Log Title: A Slow Recovery
Location: Portland, OR
Date: April, 1981
Summary: Four weeks after the funeral of Sparkplug's wife, Susan, the Witwicky house falls into neglect with an 11-year-old Spike having to tend to both his grieving father and his shell-shocked little brother. Desperate and hungry, Spike takes Buster and heads to his aunt and uncle's house for a hot meal.
April. It's been about 4 weeks since the funeral. And school has started to call. Buster has worn the same clothes for 4 days. Spike is falling asleep in class. And after funeral leave, it's enough for Sparkplug just to get through the day. After work, he basically goes straight to bed. Leaving Spike to cook.
Spike's 11-year-old self looks at the ever-bare cupboards. It's a Friday night, so at least there's cartoons on tomorrow, and the two days off school to look forward to. He sighs, looking - the refrigerator has a bottle of milk that's about a week expired. He manages to find 2 small bags of ramen
Spike gives a frustrated sigh, thinking maybe he could divvy up the 2 ramen dishes for 3 people. He quietly tip-toes into his parents...now his father's master bedroom and gently pushes the door open. In a cautious voice, he says "...dad? I was gonna make some noodles, do you want some?"
Sparkplug stares up at the ceiling. Even though he's barely eaten at all today (or yesterday, or the day before...) he says, "No thanks. Make sure your brother eats. Thanks, son."
His voice is completely flat - not sad, but almost completely emotionless.
Spike gulps and nods obediently "Yessir."
In the living room, Buster sits and silently stares at the TV as the station break encourages him to stay tuned for Benson at 8. Buster has been almost entirely pliant the last few days. After some initial crying, he's seemed to have retreated entirely into himself, and stares at the world with wide, nearly non-responsive eyes.
Spike looks around. He doesn't even have the energy to make food tonight. Knowing it's a bit chilly outside, he gets his coat, and then gets Buster's. He walks into the TV room, where the lights are off. Only identifying Buster from the TV glow. He gently tosses a coat to Buster. "Put this on, we're going to Aunt Judy and Uncle Ron's for dinner."
Spike's made it a point not to get frustrated at his brother's newfound muteness. He desperately wants someone to talk to, but in his mind, his mom is watching down from heaven on him, expecting him to be there for his father and brother. Once they're taken care of for the night, then he can cry himself to sleep, but for now, the family needs him. His 11-year-old self.
Buster looks up at Spike with his large blue eyes, and then obediently stands and puts on his three-color coat over his dirty The Incredible Hulk T-shirt. He then sits down again to pull on his sneakers, sort of tying them, although mostly just making a big knotty mess. Getting back up, he approaches Spike and just silently looks at him, ready to follow him to their aunt and uncle's place as soon as Spike is ready.
Spike zips up Buster's coat and makes sure his laces are tied tight. He nods, satisfied, "Ok, let's go..." He calls out "DAAAAAAAD!!!! We're gonna run an' see Aunt Judy and Uncle Ron!! We'll be back in an hour!"
Sparkplug's flat voice floats faintly down out of the master bedroom. "OK, son. Be safe. Don't be late." He doesn't bother to get up and check on either of his kids, letting Spike handle things for just another day.
Buster stands still while Spike fixes his coat and shoes, looking up when he hears his dad's voice, and then back at Spike. His hair sticks up in the back but lies flat in the front, hanging down over the edge of his forehead.
Spike is also starting to smell a little ripe. He's tried to get up at the regular time, but after feeding Buster, and setting food at Sparkplug's door, and crying himself to sleep, he usually ends up sleeping late, and as a result, has had to sprint to school for the past 2 days.
Begins to walk to Ron and Judy's. He looks at Buster, trying to figure out how to get him to say something. As they walk, he looks down at his brother, "Remember, Batman and Robin were locked in that spacecraft last week, and they couldn't get out, so, we gotta try and figure out how they're gonna get out before their ship burns up."
On the walk to Judy and Ron's, Buster just looks at Spike, listening but offering no help on how to help Batman and Robin. Definitely the Dynamic Duo is doomed.
Left mostly to his own devices, Buster has been brushing his teeth at night and putting on his pajamas, but then puts the same clothes on the next day for school. People at school have started to notice, but since they've been informed that Spike and Buster's mom has recently died, they've mostly expressed their concern with kind gestures and careful hugs.
