Wayne Michael DeHart (June, 2021)
The Tories live in the UK.
The Torys, however, live in Sunsett, a hybrid town in southern Merrimack County, New Hampshire. They are average people who live average lives. They go about those lives relatively unnoticed, like those very small dents near the rear wheel-well in an otherwise flawless new automobile – a curiosity the first few times they are observed (“How the hell did those get there, man?”), but soon disregarded, absorbed into the mind’s eye, much like that small dark stain of unknown origin on the jeans you wore yesterday.
Let’s just say that if I don’t write something about the Torys, it’s extremely unlikely anyone will. They tend to avoid the fast lane, the center of the circle, the front row of the church and the last row at the theater. They blend in seamlessly and subtly. The French term je ne sais quoi has likely never been used in the same sentence as “The Torys”, whether spoken of as a unit or individually, despite Mrs. Tory’s own liberal use of the expression when talking about others. And she was fine with that.
The Torys are a family of five: Dad Troy, 38, Mom Amanda (“Mandy”), 37, whose name is often mentioned in hurricane warnings along the Gulf Coast – “A manda tory evacuation order has been issued by the Governor.” – twin daughters Terri and Tori, both the same age ( which is quite common with twins) at 15, and that little scamp with a slingshot and an attitude, Victor (“Vic”), who is 10. It may be a little surprising that twin female teenagers would blend into the background in a relatively small town, but unlike their little brother, they are content with taking a low-key approach to life, not bringing attention upon themselves. They are not identical twins, never try to do the “twin thing”, like dressing alike or having similar hairstyles, etc. Tori somehow appears older than Terri, not that you care.
Dad’s given middle name is Sebastian, which he despises, and Mom’s is Sébastienne, which she despises even more. Neither ever uses their middle name for anything, just sticking with the letter S. So when the three young-uns first saw the light of day, each was given just an S as a middle name, insuring that their signatures would always end in “S.Tory”, which Troy thought was clever, at least until the twins get married. Terri never uses her “S” though, liking the sound of “Terri Tory”, as in “stay outta mine”.
It should be pointed out that those almost-identical middle names which they both protested, contested, detested (past tense because the monikers have long since been exiled like stones into the River Styx) were exposed on their fourth date. Mandy’s mom gave her a verbal beat-down when she and Troy arrived home after midnight from an 8:30 PM movie. “AMANDA SÉBASTIENNE COUTURE, you have a lot of explaining to do.” Mandy cringed at the sound of her middle name, but Troy went bonkers in disbelief. “Your middle name is Sebastian? Mine is too! No shit. Holy cow, girl, what are the odds? But why a guy’s name? I don’t get it.” Mandy’s eyes glazed over, but the mother told the young man, as nicely as she could, “Not Sebastian, you half-wit, S-É-B-A-S-T-I-E-N-N-E, it’s French, we’re French, what are you?” He said he thought he was “just a regular American”. (Mandy was suddenly having second thoughts about that feel she let him cop an hour earlier.) Her mother, who knew his last name was Tory, surmised that he was for sure “just another dumb Brit” and not really American at all.
The next day, the young couple compared notes, and while both were still astounded they had gender-specific versions of the same middle name, an extreme longshot to the nth degree, they also shared their mutual distaste for the sound of it. Troy’s father told him he got the name from that Sebastian Cabot guy with the irritating beard and uppity accent, while apparently Mandy had a great grandmother from Bordeaux back in the old country who first got stuck with it. Troy wisecracked that he had once heard his granddad talk about some famous actress he had the hots for named Brigitte “Bordeaux” and said maybe they were related or something. (Meaning Brigitte and the great grandmother, not Troy and Mandy, which would, you know, have killed the wedding plans.)
Now this is going to be a short, simple story, a proverbial walk in the park as it were, because the Torys are walking snooze-fests, much like the guy writing this yawner. But one day at Shell Lake Park, they were doing the family picnic thing, sitting on an oversized Man from Nantucket beach blanket, poking down pork pie, like their UK brethren, when another family of five approached them. All about the same ages, but this gang’s kids were of opposite genders from the Tory kids. Two teenaged boys checked out the twins, while their little sister had a bad feeling about that rapscallion Vic. The boys of course were not twins because if they were you’d think I was making this stuff up after the Sebastian/Sébastienne longshot. Never did find out those kids’ names and exact ages, but let’s just call the boys Rufus and Rover and the girl Tabitha. I’ll tell you right now nothing significant happens with these kids, other than the boys embarrassingly and inevitably showing off for the girls, to no avail, and Vic launching yellow jell-o into Tabitha’s hair when she called him an “a-hole”. Fortunately for the young girl, she had blonde hair and the slimy stuff kind of blended in there pretty discreetly from an appearance perspective, and though it did smell well, it didn’t jell well, and it was icky and sticky and just so darn Vic-y. She snarled and tossed him another, more biting “a-hole” and he showed her by counting to 10 and going back for more pork pie.
