Friday, June 26, 2009

Lortab and a broken foot

This is Dave, Becca's husband. Becca asked me to post that she's sorry she hasn't posted in a few days, but she'll post again soon. I'll fill in with a limerick:

I shouldn't have kicked at that door.
But I tripped on that thing on the floor.
Now Lortab's my friend,
So my day's at its end,
I just wish I could take a bit more.

Now you're all glad Becca is writing this blog and not me.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Day 157: Clementine, Chapter 16

When I woke up the next morning, no one was home. My dad was gone to the cherry warehouse. My mom sometimes stayed late to finish her charts from the night before. I knew that my dad had stayed up, waiting for Rose. I heard him call my mom at work around 2:00, and have a brief, muffled conversation. I lay in their bed, listening, but I didn't feel especially worried, and was even less so now, in the daytime. Whatever Rose's problem was, she would figure it out.

I sat on the vinyl chair, holding a mug that had King Vitamin cereal in it and skim milk. Stale King Vitamin cereal tastes like sawdust and cardboard. No offense to anyone who likes it. Just my opinion. I looked around our kitchen. The small oven with a dish towel hanging over the handle. My mom hated that oven because you couldn't fit a Thanksgiving turkey in it. "What good is an oven that can't even cook a turkey?!" she would bemoan, every November. Yellow marbled laminate was peeling off the counter tops, showing the cheap pressed wood underneath. I looked at everything as if it weren't my own home, but someone else's. If I were a visitor, what would I think of this place?

"But then," I thought, dumping my uneaten cereal and milk down the disposal, "who would ever come to visit?"

I didn't bother to put shoes on as I walked out the door and down the street. I hadn't visited the Finley's in a few days, and maybe Violet would be home and come with me. On the way, I tried to think of every possible trouble Rose could get into. I wondered if she'd shoplifted something from her favorite store at the mall, Wet Seal. Maybe someone at school had given her some drugs. Weren't there drugs at every high school? Maybe one of those drugs that is supposed to make you super thin. I guess it could be about a boy, although I never saw Rose with one boy more than any other. That was part of the problem of having a teacher for a dad--they all knew him, and he knew most of them. Who would want to date a girl if you'd failed her dad's algebra class?

The problems of high schoolers were baffling to me. I knew that high school was important, I had overheard my mom say "But, Rose--in high school, you're playing for keeps" at least twenty times. The grades you made, you kept. The clubs you joined and sports you played would determine what kind of major you had in college. You were playing for keeps.

As I got close to the Finley's, I saw Violet standing on the curb. I was glad. She smiled and waved at me, and I waved back. She fell into step beside me, without saying anything, and we walked up the ramp to the Finley's front door. I knocked on the glass and Mrs. Finley cracked the blinds just a bit, motioning for us to be quiet. She silently slid the door open and beckoned us in.

We slipped in from the sunlight into the darkness of their front room. All the shades were still closed. The swamp cooler was churning out humidity. I could hear Mr. Finley typing at the keyboard in his miniature bedroom, working on his family history. And on the couch, under an intricate and ugly afghan, Rose was sleeping.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Day 156: Clementine, Chapter 15

I knew Rose was in trouble because my dad said "Hey, kid, why don't you go sleep in our bed tonight?"

Which meant only one thing--he was planning to sit in the chair in the front room and wait for her to come home, at which point he was expecting a discussion that probably wouldn't be conducive to someone who was sleeping on the couch.

I always felt like waiting up in the front room would've been so much more of an impressive gesture if he'd owned a shotgun that he could lay across his lap. A shiny, polished Browning rifle, catching the gleam of the streetlamp as the door slid open.

As it was, I knew he would be sitting in the chair with his latest book. The touch-sensitive lamp on to it's dimmest setting.

My mom had looked hesitant as she headed to work that night, sending meaningful backward glances at my dad. I was bursting to know what they were all fighting about, but I knew full well that my parents wouldn't tell me straight out. I would have to stay awake and catch the discussion, that was all. Or wait until Rose was in the mood to vent while we were brushing our teeth. She did that less and less, though, so eavesdropping was my best chance.

