AN: SO. This is a thing I've been wanting to do for a long time. The idea might have sprung during one snow day when I binged watched Orange is the New Black as well as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. This series will be the "back stories" for the four "bad kids'" parents from three separate times in their lives (childhood, adolescence, and finally parenthood) as a form to sketch out how they become the people they are during the time of the factory tour. And naturally, I started with one of my FAVORITE characters in the musical - Doris Teavee. (I think she's nearly everyone's favorite haha.) I hope you enjoy!
"Are people born wicked, or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?"-Wicked
Flip on a Switch
Denver, Colorado, 1993
Eleventh period, third to last day of school. Nobody felt like doing much of anything, so school seemed like a long, continuous study hall that had no actual studying. All around her, Doris' classmates were filling the chalk board with "I heart Matt/Zack/Kevin", leading fleets of paper airplanes, acting like this was the gymnasium and not Mrs. Marsh's Algebra classroom. (Mrs. Marsh, it should be noted, was engrossed in Misery by Stephen King, not noticing that somebody thought it would be funny to draw genitals by Stephanie's "I heart Rick.")
And Doris? She was reading, too. Only instead of a thriller novel, she was skimming through her new National Geographic, reading an article on Bora Bora.
She looked down at the beautiful photograph of a series of islands surrounded by the bluest water she'd had ever seen. She flipped the page and a photograph of a turtle surrounded by colorful fish. Sitting in her assigned seat by the window, she was transported from a bleak, grey classroom to a bright, colorful island.
She remembered being really small and Daddy showing her pictures from his honeymoon in Honolulu with Mom. She could vaguely remember Daddy looking at the pictures of a younger version of himself and Mom, laughing, smiling on a boat. Mom showed her the shells she collected and the dried up lei she received when they arrived to the resort. They promised they'd take her there one day.
Someone turned on their Walkman and obnoxious pop music blared. Eleventh period was inching closer to a full-blown party. Someone asked Mrs. Marsh (loudly over the music) if they could bring in cupcakes and a movie tomorrow, since it was their final day together in Algebra IB and all.
Doris flipped the page to the next article, an article about some rocks in New Mexico. Not nearly as exciting as Bora Bora, but it was a much more likely of a vacation spot than some tropical island, anyway. Mom had been talking about taking the family somewhere this summer, after Doris and Danny came home from summer camp.
Of course, her mother had been telling Doris that they'd do something together that summer after the eight weeks of summer camp since Doris was Danny's age. But after those eight weeks, it was already August and her mother had work and they got busy and the most she managed was taking her to the nice mall for a fancy lunch and back-to-school shopping.
This year could be different?
Doris started reading, day-dreaming about a trip to New Mexico. It'd be hot as heck. But she was sure it wouldn't matter as long as -
"Dorie? Dorie. Hey, Dorie."
Doris looked up from her magazine to see Tommy Cartman sitting on the heater next to her.
Tommy Cartman. He was one of the most popular boys in the eighth grade. And he was talking to her.
And it was no lie to admit that Doris has the slightest crush on Tommy. But not like she'd publicly admit that. Their courtship during the last semester had mainly consisted of him asking her a lot for a pencil/piece of paper/the answers to numbers seventeen to twenty three on the homework last night. And every time he asked for one of those things, she'd be cast under his sandy blonde, green-eyed spell.
Just like she was now.
"Can I ask you something?"
She adjusted her glasses back onto the bridge of her nose. She wanted to see Tommy's face clearly. She smiled as cool as possible, as smooth as possible, trying to hide her braces. "Yeah, Tommy?" she asked.
"Can you give this to Debbie later?" Tommy handed Doris a folded piece of notebook paper with the edge still attached. "Since you have a locker next to her?"
"Uh . . .sure?"
Doris took the note and tucked it in her National Geographic for temporary safe-keeping.
Tommy then joined his friends Kylie and Matt to laugh at something Matt had tucked in a semi-suspicious but supposedly inconspicuous Denver Bronco's folder. But they didn't talk/laugh/oogle for very long before the bell rang and the mass of twenty nine fifteen-year-olds zoomed out of the classroom and out of the school.
Doris collected her National Geographic and her messenger bag and was the last to file out of the classroom. She looked back to Mrs. Marsh, who had stuck a piece of paper into Misery and bent back in the roll-y chair at her desk, stretching after a long day of doing nothing. She mumbled something of a goodbye but Doris had already ducked into the hallway.
The edge of Tommy's note stuck out of the pages from the New Mexico article.
Curiosity might have killed the cat, but there was no harm in a little peeking, right? Doris looked around quickly, like one does before crossing a street, before opening up the creases of the notebook paper.
It wasn't like a do u like me? check yes or no note (she had intercepted a few of those in the past eight years but had never really received any). It was just an invitation to a pool party at Tommy's house on the last day of school.
