BY JOHN TIMM
Copyright is held by the author.
AT 11:45, Jared grabs the remote and resumes channel surfing. That’s all he’s done this
morning. Wendy Williams, Dr. Phil, Judge Judy. More channel surfing. What a bunch of
losers — nobody can be this dumb in real life. The clatter of multiple footsteps on the stairway
interrupts his ruminations.
He’s not been looking forward to this, but there’s no going back now. Jared rolls off the
couch, regains his footing, heads to the door. He snatches an empty energy drink can and
assorted trash off the floor, makes a detour though the small kitchen, depositing it all in an
overflowing waste basket. That’s as much tidying up as he plans to do today.
Before anyone has a chance to knock, he opens the door. Four figures stand in the gloom.
Two women are the first to step inside. Jared receives a hug from his mother. A second hug from
his grandmother. Same perfume as always. Old lady perfume. Crazy old lady perfume.
His mother hands him a small envelope. He tears it open and sees the crisp bills. 500 dollars. On any given day Jared could use 500 dollars. On this day, perhaps more than ever. Jared doesn’t read the graduation card. He tosses it, still in the envelope, onto the coffee table.
“Don’t worry, there’ll be more, much more,” his mother says. “I’m so thrilled for you. And proud.”
Jared’s father and younger brother have remained behind, framed by the still open doorway.
The father asks, “Well, . . . are you going to invite us in?”
No hugs this time, from either the father or younger brother. Both manage the flicker of a
“Have a seat everyone. Put whatever’s on the couch or the chairs on the floor. The cleaning
lady hasn’t been here yet this week,” Jared says.
The grandmother asks, “Cleaning lady?”
“Just kidding, Grams.”
Judge Judy has issued her final verdict of the day and the News at Noon begins with the usual self-promoting fanfare. “Can we turn this down—or better yet, off?” the father asks. Jared says, “Whatever you like.”
His mother says, “Where are the tickets for the ceremony? Do you have them? We didn’t get any in the mail. I always thought the university mailed those out to the family. They did when I graduated. I guess not nowadays . . . everything changes.”
“Don’t worry. I’ve got them. I’ll give them out when we get to the stadium.” That seems to put to rest any further concerns about the tickets, at least for now.
“What time does the ceremony begin?” the father asks.
“It’s supposed to rain. Do they have a contingency plan?”
“I have no idea,” says Jared.
“At Cornell we held commencement in the field house. Never had to worry about rain.”
“This isn’t Cornell.”
“How well I know.”
The mother interjects, “This school rivalry thing is so ridiculous.”
“It’s not really about schools, Mom,” says Jared.
The grandmother asks, “What does he mean?” The mother looks away, not responding, as if she hasn’t heard the question.
Around one, Jared makes a point of looking at this watch. “Time for me to get ready.
“They have our caps and gowns in the Old Gym.”
His mother asks, “And what about Chelsea? I almost forgot about Chelsea.”
“We’re . . . we’re meeting her there.”
On the way down the stairs, Jared’s father says, “I’ll bet you’ll be glad to get out of this fleabag. I still don’t understand why you’re not living at the fraternity house anymore.”
“Please don’t start in on that again. Not today. Besides, we have a little surprise for Jared,
don’t we, father?”
Jared’s father remains silent as they open the front porch door. The grandmother steps out,
hesitates, grasps the railing and descends the concrete steps.
“Jared, honey, look. Look over there.”
“At . . .?”
“At the car. The Bimmer. They delivered it this morning.” His mother’s voice breaks as she hands Jared the keys to the blue BMW parked at the curb in front of his father’s Mercedes. “I
said there’d be more.”
It begins to rain and everyone heads back to the rooming house except Jared and the brother.
The grandmother slowly re-ascends the steps, her son-in-law alongside to steady her at
The BMW has that new car leather interior smell and an instrument panel like a corporate jet. Sweeeet. An adrenalin rush on wheels.
After a few minutes, Jared and the younger brother rejoin the rest on the front porch.
“What do you think?” asks his mother.
The younger brother says, “I want to take it for a quick ride.”
“I told him there’s not time,” says Jared.
“Then I’ll ride with you to the stadium.”
“Like . . . no. I want to be the first to ride in it. By myself.”
“You’re an asshole.”
The grandmother turns to her daughter. “Those two never got along as children. They still don’t — even grown up.” There’s no response.
Jared starts back upstairs to the apartment. “I need to get something else.” He reappears shortly with a small valise. The grandmother asks what is in the valise, but Jared looks the other way, as if he, like his mother, doesn’t hear her.
Valise in one hand, weighing the keys to the BMW in the other, Jared watches as the Mercedes pulls away towards the campus.
It’s nearly two o’clock. The green sign reads “I-95 South Next Right.” Jared charges up the entrance ramp. He adjusts the side view mirrors. It’s the first time he’s even thought about
In time, Chelsea will understand; she’s as close as anyone’s ever gotten to Jared. At work they’ll wonder where he is — for maybe a day or so — then start looking for his replacement. The university no longer cares. They haven’t seen him since he dropped out midway through his junior year.
All right, now let’s see what this baby can do.
John writes short fiction in several genres. “Commencement” marks a return
to CommuterLit for John. His work has also appeared in 300 Days of Sun,
Euphemism, Flint Hills Review, and Fiction Attic, among others. He holds a
doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and although
semi-retired, occasionally teaches Spanish literature courses. He is
currently translating the early poetry of Afro-Brazilian poet and social
justice advocate, Adão Ventura.