This is not a book, per se. This is a layout for the various scenes for my Shy Boy script. It will be a series of vignettes. I had been posting them elsewhere but I think I get more hits on this site so this is where it will appear from now on. One thing to note is the difference between vignettes 1 and 2, in the difference between what actually happened and what was told to the family. This mirrors what happened to my father. Trust the Air Force to tell the truth. More to come and thanks for reading!
The Shy Boy
By Michael Harrison Fox
James Hull bent over his one-year-old son and kissed his forehead. “Happy birthday, Jake!” He handed him a wrapped gift that Jake just shook then dropped. James laughed. “Gotta work on that grip, buddy!”
The French nanny, Yvette, picked up Jake and hugged him. “Oh, but he is so adorable! Why must you leave him when he has only just turned one?”
“Eh, the Air Force waits for no child. Besides, I'll be back in a couple of days and we'll have a real celebration, isn't that right, Kerry?”
Kerry Hull took a drag from her cigarette and took a sip out of her beer can. She smiled at her husband and then gave him a pat on the back. “He's not going to know the difference anyway. But I'll miss you.more than he will!” She kissed James and hugged him, and then gave Jake's arm a squeeze. Jake looked at her thoughtfully.
“He doesn't talk much,” said Kerry. “I wonder if he's okay?”
“He's like Mr. Ed!” said James. “He'll talk when he has something to say!” He laughed and Kerry laughed. Yvette just looked puzzled.
James stood and picked up his son and then gently hugged him. He put him back into his playpen and watched while Jake picked up a block and threw it. “Hey, the next Duke Snyder!”
“Who's Duke Snyder?” The voice belonged to his eldest, Priscilla, six years old.
James picked her up and swung her around while she giggled. “He's a pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers! He throws a ball around like I'm throwing you, even faster!”
Priscilla laughed and laughed. When James put her down she walked around, dizzy and giggling.
James looked at his watch. “Time to go, sweetheart!” He bent over and kissed his children one at a time, Priscilla, Jack, Amanda, Jerry and last of all, Jake. He then swooped Kerry into his arms and planted a kiss on her. “Ooh, tobacco breath!”
Kerry laughed and kissed him again. He waved at Yvette, picked up a duffel bag sitting in a corner and left the house.
He drove through the French countryside, admiring the fields and French denizens that he passed until he came to the gates of the base that was his home away from home. The security guard waved him through the gate and then saluted. He was soon in the air in his RF-101 Recon Fighter as it swept south to Algiers.
His mission was simple recon, taking photos of an area that command felt needed a little attention. He experienced no flak, no radar tracking him and no trouble all the way there and back.
He was cruising at 30,000 feet, 300 miles from home when he began his descent. He was flying in dense clouds, but he had his instruments to rely on and saw the altimeter slowly drop. He radioed in for final instructions when something felt odd to him. His ears popped when they shouldn't have. He glanced at his altimeter again and it read 5,000 feet. He gave it a tap and watched in horror as it began to drop rapidly. He looked ahead and saw a hill approaching at 300 MPH. He fired his afterburners and tried to climb above the hill.
An image of his family appeared in his head just before he hit the hill, his son Jake sitting in his mother's lap, looking confused.
Five-year-old Jake lifted the heavy model plane and began making whooshing noises. He spun around, moving the plane up and down until he was interrupted by his sister Amanda, who was 9. She laughed at him and brushed his dark brown hair.
"Tell me again how he died," said Jake. He sat on the floor and Amanda sat with him.
"His plane had engine problems," said Amanda. "He tried to land safely, but he knew if he crashed near the village that he could kill others, so he flew the plane away from people until it crashed."
"So he could have ejected, but he chose not to?" He put his hand on the cockpit and then pushed it up with a 'whooshing' sound.
"That's right. He's a hero."
Jake picked up the metal plane again. "In a plane just like this?"
"Did you know him at all?" said Jake.
"A little, but I was 4 years old when he died," said Amanda. "He was a nice daddy and loved us very much."
Jake sighed. "I wish I could get to know him."
Amanda smiled. "We all miss him."
"Jake!" came a voice that grated his nerves.
He looked up and saw his mother at the doorway. "Yeah Mom?"
"Clay is asking if you want to come play outside."
He got up and put the model plane back on its metal stand. "Yeah!" He pushed past his mother and made his way outside. Clay stood outside the door, dressed head to toe like a cowboy. He had two cap guns in their holsters. Jake grinned at him and then ran back inside to get his own holster.
They played for an hour, pretending to be indians or bad guys, but blasting away with their cap guns. The smell of sulfur filled the air.
When they were done he waved goodbye to Clay and went back inside. The smell of sulfur was replaced by the smell of cigarettes. His mother sat on a chair in the den, reading a paperback book and smoking. He tried to hold his breath as he passed her, but inadvertently took a breath. He immediately hacked the smoke out of his system.
"Is your bronchitis acting up again?" said his mother, her gravelly voice once again grated a nerve.
"It's the smoke. Can't you stop smoking?"