Trying not to let the snubbing bother her, Doris went to her locker, zigzagging her way through the seemingly dozens of people who were all trying to cram into the very, very, very small area of the locker docks. She scooted past the passionate preteen couple kissing against her own locker (she had thankfully learned to grab everything before the end of the day to avoid, well, dealing with that) and stuffed the re-folded note into the top of Debbie's locker before she walked out.
Twenty minutes later found Doris at her favorite spot in town - the UFO store. "UFO" actually stood for "Used Furniture Outlet" and not "Unidentified Flying Object."
The entire place was like someone's enormous attic that had orange price stickers stamped on everything in loopy, cursive scrawl. It reeked of mothballs and cigar smoke, it was poorly-light, it was only organized by a vaguely by related things (old, grimy 1950s Fiesta dishes were neighboring Star Wars tumblers from ten years ago and the couches and armchairs and coffee tables made the back half of the store look like one colossal, dust-covered living room.) And to add it, the man who presided over this kingdom of worn-out, unwanted junk, Mickey, was a grumpy old man who often spoke out of the corner of his mouth because there was usually something in his mouth that he was smoking, be it a cigar, cigarette, or a pipe.
Mickey's awful nicotine addiction was one of the reasons Doris' mother didn't like her coming to the UFO store.
"Do you want lung cancer, Doris Keyes-Stein?" He mother asked her whenever Doris came home smelling like tobacco after spending an afternoon at the store. "You're begging for it hanging around that place." What followed after those opening sentences varied on her mother's mood. Somedays she told her to go outside to play with Danny, hopeful that the fresh air would breeze out the smell. Others she told Doris to march her ass to the shower and to wash her hair out at least three times before she could get out.
Sometimes her mother locked the door.
But that all was the price to pay for at least a few hours hanging out the store. Over the past couple of months since Doris started visiting the store several times a week, Mickey had warmed up to her. She was one of his few customers on weekdays - never mind frequent - so he usually chatted with her for a while before he left her alone to explore or read her magazine's in one of the countless plaid sofas in the back. He was also helping her build her collection.
When Doris walked in that afternoon, Mickey was at his usual spot at the antique cash-register, which sat upon a glass case filled with old, vintage broaches, earrings, and necklaces. These sort of items weren't good enough for a legitimate pawn shop because they, like all of the things in the UFO store, had a sort of dark, grubby look to them no matter how much Mickey had tried to spiff up and polish them.
Mickey, of course, had a big, fat cigar hanging out from his wide lower lip, trickling ashes down onto the glass counter. He was reading the Denver Post.
As soon as the bell above the heavy door tinkled, he muttered through his cigar, "Four thirty-already?"
"Yeah," Doris laughed as she crossed the threshold and walked up to the counter and pulled out the wooden stool next to Mickey.
"Outta school yet?"He asked, putting the paper down the counter, but not taking the cigar out of his mouth.
"Not yet," she said. "We still have two more days. But it's not like it's really school anymore, you know? "
"I wouldn't know," Mickey replied, flicking out the ashes of his cigar into the chipped Howard Johnson's ashtray he had sitting next to the Star Trek coffee mug he filled with pens and pencils.
Even if Mickey had started tolerating a fifteen-year-old invading his professional domain of used furniture, he really didn't like a fifteen-year-old prying into his personal life. From what Doris could remember of her grandfathers (both were dead and buried) , didn't old men like to recount their glory days?
But Mickey kept his past locked up behind a big, guarded fence.
That didn't mean that there were sometimes when Doris wasn't able to peek through the cracks in the fence. What she had gathered was that Mickey had served in the military at some point - it was probably World War II and had a family during the Baby Boom following his service. He had been living outside Denver since his time in the Army (or the Navy or whatever.) He only briefly mentioned his wife (who might have been dead) and his three kids ( who might have been estranged).
But that was it.
But, in exchange for this privacy, he allowed Doris to rant and ramble about her life. He seemed to have a genuine interest in it. A patient ear. A nodding head. Sometimes advice. He never really interrupted her long, seemingly endless stream of words. The only time he would really say anything would be when there would be a question needed to guide the conversation along, like a paddle to a canoe down a river.
It was like therapy.
Doris eventually settled on talking about her summer plans and how this was going to be Danny's first summer at Camp Crockett ("King of the Wild Frontier?" Doris stared. "Never mind.") and how she was worried about him because this was going to be the first summer away from his family and they were going to all the way to South Carolina and for eight whole weeks and what if he didn't like it?
"I mean, I didn't like my first summer at Pine Haven for the first couple of weeks but I mean, given what was happening to ME at that time, I felt so conflicted and . . . I won't be there to help Danny settle in. He's like three or four miles away and the only time we'll see each other is Fourth of July and camp dances and competitions. But that's all."