It was the parents whose interaction was noteworthy. as the two fives merged into one ten in the park. The Balls – Stewart (“Call me Stew)” and Sindée (“Yes, Mandy, S-I-N-D-É-E, isn’t that adorable, it’s French you know.” “Yes, I know, love, I’m a Couture myself, S-É-B-A-S-T-I-E-N-N-E, and these Englishmen are so gauche, n’est-ce pas?”, which roughly translates into “Do you really wanna go there?”) – had recognized Troy and Mandy from the previous Black Friday at the Mall when the two men both reached for the last Black & Decker Piranha Cordless Circular Saw that was 20 bucks off until 9:00 AM. Sometimes, such situations can lead to entertaining love stories, like “Serendipity”, where the contested item was a pair of gloves and Kate Beckinsale stole my heart and still hasn’t given it back. But two guys and one circular saw do not a movie make. Troy and Stew both kept one hand on the box and one hand free to poke the other one in the cheekbone should it come to that.
Fortunately, Mandy and Sindee, oops, I mean Sindée, were close by and stepped in at the same moment to play peacemaker, both urging their guy to back away from the box and from each other. There was a brief awkward silence, then all four laughed it off and the men agreed to leave the damn thing for someone else. Who really needs it, right, not like it’s a table saw. On that occasion, no names were exchanged or anything cutesy like that, but Sindée did covertly raise a bushy eyebrow at Troy Tory. Not covertly enough for Stew Ball though and minutes later he doubled back to grab the saw and it was gone. He just knew that schmuck was just as sneaky as he was, but quicker on his feet. Someday, he thought, he’ll pay for that eyebrow thing with another man’s wife, and for this double-cross with the saw too.
Now, let me stop for a brief moment here. Stew Ball. Wasn’t he a racehorse back in the day? Am I remembering wrong? Did his parents have the chutzpah to name their son after a wine-drinkin’ stud in hopes someday he would be one too? Keep reading.
Okay, back to the park. Stew wanted to approach the Torys because he wanted to let Troy know that he knew that Troy went back and got the saw. Sindée wanted to approach the Torys because Stew was no longer in fact anything resembling a stud and she liked Troy’s smile. They both agreed they would approach the Torys because it would be the right-neighborly thing to do, plus they wanted to keep Rufus and Rover from asking when they could blow that lame scene and thought the pair of jeune filles might be able to keep them distracted for a bit. (Tabitha didn’t say much, mostly purred and pawed at the stress ball she got for Christmas.)
“Hey there folks, hope we’re not interrupting anything but we just had to come over and say “Happy Black Friday!” Troy and Mandy looked at each other but neither’s bell rang. Then Sindée subtly raised her right eyebrow, and the bell tolled. Both Torys said in unison, “That’s right! The Mall” How you guys doin’? These your kids?” Stew missed the eyebrow maneuver this time, as he was focused on Troy. (This is where the couples did their family introductions, as referenced above.) The teenage boys looked very interested. The teenage girls did not, as they already had a couple of other guys on their radar. Tabby hissed at Vic, which eventually led to the aforementioned a-hole and yellow jell-o exchange.
Stew: ” Hey man, we SAW you over here and thought introductions were in order. We didn’t know if you SAW us, so we came over. That day we SAW you we had a flat on the way home. Darned if my neighbor didn’t come by right then and of course he stopped to help because he SAW that the Mrs. here was really struggling with that tire.”
Troy, not taking the bait: “Izzat so? How about that. We had a great Christmas and both got everything we wanted, and so did the girls. Vic, my son over there, got a lump of coal. Gotta tell ya, that Santa fella really has a sense of humor, doesn’t he Vic?”
Stew: “Vic? Is that short for Vicky? I SAW a movie once where Queen Victoria was called “Vicky” when she was about his age. Your wife calls him Vicky at home, doesn’t she? Have a brownie, Vicky. Do your homework, Vicky.” Clearly, he was just bustin’ Troy’s ‘nads. Troy, on the other hand, was thinking seriously about tossing a couple of StewBalls into the nearby trash can before calling it a day.
Troy: “Look, my boy over there playing with jell-o is one tough kid, I’m tellin’ ya.” (Then he playfully elbowed Stew in the ribs.) “Gotta admit he gets in too many fights, but he always wins. They don’t call him Vic Tory for nuthin’.” – followed by playful elbow to the ribs #2.
Stew: “Yeah, bud, I hear ya, but what happens when he runs out of girls to fight?”
Troy: ” Hey, I caught Miss Sindée over there givin’ me the hairy eyebrow again, and I do mean HAIRY. Now I know why you needed that circular saw, but I’m guessing a hedge trimmer would do the job.”
