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Coming of Age Contemporary

He said a platypus with velvet wings told him to drive the train through Portland. He said the wooly scarf with ugly stitching he had worn told him to drive it through the tumbledown doughnut shop.

He now sits in a white room with fluffy walls and liquid food. Mama takes me to see him on the first day of every month at 9:02am. She likes to call him ‘poor Cody,’ but I like to call him ‘crazy uncle’ because he likes to pick his nose with his big toe like me. Mama tells me not to laugh when he does that, though, because it’s something he can’t control. I never know what she means by that.

The first day was extremely cold, and Mama told me to be careful, zipping my winter coat up to my neck. I wanted to tell her it’d be very hard to be careful when I couldn’t breathe, but I knew she’d say to ‘tough it out’ in her warrior voice.

Guards in bullet-proof vests and painted women in sleek suits told me Cody Hughes is a dangerous man, that it was a good thing he was locked away forever. A pale lady with no sense of humor got on one knee to tell me I should better wait outside and away from my crazy uncle in their safe presence. According to her, my crazy uncle could throw my ‘under average, small-fry’ body into a wall if he wanted to. And that wasn’t good.

What the lady who crouched down on one knee to look me in the eye didn’t know was that I was almost four and a half feet tall, and that I wasn’t an under average small-fry. I was eight.

Mama gave the pale lady a firm ‘no’ in her unapologetic voice and pulled my coat so I would follow her down the padded, white halls. Once we had walked far away enough from the guards with handcuffs in their belts but close enough so the mean women could hear us, Mama stopped and pinched me on the neck so I’d do the same. Then, she told the pale lady on one knee that ‘Cody’s not like that. He’ll never be like that.’ Then we walked away.

The first thing my crazy uncle said after Mama and I entered the white room with fluffy walls was ‘how were the kids.’ Even I knew my crazy uncle had no kids.

We had to sit in white foldable chairs in front of my crazy uncle’s bolted-down chair with the leather straps. Chairs aren’t supposed to have leather straps. The guards told Mama to take off her watch and diamond earrings. Mama put on her warrior face and sniffed in the sanitized air as the guard dropped her watch and earrings in a plastic bag, giving us a black marker in return. Mama let me write our names on the bag since my handwriting was the third-best in our class, aside from Ruth Moynihan and Nayeli Zamora. I curled the y at the end of my name twice to give it a signature look.

“Fetch.” A rather ugly guard threw a rubber ball at my crazy uncle. He let the ball hit his knee and bounce on the floor, rolling until there was nothing left for it to do.

“I hate those balls. How are the kids?” He asked again, almost sneering.

Mama took in a deep sigh and placed her hands on her knees, “Just fine.” She used her hand to straighten my already combed hair which was my practiced signal not to say anything.

Mama and my crazy uncle talked about his fake kids--Jaime, Peeta and Lars--for the rest of our time there. A red light attached to the ceiling blared its neon glow after an hour, and the guard who threw the ball at my crazy uncle instructed us to leave. ‘Cody Hughes might lose his marbles,’ the slick-haired man cooed at me like I was seven.

On the second day of the second month, Mama only zipped my winter sweater up to my chest, only half-bothering to give me a warrior face. The guards with handcuffs in their belts made us go through the metal detector twice like my curly y and made Mama put her hands in the air like they did last time. They asked her for her watch and diamond earrings again. And again, she took them off even though you could tell she didn’t want to take them off.

My crazy uncle waved his hand at us when we walked in, but the guard must’ve thought he was doing something wrong because he pushed a button that made my crazy uncle’s hands jolt a little in the chair with the leather straps. The misinformed guard went into a little room with large windows behind our white room with fluffy walls after throwing another rubber ball at my crazy uncle.

“Snigglebutts.” My crazy uncle scolded after the ball hit his ear, falling on the floor like it did last month.

Just then, my crazy uncle directed his even crazier gaze towards me. The pupils of his eyes stayed forcefully fastened to the center, wiggling to get out of their solitary spot inside his yellowing irises.

“Who are you?” His hands riveted up and down in their leather straps from excitement. My eyes widened, but I decided to answer his question like Mama had said to do.

“I’m not a snigglebutt. I’m Jeffery.”

“Can I call you Jeff?”

“No.”

Mama gave me glare that meant I hadn’t said enough. I looked at my crazy uncle who was looking at me expectantly and continued on, “Because there’s this kid in my class who’s real name is just Jeff, and I don’t like him at all.” Mama looked at me again with her glaring face. “So, you have to call me Jeffery,” I finally ended, and Mama finally gave up her glaring stare.