Mickey extinguished the nub of his cigar in the ashtray. "And what does Danny think, huh?"
"Danny's excited. More excited than I was at his age, anyway. But I think he would be a little more worried."
"It's a big change for him," Doris said, sighing and putting her head down on the glass cabinet. "It just seems weird that he's looking forward to going away. He cried when he had to go to preschool for like the first week. He just hates being separated from everything.
"But doesn't it make sense though? Wanting to escape?"
"Sure it does. I guess. But everything going on with mom and Richard."
"How is Richard, anyway?"
Doris started rubbing her index finger into the glass. "Okay, I guess. Still works a ton. We hardly see him anymore since he started working with the Tucson office as well as the Denver one. He doesn't want to move to Arizona, but I feel like it might go that way in a couple of months. . . " He voice trailed off. "Can I have a Coke? I think I might look around a while."
"Whatever you want," Mickey said as he reached over into the miniature refrigerator he kept next to the old-timey cash register. He pulled out an old time-y Coca Cola bottle and un-capped it for her with his magnet beer bottle opener from Celebration, Florida.
(He normally charged customers fifty cents for each bottle but he made the exception for Doris.)
And so Doris left Mickey to his Denver Post to head back through the caverns of old baskets, telephones, pottery, cassette tapes, records, candleholders, vanity sets, un-opened Barbie dolls, books, dollhouses, Girl Scout sashes (?), long-ago crocheted afghans, lamps missing bulbs . . .
She lost herself in the shelves upon shelves of junk, sipping her Coke every so often as she pulled out a few things here and there to examine them, look at their price, keep them nearby if she decided she could spare the cash . When she had finished her rounds to find anything new, she went to her favorite item that hadn't been sold yet - a yellow and blue armchair towards the back that had a wobbly, coffee-stained oak side table next to it. There she pulled out her book and read.
Mickey's UFO store and the library were the only two places where Doris could lose herself in a book. If she was at home, somebody would have the TV blaring or loud music playing or Danny would come and ask her to play with him or her mother would ask her to help get dinner started/vacuum the house/clean out the basement/a million other household chores.
But hardly anyone came into the UFO store, anyway. And if they did come to the back of the store, they'd ignore the fifteen-year-old girl sitting there, reading Catcher in the Rye. And if Mickey turned on the radio, it could never fill out the entire store (he had never bought sound equipment to be able to play anything loudly throughout the entire store). Instead, the oldies that Mickey listened to lightly floated through the store, soft, breeze-like.
Time seemed to be non-existent in this world. It was just Doris, and the book, and the chair, and Frank Sinatra records. She always couldn't believe it when Mickey would call out to her from behind his spot behind the counter.
"Five fifty-five, Doris," he said. "Closin' time."
Doris sighed and stuffed her crocheted bookmark back into her spot and went back to the front of the store with the items that she had collected - a few fashion magazines from the fifties, a pink telephone that was a little sticky but nothing some Windex would never fix. The grand total was three-dollars and twenty-five cents.
"This is the fifth day in a row that ya bought magazines," Mickey noted as he put each one in the plastic Have a Nice Day shopping bag. "What are you plannin' to do, build a wall with 'em?"
"Not exactly," Doris laughed as she took the bag from Mickey.
"See ya tomorrow?"
"See you tomorrow."
Doris had a quick stop to the fabric store before she was home. There she picked up some cream-colored yarn and a yard of fabric with Superman printed on it.
As she walked up her driveway, she looked down at her watch.
At first, when Doris came home this late, her mother would yell. Ask her where the hell she had been? She could have been kidnapped. She could have been molested. Even in the suburbs, those things happen. Why didn't you call? And why the hell weren't you here to watch, Danny, hmmm?
But now, Mom was starting to back off when it came to Doris being out.
When Doris arrived home, she would be just home in time to go down and set the table for another tense, too-quiet dinner.
And lately, her mother had been serving up a lot more cold-stares and vodka with dinner than anything.
But today when she arrived home, she didn't find anyone inside. Nothing was cooking on the stove. Nobody was watching the Nightly News. The only thing that greeted Doris when she came in the door was the cat who stared at her with wide yellow eyes from the archway leading into the living room.
"Hello?" She called out, just to check, as she flicked on the light in the foyer. The cat scampered away to go hide under his usual spot of his nest of blankets under the couch.
Even Macavity liked to hide.
Doris walked into the kitchen to find a note written in her mother's sloppy handwriting:
Took Danny to his baseball practice.
Will be home at 8:00-ish.
Well, if they were going to be coming home that late, that meant her mother wasn't going to have the energy to even remotely throw together dinner. Meaning Doris had to fend for herself and find something to eat.
