"An artist cannot fail; it is a success to be one."
~Charles Horton Cooley

Welcome to the Mortar & Pestle Literary Magazine! We are an undergraduate organization established in Fall 2002 at The George Washington University in Washington D.C. This magazine features the work of undergraduate writers and photographers from universities within the D.C. area. Because of this, Mortar is only available online.

The Mortar & Pestle editors can be contacted at gwmortar@gmail.com

Monday, February 1, 2010

Paul McCartney's Silent Revenge, by Stephanie Mayer

Paul McCartney's Silent Revenge
Stephanie Mayer

“Come here. Hank! Look, the Beatles have invaded Harper Street! We’ve got our very own Ringo Starr at our doorsteps! Look Hank, look!”

I’m not Ringo, I’m Paul McCartney, get it right, would you? But I’ll forgive you because you’re giving me candy. The fringe on Mrs. Holcomb’s suede jacket shimmies as she opened the door wider, revealing her entire costume, complete with cowboy hat and boots, and a white polo with a few buttons suggestively left open. She looks cute…for a mom. But she’s Dan Holcomb’s mom, and I once heard his best friend, Will Mason, say that Mrs. Holcomb seduced him at a sleepover, and I don’t want her to seduce me because Dan would jam me in a locker like he did last month when he saw me looking too long at his girlfriend, Sadie Winter.

“Why you keeping the door open, Nancy? You’re just letting in the goddamn cold. I’m trying to watch the damn game and the Packers are losing.” Opening the door wider, the big oaf on the couch, gorging his face with greasy salt and vinegar chips, verifies all reasons why Mrs. Holcomb has resorted to seeking for the affection of hormone rampant teenage boys.

“Hank, stop it, we have a trick-or-treater here. Get your hands out of your pants and clean up your language would you?” The oaf looks up toward the door where I’m standing. I’m dressed in a black mop wig that my mom had bought me, which sweeps over my eyelids so I have to keep looking up to see who where I am going. I’ve already tripped twice in the past hour. The woolen grey suit I’m wearing barely reached my calves—I’d worn it to my elementary school graduation. Since then Mom says I grew “like a beanstalk,” but I know she’s lying, because when we lined up for class pictures last week I was put in the short row with the girls. Hanging around my neck I’ve got a ukulele, which Mom brought home from one of her flights to Hawaii as a stewardess. It’s supposed to resemble McCartney’s acoustic, but according to the lady at 103 Ash Street, I look like a freak cruise ship act.

The oaf tossed his head in a backward motion toward me and away from the game, flicking open a Bud at the same time, hollering, “Oh, it’s that damn weirdo kid from three doors down. The one who’s always got the headphones on. Yeah, give him some candy and let him go, will ya? I’m catching a cold here!”

“HANK! He’s not deaf, he’s just mute—he can hear every word you’re saying, you moron,” hollered Mrs. Holcomb into the den, where the grunts and crunches of the football game echoed into the foyer. Mrs. Holcomb turned her attention to me with a nurturing smile of pity that people always defaulted to after interacting with me for more than ten minutes. She tossed a box of Mike and Ikes and a mini Crunch bar into my plastic, grinning pumpkin bucket. Nothing to feel sorry about, Mrs. Holcomb, I’m just a kid milking a day of free candy as long as I can. I looked up at her, and she was probably expecting a smile, but I didn’t satisfy her with one, so she just wished me a happy Halloween while shutting the door on me.

