell the director that this group of actors is unprofessional, and he dresses us in floral shirts and makes us pretend to eat dinner, pretend to have a movie night, pretend to camp under the stars. The moon is rising outside the warehouse, and then we are putting on snow gear, and then we are admiring a mountain bike, then a kayak, then a camping stove, and then we are consoling my sobbing daughter, whose tears turn into steam once they get the shot.

The director tells us that’s it, we can go home. In the parking lot, my daughter gets in her car, and my wife gets in the passenger seat, and I have the horrific realization that they are related in real life. They hid it from me all day. They roll down the car windows, it’s a warm rainy night, they blast the radio and sing aloud together as the car screeches out onto the wet neon boulevard.

My son stands in the parking lot, staring at his phone. He doesn’t have a car. My heart flutters with sadness. For him, for me, for the century. “Want to get a drink?” I say. “We can watch the game.” He looks up at me with the disdain my real son would feel if I ever had a son. But then his posture softens and he says, “Sure, why not?” We go to the bar I’ve been frequenting since I was his age and down three beers fast. Then we yell at the World Series. We scream when there’s a home run. We tug at our cheeks as the top reliever flames out. It’s loud and sweaty. We take off our jackets. We bite our nails, put our arms around each other. We sing to the jukebox. We gasp when our team hits a single in the bottom of the ninth and collapse into each other’s arms crying. “It’s a miracle, son,” I say, kissing him on the cheek, “a miracle.”

About the Author

David Yourdon is a writer based in Canada. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in HAD, Peatsmoke Journal, Bending Genres, and Rejection Letters. He has also completed a novel and posts fiction on his Substack, What Will It Be Like.

About the Artist

Find more photography by Mike Scheid at Unsplash.

This story appeared in Issue Eighty of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Eighty

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