At Ron and Judy's…
Judy laughs, the first time she's laughed in ages at 'SOAP'. She takes out a pan of lasagna before 'Benson.' She calls out "RON!!!!! Get outta your study, dinner's almost ready! And Benson is supposed to be funny, a gay person's gonna show up tonight!"
Judy continues to be saddened at the loss of someone she viewed as a soul sister, but 3 weeks later, glimmers of normalcy return to their household. She brings up a salad from the fridge, and some good ol-fasiohed ranch dressing as well. Pure italian tradition.
At Judy and Ron's, Ron comes out of his study, a relaxed smile on his face and a small cloud of smoke following him as he heads into the kitchen. "Dinner smells wonderful, honey," he grins. "When do we eat?"
Judy frowns and says in a flirtatious tone, "Well, we wouda eaten a half hour ago, if SOMEONE would have helped me in the kitchen, instead of tooted up in the study and got his nose in a book." She pinches Ron's bottom and says "You better not have smoked that all."
Spike approaches the steps and looks at Buster, then knocks on Ron and Judy's door.
Judy 's eyes widen in panic. It's the cops.
Spike's voice doesn't have the boundless enthusiasm and rough-and-tumbleness of a few months ago. This time, it has a hinge of desperation to it, "Aunt Judy! Uncle Ron!"
Spike looks at Buster, then back at the door. "It's Spike an' Buster!"
Ron grins, having at least the wherewithal to look guilty. "Don't worry, hon. I -" He grins at his wife's panicked expression. "Relax, hon. I'll get the door." He smoothly heads to the front of the house, smile widening when he hears his nephew's voice.
"Honey!" he calls back as he gets to the door. "It's just Buster n' Spike!"
He swings open the door and smiles down at the kids. "Hey, little dudes. Come on in! It's cold out!" He steps out of the way so they can come into his house.
Spike shivers his coat off. Revealing an Oregon Ducks sweatshirt. With maybe a bit of milk stain on it, and maybe another stain that looks kind of like mustard. Spike looks up at Ron and says in a pleading tone, "Can we please have dinner with you guys tonight?"
Judy looks at the two and sighs, her eyes almost well up as she kneels down and unzips Buster's coat. "Of course! Of course!" She looks up at Ron. "Get...get a couple plates, and maybe two cans of Coke if we have it."
Judy gets a brief 'updraft' at Buster and her eyes widen. When Buster and Spike aren't looking, Judy mouths to Ron 'oh my god!' ...
Ron immediately agrees with his wife. "Why, of course!" He peers out into the dusk. "Your dad with you?" Not seeing his brother, he closes the door. "We're having lasagna! One of Judy's specialties! You're going to love it!"
He catches Judy's look and nods. "Why don't you two go grab sodas in the kitchen? We'll be right in." He waits for the kids to leave and asks Judy, "Should I call Sparky?"
Spike's eyes fixate like a hunting dog on the lasagna - a hot, homemade concoction - nothing that's out of a box or a plastic wrapper.
Buster merely sheds his coat and follows Spike into the kitchen, accepting anything that's offered him but making little effort to explore or act on his own.
Spike nods rapidly, "Please...can you?" He waits until Buster leaves and says with a lowered voice, "When he comes home from work, he goes straight to bed."
Spike instinctively gets a cup ready for Buster. He knows Buster isn't going to respond, but he tries play the role of the big brother. He gets the ever-present footstool and puts it up at the sink. "Wash your hands - " he tells Buster.
Ron nods. While Buster and Spike wash their hands in the kitchen, Ron leans over and whispers to his wife, "Maybe they should stay here tonight -- I could run to their place and grab some clean clothes, if it's OK with you. I'll call Sparky and let him know."
Ron's small buzz has been thoroughly killed, and he seems more concerned for the sorry state of his nephews.
Judy looks on curiously, wondering what Sparkplug's going to say.
Judy nods. She pats Ron's arm and whispers "I'll send a leftover platter for him."
In the Witwicky household, there are no clean clothes for both kids. Both winter wear are scattered throughout their room. The only clothes on the racks are the short-sleeve summer ones.
Ron dials up his brother, and waits a long time before he finally gets through. "Hey, Sparky. You OK?" There's a pause, and then Ron continues, "Hey - Buster and Spike are here, and I was wondering if they could spend the night. I can come by and grab clothes, and bring you a doggie-bag from dinner. No, it's OK." He nods, as if Sparkplug could see him. "OK, great! I'll see you after dinner then. Get some rest." He nods again, and hangs up. "All set!" he says to Judy with a bit of false cheer.