She smiled at him. "Dinner will be ready soon. Why don't you get washed up and put your caps away?"
He quickly moved past her and into his room, which he shared with his older brother, Jerry. He put his gun and caps away and then picked up a picture book from his toy chest. He sat in bed and poured through the pictures of a boy climbing a mountain. He could not understand most of the words in the book, but his sister had read the book several times, and he knew what happened.
He lay back and dreamed for a moment that he was climbing a mountain. He shivered as he imagined the cool mountain breeze flowing over his body. He had never been on a real mountain before, but the way his older sister described it, the air made it hard to breathe. He had no problem imagining that. His bronchitis often left him with coughing fits and short of breath. He most frequently had the fits after encountering his mother's cigarettes, whether she was smoking them or not. He had tried to hide them one day and she got very upset with him.
He heard his brother come into the room. He opened his eyes to see 7 year old Jerry stick his butt in his face and fart loudly.
Jake covered his mouth and nose. "Oh eww, Jerry! Get that outta my face!" He crawled out from under his brother and heard Jerry laugh as he ran out of the room. He reached what he thought was a safe place, uncovered his mouth and took a tentative breath. He gulped air several more times and then stepped outside again.
The backyard had a swing set and he sat on one of them. He no longer had the book he had been reading, but now that he was alone he let his imagination wander once again to the mountains. The air might have been thin, but it was clean of his brother's smells. He stood on top of a tall mountain looking down, a pole with a flag in one hand. He planted it firmly into the ground.
"I claim this mountain for Jake!"
He looked down into a valley and felt a little queasy. Heights always did that to him, even imagined heights. He closed his eyes in his mind and opened them in reality to his backyard. He started to swing, gently. He never could swing high like he had seen all his siblings do. He often felt sick to his stomach even going a little ways up. He kept his swing to a slow, low pace and let his mind wander again.
Jake watched his mother put lipstick on. She smelled funny and his eyes began to water. He sneezed loudly.
"Are you getting a cold?" she asked. She felt his forehead.
"I don't think so. Where are you going?"
"I'm going out with a very nice man. He's a pilot like your father."
"Oh." He sneezed again and left the room. He could not smell his mother anymore and felt immediately better. He went to the window that led to the front yard and looked out. A car he had never seen before pulled into the driveway. It looked futuristic.
Jerry pushed him aside and looked out the window. "That's a Corvette!"
A man climbed out of the Corvette. He wore slacks and a button-down shirt. He carried flowers to the door. Jerry rushed to the door as the bell rang. Jake looked at the car with curiosity and then at the door. The man was tall and thin. He had never met an actual pilot, but he had seen several movies about them. He tried to imagine the man in a uniform, in the cockpit of a fighter.
Jerry practically pounced on the man when he opened the door. "Can we go for a ride in your 'Vette?"
The man gave a nervous giggle. "Maybe later. Is your mother ready?"
"Aww," said Jerry. "I'll get her. Mom!" He didn't turn when he yelled, his glance switched between the man and the Corvette.
Priscilla, the eldest sister, came running up. She was 12 and had a pom-pom in her hand. "Jerry! Let the man in!"
The man smiled at her and stepped over the threshold. "Hi. I'm Frank Thomkins." He reached put a hand and Priscilla gushed as she took it. “What's your name?”
“Priscilla.” He smiled at Priscilla again and she blushed. She led him into the house. Jake shook his head. He would never understand girls.
Jake moved past them and into the front yard to get a closer look at the car. It almost looked like a jet plane, sleek and silvery. He peered into the front seat and saw dials, and something that resembled the stick pilots used to steer. “Is that a joystick?”
Jerry came up beside him. “No, stupid, that's a clutch. ”
“We don't have that in our car.”
“That's because we have an automatic transmission. In his car he can control when he shifts.”
“It looks like it could fly!”
“Yeah it's pretty fast. I bet if it had wings it'd fly!”
“Maybe they're built-in, like 'Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang.'”
“That is so stupid!” Jerry slugged him in the arm.
“Ow! Cut it out!” Jake rubbed his arm and moved around the car.
Jake heard the grating voice again. “Kids!” He turned to see his mother come out with Frank. The rest of the family followed them. His older brother Jack zoomed to the car and almost shoved him over.
Frank and his mother came up and went to the other side of the car. Jake noticed that she wore a fur coat and a dress. Frank opened the door for her and she slipped into the passenger seat.
“Priscilla's in charge until we get back! Be good!” She waved at him and he gave a small wave back. She looked happy.
Frank climbed into the driver's seat like it was a cockpit and the kids moved away from the car. He heard a roar as it started and then pulled backward out of the driveway.
“I'm in charge,” said Priscilla. “So y'all better behave or you'll get it when Mom gets home!”
The only 'it' Jake could remember his mother giving him was a stern talking to. Priscilla sounded like she would do the same thing if he got into trouble. His brothers, on the other hand, used slugs on the arm, and indian sunburns to get their way. Neither choice appealed to Jake, so did his best to stay out of trouble.
He went to his room, found a book in his toy chest and tried to read it in peace.
