? SLAB | Sound & Literary Art Book

Issue 11

Fiction

Brian Mulligan

Alexander Todd and the Inexplicable Joys of Never Worrying About Anything Anymore Forever and Ever and Ever


If Alexander Todd could tell this story, he would tell it like this.  Of course, Alexander Todd can’t tell this particular story because of the condition Alexander Todd has (which is quite serious) and also because of what happens in the end.  But if Alexander Todd could tell the story, it would go something like, but not exactly like, this:

Soon Alexander Todd will be on TV.   Not physically on TV but on a program inside of the TV.  He and his older sister, Pamela Todd, will be standing alongside their parents, Allison Todd and David Todd, and they all will be watching themselves on the television.   Later, some of the family will come over to watch them on the TV as well.  Aunt Mary and Uncle Tommy Harper and their kids will come and probably Uncle Robert and Aunt Chrissy Todd and their kids too.  They will come later. A lot later.  Or maybe, it will not be that much later at all.
Alexander Todd doesn’t care much for the cousins.  So who cares if they come over or if they see him on the TV?  Or in the TV.   It is unlikely any of his friends will see him and that’s what matters most.  His friends don’t watch the TV news.   And why else would you want to be on a TV or in the TV if your friends won’t be able to see you on the TV.  Or in the TV.  Allison Todd and David Todd want to watch the TV news but Alexander Todd wants to watch SpongeBob SquarePants.  All Alexander Todd wants to do is watch SpongeBob.  People want different things.  Sometimes lots of different things.
Like Allison Todd, for example.   Allison Todd wants tonight to be the start of a new and better life.
“Tonight, it’s family only,” Allison Todd says to Alexander Todd.   Alexander Todd makes a bit of a fuss about that.  After all, this was TV and he wanted his friends to see him on it.   Also, after all, how many 15-year olds watch TV news if they are not invited over? Also, also, after, after all, other than Brody Porter how many friends does Alexander Todd even have?  Also, also, also, what would be so awful if Brody Porter came over and saw him on TV? Or if he came over to watch SpongeBob?
Allison Todd says, “If you have someone over then Pamela will need to have someone over too and she won’t be able to choose just one friend. It ‘s best to keep things small.”
Alexander Todd screams his disagreement as loud as he can.
“Why must you always be so much work?” Allison Todd shouts back. “Just once can you do something I ask without causing me to explain a hundred times?”
She says that earlier -- much, much earlier in the day, maybe. Or maybe, it was a few minutes ago. It was definitely more than a few minutes ago.  Maybe.  Maybe, it was much, much earlier. 
Alexander Todd has been told he is annoying.   That’s why he tries to keep things straight in his head. He tries to keep Allison Todd, Alexander Todd, David Todd and Pamela Todd and what they all want and when they want it.   It’s even annoying in his head. It is an awful lot of work to keep things straight.
Later, Allison Todd says: “Alex, time to get cleaned up.” But all Alexander Todd really hears is his name.  He tunes the rest out.   Right now, he is watching cartoons on the TV and SpongeBob SquarePants is such a good show. There are the colors, SpongeBob’s laugh and Patrick.  Patrick is the absolute best.  He is also purple.   Or pink.  Or brown.  Pinkish, purple, brown. Alexander Todd is munching on cheese doodles. His fingers are a powdery orange. Munch. Munch. Cheese doodles are crunchy and there is a blast of cheese with each bite.  It may be the best food on the entire planet.
“Dave, can you take Alex upstairs and get him cleaned up.”
Alexander Todd hears his father’s name and not much else.  Allison Todd’s words are competing with Squidward and the goings on at Bikini Bottom.
David Todd appears in front of the TV.  Not on the TV but in front of the TV.  Later, David Todd and all of them will be on the TV.  Not on – like on top of the TV.  Not like standing on top of it. But in it.  He will be in the TV.  On a TV show inside the TV.  Not a real show that his friend Brody Porter would watch. But a news show.  Maybe it will be two hours later.  Maybe, it will be sooner than that.  It is hard keeping things straight.
