THE JET STAR OF THE FUTURE
by Ann Hopkins
Inspired by artwork of the same name by Nathalie Miebach.
A whimsical construction that promises escape from chaos and dysfunction toward an interconnected world full of possibility and healing.
Karen sat across from her social worker in a small, sterile conference room. A fluorescent tube in the light fixture buzzed and flickered. She was tempted to stand on the table and jerk it out. Do anything to avoid this conversation with Angela.
The tired-looking public servant sighed and shuffled through her file while Karen eyed the gaudy ceramic cat pin on Angela’s worn corduroy blazer. Angela pushed her smudged glasses up into her hair and looked across at Karen. “There’s no question that you’ll do significant time.” She tapped her pen on the stack of papers. “With repeated drug offenses, breaking probation, and once again endangering your four-year-old child, the public defender said there’s no wiggle room this time.”
Karen slapped her hands on the sticky, wood-grain table. “I told you, Angela, the fire wasn’t my fault. I got Buddy out of there, and he wasn’t hurt that badly. It was an accident.”
The social worker leaned back in her chair, nodding absently. “Yeah, but if all the meth supplies they found in your car had been in the trailer. . .”
Karen’s eyes narrowed. “But they weren’t.” She took a cigarette out and tapped it on the table.
Angela snatched the cigarette and pointed at the No Smoking sign. “Quit wasting my time, Karen. You had a big stash of meth along with those supplies. You’re going away and you need to decide on your son’s custody today, or it’ll be out of your hands.”
Karen stood and paced the perimeter of the small room. “Ain’t no way my brother is taking Buddy away from me.” She leaned over a chair toward Angela, and her tattooed biceps tensed. Her stringy, dyed black hair hung in her face. “Frank told me the other day that I had no business being a mother. Can you believe that?”
Angela nodded. Her eyes went from the serpent tattoo curling from between Karen’s breasts to the multiple piercings gleaming from her nose, lips and ears.
“And last night he said the kid doesn’t want anything to do with me.” Karen sat down hard and crossed her arms.
“Now that is simply B.S., Karen. Frank would not say that. Buddy has been with Frank most of his life, starting with your second deployment and then every time you’ve been in jail. Frank and Cheryl provide a stable, loving environment, and they’re willing to raise him as part of their family. They just don’t want him bouncing back and forth all the time. It’s in Buddy’s best interest to stay with them and you know it. Otherwise he’ll go into foster, and you don’t want that, do you?”
Karen turned her head sideways and sneered. “Talk about B.S. All they do is give him stuff to win him over. Everytime I see him, he’s all, ‘Mommy, what did you bring me? Mommy, come to Frankie’s house and see what we built. Mommy, can I have that?’ It’s all about things with them.”
Angela’s eyebrows rose and she leaned toward Karen. “So when was the last time you were at Frank’s place?”
Karen shrugged. “I don’t like it there. And they don’t want me around.”
Angela picked up the folder and left the room, saying over her shoulder, “Wait here.”
Karen lit a cigarette and blew smoke at the sign. When they were kids, Frankie got all the attention. Mama’s little boy. Karen had tried to kill him with toadstools from the yard a few times, but he was a survivor in every way. He did well in school, while she nearly flunked out. They joined the Air Force at the same time. He was assigned to mechanics school; she ended up with grunt duty, refueling planes. He got out unscathed; she got a back injury and addicted to oxy. He made a decent life with his cutesy girlfriend; she bounced from the frying pan into the fire.
When Angela returned, she had her coat on and keys in her hand. “Let’s go. There’s something you need to see.”
Karen needed a ride anyway, so she put on her black leather jacket and went along. But when they pulled up to Frank’s double-wide, Karen held onto the armrest and shook her head. “I ain’t going in there.” Angela went to the door and spoke briefly to Frank, then gave Karen a sharp jerk of her head and went inside.
Karen resisted for a few minutes, watching Frank’s mutts bark at her, and then stormed past them into the house. “What the hell do I need to see in here?” Her eyes were fierce and every muscle in her lean body was tensed for a fight. Frank didn’t meet her gaze.
Angela led her back to Buddy’s room and then stepped aside. Karen stood in the doorway, mouth agape, and tried to make sense of the multi-colored jumble that stood as high as her son’s chest. “What the hell is all this?”
Her little boy ran to Karen and pulled her into the room. “Mommy! Mommy! This is the Jet Star of the Future! Remember? I told you Uncle Frankie helped me build it. Isn’t it cool?”
Buddy pointed out the model airplane resting on top of a massive tangle of colored hoses, wires, ropes, and tubes. Two small figures were inside. “That’s you and me, Mommy. And down here is where we’ll live when we’re not flying out to the stars.” He squatted, pointing out a hidden area beneath the colorful web. Karen knelt beside him and saw some random pieces of tiny furniture from a dollhouse she never had.
Then she noticed that the structure was woven with stray pieces of her discarded jewelry and all the other stuff she’d given him—little toys from gumball machines, bottle caps, empty matchbooks. The small American flag from last Fourth of July stood on top of the heap. Pictures of Karen in uniform, and several with her and Buddy, were tucked into the structure. What appeared to be a mishmash of junk turned out to be her son’s vision of “Happily Ever After.”
She brushed away a few tears, careful not to smear her thick coat of mascara. “This is awesome, Buddy. You’re so lucky to live with Uncle Frankie while Mommy goes away.” Karen glanced back at Angela and nodded curtly. She pulled her little boy close and squeezed her eyes shut.