Monday, November 17, 2014

#148: "Rockabye" by Dave Housley


~This story was previously published in Hobart: Another Literary Journal (2011).



Episode 1:
     We see Daddy on Sundays at lunch. Sometimes Wednesdays, too, from eight until nine, if Mommy lets us watch the reruns. 
     This season it's harder to get her to let us watch. Last time, Mommy didn’t care. For awhile, she even thought it was funny. In the first episode, when Daddy came walking out with his new hair and his eyes with make-up like the TV ladies, Mommy yelled "ohmygod" and almost spilled her wine and then called Aunt Lisa and shouted into the phone so much I almost couldn't hear Daddy explaining how he was looking for his real, one and only Rockin’ Rockabye Baby and how he'd have to send one sexy lady home each week, and how this time he really wanted to find love.
    Mommy thought that was the funniest part of all.
    This year, Mommy says no way are we watching. “Why would you want to watch that?” she says.
   “It’s Daddy,” I say.
    She makes that huffy sound like she thinks something is funny but really she doesn’t. “You're not old enough to watch this stuff,” she says. 
    “Old enough like Sixx?” I say, and without trying I look toward my brother’s room.
    “I shouldn’t have let you guys watch this show last year,” she says, looking at Sixx’s door and then down at the floor.
    “It's Daddy,” I say.
     Mommy makes the funny noise again, shakes her head and lights a cigarette right in the house. But she lets me watch.
     Later that night when she thinks I’m sleeping, I can hear Mommy watching Daddy in the living room.

Episode 2:
     Daddy calls and says he can’t talk long because he’s on a media tour but not like the tours he used to go on where they were all on a bus. A media tour is you talk to a whole bunch of people in a row, he says, but you stay in one place. It makes you tired.
     “Mommy isn’t here,” I say.
     “Good,” he says. “I want to talk to you. Are you watching the show?” 
     I say yes but Mommy doesn’t like it much. Daddy says Mommy should be grateful that he had a few songs in him in the first place and especially "Rockin’ Rockabye Baby," which still brings in money and enough to buy the townhouse which is nice and a lot nicer than a tour bus or some of the places Daddy slept in between the last album and when the TV show started.
     Daddy says we should pay attention to what Mommy says anyway, even if she is a...Daddy doesn't say what Mommy is.
     “Can we come see you in California?” I say.
     Daddy says he’ll be back on tour in a few months and he’ll see us after they play Baltimore. Daddy says soon we can come visit him in California, but not now, because he’s still working some things out.
     I say I got an A on my history project. “It was a report about Ben Franklin. Ben Franklin was...”
     Daddy says he has to get going. “Sixx ain’t there, is he?”
     “Sixx is still out. Away.”
     “Gettin’ his rocks off,” Daddy says, and he laughs and sighs at the same time and I can picture him shaking his head and kind of smiling, and he doesn't sound like he’s mad at all.

Episode 3:
    “Why don’t you go play with your friends,” Mommy says. “Play outside. Not watch TV all the time. Not this show.” 
     “With who?” I say. “Outside where?”
     Mommy nods. She turns on the TV. “Okay,” she says.
 
Episode 4: 
     The girls on Daddy’s show are pretty – shiny, with little dolly clothes and lots of colors on their cheeks and red happy lips that only get sad when Daddy tells them they have to go home now. They have fancy names like Lipstick and Candy and Joey and Reb and Bikergirl, or place names like Memphis and Florida, or nice names like Sarah or Joanie or Cindy Lou.
     I sit on the couch and Mommy sits back at the kitchen table. She acts like she's reading the newspaper but she has her glasses on and every now and then she huffs or laughs or whispers “Jesus” so I can tell she's watching, at least a little bit.
     There’s one girl, Dee, who looks just like Mommy but younger, Mommy in the pictures she hides in her desk. Dee used to have brown hair and then they dye it blonde on the  fourth episode and when Daddy sees Blonde Dee he stops and makes a funny face and says “whats-a-goin’-on?” like he used to say to me when I was little, and he talks to somebody who isn’t on the TV but off to the side. “Are you – they bleep it out – me?” he says. “You know what I’m talking about? She looks just like her.”
    “Mommy!” I say.
     Mommy gets up and leaves.

