The Guncle by Steven Rowley



            Maisie was losing patience, and the attitude she displayed when pressed was bubbling to the surface. “Tell me something I don’t know.”

            “Stockard Channing’s real name is Susan.”

            Maisie lowered the camera, annoyed.

            “Well, you didn’t know that, did you? And now you do.” Patrick coaxed Maisie’s arms higher to reclaim his angle. “Susan Stockard. Stockard was her last name.”

            “Who’th Thtockard Channing?” Grant asked, tripping over the mouthful.

            “Oh, good lord. Rizzo?” Patrick waited to see if that registered. “In the movie Grease?”

            Grant shrugged. “We haven’t theen it.”

            “What? You’ve never seen Grease? When I was your age I watched it like a hundred times. The way John Travolta swung his hips . . . ?” Blank stares. “It’s fine. Grease 2 has a more progressive message on gender. And frankly, if you want the best of Olivia Newton-John, we should probably start with Xanadu.”

            “Everything you say is nonsense words,” Maisie protested.

            “Look, just because you find these to be erudite conversations, I’m simply stating facts. Now, do you want me to show you how to do this, or not? Please. Hit record.”

            Maisie did as she was told, if only to speed things along. “Tell us about our mom.”

            Patrick closed his eyes and conjured an image of Sara. When he opened them, he looked squarely into the camera’s lens. “Our friendship began in darkness. Your mom asked if I wanted to see the view from the roof of our college dorm and I did. We took the elevator to the ninth floor and then inched up a final, musty stairwell, the fire door slamming shut behind us. Your mom led. She was inclined to do that. I followed, huddled tightly to her as if we were a duo of teen detectives about to uncover some ghastly twist in our case. We were sweating, I remember that, even though it was the second week of October. I must have been bitching about it because your mother called me an ‘artful complainer.’ Now, that was a euphemism if I ever heard one. You guys know what a euphemism is?” Patrick looked to each of the kids; clearly they did not. “It’s a milder, indirect way of saying something that might be otherwise harsh or embarrassing.” He studied their expressions to see if it was sinking in. “You’re both looking at me like you’re a couple olives short of a martini. BOOM. Euphemism for not keeping up.”

            Grant scrunched his face. “I don’t like oliveth.”

            “It doesn’t matter. I’m teaching you two how to tell a story.” Patrick pointed at his ear to get them to listen. “So, the door below had locked shut and the one above wouldn’t open, and try as we might, there was no going up. Or down. We found ourselves stuck in that stairwell for hours with nothing to do but share skeletons. She asked if I was going to tell her my biggest secret, or if I was going to wait and do the whole gay-by-May thing. Your mother had my number, right from the start.”

            “What’s gay by May?” Maisie was lost, but to her credit she held the camera position.

            “It’s that thing where you wait to come out until sometime in your second semester.”

            “How do you share a thkeleton?”

            “Skeletons are embarrassing facts you want to keep to yourself.”

            “No they’re not, they’re a person of boneth!” Grant was clearly ruffled.

            “And they’re both very scary! You know, storytelling is building a rhythm; these constant interruptions are not helpful. ANYHOW. Turns out the door above us wasn’t locked, just stuck, and eventually we found ourselves on the roof, basking in the most extraordinary sunset. I had my camera with me, and I got off a few shots of your mom looking resplendent bathed in pink light. I told her she looked beautiful and she said, ‘You’d think differently if you saw me two noses ago.’”