Editor’s note: “Eddie Bauer and the Swinging Star” is a short story that will be part of a fiction writing workshop to be held in 2014 in an Ohio prison. It is a Young Adult short story.
The girl behind the stage curtain was not anxious to perform her role tonight. Her name was Genine, and she looked over her shoulder to see if Eddie Bauer was nearby.
Eddie Bauer stood about ten feet behind Genine, staring into a small oval mirror, combing his thick brown hair. Much of the hair on the back of his head still stood up, as if frozen in place. He didn’t glance at Genine or anyone else. It was a case of Eddie- intent-on-Eddie in that mirror. Eddie played the role of one of the three Wise Men in the church’s performance of “The Christmas Story” for the community.
Genine played the role of Mary. Tonight was the first of three performances. Eddie already knew that he had made a lasting impression on the cast and especially Genine. He’d instilled his strange kind of presence; not only did he continually and jokingly taunt Genine, but he had been reprimanded three times just in the last week. Eddie had taken one of the large foam stars hanging from a thin rope – the largest star, the Star of Bethlehem – aimed it at Genine, and pushed the star into her Mary costume, knocking her slightly off balance.
“I’ll have none of that, Eddie,” said Mr. Stipple, the director. “Sit in that first row and don’t move until I tell you to. Do not look at Genine. Do not look at anyone. Look at me or at the pianist. Do not make faces. And be still. Got it?”
“Just joking, Mr. Stipple,” Eddie said. “It’s only a fake star.”
“It’s not a joke to Genine,” Mr. Stipple said. “It’s also the second time you’ve almost ripped one of the points on the star.”
Eddie looked back at Genine and saw her eyes tearing up. They were fourth-grade students at JohnHookElementary School and, unfortunately, they did sit close to each other in science and math class. Their teacher had warned last week that she would move Genine to another table if Eddie pinched her shoulder one more time on his way to the teacher’s desk.
Tonight, Genine stepped out from behind the curtain and paused. She looked out at the small crowd before sitting next to the manger. She became very confident all of the sudden. She loved the stage and any little acting role her school or church could offer. Then she saw Eddie next to the curtain, pointing upward to the largest foam star, nearly the size of a wide screen television. Eddie smiled at Genine. She did not smile back.
Eddie walked up to one of the other shepherds, Tony Gill. “Genine thinks I’ll pull down the star and toss it during the real performance,” Eddie said. “How funny is that? I can’t believe she thinks that.”
“I’ll give you my five dollars if you do,” Tony whispered.
“I can’t,” Eddie said. “I can’t mess with the star. My family’s here. I’d better not get in trouble.”
“I don’t have five dollars anyway,” Tony said.
In the car on the drive home, Eddie’s father patted him on the knee and complimented his performance. “Those Wise Men were really the stars of the show,” he said. “You guys hardly moved a muscle. The Wise Men were the only company Mary and Joseph had way back in that day, except for the animals. Imagine some Wise Men coming into a stable after all those miles of traveling and smelling those old animals.”
“I only have one line in the play, so I’m bored,” Eddie said.
“But that’s why you Wise Men are the stars,” his father said. “You don’t need to say anything. You just look important. A good actor has presence on stage.”
“I’d rather have stuff to say,” Eddie said.
“You don’t want to take chances,” his father said. “Look at cowboy John Wayne. He just preferred to sit high on his horse’s saddle and tilt his cowboy hat. He looked cool just sitting on a horse. John Wayne didn’t need to say a word.”
Eddie thought more about Genine, who played Mary. She had quite a few memorable lines, and she handled them gracefully, as though she had much acting experience. Genine was the best performer in their class, even though she was shy and polite. She never came off as seeming more important than others. She did not draw attention to herself. She was the vice president of elementary student council and would be president by the sixth grade, Eddie thought.
Eddie sensed, of course, that his playing practical jokes on Genine would bring her out of her shyness. Genine’s utter surprise at knowing the star was being flung right toward her made her jerk. When Eddie first tossed the foam star at her two weeks ago at rehearsal and realized that Genine did not see it coming, Eddie thought the sound of her shrieking was beautiful. The star had not been hung on a metal beam yet, although one star point was tied to the rope. Eddie tossed it from behind the stage curtain at a quiet dramatic moment, when the Joseph character was praying next to Mary. Eddie was warned then by Mr. Stipple not to do it again. But Eddie enjoyed hearing Genine’s voice and her shrieking, and he was not a boy to follow directions very carefully.
* * *
The morning after the first public performance, when Eddie went downstairs for breakfast, his mother told him to sit down. “I have news for you,” she said to him. Eddie listened to his mother describe an early morning phone call from Mr. Stipple. At first, Eddie thought he might be in trouble, but Mr. Stipple had the matter of a car accident on his mind.