Episode 5:
     On Sunday at lunch I sit down to watch the show and Mommy says we’re going to the movies.
     “I don’t want to go to the movies,” I say.
     “We’re going to the movies,” she says. Mommy looks tired. She’s been driving around looking for Sixx a lot, calling his phone, sending email and stuff. At night, sometimes she gets really sad.
     “Daddy’s on,” I say.
     “Baby,” Mommy says, “I have to go to the movies. I have to get out of here.” 
     “But Daddy.”
     Mommy looks out the window. A boy rides by on his bike and Mommy watches him go. “Ozzy, can we please?” She says. Her voice is funny and she sits down, keeps on looking out the window even though the boy is gone. The sun is shining in her eyes and she’s looking outside but not really looking at anything. There are little lines around her eyes, little hairs under her nose, soft, like the ones Sixx tried to turn into a mustache but it never worked, not yet anyway, not last time he came home to fight with Mommy. “Come on,” she says. “To the movies.”
     The red light is on. Daddy is recording.
     “Okay,” I say.

Episode 6:
     Sixx comes home right in the middle of the ceremony, when Daddy is deciding between the big girl with the funny accent or the little one with the blue hair. “I have two sexy ladies,” he says, “and only one gold record left.” He holds the record necklace thingy that he gives to the ladies he wants to stay. The camera moves to Dee. She gets the first gold record almost all the time now. Her hair is pulled back and she looks worried and she looks more like Mommy than ever.
     Sixx just walks in like he’s been here along, slaps me on the back of the head and opens up the refrigerator, drinks milk straight from the carton. He smells funny, sweet and smoky like one of Daddy’s concerts. His hair is longer and the mustache is kind of coming in. “What’s up, douchebag?” he says.
     From upstairs, Mommy yells “Who’s that.”
     Sixx gives me the look and I shut my mouth.
     “Who’s there!” Mommy yells, but it’s not a question anymore, and she runs down the stairs and hugs Sixx real long and hard. I turn the TV off even though Daddy hasn’t made his decision yet.
     Mommy pulls back. “Where the hell have you been?” she says.
     “I been around,” Sixx says. I can tell he's trying to say it cool, like Daddy, but it comes out kind of whiny, like the funny guy on the show about high school. 
     “So what are you doing,” Mommy says. “Are you dropping out of school now? Running away from home? Seriously, what are you doing?”
     “We’re starting a band,” Sixx says.
     Mommy gets real quiet. She looks like she’s thinking. “A band,” she says.
     Sixx nods.
     “A band.” She smiles, laughs, gets that look like she's not looking at anything. “Get up to your room,” she says. “You are as grounded as anybody has ever been. You are the world record in grounded.”
     “No,” Sixx says.
     “Yes.”
     “He didn’t,” Sixx says.
     “What do you mean, he didn’t?”
     “I mean him. Dad. He didn't listen to you or Grandma or anybody who wanted to crush his dreams.”
     “Oh God,” Mommy says.
     I’m wishing I kept the TV on. On TV the arguing is funny. Girls crying over Daddy, yelling at each other that they’re not really there for Daddy, getting all red in the face and funny looking and sometimes even throwing up or falling down. But here, Sixx and Mommy, isn’t funny. I push into the couch, let my stomach go flat, slip down into the cushion. I know about chameleons and I wish I could turn my whole body the same green as the couch and just slip back upstairs and see who did Daddy send home, what’s gonna happen next week.
     “I hate to tell you this, sweetheart, but you’re probably old enough to know,” Mommy says. She puts a hand on Sixx’s arm. “Your father is an asshole.” 
     Sixx nods. He opens the cupboard and takes a whole thing of cookies and a bag of pretzels. He walks out the front door and a car starts up and they drive off.
     "Daddy's a what?" I say. I don't want to cry but I can feel it starting up.
     Mommy picks up the phone and then she puts it back down again. “Shit,” she says.

Episode 7:
    I get sick for a whole week, a week I stay in bed. I’m hot and then cold and then sitting on the toilet. Mommy takes my temperature and calls the doctor and has to stay home from work. Mommy says it’s okay baby. She sings the slow song from Daddy’s first album and it sounds even better than Daddy. Her voice is scratchy and sad like I feel and I wonder if Sixx is ever going to come home again and I don’t even think about who Daddy chose and if they made Dee look even more like Mommy.

