I’m Sure You Saw This Coming….

Sometimes I want to write more about John and Martha. They tax me; they are my white whale, having broken into my life and stolen every bus stop scene I ever wanted to write. If I want to describe true love and beauty, they creep into my mind and kick all the adjectives out. But the real problem is that they hate me. They feel manipulated.

They have every right to feel that way. I’ve reprised them again in a story that takes twelve lessons of my online Writing Essentials course to tell. It was a way to keep myself entertained while I crafted lessons on such scintillating topics as punctuation, sentence writing, paragraphing, and word choices. In case you weren’t there for those lessons, Martha did shoot John, but only in the toe. He was cheating on her and drinking up the money she needed for their four children. She did time, but learned a trade while in the slammer—firefighting.

So Martha is feeling smugly productive (first female firefighter in her town) but also annoyed with me for making her serve such a long sentence. (It was just one toe.) John has been trying to punch his way out of quite a few paragraphs since I wrote him as a drunk with a hapless girlfriend. That would be Bertie, who can’t stop ordering, “Just one more teensy glass of chardonnay,” giggle, giggle.

The four kids are okay, but one by one they’re beginning to hit adolescence, so perhaps I’ll have to name them, figure out their true ages, and explore exactly how they are going to give their parents grief. John’s mother has been a real brick, taking care of the kids while Martha was in prison, so she may have to have something to say about what happens next to this struggling family.

Then again, maybe you do too.

(My apologies to Gullie who is now shoving her finger down her throat.)

28 responses to “I’m Sure You Saw This Coming….

  1. Ann, Step way from your keyboard. You are in serious need of an intervention. This overpowering obsession with John and Martha is starting to ruin your life. I have called a De-Frocked Priest friend, Father Gaylord McKinley, and he has agreed to perform an exorcism on you to cast out that Damned Demon Bus Stop Couple. He will be at your home before 3:00pm on Thursday Please DO NOT EAT OR DRINK ANYTHING AFTER MIDNIGHT ON WEDNESDAY….Especially Pea soup. I should caution you that Father Gaylord received an incomplete in Exorcism at Our Lady of the Perpetually Pius Seminary, but he excelled in Liturgical Tap Dance, so he has added a nice little dance number to the Casting Out Demons Procedure to make it a more user friendly experience. In all these matters, please remember that Fr. Gaylord requires that you indemnify him against any destruction of furniture, fine glassware, mirrors, small to medium sized domestic pets, household appliances, including, but not limited to: laundry equipment, microwave ovens, Mr. Coffee machines, blenders, salad spinners, pasta drainers, and the Dyson Revolutionary Vacuum Cleaners. Should the exorcism of John and Martha prove to be unsuccessful, Fr. Gaylord will disavow any and all knowledge of you, your family, your online students and especially that bunch of Wanna-Be Writers that gravitate to your Blog.

  2. Throughout the course of time we have had our favor couples. George and Gracie, Ralph and Alice, Archie and Edith, Felix and Oscar, Bob and Emily, Lucy and Ricky, Mork and Mindy. Each had their characteristics: Sardonic, Sarcastic, Bigotry, Disgusting, Perfectly Timed, Messy, Goofy, and Just plain funny. Though John and Martha have had less of the spotlight on them in that past, they have brought entertainment in the many ways as have their predecessors. Each of these characters have phrases, situations or topics that are unique to them. John and Martha have the bus stop. It’s hard to imagine a bus stop without a John waiting on a Martha. We are the wily writers that put those poor two in roles of protagonist and antagonist with abandon. We release our inner desires, secrets, and curiosities at their expense. I will now formally set my apology to John and Martha. I am sorry that I and my fellow writers here have done so many horrible things to you. From the simple face slaps and sticky situations into the dismemberment and extensive jail time, I am sorry.
    And in closing to my fellow writers I say: “Nanu-Nanu”; “Goodnight Gracie”

    … John and Martha sneak into a bar, hand-in-hand. They look to the left and right for any faces that might be familiar or looking at them with too much interest. Feeling that they are safe, they walk up to their favorite table and take a seat. They then order their favorite drinks and later go dancing. While dancing John spots a writer in the corner. A cold sweat beads on his forehead and very large fellow taps him on the shoulder…

  3. Without missing a beat, Martha knees Walterburgle’s ‘very large fellow’ in the groin and waltzes the narrative away from him.

    “Ignore him, John, we have to talk.”

    “Well, you certainly do, Martha. After all, with you being the archetypal female in this partnership, it’s built into your character notes. Whereas I’m just a somewhat clichéd male, taciturn when not silent, given to quiet but manly brooding over a drink or too many. A man of few words, and most of them slurred.”

