Posted on August 19th, 2013
[The Fourth of July. A suburban backyard, two hours before sundown. Mismatched Sedans and SUVs line the ring of the Cul-De-Sac in front of the house. About two dozen adults sip canned beer from cozies and participate in conversations of as many as six and as few as one other adult. Roughly the same number of children run zig-zag patterns and yell wordlessly throughout the yard, portions of the adjacent yards, and the Cul-De-Sac. Two plastic washtubs, one filled with beercans floating in water that was ice not long ago, the other likewise but with soda, sit in the sun next to a worn wooden deck, slowly growing warmer. An arm’s length away sits a slightly rusted charcoal grill, the white-grey ash collected in the drum no longer too warm to hold in your bare hand. Atop the grill sits one wrinkled, slightly charred all-beef kosher hot dog, now with that peculiar coldness that once-hot food rapidly acquires as it becomes not-hot. In front of the grill stands HOWARD. HOWARD is 16 and fat. Not obese but more than chubby; squarely “fat”. He wears a loosely-fitting dark colored t-shirt, beneath which mild gynecomastia hints at itself. HOWARD eyes the hot dog. For all intents and purposes, the hot dog eyes HOWARD. He salivates slightly and sweats profusely (which is status quo for young HOWARD), scraping the tips of his fingers repeatedly against the inside of his warm, moist palms and squinting as the sun refracts through his glasses. Enter ARIEL, HOWARD’s sister, 14 and sprightly.]
ARIEL: Hey! Howie!
HOWARD [transfixed by hot dog]: …
HOWARD: … huh?
ARIEL: We’re gonna play soccer! Kuh-mahn!
HOWARD: Not… uh, later, Ariel.
ARIEL: Not later, Howie, right. The cousins are waiting for you.
HOWARD: No, I mean I don’t feel like playing.
ARIEL: Puhh! Howie, you always do this! Kuh-mahn kuh-mahn, how often do we get enough kids our age together for two whole teams? Pleeeeez pleez pleez!!
[ARIEL heaves her body dramatically as she pleads with her brother. Quite unlike HOWARD, there is not a drop of sweat to be seen on her; she seems as naturally inclined to the summer sun as a worm is to dirt, and the heat has done nothing to curtail a day’s worth of semi-structured recreation and spasmodic flailing. Enter MOM, initially headed towards the tub of beercan soup but, noticing the half-animated interaction between her children, she diverts and intervenes with gentle and good-humored faux seriousness.]
MOM [arms akimbo]: What’s all the commotion, Miss Ariel?
ARIEL: Momma, me and all the cousins were ready to play soccer but Howie says he doesn’t wanna play and I told him how it is that we never get to play soccer with teams cuz we never have enough people and and [a deep breath in] aww Howie, kuh-mahn!
MOM: You don’t want to play soccer with Ariel and your cousins, How?
[HOWARD looks over towards the assembled clique of cousins, who have been watching the above scene unfold from a distance, then back up at MOM. He shakes his head gravely.]
ARIEL [throws the top half of her body forward and down, letting her knuckles fall to the neatly trimmed grass, in her best exhibition of complete exasperation]: How-eee!
MOM: I’m quite sure that’s not going to convince him, Miss. If Howie doesn’t want to play, that’s up to him. You guys’ll just have to figure out how to play with an odd number.
[ARIEL marches back towards the mass of cousins, waiting to straighten her posture until she believes herself out of the line of sight of HOWARD and MOM (which, in fact, she is not), then breaking into a full sprint]
MOM: How come you don’t want to play with your cousins, How? Feelin alright?
[HOWARD lowers his head to fix his line of sight on a patch of grass somewhere between his mother’s feet and the wheels of the grill, while simultaneously pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose to counteract the slippage caused by his considerable perspiration. After a brief pause, he nods.]
MOM [taking a knee, to make her eyes level with her son’s]: What’s up, bud? How come you don’t wanna play?
HOWARD [mumbling, not making eye contact]: mm tuh fup…
HOWARD [louder, still not making eye contact]: I’m too fat.
[MOM looks down to the ground, sighs, and looks back up at her son. She places a hand on his shoulder. HOWARD looks her in the eye.]
HOWARD: I’m just gonna get really sweaty and out of breath and I’m not gonna be able to keep up
MOM: Howie… we’ve talked about this before, buddy. What did we decide on together?
[HOWARD, looking back down at the ground, kicks at a clump of dirt with his toe. He does not answer.]
HOWARD [mumbling]: um num supussa…
MOM: Speak up, How.
HOWARD [eyeing his cousins, then looking back down at the ground]: I’m not supposed to let my weight keep me from doing things. I can do anything I wanna do… no matter how big or small I am.
MOM: Right, exactly. Now, come on. Your cousins only come around a couple times a year. Do you want them to think of you as their fun cousin who plays soccer with them, or their mopey cousin who hangs around by himself on the sidelines?
HOWARD: … Fun. Not mopey.
MOM [smiling]: That’s what I thought. [Playfully] Now, quitcher mopin and go play!
[MOM resumes her interrupted route to the beer cooler, and then falls back into place amongst her trio of sisters chatting idly in the shade beneath a sycamore on the border with the neighbor’s house. HOWARD stands alone. He turns to contemplate the grill, now casting a crooked, elongated shadow on the neatly-trimmed grass. He takes a deep breath, turns, and begins to march toward the writhing mass of cousins now fully engaged in their peculiarly chaotic brand of soccer. HOWARD hesitates. He stands and watches his kin at play, the awful smooth dynamism of their tan, muscled little bodies. He can feel how the sweat makes his shirt cling weirdly to his back and shoulders. HOWARD retreats. Sitting alone on the steps of the deck, chewing mutely on the cold, wrinkled lone-survivor that had remained on the grill, HOWARD sighs.]