“Hey Alex, can we go upstairs?”  David Todd asks Alexander Todd, as he
blocks his son’s view of the TV.   Alexander Todd moves his head right to see around David Todd but David Todd mirrors him. Alexander Todd tries moving his head left.  Again David Todd follows him.  Alexander Todd laughs.
“Upstairs okay?”
“Upstairs,” Alexander Todd repeats.

In the upstairs bathroom, David Todd runs the water in the sink and then disappears into the bedroom.
“Wash your hands, ok Alex?”
Alexander Todd sticks his hands into the lukewarm water and begins rubbing them together like he is told.  Alexander Todd has come a long way in following directions. The powdery orange disappears from his hands.  He looks in the mirror.  Alexander Todd sees orange powder on both corners of his mouth. Colors are easy.  He rubs the orange away.   Alexander Todd looks harder into the glass.  Alexander Todd’s eyes are blue.  Blue and green actually.  Bluish green or maybe greenish blue, actually, actually.  And there are little red squiggly lines in the whites of the eyes, as if he has been rubbing them.  So that makes Alexander Todd’s eyes red and white and blue.  American eyes.  Red and white and bluish green or greenish blue. Or blue. There is no green in America. Keeping things straight is hard.
Alexander Todd’s face is pink with brown freckles.  His hair is also brown and straight.  Allison Todd says he needs it cut.  But Alexander Todd doesn’t cut it.  He knows other people do that.  Alexander Todd takes a hard bristled hairbrush and pushes half of one side of his hair to the right, half the other side to the left.  The bristles cut into his head and hurt a bit.   They also feel good.  Alexander Todd parts his hair in the middle just like his friend Brody Porter.
Alexander Todd is wearing a long white sleeve t-shirt, which he rolls up because he doesn’t like the way shirt sleeves feel around his wrists and because he doesn’t want the sleeves to get wet when he is washing his hands.
“You can turn off the water Alex.  And take off your shirt too,” David Todd calls from outside the bathroom.
Alexander Todd does as he is told and puts his white shirt in the bathroom hamper.  David Todd comes back to the bathroom, two hours later.  Or maybe it is sooner than that.  Maybe it is much sooner than that.   David Todd is dressed nice but different than he was for the TV. He has a dark blue dress shirt and long tan pants and penny loafer shoes. David Todd dresses that way sometimes when he goes to school.  Not as a student at school but as a teacher at school.  David Todd goes to a different school than Alexander Todd.  He teaches at a different school than Alexander Todd goes to as a student.   Alexander Todd has a different teacher.  There are many teachers at many schools.  His teacher is not David Todd. But he sort of likes his teacher anyway.  His teacher is Sarah Gleason.  
David Todd gives Alexander Todd a red and blue plaid shirt to put on. There is no white in this particular shirt. So it does not match with the red and the white and blue or greenish blue or bluish green of Alexander Todd’s eyes.   Alexander Todd creates a bit of a fuss.  David Todd does not understand why.  Keeping things straight is hard.
Alexander Todd wants to keep his blue jeans and white sneakers on.  The white sneakers will mean he is wearing red, white and blue.  Only there is no green in his clothes.  And his eyes are bluish green.  Or greenish blue.  For a minute or maybe it was longer than a minute, Alexander Todd thought his clothes had matched perfectly with his eyes but they don’t. It takes a long while or maybe it is not very long at all before Alexander Todd and David Todd head back down the stairs.   There is no green in America.
Before the aunts and uncles arrive, Alexander Todd resumes watching TV.  There is a knock at the door.  Alexander Todd looks to the door long enough to see a man with a brown face wearing a green shirt and blue jeans talking to Allison Todd.   Alexander Todd does not say hello. The man goes in and out of the house a few times, bringing trays of food.  Krabby patties, Alexander Todd thinks and laughs.  He knows they are not really Krabby patties but wouldn’t it be awesome if they were?
