February 17, 2020
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Writing Songs for Lady Gaga
by James Rogers (short, PG-13)
James Rogers lives in New York and is a teacher at the United Nations International School. Originally from Ireland, his short fiction has appeared in The First Line, The Galway Review and Close to the Bone.
"My granny died from smoking weed."
I had to say something. They were all looking at me and I could see they didn't know whether or not I was joking and were caught on the edge of a laugh. They were good friends to have, really. They teased, but they weren't mean. The thing that bothered me was their obsession with pot. And with me smoking it too because by then I was the only one who wasn't. I'm not sure why. It wasn't because of my mother, as much as she'd love to think otherwise.
God, would she go on. She couldn't tell me often enough how smoking and drugs were bad and dangerous and my poor sister heard the bit about sex over and over.
"Yeah," I continued, "poor Granny got cancer. Can you believe it?" I could see they couldn't. It's hard to lie to kids. "She was so high all the time she didn't even know she was sick. Wouldn't go to the doctor. In the end I don't think she realised she was dead." Now they knew I was joking, but for some reason they eased off and I got away with passing up the joint, one more time at least.
I love to lie. It's great fun, seeing how far I can get. Adults are easy. Maybe it's because it doesn't occur to them a child might lie for no good reason.
"What does your mother do?" Typical adult question. My friends would never ask me that and if they did I'd tell them the truth, that she's a nurse and they'd accept that because it's so ordinary. Their picture of a nurse is a waitress for sick people.
When grownups ask me, I tell them all sorts of nonsense.
She's a food designer. Yeah, she came up with the sour patch. Or the lollipop ring. She invented dipping dots. That one's especially funny because there's an awful lot of grownups who've never even heard of dipping dots.
One day I told the playground supervisor my father writes songs for Lady Gaga. He was especially proud of Poker Face. She took it all in. Hilarious really when you realise my father wouldn't know Lady Gaga if she sat on his knee.
I have to say, though, it's even more fun these days telling the truth about Dad.
"What does your father do?"
"He fondles bullocks."
It's probably what he's at right now, back in Ireland. He never settled in New York. Hated the place, really. He moped about, depressed, like he was carrying a heavy blanket. And us stuck under it, with him. Until the trip back to Ireland, of course. Then the blanket would be thrown aside and he'd be a different man. Happy. Excited. As soon as we landed in Dublin he'd be dancing. I'd find myself waiting for the music to soar.
We'd all pile into the hired car and he might stall it at the exit because he forgot about the clutch, but after that he'd be flying. Down to Roscommon and his brother's farm. The two of them out in the fields, wandering amongst the bullocks, rubbing necks and scratching ears. The most docile beasts you'd ever see, they were so used to the farmer. They didn't seem to notice the addition. Maybe because they don't do addition.
My father in his element. Down to the pub in the evening with his brother for a few, but you'd see the worried look on his face the following morning above the corn flakes. Mom would be getting annoyed. She didn't come all the way to Ireland to sit in a little house in the backs of beyond so her husband and his brother could go pubbing. They'd have tried to get her to go along with them, of course, but the pub wasn't her scene, even after the smoking ban.
Once we hit the second week it'd be worse. She'd be pissed off and bored and probably thinking it would've been nicer and cheaper to have gone to New England instead of old Ireland. And old Ireland it certainly was. Driving down that narrow lane with the grass in the middle to my uncle's house was like going back in time. A tiny two-bedroom affair with electricity for lights and little else and a bathroom as an afterthought. The hot water arrived twenty minutes after you decided you might want some. My sister looked like she'd landed on Mars. I laughed so much when she asked my uncle, "What's your wifi code?" and he said, "Ah go on now, you know well I don't have a wife." He didn't have satellite TV either, or even a DVD player. I suppose we were lucky he had a TV at all, with four channels to choose from and one of them in Irish.
Sitting there with nothing to entertain us but Australian soap operas. And Dad would be sliding, the bounce and the shine long gone as the dreaded day of return loomed.
Until the last time, when he didn't return.
We were all in the kitchen, except for my uncle, the award-winning farmer, out standing in his field. Dad announced he wasn't going back. We could stay or we could go but he was staying put. Mom got angry. Told him to stop being stupid. She thought it was all bluster and that with a bit of a telling off he'd come to his senses. That was until he lifted the lid off the firebox and threw his American passport into the flames.
Mom does a lot of crying these days. You'd think she'd be angry, but she's just sad. My sister's the one who's angry. "It's not fair," she shouted the other day.
"Life's like a seesaw," I told her. "A lift for one is a downer for another."
She looked at me with ferocious eyes. "What the hell is wrong with you? Wake up!"
My aunt, Mom's sister, she does her best to console. "At least he had insurance," she said as she inspected the check. You could tell she was surprised. She'd never been Dad's biggest fan.
I looked over her shoulder at the logo on the check. I like Prudential's logo, the mountain in the circle, simple lines and shapes conveying so much. My aunt thought I was trying to see the amount. She whipped the check away. "That's not for your eyes."
This morning I told the playground supervisor my Dad designed the Prudential logo. He spent ages making sure he got the exact right shade of blue. She looked at me a little funny this time, and rubbed my arm, even though they're not supposed to touch us.
Now I'm with the psychologist. She's blathering on about facing difficult truths. Though I'm fighting it, I can feel the smile on my face. I can't help but picture my father with the bullocks, whistling his latest jingle for Lady Gaga.
Article © James Rogers. All rights reserved.
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Writing Songs for Lady Gaga -- James Rogers
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