The Epic Tale of Bruce and Barbara

The Epic Tale of Bruce and Barbara

A Story by L.A.

Because it needed to be written, and there was no better time than 4 AM on a school night to do so.


The Epic Tale of Bruce and Barbara


It was a completely ordinary day when Bruce Chennell died. The sun rose in the morning and Mrs. Gonzalez took her little white yorkie out for a walk around the neighborhood like she always did. Mr. Björn’s red Honda Civic pulled out of his driveway across the street at exactly one o’clock. The mailman came by around three-thirty for a routine delivery. At a quarter to six, the Daggermans had their usual argument and the mister left to go buy a drink. The stars came out that night, as bright and brilliant as ever, and from then on the world just kept turning, no matter how much Mrs. Barbara Chennell wanted it to stop.

She purchased a standard coffin and simple headstone, the latter of which was white bronze with ivy carvings. It contained Bruce’s dates of birth and death, along with the words THE MAN WHO SHOWED US THE WORLD. Beside his grave were a few pinwheels and pots of flowers. They lasted for two hours before a post-service spring thunderstorm left them to drown.

By the time the floodwaters came, the funeral procession had made its way back to the Chennell home. Guests parked next to the curb and one-by-one dashed into the house, sometimes pulling out an umbrella to save their dignity. Inside, there was a bowl of pink punch on the glass dining room table and chairs were scattered throughout various rooms of the house. People poured themselves a glass and then mulled about, occasionally gathering into clusters to reminisce or to fuss about Barbara, who was staring out the front bay windows of the living room with a startling fixation.

“It’s ironic, isn’t it?” Stephanie Chennell said softly from somewhere behind her mother. She took a sip of punch and sighed. “A sunny funeral and rainy aftermath.”

“That’s not irony, Steph.” Her brother Thomas walked past her and stole over to Barbara, whom he delicately handed a glass of radioactive liquid. He rubbed his mother’s pudgy shoulders before turning back to look at Stephanie, his dark eyebrows bending inwards. “If you’re going to make wistful and cliché comments, at least know what’s ironic and what isn’t.”

“You’re a history teacher,” Stephanie said. “You’re not supposed to know, either.”

The oldest Chennell son, Brian, entered the living room with his fiancée in tow. The two of them were equally heavy-set and dressed in the same white blouse, black vest, and dark dress pants, an appearance that Thomas took in with some terror. The only noticeable difference between them was their hair: Brian’s was short and wildly curly, while Erin’s was longer, lighter, and a little straight. “What’s this about history teachers?” Brian asked. “Dad was one, too, in case you’ve forgotten. And he knew a lot.”

Stephanie looked at her mother’s turned back. “Didn’t you say he showed you the world once, Mom?”

“Nothing short of it,” Barbara replied.

Erin and the three siblings stood for awhile in silence, looking around at the beige loveseats, the giant Botticelli painting on the wall, and the maroon carpet.

“You know, you never told us,” Stephanie finally said, in the direction of her mother.

“Told you what, dear?” Barbara murmured absentmindedly, tracing the tip of her pointer finger around the rim of her glass.

“How you and Dad got together.” Stephanie took a few steps forward. “I asked you a few times and you promised to explain.”

“Did I?” Barbara asked. “I can’t remember.”

“You did,” her daughter replied, “And it only seems fair to tell us now.”

Barbara’s body shifted slightly, as if preparing to turn around, but Thomas interrupted her movements. “Leave her alone.”

“It’s all right, Tom,” Barbara told him as she completed the action. Her sad brown eyes squinted ever so slightly as her lips sadly turned upwards. “It would be best to tell it now, while the memory of Bruce is still fresh in our minds.” She paced over to the doorway, her black high-heeled old lady shoes flattening the carpet and eventually creating a clack as they met the wooden floorboards of the connecting room. “Bobby?”

An elderly, overweight man in a black suit made his way up to her. He was completely bald and bug-eyed, side effects of the obtuse glasses that were perched on his large nose. As he bustled over to Barbara, a loud snort escaped the side of his mouth. The Chennells immediately recognized him as Robert Hursh, longtime friend and colleague of their father.

“What is it?” he asked.

“The children would like to hear a story--one I know I’ll need your help with.” Barbara let out another sad smile.

“Oh, I’m all for it,” Robert replied with a grin, displaying two rows of crooked yellow teeth. He gently took her arm and the two made their way back into the living room.