Spike suddenly gets a bit nervous. "I should go back. Someone needs to be with dad tonight. Buster can stay here if he wants."
Ron places a reassuring hand on Spike's shoulder. "Sparky'll be OK. I'm going to go check on him after we eat."
Judy dishes up the lasagna and salad, trying to keep a cheerful demeanor, but it's hard when her nephews literally smell of neglect, and Buster is showing some signs of borderline malnourishment, not to mention muteness.
Judy looks over and helps Buster wash his hands, and maybe takes the chance when she's wiping off his hands to make a 'clean' spot on some sections of Buster's face with a washcloth. "Oops...sorry...that slipped."
Buster looks up at Judy with his big saucer-like eyes, and of course doesn't complain. His The Incredible Hulk T-shirt also has some questionable stains.
Spike sits at the table and obediently places a napkin in his lap and nods "Thank you, Aunt Judy and Uncle Ron." He then proceeds to dig in. He manages to eat two 'polite' bites before hunger takes over. Soon, he's cutting larger pieces with his fork and almost shoveling them in his mouth.
Buster eats quietly but methodically, watching everyone at first, but then focusing exclusively on his food. Ron sets a piece aside for Sparkplug and then deals everyone else second helpings.
Judy gives a 'wow, they're hungry' look to Ron.
Ron nods in agreement with Judy, although he seems pretty hungry, himself, so he doesn't complain. Any ideas that they were going to cook a big pan of lasagna and make it last all weekend, however, are quickly and thoroughly dashed.
A short 2 hours later, Judy ends up tucking both Spike and Buster in bed, as she waits for Ron. Spike looks up at Judy, "I really think I should be back there!" Judy then shush's Spike. "Uncle Ron'll handle it, promise." She then goes over and tucks Buster in.
She doesn't seem to be phased at Buster's muteness at all. She then proceeds to tuck Buster in similar to how Susan did. She brushes some of Buster's matted and crusted hair aside. "Can I get you anything else?"
Buster's eyes are large white orbs in the semi-darkness of the room. He shakes his head to indicate that no, he requires nothing else, although tears start to form at the edge of his vision. He stares at Judy like he's silently drowning.
Ron meanwhile puts his coat on and prepares to go to Sparkplug's house, not realizing he's going to have to come back with a whole basket of clothes to wash for the entire dysfunctional household.
The Witwicky household looks to be under the care of an 11-year-old. Meaning... a valiant effort has been made with laundry, dishes, and other living elements, but they've either been neglected, or poorly maintained. Spike is so afraid to do laundry, after seeing one too many episodes of the Brady Bunch where the basement was turned into a bubble factory. So the clothes pile up.
Judy smiles sadly at Buster. She gently moves to one side of his bed and scoops him in her arms and rocks him, gently hushing him. She rubs Buster's back, "ssshhhhh..."
Buster silently cries himself to sleep, but once he does, he curls up like a kitten in Judy's arms.
Spike doesn't hear Judy's reassuring tone. The food, and the fact that he's in a warm, sheltering environment make Spike pass out almost completely. Judy looks over at Spike and sees if he needs to be tucked in, but she sees Spike snoring lightly.
<OOC> Judy says, "aww!"
<OOC> Ron says, "Let's keep him!"
Judy looks up, not exactly a believer, but she whispers, "Goddamn it, why did you have to take HER of all people?" She continues to rock Buster to sleep, waiting for Ron to reemerge.
Ron returns with a full basket of laundry - Buster's, Spike's, and even Sparkplug's - someone has to do it, and it's obviously not been Sparkplug. He separates the clothes fastidiously and starts a load of cold darks before joining Judy to check on the kids.
"Everything OK?" he whispers quietly, not wanting to wake anyone.
Judy nods and creeps down to Ron. She looks at him. "How is he?"
"Rough," Ron answers honestly. "He didn't really wake up, so I put the lasagna in the fridge and gathered up some clothes to do here and send back with the kids. The house is a wreck - I'm afraid Sparky might be leaving everything to Spike to handle, which is just a bad deal - the kid has enough to deal with without having to carry the load of the house as well. I've honestly never seen Sparky like this. He's in a bad way."
