Chapter Four: Infotainment Suzanne and Darby didn’t own a television. Darby didn’t care, but one day Suzanne said that they had to buy one. “You have no idea what’s going on in Harrington. You haven’t been following up on news and you’re completely naďve about the details of the shootings in Harrington. You should watch the news every morning.” The lady on the news is stupid, Darby thought, while watching Lee Ann Peters read the news in her fake, sing-songy voice. “Well, I learned so much this morning, Mom,” Darby said as Suzanne rushed into the room preparing for work. “I now know that bacteria are our friends and we shouldn’t use the anti-bacterial soap that you put in the kitchen, because then our immune system will fail and we’ll die.” “You’re exaggerating. She just said that new evidence shows that being over precautionary about bacteria may be more harmful than helpful.” “But you didn’t hear what else they said. Supposedly the liquid kind of laundry detergent makes your clothes catch on fire easier. Maybe if you were in a fire, you’d burn up just like that. Stop using the liquid kind.” “Well I use the liquid kind, because the powdery kind doesn’t dissolve well in a cold wash. And I don’t think we’ll be in a fire soon, so I’d rather use the liquid kind than to redo the wash.” The Artist had set up his canvas and utensils right on the sidewalk, because he was commissioned to paint the new café in town by his friend who was the owner. Darby passed by the Artist a couple times since he was set up on the route home from school. She waved when he looked at her and his eyes gave an inviting look. One day while passing by, she was absolutely miserable. Martha was presently ignoring her because she was all caught up in her new boyfriend, Todd. The Artist waited for her to wave, because he delighted in this small thing each day. When she didn’t wave, the Artist called out, “Darby. Hey!” Darby turned around, her eyes brimming with tears. “Leave me alone. What do you want?” “It’s just so strange how you can be smiley with me one day and mean to me the next. Sit down. Could you do me a favour?” “Well, what is it?” “Go up to the outside menu, and look at it as if interested in the listings. You are going to be my model.” The Artist had decided against writing the novella about Darby. There was no good reason to write about her. However, he wished to create a mood by placing her in the painting. After about fifteen minutes, Darby grew impatient. “I need to get home or my mother will get worried.” “I can’t capture your face unless you stand there for a couple of hours. Come by here on your way home from school tomorrow so I can continue drawing you.” Darby looked at the canvas and saw that he hadn’t gotten very far at all. “So how long is it going to take?” “I have no little girl, so I am going to tell you this story. Once there was this handsome man, who married a girl who was both smart and pretty.” “Was she good?” “Wait, I’m getting to that. But she wasn’t good. She would overreact when her husband came home late from work and soon he began making excuses, so he could be away from her.” “Somehow, this doesn’t seem like a story you should tell a little girl.” “Wait a second. Anyway, they had this little girl. And the husband loved the little girl so much that he painted a picture of her. But he painted it for himself and no one else, and that it why his art failed to communicate effectively to other people. It was selfish.” “So is your art giving and mainstream?” “No, this is not an analogy. This is a true story.” “So did his audience not like the picture of the little girl?” “They never saw it, because if the picture had been shown to anyone else, he would have not been paid for it. So he destroyed it, because he would receive no compensation.” “Well, in a sense that seems fair enough. But what does this mean?” “Even if you are not justly rewarded, create art for the sake of beauty and inspiring and encouraging others. For everything is the Lord’s.” The next day, Darby came home from school after posing for the artist's new piece for about two hours. Her mother came home in a very bad mood and she hoped that she did not inquire where she had been. She knew her mother had disapproved of the Artist when she was younger, and wondered if she still did or wanted to keep Darby away from strangers when she was a small child. "That's my last day at that stupid job!" Suzanne yelled, with a skinny stream of tears running down her face. "There's barely any tips and the owners of that run down shack treat you like dirt." Suzanne had worked as a waitress during the week at a successful little country restaurant called "Home-Cookin'.” "There's a new café