Status: On hiatus currently but will be coming back.

Ano Ne

March 11, 2011

The slightly charred smell of toast on the cusp of burning wafted into the computer room, smoked up his nose, and prickled behind Billie Joe’s eyes. He yawned, too exhausted to register the significance of this, and pulled his bathrobe around him tighter. “Adrienne!” he called, not breaking his line of vision away from the steady blue of the desktop monitor. “This computer is too fucking slow! We should look into getting a new one!”

All he wanted to do was check his email, he grumbled to himself. Merely a week or so before Awesome as Fuck’s release, Billie Joe was doing what he always did before a record dropped: obsess over potential problems. Every morning it seemed like the routine he’d created to put his mind at ease suffered more and more of a delay at the hands of this machine, and every morning he could swear his breakfast got that much crispier.

Someone yelled for him, but it wasn’t his wife about to deliver him from the torture of outdated technology. “Dad! Your toast is like black!”

Billie Joe sprang up, forgetting the computer, and rushed to the kitchen. “Ah, shit,” he muttered, a sacrificial finger sliding the scorched slab of carbon towards the plate in front of the toaster oven—one throbbing centimeter at a time. Once it had safely landed with a final scrape, Billie Joe turned around and eyed his two sons sitting at the table, each absorbed in their own activities. “I’d like to know why neither of you rescued this poor excuse of a piece of toast for me,” he said, tiredly.

His eldest son, Joey, barely looked up from the sheet of paper he was studying, and, shoveling cereal into his mouth haphazardly, he replied, “Oh come on, Dad, don’t get your panties in a bunch. It’s only toast.”

Billie Joe sighed, defeated, and looked down at his deformed breakfast in both pity and self-pity. He needed to stop waking up this early. After slathering jam onto his toast in the hopes of masking some of the taste, he pulled out a chair and joined his boys. Slouching forward over the table, his eyelids drifted lazily back down to the only place where they belonged, as far as he was concerned.

“You look like I feel whenever Mr. Fogel mentions that chemistry conference he got invited to sixty years ago.” Another line from the sixteen-year-old, this one interwoven with sympathy.

Billie Joe’s eyes flickered open and he lifted his toast mechanically to his mouth, where his tongue shrank back in apprehension. Following the initial shock, it was really the crunch, as loud as shattering glass, that bothered him. “Yeah. I think today’s a coffee day.” He’d been trying to get off the stuff of late, but it kept calling him back. “Hey Jake,” he said, getting up to brew some, “what did I tell you about playing with that thing during meals? You’re gonna spill milk on it, not to mention it’s slowing you down. Do you think your brother’s going to drive you to school when he gets his license if you can’t hurry your ass up? Look, he’s done already.”

Sure enough, Joey was running his bowl under water in the sink while Jakob’s face was glued to the screen of his Nintendo DS, the flakes of his cereal turning into irreversible mush. “I’m in a boss fight,” he explained simply, unaware that to Billie Joe, an adult, this meant nothing.

Billie Joe fitted a new filter to the coffeemaker. “Yeah, well, if you don’t shut it off I’m gonna sic the momfia on you,” he threatened lightly.

Joey snickered as he dropped his rinsed spoon into the dishwasher’s silverware basket. “I think it might work better if you went dadkuza on the kid, since he watches so much of that Japanese anime crap.”

The DS clunked down on the table, momentarily forgotten. “Hey! Take it back! In a couple of months I’ll be a teenager like you! And Bleach isn’t crap! Maybe if you actually watched it instead of walking past the TV acting all high and mighty because you’re older and judging everything that’s not cool enough for you you’d see!” Jakob fumed, ears reddening under his dark hair.

Generally unable to mediate burgeoning fights very well in the morning, Billie Joe wondered what was holding his wife up from intervening for him. Long shower today? He winced, knowing he’d have to wing it. “Joey, Jake’s right, we could use a little less judgment in this house. You had your Power Rangers phase too.”

“Dad!” Joey cried, indignant. “That is definitely not the same at all! I’m going out to the bus stop, I can’t handle this family right now,” he huffed. He grabbed his backpack off his chair and slung it over his shoulder before throwing his weight into the front door on his way out. Mixed in with the slam was the phrase “—can’t take a joke—,” the words merging with the anger of the door.