Judy nods and she looks at Ron. "We're going over there tomorrow...all day. And Sunday. OK?"
Ron looks somewhat relieved. "I was thinking the same thing. I'm glad you're OK with it.
Around 8 a.m. the next day, Spike, Buster, Judy, and Ron walk toward Sparkplug's house. Judy even got up early and bought doughnuts for the brigade. Once inside, Judy recoils - it doesn't exactly smell inside, because you need fresh food for that. But it's definitely dank. She looks at Spike and Buster, handing them some nutritious dougnhuts and orange juice. She then plants the two in front of the TV.
"OK...I want you two to watch cartoons for the next 2 hours, OK? Then, we're going to help clean up this place."
Spike nods obediently and makes room for Buster on the couch as Superfriends is about to begin.
Judy looks in the master bedroom and steels her spine. She gives a hard sigh and walks into Sparkplug's domain... and proceeds to open every blind, covering his den of sadness in sunlight.
Spike's still a walking, wounded wreck, but the wonderful distraction of Batman, Robin, Superman, and all their friends provides at least a comforting 30-minute diversion. He looks on in rapt attention, trying to see...how will they get out of this one?
Sparkplug grunts at the sudden introduction of light into his den of sadness. "Goddamm-" he starts to curse, and then sees it's Judy in the room. "Oh, sorry, Judy," he says, sounding faintly embarrassed. He scratches at the stubble on his chin - it's nearly long enough to be considered a proper beard. "What time is it? Where are Buster and Spike?" He looks down at himself, realizing he's passed out in his clothing again.
Judy looks at Sparkplug, then closes the door. Uh oh...
Judy says evenly "They're watching cartoons...like kids should." She looks at Sparkplug.
"William... Susan's gone - and she's not coming back." She then adds "And Ron and I are here for you, but you can't let that child in there take over - he just lost his mother."
Judy gestures to the shower. "I want you to get in the shower, and trim that beard off your face, then we're going shopping... for groceries, and cleaning stuff. All the things I'm sure Susan did, so, you're going to have to bring a notebook."
Judy says kindly, but in a 'this is how it is' tone "Ron will watch the kids while we're gone."
And in the meantime, Ron, despite his laid-back nature, can be dedicated as hell when it comes to rule following - that's why he was successful as an audio technician, making sure bands had their needs. He plans on getting Spike, Sparkplug and Buster on a schedule of chores - something that would fit each one's talents and abilities. And to help Sparkplug with the house.
Sparkplug grumbles but doesn't argue, perhaps realizing on some level that Judy is right and that it's time to pick himself up and get his life back together. He climbs out of bed, grabbing a dirty sweater and carrying it with him out to the bathroom, looking around for his missing clothes and towels that are now folded in a basket in the living room. "Where're my clothes?" he asks Judy in sleepy bewilderment. He seems unwilling to go into his living room and letting his kids see him like this.
Judy says in a kind motherly tone, "I'll lay them out - get in the shower first and shave that stuff off your face."
Sparkplug rubs his hand over his beard, and grumbles, "I need a towel," somewhat petulantly, like he was the 11-year-old in the house.
Judy gives a towel to Sparkplug and then gestures to the shower. "Ron and I are staying her tonight too."
"Tonight?" Sparkplug protests. "Where will you sleep?" He takes the towel, however, and heads into the bathroom, shutting the door.
In the living room, Buster remains absorbed into Bugs Bunny and Road Runner, ignoring the antics of the adults in the other room.
Judy says in an exasperated tone "On the couch, of course, now hurry up! Our you'll have to see me next weekend as well!"
Through the door Sparkplug grumbles, "Heaven forbid..."
Judy frowns and calls out "I heard that!" She mumbles "Always with the smart ass remar..." She then strips Sparkplug's sheets, which haven't been changed since that awful night nearly a month ago.
Judy leaves the master bedroom, taking the bedsheets down to the basement, leaving Sparkplug his jeans, a clean pair of underwear, socks, and a comfortable shirt. He's going to need it for the running around they're going to do today. She's going to show Sparkplug the routines that she occasionally witnessed that Susan went though.
A half-hour later, Sparkplug opens the bathroom door. His hair is combed, his teeth are brushed, and his facial hair no longer signals 'homeless'. He's still broken, true, but he's up, showered, and moving. He can do this.
