author's note. I saw Disturbia the other day, even though I'm not really a horror movie person. I thought it was okay but the ending was too abrupt, and far too neat. Granted, it's a movie, and I don't expect movies to provide a complex exploration of the psychological issues brought on by those sorts of experiences (especially not a movie that seems to be largely aimed at teens). Still, that's the place that fanfiction comes from, isn't it?
I was watching the deleted scenes and there's a great bit where Kale and his mom are kind of arguing - she asks if he wants to talk about anything and he's snarking about Iritated Ankle Disorder - and at the end he tosses off a 'Love you' before she leaves for work. And then I knew I'd found my angle for this story. I'm a big fan of the mother-son dynamic (my middle child is a boy; he's four, but I swear, I'd put an ankle bracelet on him if I could) but that's a relationship that usually gets shortchanged in movies and books. Usually it's about mothers and daughters, or fathers and sons. So, here you go. I took a few liberties with the facts of the movie; but then, the movie took a few liberties with facts itself, so I think the universe will forgive me.
And, I still haven't seen Rear Window yet; it was a little farther down on my queue.
It is the absurdity of family life, the raggedness of it, that is at once its redemption and its true nobility - James McBride
She was on the phone when it happened; she heard the whole thing, until the phone cut out and there was silence like a sudden stop. Julie didn't even think about it; she was guided, numbly, by some kind of instinct, shutting off the stove and climbing into her car. Of course she knew the route he'd taken - she'd driven it herself, too, plenty of times so she only half paid attention to the road signs, shouting into her cell phone and vainly searching the radio stations for news.
Eventually, Julie was pulled over by the highway patrol - no surprise, since she was going over ninety - and of course Officer White had heard about the pile-up. Five fatalities. Don't know how many survivors, but he did know one important thing, and that was where the victims had been taken. He gave her a police escort another forty-five miles to the small County General which was woefully understaffed to handle that kind of trauma. She checked her expectations at the ambulance bay doors. They're dead, she told herself, they're both dead.
But she heard the voice all the way down the hall. "I need my cell phone! I need to call my mom!"
"You can't use your phone inside the hospital, son," an older male voice explained. "We're trying to reach your family, okay? Just sit tight."
"I'm not your son!" The voice cracked, and Julie broke into a run. "I just need to get ahold of my…"
"Kale," she said, "you're all right."
"Mom." His lips quivered. 'All right' was actually a bit of a stretch; he was covered in tiny cuts from the windshield glass, with a badly broken leg; but he was alive, and Julie hadn't even allowed herself to consider this small grace. "Mom," he said miserably, his voice muffled by her embrace, "Dad's dead. I killed him. It's my fault. Please don't hate me, okay?"
"Shh," she soothed him, over and over again. "It's okay. You're all right, okay? It's not your fault. We're gonna be fine." And she held him until the nurses had to pry her off to take him for X rays.
Kale didn't make it to the funeral; he was still in the hospital an hour up the road when Daniel Brecht's earthly remains were laid to rest. Which was, Julie figured, probably not a bad thing at all. She wasn't deaf and she certainly wasn't stupid; she knew what the stares and whispers meant. Is it true that Kale was driving?
He slept on the couch the first few weeks after he finally got home, the bulky cast making the stairs to his room unmanageable. Julie didn't mind this so much because it reminded her of when he was a little boy, falling asleep to Scooby Doo cartoons whenever he was home sick from school. She had to remind herself not to be too indulgent, not to fuss over him too much because she knew it would drive him crazy.
"Hey Mom," he begged her one night, still slightly loopy from the drugs. "Tell me the story again. Why'd you name me Kale?"
Julie sat down on the coffee table opposite. "You know this one already."
"Yeah, but I like hearing it," he cajoled. "Please?"
"Okay," Julie agreed. "All right. It's because of your Great-Aunt Evelyn."
"Who wasn't related by blood…" he recited.