The man with the green shirt, brown face and trays of food eventually leaves for good.  Or maybe he will be back.  After he leaves, Allison Todd and David Todd hover around trays covered with foil in the kitchen.  Alexander Todd goes back to looking at SpongeBob; Allison Todd and David Todd talk for what seems like a very long time.  Or perhaps it isn’t very long at all.

“Seven hundred and thirty eight dollars?”  David Todd says looking at the receipt.  “That’s a lot of money.”
“We can afford it.”
“I suppose,” David Todd says, scratching himself. 
“You suppose?”
“I don’t even like lobster.”
“I bet you’ll learn to like it.  I bet you learn to like a lot of things now.”
“You don’t think it’ll come across as obnoxious?”
“Caviar would be obnoxious,” Allison Todd says.  “Lobster is… class-ified,” Allison Todd thinks she is being funny because she laughs.  A minute later, maybe longer, maybe a lot lot longer, Allison Todd sighs.
“Is it really so bad that we get a chance to enjoy life a little bit?”
A little while after Allison Todd says this, or maybe it is a longer while, Pamela Todd comes down from the upstairs and looks into the room.
“Hey Alex,” Pamela Todd says.  ‘Hey’ can also mean ‘hello.’  Keeping things straight is hard.
Alexander Todd never wavers.  His blue green eyes with a little bit of red in them are transfixed on the events at Bikini Bottom.  Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?  Everybody knows the answer to that.  SpongeBob SquarePants! Alexander Todd is sitting on a red carpet that is soft but not as soft as a blanket but softer than a floor.  Floors are hard.  Keeping things straight is hard.   But they are not the same kind of hard.  The room has tan walls.  There are pictures of him and the others on the walls.  Pamela Todd enters ever go lightly into the kitchen.
“Does this look all right?”  Pamela Todd asks.  Pamela Todd is showcasing a new orange blouse, which hangs off her shoulders.  Pamela Todd is also wearing black leggings and also, also ballet slippers. And also, also, also, they are new.
“It looks amazing honey,” Allison Todd says.  “Where did you get it?”
“Bloomies,” Pamela Todd says.
“An excellent choice.”
“Can we go car shopping this weekend like you said?”
David Todd scratches above his left eyebrow; his face has become quite flaky.
“You need to make an appointment with Doctor Marcy,” Alison Todd says to David Todd.  “Your eczema is getting worse.”
“What kind of car do you think I can get?” Pamela Todd asks.
“What kind do you want? Allison Todd replies.
“Something pretty and white and new.”
David Todd changes the subject and says it is five-thirty.
“Are you really going to work tomorrow dad?” Pamela Todd asks him.
“Yes, of course.”
“All of my friends think that’s weird.”
“I like my job,” David Todd tells his daughter. Then David Todd asks Allison Todd: “How about you, hon? Do you think you’ll go back to work now?”
Allison Todd’s jaw drops like she is shocked by what she has heard. 
“It’s just that you always said you wanted to get back into the classroom,” David Todd says, trying to explain himself.
Allison Todd stifles a laugh.
“Fifteen years ago, maybe, when I could barely handle Alex,” Allison Todd says.  “But he’s a little better now.  And think of it, we can get him better care.  We can afford a better school – a special school.  Maybe there can be someone to come in and really work with him now.  Maybe I won’t need to be here every day, day after day after day.   Maybe I won’t need to worry about other kids being so mean to him.  Maybe I won’t always be so tired or so broke.  Maybe Alex will come out of his shell a little bit.”
Allison Todd wants a better life where she doesn’t have to worry so much about Alexander Todd.  And that better life is supposed to start tonight.  That’s why the cousins are coming over.
Allison Todd’s voice cracks. She starts to cry.  Then, Allison Todd puts her tired, crying head onto the shoulder of David Todd.
“Nobody knows better than me, how much you’ve done with him.  How hard it has been. You’ve been amazing,” David Todd says.
Allison Todd is sobbing now. Her eye shadow is a bluish green or a greenish blue.  Allison Todd’s eyes are red from crying and make-up is running down her crying cheeks.   There is no green in America.  Allison Todd will need to clean up before the company arrives. David Todd whispers that he is tired too, but it is not loud enough for Allison Todd to hear. Also, Allison Todd has again buried her head into his shirt, burrowing like a crab trying to hide in the sand.
Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?
Later, the family arrives. Aunt Mary and Uncle Tommy Harper and their eldest Dianna Harper, and their youngest Richie Harper come to watch the TV.  They usually spend most of the time during their infrequent visits staring at Alexander Todd.  Uncle Robert Todd and Aunt Chrissy Todd come as well but their kids do not.  One kid is not feeling well and the other kid is at a friend’s house.  Not Alexander Todd’s friend Brody Porter’s house but some other non-Brody Porter type of friend’s house.
Earlier, Allison Todd explained to Alexander Todd that for a short while they would have to turn off SpongeBob SquarePants so that they all could watch themselves on the TV.  Or in the TV.  It was very understandable.  Even though Alexander Todd really prefers watching SpongeBob.  Why Allison Todd even needed to explain it so much was unclear to Alexander Todd.   A little later or maybe it is much, much later, Allison Todd turns on the TV news. Alexander Todd does not create a big fuss at all.
Aunt Mary Harper stands near the TV.  Aunt Mary Harper wears a dark blue dress and some white pearls and a white sweater over the dark blue dress but under the white pearls.   She has yellow hair with some brown in it.  She also has a very pretty Taylor Swift kind of face, even if it is a much older Taylor Swift kind of face.  It is like maybe 50 years of a not so swift Taylor kind of face.  Or maybe, it is 10 years swifter than old Taylor.  Or maybe, she is not that much older than Taylor Swift after all.
Alexander Todd thinks Aunt Mary Harper is the prettiest of all the relatives.  Uncle Tommy Harper got lucky because Uncle Tommy Harper has a big nose, bushy eyebrows and wears dorky glasses, a gray shirt and brown shoes.  Uncle Tommy Harper is what his friend Brody Porter calls a douche bag.  Not a shopping bag or a sleeping bag or any other kind of old bag but a douchey kind of douche bag.
“I read the article in the paper the other day,” Aunt Mary Harper says, playing with the pearls around her neck.  “You all looked lovely.”
“We didn’t want any publicity,” Allison Todd says.  “But it is part of it.  You don’t have a choice.  You have to do the publicity.”
“Oh, I’m sure,” Aunt Chrissy Todd says and makes a frowning face like she doesn’t believe it.   “Just like you have us over to the house to watch you on TV … they make you.”
“We just wanted to share our good news,” David Todd says.  David Todd knows Aunt Chrissy Todd thinks they are showing off.
“I’m getting a new car,” Pamela Todd says to cousin Dianna Harper, who is older than Pamela Todd and has a car.  Dianna is very quiet and respectful. Dianna Harper is never quiet and respectful. Diana Harper is the one with the new boyfriend, who buys her gifts like earrings and who will be going to the same very impressive college that Dianna Harper will go to.  Dianna Harper is going to be a lawyer the same as Taylor Swift-looking Aunt Mary Harper. Pamela Todd tells her about the new car to make her jealous. Cousin Dianna Harper recognizes this and looks to make Pamela Todd uncomfortable as well.
“What college will you be going to in the fall, Pamela?” Dianna Harper asks.
“Any college I want to,” Pamela Todd says. “Isn’t that right mom?”
Allison Todd says that it is right.
“Or maybe I wont go to college at all,” Pamela Todd says. “After all, what’s the point?”
The stuck-up smile on Dianna Harper’s face disappears.
“How’d you pull it off?” Uncle douchey douchebag asks David Todd.
“The birthdays,” David Todd says.  “The secret is the birthdays.” 
David Todd is not bragging; David Todd is explaining.
And then, suddenly, or maybe not so suddenly, Allison Todd is waving her arms and shushing everybody.
“Here it is,” Allison Todd says. “Look.”