in town that everyone's excited about, but they haven't called me back yet." "You called them already?" Darby asked. "Yeah, and I really hope I can work there. I need to pay the rent and grocery bill and it's real hard when you don't have a job or child support." "You should have waited to quit until you got a new job," Darby said. "Well, you seem to know it all except how badly they treat you at a dump like Home-Cookin’. They treat me like I'm a bag of trash over there." Darby didn't know how to console her mother, so she didn't persist. Her mother had studied broadcasting in college, but never finished her degree. Still she wondered why her mother didn't apply for something in that field. Darby looked at the papers daily in search for a job for her mother. "Here's a job at a new radio station," Darby said. "Oh great," Suzanne said. "You know what they want is experience and the big stations like that want a degree. I have none. Sure, I volunteered at the dumpy little college station they had in school. But I had to drop out, and at first I applied to some stations to be a DJ. They wanted experience. I told them I had experience, but they wanted me to have internships. So here I am, jobless and unfortunate." "Well I think you should try again." "You need to have a sophisticated tape." "No, just call them up and sell them with your perky voice." "You just don't know how it is, honey." But Suzanne called the radio manager and applied for a job. They called her for two interviews, but no results came from that. One day Darby was listening to the radio at about 7:53 in the morning for on the hour news. She agreed with her mother to listen to the radio as a supplement to the TV for news. "I bought the stupid TV and you don't even like it." "Well not for news. I swear we have the worst newscasters in this whole city, and you'd be better than them." "Because of my nice, perky voice, right?" "Call this talk radio station. You could do talk radio." "And read news." "Or you could have your own talk show." "Like Dr. Laura." "Yeah only you could make a theme." "And I'd cause a revolution in America. Everything's backwards here," Suzanne said. "Well, that's going too far, but it would be a nice job for you." "But like I said, you can't just call up and say 'could I have a job' and expect them to even consider you." But Suzanne called. She had begun working at the new café in town, but was looking for something more fulfilling and exciting. The manager informed her that the woman that led this traditional values talk show was getting married and was living up to what she was preaching and settling down. "I can give you the job," he said, "because it will have to center around a woman’s point of view. This show never had outstanding ratings, so we'll give you a shot. Maybe you can make it more exciting. Come up with a name for your show and we'll discuss pay and what holidays we offer next time you come up to the station." "Sure thing," Suzanne said out of excitement. Suzanne threw out ideas for a radio show with Darby and Jackie, who was over at the house for a studying session. “How about 'Happy Homemaker',” Suzanne said sarcastically. “I have so much experience around the house.” “You said you wanted to revolutionize the country,” Darby reminded her. "Oh right. Like my voice on a dinky country radio station will make anything happen?" "It might. What were you thinking of doing? Maybe advocate that they should put prayer back in school," Jackie suggested. "I don't believe in God, but I believe in morals." "Why do you do good if there is no God?" Jackie asked. "Well I can't just murder anyone I want or the government would lock me up. I can't be a jerk to my fellow man or I'll earn no respect from him." "Ah, so it's about conventional morality," Jackie said, who was studying Kohlberg. "If you want to revolutionize America, you'll have to go post-conventional, because then people are more concerned about doing good for the sake of society, and not just for themselves." "So are you saying you do good for the sake of society, Jackie? Where does God fit into the picture?" "Well you see-" "No I don't see," Suzanne interrupted. "Wait a second, you said you didn't believe in God. So at least you could try to help society by coming from the viewpoint that people's actions should benefit everyone at large and not just themselves." "Get this idea of me revolutionizing the world out of your brain. I was exaggerating. I think I want a show exactly like Dr. Laura's, only I'll give my advice. "Well that's OK," Darby said, "but it's not unique. You need to do something different. And Dr. Laura has a couple degrees or something." "A degree in gossip!" Suzanne