"Who wasn't related by blood, only by marriage. Your Grandpa Brecht's brother Gil married her in England, during World War Two, and brought her home on furlough. She was just a tiny little thing, maybe five feet tall in stocking feet, although of course she always wore heels. Evelyn was a lady. Only Gil got killed over Germany somewhere and here she was, stuck, in a foreign country with this family she barely knew. But everyone loved her, so she stayed. She never remarried, never had any kids."
"And when you got pregnant with me…" Already Kale's eyes were growing heavy.
"When I got pregnant with you, we told her first. See, your Grandma and Grandpa Brecht weren't too happy about Dan and me getting married when we did. They thought we were too young - we were both only twenty-one. They thought your dad should have gone on to graduate school instead of teaching. And now, with a baby coming, we knew they wouldn't be too happy - we lived in a tiny little apartment above a coffee shop; it barely had room for the two of us, let alone a crib."
"And you thought, 'No big deal, we'll just let the kid sleep in a shoebox or a dresser drawer or something.'"
Julie smiled indulgently. "Exactly. But we knew his parents would be mad, so we went to see Evelyn first. She always had such a good way of handling them - nobody could stay angry with her for very long. I think it was the accent. So, we went over to see her but with Evelyn, you couldn't just come right out and say things. She had to get you filled up with tea and cookies first."
"Biscuits," Kale corrected, having heard this story many times before.
"Right. Biscuits. So, after half an hour or so of small talk, I finally managed to squeeze it in. I said, 'Dan and I have something to tell you.' And she looked right at me and said, 'You've been rolling about in the cabbage patch, haven't you?' Because when she was a little girl, her mother told her that babies were found in the cabbage patch. And I gasped and asked her how on earth she could tell, and she said, 'You just have that glow, my dear.' She was such a character, Kale. I wish you could have known her. So the hard part was over. Well, the first hard part, anyway. But then, see, Evelyn gave us a lot of pointers on how to break the news to Dan's mom and dad, and in the end they didn't burn us at the stake or disinherit us or anything."
"And then Evelyn died, just a few weeks before you were born. It came as a shock to us all; she was only sixty-fine but apparently she'd had a bad heart. That was what the doctor told us about her - 'She had a bad heart' - and I remember thinking what a silly thing that was for him to say, that anyone who knew her could tell she had a good heart. But what we didn't know about her was that she also had an enormous fortune. I don't mean Donald Trump fortune, but for a little old lady who lived in a one bedroom house, yeah, it was a lot. She'd made some prudent investments in the late forties and then just let it sit there. So in her will, she left some to the Red Cross, because they'd helped her when she was a war bride; she left some to your Uncle Paul -"
"Who immediately…" Kale prompted.
"Who immediately got the operation, and became Aunt Paula, and she left most of it to us. Your Dad was always her favorite, because when he was in his twenties, he was the spitting image of her dead husband Gil. Now, it was a shocking amount of money - not enough that we'd never have to work again, but enough to get us set up pretty good. So we bought this house - of course, that was before the housing boom, the house was pretty worn down then, shag carpeting, tacky wallpaper, you name it. We've put in a lot of work since then. But also, we figured out we had enough that your dad could quit teaching for a year. Just one year. And if he didn't sell a book, he'd go back to work, no harm, no foul. But of course you know how that turned out."
"Get to the part about me," Kale murmured.
"Okay," Julie agreed. "You were born just a few weeks after Evelyn died, so right in the middle of all this. And of course our first thought was that if you were a girl, we should name you Evelyn, after her. Your Dad pointed out that Evelyn could be a man's name, too - one of his favorite writers was Evelyn Waugh. But I vetoed that one pretty quickly."
"No problem. Always looking out for you, you know? But I was thinking about what she'd said, about the cabbage patch. And I was thinking about cabbage - they gave me some pretty good drugs after the delivery - and I thought of kale, which is a leafy green vegetable and part of the cabbage family. And I thought, Why not? It's a good strong name, and it's bound to be better than Evelyn-the-boy. So, 'Kale' it was."
She looked down at him, the boy named after cabbage, and he was out like a light. Julie fussed with the blankets for a minute, in full mother mode now that he was asleep. It's just you and me now, kid, she thought. But I think we're going to be okay. It'll get better, now.
She was, of course, wrong.