“My father’s a writer.” When Seth’s turn came around in class he said what he’d been taught to say. He could have more truthfully announced, “My father’s in marketing,” but no, his parents had drilled the writer line into him, like his dad was goddamn William Faulkner. They’d started massaging the message into his scalp before his fontanel closed and his brain developed greater resistance to parental claptrap.
They’d had Seth in training, the pair of them, from the day he was born, prepping him for the school he had no business attending. Every other kid in his homeroom had a shoe budget that could relieve third world debt and enough pocket change to keep Seth’s family in the black for a year. Their families’ creation myths, printed on parchment, didn’t come with the word steerage in them.
But Seth’s classmates found him out. Ariel Stern was about to walk his dog Peppy and needed a plastic shit bag pronto, so he emptied the plastic Publisac that had just landed on the doorstep, dumping all the circulars advertising assorted supermarket shlock. And that was how he came to spot Seth’s father’s Savvy Shopping column printed on cheapola newsprint, highlighting the week’s best deals on ground chuck and tampons. Naturally, Ariel broadcast his discovery all over school.
Seth could have engineered a reciprocal outing of his schoolmates’ fathers, but he was a dreamer not a fighter. He yearned for one of those movie families where fathers were lawyers in offices with boardroom tables long enough to seat the whole mishpocheh without even adding a card table, and with panoramic views over Chicago, or in indie movies, Toronto. They never worked from the basement like his did unless they were planning the world-saving discovery that would rocket them up to the penthouse in the finale. Yeah, his parents loved him, they provided for him, they taught him not to mix plaids with stripes. They’d done all the requisite donkey work, but did they have to be so embarrassing?
Seth’s mother was the lesser trial. She worked at the dry cleaner’s, letting out waistbands, but at least she toiled behind a paisley purdah curtain. A seamstress she was, but Seth had been instructed to say “my mother’s a fashion designer.”
He tried to ride out the mockery, but those kids were pros, virtuoso tormentors. Dummies at their studies, at bullying they were Nobel Laureates, founders of the school’s Idiot-Savant Club. And in Seth they had a twofer; not only had he lobbed his father under their hooves for easy stomping, he was a science geek to boot.
Seth kept his head down and plugged away at his science fair project, consuming duct tape and double A’s in unprecedented quantities. There was a bit of a kafuffle down on the flagstone terrace when he was ready to present. He could just make out his parents in the crowd. He balanced himself on the school building’s sixth floor ledge, his flying device strapped on, and shouted down, “Don’t worry, Mom, Dad. I’m an airline pilot.”
Phyllis Rudin’s stories have appeared in This Magazine, Prairie Fire, The Massachusetts Review, Prism International, and Qwerty Magazine, and as a podcast in Bound Off. Her debut novel, Evie, The Baby, and The Wife, a fictionalized account of the Vancouver to Ottawa Abortion Caravan, was published in 2014 by Inanna Publications. She lives in Montreal.