My crazy uncle made a whirring sound with his mouth like a motorcycle on the highway, going back to making regular sounds after a few minutes. “Cool. I’m C-Cody,” he said leaning forward, his pupils escaping into opposite directions.

I had gotten into a fight with either Jeff D. or Jeff H. at the end of February, so Mama put a weird cream on my face to make it look normal again. She let me switch to my Ninja Turtles jacket, and I only had to wear a long sleeve when we drove to the big building with the guards.

At the entrance, there was a big line of other families with mamas and papas and tall kids and little kids balling their fists and talking to each other with happy faces plastered over their nervous faces. Mama put on her warrior face and told me to wait. ‘We’ll still get to be with poor Cody, anyway,’ she said.

The guards with bullet-proof vests and painted ladies in sleek suits started to talk to each other, pointing their fingers towards a girl with curly, black hair in front of us.

“You can’t come in. Your skirt’s too short.” One of the guards confronted the girl who seemed startled to find out there was a dress code. “What are you in, high school? You should know not to wear those kinds of clothes when you’re around these psychopaths.” He spit the last word out as if it were illegal.

The girl opened her mouth to say something but immediately closed it after hearing the guard tell what I assumed was her papa about there being a clothing store nearby. I thought about the one he must’ve meant: the one by the last spotlight at the front of the road that led here, and how it was sixteen songs and a radio commercial away.

My crazy uncle asked for a story when we came in, so Mama told him what had happened earlier.

“Snigglebutts,” he said again.

The word had rang through my head for the remainder of the day and during schooltime the next week. Jeff H. hit me again at recess on precisely March 27th, noon-ish o’ clock. I remembered this time because H is for Hit.

On April’s Fools Day, Mama let me do something silly by making a big ketchup stain on my Ninja Turtles jacket. Then she frowned, let her unhappy face slip through, and handed me a regular blue sweater. I had to remind her we were going to the white room with fluffy walls, not the trailer park with scowling cats where my crazy uncle used to live.

“Jeffy!” Thrilled but wrong, my crazy uncle called out before either of us were seated. Two of the guards with delightful frowns rushed to get my crazy uncle in his bolted-down chair with the leather straps. ‘Lunatics,’ they both said to each other before sitting in their little room with large windows.

“Wanna hear the story about the platypus with velvet wings?” My crazy uncle had ignored them as soon as they had left.

“And the wooly scarf with ugly stitching?” I said, remembering part of his story from the last time we heard it in spite of the sinister guards.

The corners of my crazy uncle’s eyes wrinkled together, forming an eager smile at the bottom of his face as he started the tale in the same way he always did. Mama held my hand a couple of times during the story like she always did, straightening my already combed hair when she didn’t want me to say anything.

In May, my crazy uncle caught on to what she and I were doing and asked me to say what was on my mind.

“Don’t do that, C-Clara, or else he won’t have any hair left.” He said in the middle of his own conversation, lowering his head towards Mama to say the next part. “And he already seems to be going through the balding stage,” my crazy uncle said behind his right hand as if it were an impenetrable barrier. I looked for the clean hand coming to tangle my hair, but when nothing came I spoke up.

“Hey! I heard that, crazy uncle!” My eyebrows lowered, and I crossed my arms as he turned his not-bald head to look at me.

“Jeffery, don’t say that. If you do, you’re just as good as those guards or the receptionist lady.” Mama spoke to me in a tone that made me feel six, five even. For her information, I was eight years old, almost nine.

“I don’t mind him calling me that. Crazy is a word used in more appreciative terms than it is in derogatory, and the term uncle would be appropriate in this situation considering you’re my sister and he’s your son.” My crazy uncle stated blankly as Mama stared at him just as blankly with her grammatically confused face.

“But Cody--” Mama began in her awe-inspiring voice.

“Okay, crazy uncle!” I tried to say cheerfully after enduring the awkward silence between Mama and my crazy uncle. It didn’t change much, so Mama changed the subject by bringing up my crazy uncle’s fake Jamie and fake Peeta’s fight at fake home.

June, July and August went by like all summer months do: slow, tedious and boring. On a few occasions, I was able to talk with my crazy uncle without the interference of Mama. But that rarely happened anymore.

