The following piece was written by Teresa Fawcett, a student at LFHS. It is a short story that is part of the Lake Forest High School literary magazine Young Idea.
Angela Greenly set her fork down tenderly on her paper napkin. Her mother and father laughed quietly as her sister nibbled on the end of a cooked carrot. The dining table was dark, illuminated by only a few candles. The drabby, brown wallpaper was peeling slightly and the clock in the corner, barely visible to Angela, read half past eight. Angela just had to make it through the next half an hour, and then she was home free.
Every Christmas, Easter, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and birthday, Angela, her sister Betty, and her brother Ron were beckoned forth from their independent lives, and dragged back to their parents’ house to eat a home cooked meal with their parents.
The dinners were always the same. They would start off comfortable and quiet. Angela and her father would argue politely over politics; she would bicker with her brother and sister, and thank her mother for the food. More often than not, there was a boyfriend, or girlfriend, roommate, or guest who accompanied one of the siblings. Luckily for the outsider–they were strangers to the Greenly family–they usually didn’t have to come back for another family meal.
Ron was arriving late to Angela’s birthday dinner, so on the eve of her 25th birthday, Angela sat sullenly at her seat at her mother’s dirt brown dining table, adjacent to her parents and sitting right across from her little sister’s latest boyfriend, Gregory.
He was cocky, smooth-talking, and gave the impression that he thought very highly of himself. The first two words he spoke to his girlfriend’s parents were, “Hello, sir and ma’am. I’m Gregory. I work in the Amazon.”
The Amazon. That was all he spoke about. Angela had never been to the Amazon, but she could envision it: green grasses, tropical trees, vines, rivers, animals, and canopies of leaves covering the warm blue sky. It seemed much more interesting than the heart of industrialization, New York City.
As Angela sliced into a piece of red meat, Gregory flattered himself, speaking as if the Amazon was something everyone could relate to. “You don’t really know what a true jungle is, until you’ve worked in the Amazon,” he laughed, cutting his meat, head pointed towards the ceiling, his eyes bright in amusement. “You see, you never know what you’re going to find. You come in every day and there’s something new: a new challenge, a new enemy. It’s excruciating work, you know?” He paused, and looked around at his audience. Mrs. Greenly stared at him, her mouth slightly open.
Angela pictured the “true jungle” that Gregory spoke of. If she concentrated hard enough, she could see the luscious green jungle, sprawling out before her very own eyes. Compared to the dreary, bleak dining room, Angela’s daydream of the Amazon was heavenly.
Betty gushed: “He’s just so invested in his profession. Isn’t that great?” The Greenly’s nodded apprehensively.
“The work days are just terrible,” Gregory continued. His large white teeth bit down on beans and potatoes. It was a theatrical performance, watching Gregory eat. His lips opened like velvet, red curtains, his mouth, a stage wide open for everyone to see. His disgusting, saliva-covered, chewed-up food ground between his teeth like little actors dancing from stage left, to stage right. His food was mashed together inside his mouth, pieces of meat oozing between the spaces in his front two teeth. As he blundered on and on about his work, his teeth chomped up and down on warm, juicy tenderloin.
“Sometimes you don’t know what you’re going to be doing that day. Every decision you make will either make you or break you.” Gregory’s eyes lit up in suspense.
“Marsha,” Mr. Greenly interrupted, speaking over Gregory, “Marsha, this is a terrific meal.”
“Yes, thank you, mom,” Angela agreed.
“Delicious!” Betty praised.
“The people I work with are just ravenous,” Gregory trudged along, ignoring the interruption. “All day long I’m breaking up disputes over property. Men are like maniacs.” He laughed and took another giant bite of meat.
Angela decided that one day, she would like to see the jungle. The fact that Gregory was able to see monkeys swing from vines and birds spread their wings across the backdrop of dense, entangled green leaves, made Angela feel extremely jealous.
“What is the weather like in Brazil?” Angela asked, watching him curiously as he squashed the cooked red meat together between the top of his mouth and his pink tongue.
Gregory didn’t hear her, probably because he was chewing so loudly. “My work is important, you know? It’s historic. It’s a culture. It’s a lifestyle. There’s a lot of responsibility and pressure that comes with the job, but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do.”
Betty nodded enthusiastically.
Gregory laughed and stabbed a potato with his fork. “Mr. and Mrs. Greenly, and Angela, if you are interested, I can arrange for you to have a tour.”
“Of the jungle?” Angela queried. Flabbergasted, Angela imagined a vivid picture of herself standing tall in the middle of a wide path in the Amazon. Wearing a backpack with tall hiking socks and orange boots, Angela envisioned the binoculars she would wear around her neck. She would see tigers, and cheetahs, and frogs, and all sorts of plants and trees. How exciting it would be, to see the Amazon!
As Angela daydreamed about her future visit to the Amazon, the back door swung open. Angela’s brother Ron paraded in, hanging his bag neatly on a hook in the mudroom and tossing his coat on the coat rack. “I’m home,” he called, and after saying hello to everyone, he grabbed a plate and began munching on his dinner.
“Ronny,” Betty swooned, “Ronny, you remember my boyfriend, Gregory.”
Ron forked his vegetables, and leaned against the counter. He was wearing a suit and tie, and his car keys hung on a lanyard around his neck. “Nice to meet you, Gregory.” He chewed silently and politely, his mouth closed. Like a civilized adult he finished chewing before speaking. He addressed Gregory: “Where’ya working nowadays?”
Gregory leaned around to look at Ron. “Amazon.com.”
Angela smacked her palm to her forehead. She glanced at the clock hanging on the dingy brown wall. 8:40, it read. Angela stared at Gregory as he took another large helping of beef tenderloin.
Mouth full of food, Gregory smiled. “I feel like the entire city orders items on Mondays, that’s how busy it is.” He chewed his dinner loudly, and as he continued to blabber on and on about his work at Amazon.com, Angela’s eyes wandered to the minute hand, slowly ticking away.
From the 2017 edition of Young Idea – see Dr. Dukats or Mr. Juliano if you’d like to purchase a copy!