Jakob made a show out of rolling his eyes, DS back under deftly working thumbs. “Pfft, teenagers.”

A gurgle escaped from the coffeemaker, and Billie Joe leaned the small of his back into the counter’s edge wearily. He nodded. “Teenagers is right, my man.”

A soft rustle and the scent of coconuts alerted Billie Joe to the presence of his wife. Adrienne stood half in the kitchen, her head dipped to the right to make way for the glistening cascade of her ebony hair to fall straight over her breast. She ran her fingers through it before gathering it up into a messy bun, all the while surveying the scene with some interest. “Why all this talk about teenagers and door slamming?” she asked, trying in vain to hide the touch of schadenfreude she felt at the sight of her husband grizzled and looking like he had pulled about five all-nighters.

“Oh, you know, just Joey provoking this little monster,” Billie Joe indicated with an empty mug. Jakob wrinkled his nose at his father’s description. “I told him it was unnecessary and he got pissed, as usual.”

A tinkling laugh escaped her mouth. “I wonder where he gets it from,” she mused, and walked over to the overhead cabinet where they stored the coffee cups to fetch one of her own. “Thanks for making coffee, hon.” She pecked him on the mouth in gratitude.

“Whoa, whoa,” he warned, hands up, “careful, babe. My mouth tastes like a fireplace; I burnt my toast.” He shot a thinly veiled glare at his youngest, whom he still thought bore some of the blame for the incident, but Jakob wasn’t paying him any attention.

Adrienne gasped. “Oh no!” she exclaimed, mocking her husband’s serious tone. “I do like my marshmallows cooked a little extra, I wonder...” She pulled him closer by the lapels of his bathrobe and pressed her lips to his in as searing a kiss as possible before the kids had completely left for school.

Now Jakob lifted his head. “You guys are gross,” he stated, matter-of-fact, the prudish nature of youth turning up its nose at their affection.

“Nobody asked you, squirt. Shouldn’t you be outta here by now?” Billie Joe glanced at the oven clock, saw the damning 6:59, and all but shooed his son out the door. “Go go go! The bus is gonna show up any minute, and I refuse to drive you to school today!” he cheered him on frantically. The thought of going anywhere but back to bed spooked him badly, and when Jakob protested about his unfinished cereal, Billie Joe wasn’t having any of it. “It’s your own fault you decided to play games instead of eating, bud. Use the money you got from weeding Mrs. Olson’s yard the other day to buy your own breakfast if you’re not gonna eat what we give you. Now get going!”

And the second kid that morning walked, grouchy, through the front door. Depending on how you looked at it, Billie Joe had either struck out or pitched a perfect game.

Hovering over the bowl Jakob had left on the table, Adrienne turned towards Billie Joe thoughtfully. “Did you really send both of them out of the house without brushing their teeth?”

“Yeah…I guess.” He ruffled the back of his hair sheepishly.

“That should spare us the drama of girlfriends for another year or so at least,” she joked, and then grimaced, focused on the cereal again. “Will you read the newspaper to me if I martyr myself on this slop?”

Billie Joe craned his neck to get a better look at it as she sat down to take her son’s place. What he saw resembled not the Bran Flakes of its origin, but tawny leaves in the very latest stages of decomposition. “I don’t know why you bother,” he commented, seating himself in the chair next to hers. She chose not to provide him with an answer, and he reached for the paper to honor her last request.

He slipped off the rubber band, and the cylinder unfurled into the LA Times. He was about to mindlessly read out the biggest headline when his eyes were arrested by the photo that accompanied it. It was nothing special in terms of photography, certainly nothing iconic. Certainly no man standing off against a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square, no burning monk of Saigon, no vulture encroaching on the emaciated body of a child. But the image, showing a cluster of roofs amid swirls of debris, flames, and plumes of smoke—the folly of the Pacific Ocean—, stirred something in his heart, or in his mind, or perhaps in the place where he kept his apathy.

“Shit, Adie. There was an 8.9 earthquake in Japan today.”

His hands trembled as he read on.
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