Something about a drunken buffoon
December 30, 2012
I always had a great affection for Wallis Beery. His gruff exterior apparently reflected a gruff interior. But there was something endearing about his boyish manner. The other actor/comedian who had a great affect on me was W. C. Fields. When I wrote Mr. Willis, I had both of these actors in mind. Something about a drunken buffoon that brings out the humanity in many of us.
Mr. Willis comes from an ebook called “The Box”.
Little Betty stood at the schoolyard gate waiting for the three girls, who had blocked her way, to attack. She was scared. There was no way to escape. The school building was locked up and retreating into the schoolyard would only delay the inevitable. All the other children had long since gone home.
The first girl, a broad shouldered red head named Sandra, jabbed her finger into Betty’s chest.
“What’s your hurry?” Sandra asked.
A second girl, Mary, stepped out from behind Sandra.
“Ugly shouldn’t be in such a hurry,” she added.
Betty pushed Sandra’s hand away and spit on the ground.
Shirley, the third girl, stepped out from behind Mary. Shirley waved her fist at Betty.
“I didn’t like what you said to my little sister. She didn’t do you any harm.”
Betty sneered, her arms folded defiantly across her chest. She didn’t know Shirley’s sister.
“I didn’t do nothing to nobody!” she responded.
The three girls circled Betty. Betty turned back and forth trying to keep each of the girls in her sightline, trying to prevent an attack from her blind side.
A man in a white suit stepped up behind the girls. He had a smooth puffy ghostly face and dark brooding eyes. His mouth was lipless and wiggled like a worm across his face. Though his appearance was odd, it did not detract from his otherwise amiable countenance.
“Now girls,” he said, “I don’t believe this is the way young ladies ought to behave. We must mind our oughts.”
The three girls who had surrounded Betty were surprised by the intrusion of the man in the white suit. No one had seem him coming. Shirley muttered something to Sandra who repeated it to Mary.
The man in white smiled. “I’m sure that ladies from Our Lady of Sorrows School ought not to talk in such a rough manner.”
The girls began to retreat.
“All talk!” Betty spat out in a last taunt at her enemies now in full flight.
The man in the white suit wiped his brow with a handkerchief and then grabbed the fence for support.
“I’m feeling quite faint.”
Betty cried out to the girls who had now moved off down the street.
The man in white laughed briefly than grabbed onto the fence with both hands. He hiccupped.
“That’s another word from the ought not list,” he said with conviction but with little energy.
“What’s it to you!” Betty cried.
The man in white took a deep breath.
“Actually, it is my business. That’s why I am here.”
Betty put her hands on her hips and examined the man in white who seemed in some distress.
“You some kind of pervert?”
The man in white’s smile broke under the onslaught of another hiccup.
“Hold your breath, stupid,” Betty suggested.
“Hold your breath. It gets rid of the hiccups.”
The man in white held his breath, held if for so long that he began to turn blue. Betty slapped him on the back. He gasped for air.
“I didn’t say forever!”
The man in white took several more breaths. He raised himself up and began to breath easily.
“You look like a pervert,” Betty said. “What’s with the white gloves?”
The man in white looked down at his hands and quickly removed his gloves, stuffing them into his pockets. There seemed little difference in his appearance. His hands were as white as his gloves.
“My name is Mr. Willis,” he said with a smile. “I am quite respectable, I can assure you. I have letters of recommendation.”
As the man in white talked, Betty stepped passed him and down the street. Noticing her departure, Mr. Willis turned and quickly followed behind. Betty turned around.
“Why are you following me?”
“It’s my job,” he said.
Betty turned so abruptly on the man called Mr. Willis that he almost fell over her.
“Are you from family services? Mother told me never to talk to anyone from family services.”
“And why is that?”
“They’re all a-holes,” Betty shot back and after appraising Mr. Willis, added, “And you’ve got all the credentials.”
“I am not from family services,” Mr. Willis said straightening out the cuffs of his shirt.
“You can’t be my mother’s new boyfriend. She doesn’t date pussies.”
Mr. Willis looked down at the little girl.
“Is your mother as charming as yourself or is this congenial quality of yours an acquired skill?”
