A Story by Kees Kapteyn



”They say we all dream in black and white, but I dream in technocolour!”
Judy is a across the booth from me, talking in caffeine spurred agitation, jabbing her cigarette towards me and painting jagged lines of smoke in the air. Her eyes burn brown at the sugar dispenser, never to me. Her thin mouth is in furious motion, decorated with donut icing and it has a teasing smirk, slight, like a comedienne’s. “They say you don’t remember yer dreams but I remember every single one! Every single one!” She shrugs and waves her skeletal hand at me, drawing another arc of smoke. “Those doctors don’t know nothin’.”
She takes a pull from her cigarette, looking at a little girl across the coffee shop.
“It’s Father’s Day next weekend. Father’s Day.”
“Is it?” I say. “I didn’t know it was so soon.”
“You know what they’re trying to tell me? That I shouldn’t miss my dad cuz he ruined my life an’ he beat me when I had to leave home.”
She’s talking to the sugar dispenser again, yet looks sideways at me for a reaction. I don’t have one for her. Two years ago when I first met her, she would have raged into full detail about her abuse, relishing the discord it would bring to the room. Now she speaks of it matter-of-factly. It’s all been said before. Father’s Day is still an anniversary for her though. There are several anniversaries each year and Father’s Day is just one. For some reason, I love to hear her talk like this. I think I love to hear it being trivialized, to see the comfort she has when she speaks of her past, to notice the rational thought processes she uses to come out with the details.
“What am I gonna do?” she says. “He’s my dad! He brought me into this world! What can I do?” The shrug she sends the sugar dispenser is circular and exaggerated. She is still smirking.

“I agree with you, “ I say. “He’s still your dad. You can’t deny that.”
“Dirty son of a b***h.” She says.
She picks at a scab on her face, then stops when she remembers that I’m going to tell her not to. It’s my job to remind her of her health.
“And now they want me to get my own place! I’m not ready! I’m too scared! I’m scared!” She finishes her tirade with a shrug and a smirk.

When we return to the house, Judy butts in front of me to unlock the door with her own key, then bursts through and scuttles into the kitchen, loudly announcing her agenda for the evening. She has to knit for a little while then
she has to do laundry then she has to call her sister since she’s mad that she never called last night then maybe if she’s tired she might go to bed… She arrives at her space; a countertop in the corner of the kitchen littered with her things- yarn, ashtrays, stuffed toys, garbage- and resumes knitting the piece she’s been working on. Nicole, the other staff on shift with me tonight confronts me before I even enter the kitchen.
“How much caffeine has she had already?” she says, whispering with a hiss.
“She’ll be fine. I’ll be with her.”
“I don’t want any problems…”
“No problems.” I laugh.
Judy sits on a stool at her counter, smoking out of one side of her mouth and puffing out the other as she silently knits what she calls a blanket. It’s long, but too narrow to be a blanket- more like a wide scarf, with about five pastel colours integrated into its patternless array. The ball of yarn that she knits from is huge, a rolled collection of various yarns. With her crochet needles, she converts the yarn into something less chaotic, more developed. The completed end of the piece, where she started, is rolled up like a scroll. I watch her for a minute. I’ve been thinking of asking her to clean up the clutter she has piled up on her counter. All I need is a good opening argument. I know she will argue. She loves to argue.

I catch sight of Judy looking up from her work and I see she’s taking notice of Maria, another resident of the house. Maria comes into the kitchen; a rare sight since the kitchen means chores to her. Each tenant of the group home has his or her own share of chores, but Maria fails to see the logic in this, never having such responsibility in her aged parents’ home. Maria looks pretty, but her clothes are too tight, all panty lines and bulges. She seems to engrossed in her own appearance to acknowledge the flaws in it. She is an eleven year old in a 23-year-old body. She’s about to float up to me expecting an unsolicited hug when Judy asks her if she’s emptied the dishwasher. Maria stops, sighs and puts her hands on her hips in her best Paris Hilton pose of defiance.
“No,” she says, rolling her eyes. “why?”
“You’re s’posed t’put away the dishes! S’your turn! You think I’m gonna do it for ya? Fine then…” Judy puts her knitting down and grumbles over to the dishwasher. She lets its door drop with a crash and starts to empty it. “I’ll empty it, ya lazy kid. I’ll do it. I like to do it better than you.” All the while, ashes fall from the cigarette in Judy’s mouth onto the wet dishes. The dishes clang and clatter as she shoves them away into the cupboard. Nicole enters the kitchen and can’t believe what she’s seeing. I look at Maria, who is shrugging and turning away, accepting this
as a reprieve.
“Maria,” I say, laughing a little bit. “do the dishes, please.”
Huffing and puffing, Maria takes over the job and Judy returns to her spot, smirking.
“It’s okay. I like to do it. I don’t mind.”
“You’re such a saint.” says Nicole, coming to help Maria and shooting me a look that sobers the smile I can’t help on my face.