    “Really? So how come your opening line was so much longer than mine?”

    “It’s all about establishment. Just in case this is being read by newcomers who may not be familiar with The Story So Far.”

    ”Ah. And I assume, from the wobbly way you’re dancing, this is where you’ll just have to mention that damn toe.”

    “It’s an integral part of what we are.”

    “Oh come on, John. It’s not even an integral part of your foot anymore.”

    “Anyway, moving this too-long opening conversation along while we still have a reader or two, what is it that we have to talk about?”

    “The kids, John. Thingo and Whatsit and the other two. Once Ann figures out how old they are and other minor details like their genders and the childhood traumas that’ll be driving their inexorable journeys into juvenile delinquency, prostitution, drug addiction and the usual compelling character arcs, epiphanies and redemptions, we’re going to find ourselves relegated to being mere footnotes.”

    “Or in my case, ninety percent of a footnote.”

    “You just can’t leave it alone, can you?”

    “It itches, Martha. Especially since Ann’s previous prompt reminded me of it.”

    “I give up. I’m leaving you at the mercy of her wretched students and those tragic blog people with their delusions of literacy. Besides, I’m late for a photo session.”

    “What photo session?”

    “I’m striking a blow for gender equality. I’m going to be ‘July’ in next year’s bare-chested fire-fighters calendar.”

    • Yike! It’s been brought to my attention elsewhere (my attention is usually elsewhere) that I may have offended with the line about ‘wretched students and those tragic blog people with their delusions of literacy’. It wasn’t me saying that, it was Martha, in character, riffing off Peanutberanski’s ‘bunch of Wanna-Be Writers that gravitate to your Blog’. So much for my ambition of writing comedy.

      • Not to worry Fig…we wanna-be-writers and wretched students have extremely thick skin and let’s just admit it….we are a bit SLOW. I stand in awe at your ability to be witty and literate all at the same time. With me, it is one or the other, and so far, Wit has taken the day.

  4. It was difficult for John’s mother, Rolanda, to admit it to herself, let alone anyone else, that she felt a stronger love for Martha than she did for her own son John. It had been that way since the day she saw them interact together at the bus stop all those many years ago.

    When Martha took the rap for shooting John in the toe to keep her oldest daughter Mary out of jail, that sealed it for Rolanda. This coupled with the fact that John was shot by the fourteen year old because he was making inappropriate advances toward her.

    Now that Martha was out and settled in at the firehouse, Rolanda struggled with living alone again. The seven years that she had mothered her four grandchildren were the most wonderful years of her life. Even more wonderful than the years before Brad died, and left her a widow at twenty-six. Oh, she saw Mary, Joe, Jim, and young Marnie on the weekends, but it just wasn’t the same.

    Mary was and adult now, and in her third year at Stanford, studying criminal law. Joe, at eighteen, had decided to join the Air Force, and was leaving for Afghanistan next week. Jim, his twin brother in age only was studying pre-med at UCLA. The baby, Marnie just passed her driver’s test, and was going to finish high school next summer.

    Rolanda settled in for her typical Monday night of Television and a pre-packaged dinner. She was reminiscing about the past two days of active involvement with her pseudo family. Martha had gone to Las Vegas for the weekend, so Rolanda stayed over at her house on Saturday night. Just listening to the “kids” as they discussed their daily lives and plans for the future filled her with joy.

    The knock on her apartment door was insistent. She lifted her tiny frame up on tiptoe, nervously peered through the peep hole, and saw her drunken son reeling in the hallway outside.
    “Mom!” he stammered, a little too loudly,”I know you are in there. Open up!” Rolanda backed away from the door and sat down to think. She knew him well enough to know he wouldn’t leave until she reacted to his raucous tirade. She thought about calling the police, but knew that would only prolong whatever John was after.
    “If I open up, will you be quiet and listen to me?” she said through the flimsy plywood paneled door. She waited. Then she heard a slight scuffling sound, and a loud thump against the door. After a few minutes, she slowly turned the brass bolt lock handle, and eased the door open.
    There on the floor was her dead son, and standing over him was Martha, gripping a large ax in her right hand.
    “Ma-ma-mm..Marnie..” was all Martha could say. Over and over again.

    • Oh crap. First the muse turns dark, then I mis-read Bertie’s role in Ann’s opening.. Assume for the moment that John’s girlfriend is Beatrice and his mother’s name is Bertie. Sorry..

      • I went through and fixed the names for you. I like to keep names as different as possible so the mother became Rolanda. Oh, and the wife’s name is Martha, not Marsha.

      • I think that there is a genealogy tree needed, however the branches fork or don’t.