Episode 8:
    Today, for the first time, one of the girls has a sleepover with Daddy. It’s not Dee, but the other one Daddy likes, the one who wears her bathing suit all day and likes to climb onto Daddy and kiss him at dinner. She leaves Daddy’s room wrapped in a blanket and the rest of the girls call her names.
     Mommy takes the big picture of Daddy and the band and their first gold record, the one for Rockin’ Rockabye Baby, off the kitchen wall and puts it in the closet. “Too much,” she says. “Too much.”
     The next day when I go downstairs to eat my cereal, it's back up again.

Episode 9:
     Sixx hasn’t been home since Daddy picked the girl with the blue hair instead of the big one with the funny accent. Mommy says he’s going to wind up in jail. Mommy says Sixx is a chip off the old block, then she makes that funny-not-funny sound and pours more wine.
     Daddy calls and talks to me on the speakerphone. Mommy tells him I have to go. Daddy asks if Sixx is still getting his rocks off. Mommy says Sixx is just a kid and it’s not funny. Daddy says a chip off the old block.

Episode 10:
      Daddy makes the girls play basketball and they’re all terrible at it except the girl named Dee, the one who looks like Mommy. Dee scores all the points and goes on a date with Daddy. She gets the logo for his band tattooed on the back of her neck.
     Mommy can’t believe this. She has three glasses of wine and two cigarettes, right in the house. She calls Aunt Lisa on the phone. “Are you watching this?” She says. “Turn on VH1. He’s on there. No, no,” she says. “This chick. I Know! Wait, wait. Look at what she’s doing!”
     I hear Aunt Lisa laughing through the phone, all the way from Philadelphia.
     “Hey, I might have these two,” Mommy says, and she looks at the phone but I know she's talking about me and Sixx, “but at least I never did that.”

Episode 11:
      There are only three ladies left on Daddy’s show and he spends most of the time going out on dates with each one. Mommy sits down with a glass of wine and a cigarette. She watches Daddy and the little girl with the blue hair dancing. Daddy spins her and then does a little jig thing that he does on stage sometimes.
     “He always was a good dancer, your father,” Mommy says.
     “Really?” I say. She hasn’t talked about Daddy like this for a long time. She nods, sips her wine.
     Daddy kisses the blue haired girl and Mommy sighs. “How old do you think she is?” she says. She picks up the phone and I know she’s dialing Aunt Lisa’s number.
     “Maybe as old as you?” I say.
     “You think that’s how old I am?” Mommy says.
     “But not as pretty as you,” I say.
     She puts the phone down. "You’re a good boy," she says.

Episode 12:
     I get pulled out of school on Friday and Mommy is waiting in the office. She doesn’t say anything, just starts walking real fast, and I follow. We drive to the hospital and pick up Sixx, who they wheel out in a wheelchair but he isn’t even joking around about it, just kind of looking off to the side like he’s embarrassed. “Hey douchebag,” I say, and Mommy punches me in the arm. Sixx doesn’t even say a comeback.
     He stays in his room for two days. Mommy goes in and comes out. Daddy calls and just talks to Mommy, talks to Sixx, but not me. I want to ask him who he’s going to choose for his final Rockabye Baby. I want to say I was sick but I'm better now. But I know now isn’t the time.
     Finally, Sixx comes out on Sunday lunch and he heats up some soup, sits down on the couch. They cut his hair and shaved his almost mustache and he looks like Sixx again, just normal Sixx who used to play Risk and fantasy football and travel team soccer.
     “How’s this been?” he says.
     “There’s a lady who looks just like Mommy,” I say. “Daddy might choose her.”
     “That, I doubt,” he says.
     We watch Daddy on his dates and we eat soup. “He told me who he picks,” Sixx says. I look at him quick and he smiles. “Nah, he didn’t,” he says. I’m not so sure, but I sit back and try not to think about Daddy telling Sixx who his Rockabye Baby is when he didn’t even want to talk to me.
     Mommy comes downstairs and makes a cup of tea for her and one for Sixx. She makes me hot chocolate and we all watch Daddy and the two girls. Daddy is wearing a tie and a t-shirt, with messy jeans and a top hat. His hair is long and yellow and Mommy shakes her head and sighs.
     They show a close up of Dee. “Oh my god,” Sixx says. “Mom, that girl looks just like you when you…”
     “I know,” she says. “Let's hope he doesn't make the same mistake twice, right?”
     They both laugh and I look at them to see what was funny but they just watch the show and it feels nice to be sitting there with Sixx and Mommy again and even if I'm not sure what they're talking about, at least Sixx is here and they're not yelling.
     We all sit there for a minute while Daddy hands the last gold record to the other girl, the one with the blue hair. “Will you be my rockabye baby?” he says, and he’s crying a little bit. The blue girl cries, too, and nods and nods and nods. Daddy hugs her and they both cry while the other girl, the one who looks like Mommy, starts yelling at everybody.
    She starts slow, then gets a little louder, then she gets really mad and they have to bleep out most of what she's saying and what everybody is saying back to her. She throws something and something breaks. Daddy is backing up. His hair comes off with his top hat and then he looks like Daddy used to and I say “Daddy!” and he grabs his hair and puts it back on again and pulls the blue hair girl back and back and they trip over stuff and Dee keeps on yelling.
     Mommy is laughing and Sixx is yelling “go go go.” The screen goes black and we can hear more stuff crashing, Mommy and Sixx are both laughing and I am too and I don’t know why, and when the show stops we all keep on doing it for a long time.

