You hang up the receiver to the ugly marmalade-orange telephone on the wall and then grimace as you take in Uncle Earl, sprawled out in the ancient LaZ Boy, his massive frame heaving up and down, working in time with his noisy snoring. A freight train run loose of the tracks couldn’t wake me, he once said over corned beef hash and iced tea, back in those first few days when you and Joey were staying with Earl, just getting to know him. You’d held Joey’s hand and laughed it up, looking at the rural emptiness all around. But now you stare at the telephone and fight off the sickening idea of ripping the long curly cord from the receiver and wrapping it around his fleshy neck, putting an end to this madness, this ridiculous way of living.
It’s still a couple of hours before your double down at the Stagecoach Diner, and you softly close the screen door, step out onto the dusty pine slats of Uncle Earl’s wraparound porch. This is one of the few times of the day to think and be alone. You and your warm cup of Folgers, out here in the early fog, staring at the swampy backyard, the steam slipping up from the thick woods of lower Alabama. Shame, shame for having those vicious thoughts about the telephone cord.
They rolled the fog machine in during the second week of shooting, and though the movie was lame it still gave you the willies as you did your little ten-minute scene; after Jason slit your throat, the thick red corn syrup running down your neck, you collapsed, dead, but then squinted out at the fog, wondering just how it was all going to appear on the big screen. You also pondered if the role would lead to more roles—bigger and better films that featured young, black actresses. You weren’t so sure. The mist crept slowly, enveloping the feet of the film crew and production staff, seeping out into the air just above the clay banks of the large pond, which in the film was dubbed Crystal Lake.
But like the laughter and good times with Joey, all of that was during an earlier time, when things were new, even adventurous. That was the state of before. For you, the mood in Stockton, Alabama is now different.
“Sidney?” Uncle Earl calls out from inside, waking up. “Can ya help me into my chair, please? Looks like it’s gonna be one of those days.”
One of those days usually means more work for you. There are occasions in which he can get around with his cane or wheelchair, not needing much help, but lately you’re convinced that those days are outnumbered by the others. Earl holds your elbow and pulls his body up with one arm while gripping the arm of the wheelchair nearby with the other, readying his large frame for the transition. You brace your legs and lower body, used to this, even though it always leaves a slight tweak in your lower back.
“Honey, you enjoyin’ the morning air back there?”
“Yes, Uncle Earl.” Was enjoying the morning air. “It’s nice.” The heavy scent of Folgers is still all around and you exhale rapidly as he drops into the seat of the wheelchair, releasing your arm at the last second, which brings instant relief.
“Wonder where all this fog’s been comin’ from,” he says, his chest now panting slower as he situates his frame comfortably in the seat and begins to roll back to his bedroom. “Leaves everything damp and wet.”
You rotate your shoulders, stretch your back out, and take a few deep breaths of your own as he rolls down the hall; just over his shoulder a hockey mask hangs from a tack on the wall, a hip souvenir you lifted from a prop box on the set when nobody was around. Jason Voorhees was the only real star of Friday the 13th VII, but even he was just a guy in a jumpsuit and a mask. Not necessarily William Hurt or Jeff Daniels that you were sharing credits or establishing contacts with. It was a gig all the same, three days of shooting that put 900 dollars in your pocket, the first film credit under your belt. But then the catastrophes started. Earl took a hard fall on the front porch, dislocating his hip. Joey bolted for the lure and magic of Hollywood. And before you could blink you were stuck in Stockton. Stuck with this man, this uncle Earl, who in some respects was exactly like your grandfather: a reclusive, old bachelor that had very few people in his life.
Back out on the porch again, you enjoy the spook of the air, letting your eyes penetrate the thick mist. You simply don’t have the heart to leave him. Though at first there was some kind of satisfaction at the free room and board and the chance to spend a little time down in the sticks of southern Alabama, things are now different. 1. The film’s been shot, and production has wrapped up, left town. 2. Joey is no mas. 3. Earl is, well, he’s lumbersome. Cumbrous. No, he’s colossal. You listen to the tiresome morning babble of Bob Barker coming from Earl’s bedroom, the same noise you’ve put up with for the last five weeks, and after the bright orange telephone cord jumps through your mind for a quick encore, you ask yourself, once again: can you really do this until Christmas?
(To read more of this story, contact John!)