This is an abridged version of my novella Alice. You can read it in weekly doses, buy the complete book, or do both and compare the two – a useful exercise if you’re a writer. The plan is to make an audio version, so I’m tweaking the writing to make that work better.
As always, you are welcome to share this link, but please respect copyright by contacting me for permission if you want to publish or use the material. Even if you’re making it into a school skit, I’d like to know where my story has traveled. Thank you.
Alice – Episode 1
This is the story of my mother, Alice McKenna. You know her as the Rosa Parks of the Taxpayers Civil Rights Movement. When she refused to give up her seat on that bus, Rosa Parks moved working people to stand up for their rights to end discrimination. That day in 2012 when my mom sat down in the middle of the bank and said “No,” she became the same kind of symbol for taxpayers.
If you’d known her a few months earlier, you’d never have believed it was the same person. I guess it started back in March, when she got pink-slipped. The school board decided football was more important than French. Frankly, my first reaction was relief that she wouldn’t be teaching at my high school when I hit ninth grade in the fall. I figured she’d commute to another town. But it was June, school was out, and Mom didn’t have a job yet. I helped her pack up her classroom.
We were unloading the car, stacking boxes in the garage, when an orange taxi pulled up in front of our house. The back door opened and out came a long-haired, scruffy old man in a faded tie-dyed shirt with a dirty army surplus duffle bag. He turned to look at us.
Maybe I should back up a minute.
You’ve got to understand, my mom was perfect. She always followed all the rules. The only wild and crazy thing she’d ever done was go to a sperm bank for my other half. No one knew about that except us. We never met the guy. People assumed she was divorced and I had a deadbeat dad I never saw. Aside from that, she’d always been very proper. If she ever had sex, it was before I was born and I don’t think that ever happened. And she never ever swore or used what she called “ugly” words.
But when my mother saw this scruffy old hippie standing by the taxi in front of our house? She dropped the box she was holding and said, “Shit.” She said it with a sigh, as if she used that word all the time. Then she set down the box she was holding. She put her hand up for me to stay put and she started for the guy, shaking her head and saying, “No, no, no, no, no! No, you are not here. You never came here. Get back in that cab.” He opened his arms as if she was happy to see him but she dodged the hug and said, “No. Leave.”
“Could you pay the taxi driver?” he drawled. “I used up all the cash they gave me on food. That bus trip took days.”
“Who they?” she demanded.
“The social worker who found you on her computer. Just like Orwell’s 1984.”
“1984,” she repeated. “That’s the year I got the hell away from you, Jack.”
Jack! My grandfather. My only other relative and all I knew about him was his name and that Mom had left home at sixteen and never looked back… I’d never seen her so angry and flustered, and the more upset she got, the calmer he got.
“Now, Baby Girl…”
She shouted over him. “Don’t Baby Girl me! What are you doing here?”
The taxi driver interrupted to let her know the meter was still running. “You gonna pay me, lady?”
“Can’t you just take him back to the bus station?” she asked.
“Double the fare,” he said.
“I’d have to walk all the way back here, Baby Girl,” Jack reasoned. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
Mom glared at Jack and paid driver. He burned rubber pulling away.
“You can’t stay,” Mom said. “Why are you here?”
“Well, the hospital social worker insisted I needed to be with family. You’re it, Baby Girl.”
“Why were you in the hospital?” she asked.
“It wasn’t a heart attack,” he said.
“What was it?”
“Well, they weren’t really sure, but all the tests showed that there was no damage to the heart, so it wasn’t a heart attack.”
Mom took a deep breath and blew it out hard. “Were you having chest pains?”
“Well, I got so upset when the cops came,” he said, as if it was perfectly normal.
She interrupted. “You were being arrested again?”
She’d obviously forgotten that I was right there in the garage where I could hear every word they said.
“I’d been renting the same place for, I don’t know, probably ten years,” he said. “The owner decided to take it back!”
“You? In the same place for ten years?” Mom scoffed.
He kept trying to sweet-talk her. “Well, Baby Girl, I’m getting up there, you know. Moving around gets harder as you get older.”
“It’s tough when you’re a kid, too,” she said.
At that point, he started rubbing his chest. “You’re not being fair, Baby Girl. I did the best I could.”
“Don’t bother pretending to have a heart attack with me. I’m not a wet-behind-the-ears cop. I know you, Jack.”
He squatted down by his bag on the sidewalk and pulled out a little brown bottle of pills.
“Quit faking,” Mom said.
He ignored her and stuck one under his tongue. He closed his eyes and kept rubbing his chest.
“You’re not fooling me,” Mom said, but she sounded a little worried.
“Just call a cab,” he said. “Get me to a truck stop. I’ll hitch myself a ride and leave you alone.”
“Fine,” she said, “I’ll do that.” She pulled out her cell and started to search for a cab company. We didn’t do rideshares.
That grundgy old man was my only relative, aside from Mom. I walked out to the sidewalk and introduced myself. “Hi, I’m Nina, your granddaughter. Are you okay now?”
His full smile was like a light going on. “Granddaughter. Wow. Half-grown, too. How old are you?”
I found myself smiling right back. “I’ll be fourteen in August.”
“Almost as old as your mother was when she decided to be on her own.”
“Jack,” Mom warned, “don’t you start on her.”
“I understand, you don’t want me around here causing problems between you and your husband.”
“She’s not married,” I said. “My father was a sperm donor.”
Jack grinned. “Really?”
“From a sperm bank!” Mom crossed her arms and glared at him. “Having a man in our lives would only complicate things.”
“Well now you know what it’s like being a single parent,” said Jack.
“I was always the parent,” said Mom. “Nina’s never had to take care of me.”
“I did when you had the flu,” I reminded her. “I even made chicken soup from scratch.”
“You cook?” he asked.
“Man, I’m hungry,” he said. “Think we could convince your mother to let me stay for some lunch, at least?”
“Fine,” Mom said. “Lunch. Then you leave.”
Of course that’s not what happened.