The next afternoon as I come in to start my shift, I hear a loud cacophonous sobbing coming from Maria’s room on the second floor. Nicole is descending the stairs and shaking her head.
“Her ceramic… carousel horse… piggy bank… thing is missing and she’s upset over it. She’s refusing to go grocery shopping with me until she finds it. I think your friend did it, but Maria hasn’t put two and two together.”
I nod grimly.
“I wouldn’t put it past her.” I say. “She’s done it before; steal other tenants’ things. We’ve just never caught her in the act.”

Maria’s room is decorated like a cake, frilly and festive, pink and white. She sits on her puffy comforter clutching her teddy bear and sobbing heavily as Frankie, our other tenant sits next to her and rubs her back in an attempt to comfort her. Despite his best efforts, he is thoroughly baffled by her emotion and looks at me to start some process of consolation.
“I hear you lost something.” I offer.
“My merry go round horse! My dad gave it to me. I can’t find it anywhere! Anywhere!”
She is throwing her arms up in the air for melodrama as melted snot glistens under her nose.
“Did you ever take it out of this room?”
She looks at me, perturbed. She sighs and gasps.
“No, why? Why would I? No!”
She’s getting agitated, blowing this all out of proportion. I think I will have to remove all the attention she’s been getting before it gets any worse,. I motion to Frankie that we should both leave. Going down the stairs, I realize there is no avoiding it: I have to talk to Judy about this. I go into the kitchen and find Judy smoking her cigarette, knitting intensely.

“What’s all the noise about?” she asks without even looking up. I’m shocked to hear her mention it first.
“Maria’s lost one of her knick knacks and she’s really upset.”
She looks at me, straight at something inside me, as if she’s caught me in a lie. She then takes a long drag from her smoke, snuffs it and slides off her stool, smirking.
“That kid is always losing her stuff! Where’s her head? On her shoulders? She don’t know!” She thumps up the stairs to Maria’s room and I follow, just to be there. She throws the door open and startles Maria with its brush and bump. “What’s your horsey bank look like?”
Maria is dumbfounded by Judy’s show of concern and shrugs timidly.
“I don’t know.” Maria says, “It’s a horse.”
Judy laughs and shakes her head.
“What colour is it?”
“Okay. A yellow horse. I’m looking for a yellow horse.” Judy looks around Maria’s room, avoiding the drawers and the closet, then goes down the hall and starts lifting and moving things in search of the lost horse. Not finding it, she goes downstairs and passes a befuddled Nicole on the way. I smile and shrug weakly to answer Nicole’s inquiring look.
“Do you think she knows anything?” Nicole asks.
“She does. I never said anything about what was missing and she knew it was the horse bank.”
“So nail her!”
I laugh and shake my head.
“Give her a little bit. She might come around.”
Nicole shakes her head.

The search is, of course, fruitless, and I’m faced with the daunting task of confronting Judy. She has a history of stealing things from staff and the other tenants and it seems that history is now repeating itself. Nicole manages to get Maria to go shopping with her however, giving the house some silence to preclude my unpleasant duty. I busy myself with doing Frankie’s speech exercises in the dining room, though realistically, I can’t pay any attention to what Frankie is saying. I’m trying to think of what I’m going to say to Judy. In five years in the 
business, I’ve restrained 250 pound schizophrenics, talked juveniles out of killing themselves, but the prospect of extracting the truth from a 46 year old developmentally- deprived woman who’s half my size makes me second guess myself.

I hear the back door of the house opening from the patio and I see Judy coming through. I had no idea she was out there, nor would I have had any reason to expect her to be. Judy is holding a broken yellow carousel horse, its body in one hand, its head in the other. Money can be heard sliding around in its ceramic belly.