said. "Anyone could do what she does." "You could fight for the working class person," Jackie said. "Well how do I do that?" Suzanne said. "I'm just an ordinary person." "Well you have the potential to become a celebrity in this town if you can just get your act together," he said. "And if you have something really interesting to offer, you could get nationally syndicated." Suzanne decided to call her show "Pieces in History" with the motto: "History Repeats." She would read what was going on in the news and compare it to events in the past. Sometimes she would commend elected officials for their bravery and their uniqueness and for solving political situations. But sometimes she would condemn them for making the same, tragic mistakes as for back as Hannibal. She was doing pretty well for someone who was no history major. "You're fired," Mr. Jenkins the station manager said. "What! I was doing good. I had a letter from a gentleman who is a retired university teacher and he said he loved my show." "Two things," Jenkins said. "Make your show more interactive." "I'll give people the number and tell them to call in." "No. As a college-educated man myself, I find your show mentally stimulating. But you receive one letter and you're on cloud nine! The bare minimum fan mail, faxes, or phone calls you have to receive to stay on the air is twenty-five a week at this station. Otherwise you're fired." "Oh." "Point number two. You live in a town of country bumpkins. No one cares if you're the smartest person in the world. This is a business, not a fun-filled hour designed to inform one retired history professor." "Well that's pretty harsh to fire me." "Well I'm sorry. I meant your show is off the air. I'll give you one more chance to create something more mainstream, cause you're bright. But if it doesn't go off well, we're going to have to boot you." "One more chance?" "You got it. And make sure that show is more interactive." Suzanne related the situation to Darby, when Martha was at the house. "Well it was unique, but it wasn't exactly a crowd drawer." "You could do a movie facts show and interview stars and go over every single movie they've been in," Martha suggested. "Well, no, it has to be interactive," said Suzanne, "and it has to make people call me and write furious letters!" "Why do you want people to write mad letters? Would that get you fired?" Martha asked. "Well apparently not. As long as they write letters it shows they're listening and that keeps the sponsors happy." "Maybe you should just have a show where they call in and tell you their problems," Darby conceded to her mother. "Well what I need is something unique and stirring like you said," Suzanne said. "You quit your administrative job because the pay was low," Darby said. "You said you’d be a waitress, because you made a lot in tips. So does radio pay more because you’re going into that field?" "Not really. Radio pays lousy, so I'll keep on at the cafe part-time. But being a talk-show host is really interesting and what I love, so I don't care about the meager pay. I just need to work." Suzanne finally decided to have a show where people called in their problems, but with a twist: you had to report back the following week to expound on the progress you were making. Jenkins loved the idea, and soon the phones were ringing off the hook. "You're a star. I knew we could work this out!" Jenkins said. "Well good, but I'm quitting." "I'd give you a raise." Jenkins sounded worried. "I don't think you could do that. One of the big networks in New York picked me up and they're offering me twice the salary." Jenkins looked dubious. But he said, "I'll match it." "I don't think so," Suzanne said. "They're letting me host 'Pieces in History' my original show for all the intellectuals around New York and Chicago where the show is broadcast. "Then, I suppose we can't match your pay for something that our sponsors can't make good on. I guess we'll have to let you go. But Suzanne couldn't move out of state, as she soon found out. Her ex-husband has as much right to custody as she had and Suzanne would have to leave Darby with Roane if she moved to New York. "If this happened only four years later," she murmured. "Darby would be free to live wherever she pleased and I wouldn't have to give her up to that jerk. And I hate to go crawling back to Jenkins for the job. She approached Jenkins the next day on what was supposed to have been her last day. “Well, I hate to move from Harrington and place Darby in another school system. I won’t move to New York if you’ll match the salary.” “I’ll match the salary if you keep up ‘Ask Suzanne’ and I’ll let you have one hour airtime to let you run ‘Pieces of History.’ You had something different going on with that and I’d hate to let you lose that.” Suzanne was ecstatic. “That’s cool. And maybe you could work something out with a network to run that in a place that would accept it better.” “We could try that,” Jenkins said. Suzanne quit her job at the café and made frequent appointments with the old college professor to discuss her upcoming shows. She received another person’s point of view and input, while she received hours of enjoyment talking about his views on historical events. Martha teased Suzanne about Dr. Caldwell, the retired guy, but she rolled her eyes. “This is merely a professional relationship. And besides, I’m dating a cute guy named Chad Church. So how are your songwriting attempts going?” “You’ll be sorry you asked,” Martha said and brought out a guitar and started playing her latest song. Suzanne was laughing. “I bet you’ve never even been to a bar!” “No, but Tori Amos used to play bars when she was thirteen and Ani DiFranco when she was nine. I’ll say I wrote songs about bars when I was fourteen.” “You need to write a serious love song,” said Darby, “and you’ll be big.” “And in the liner notes, I’ll criticize my best friend for encouraging me to sell out,” Martha said. “Since you haven’t gotten an early start like your heroes, I suppose you may not end up going anywhere. You’re really talented, but it’s all in luck getting a real recording contract,” said Darby. “That’s where you know nothing,” said Martha. “You have to work so hard. You may have to starve, or work until you drop, but that is how you make it. And you have to make good connections. That’s why I need to move to New York or Los Angeles soon. Or I’ll be like Bob Dylan and stow away on a train somewhere.” “There aren’t that many trains around the country anymore, and besides, Mr. Dylan supposedly made all those rumors up,” Suzanne said wisely. “Don’t even think about running away from home.” Chapter Five: Death and Death “Don’t tell my mom I smoke,” said Martha, pulling out a cigarette. “Don’t worry,” Darby said. She didn’t really communicate well with Mrs. Covington, and besides, she wouldn’t snitch on her best friend. “And don’t tell Jackie that I think he’s so gay.” “Well I’m sure he hears enough of that.” “And come to Elaine Burgeson’s party with me.” Darby stared at her. “I am sure that your mother has not given you permission to go.” “She actually did. But then she’s not aware of Elaine’s reputation.” “I guess not. Well, I’ve told my mom all about Elaine and I don’t think she’ll let me go. She’ll think something is fishy if I want to go.” “Well tell the truth. You want to go, because of me. Aren’t I important to you?” asked Martha who tried to make Darby feel bad, even though her priorities had placed her boyfriends over Darby countless times. “I suppose I can try.” It was the night of the party. Darby hadn’t asked Suzanne if it was OK to attend it yet. She dawdled over her homework. She had finished it an hour ago, but she was acting like she was working so hard, so her mother would feel forced to reward her by allowing her to go to that party. “Mom, there’s this party tonight that I completely forgot about.” “And this cute guy is supposed to be there, right?” Secretly, she thought that if any guys she knew were there, that would automatically disqualify them from any possible attraction she might have for them. “Not exactly. I’m just going because Martha is going.” “Peer pressure. Well, leave me a phone number.” How simple. Her mother didn’t ask for any names, just a phone number. “All right. Love you.” Darby kissed her mother’s cheek and headed for the door. “You’re not going dressed in that?” Suzanne asked, referring to Darby’s jeans and a plain t-shirt. “It’s casual!” Darby yelled on her way out. That was so easy, she thought. Elaine’s parents were gone for the weekend, so Darby was prepared for the worst: drugs, sex, booze. Upon opening the door, loud alternative music blared while wild guys were jumping in the dining room. They imitated all the moves from the latest rapper. “Darby,” Elaine’s best friend, Ruth, said flatly. “You know you weren’t invited.” Darby was about to go for the door when Ruth said, “Honey doll, I’m just kidding. Here have some punch.” Ruth floated off into the crowd. Darby knew that the punch was spiked, but she also knew that if she refused it from Ruth, she would definitely be labeled as a loser. She was thinking of how to discard of her punch, when a guy grabbed it from her. “Thanks babe,” he said, half-drunk already. “So what do you think of the party so far?” Martha asked, tapping on Darby’s shoulder. “What?” said Darby, trying to be heard above the music. Martha