I turn up the speakers on my headphones as a “Day in the Life” grows into it’s a spiral of lemon yellow swirls and dancing daisies behind my eyelids. I plop myself down on the curb of the sidewalk, my pants rising to my knees revealing the red sock on my left foot and black sock on my right. Homemade dinosaurs, princesses, and ghosts have begun to take over the street. Their parents stay close behind, talking in groups of fours and fives about the economy, football, and the terrible toupee that the school principal, Mr. Totts wears. Toupee Totts, that’s what we call him behind his back at school. I sort through the metallic wrappers of goodies in my jack-o-lantern bucket. Three Reese’s Cups, an Almond Joy—and raisins? Who the hell gives raisins out on Halloween? It must have been from that new couple in the brick house on the corner of Ash and Lamplighter. They have a four-year-old girl, but according to Mrs. Howland in my Mom’s book club, the baby isn’t his and is a result of her days as a stripper. Mrs. Howland says he met her at the Foxy Lady, which Mom calls a house of sin, and he, a local dentist, promised her a life of security and good dental hygiene. And they say I’m messed up.

I struggle to open a bag of Whoppers, tearing the bag from both ends with my molars, and when it finally yanks apart with a sudden snap, the malt whoppers bounce all over the road, a few even rolling into the gutter. Rocky Ligero, who I recognize from my bus stop, was walking by and stopped in front of my mess, motioning all of his friends over to see the display. I have to take the bus with high schoolers to take my advanced classes. On the first day of school, I tried to stay out of their way and focus on the Beatles in my ears, but I was so nervous for school I vomited on Rocky’s shoes. Big mistake. Ever since he’s made it his life goal to ruin me.

“LOOK everybody, Mute Kid’s lost his candy, and he can’t ask anyone for help!” he mocks with voice influxes that one uses when talking to their dog. “Whatcha gonna do, John Lennon, get Yoko to come and help you?” His friends snicker and high-fived each other the way that all the kids do, but my shrink says is because they have self esteem issues.

I’m actually Paul McCartney, you imbecile, the more talented of the Beatles but your Def Leopard t-shirt tells me that you prefer bands with one armed drummers and body odor. As for Yoko, I wish she had drowned while experimenting with how her voice sounds underwater, so she’s the last person who I want to come save me from you assholes.

“Why don’t you talk back, FREAK?”

Well, because you’re not worth my time. You smell, your leather jacket is actually pleather, your shaved head makes you look like a skinhead even though I’m pretty sure you’re half Jewish because I saw you at Temple at Rosh Hashanah. And because I know that your brother got Macy Turvish, the fat girl in my Honors Physics class, pregnant. Yeah, I don’t think you want me to talk.

Rocky gives me one of those fake lunges forward, where he pretends he’s gonna attack but then recedes at the last moment, fist pumping his friends while walking away. “Stay out of my way, queer. I don’t want to see your cross-eyes staring at me again, tonight, you hear?” he threatened as he kicks a pumpkin with a hollow thud and then he and his friends made their way to the end of the street to smoke behind the dumpster. Someone should tell them that smoking takes eleven years off of your life. The crispy orange leaves parted in the street as the gang passed, as if in fear that Rocky’s boots would crunch them.

I pick up a few of the Whoppers on the ground and pop them into my mouth without dusting the dirt off. No need, we’re all a part of nature. I’m Mother Nature’s son. Swaying daisies sing a lazy song beneath the sun, I’m Mother Nature’s son. Actually, I’m my mother, Carol’s son, don’t get me wrong, but I just like how Paul McCartney puts it better. She spends every moment she’s not working with me, except the weekends when I have to go to my Dad’s house in Ann Arbor, but I hate it there because my stepbrother ties me to trees when we play pirate. The courts make me go to my dad’s house, but I’d rather stay in my room in Springfield, where my walls are decorated with vintage posters of Paul McCartney and my model trains are set up just the way I like them, with the grey double stack cargo cars by the window near the mountain tunnel and the mini people and conductor waiting for its arrival on my nightstand.

When I was little, I sat on my bed for days with my headphones on, listening to the Beatles to cover up the screaming of my Mom and Dad in the kitchen, the tossing of pans against the walls, and the shattering of glasses on the linoleum. Once during the quiet melody of “Blackbird,” I heard my Dad scream about me being his retard son. At dinner Mom made meatloaf with caramelized carrots, but I was eating Macaroni. Dad said the meatloaf was too dry, so I threw my fork toward his head. It missed and stuck in he window screen behind him. That’s when Dad left. And that’s when I started seeing Dr. Stein.

