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Kicking Television

(Author's note: This a piece of flash fiction I've had sitting around for years, with bruises of rejection from various lit mags and websites across the country. It has nowhere else to go, so here it is, free for you if interested. Enjoy.)

Denny Dobson awoke and rolled to his left, smiling.

It was the same dream he'd had on Tuesday, the same dream he'd had on Monday. She had the same dark hair and dark eyes, the same white woolen sweater as the nights before. He took a walk with her down a darkened neighborhood street, under the same dimmed street lamps that previously lit their path.

Still, it was only a dream.

As he lay in bed, he could still feel her hand in his. It was an odd excitement to have, but the elation still dizzied his head as he mashed his face into his plaid body pillow. It was a dream, but the girl was real, a girl from his third period history class on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Her name was Maggie Tynan, the name she answered to during morning attendance. That was the only reason Denny even knew her name.

The two had never talked, never walked together under the sun or moon. Their eyes had only met once, when she noticed Denny gazing in her direction from the back of their weekday class. When he was caught, he looked away. But it was too late. He already had a crush. At 13 years old, that's all it took.

In his dreams, Denny was in love. If the images from television and sentences from books were right, he was in deep. He'd watched every episode of The O.C. and movies starring Zach Braff. He'd even read the romantic exploits of Romeo & Juliet. Each fashioned love as a “first sight” experience; this was what he was feeling. He wondered if Maggie Tynan had any clue what she was in for.

He enjoyed the chill of possibilities swimming through his head and chest as he sank deep into his mattress. The blankets were comfortable, but as he rolled into them, the flickering light of the living room television seeped through his opened door. It was only opened a crack, but the beams still snuck in.

Down the hallway in a brown leather recliner sat Denny's uncle, Paul. It was a little late to have the television on, but Paul had the time. Though most people treated sleeping as a necessity, Paul Dobson considered it a choice. As the tube shone in front of him, he chose to watch the images instead of staring into the dark. The dark was empty and cold; the color picture was warm.

On the right arm of his recliner rested the VCR remote. On the left, Paul cupped a chilled high ball of bourbon, watered down but still potent. His eyes were mildly glazed and a smile crept across his face as he gazed at the rolling video. One of the scenes encouraged Paul’s smile just as Denny appeared in the room's doorway.

“Did I wake you?” asked Paul.

“No,” said Denny, “but the television's not helping me sleep. What are you doing up so late, Uncle Paul?”

He sat up a little straighter while delicately balancing his drink.

“Couldn't sleep,” said Paul. “Sometimes, it's hard to sleep when you have things on your mind.”

Denny understood. When he saw an afghan bunched at the corner of the couch, it looked inviting.

“You mind if I join you?” Denny began making his way over to the afghan before Paul could even respond.

“It looks like you've already decided to,” Paul said, then slipped down into his recliner’s leather. Once situated, he took a little sip of his bourbon.

Denny wrapped the afghan over his shoulders and started to focus on the video. Squinting as to confirm what he was watching, he double-checked with Paul.

“Is that you?'

“Yep. Me and your aunt, Sues.”

Denny smiled and watched a much younger, thinner and hirsute Paul stand on a beach, with the tide coming in behind him. The beach was littered with both young and old people basking in the sun, frolicking in the water. On the video, Paul stood on the beach with one foot planted in the sand, another perched on a football. He jokingly flexed his arms and smiled wide as Denny heard Sues laughing from behind the camera.

“Paulie, Paulie, you're scaring all the boys on the beach,” she laughed. “Put those muscles away.”

Denny laughed and looked over to see Paul, smiling and sipping. It was odd to see his uncle like this on screen, younger and full of more life than he'd ever seen him. He had to be in his early 20s, but Denny wasn't sure.

“When is this video from?”

“Our honeymoon, in Cancun, Mexico,” he said. “We were both twenty-five years old. Hard to believe, huh? It goes by fast, kid. It goes by fast.”

Denny nodded before he continued to watch.

The camera focused on Paul and reached toward Sues. When he got a hold of her left hand, she stopped filming and the camera's focus shifted to the sand beneath their feet. As it rolled, you could hear the lip-smack shared between the two of them. Over and over again, the sounds continued as the scene featured their bare feet facing each other. When their lips broke, Denny heard his Uncle Paul's soft and sincere words.

“Oh Sues, baby. I love you so much.”

When he heard these words, Denny smiled at the television. This is how you sound when you're in love, Denny thought. You sound relieved and overwhelmed, almost simultaneously. She didn't know it yet, but this is how Denny Dobson wanted to sound around Maggie Tynan. It was just like in the movies, just like on television. Actually, it was on television, but it starred two familiar leads. Denny continued to beam a wide grin with his thoughts while he turned to Paul.

In his recliner, Paul was silent. Tears streamed down his face as he cupped his drink. In attempt to hide these emotions, he clenched his teeth, but it was too late. Denny had never seen his uncle like this.

“Are you all right, Uncle Paul?”

“No,” he said. No, I'm not.”

“Well, what can I do?” asked Denny.

Paul slowly turned to face his nephew.

“What can you do? You really want to know?”

“Sure.”

“Okay,” he said, then set down his drink down on the coffee table. “If you really want to do something for me, just don't make the same mistake I did.”

Denny sat for a moment, confused.

“What mistake?”

While Denny stared at Paul for further explanation, a pair of headlights flashed into the living room window before turning toward the driveway. When the car was parked, Paul picked his drink and finished it before leaning toward the window. It was only opened a crack, but it was all Paul needed to hear the conversation.

She was late again. He gave her a ride home. Again.

Paul had seen enough. He took a deep breath, turned back to Denny and answered his question.

“Falling in love, kid,” he said. “It’s never the way it appears on screen.”
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