Palo Alto Weekly 22nd Annual Short Story
Third Place Young Adult
by Sara Reihani
Norman had arranged the pillows on his couch in such a manner than when he lay down on them, his body formed a slope with his head at the lowest point. He hoped that the increased flow of blood to his brain would boost his creativity. He settled in, took a deep breath and started reviewing the cast of characters in his mind. Two men and two women… the nuclear family, so to speak. Were they enough? Only the father had a name yet. There were some vague ideas regarding ancestral background, but… Norman’s head began to ache. He sat up.
“So what’s my name?” demanded the young man who stood behind the coffee table.
“I don’t know yet,” Norman sighed, gazing despondently at the boy’s baggy Yankees shirt. “Whenever I try to figure it out, all that springs to mind is jock shit. Biff and Moose and Doug.”
“Doug’s not that bad.”
“I knew a guy named Doug once,” Norman explained. He massaged his forehead with three fingers, then arranged them beneath his chin in a classic pose of intense contemplation. It made him look rather distinguished. He held the pose as he turned to the woman now sitting on the arm of the couch beside him.
“I’m not very realistic, you know,” she reprimanded him.
“Of course you are, Daisy. You’re introspective and funny and a hypochondriac. You teach the fourth grade and call your mother every Tuesday evening. You hate eggs and yoga, your nose is slightly crooked, you take acting classes…need I go on?”
“Basically, I’m your ex-girlfriend Violet,” Daisy huffed. “Really, is it a stupid homage to Fitzgerald, or are you just too unoriginal to think up a more creative name?”
“Shut up,” said Norman, suddenly struck with a brainwave. “You are Kenneth!” he cried, pointing to Kenneth.
“What a faggoty name,” protested Kenneth.
It was perfect, Norman thought. A macho, homophobic closet case.
“Yeah, that’s not cliché at all,” scoffed Daisy.
“Shut up,” said Norman. “Should he have a girlfriend named Barbie, or would that be too much pomo self-conscious irony?”
“Uh, yeah, why don’t you make her a blonde, bitchy cheerleader? I mean, while we’re being formulaic.”
Norman gritted his teeth.
“Anyway,” Daisy continued, “this is not the number one priority right now. I mean, look at my poor mother.” She motioned to the woman sitting at the dining table.
“What’s going on?” the woman asked, sounding lost. She pulled a pack of Marlboros from her coat pocket and lit up, staring into the distance vacantly.
Norman thought hard. “You’re going through menopause.”
“Because you never finished…no, you never really took advantage of your talent…as a painter. We’ll come back to that. First things first, what is your name? Let’s make it Claire.”
“You can’t be serious,” Claire drawled, exhaling through her nostrils.
“I am serious…and don’t call me Shirley,” Norman giggled. She stared at him and he jumped up. “Fine – if you don’t want Claire, then your name will be Shirley.”
“I couldn’t possibly think of anything stupider,” she spat. “Shirleys don’t smoke.”
“They do now.”
“Come on, Mom,” Daisy said soothingly. “Like, really, what’s in a name? A rose by any other name, and all that.”
“Names are important,” Norman said defensively. “Names are what killed Romeo and Juliet.”
“It was the poison that killed them,” Daisy objected, “and a dagger.”
“Don’t be so fucking literal.”
“Sorry…I can’t help it.”
“Oh God,” Norman moaned, his mind reeling with puns. He sank back onto the couch, this time with his feet at the lowest point.
“Get your shoes off the couch,” commanded a deep voice. “And Shirley, put that foul thing out!”
Norman leapt off the couch, relieved. Thank goodness for William! A real classic patriarch, Will was; man of the house, breadwinner, straight-laced, old-fashioned. A nice foil for the kids, and full of his own little insecurities, of course…but what were those, exactly?
“Sir,” he asked cautiously, “were you ever in the Army?”
“’Course I was in the Army!” boomed William.
“Good, good…” Norman mumbled, scribbling furiously. “And your son is gay…”
“My son is WHAT?!?”
“This is shite,” Daisy muttered from the couch. Norman looked back at her, confused.
“What are you, Scottish now?”
She gazed at him seductively from beneath shiny purple eyeshadow, which had definitely not been there before. “I can be whatever you want me to be, Norman,” she said breathily, beginning to unbutton her blouse.
“No! Stop! Go away!” Norman screamed, running into the kitchen. He tore open the refrigerator and began glugging vodka from the bottle. Daisy appeared in the doorway, waving silken scarves and bellydancing awkwardly to trance music he had once heard at an underground rave in Oakland. The scarves turned to glowsticks, and Norman flattened himself against the oven as she drew closer and closer, flashing in the nauseating strobe light. Over her shoulder he could see Kenneth doing one-armed pushups as William cracked a bullwhip and Shirley, sobbing hormonally, set the curtains on fire with her cigarette. He swallowed another mouthful of Grey Goose; his throat burned anaphorically…burned like the Olympic torch, burned like his eternal love for Violet, burned like the polyester curtains…
“Please leave me alone,” he whimpered as Daisy descended. Her eyes widened assonantly, and the last thing he sensed before oblivion was the floor widening, Cyrillic characters fluttering through the air, the music dying, and a terrible silence.