ignored her. “What do you think of my dress?” she asked, showing off her neon-green sequined outfit. “It’s – wild. Don’t have too much to drink now.” Martha laughed. “Don’t worry,” she said, gulping down her third punch. “You know, I don’t think this is spiked at all. I’ve had more than a few and I feel fine.” She excused herself to go to the restroom, and Darby pretty much lost track of her until the end of the night when she found Martha completely drunk. “I’m going to go home with these two older guys,” she said, declining Darby’s offer to walk home with her. “If I had known that, I would have gone home a long time ago. I guess you didn’t need me to come after all.” “Not really!” she said, guffawing. It was eleven o’clock when Darby started going home. Maybe a car passed by her, but all in all it was a pretty lonely walk. She was so tired from all the episodes of that night. It was rumored that a few people had lost their virginity. Martha had always snuck a beer her and there, but she probably had smoked some marijuana tonight. Darby wondered what was so different about herself, almost in pride. Well, it was blatant arrogance. She was not like others. She could go to a party like that and resist drugs, boys, and any naughty escapades that she might have been able to take part in. No, it was not resistance, not even temptation. She had different weaknesses, however. She was incredibly selfish. She loved to be alone from her mother, Jackie, Martha, everyone. She wondered if she would become a bitter, old, lonely woman and regret that she had not pursued more lasting relationships or started a family to take care of her. But no matter what, she didn’t care what she was in the middle of, she loved to visit her father. Sometimes he would unexpectedly have free time, and he would call her. Suzanne would roll her eyes at the thought of driving her. Sometimes, Suzanne was working on the weekends. “Pieces in History” was slotted from twelve to one each Saturday afternoon. It cut out practically the whole day, if Roane had it free. Roane couldn’t drive, because he had gotten into an accident seven years ago. He evidently had too much on his mind and could no longer be trusted behind the wheel. It was not an isolated incident. It had been his third that year. He had killed a pregnant woman. Darby didn’t know these delicate details, so she always thought her mother was exaggerating when she ridiculed Roane. She wondered how her mother could have been so attracted to her father that she had married him, but now completely despised him. It was true that he had left them to stay at the Institute, so he could get his start as a painter. They did not allow families to stay there or it would be too expensive for the upkeep of the project. So Roane had left them. She opened the door, where her mother stood, like she was about to lose her temper. “Where were you tonight?” Suzanne asked. “Your father has gone into cardiac arrest at some hospital at I don’t know where and I have been calling that bogus number you gave me for the last three hours.” Darby recalled all the prank calls that they had made that night. “Oh yeah, they disconnected the phone.” “Disconnected the phone, when that was the only way I could have contacted you? Honey where were you? I called Mrs. Covington, but apparently she and her husband are out for tonight.” So Martha probably hadn’t gotten permission from her mother, because there would have been no one to ask her where she was going. “I was at Elaine’s.” “Not Elaine Burgeson? I never figured–“ her mother said in disbelief. “Get in the car; we’re visiting your father.” The ride took a half an hour, but it seemed so long, riding in silence. “Is he conscious?” Darby asked. “I don’t know,” Suzanne said in a tone that made Darby want to keep quiet. When they got to the hospital, Roane had already died. Darby recounted her thoughts and felt even more selfish. Here she had thought that the saving grace from her being utterly selfish was that she was a loving daughter to an eccentric father no one understood or cared about, except for her. But she had been at a party that her mother didn’t have the exact details about, so she could not have spent the last moments of his existence at his bedside. Suzanne, his ex-wife, was let in the hospital room, but of course not Darby. “Stay here sweetie,” an incredibly pitiful nurse said. Under any normal circumstances, Darby would have refused to submit to a half-witted nurse. But she felt ashamed that she had gone to a party that she knew her mother would not have allowed her to attend. Several questions were in Darby’s mind, like how he had the heart attack. Was the cardiac arrest a pseudonym for