Dr. Stein is my shrink, and he has quite a job. I kind of pity the guy. I mean, the whole point of therapy is for you to talk and them to analyze what you’re saying, but I don’t speak—never have and never will—so he doesn’t have much to work with. Sometimes I sit on the plush maroon sofa and color during our sessions while he does the New York Times crossword puzzle, occasionally looking up at me with his beady eyes and narrow head. His room is filled with pictures of yellow submarines and pretty girls in diamond skies that I’ve drawn for him over the years. Sometimes, Dr. Stein feels bad that he’s getting paid $125 per session so he’ll talk about why I’m different and tries to use all the medical jargon he picked up in grad school to dissect my brain. He says I don’t talk because I have Pervasive Development Disorders that fall under the spectrum of autism. Mom just says I’m “gifted”.

But, there’s just no need to talk, Dr. Stein. See, just listening to you blabber on right now, the missing ring on your finger, and hearing your random calls during our session—I know that you’re currently having marital issues and you’re probably living at the Red Roof Inn on route 95 because your wife kicked you out. What’s left unsaid is just so much more interesting than anything that I could tell you, Dr. Stein.

Except for the Beatles. They don’t speak like the rest of the world. They’re poets, actors, the voice of the everything I ever could say, feel, understand—everything I might ever need to tell the world can be summed up by the works of four fab mop-topped men on a mission to invade the U.S. of A. Dr. Stein says that even though I don’t talk, my other senses are heightened above all of the other twelve-year-olds, which is why they put me in all the advanced classes at school and I have to take the bus to high school every other day. As if I’m not an outcast as it is…then they put me in a class with all the nerds. Great. But it’s not just that I can solve quadratic formulas with the flick of my wrist, I can sense the numbers, and each one has a feeling, a personality. Seven is sharp and angry, but three always tries to round it out. But music is the same way, and no one else sees it. Yes sees it. There are colors that swirl through my body when “Something” rounds its way through the reels of the cassette and makes the journey into my ears. It’s red and sensual, and brings wholeness to my heart, while “Eleanor Rigby” is light blue streaks over grey clouds that hide behind my eyelids and tap my toes with fury for the helpless stories that it tells.

But now the “Magical Mystery Tour” has just started playing in my ears, and this is a mural of paisley purple raindrops through my veins. The wind picks up, causing my nose to sniffle, but I ignore it and let a wet drip reach the pocket above my lips, where it sits for a few moments. Jesus, it’s cold. I’ve dressed as Paul McCartney for the past seven years, and I never remember how cold it gets. It always looks so nice and sunny outside from my second story window, as I dress myself in the full outfit, swaying my hips and playing my new uke in front of the mirror while jiggling my legs with rhythm to the pink and red polka dots of “Love Me Do.” The crowd, or the miniature people in my train collection, goes wild for that one.

Hunger. Now I’m hungry. I forgot to eat the dinosaur shaped sandwich Mom packed me today because I was too busy working on my language to decode the hidden meaning behind, “Yesterday.” I’m getting close to solving it, and I’m pretty sure that it’s supposed to be communist propaganda, according to the 00 11 patterns that I’ve assigned to the syllables of the lyrics. In the cafeteria today, I was making so much progress until Bess Hornsby came up and asked for my help on logarithms. At least she let me have her Twinkie while I pointed and nodded her in the direction of solving base ten logs. Mom is probably at home cooking dinner, so I should get back. In August, I stayed by the stream near the playground until it got too dark, and she and the police found me there and brought me home. Mom hugged me tight driving home in the squad car, but when her tears hit my shirt I was just sad because I didn’t want to leave the music of the crickets.