Betty turned and walked quickly down the street. Mr. Willis staggered behind her, struggling to keep up. Grasping his chest, he cried out.
“Could we slow down? I’m afraid, I’m not quite myself today.”
Betty stopped and hands on hips, glared at Mr. Willis who leaned against a No Parking sign, coughing.
“You’ve been drinking. I can tell. My old man is a drunk. Mother’s last boyfriend was a drunk.”
Mr. Willis tapped his back pocket with his palm.
“Just a wee drop to settle my nerves.”
Mr. Willis took out his handkerchief again and wiped his forehead.
“This is my first assignment and I’m a bit nervous. Butterflies.”
“Who are you really?”
“I told you. I’m Mr. Willis. Your guardian angel.”
Betty was silent for a moment. She shook her head.
“I may be a kid but I am not stupid.”
“It’s the truth,” Mr. Willis insisted.
“You got some kind of ID?” Betty asked.
Mr. Willis searched his jacket pockets, his trouser pockets. As he did so, a small of flask of whiskey fell out, smashing on the sidewalk. He smiled sheepishly. Betty turned abruptly and stepping passed him, crossed the street. After looking down sadly at the spilt liquor Mr. Will stumbled after her. Upon reaching the other side of the street, he spotted a park bench and begged Betty to listen to him.
Betty stopped. “Why should I?”
Clutching his breast, and breathing deeply, Mr. Willis fell onto the park bench.
“You don’t suppose I could get a drink around here, do you?”
Betty shook her head and took a seat on the bench beside Mr. Willis.
“You don’t have a fag, do you?” she asked. “I’ve been trying to quit but it’s hopeless.”
Mr. Willis shook his head. “The other guys smoke.”
“What other guys?” Betty asked.
Mr. Willis pointed down.
“You’re not really an angel?” Betty looked at Mr. Willis with less apprehension.
“Oh yes, certainly.” Mr. Willis nodded. “But don’t ask me to become invisible. I get motion sickness.”
Pouting, Betty turned away.
“I need proof,” she said crossing her arms across her chest.
There was silence. Betty turned back to Mr. Willis. There was no one there. Betty got up and walked around, looking behind trees and bushes, but found no one. Finally she sat back down on the bench. Just as she sat down, Mr. Willis reappeared. Betty gasped, then giggled.
“That was great!”
Mr. Willis turned away and began to vomit. When he had finished he wiped his mouth with his handkerchief.
“That was disgusting!” Betty cried. “You still look kind of green.”
Mr. Willis wiped his forehead and around his neck.
“Can’t hold your liquor, eh?”
Mr. Willis put up his hand.
“Could we talk about something else?” he pleaded.
Betty shrugged her shoulders.
“You’re not a very likeable little girl, are you?”
Betty turned away.
“That’s not very kind,” she muttured.
“Wasn’t meant to be,” Mr. Willis responded as he completed his clean up. He reached over and dropped his handkerchief into the garbage. “You were quite correct when you described my actions as disgusting. I can’t help but question the evolutionary advantage of vomiting.”
“Angels are supposed to be kind,” Betty piped up.
Mr. Willis straightened up his jacket.
“Where did you learn that rubbish? Angels don’t lie. There’s nothing in the rules about being kind.”
“I hate them!” Betty cried.
A puzzled expression fell over Mr. Willis’s face. “Hate who?”
“Them,” Betty responded then added, “Everyone.”
“That encompasses an awful lot of people. Could you be more specific? Surely you don’t hate your mother.”
“She named me Betty. I hate my name. Everyone else is named after movie stars or astronauts or athletes. I’m named after a cake mix.”
“Surely there has to be more to it than a name? What else does your mother do that you can’t abide?”
Betty looked puzzled.
“What else bugs you about your mother?”
“Everything about her. Her new boyfriend. Her old boyfriend. Her hair. Her clothes. Her. Her. Her. Everything is about her. When is something going to be about me?”
“What about your father? Can you talk to him?”
“He took off on us when I was two. He used to come around to see me, but mother put an end to that. She is such a….”
“And then there’s my teacher. She just hates me. And the other kids in the class. They call me names.”
“Names. Yes, I’ve felt the slings and arrows of my peers as well. Often I have felt that…”
“This is supposed to be about me!” Betty cried.