Of course, it had been raining last night and the streets were slick, as Eddie could easily remember. But when his mother said that the car accident involved Genine and her mother, his mind became jammed with images of Genine: the foam star, the string, Genine crouching as the foam star Eddie tossed nicked her head, Genine in her Mary costume, and Mr. Stipple’s knobby finger pointed at him.
“Genine is ok,” his mother said. “She just got bruised up and probably broke her arm.”
“Will she still be Mary?”
“That I don’t know,” his mother said. “I doubt it.”
“Her mother ok?”
“Her mother got pretty banged up. She’s going to be in the hospital a few days. She had severe whiplash.”
“I guess they couldn’t get out of the way of the other car,” Eddie said.
“The other car skidded into them,” his mother said. “The driver ran a stop sign, according to Mr. Stipple.”
After Eddie put his dishes in the sink, a strange moment occurred. He looked up and saw his father in the doorway with his car keys. To Eddie, his father seemed to be reading his mind. Quietly standing there, dangling the keys on his thumbs, his father smiled. Eddie immediately felt as if he knew what his father’s next move would be. He felt drawn toward his father’s calmness and Eddie’s eyes focused on the car keys.
“Let’s go see Genine for five minutes and cheer her up,” his father said.
“I was thinking something like that,” Eddie said. “It’s funny you were sort of thinking the same thing.”
“And then you can say, ‘Sorry about the star tossing, and I hope you get better real fast.’ You got that?” his father said.
Genine looked groggy when Eddie and his father first walked in the hospital room. Her mother was in the room next to her. She said a polite hello and looked mildly shocked that she had visitors this early in the day. His father had stopped by the grocery store to get her a rose and Eddie placed it in a narrow vase they brought from home.
“It’s pretty, and I’ll take it home,” Genine said.
“Sorry about tossing those stars at you during practice,” Eddie said. He looked over toward the silent television and nearly felt the urge to leave.
“I guess we all did a good job last night,” Genine said. “Did you sign any autographs on the programs?”
“One. It was my mother’s program.”
Eddie’s father brought Genine a glass of water and said he hoped the family could sign her arm cast one day soon. When they left Genine’s room, Eddie and his father looked in to see if Genine’s mother was awake, but she was sleeping.
* * *
The small church auditorium was full to capacity for the third night’s performance two days after the car accident. Baby Jesus in the manger tonight was a doll wrapped in a white blanket. Genine shifted the doll a few inches with here her right hand. She was careful not to jostle her left arm which was in a cast and sling. No one had yet signed her cast, as Eddie had detected before the show.
Each of the cast members seemed even more attentive to their roles than the night before. They’d gained energy with this second performance. No one forgot his or her lines. No one stumbled. Joseph’s character did not giggle tonight. One of the shepherds did not sneeze as he had done last night. Their Christmas songs were sung clearly and the carolers stayed in rhythm with the piano melodies.
And as Eddie Bauer, a Wise Man, looked up at the shiny foam star on a rope above the manger, Eddie could see the ten or twelve very large ‘G’s he had inscribed all around the thick side of the star. Eddie had asked his parents to drive him to the church auditorium a half-hour early. He explained that he wanted to write the initial ‘G’ around the side of the star, the same way baseball players write the jersey number of an injured player who’s not playing on their jersey sleeves or ball caps.
“It will be a nice surprise for her,” he had told his parents and Mr. Stipple.
“Here’s a thick black marker,” Mr. Stipple said. “Go to it. But don’t ruin the star’s face, Edward.” Mr. Stipple paced nervously around the stage, adjusting ornaments and the set features, only half-paying attention to Eddie or his parents.
After the performance, Genine handed the star to her father who waited for her by the stage. “Let’s go take this to mom,” she said. “Eddie said his father will make a new star for the last show tomorrow.”
“We can hang it above your mother’s bed,” her father said. “It’s a pretty big one.”
The star was so awkward that Genine’s father needed two hands to carry it. Eddie followed them out to the car and helped Genine’s father maneuver the foam star neatly into the trunk.
“We’ll sign your cast tomorrow, right?” Eddie said.
“Right. But don’t forget to bring that new star,” Genine said. “Try to make it as big as this one in the trunk.”
Copyright © 2009 by Jeffrey Hillard
Jeffrey Hillard’s new book is ICE SCULPTURE IN THE DESERT: Short Stories to Enrich Your Prayer Life. It is available at http://www.amazon.com
He has also recently published STORY’S TRIUMPH: Mining Your Creative Writing for Its Deepest Riches. It is also available at http://www.amazon.com