The First Day of School
Jake stood at the curb of his house, wearing a raincoat against the wet weather. He carried a lunchbox, like he had seen his brothers and sisters carry. Their buses had come already. Jake was waiting for the van to take him to kindergarten. This was his first day and he felt nervous.
The van pulled up and he tried to read the writing on it. 'St. Francis School.' “St- What's a St? Street? Frankis, I think, and Skool. Amanda taught me that. Street Frankis Skool” The driver opened the door and he climbed in, shaking the water from his coat as he did. The driver was a woman and she smiled at him.
“You're going to have so much fun at kindergarten!”
He smiled back, but just showed a little bit of his teeth. They weren't white, something about a drug he took as a baby, and he felt self-conscious about that. Mostly, he just kept his mouth closed when he smiled.
He was the only passenger and it took several minutes to get to the school. He got out, waved to the driver, who pointed at the door. A number of children stood around, most of them older. He felt anxious around them and went to the door. There was a woman behind a desk and he took a deep breath as he approached her.
“Hello. My name's Jake H-hull. I'm s-supposed to start k-kindergarten today.”
She smiled at him. All of the adults wanted to smile at him and that made him feel even more uncomfortable. “Hi Jake. You're in Mrs. Jackson's class. Follow me!”
She moved out from behind the desk and he followed her to a room where a large number of children were already playing or talking or running around. She put her hand on his shoulder. “This is your classroom!”
He felt pressure on his shoulder and realized she was trying to get him to go in. But he didn't want to go in. All the noise and voices scared him. He felt her hand leave his shoulder. He turned to see her walk away, back to her desk. He almost wanted to run back with her.
He took a deep breath. “Come on, Hull, you've got 2 brothers and 2 sisters, and they're all noisier than this. You can handle this.” He turned back to the room, narrowed his eyes and slowly walked into class, holding his breath.
He saw a woman surrounded by a group of children and assumed it was his teacher. He moved along the side of the room, along the chalk board. It had letters written on it, but no real words that he could tell. He approached his teacher from the side and stood at the back of the crowd.
He caught her eye and she smiled at him. He took another deep breath. If they were going to smile at him all the time, he'd have to get used to it.
“What's your name?” she said.
“Jake.” His voice felt small compared to the yelling going on around him. She put her hand to her ear. He knew what that meant. “Jake,” he said, a little louder.
“Hi Jake. I'm Mrs. Jackson. Welcome to kindergarten. Oh my, why did you do to your back?” She moved toward him and he backed away. She caught up with him and began to brush his back. “You've got chalk all over your back!”
He heard giggles from the other kids. He wanted to crawl away from her touch.
She showed him to a table with crayons and paper on it and told the rest of the class to settle down.
Once the room quieted, she stood before them and put her hand on her chest. “Who here knows the 'Pledge of Allegiance?'”
A few kids raised their hands. Jake did not.
“All right then. We'll learn it together! This is something we'll do every morning! I want everyone to stand and face the flag.”
Jake looked around the room most of the kids were facing a corner and he stood and saw the flag hanging there.
“Now cover your hearts with your right hand,” said Mrs. Jackson.
Again, Jake looked around the room. He had no idea which hand was his right and left. He saw half the kids use one hand and half use the other. He looked at Mrs Jackson, who faced them, and saw which hand she used. He had to turn slightly to align his body with hers and then emulated her. He turned to the flag again.
“Now repeat after me! I pledge allegiance...”
He and the other children repeated her words, though he did not know what allegiance meant. “I pledge allegiance...”
“To the flag...”
“To the flag...” At least he knew that much.
“Of the United States of America...”
“Of the United States of America...” He knew he lived in North Carolina, but not much else. Was France a state?
“And to the Republic, for which it stands...”
He puzzled over those words while he repeated them. He had heard the term 'Republican' on TV when used for elections. He still did not know what it all meant.
“One nation, under God...”
“One nation, under God...” He looked up and wondered why God would look down.
“Indivisible...” He felt clueless now.
“With liberty and justice for all.”
“With liberty and justice for all.” He knew those words. But he couldn't figure out what it all meant.
The rest of the class sat down and he sat too. The talking, laughing and movement started again. He did his best to keep it out of his head.
The rest of the day was spent coloring, playing and talking – at least the other kids talked. Jake tried to sort it all out and gave up after lunch. He lay his head down on the table and buried his eyes in his arms.
When he got home, he let himself into the house and went straight to the dictionary. He sounded out the words he had heard during the pledge and slowly put together what it meant. But it made no sense to him to swear an oath to a flag. It was just an inanimate object. It didn't mean anything to him. He lay on his bed thinking about it until dinnertime came.
“How was your first day of kindergarten?” his mother asked.
“I don't want to go back. There's too much noise and too many kids!”
Jerry slugged him in the arm. “What a crybaby!”
Jake sighed. “I am not.”
His mother looked at him directly and he knew that she meant what she was about to say. “You have to go to school. Besides, you don't want to stay cooped up in the house all the time!”
Yeah, he did.