Nine hours into September, we had to switch back to long sleeves and my Ninja Turtle jacket. Every now and again, the girl with curly, black hair would appear in the line in front of us, wearing long khakis and wooly scarves covering her collar bone so she could see her loved one.

“Crazy uncle?”

“W-w-what is it, Jeffy Jeffy?” My crazy uncle bounced up and down sporadically in his bolted-down chair with leather straps as the guard’s ‘sticky fingers’ pushed the button twice.

“What did you say your wooly scarf with ugly stitching looked like?”

“Evil!” My crazy uncle shouted automatically, which gained a nervous glance from the guards eating sandwiches inside the small room with large windows. He watched as our faces went from frightened to displeased and hesitantly opened his mouth. “It was brown and had pink yarn strangled through it.”

At the start of October, the girl with curly, black hair stood in front of us like most times wearing a black scarf with embedded rhinestones. Nowhere close to my crazy uncle’s wooly scarf with the ugly stitching. At that moment, Mama reminded me of my birthday coming later that month and how she would try to take me somewhere fun with my friends. My face brightened up as soon as she said ‘birthday.’

I would be turning nine on October the 11th, so I told my crazy uncle that I was going to be a little more mature the next time we saw each other.

Jeff H. had been transferred to another school over the summer, but that didn’t stop him from showing up in the neighborhood to run me over with his bike. Or at least that’s what it felt like. The day of my birthday, Mama took me to a circus where everything smelled like oil and funnel cakes with a boy I barely knew and his mama who called herself a ‘good Samaritan.’

I told my crazy uncle what had happened the next time I saw him at 9:02am at the start of November. Mama had told me poor Cody’s birthday would be on November the 11th like mine, so we should sing happy birthday to him in case he still remembers. I always remember my birthday, so I don’t know why she thought my crazy uncle could forget his own.

My crazy uncle started to scream with his mouth closed during the song, the hot air in his mouth puffing up to escape but only made a piercing shriek through his nostrils. The guards watched us from their small room with large windows, not bothering to do anything as they laughed and ate their sandwiches.

“How come you scream so much?” I asked my crazy uncle, still screaming, and confined pupils telling me to never sing again after we finished the song.

Mama’s soft hand came to straighten my hair, except it stopped midway since my crazy uncle let out a real scream at the sight of it. The guards had nervous faces on when they ran out, trying to soothe my crazy uncle as if their lives depended on it. I couldn’t remember doing this much when that bald baby started crying in the girl with curly, black hair’s hands. In fact, I couldn’t remember them doing anything when that baby tried to break our eardrums.

What were they doing?’ A guard with black hair like the baby-holding girl asked us indirectly.

Singin’ Happy Birthday, what else?’ A second guard with brown hair like mine answered him indirectly.

I didn’t know what to do, but I knew how my teacher Mr. Ferguson always said one man could make a difference. Maybe I wasn’t a man, but I was nine and that was close enough. Without thinking, I got out of my foldable chair to retrieve the rubber ball lying on the floor in its usual spot. Mama and the guards paid no attention to me, giving me the chance to hand the ball to my crazy uncle in an act of hope.

The guards looked to each other in bewilderment, their eyes imitating those of my crazy uncle, as the screaming man in the chair with leather straps accepted my gift. I smiled as he smiled, hoping the ball didn’t make him scream again all the while.

December came faster than January had, catching me by surprise when Mama woke me up at 7am on the first day of the month. She handed me my winter coat as I tried to find my mittens hidden under a pile of crayons and dust bunnies.

I noticed that the girl with curly, black hair was wearing a brown scarf with pink yarn sewn through it in a strangled fashion instead of the normal black scarf with embedded rhinestones. It wasn’t as ugly as I had imagined it to be.

“Crazy uncle?” I asked after a lengthy conversation between him and Mama.

“Jeffery Jeffery?” He answered in his motorcycle-whirring-on-the-highway voice.

“Why did you drive the train through the tumbledown doughnut shop?”

He blinked for a moment, looking at Mama as if she could answer the question for him. When she didn’t, he looked down to the floor and flattened his twitching hands inside the leather straps while letting a tear fall to the padded ground.

“Because I had to.”

March 13, 2021 00:09

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2 comments

Amy Jayne Conley
10:32 Mar 18, 2021

I love love LOVE the concept of this!! I love how you followed the year along with visits to the Crazy Uncle! So well-written - Cody's character development was awesome throughout! Great job :)

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Addam Goldman
00:17 Mar 15, 2021

Nice story. I love the descriptions and the way you brought the crazy uncle to life.

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