“Here it is.” She is shrugging nod referring herself to the china cabinet next to me. “Oh well. I can fix it for her. I‘ll fix it.”
I laugh. My reaction seems to startle Judy and without saying another word, she turns and walks back outside. I follow her.
“Jude, wait!” I say. “Jude!”
She seems frightened that I would say her name and stops. She turns around, only partly. In my haste to catch up to her, I lose track of what I’m going to say. A fatal pause comes instead of words and when the words come, I stumble over them.
“Um, “ I sputter. “where did you find it?”
Quickly, she walks over to the edge of the deck and points to the ground cover plants underneath.
“Right there!” she shrugs. “Someone must have thrown it from that window up there. I don’t know. I found it right there, broken. I don’t know.” I look at her, but she’s talking to the banister.
“How did you find it?”
“I was just sitting here an’ I saw it. I just saw it layin’ there.”
“And you say someone must have thrown it out a window?”
“Yeah. I don’t know who. I just found it later.”
“Well, it couldn’t have been Frankie, it couldn’t have been any of the staff. It wasn’t me.”
I feel my tone speeding up. I’m sounding harsh, totally not the direction I want to go. I can’t back up now; it’s out of my mouth. I stop. I shut up. Judy is looking at me.
“So you think I did it?” She turns away and talks to the patio table. “He thinks I did it. Why would I?”
“C’mon Jude, you can make up for this. You can get in less trouble if you come clean. We can’t trust you if you keep on denying it.” Somehow, I’m happy to get the truth out, but this is all lost on her. She turns her back to me
and I can hear her mutter under her breath:
“You don’t need to trust me.”
She shoves a chair off to her side. “You don’t believe me! He don’t believe me! I can’t believe it!”
“C’mon, Jude!”
“No-one trusts me, no-one trusts me here!”
She pushes past me to go inside through the back door. I go to open the back door and I hear a ruckus inside. It sounds like a catfight. I run in. In the front foyer, Judy has Nicole by the hair, holding her off balance and almost dragging her across the floor. Nicole is crying, Maria is running frantically up the stairs to her room. Judy is crying too, but there is an insane look on her face, a desperate look. I rush in and hold Judy close to Nicole to stop the pulling. In a forceful, deep voice, I tell Judy to let go. For several long moments both women are still, both crying from pain. Eventually, Judy lets go, but she doesn’t melt into my arms like I’d hoped she would. She remains rigid in her crying. A few seconds later, she struggles to get out of my restraint. I let her go and she is out the front door.
“I thought she was going for Maria,” Nicole says, holding her head and trying to compose herself “so I stood in her way and she went straight for me. I had no idea she would do anything like that.” She starts to cry. I just wish Nicole would shut up.
I‘m not even paying attention. I’m going to the office to grab the cell phone and rush out the door without saying another word. On the street, I can see Judy up ahead, her head jerking in some internal conversation I wish I could hear. She turns left at the intersection and I can see she is headed for her sister’s apartment. I follow her all the way there and when she goes in, I sit on the curb a while to let things happen inside, trying to recall the sister’s phone number. I punch off seven numbers and it turns out to be right. I explain to Judy’s sister the circumstances leading up to Judy’s arrival at her door. I can hear Judy yelling in the background for me to go away, to leave her alone.
“She’s in a state,” Nancy says. “but I’ll just let her talk. It will calm her down.”
“Are you sure you’ll be okay?”
“It’s not anything I haven’t seen before. I’ll be alright.”
I feel like such a t**d for leaving her to deal with Judy, but it’s what Judy wants and it will calm her down. It just feels so wrong not being there to help Nancy.
“Okay, “ I finally say. “just let us know if you need us.”
“I think all she needs is to be left alone for now.”
I don’t know how to respond to that. I breathe into the phone.
“I didn’t mean that as an insult.” Nancy says.
“No, I know. Just let us know, okay?”
“I will.”
“Take care.”
“I will.”
In the last instant before Nancy hangs up the phone, I notice that I no longer hear Judy’s voice in the background.

Once I am back at the house, Nicole leaves hastily to go to the hospital and have her neck looked at. Once she is gone, I can’t stand the conspicuous quiet of the house, so I move to the patio, hoping to smooth my rattled nerves. I feel like I’ve just backed down from a fight; weak in the knees and low in spirits. I lean against the banister and heave a sigh. I will have to call this incident in, write a report, but my mind just doesn’t want to revisit it just yet. I see the horse bank on the table next to me. I didn’t even notice that I had put it there. When I’d heard the ruckus indoors I just rushed in without even thinking. There is still money inside it. I count it: $3.65.
I look over the railing to the garden where Judy claims to have found the horse. I see no more money. I wonder if I should give the bank back to Maria, but I don’t know how she will react. It may be better for her to think it’s lost forever than to know of it’s true fate. Maybe she should be spared the pain. I replay Judy’s reaction in my head again, over and over. I’d handled it all wrong. Every behaviour is a communication, a movement to effect a change in the environment. I learned that back in college.

Maria comes out to the patio and sees me holding the horse. With a moan, she takes the horse and slumps into a chair. She holds her breath for a little while, staring sadly at the horse, then begins to wrack sobs. She starts crying like a little child.
“We can glue it back together, Maria. Don’t worry.” I say, but Maria doesn’t want to give up her carousel horse. She holds both pieces in her folded arms and puts all her weight into weeping for her broken property.

© 2009 Kees Kapteyn

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Added on March 27, 2008
Last Updated on January 23, 2009


Kees Kapteyn
Kees Kapteyn

Ottawa, Canada

Resides in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Self-published his zine 'rhododendron' and two chapbooks: 'grubstreet' and 'coffee salt.' Has been published in ditchpoetry.com, blueskiespoetry.ca, Novella, Corv.. more..

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