Chapter Description: Tommy's life isn't great at school. Home life isn't great either. His Mom, always looking for a quick way to make money brings home...a grandfather clock?
Chatper 2- A Home Away From Hell
That’s your home address
When your life’s a mess
Where depressions’ just Status Quo
Down on Skid Row
Tom didn’t slam the door when he came home. Slamming the door would have taken too much energy and the door didn’t deserve his wrath, or at least it didn’t merit it as much school did. “Home” in this case was Apartment 27 in Forrest Luxury Apartments.
He wasn’t sure why the Section 8 housing had the name “Luxury” in it; either this part of the slums sucked way less when ground first broke, or somebody had a bizarre and ironic sense of humor. Tom suspected it might be the latter.
Luxurious or not, it was home. Home was a two-bedroom one-bathroom apartment for three people. It was dirty and cluttered and reeked of cheap incense, with a different, grisly type of air that you could feel more than smell. The water heater broke often, and that was when the water could be bothered to run.
Some days Tom felt like Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors. He was trapped in his own personal skid row, but took a certain dim comfort from it. Apartment 27 of Forrest Luxury Apartments wasn’t the envy of anywhere in Scrumpton, but he was safe and shielded from the Josh Hamlins and Trevor Macintoshes of his sad little world.
It was a shithole. But it was still HIS shithole
Katlynn was in the three-by-five kitchenette, spreading peanut butter on a slice of white bread. Three minutes older and born at 11:58 pm to Tom’s 12:01 am, Katlynn was by the barest of definitions Tom’s “older” twin sister and one of the few people in Tom’s sad little world that he genuinely trusted. It didn’t hurt that they technically had different birthdays. That had been neat early on.
“Missed the bus home?” It was more of a statement, obviously he had, but she was kind enough to phrase it like a question. Before Tom could respond, she sniffed the air. “You smell like piss and cheap cigarettes. Hiding in the boys room again.” This wasn’t phrased as a question. Tom reddened a bit, but there was no point in lying about it. Not here. Not now.
He scratched the back of his neck, due to nervous habit more than an itch. “Yeah…I kinda...it’s...it’s complicated.” Tom had stayed hidden in the bathroom all of 6th period, only digging his backpack out of the trash well after the buses had taken off. It had been a long walk back home, but it was the only way. It’s not like Mary would have bothered to pick him up.
His sister took a bite of peanut buttered bread. “What’s so complicated about getting a boner in front of Amanda and running out of Math class?”
“How did you-?” Tom let the question and his jaw hung in the air.
“We’re twins. Duh.”
Tom twisted his mouth to the side and cocked an eyebrow, incredulous. “Bullshit.” Katlynn looked like an alternate version of Tom, one in which he’d gotten a different set of chromosomes. Same brown hair, worn just a little bit longer past the ear, same soft face and dimple on her chin, same sad eyes. They’d never gone through any kind of “twin telepathy” phase.
It was Katlynn’s turn to scratch the back of her neck. “Cameron told me on the bus,” she said. Then she looked down at the floor. “Loudly.”
Neither spoke for a minute.
“Sorry,” he said.
“No big deal.” It was a lie, but at least it was a kind one. Both of the Dean twins were lithe, thin little things, and neither genetics nor nutrition were in their favor as far as “filling out” went. With tiny breasts (Sister boobs...gross) and less than a hundred pounds of meat on her under five-foot frame, Katlynn had never grown into highschool. Those who didn’t know her often mistook her for a freshman, if not a middle schooler.
Regrettably, societal double standards were still very much a thing in Scrumpton. Katlynn was a small mousy thing, in appearance if not personality; but she was a girl, making her “petite.” Tom had a good half-foot on her and almost fifty pounds, making him the bigger twin, but he was a guy, making him “scrawny.”
Katlynn had a bare handful of friends at school, even if they never hung out after dismissal. Had better grades, too. She was on the verge of actually getting a life outside of this dump; maybe even a date. At this point in their lives, being his sister was harder than being her brother.
She gulped down the last of her bread and leaned over for a hug, laying her head on his shoulder. “Sucks to be you,” she said. Oddly enough, coming from her, it wasn’t an insult.
“Yeah, it does,” he agreed, then looked around. “Where’s Mary?”
Katlynn rolled her eyes. “It’s Friday. Where do you think?”
This wasn’t a twin thing. Mary Dean was Tom and Katlynn’s mother, though by most societal definitions, she barely fit the mold. A little over eighteen years prior, Mary had gotten knocked up by some jerk who promptly fucked off.
In most stories this would be the part where it’s mentioned that Mary did the best she could with what she had, but certain factors beyond her control prevented her from giving her two beloved children everything they ever wanted or needed to succeed
It is in that spirit and formula of storytelling that the following shall be stated: Mary Dean did the best she could, but she really didn’t give a damn. Possessed of an unidentifiable and therefore incurable disability, Mary hadn’t held down a steady job since her children could remember, instead living off of other people’s charity, government assistance, and a crude but clever workaround for Scrumpton’s anti-gambling laws.
Friday night was Bingo Night, meaning that Mary was living it up with the old and the dying, hoping to score BINGO on as many knick-knacks and useless pieces of junk as possible, all so that she could pack it into her beat up Sebring convertible, drive it home and try to sell it to another crowd at a “garage sale.”
Whatever didn’t get sold inevitably ended up in their home, with Mary’s room in particular being a dragon’s horde of cheap costume jewelry, white elephant Christmas gifts and other garbage that you couldn’t pay a pawn shop to take off your hands.