The younger generation had already lined up in front of the fireplace on the opposite wall, situating themselves on top of the limestone the way they used to when they were little: Brian on the left, Stephanie on the right, and Thomas in the middle. Erin sat in Brian’s lap and Stephanie leaned her head against Thomas’s shoulder, while the latter tried his hardest to pretend his sister and her tent of a dress didn’t exist.

Barbara and Robert settled onto the carpet in front of the four young adults. “Bruce and I ‘got together’ through very interesting circumstances,” Barbara began, leaning forward. “Our story involves a damsel in distress, a mind-boggling precalculus dilemma, an intense game of baseball, and drugs.”

“Lots of drugs,” Robert confirmed.

“And blood,” Barbara added.

Lots of blood,” Robert put in, licking his lips at the thought.

Thomas frowned.

“It was the summer of ’69,” the old man continued.

“No,” Barbara said.


“You can’t start with the summer,” she said. She looked around at her audience and smiled. “See, it all started with the nose.”

“Oh, yes,” Robert breathed. His eyes rolled back into his head as he remembered. “The nose.”


If there were one distinguishable feature of Bruce Chennell, it was his nose: a facial monstrosity that jutted out an approximate two-point-three inches farther than his cheeks. Covered in clearly visible pores, the mass of cartilage happened to be decorated with a large mole, which resided atop Bruce’s right nostril. Several small scars danced around it, results of the many summer nights of his childhood when he’d attempted to hack it off with his father’s razor under the dim lights of the linen closet.

As Bruce aged, he no longer tried to rid himself of the deformity, accepting its permanence with little more than the occasional mental breakdown. Aside from his nose, he was a rather good-looking fellow, with cocoa-colored hair always parted and combed, wide, inquisitive sienna eyes, and a lean build. Not that anyone really noticed, of course--Bruce had always been the type of person to stay in the background and never venture far out of his shell. He was good at going by unseen, and enjoyed doing so.

Tonight, where our story begins, was no exception. Bruce sauntered down the dark streets of downtown DeKalb, clad in a black cargo jacket, beige pants, a white t-shirt, and a pair of his dad’s old tennis shoes. Armed with ten dollars in his left pocket and a baseball in his right, he couldn’t have been any more anxious--or unprepared for the trials that awaited him.

It was the summer of 1969 (mid-June, to be specific). Bruce had yet to buy his first real six-string at the five-and-dime, but no matter. He barely had enough money to purchase a weekly package of cigarettes, let alone a brand new guitar or his dream Volvo 1800S--which was why he was walking, not driving, to meet Bobby and the others at the sandlot in McCormack Park.

Bruce crossed a small intersection on Second Street and shuffled past the Egyptian Theatre, his body seemingly untouched by the peach hue of an adjacent streetlamp. His dark figure hurried down the sidewalk and eventually shifted leftward as he approached Lincoln Highway. Somewhere between the stoplight on Fourth Street and the old McCabe Realtors building, Bruce’s footsteps began to slow, and distantly, he thought of Barbara.

Barbara Poughinski was the sort of girl who had probably been the inspiration for multitudes of love poems written across the galaxy. Tall, button-nosed, and dimpled, she filled out a figure that most women would literally die for (which led to a few court cases and homicidal claims every year, but her infinitely charming charisma always got her out of those). In high school, she had always been the person to take the initiative. Her strong-independent-woman-who-don’t-need-no-man personality, combined with her clear-headed intelligence and white turtleneck sweaters, attracted men to her like no other. Wherever she walked, the air around her exploded in a dazzling array of pink butterflies, blue kittens, and psychedelic rainbows. She was serenaded daily by dozens of mariachi bands and completely worthy of every romantic cliché there ever was. She was also Bobby Hursh’s girlfriend of two years.


“What?” Stephanie cried, interrupting Robert’s in-depth description, much to everyone’s dismay. “You always said there was never anyone before Dad,” she told her mother accusingly.

Barbara looked down at her punch. “In a manner of speaking, dear,”  she quietly responded.

“A manner of speaking?!”

Robert and Barbara exchanged an awkward and embarrassed glance. “You have to understand,” Barbara said, very slowly, “that things between Bobby and I were never really the best.”

Now it was Erin’s turn to frown. “Why did you stay with him for two years?”

Barbara swallowed. “I was scared. Beneath that tough, self-sufficient exterior was a heaping mass of insecurity, of worry, of fear… Fear that I would always be alone.”

“So she took the second best,” Robert said. “We sort of made it work, though, didn’t we?”

The newly widowed woman let out a snort. “Not to burst your ridiculously obese bubble, but we did not, in fact, ‘make it work’,” she scoffed. “That was the whole point of the baseball game--to find someone who could.”