*****
THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY

Discerning and right-thinking readers will recognize the television show in this story, and the rocker at its heart, as the VH1 show Rock of Love starring ex-Poison frontman Bret Michaels. For those who did not have the pleasure, I’ll summarize: Rock of Love was a very low-rent version of The Bachelor, featuring a 45 year old washed up hair metal rocker (who may very well have had a wig stapled into his cowboy hat) “finding love” by getting absolutely wasted with a group of mean strippers, oddballs, and mercenary would-be reality television stars.  I was a huge fan of that show and it’s ridiculous and I think (Maybe? Kind of?) honest blend of cornball romance and alcohol-soaked chicanery.  
     One thing I loved is that right in the middle of all the drinking and fighting and normal reality dating stuff (“I just don’t think she’s really here for Bret!”), there would be these moments when he would pair off with one of the women and they'd bond over their children. I mean, these people are acting like they're 20, dressed like they just put on their children’s clothes, drank a bottle of vodka, and wandered some rented mansion, and they’re having this really rather touching conversation about parenting and how much they miss and love their kids.
     That moment, of course, was ridiculous. It was like somebody spliced a moment from Parenthood into a Spring Break special. But the thing I always wondered was: what must that be like for the kids? You’re watching your father get wasted with all of these young women, not acting like anybody’s father, and every now and then he kind of hits the pause button and ruminates about how much he loves you. Perhaps only to speed up the process of getting laid, but still. There are other people involved in that equation, too: what about the mother of those children, who is presumably closer to Bret’s 45 than his companion’s likely 25? This story is an attempt to look at what something like Rock of Love might be like from those other sides.
     The story has a little bit of a backstory, too, and since it’s never going to win a Best American, and this is my one chance to tell that story, I’ll tell it now. Rockabye was rejected 40 times before being accepted by Hobart, so this is the one I always talk about if I’m on a panel and somebody asks about rejection, or if I’m leading a workshop and the topic of submitting to journals comes up. Strangely, Hobart Editor Aaron Burch had actually read it two years earlier (long story short: I had given a copy to Dan Wickett of Dzanc, the book’s publisher – another long story – because we had been talking about Rock of Love, and Dan had handed it off to Aaron’s wife Elizabeth Ellen, who in turn passed it on to Aaron). When I was writing the story, Hobart was the market I was thinking about, but when I finally finished, they were reading for a themed issue and the story didn’t fit. I submitted to other places, got rejected, submitted to more places. Hobart closed for submissions. I revised a little, cut a little, submitted some more. I got the “good rejection” again and again. Hobart read for another themed issue. I continued to submit to other places, working through my list. You see where this is going .Eventually, after the story was rejected by 40 other outlets, Hobart finally opened up for general submissions. I submitted and Aaron emailed an acceptance fairly soon after with a note that said something like, “I was wondering if you were ever going to send this to us.”

*****
ABOUT DAVE HOUSLEY     


“Rockabye” is included in Dave Housley's third collection of short fiction, If I Knew the Way, I Would Take You Home (Dzanc Books, January 2015). He is the author of Commercial Fiction (Outpost 19), and Ryan Seacrest is Famous (Impetus Press, Dzanc Books eBook rEprint). He is one of the founding editors of Barrelhouse magazine, and a co-founder of the Conversations and Connections writer’s conference. Sometimes he drinks boxed wine and tweets about the things on his television at @housleydave.


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