2012 Fiction Winner! Authenticity by Catherine Conroy

In Duncan’s latest novel, the Jenson’s, had five children, two teenage girls and three boys, one age ten, and twins age seven. Duncan grew up with three sisters. Girls created the trauma and drama. He had them nailed in his book. Boys were another matter. Without the experience of brothers or sons, in the interest of accuracy, he offered to have his three nephews stay with him for a week during their Spring Break. They were similar in age to the boys in his novel. He knew how it would go. Boys were boys¸ busy with sports and computer games. He couldn’t understand why his sister complained about being tired all the time.

He went to Target and filled his cart with puzzles, board games, building sets, soccer balls, basketballs, squirt guns, and cool clothes he knew his sister would never buy for her sons. They’d have lots of fun with Uncle Duncan, a time they’d never forget. He also bought a tent, bug spray, and insect repellant. He lived near a forest with trails and he intended to camp overnight and explore with the boys.

“I’ll pick up them up at school,” he said to his sister. “I don’t need a thing. I’ve got everything covered, including toothbrushes and toothpaste.”

He drove up to school, waited in the car line-up and handed over a permission slip confirming his sister’s arrangement for her sons to go with him.

“Uncle Duncan, Uncle Duncan.” The boys rushed toward his car. Before he could stop them they tossed their backpacks into his front seat where he’d placed bread, pastries, and eggs so they wouldn’t be crushed or broken.

Unable to change what had happened he grinned and said, “Buckle up.”

“That’s where I’m sitting.”

“No, that’s my seat.”

“No it’s not.”

He couldn’t sort out who said what, so he called out, “Hey, hey, boys, settle down. Let me help.” Duncan got out of his car. “Daniel you’re the oldest, you sit in the middle. Josh and John, you sit in the booster seats.”

“But I don’t wanna sit in a baby seat,” said John.

“Me neither,” said Josh.

“Boys, listen up. You’ve got to sit where I tell you. I’ll buckle you in and we’ll be on our way. Who wants a candy bar and a book to…”

“What kinda of candy bars? Josh said.

“Mom says candy makes me hyper,” John said.

“Don’t you know, we’re not supposed to eat candy before dinner,” Daniel said.

“Okay, okay, no candy. Here are the books.”

Daniel said, “I can’t read in the car. I get car sick.” He crossed his arms in front of him. “What can I do? Mom lets us watch a video while she drives.”

Duncan slowed his words. “As you can see, I don’t have a video player in this car. When I was your age, I played a game of seeing how many letters of the alphabet I could find while I rode in the car.”

“That’s a sissy game,” Daniel said.

“Sissy game, sissy game,” the twins said in unison.

“Look, cars are lined up behind us.” Duncan palmed a just-a-minute to other drivers and pointed to indicate he was getting into his car in response to two people honking their horns.

“But, but, what do I get to do? The twins get to read and I can’t read,” Daniel said.

“Sit still and relax. I’ll give you a surprise once I’m out of here.”

“Yay, I get a surprise.” Daniel said. “Something better than some old books.”

“I want a surprise,” Josh said.

“I want a surprise, too,” John said.

“You’ll all have surprises, just settle down and let me drive.” He shoved his hand through his hair and forced a smile.

“But, I gotta go pee,” Josh said.

“Yeah, me too,” John said.

“I’ll take ‘em,” Daniel said.

Before Duncan could stop them Josh opened the door and all three boys tumbled out of the car and raced back into school. Duncan motioned for cars to drive around him. He heard someone yell, “What’s your problem? Get your car out of the way.”

Duncan ignored the commotion and ran into the school to find the boys.

“Can I help you?” A gray haired woman approached him. “Who let you in here?”

“I’m trying to find the Courtney boys. I’m their uncle.”

“Oh, yes, their mother did call. I’m the principal. It’s clear you need some help.”

“The twins said they needed to go, umm, to the rest room.”

“This way.”

Duncan followed her and recalled a time when he’d had to go to the principal office for getting into a fight. He didn’t feel much different now than he did then.

“Uncle Duncan,” he heard Josh holler. “Over here. You gotta meet my teacher and see what I drew today. It’s pinned on the wall.”

“No, you gotta go to my room,” John wailed. “You gotta meet my teacher.”

“He’s not going to your rooms,” Daniel said. “He’d rather see my work, not baby work.”

“Boys, boys, settle down,” Duncan said. “I’ll meet your teachers and see your schoolwork another time. We’ve got to get going. I told you we’re going to have a great time. I thought we’d go camping, have a campfire, roast marshmallows and hot dogs, and hike in the woods.”

“We can’t go in the woods,” Daniel said. “I’m allergic and so are the twins.”

“Okay, okay, we won’t go into the woods. Now, can’t we please, just go to the car and I’ll come up with a new plan.”

At the end of the week, Duncan took his nephews back home. “Hey, Sis, we had a super time. Didn’t we boys? Boys? Boys?” They had disappeared. “Thanks Sis, I’ll never forget this week.”

Duncan returned home and sat before his computer. He wrote, “Matt and Daryl Jenson, along with their two daughters, moved into their new home. They were disappointed they never had any sons.”