“Bruce--I mean, Dad,” Brian concluded. “Dad could make it work.”

“But baseball?” Thomas wondered.

“Just wait,” Robert said.


From the moment Bruce spotted Barbara two weeks into their senior year of high school, he fell completely and irreversibly in love with her--so much, in fact, that he even came out of his turtle shell long enough to hand her a note which read, We can dance if we want to, and we can leave your friends behind, ’cause your friends don’t dance, and if they don’t dance, they’re no friends of mine. He had thought it a rather clever way to ask her to homecoming, but upon discovering her relationship with Bobby, he became immortally embarrassed and retreated into the shadows once more… Until he was paired with Bobby for a history project two Tuesdays later, during which the two deeply bonded. Bobby drew Bruce into his social circle and soon, the latter found himself constantly in the presence of Barbara.

It was a well-known fact that Bobby and Barbara had a tumultuous relationship. Frequently, Barbara was seen pushing Bobby to his limits, testing how far he would let her go without crossing the line. Bruce was witness to one of these occasions during an epic game of block tag one Saturday night.

He was running from Chuck Schramm, a pudgy freshman who only hung around with Bobby’s friends because Bobby was too nice to tell him to make like a tree and go. Chuck was always seen in a grimy t-shirt and black shorts, both of which accentuated his Rubenesque figure. When he jogged, his breath came in heavy, obnoxious pants; because of this, he wasn’t very good at block tag--it was easy to hear him coming. Still, Bruce found himself barely able to escape Chuck’s chubby grasp as he rounded the corner of Judy Lane and leaped over Mrs. Virginia Fred’s rose bushes.

Bruce collapsed into a heap on the dark grass, struggling to keep his breaths slow and inaudible. He heard the chorus of a few familiar ragged gasps as Chuck jogged by; then, there was complete silence, save for a few obligatory crickets. “Thank God,” he breathed, clutching his chest.

It was then that he realized Barbara Poughinski was staring straight at him from underneath a picnic table.

“Jesus!” he exclaimed. His heart rate escalated again and he shook his head, hoping he didn’t appear as vulgar as he felt. “I mean, I’m sorry. I didn’t see you there.”

A hint of a smile touched Barbara’s lips. “Hi,” she said simply, crawling out from her shelter. Bruce observed the dirt that ran up and down her white skirt and matching socks. “You’re Bruce, right?”

He nodded, feeling himself slipping back into his shell as she drew closer.

“I can tell because of the nose,” Barbara told him. “Even in the dark, it’s noticeable. Sort of like a lighthouse.” Her bright eyes morphed into slits as she let out a small laugh, indicating a joke.

Bruce smiled, but it was a cautious smile, the kind he gave when he didn’t really think anything was funny. “You won’t give my spot away, will you?”

“This was my spot before it was ever your spot,” she replied. “But no, I won’t give you away--as long as you do the same for me.”

He nodded again. The two sat there in silence while Barbara crossed her legs, rested her chin in her hand, and continued to stare at him with her head tilted sideways.

“You know, it’s really not that bad,” she finally said.


“Your nose.” Barbara inched a little closer to observe it more carefully. “A lot of people poke fun at it, but it’s not as terrible as they make it seem.” She broke the barrier between herself and Bruce by reaching up and laying a delicate hand upon the cartilage obtusity.

An extremely odd feeling began pulsing through Bruce’s body. He barreled out of his turtle shell, ready and fully willing to embrace it. “What I want, you’ve got, and it might be hard to handle,” he told Barbara softly. “Like the flame that burns the candle.”

She met his eyes. “The candle feeds the flame,” she whispered, without blinking.

Chuck Schramm burst through the bushes before the two could continue.


“Help!” a ridiculously falsetto voice rang out across the Fourth Street/Lincoln Highway intersection. “I am a damsel in distress!”

Bruce blinked furiously, resurfacing from his memories of 1968. He stared across the street at a lone gazebo, where a small figure was being roughly tossed between three menacing men dressed in black.

“Ouch!” the voice repeated. “Help! Help!”

Bruce paused to check the time--7:45. He still had half an hour to get to McCormack Park, he figured, as he broke into a sprint.

“Hey! HEY!” he shouted. He jumped over the train tracks and ran over to the four figures. “Just what exactly is going on here?”

“Grab him!” one of the men growled.

“What--No!” Bruce protested, backing away. “I-I have a-a gun! Yes! A gun!” He shoved a spare hand into his right pocket, where he clutched the baseball threateningly.