I took a long, cool shower, to kill time. I would splay my fingers and watch the water run off the tips in little arcs. I used one of the guest soaps that was shaped like a seashell. I shaved my legs for maybe the third time in my life. Then I stretched into a long-sleeved t-shirt and flannel pajama pants. I brushed and flossed my teeth. Twice.

I sighed. And looked at the little digital clock by the sink. It was 10:00.

I walked out to the front room and found my dad with his head bent over a battered copy of Egypt: An Economic Geography. He was a sucker for the giveaway bin at the library. I kissed the top of his head and he smiled at me absentmindedly.

"G'night, love. Sleep tight."
I nodded, "Sure, Dad. Good luck."
"Thanks, kid."

I walked down the narrow hall and climbed into the sunken mattress in my parent's bedroom. I turned off the overhead light. I stayed awake, for the longest time, listening to the soft sound of my dad turning the pages of his book. I was determined to stay awake until Rose got home, to find out what they were fighting about.

But Rose didn't come home that night.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Day 155: Clementine, Chapter 14

We never found a meadow. Or a brook. We did find a pair of broken binoculars, a size 6 shoe, a whole Walmart bag full of cans to recycle, and 1,354 cigarette butts. Give or take a few.

I invited Violet home for dinner. She asked if my parents would mind. "They won't mind" I blurted, without considering.

I'd never had a friend home for dinner before. I'd never really had a friend home for any reason before. My parents would probably have a hard time concealing their giddy delight. Maybe Violet wouldn't notice.

Pushing open our glass front door, I called out "I'm home!" and walked into the kitchen, Violet on my heels.

I had interrupted something. I could tell. My dad was standing at the sink, twisting the life out of a dishrag. His face was composed into a tight calm. My mom was stirring something in a pan--her shoulders slightly hunched. She didn't look up. Rose was standing across from them giving her very best teenage girl "I resent authority" glare. I hadn't noticed how much she had perfected that art form before.

"Hey" I chirped, falsely, suddenly embarrassed by the awkward silence, "this is my friend, Violet."

My Mom jumped and sloshed something over the side of the pan. It landed on the burner and started to smoke. My Dad slapped a smile on his face that appeared genuine, "Well, hello, Purple! Nice to meet you!"

Violet wore a gigantic smile as she shook his hand comfortably. She looked so at ease. I snuck a glance at Rose, who was now glaring at the curling, faded linoleum. Her arms were folded across her chest, her hands balled into fists against her sides. "What's with her? What were they talking about?" I wondered. I never sensed tension like this in my family before.

My Mom finished wiping off the stove and turned, finally, to meet Violet. "Violet. Hello. We didn't know Clementine was expecting company." As she said this, she shot me a glare that said "Some warning, next time, please?" Trying to make up for things, I asked if there was anything I could do, to help with dinner.

"No. Just grab a seat. We're just about ready" said my dad, placing a bowl of lettuce on the table. Rose, letting out a sigh that was meant to be heard, stomped out of the room. At least she didn't slam her door.

Good. She was gone. We only had 4 chairs at the table and I didn't feel like dragging one of the living room chairs in. My mom put a hot pad on the table and set the pot on it, while my dad poured some milk. He even found some napkins in a drawer and put those next to the plates. I could tell they were trying to make things nice, because I had a guest. I would have to wait until later to find out what they were all fighting about.

Once my parents were seated, we started to dish up. Violet rummaged in her pocket and I saw her pull out another little wad of pills in a tissue. She popped them expertly into her mouth when my parents weren't looking at her, and swallowed quickly. At least, she thought they weren't looking. I could tell from a slight tilt of my mom's eyebrows that she had seen. Might as well get it over with.