I make my way down Carver Street and toward Magnolia Drive—that’s where I live. The houses are all carbon copies of each other, built by a man named Henry Walters in 1952, during the white flight to the suburbs, which I learned all about in History class. Our school is named after him, but I don’t think he deserves it, because how innovative does a guy have to be to design three hundred three bedroom, two and a half bath brick homes on one acre plots of land. The leaves are shedding from their trees now, leaving a depressing shadow of summer behind, but in the summer there are potted flowers uniformly lined up the sidewalk that sway forward when kids whiz by on their tricycles. But I only watch this from inside of my kitchen, because Mom says my allergies get too bad when the pollen takes over, so I just watch the tulips dance to the euphoric lime green zebra stripes I see in

“LOOK EVERYONE. It’s the Freak again. I thought I told you to stay away.” Aw, shit. Don’t turn around, don’t turn around, all you need is love, don’t turn around. Maybe he doesn’t see me. “Yeah you heard me, RETARD.” I pivot slowly, greeted by Rocky and his weasels who look greasy and smell like they just came out of the sewer. They start inching closer to me, and I turn up my headphones to prepare for the onslaught of insults that I would prefer to ignore, but Rocky is quickening his pace, and with a, “Come on Fellas, let’s reenact the assassination of John Lennon,” he and his posse start toward me with full force. I’m Paul McCartney DAMNIT, not fucking four-eyes Lennon! That’s right—I’m Paul McCartney! You think Rocky Ligero’s got anything on me, I can get all the chicks in the world and unite the Atlantic—I’m Paul McCartney and I’m not moving!

Seeing that I wasn’t going anywhere, Rocky slows down his pace, and makes his way right up into my face. “So you’re not scared, huh?” he spit while grabbing my candy filled jack-o-lantern. He tears open a Milky Way and rips off a piece with his stained teeth, right in front of my face. A drip of caramel hangs on his lips, which he doesn’t realize is there, and as he chews, smacking the chocolate against his molars, he motions to his friends, “Boys, we’ve got to teach the Beatles a lesson about why the U.S.A. is the strongest nation in the world…not like fucking Liverpool—UGH!”

I couldn’t take it anymore. So I rammed my ukulele into Rocky’s gut with all of the force that the 115 pounds of my body could muster. I growl at them, and begin clawing my hands in the air while swinging around the Ukulele to keep anyone from coming near me.

“Jesus Christ, what the hell is wrong with the freak,” shouts one of Rocky’s minions. Rocky is on the ground with both hands cradling his stomach, eyes bulging out of his bony head desperate for the oxygen that my uke knocked out of him.

Exit stage left. Exit stage left. Always leave the crowd wanting more. That’s what Paul would do, leave while on top. I bolt. My knees struggle to pick up speed with the tight woolen suit confining them to a vertical position, but I still dash in between trick-or-treaters dressed as pirates and fairies, hugging my cassette player close, and, pumping up the volume on “Helter Skelter,” I leap up and down the sidewalk, avoiding the potholes and making my way past the house that gave me shitty raisins, being propelled forward by black comets and shooting stars whizzing by my head and the screams of Paul in my ears, shouting “HELTER SKELTER GO FASTER!” I turn the corner to my home on Magnolia Drive and rush to unlock the gate into my house, where the light of the kitchen glowed, welcoming me home.

I thrust open the door and threw myself against the back of it, and let out a huge gasp of breath. My mom, still in her bright red stewardess outfit, hair done up in a perfect bun and lipstick matted on her face, turned to me with a smile. “Happy Halloween, my little Paul McCartney,” she said, as she placed a bowl of tomato soup on the table. That’s right, I’m Paul McCartney, and I’m ready for the revolution.

Stephanie Mayer is a Sophomore majoring in Human Services with a Creative Writing Minor, and hopes to combine them somehow with my goal of becoming a social worker. She has always loved writing, and the creative writing classes at GW have given her a place to foster and channel the weird, absurd, and trivial ideas in my head. When not volunteering and writing, she loves running and ran the marine corp marathon this fall, where she had 26.2 miles of time to think of new short story ideas.

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