The twins were allowed (or required) to stay with Mary only because of an overstretched foster care system and that Mary just barely met the requirements for avoiding charges of child neglect. The last few months since their eighteenth birthdays, things had only gotten worse. Now that the twins were no longer “dependents,” Mary’s support checks were greatly diminished. It didn’t help that her children were now the same age as she had been when they were born. Existential midlife crises at thirty-six sucked for all involved.
There was a reason that the twins preferred to think of her as “Mary” instead of “Mom,” the latter word having long left a gritty taste of cognitive dissonance in their mental mouths. She was increasingly talking about the two of them getting jobs so that they could “pull their weight around here.” If she was aware of the irony, Mary never showed it.
It was a hard knock life. Little Orphan Annie had Mrs. Hannigan to deal with. Mrs. Hannigan was a cakewalk compared to Mary Dean.
Tom and Katlynn didn’t have that legendary “twin telepathy” so often depicted in popular media, yet on days like this, when they were alone in the quiet of their apartment, drained from everything life had thrown at them and with only more of the same to look forward to, they both thought the same thing.
I’ve gotta get out of here.
Tom looked around in silence. He sniffed. He really did smell like piss and cigarettes. “I’m gonna go take a shower.”
“Fine, but I get the bed tonight.”
The “younger twin” looked over to the old couch that doubled as their third bed. A pile of rumpled old clothes was strewn out over it. It was anyone’s guess if those were relatively clean clothes plucked from the laundromat and waiting to be folded, or not-quite-dirty-enough-to-toss clothes being gathered for the laundromat and then promptly forgotten. Unlike his mother, Tom was not a gambling man. “No fair!”
“There’s only going to be enough hot water for one shower,” Katlynn said. “You know how much that heater sucks.”
“If I take one now, it’ll be warm enough by the time you go to bed.”
“Then you wait to take a shower.”
Tom scoffed. “Do you even want a shower right now?”
“I don’t want a cold one,” she said.
BEEP! BEEP! BEEEEEEEEEEEP!
Both whipped their heads towards the front door. Those three honks only meant one thing: an event atypical this time of day, before the streetlights had clicked on and before pizza delivery places did their best business among the drunk and the stoned.
“What’s she doing home so early?” Katlynn asked.
Tom shrugged. “Maybe she crapped out at Bingo early.”
His sister twisted her mouth sideways and cocked her eyebrow. “How the heck do you crap out at Bingo early? They only call out the numbers so fast, don’t they? It’s not scratch-off.”
Another series of obnoxious honks confirmed that they were not in fact imagining things. Their mother was waiting in the car, signaling for them to come out and help her unload.
A few fumbling steps out into the dusky sunlight, Mary’s beat up old convertible stood silhouetted against the darkening sky. “Hey kids!” Mary waved them over. “Look what I won!”
Tom frowned and looked over to Katlynn. Her expression mirrored his. “Seriously?” it said.
Serious enough, it seemed. “Come on!” Mary shouted. “Are you deaf? Help me unload it! I can’t put the top back up until we get this out!
True enough. Mary normally brought home old busts and boxes of out of fashion clothes piled up in the back seat. The passenger seat, when it wasn’t littered with gas station junk food wrappers, was home to paintings that even Bob Ross would be unimpressed with. Meanwhile, her trunk was persistently packed to the brim with novelty lamps and unwanted As Seen On TV Products that (surprise surprise) worked better on the infomercials.
This afternoon the car held none of that. Taking up the entirely of the back seat, jutting out into the open sky, was an old grandfather clock. “I won this!” Mary proclaimed. “Can you believe this was the first item they had up?”
Once they approached the car and got a better look at the thing, both siblings shook their heads in agreement. They couldn’t believe it either, though not for the reason their mother did. The old grandfather clock’s wood was notched, nicked, and gnarled by a hundred different little uneven cuts; with jagged splinters and pulp forming on the worst spots.
Glittering in the setting sun, the glass door on the front was severely damaged and barely holding itself in one piece. A lightning-bolt-shaped crack jutted down, off-center. Beyond the door, Tom could make out old gears that hadn’t moved in years; the copper rusted green and more than a hint of cobwebs ran to and from the cogs.
The old grandfather clock really should have been put in hospice long ago. “Mary?” Katlynn asked. “Are you sure that you, y’know, won this thing?”
“Of course I did!” Mary said. “Now help me unload this so I can get the top back up. Weatherman says it’s gonna rain tonight.”
“What are we supposed to do with a big ol’ clock?” Tom wondered aloud.
“We’re going to restore it.”
“We?” Katlynn asked.
“Restore?” Tom echoed his sister’s misery.
Son of a bitch.
“Just help me get it in.”
Reluctantly, Tom walked around to the backseat, already calculating (guessing, really) the best angle or approach to lug the big rotting paperweight. With the sun at this back, he squinted and ventured a second look at the thing. Didn’t Aladdin talk about there being a diamond in the rough? Hadn’t King Arthur just been a lowly squire?
Wasn’t there at least a little something redeemable in this big box of worthless gears?
The only thing that even hinted at the stately grandeur of the old timepiece was an ornately carved word, right above the clock face.
Gently, afraid that too much pressure might cause the wood to collapse at his touch and cause a nest of termites to spring out, Tom traced the letters one at a time, sounding out the strange word in his mind before speaking.
“Malacus?” he said. “What’s a Malacus?”