"Violet has C.F." I tried to sound offhand about it. I hoped she didn't mind me just dumping it out there like that. I was watching for their reaction. Ever the nurse, my Mom's eyebrows shot up to her hairline. My Dad, of course, didn't skip a beat, "C.F.-- Clown Feet?! Oh, how terrible for you, Purple! Do you mind if I call you Purple? But I'm sure that you can special order shoes from the circus, right?" He shot us a wink. I giggled, and Violet put on a tragic air "Thank you for your sympathy, sir. It is so difficult to find shoes in a size twenty around here. Especially in green, which is my favorite color." I was laughing, stirring cheese as it melted into my chili.

Which reminds me, what was my mother thinking--cooking chili on a summer day? Two options: dings and dents bin at SaveMart or Special Buy at Big Lots.

I was relieved, now that they knew about Violet. My Mom would be able to explain it to me. And they wouldn't think she was bad for taking pills. They would know why she coughed a lot. They would make it all make sense.

Rose came back in the room. She was wearing her swimsuit under a pair of shorts, a towel over her arm. "I'm going swimming with some friends."

My Mom didn't even try to veil her surprise, "Swimming? Where?" There was the slightest hesitation from Rose, and I could tell my parents had sniffed it out. "At a friend's house. They have a pool." I knew my parents wanted to find out every blessed detail--whose house this was, what friend it was, if parents were going to be home, who else was going to be there. But I had a guest. They didn't want a fight. Violet was looking at them, with her wide eyes, so they finally just nodded.

"Home by 10:00." said my Mom.
"Yeah. Sure." said Rose, slinking noiselessly from the room and out the front door.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Day 154: Clementine, Chapter 13

And I did what any 13 year old would do if they heard that sentence. I flat out denied it.

"You're not going to die, Violet."
"Yes, I am."
"Well, yeah--someday. Everyone's going to die, someday."
"My someday is probably closer than yours."

Now she was ticking me off.

"Yeah? How do you know?" I stopped. One hand on my hip, dangling the Walmart bag, wondering how death got into this conversation in the first place. Violet turned and looked up at me. She sure was short. "I know I'm going to die before you because I have C.F. And people who have C.F. don't live very long. I think the record is 32. Or something like that."

She sat down on the curb, so I sat down next to her.
"What's 'C.F.'?" I asked, repentant now.
"Cystic Fibrosis."
I scooched a bit away, and she laughed "It isn't contagious."
"Cystic Fibrosis." I spat. What an ugly sounding disease.

Violet launched into a spiel that I could tell she'd given before. It sounded like something straight from a thick pamphlet you would get at the pediatrician's office. It might be called "CYSTIC FIBROSIS: A CHILD'S GUIDE." She was talking about mommys being a plus or minus and daddys being a plus or minus, and if you get two plusses then you can get a kid with cystic fibrosis, which means you get a whole ton of mucous, which is snot, so you cough a lot and your parents have to smack you on the chest and the back so you can cough into a tissue. And you have to take pills when you eat. That's what I got from her explanation, but it still made no sense.

"So, you got it from your parents. But I can't catch it?" I summarized.
"Is this why you're so short?"
"I'm not short," she sniffed defensively, "I'm petite. And yes."
"Oh. I wondered. Because you pretty much look like you're 7."

And then we cracked up laughing. Hysterically. Sitting there on the curb, with tears rolling down our cheeks, laughing like it was the funniest thing in the world that she looked like a 7 year old. When we finally ran out of steam, I opened the plastic bag and handed her a sandwich. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a tissue that had some pills wrapped in it. They were huge, but she swallowed them without any water, then took a big bite of sandwich.

I was chewing my own sandwich, with the morning sun warming my back and my hair. I could tell it was going to be smothering hot today. I hoped we'd find a semblance of a meadow soon so I could go swimming.

I finished my sandwich and brushed the crumbs off my Bugle Boy jeans. My mom had handed me these jeans and said "They're name brand! Bugle Boy. They're cool." I wondered what year purple baggy jeans with a high waist and tapered legs were cool in.

