Arnold Valentine  

by Attila Gyenis

 

1

Brad fought the sunlight that was streaming into his eyes. He did not want to wake up early. He clenched his eyes shut and heard the music that was playing on his stereo that was left on all night. He looked at his alarm clock. He though if he could only sleep for another hour, everything would be much better. He heard the rustling in the rest of the house that told him that everyone was already up, and realized the noise wouldn’t let him get back to sleep. It was 10:30.

Brad dragged himself down to the kitchen where his mother was taking the clean dishes out from the dishwasher.

“Morning Brad, glad you could join us today. Do you want some bacon and eggs this morning?” she asked in a smiley voice. She was always so damn happy.

“No, just some eggs would be fine. Why do you always have to ask if I want bacon? You know I never eat bacon!” he grumbled. He was not yet awake. He wouldn’t wake up until he took his daily half hour shower. His mom just smiled away and placed a plate on the table for him.

Brad went to the refrigerator, looked in, and found the orange juice. It wasn’t Tropicana and he grumbled to himself. He liked Tropicana with lots of pulp. He poured himself a glass, filling it to the brim.

He sat down at the breakfast nook, pushing the table from him so he could slide in. His glass, which he had placed on the table next to the plate, spilled a little of the orange juice. He ignored the spreading puddle as he picked up his glass and took a sip. His mom was clattering some pots and pans as she pulled out a frying pan from the kitchen cabinet underneath the stove. She placed it on the stovetop, got four eggs from the fridge and proceeded to crack them into the frying pan without breaking the yolk. That always amazed Brad.

“Where’s dad?” Brad was hoping that his dad had already left.

“Oh, he’s down in the basement finishing up that project of his. You know, his deer?”

“Yeah, I know.” Brad thought that his dad’s most recent project was even worse than the last one. He was making these wooden deer, with antlers, out of plywood. It was even more stupid than what he made the year before. It was those bent over fat ladies that you put on your front lawn. His mom was responsible for painting the projects. Brad was thankful that his parents never asked for help with their projects. They knew better.

Brad’s sister walked though the kitchen and noticed the still spreading orange juice puddle in front of Brad. “Hey, rock star, why don’t you clean up your mess?”

“Why don’t you mind your own business,” Brad retorted in his normal witty manner.

His sister just shrugged her shoulders, and picked up her purse that was lying on the counter. “Mom, I’m going to softball practice, I’ll be back later this afternoon. And don’t worry Brad, I won’t miss your performance today.”

She stopped to give her mom a peck on her cheek, and continued out the door. Their mother called after her, “And don’t forget to pick up some milk after practice.” Brad watched his sister disappear out the back door and heard her answering back saying that she wouldn’t forget to pick up the milk. His whole damn family was always so damn happy.

His mom placed the four over-easy eggs in front of Brad, with some bread and catsup. She always cooked him four eggs even though he never would eat the whole plateful most of the time.

 

and a 2

Brad was drying off after his shower. He wiped the condensation off the mirror to shave. At 28, he was finally becoming a musician (or as his sister says– a rock star). He always had a desire to be a rock star though he wasn’t about to let anybody else know about his little secret. He looked into the mirror at an angle, trying to catch the reflection of his profile. He combed his hair back and proceeded to get dressed for the show. He already knew what he would be wearing.

His band’s first show was coming up that afternoon at the County Fair. He was calling it his gig. It was not a paying gig, but that didn’t matter at this point. They would get paying gigs later. He liked saying the word ‘gig’ because it made him feel like a hip insider connected to the music scene. Everyone in his band used that word for the upcoming show. They would be playing on the Showcase Stage.

 

and a 3

They were playing the last song of the set. The music sounded pretty good, Brad was doing well on guitar, and the vocal harmonies were working out. There was one problem– the audience. Actually, the problem was the lack of an audience. Including his mom and sister, and his friend Bob, there were only about a dozen

other people sitting in the empty rows of chairs or milling around the back wall. Actually, there were exactly twelve people, at least eight who were friends of the band, and one guy who was in charge of the sound. Brad counted them twice just to be sure.

Brad looked past the corner of the building they were playing behind and saw a large crowd gathered around another stage that was out in the main square. He couldn’t see the actual stage, he could only see the hundreds of people standing out there in the sun, with kids and balloons, who were cheering and clapping.  Turning back to his audience, he saw his mother’s proud smile and he went back to concentrating on the end of the final song of his first gig. He wasn’t happy.

 

and a 4

His mom and sister came up to him after the show to congratulate him and the band. Yeah, yeah, they sounded good, it was great, and Brad was so good on the guitar. His mom reached up to hug him and whispered into his ear that he was the best musician in the band.

The band slowly loaded the equipment back into the van. Afterwards, Brad walked over to the other stage, empty now, where the crowd had been standing and cheering earlier. Brad wondered who had been the big shot performer who was able to enthrall such a large audience. He looked at the marquee on the stage to see the name of the performer. It said, ‘Arnold Valentine, the Flying Pig.’

‘Flying pig?’ thought Brad. A flying pig?  Why the hell is a flying pig getting the crowd that he should have gotten. A flying pig for christ sakes.

He saw a stagehand cleaning up the stage and went over to talk to him. “Hey, what’s the deal with the flying pig?”

“He was good, wasn’t he.” responded the stagehand.

“I wouldn’t know, I didn’t see it. I was playing on the stage back behind that building over there.” Brad was miffed, “What the hell did this pig do?”

“Well, he jumped off that tower into a pool of water, and he had a great sense of humor.” The stagehand said laughing, and pointed to a tall tower off the side of the stage.

“That doesn’t sound like much of an act,” Brad responded solemnly. He wondered why they had the pig on this stage, and Brad’s band back at the other stage away from all the people.

The stagehand continued, “Yup, that pig was worth every penny they paid him.”

“What! You mean that they paid a pig, but they didn’t pay us? Why the hell would you have to pay a pig for?”  He was starting to have doubts about the significance of playing on the Showcase Stage.

“Well, the pig was really good. And he’s been on TV.”  

Brad thought about it for a minute. The whole world was unfair. His band spends months practicing just to get to play their first gig for free, zip, nada, gratis; while some pig named Arnold Valentine gets paid just for jumping into a bucket of water. And the pig even gets to be on TV! What the hell is wrong with this picture?

Brad started walking back to the van, feeling dejected. He thought about the unfairness of the world. He thought about his non-existent rock career. Then, for the first time in his life, he took a good look at himself and saw his pathetic existence flash before his eyes. He had no girlfriend, no car, and no job. Sure, he was great at Nintendo, but even that didn’t seem important now. He was thinking about bigger things.

There were going to be some changes. Yes, things would be different. One thing was certain. Brad was going to start eating bacon for breakfast from then on.

 

oink