Stew: “Yeah, well, your mother wears Army boots.”
Troy: “Pfffft. For your information, my grandfather was in the infantry and he once made out with that actress Brigitte Bordeaux right in back of the Manchester Post Office in broad daylight right in front of my uncle back when she was doing summer stock at the lake, if you know what that is, and he was wearin’ HIS Army boots through the whole thing. Told me so himself, bless his soul. So neither he, nor I, care if his daughter, my mother, bless her soul too, wore them sometimes so she could walk a mile in his shoes like the Good Book tells us.”
Stew: Doesn’t matter who wore what, what kind of lowlife circles back for a circular saw that he agreed not to buy in deference to another guy?”
Troy: “Deference? What’d you do, look that word up before you walked over here? And wait a minute, how would you know if I circled back for the circular saw unless you yourself circled back for the circular saw? See, I saw “The Princess Bride” too.
Stew: “Okay, okay, yeah, I did that. I wanted that saw. I needed that saw. It was 20 bucks off, for criminy sakes. So you keep it and be sure to say hello and kiss it goodnight for me next time you nuzzle up to it like you’re its rightful owner, which you ain’t. “
Troy; “Whoa, Stewball. Rein yourself in, man. I didn’t go back and buy that saw. Yeah, I thought about it, but Mandy set me straight. Besides, I figured you’d go back for it and we might find ourselves playing tug-o-war with it again. And you just admitted you did go back. Joke’s on you, bud – some other slob is cuttin’ up a storm with it as we sit here jawin’ at each other. I’m a Tory and Torys always win.”
Stew: “Seriously? You didn’t grab it? Crap, man, I’m sorry. I thought sure you had it. Takes a man to apologize and I’m doin’ it right now. But be clear, my wife wasn’t flirting with you with that eyebrow thing. In fact, look, see there, she’s doing it to your wife this very minute. I don’t even think she knows when she does it. So we’re cool on that too, right?”
Troy: “Yeah, fine. I’ll forget about the Army boots and you forget about the hedge trimmer.”
The two men stood and reluctantly shook hands. Mandy actually tried to stop her man from shaking because she was afraid Stew would try to pull the ol’ Power Squeeze and Troy would get mad all over again, but her hubby sent her away, back to Sindée at the other end of the blanket, even though he needed her that day. Both guys then proceeded to squeeze as hard as they could (see, Mandy was right on the Ball), gritting their teeth and pretending it didn’t hurt, but Troy couldn’t resist one more elbow to Stew’s ribs with his other arm. Stew manned up and took it in stride. “You know I SAW that one coming, right?” The handshake was hand-numbing, but each swiftly shook it off, then chatted a bit about the Red Sox and the big boobs on the woman just to their left, before gathering up their respective families and going their separate ways with a mutual “see ya around” kind of goodbye.
On the way home, Stew humbly told his wife that Troy wasn’t the one who bought the saw, that he felt bad and apologized to him, and he also told her he didn’t mind when she fluttered her eyebrows at others, and that he was going to be less of a jerk from now on. Sindée looked surprised and smiled a smile as wide as the Erie Canal. She was suddenly seeing a different side of ol’ Stew Ball. That evening, she gave her sons some cash and told them to get lost until midnight. She gave Tabitha a Rubik’s Cube and sent her to her room (“Come get mommy when you figure it out, sweetie!”) It was just so adorably French of her.
In a silver minivan, going in the opposite direction, the Tory family was wigging it up. Troy told how Mr. Ball had apologized yet he got to elbow the guy in the ribs three different times for still another Tory win. Mandy told her husband how Sindée had eyebrow-flirted with her and that they were going to hang out sometime just for a hoot – “Two French girls on the prowl, ooh-la-la. Très bien, non, Monsieur?” Troy’s eyes glazed over at the thought, just the way Mandy’s did that night after the movie years ago. Terri and Tori (hate to ask but when the latter tells a boy her name is Tori Tory, does he think she’s stuttering?) both made barking sounds in response to their mother asking what they thought of Rufus and Rover, and Vic said he was sure he could kick Tabby’s butt if he wanted to, adding that her hair smelled like a fruit stand even before he put the lemon jell-o in it.
When they got home, Troy went to the garage and, after making sure it wasn’t plugged in, he kissed the Black & Decker Piranha Cordless Circular Saw he bought at 20 bucks off on Black Friday at the Mall right on the blade (because that’s what real men do), and gave a little Jackie Gleason how-sweet-it-is smirk. Then he went in the house and kissed Mandy and complimented her on her well-groomed eyebrows. She always liked an unexpected kiss, but wondered why this one tasted like WD-40 with a hint of cedar. All five of them pigged out on Domino’s pizza, hot wings from Charlie’s Place, and cinnamon buns, while watching Reba reruns on cable, then dragged themselves off to bed. The usual snooze-fest resumed. All of the Torys slept well that night. (Don’t know about the Tories though.)