      • Hmmm. Walterburgle’s genealogy tree suggestion prompted me to check out ancestry.com, and it seems that Martha was in fact originally supposed to be a ‘Marsha’, but the preacher who baptized her, one Reverend Samson Smith, had a really extreme lisp (which, incidentally, also gave him hell, and his congregation the titters, whenever he invoked the name of Jesus).

    • Thanks Ann. Senior moment.

  5. It was mid-afternoon on a school ‘in-service’ day. John Jr. put the cap back on the glue and slid deep into the couch. As he did so, the pictures of his mother hanging on the wall caught his eye. There was the one of her in her fire department dress uniform, the one of her with the Mayor, and the one of her with the first female police officer in town, who looked very much like Brooklyn Decker, and who, many thought, would be far better suited for placing parking tickets on unoccupied cars than any serious crime fighting.

    And there it was, the fertilizer for the seed of an idea began to take root in Johnny’s brain. His mother had the same problem the police lady did. No one took her seriously.

    But, what if he could fix that? What if…

    It was then, his plastic-cemented mind twitched, convulsed, and out-gassed an idea of epic awesomeness. She could be a hero, single-handedly saving the neighbor’s home. It would be a tire, no, an oil rig, no, a dryer lint, fire! Yes! That kind of fire was both believable, and very easy to put out.

    John Jr. would take no chances with his mother’s firefighting capability.

    Following a quick trip to the laundry room, where JJ was able to fill a gallon size ziplock bag with lint, he was off the McMurty’s back porch.

    If ever a site was destined for well meaning arson, it was the McMurty’s back porch. Made of wood, and covered with a dozen layers of oil based paint, it sat warmly beneath the family’s dryer vent.

    Even though both McMurty’s worked and would not be home at this hour, Junior felt compelled to get things rolling quickly. After all, his mom might wake up from her nap and decide to go out, completely missing the fire!

    He piled up the lint near the vent, and made a little tee-pee over it using twigs he found on the porch, just as he had learned in the Boy Scouts. Wishing to avoid delay, he liberally doused the whole thing with lighter fluid, and lit it off.

    John ran back home as fast as he could, and through the door, began shouting for his mother.

    At the McMurty’s however, there were complications. Mr. McMurty liked to drink, a habit Mrs. McMurty viewed in a ‘dim light.‘ However, Mr. McMurty compensated by drinking outside, on the porch, where he had cut two small holes in the floor. One could be used to hoist beers from the basement, the other to receive the empties, which fell into a box on the basement floor.

    Apparently, not all of John’s lint was wet with the lighter fluid, and when Mrs. McMurty’s dryer kicked on, having been set on a timer, it must have blown some of the smoldering lint into one of Mr. McMurty’s holes, where it found the basement.

    It’s certainly one of the great ironies of life that something that brings someone so much joy can also be their undoing.

    Mr. McMurty owned an extensive collection of antique gas cans which he kept in the basement, full of gasoline, to avoid having them “rust out from the inside.” He was a stickler for preservation.

    Yet, as tragic a loss as that might seem, the investigators later said it was Mrs. McMurty’s collection of early twentieth century nitrocellulose film, numbering in the hundreds of reels, many being the only copy known to exist, such as nude synchronized swimming with Fatty Arbuckle and Douglas Fairbanks in the Grand Pool at the Hearst Castle, that caused the home to become totally involved in less than twelve minutes.

    As John frantically called for his mother, the Wilfreds across the street were raking leaves when they noticed large, flaming, portions of the McMurty’s roof landing in their yard. Thinking that odd, Mrs. Wilfred decided to call 911, since she was sure the call would be free.

    Now, when someone reports a fire, the department notifies all firefighters who are listed as being “on call.” While on call, every firefighter must continually update their location and contact information with the department. It’s the law!

    That was a problem for John’s mom, Martha.

    It seems she was not upstairs taking a nap, but was in fact working for the Mayor on what she hoped was a secret project.

    As with most arrangements of this sort, Martha’s association with the Mayor began well. The Mayor scored points by hiring the city’s first female firefighter, and Martha, a convicted criminal, scored a job. Which is not easy when the papers have branded you “The Foot Fiend.” The problem of course was that the Mayor kept scoring. Martha simply had a job.

    That was until the Associated Press discovered she was not available when called to a fire right next to her own home, and couldn’t explain where she was, or why she couldn’t be contacted.

    Sitting on the couch, in the afternoon, on a lazy day off from school, John took the cap off the glue once more. “That, was a freekin’ awesome story!” and he wondered if it might be even more interesting if his mom were the town’s first female astronaut, sleeping with the President, as the giant Mars rocket exploded in flames.