A different man reached forward and yanked Bruce’s hand out from his pocket. “That’s no gun!” he declared intelligently, tossing the baseball over his shoulder. He looked around at his comrades, whose faces remained shaded under the gazebo roof. “Let’s get him, boys!”

Within seconds, Bruce’s hands were tied behind his back and the rest of his body was chained to one of the gazebo posts. The smaller figure, whom he could only guess was the damsel in distress, was tied up to the post beside him.

“Now, listen carefully,” the third dark man instructed. He stared right into Bruce’s eyes. “You probably think you’re brave, and--and just, huh?”

Bruce shrugged. “I guess. I mean, I had time--”

“Shut up!” Man #3 snarled. “Now, I will psychologically manipulate you into making an extremely unjust decision! But first, I must partake in a completely unnecessary monologue.” He rambled for several minutes about how long it had taken him to capture Bruce and what sort of catastrophic effects this situation would have on Bruce as a character and on Bruce’s community, and how he, Man #3, would triumph over all of humanity as the ultimate villain. Then he whipped out a notecard from within his black body suit. “If you can solve this, I’ll set you free, but you’ll have to leave the girl to us.” He sniffed stereotypically. “If you can’t solve it, I’ll throw the girl onto the train tracks. You’ll go free either way.”

Bruce frowned, contemplating, as the man channeled his inner Vanna White and presented the notecard:

“It’s times like this, when I’m chained to a gazebo and being psychologically manipulated by a man in a black body suit while on my way to an extremely important baseball game, that I’m thankful I learned how to simplify trigonometric equations,” Bruce thought to himself.

“This must be the real-life application your high school math teachers always talked about,” Bruce’s self thought back. He decided, right then and there, to offer an utmost sincere prayer of gratitude up to Saint Precalculus and her many useful teachings.

Bruce looked back at his assailants. “Now,” he began.


“So, what did he do?” Stephanie asked her mother, who had paused mid-sentence.

Barbara and Robert exchanged another one of their knowledgeable looks. Erin and the Chennell children sighed in unison, sensing what was coming.

“I’m afraid I can’t tell you that,” Barbara confessed. “But it had to do with Aruba, Jamaica, Bermuda, Bahama, Key Largo, and Montego.”

“Both the lady and your father went free,” Robert added. “And there was a lot of blood.”

“A lot,” Barbara testified.

Thomas scowled.


There was, in fact, a lot of blood. It completely covered the gazebo, dripping down the sides and leaving puddles of crimson all over the woodwork and bench seats within the canopy. It was sprinkled to form intricate floral and crop circle patterns on the grass surrounding the wooden structure. It coated Bruce’s t-shirt in a dark red, almost-black gloss that he found he rather enjoyed looking at.

He continued to stagger his way back across the train tracks in the general direction of McCormack Park. He was no longer considered invisible, but people with shirts soaked in blood were such a common sight in downtown DeKalb that he still went by unnoticed. He passed intersection after intersection, crosswalk after crosswalk, sketchy garage after sketchy garage, until finally, he caught sight of his savior.

It wasn’t McCormack Park. It was a shabby wooden market stall that resided on the opposite street corner. Multitudes of random and obscene objects were littered across its surface, and a white-and-blue striped sign attached to it read, CIGARETTES & FLOWERS.

Bruce had no idea how long he had gone without a smoke. He also had no idea how long it had been since he went after the damsel in distress, since his watch was caked with dried-up blood. He did know one thing, however: he wouldn’t be able to make it to the sandlot without a cigarette or two.

“Three packs,” he panted, slamming his red, sticky ten-dollar bill onto the counter of the stall. “Oh, and a flower would be nice, too. A lovely white one, for Barbara.”

The salesman nodded at Bruce, as if he knew what the young man was talking about. He accepted the bloody money and handed Bruce three packages of cigarettes and a white rose.

Bruce shoved the flower into his left pocket before eagerly spilling the contents of a cigarette pack all over the counter. He picked up a stick and eyed the clerk. “Do you have a lighter?”

“Yep.” The salesman reached underneath the counter, pulled out a box of matches, and lit one. As he leaned over to ignite Bruce’s cigarette, he made direct eye contact. “Just remember,” he warned, “We didn’t start the fire. No, we didn’t light it.”

Bruce nodded back at him and turned away, puffing on his cigarette with content. “But we tried to fight it!” he called out, not bothering to turn around. He set off for South Seventh Street as a weird haze began to settle upon him.


“Hold up,” Brian said.

“Yes?” Barbara asked patiently.

“That’s really sketchy.”