Next to me, Violet clapped her hands together, dusting off crumbs. "Let's find that meadow brook."

Friday, June 12, 2009

Day 153: Clementine, Chapter 12

We walked down the street, Violet clutching a jar for anything she might find, and me carrying a plastic Walmart bag with two peanut butter and honey sandwiches. Violet walked purposefully, stopping on occasion to inspect anything that caught her attention. She had decided to walk to the back of the trailer park, and start the hunt for the brook and the meadow there. I lagged slightly behind, looking passively at the things that were as familiar to me as the back of my eyelids. Violet had a lot of enthusiasm. It was good that I was there to provide some balance.

Suddenly, I remembered that when I'd asked Violet what grade she was in, she'd replied that she didn't know. What kind of answer is that?

"What kind of answer is that?" I said. Out of the blue.
"Which answer?" asked Violet, holding an old, decaying leaf up to the light.
"What grade you're in. How can you not know what grade you're in?"
"I don't go to school."

Wait. Wait a second. My thirteen year old brain couldn't process this information. I could feel the gears turning. What could this mean?

"You mean you're home schooled." I stated, proudly.

No. I bit the inside of my cheek and scrunched up my face. Violet looked up at me.
"My parents don't send me to school." she admitted.
"They don't... send you... to school."
"Why?" I puzzled.
"It's complicated." she muttered.
I snorted.
"Did you really just say 'it's complicated'?"
She nodded, shortly, in response.
I waited, but she didn't say anything else.
"But everyone has to go to school. There are laws."

Wow. I couldn't believe that came out of my mouth.

We walked for a minute in silence. I heard a tiny sigh next to me.
"My parents don't send me to school because it's a waste of time."
"But that doesn't make any sense--you learn lots of good things at school. It isn't a waste of time."
"It is, if you're me."
"What makes you so special?" I asked sarcastically, kicking a pebble.
"My parents just don't see the point in sending me to school all day every day when I'm just going to die."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Day 152: Clementine, Chapter 11

I woke up sore the next morning and watched specks of dust floating in the sunshine coming in through the window. I hated sleeping on the couch.

For one thing, I couldn't really roll over and go back to sleep--especially during the summer. The sun came in and hit me right in the face. Before long, it got hot. Even the sound of the swamp cooler, chugging along, send only a damp whisper of cool to this corner of the room. So I could either pick up my pillow and go lay on the floor in the hall, right under the swamp cooler, and risk being tripped on by Rose or my mom getting home from work, or I could just get up.

I got up.

I walked into the kitchen and got myself a glass of lukewarm tap water and stood there staring out the window at the street as I drank it. Tabitha Sloane was dragging her rottweilers and miniature pony down the street, carrying her shovel and plastic bags. She only did that for appearances. Anyone who lived in our trailer park could look in the gutters and see that she didn't pick up after her pony. Just down, I saw Paulette walk out to her car, wearing a skirt that I'm fairly sure was never intended to be worn before 8:00 in the morning. She saw me in the window and waved her cigarette at me. I nodded back.

It was going to be hot. Maybe I would go lay under the swamp cooler after all.

I put my red Pizza Hut glass in the steel sink and turned to go get dressed. Out of the side window I could see our front steps. Sitting on them, making dandelion curls, was Violet.

I walked to the front door and pushed it open, "Hey!" I said happily, "What are you doing here so early?" She half turned and looked at me "You said to come by sometime."

Yeah, I had said that. I guess I just supposed that "sometime" was generally interpreted as "some afternoon."

I walked out on the porch and sat next to her. She continued to peel thin strips off of dandelion stems that curled up delicately. "What are you doing today?" I asked her. Somehow, she seemed like the kind of girl that would have something in mind. "I wanted to find the meadow and the brook. You wanna come?" It took me a second, and then I laughed. "There isn't any meadow or brook. Miss Peggy just made Meadow Brook up." She tilted one eyebrow "Have you ever looked?"
"Yes. And there is no meadow and no brook."
"Well, I want to look anyway. Do you want to come?"