Mr. Willis smiled sheepishly. “Sorry.”
“Anyway,” Betty continued, “They can call me what they want. I’ll show them!”
“Yes, I know.”
“No, you don’t!”
Mr. Willis nodded. “You plan on walking out on the railroad trestle that crosses Central Park, laying yourself down on the tracks, and awaiting the four forty five train. It will pass over the middle of your back, splitting your torso in two. They will bring small water cannons out on the bridge to clean up the mess. Nevertheless blood, muscles, fatty tissues and some intestine will hang from the trestle for several days.”
“You will be the talk of conversation for several days,” Mr. Willis added.
“Ya,” Betty said with a laugh. “Then they’ll be sorry.”
“And then everyone will forget about you.”
Betty’s mouth dropped. Angrily, she turned away from Mr. Willis.
Mr. Willis looked up at the sky and shrugged his shoulders.
“This isn’t working out,” he said as if he was addressing a third party in the sky. “You might want to consider sending down Anderson.”
Betty turned back to Mr. Willis, looked up at the sky, then back at Mr. Willis.
“What?” she asked
Mr. Willis turned back to Betty.
“You see Betty, this is my situation. I was sent down here to save you, but I think I’ve made matters worse. You seem so determined to end your life and I feel quite helpless to stop you.”
Tears began to run down Betty’s cheek. She opened her mouth to speak then threw her face into her hands and began to sob.
“Nobody loves me,” she whaled.
Mr. Willis did not respond to Betty but appeared to be caught up in his own thoughts.
“If they’d sent Duncan down, things might have turned out quite differently. The job he did in White Chapel was masterful. And look at what Brown did for that poor actress in Los Angeles. Insisting she take acting lessons was a sheer stroke of genius. But I have been sent down to solve a child’s problems and I’m not up to it. If I could find a bar, a drink might settle me down. You’re sure you don’t know any establishments around here where a fellow might quench his thirst?”
Wiping the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand, Betty turned to Mr. Willis.
“Do you love me?” she asked.
Mr. Willis smiled uncomfortably. Betty stared at him, her mouth hanging open.
“Aren’t angels supposed to love everyone?” she asked.
“In theory,” Mr. Willis responded. “You’re not actually that easy to love.”
Anger flashed across Betty’s face.
“What a thing to say! Is that what they teach you wherever it is you go to learn how to be an angel?”
Mr. Willis’s smile collapsed into an expression of despair. His face fell into his hands.
“There I go again. A complete and utter failure. I’m not cut out for this line of work. God, they’ll send me back to the choir. I’m tone death. And I hate singing. All that morbid and thoroughly depressing church music.”
Mr. Willis began to sob. His weeping shook the bench. Betty looked at Mr. Willis with concern for several moments before reaching over and patting him on the back.
“That’s alright,” she said. “I’m used to incompetence. Look at my mother and father. They’re quite useless. You’re a lousy guardian angel. I’m a lousy kid.”
A small grin wiggled across Mr. Willis’s face. He wiped the tears from his eyes away with the sleeve of his jacket.
“We do match up quite well, don’t we?” Mr. Willis said. “Do you think that’s why they sent me down here to begin with?”
“What are we going to do now?” she asked.
“Do?” Mr. Willis looked up at the young girl with a worried expression. “I have no idea.”
“You’re quite funny when you’re depressed.”
“I’m glad someone can profit from my misery.” Mr. Willis tried to smile.
Betty stood up and grabbed Mr. Willis’s hand.
“Could we go to Genova’s for an ice cream? Mr. Genova makes his own ice cream from snatch.”
“I thought you needed milk,” Mr. Willis responded.
Mr. Willis struggled to his feet. The two walked slowly out of the park.
Mr. Willis looked down at Betty.
“I don’t suppose I could get a drink at Genova’s?”
“You don’t like ice cream?” Betty asked.
“Actually,” Mr. Willis explained, “I’ve been trying to lose a little weight. I can barely get into this suit.”
Betty laughed and began to skip down the walk.
“The diet can wait until tomorrow,” Betty declared.
Mr. Willis attempted to skip, stumbled but was caught by Betty before he fell.