“First, he actually goes to a ‘Cigarettes & Flowers’ stand, buys something, and it comes as a surprise when he starts to fall into a weird haze?” Brian questioned, exasperated. “I mean, c’mon. He’s smarter than that.”

“Your father was in a very desperate position,” Barbara stated. “I don’t expect you to understand now, but maybe when you’re a little older, covered in blood, and on your way to an important baseball game, you’ll be able to empathize.”

Thomas snorted.


Bruce was seeing things--more specifically, sounds. He was seeing sounds, and hearing colors, and whenever he took a puff of his cigarette, he tasted words. They were wonderful words, too--things like splendiferous and jentacular and ginglyform, the latter of which happened to taste like a mixture of Fix-a-Dent and Indian food. The houses around him spun in the night and the fire hydrants all sort of blurred together, like a giant kaleidoscope of red dog urinals. By the time he reached McCormack Park at 10:33 PM, he could barely stand.

He was greeted by a rather large audience. In the bleachers were many of his and Bobby’s old high school buddies, including Chuck Schramm and an energetic sophomore named Rio, who had decided to dance in the sand of the outfield. Bobby Hursh stood in the pitcher’s mound, baseball bat propped at his side. Near the short-stop was Barbara--his sweet, lovely Barbara, in all her turtleneck and knit skirt beauty, fully prepared for him to win the baseball game and officially claim her as his own.

Barbara’s delighted face, however, soon morphed into one of complete horror. “Bruce,” she gasped. “You’re… You’re covered in blood.” She ran forward and grabbed his arm, examining the crimson stains. “What happened? Are you all right?”

Bruce stared fondly at her as the stadium lights beat down and illuminated her eyes from overhead. “Tonight, the super trouper beams are gonna blind me, but I won’t feel blue,” he murmured. “Like I always do. ’Cause somewhere in the crowd, there’s you.”

“How poetic,” Barbara admired.

“I know,” Bruce modestly agreed, his lips trembling. “I was planning to turn it into a song, but my Swedish neighbors stole the copyrights.”

Barbara nodded sympathetically.

Bruce fumbled around in his pocket. “Here,” he said, withdrawing a bloody, half-smashed white rose. “It’s for you.” Barbara grinned at him and accepted the gift, thoroughly touched.

“All right, Chennell, you’ve kept us waiting long enough,” Bobby called from the centerfield. “Let’s get this game rolling.”

“Okay, Bobby Pin,” Bruce replied, giggling. He reached into his right pocket for his baseball, only to be greeted with empty space--and a few drops of blood. The memory of Man #2 chucking the baseball somewhere behind Fourth Street came swarming back to him and he fell onto his knees in the dirt before Barbara, blinking rapidly as all the polychromatic wonders of the past two hours became black-and-white static to his eyes.


“So he didn’t win the game?” Stephanie asked, confused and disappointed.

“He never even played the game,” Robert answered.

“You won, then,” Erin said, and the old man nodded. A considerable amount of butthurt settled upon the group of young adults and they all sat there for awhile, glaring at one another.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Brian spoke up. “If you won the un-played baseball game, how did my parents ever get together?”

Barbara began to smile. “When Bruce fainted, we called an ambulance to bring him to the emergency room.” She stroked the side of her punch glass absentmindedly. “I sat with Bobby in the waiting room and kept stroking that white rose, over and over, until all the half-destroyed petals fell off. Bobby saw me and realized all the trials Bruce had gone through just to lose the most important game of his life.” She smiled at Robert and laid a gentle hand on his arm. “He gave me up for someone with better interests, like a true gentleman would. And Bruce… Once Bruce woke up, he swore never to do any sort of psychedelic drug again, or fall prey to such petty temptations.”

“But why would Robert do that?” Erin pressed. “I mean, you were basically the most perfect woman in the universe, right? Why would he give you up so willingly just because of a little blood?”

“It wasn’t that much of a sacrifice,” Robert replied with wink. “I mean, she did have a baby sister.”

Thomas vomited.

© 2014 L.A.

Author's Note

Props to anyone who found all the '80s Easter eggs.

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Grade A smashing material. 10/10, would (Raptor) smasshhh again.

"A considerable amount of butthurt settled upon the group of young adults and they all sat there for awhile, glaring at one another."

^ dunno why, but that killed me.

Posted 10 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


10 Years Ago

xD Thanks, Mom.

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Added on March 11, 2014
Last Updated on March 11, 2014
Tags: epic, tale, bruce, barbara, chennell, poughinski, robert, hursh, bobby, stephanie, brian, thomas, erin, summer, of, 69




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