    “Ok, let’s go with that.” he thought, as the picture on the mantle of his mother wearing a NASA flight suit caught his eye.

  6. Four kids draw together by the nothingness that has become their lives.

    “Mom gets out of prison, today,” the youngest offers, desperately seeking some stability in her life.

    “So what?” snaps the oldest. “We should bake her a coming out cake?”

    The youngest stifles a sniffle.

    The oldest, twelve, speaks to no one in particular, “I wish she had killed him.”

    “Yea, then neither one would be around anymore,” blurts Maggie, just turned ten.

    The fourth child, pushing eleven, pulls out a baggie and rolls a joint. She fires it up and passes it to her left.

    The sound of a car door closing catches the kids’ attention.

    The youngest jumps to her feet, runs to the window, looking for her mother.

    Knuckles knock harsh on the door. The youngest stands immobile.

    The oldest walks to the door. Pulls it open. Takes a final hit on the joint.

    “It’s time to come with me,” says the investigator from child protective services.

    The youngest slips her arms through her Tinkerbell back pack. “Will Mom be there?” her breaking voice barely asks.

    “Not today,” comes the worker’s reply.

    “Told you so,” taunts the oldest.

    The worker gathers three children and their things as the kitchen screen door slams shut.

  7. My S-I-L has published her first book. Its available on Amazon, e-Version is FREE for a couple of days. That’s pretty cheap. Crass promotion, I know. Did I mention the FREE version! Jeff


  8. “Why do I always have to be the bad guy?”’

    “Oh, for Pete’s sakes, John. Stop whining,” says Martha. “It’s very annoying.”

    “I’m not whining. I’m simply asking why I have to be villain in every scenario.”

    “You’ll have to ask you-know-who about that.”

    “All right, I will. What? You think I won’t? I’ll show you,” says John as he turns to his left. “So, Miss Ann. Can you please explain to me why I am always cast as the bad guy?”

    “Now, John, don’t take it personally. Somebody has to be the antagonist and you just seemed like the perfect fit for that. Look at your drinking, not to mention the adultery.”

    “Well, look at Martha. She shot me, she’s a con, yet you’re all making her the victim. I’m the one who almost lost a foot here.”

    “A foot? There you go again,” says Martha. “It was the tip of your little toe. You limp like it was half your foot.”

    “Oh, now you’re sticking up for her? Go ahead. Tell her what you said before she got here. Go on.”

    “I’m not speaking to her as you know darn well, John. “

    “Well, how the hell are we going to get anywhere if you don’t speak to her? We agreed to couples counseling as part of your parole conditions. What do you think will happen to the kids if you refuse to cooperate? The state will take them, that’s what.”

    “Don’t yell at me, John! I won’t take it anymore. If your teeny-bopper bimbo would grow up and act like a fit parent, you could get custody, bum foot and all, John. But, no, she goes into court looking like a runaway with the caked on mascara and her bare boobs. Of course the court won’t give you custody.”

    “She’s not…. She didn’t… Look, I’m just saying that I thought we were going to try to find a solution to this mess, okay? You really need to loosen up, Martha. You have to talk to Ann.”

    Martha crosses her arms and stares at the floor.

    “Martha?” says Ann. “I know you’re feeling put upon. I hoped we could discuss that.”

    [silence] Johns sighs.

    “Martha, I understand how you’re feeling,” says Ann. [Martha snorts.] “I’m here to help.” [Louder snort.] “Well, at least you’re listening. I think we should talk about this, Martha. Eighteen months for shooting John was not an unusual sentence.”

    “IT WAS JUST A TOE!” Martha interjects. “A MEASLY LITTLE TOE! He should have gone to jail, too, for contributing to a minor, threatening me, abandoning the kids, and just plain making my life hell! It isn’t fair.”

    “She isn’t a minor, Martha. And I didn’t really abandon the kids. I was in rehab for a couple months, but my mother had the kids. She’d be here now but Farkle isn’t feeling well and…”

    “Oh, I suppose she let him gorge on Hallowe’en candy. It’s just like your family. No moderation in anything.”

    “No, Martha. He has the chicken pox and don’t start in on my mother.”

    “Well maybe if she’d taught you a thing or two about…”

    “Martha? We only have a few minutes left. Can we talk about you? About us?” says Ann.

    “Yeah?” says Martha as she struggles into her heavy turnout coat with the reflective stripes that can be seen in heavy smoke conditions. “Well, I have to get back on station. You two can sit here and analyze me all you want. I’m outta here.”

    And she left.

  9. Psychotherapy! Good idea. They need it.
    Actually I do rehabilitate John in the Writing Essentials course. In fact, he saves Martha’s life. Corny, I know. But I like corny.

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