Doris took the note and threw it away before she open the fridge to pull out a TV dinner consisting of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and some sort of sad little brownie thing. It wasn't like Doris couldn't cook, but she realized that now she had another full hour and a half before she had to deal with her mother or anyone.
Peace and quiet.
She popped her dinner into the microwave before taking it to her bedroom upstairs with the bags from the UFO store and the fabric place.
Her room was slowly becoming her haven, where she figured she could hide in case of Nuclear explosion. Over the months with Mickey, she had acquired numerous things for the inevitable End of the World. Dozens of VHS tapes, records, a hot plate, a cooler, books. And slowly, slowly she was trying to redecorate her room for functionality for the upcoming storm and as a place of meditation. With the help of the UFO stores she was building a sanctuary that had started one weekend when Richard was being spiteful and wanted to get back a Mom for whatever reason so he allowed Doris to paint her room Pepto Bismol pink and get rid of all of her old furniture for vintage stuff.
(That was how she met Mickey.)
She placed the phone on her desk, deciding she'd plug it into the wall to see if it worked later. She figured if it didn't, it was actually for the better. With the storm approaching, she'd probably wouldn't want to have a phone ringing when her mother needed to talk to someone morning/noon/and night. The fabric and the magazines went by her smaller crafts desk.
After she ate her TV dinner she decided to start right away on the project she had been planning for a long time - sewing Danny a Superman pillow before they left for camp. She turned on a Doris Day record (she was glad to have found someone so iconic who shared the same name as for years Doris Keyes-Stein desired her first name.) And together with the soft, jazzy songs of the record and the rhyme of cutting and sewing the pillow together, she was lulled into a temporary paradise. She sang along to some of her favorite songs as she crafted, forgetting about the rest of the world until two cars pulled up into the driveway.
She tried to ignore them as she took the pillow under the sewing machine and stitched the edges together, singing along with the other Doris to "Blue Skies."
Smiling at me
Nothing but blue skies
Do I see . . . "
Car doors slammed outside. Loudly. Thunderously. Storm clouds pressed against her window.
She closed her eyes and sighed. They couldn't wait until they got inside for this? What would the neighbors think?
Singing a song
Nothing but bluebirds
All day long . . ."
She turned the record a little louder and tried to block out all sounds of what was happening outside on the driveway. She sewed faster, hoping the fast hum of the machine would drown out the noise even more.
But it couldn't block out the sound of a boy wanting to claim sanctuary. Danny stood in the doorway still in his dirty baseball uniform, dust on his knees, tears down his cheeks.
Doris stopped her sewing. "Dad and mom fighting again?"
Doris opened her arms and Danny cried into her shoulder. She kissed him on the top of his baseball capped head. "Go get washed up and into your PJs and I'll make us some popcorn, 'kay?"
Danny rubbed his eyes as his half-sister lead him into her bathroom and started running the shower for him, testing the water before he went in. She rummaged through his cabinet and pulled out a pair of Danny's spare Superman pajamas she always kept under her towels.
It was all part of divorce-proofing her room to make it a shelter for two children to hide and wait for the twister of lawyers, alimony settlements, deciding who gets what/whom to pass through.
She went back into her room and turned off the blaring Doris Day record and in the silence between when she turned off the record and turned on her television to any channel loud enough, she could hear the usual fighting words.
Lazy. Never there. Alcoholic. Workaholic. Bitch. So mean.
One divorce had already shattered what she had known as her family. Now it seemed like any day now another would wreck havoc on what had been established seven years ago as her new normal. Time again to pick herself up and figure out what happens now.
She had lived this whole experience years ago and knew how to man the hatches. But Danny, this was so new, so scary. And when their parents started fighting, he was like a body drifting along high cresting waves, aimless, alone, terrified. Doris just pulled him into her dingy and they held each other close together.
While Danny was in the shower, she prepared some Jiffy Pop on her hot plate and pulled out two Coca Colas from her cooler. When Macavity scratched at the door, she let him and he snuggled up against one of her old teddy bears in the corner of the room.
Danny appeared dressed in his Superman pajamas that were a little short in the legs. He crawled into the folds of her big floral comforter. Doris joined him.
"Lucy okay for you?" Doris asked Danny as she handed him a blue Fiesta bowl full of popcorn and a can of Coke.
"Sure," Danny said, accepting both and putting them on the side table next two him. His face was red from the shower and from crying. "I wanna watch the chocolate factory one."
"The one where Lucy and Ethel switch with Ricky and Fred for the day?"
"Yeah. It's my favorite."
And Doris turned on the TV's VCR and in popped the I Love Lucy tape. Black and white hearts filled the screen and the theme song filled the room. She turned up the volume, drowning out the world.
"Lucy kisses like no one can
She's my missus and I'm her man
And life is heaven you see . . ."
In Lucy's and Ricky's world, as with everyone on TV's, everything was fine.