I curled my bare toes around the edge of the cool wooden stair. I had been thinking to go to the pool. Wandering around the trailer park in search of a meadow or brook that I already knew weren't there sounded hot and boring. But then I glanced over at Violet, who had tossed the dandelion curls into the grass and was looking at me.

"Sure. Why not? Can we bring a picnic? I haven't had breakfast."
Her eyes got a peculiar, guarded look in them, "Sure. Or we could look for berries."

All of a sudden, I knew the look. She hadn't had breakfast either. And she probably didn't have any food for a picnic, and she was embarrassed. I felt so much older and wiser as I smoothed things over, "Why don't you come in and have some cereal with me, and then I'll make us some sandwiches and we can look for berries, too?"

Her face brightened, "What kind of cereal?"
Then I scowled as I remembered, "We only have Captain Vitamin. It was on sale."
She didn't skip a beat, "But I'll bet you have milk!"

Monday, June 8, 2009

Day 151: Clementine, Chapter 10

Rose was back.

I got home from the pool, pushed open the front door that was never locked, and squelched to my bedroom. Only the door was shut. I never shut the door. When I opened it, I saw Rose flopped on her back on my bed. Only, I guess it's her bed again. Because she chucked some socks at me and told me to stay out of her room.

I squelched back to the kitchen and took off my wet sneakers and draped my anorak over the kitchen chair because it was damp. I needed clothes. I debated going back to Rose's room and asking her if I could get my clothes, but the closest thing to the socks she'd thrown had been her Sunflowers perfume and if she threw that, the whole trailer would stink.

I opened the fridge, stared at it for a second, then shut it again. I stood there, looking at the business card size magnets for JOJO'S PIZZA: WE DELIVER and BAILEY, BENSON, & FELDSTEIN, ATTORNEYS AT LAW. Sometimes I like to see how many letters of the alphabet I can find on one magnet. I'd already done the one for the lawyers. It had every letter but K and Q.

I opened the fridge again. Still nothing good.

My mother had a tendency to buy ingredients, rather than food. Food is things like Oreos and Doritos and string cheese, or even fruit. Stuff you can eat. Ingredients are flour and oil and soy sauce. Things that are absolutely no good on their own, and--therefore--of no possible use to a 13 year old. This made looking through the fridge a daily ordeal.

I slouched back to the table and sat down in one of the vinyl chairs. A lone banana sat in a bowl in the middle of the table, covered in black freckles with little fruit flies hovering over it.

I heard my dad's Sentra pull into the driveway, and I saw him out the window. He was carrying a grocery bag. Thank heavens.

He came straight into the kitchen and plunked the bag down on the table proudly, "Fresh cherries! All you can eat!" I pulled the bag toward myself and pulled out a big plastic tub filled with cherries. They were the ones that were a little bit dinged or bruised and would never last to get to a grocery store, but not damaged enough for pie filling. My dad could bring home as many of these as he wanted; it was the single perk of his cherry job.

He sat down in the chair next to me and reached for a handful of cherries, popping them in his mouth, chewing and swallowing. He never washed his cherries and he always swallowed the pits. Rose and my Mom would make faces at him, and say "That's disgusting." Which is exactly why I grabbed a handful of cherries and popped them into my own mouth.

"Going swimming?" Dad asked, between gulps. I shook my head, "Already been. Just drying off." Instinctively, he leaned his chair back on two legs and looked down the hall at the closed door of Rose's bedroom. "Ah. Gotcha. What's up with Rose?" I shrugged at him. I just knew she wanted to be left alone.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Day 150: Clementine, Chapter 9

And I don't know why I did what I did next, but I did.

I laughed.

And you know what is never a good idea? Laughing at someone when they tell you their name. I know this, from personal experience. When your name is Clementine, middle school teaches you pretty quickly that it isn't nice to laugh at people's names.

She shifted and placed her little hand on her hip and looked at me with wide eyes. I cut off my laugh with an awkward "harumph."