Across town, Stew Ball had some wine and prepped long and hard for his return to the track, focusing on what lay ahead. Sindée saddled up her racehorse and rode him hard down the backstretch to screams of glory. When they fell asleep, which Stew always did after crossing the finish line, he was SAWing logs and Sindée was counting them – in French. Rufus and Roger got picked up for weed and spent the night in the slammer, where they slept like the dogs that they were. Poor Tabitha was found in the morning with the Rubik’s Cube in one hand and her stress ball in the other. She had a scowl on her face and jell-o still in her hair. But don’t be concerned, Tabby still has eight more shots to get things right.
As we see this tale come to a merciful close, in the end the Torys seemingly had stayed true to form for one day more¹, fading quietly, blandly, into the silence and the stillness of another anonymous summer night, their day at the park already a distant memory. For them, at least.
As I wrote at the beginning of this short, simple story, the Torys of Sunsett “are average people who live average lives. They go about those lives relatively unnoticed.”
That is, until that day at Shell Lake Park, with their brightly-colored, oversized Man from Nantucket blanket on full display as Tory and Stew bickered like schoolboys on one end while Mandy and Sindée flaunted their flirtatious French repartee (Soup Nazi says “no aigu accent for you, repartee!”) on the other end, inadvertently calling attention to the long, stretched-out, smiling man’s face in the exposed center of the polypropylene surface. Everyone found an excuse to walk by and steal a glance downward as they passed. The ladies would crane their necks and feign disdain while the men, as one might expect, couldn’t wipe the grins from their chins. At the end of the day¹, except for Tabitha and the two caged mutts, a good time was had by all, and the Torys had finally, unbeknownst to them, been noticed.
For better or worse.
The morning after, while on their way to bail out their bong-totin’ boneheads, Stew Ball, feeling his oats, joked to his wife that Troy must put the “man” into “Man”dy a LOT because “he’s such a stiff.” “Oui, oui, all the way home”, she whispered huskily, eyebrows both raised. “Just like you, my wine-drinking stud, put the “sin” into “Sin”dée. “Stew liked hearing that. He was back on track. His heart raced.
He felt a limerick coming on:
“There once was a Stewart from Sunsett,
who was married to a French coquette,
though she’d flirt with her brows,
she would never carouse,
with the Janes and the Johns that she met.”
Feeling alive, she upped him five:
“There once was a Sindée from Sunsett,
who snubbed every man she had met,
then SAW Monsieur Ball,
who gave her his all,
as Marius to her Cosette¹.“
¹ Les Miz is just SO French, you know !
(1) That is a genuine Black & Decker Piranha Cordless Circular Saw in the pic at the top of this page.
(2) Kate Beckinsale still has not answered my e-mail, but there’s always tomorrow, which is only a day away.
(3) The Torys had a red canary named Lava – “Lava Tory” – but I was not privy to that information when I started writing this hot mess. He choked on a sticky bun and was fittingly flushed down the porcelain highway by Tabitha, who gave him the bun and felt guilty. But, badly bloated from a steady diet of sticky buns from his young friend, he got stuck and the commode overflowed and one thing led to another and Mandy got a brand new lavatory out of the deal, including getting rid of that green toilet from 1959. Anyway, Lava was also given the middle initial S , making him “Lava S. Tory”, which reminded me that I saw “Love Story” in a theater in Taipei on R&R with a Taiwanese woman who scored me some great deals on jade and took me to the Taipei Zoo and shared a midnight pizza with me. The kicker is that I read the very short novel, “Love Story”, on the long plane ride from California to Vietnam (along with Joan Baez’ book “Daybreak”) and then several months later I go to Taiwan and see one movie there in a non-Grauman’s Chinese Theater and it’s “Love Story”. The book, and the movie, opened with, “What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died? That she was beautiful. And Brilliant. That she loved Mozart and Bach. And the Beatles. And me.” Grabbed me just the way Beckinsale did so many years later. That’s my S.Tory – and I’m S.Tickin’ to it.
“Oh, Stewball was a racehorse, and I wish he were mine
He never drank water, he always drank wine”
Songwriters: John Herald, Robert A. Yellin, Ralph C. Rinzle
(There are 5 or 6 OTHER Stewball the Racehorse songs, dating back many years, by various artists and all with different lyrics, but this was the most well-known version, and the one I had in mind while writing.)
“because he wanted to let Troy know that he knew that Troy went back and got the saw.”
“How would you know if I circled back for the circular saw unless you yourself circled back for the circular saw?”
Beckinsale & Cusack & the gloves: