Abbott, Costello, and the Island of Cancer Sticks

Submitted into Contest #140 in response to: Start your story with the narrator or a character saying “I remember…”... view prompt


Middle School Creative Nonfiction Coming of Age

I remember sitting in the smallest room of Wal-Mart.

“Why wouldn’t he look at me?” I growled in my head.

Oh well. I guessed I deserved it. I peeled the skin around my thumbnail and a dribble of blood started to pool in the corner of my finger. I had nothing to wipe it with, so I quickly wiped it on my pants. My twelve-year-old stepbrother Will had barely made a sound since we got there. He just looked down at the table with his hand overlapping his face and tiny brown curls. My Mom had left me with my Dad months earlier, now I was probably going to lose Will.  

“Were we the first sixth graders to get kicked out of the DARE program? Wouldn’t it make more sense to keep us in the program and educate us further on the harm of drugs? Was Tobacco even considered a drug? Would Ruff McGruff the DARE crime-solving dog be ashamed if he saw me?” I pondered these anxious thoughts as we waited.

“You’re off the team!” my Dad had snarled a day earlier. A plug was pulled in my chest and my blood drained. Monday and Wednesday practices just rewarded me a tiny yet hopeful victory of finally intercepting the burnt orange ball that helped our team score a point. Now, it was over. My Dad also made me quit my clarinet lessons just as we were learning my favorite suite from Star Wars. Who made their child quit hobbies as a punishment? It felt counter-intuitive, but Dad said he was always right. His method was not questioned further.

I wanted my Dad to understand why but I knew my truth would not get past the all-knowing wizard curtain he stood behind. My Dad did not listen when I begged him to let me call my mom. He just said with the emotion of a robotic assassin, “No. You need some time apart to get used to this.” He did not hear me then, nor would he later.

That same year Saturday Night Live was starting to become the showcase of heroes that I needed. Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri chanted about abstaining from sex in faux cheerleader suits whilst being rejected from their school crushes. That was as relatable as it could get for a friendless eleven-year-old such as myself. I wanted to be just like them when I grew up. I wanted to live in an apartment in New York and work my shy little ass off to make people laugh until I made it to the Rainbow Room of NBC studios. I was not good at a lot but the one thing I could do was make people laugh. It was the way I got people to look at me.

 “I want to be a comedian when I grow up!” I naively exclaimed. I had no idea that in that moment I was a sea turtle diving into a net.

My father spewed his tar-like truth, “I don’t think that’s a good idea. You can’t have a family and be a comedian at the same time. You would be miserable.” I did want a family. I guessed he was right.

Sixth grade was the year of lonely desperation in a new school. When I passed the girls in my music class, they plugged their nose in disgust. Even though I thought there were slim pickings for friend candidates at my new school, I wanted to be their comrades. Will was the only friend I had. At home, we were Abbot and Costello, an inseparable duo. At school, he laughed at me with his friends when I asked them if I could sit at their lunch table. I pretended to have lunch detention every day, just so I would not have to sit alone in the cafeteria.

This was the event to get me noticed. Heather: the rebellious and brave, cigarette owning, wonder. If Chet Prailey had not smacked the white and gold pack of Marlboro Lights out of my hand and onto the floor, this would have never happened. I should have known he would tell on me. After all, his father was Pearl Sample elementary school’s personal police hall monitor. Next thing I knew, I was in the principal’s office ratting out my stepbrother and telling the story of us stealing from the island of cancer sticks near the checkout of Culpeper’s infamous Wal-Mart Supercenter. I do not know why I took him down with the sinking ship, maybe if he just let me sit next to him with his friends.

Chet blabbed on me, I blabbed on Will, Dad blabbed on us to Wal-Mart security. Alas, here we were. Past the mysterious double doors in the back of the building near the dairy section, in the freakishly small white room, with one lone brown card table and two chairs. It was as if Wal-Mart built this room for us. We sat across from each other in silence as awkward as my suburban cat Zorro learning how to hunt in our new country home.

The door ruptured open and in came a thick country accent disguised as a Wal-Mart security guard. He stomped around the tiny room. Sweat dribbled down the side of his face and he looked as uneasy as one might get if they needed to use the bathroom in a traffic jam. “I’m gonna let y’all off with a warning. Now stealing means jail. It isn’t a fun time.” He then reached his hand in a bright orange bag and crunched a Cheeto as he exited the room slamming the door behind him.

Less than one second of awkward silence later: “Wait, was that it?” I asked.

Will finally looked at me and we busted into shrieking laughter. We were Abbot and Costello again.

"I'm sorry I ratted you out," I told him.

"It's okay. I'm sorry I'm so mean to you at school. You're a better friend than my friends."

Will still didn't let me sit with him at lunch, but I managed to impress the league of brunettes in my class enough to snag a spot at their table. The only thing I tried to steal after this lesson was laughs. I know Ruff McGruff would have been proud.  

April 07, 2022 20:32

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01:53 Apr 14, 2022

Ruff McGruff now has COPD.


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Sean Wells
01:41 Apr 14, 2022

I genuinely love the phrase "all knowing wizard curtain" in this context


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Jacob Ross
20:49 Apr 13, 2022

I could be wrong, but I think Chet Prailey was encouraging you to choose something both rich and full of flavor. Lucky Strikes or Pall Malls perhaps. Either way, no good stories come from following the rules. Thanks for the read!


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Lisa Lynn
19:59 Apr 13, 2022

An insightful, heartfelt economy of words. A pleasure to read!


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Bren Ward
18:40 Apr 13, 2022

Now I understand you better and your desire to become an Comedian!! Knowing aspects of your past as well, I am impressed with who you have become and are becoming. Good luck as you continue to walk forward with the energy to bring joy and fresh insight to those who can relate to your past as well as the fulfilling of the dreams and goals we each have sweetie...


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Rosemarie Harper
17:11 Apr 13, 2022

I want to give you a big hug for your childhood. I loved your story.


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Dragos Marcean
06:42 Apr 14, 2022

It's an interesting story. Pretty nice pasing. The protagonist has the prerequisites of a comedian: rough childhood, family problems. Good luck to him. What I didn't like is the ending. I don't think that 11-12 year old have that level of maturity to apologize to each-other so easily, nor to forgive so easily. Thanks for sharing and keep writing. Good luck!


Heather Winslow
12:21 Apr 14, 2022

Hey Dracos! Thank you for the feedback! I truly appreciate it. This is a memoir written by a girl whose family talked about everything. I can attest that it happened because it was me. I actually apologized like a zillion times before that too because he was literally my only friend at the time.


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