"Violet?" I cleared my throat, testing the sound of the name, "Like the flower?"
"No. Like the color."

She didn't sound mad at me for laughing.

"My name is Clementine." I offered.
"Like the song?" she asked.
"No. Like the fruit." I responded.

Suddenly, we were both grinning at each other.

"You said you live here--where is here, Violet?" She turned and pointed down the street, "We just moved into that nice, blue house. Down there." I got goosebumps down my spine, and resisted the urge to correct her. It wasn't a nice blue house. It was a double wide Clinton Homes Trailer, circa 1987. "Your family have an Astro van?" I blurted out. She raised one eyebrow at me as she continued to smile. I felt like I'd been caught spying. Again.

"Hey--what grade are you in?" I asked, changing the subject.
"What do you mean you dunno? How old are you?"
"You don't look ten."
"My birthday's July 4th. I'll be 11 this summer."

I studied her, trying to figure out if she was telling me a joke. She was the tiniest ten year old I'd ever seen, if she was telling me the truth. My sister Rose was already wearing a bra when she was ten, and Violet hardly looked ready to ride a bike without training wheels. As I thought about Rose I realized that we all had nouns for names--we were all things.

Thinking of Rose also made me realize that I was standing there in broad daylight in a dripping swimsuit and a soggy anorak and she wouldn't have claimed me as her sister at that moment if you'd bribed her with a shiny new car.

"I gotta get home, Violet. I live down there," I said, pointing, "In the gold trailer. You can come by sometime, if you want."
She nodded solemnly, "Thank you, Clementine."

I walked away, my wet sneakers squeaking all the way home.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Day 149: Clementine, Chapter 8

"Where have you been?" I demanded.
"Nowhere. Right here." she replied softly, carefully depositing a bug in her jar.
"I've been looking for you. And I haven't seen you. What's your name?"
She looked up finally, with her piercing blue eyes. They weren't light blue--they were dark blue. Not as dark as the sapphires on my mom's class ring, but close.

She studied me for a moment, and I shifted in my wet sneakers.

"Why were you looking for me?"

Uhhhh... rats.

"I just wondered, who you were. And, uh, where you live?" I stammered.

She turned back to the gutter, shifting to the next pile of leaves and trash. "I live here." she said softly, distracted.

"Here?" I asked, confused, "Where, here?"

Picking up the little jar, she finally stood. She screwed the lid, which was punctured with holes, on the top. Then she wiped one hand down her shorts. Then the other.

Looking me in the eye, she said "Violet. My name is Violet."

Monday, June 1, 2009

Day 148: Clementine, Chapter 7

It was going to be a hot summer. It was only mid-June, and the air already prickled with the heavy scent of hot asphalt. The leaves on the trees, which still hadn't lost their spring green, looked a bit wilted by the afternoon.

There was only one place to be in heat like this: Cherry Hill Community Pool. So packed with people paying $2.00 a person that it's more filled with people than water. The perfect place to sit and watch the world go by. I yanked on last year's blue swimsuit, which my mother said was a fortunate Goodwill find, and covered it with a green anorak. The anorak was ridiculous, but I wasn't about to walk to the pool without a cover-up.

For two hours, I sat and dangled my feet in the water, then slid in once to get wet all over. I spent ten cents for a Jolly Rancher, and then started home, water sloshing around my bare feet inside my tennis shoes.

I had just entered our trailer park and was finishing up the very last shards of my Jolly Rancher when, up ahead, I saw a little figure crouched down on her haunches in the gutter--looking at something.


I approached her quietly, like a wild animal. She was barefoot, wearing cut off sweats and another too big t-shirt. There were leaves in her hair. Her hand held a stick, and she was using it to turn over leaves and garbage. Next to her foot was an old baby food jar, which looked like it was being used as a makeshift rolly-polly bug habitat.

"Hey." I said, hands on my hips.
She didn't look up, but replied with a soft, gravelly "Hello."