Judy jiggles her keys. The look on her face pretty much embodies tough but loving. She says very directly at Sparkplug, "You and I are going to do some shopping, we're going to get soap, and get food for this house - and I know you work very hard in the day, so I'll be sure that we find some really quick and easy stuff to fix that Spike and Buster can handle with you. Ron will watch the kids while we're gone."
Sparkplug sighs, tightening the belt on his robe. "Fine," he says, raising his chin slightly and trying to recover a bit of his pride. "And... thank you, Judy. For all of this. I obviously need the help."
Judy looks at Sparkplug and places a hand on his shoulder. "It's ok... we're going to get through this."
Judy leads...practically pulls Sparkplug to her car. She looks at Ron, "We'll be back in a few hours." (little does she know, it'll take about 6-7 hours to get through the entire routine of what Susan did regularly - so at the end of the day, she brings back 2 large pizzas for the family to eat - meanwhile, Spike and Buster are getting a tutorial about home maintenance from Uncle Ron.)
Spike finishes his second doughnut and pours him and Buster another glass of orange juice as the Bugs Bunny and Road Runner show comes on. He looks over at Ron curiously, seeing a pad that seems to have 3 names, including his. Throughout 7 pages - for each day of the week, certain chores that would need to be done to keep a place in top-notch shape without laying all of the duty onto one member of the household. Who says stoners can't be productive?
During a commercial, Spike cranes his head to see the book. "Whatcha writin' uncle Ron?"
Ron smiles down at Spike. "It's a chore chart, Spike. I know you've been doing a lot around the house since - well, lately, and I wanted to help make sure everything doesn't always fall on you to do. I'm coming up with a list of chores, and a rotating schedule of things you, your brother, and your dad can do. Each chore as a certain number of points, and when you get enough points, you get a prize!"
Spike's eyes brighten up when he hears that other people will be sharing his work, but they widen even more at the mention of a prize, he looks at Buster, eyes widening exaggeratedly, hoping to get Buster to say something about that.
Buster just shifts his wide-eyed gaze from the TV to Spike to Ron. It's hard to tell if he even comprehends what's going on. Ron, however, pushes on.
"This chart here will be a list of prizes for each of you, at different point levels, so you can cash out a number of small prizes, or save up for a big prize! If you do extra chores, you get extra points, but you have to do at least your assigned chores or you get no points at all."
Two weeks later…
Judy and Ron came over last weekend, but only spent a few hours with Sparkplug, Buster, and Spike. The shared duties have resulted in the Witwicky household looking...maybe not the same as when Susan was there, but clean enough for 3 men, clean enough for Sparkplug's former drill sergeant to approve.
Now, at 7:50 a.m., Spike gets up. He quickly pulls the sheets off from his bed and Buster's, putting them in a basket, and he takes the sorted clothes from he and Buster downstairs to do the laundry. He then - thanks to Ron, is allowed a 2-hour break to watch cartoons with Buster. But only after he prepares breakfast (just cereal and juice) for him and Buster. The new duties have resulted in Spike slowly regaining ground on school work, but more importantly, giving the boy a chance to finally start to grieve at the loss of his mom.
Spike puts Buster's breakfast neatly on the coffee table in front of the TV. He runs to get his own breakfast, but ends up almost bumping into Sparkplug. Spike's face light up, seeing his dad awake on a Saturday morning. He says proudly "Our clothes an' bedsheets are downstairs. I'll start dusting after Bugs Bunny and Roadrunner are over."
Buster goes to the living room with Spike. Buster still isn't talking, but like his dad, he's slowly starting to show more of a range of expressions besides 'shell shock' and 'emotionally numb'. He takes the cereal and sits in front of the TV, alternating between watching cartoons and watching Spike with renewed interest in his brother's activities.
Meanwhile Sparkplug smiles down at Spike. "Good work, Spike. I'm very proud of you."
Spike returns and sits down next to Buster. He still wants to hear the voice of his little brother again, but gives a sort of solidarity-like smile at his little brother and takes a gulp of orange juice before fixing his eyes on how Superman is going to fight the Joker without Batman's help.
Spike isn't even logging points or stars, hearing those words from his father are reward enough. There is still an unspeakably painful void in the household, but at least for this first Saturday in weeks, it's beginning to look like a family household again.
Buster gives Spike an actual smile before shoveling more cereal in his maw and going back to watching cartoons. It's almost like they're a real family again. =)