an embarrassing thing that might have happened, like in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn? Did he try to commit suicide? Was there foul play involved? However, she decided that those situations were probably not likely. She called the Covingtons the next day to explain to Martha her father’s death. It always annoyed and belittled her that they changed their answering machine’s message every single day or right before they went out, so everyone would know where exactly they were. But when she called that morning, the message from the day before was still on. “Hey, this is Jamie Covington. Ben and I are out tonight and Martha is going to a youth group function.” Darby laughed at what Martha had told her parents. A youth group function? And they believed her. What if someone from the church had called? She left a brief message. Later that evening, Mrs. Covington called Suzanne. It was apparent that something was quite wrong. “I guess she had no idea that Martha was at Elaine’s – I didn’t tell her that. I guess there was a huge car wreck and Martha was in critical until about four a.m. this morning and she died. Man, and someone so young. Maybe they could publish her songs and let her memory live on.” “They were no good,” Darby said in a brutally honest manner. Suzanne avoided the obvious thing to say to her daughter. Why did you let Martha get into a car with two drunk guys? The truth was that Darby had not even been sure that they were driving home, but it would be pointless to use that excuse now. She should have escorted Martha home, kicking and screaming, but she would have probably have been intimidated even if she had tried. Chapter Six....skip to part three The only class that she and Jackie shared was chemistry. That was Darby’s love-hate class. She loved to attend the class, because the teacher, Miss Madeleine Roland, was incredibly interesting. She made everything sound so exciting. Of course Darby didn’t grasp half of the concepts, but she was proud when some things started to make sense to her. She hated the class though, because the tests were extremely hard. The hardest part was to memorize all of the elements. Miss Madeleine was brilliant, but she taught the students how to memorize the elements in such a childish way. “Fluorine, Chlorine, Bromine, and Iodine are the four pretty girls.” Darby was familiar with iodine though, and had a hard time imagining it as a pretty girl. “Germanium,” Madeleine said. “It is what they make computer chips out of. It is used to store memory. I believe that the germanium is buried in the earth and records each one of our sentences. And that is how God knows everything. He pulls up the germanium chips.” Darby laughed in delight. She had never heard anything like that before. It would be easy to remember Germanium and Krypton (she was a big Superman fan), but some of the others were not so easy to remember. Astatine, Neodymium, Hafnium, Berkelium. Maybe they had interesting stories to go along with them like Germanium did. She wondered if Miss Madeleine was a Christian. Teachers were allowed to talk about God, but not to teach the Bible or lead prayers. Several parents in the school system were trying to change this by protesting. The mid-term was all about elements up to number 103. She could keep it all pretty straight. “Turn in the back of your chemistry book,” Miss Madeleine said. “Right before we move on, I want to go over some of the other elements discovered. 104, 105, etc. Notice how there is no 108.” There was a big question mark in the box that was supposed to have been one-hundred and eight. “As of yet, element 108 has not been discovered. Maybe one of you will discover it.” Darby daydreamed. Next to her home office where she would keep her laptop for writing books would be her laboratory. It would be a simple, little side venture that would require only part of her vast curiosity. Her only goal would be to discover element 108. She would be famous. She would be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She would humbly accept the prize, being completely astounded that she had won over the missionary who had contracted malaria for their incredible devotion, and the literary artist who had inspired a new way of thinking throughout the world that encouraged non-violence. She would discover element 108. The year of eleventh grade passed by so smoothly and without noticing too much, she became a senior. Religion was now a required class according to the board. She didn’t need this to pass, because she was still with the old system, but her home room teacher just happened to be the religion teacher, so she did plenty of preaching and idealizing with them.