The man in the TV or on the TV has a gray moustache and a deep voice.  He is in the TV. Not on top of the TV and he is speaking inside the screen:
“And now the story of the Todd family of West Chester, PA.  They’re the family, who last week became the sole winners of the $260 million Powerball jackpot.“
And then it is David Todd who is in the TV screen talking.  “I played all our birthdays,” he tells everybody who might be watching. “That was the secret to the winning numbers.”
“Look Alex,” Pamela Todd says. “That’s you!”  Alexander Todd sees that another version of Alexander Todd is waving from inside the screen. It doesn’t really matter because his friend Brody Porter isn’t watching.
“You all look so great,” Aunt Mary Harper says.
Allison Todd is crying on the TV or inside the TV now.
“This means so much to us,” Allison Todd says to the screen. “It’s like you have one lucky day and suddenly all your worries are gone.”
Allison Todd is getting what she wants. Maybe all the Todds are getting what they want.
Then, the man with the gray moustache and deep voice is back inside the TV and he is saying, “It is a great story for one lucky Pennsylvania family. We will be right back.”
After that, Alexander Todd gets what he wants.  Alexander Todd gets to watch SpongeBob again. 
After, after that, all of the family eats and talks.  Talks and eats and then talks and eats some more.  They are talking and eating a lot.  Alexander Todd eats too but does not like the lobster.  He has the tiny hot dogs and some chicken on a stick.  The family stays for a very long time.  Or maybe, it is not too long at all. No, whenever the family stays, it is too long.  After the family leaves, Allison Todd says to David Todd and Pamela Todd and Alexander Todd, that everybody needs to help clean up.
“We all have to pitch in until, we get a live-in.” Allison Todd says.
“And a new house,” Pamela Todd says.
“Maybe the Main Line,” Allison Todd also, also says.
David Todd scratches himself.
Alexander Todd doesn’t say anything.
The paper plates are thrown away and so are the aluminum trays.
“Everybody sure did like the food,” David Todd says.  “There’s hardly any left.”
“I call shower,” Pamela Todd says.
“Imagine a house with four showers,” Allison Todd says.
“Imagine,” David Todd answers. 
“Alex,” Allison Todd says, “can you take the garbage out and bring the cans down?”  Alexander Todd loves taking the garbage out.  Alexander Todd is good at following directions and it is his favorite chore.  Alexander Todd takes the white plastic bag from Allison Todd’s hands and walks through the room with the television.
Alexander Todd opens the front door, closes it behind him and steps outside the house.  Alexander Todd goes to the side of the house and drops the white plastic bag into the green plastic garbage bin and he rolls the bin down the driveway. It has wheels!   Alexander Todd loves the sound of wheels rolling on the pavement.  Vrooooom. It sounds like a rumbling truck. 
Alexander Todd parks the garbage bin in the street and is about to head back up the driveway for green bin number two, when a bag, not a douchey-douche bag but a thick heavy bag is pulled over his head.
Alexander Todd thinks Brody Porter is playing a trick or maybe one of his other friends from school is pulling a prank.  They do that to him sometimes.   But then Alexander Todd realizes he is being carried on a man’s shoulder.  Also, the man is running down the street.  Also, also, Alexander Todd is thrown into a car.  Also, also, also the car speeds away and Alexander Todd, though he tries as hard as he can, cannot find his way out of the douchey-douche bag.
A long time later … or maybe not too much later, Alexander Todd is on the floor of a darkened room.  There is a rag stuffed in Alexander Todd’s mouth. Also, his hands are tied behind his back with some harsh plastic cord that is cutting into his wrists.  Also, also, Alexander Todd’s feet are bound.  Also, also, also through the door, Alexander Todd can hear two men talking.  The television is on and Allison Todd is crying again.  She is probably on the TV, or in the TV.  Allison Todd says, “We want Alex back.”
That is what Allison Todd wants now. 
“They will pay any ransom,” one of the men says.
“They just want to be a family again,” the other man says. Alexander Todd hears the men laugh.
Not too long after that or maybe it is a good while after that, but really it is probably not that long after that at all, Alexander Todd closes his eyes and begins singing a question to himself.  Alexander Todd wants to watch TV.  That is all Alexander Todd wants.
Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?