Friday, July 30, 2010
I got up early today. Ate breakfast after I fed the animals. I walked over to the calendar, knowing I shouldn't. I couldn't help it. I had to. It's like the days and weeks had some crazy gravitational pull. I held onto the kitchen table, but in the end, the calendar won. I counted the days. Twenty seven. I collapsed onto a kitchen chair. Pressed a cloth handkerchief to my nose. Lately I've made sure there's one in every room.
In 27 days you'll make like John Denver and leave on a jet plane. Go halfway 'round the world. For three whole months. You'll come back for 30 or 40 days, then off you'll go again. For a long, long time.
I feel as if I've been diagnosed with something awful.
"I'm sorry," the doctor'd say. "We're going to have to cut out a third of your heart. The other two thirds are fine. For now. They won't have to come out for, let's see . . . three years, and seven, respectively."
After lunch I went upstairs. I squinted when I walked by your little brother's room. He was lying on his bed, dressed, with a pillow over his face. I went to him, laid my hand on his shin. He peeked out. His eyes were small and red.
"What's up, bud?"
"They wouldn't let me play Capture the Flag," he said.
I sat beside him and twirled one of his silver-blonde curls around my finger.
He rubbed his nose. "It's not so much they wouldn't let me play," he said. "It's more that . . . she'll be leaving soon and . . ." His voice trailed off.
"It's what's supposed to happen," I told him (and me) as I rubbed his lightly furred, 10-year old legs. "Kids grow up. They start hanging out more with friends than family. Then they go away."
He buried his face in my side. I scrunched his hair with my berry-colored fingernails.
"It's normal, but that doesn't make it easier, does it?"
I felt him nod against my ribs. We sat there for a minute. Quiet. He put the pillow back over his face. I patted his leg and stood.
Out in the hall my nose burned, then my eyes. It didn't take long for them to give up the tears that seem to be always ready these days. I know I hurt, but my little guy feels it too? That's somehow heavier. My sadness plus his grief equals more.
"When you left for college, your dad got depressed."
I'd smiled when Mom told me that a few years back. "Really?"
That is so sweet. I'd put my hand over my heart. Pictured his light blue eyes and the way they almost disappeared into the nearby crowsfeet when he smiled. He loved me that much? Awww.
Now it's happening to me. I suppose it's that whole what-goes-around-comes-around thing. I thought about it as I made my latte today. I pressed hard on the tamper thing. "Apply approximately 30 pounds of pressure," the espresso machine directions said.
I have to apply way more pressure than 30 pounds to tamp down all the stuff inside me right now. I need to practically put my whole weight to it. To hide it. See, I don't want you to notice how close to the surface my tears are. My fears are. Thing is, this is your time. This is the biggest, bestest thing you've ever done. You're looking as forward to it as I am dreading it. I don't want you to worry about me. To feel guilty that I'm such a wreck.
Sometimes I walk over to the mirror on the dining room mantle. I look into it and smile. Well, I try to. "I went to Europe for a summer when I was 22," I say. "Now it's your turn."
I stand there 'til I think of something else. "And your cousin? She's been a nanny in England and Spain. Spent a year in Buenos Aires too. If she can do it, so can you."
I came up with another one yesterday. "In eight months, all your travelling will be done, and you'll be home for good." I held both sides of my face and grinned. I had another thought, and my shoulders sagged.
"But then you'll be off to college," I said. "At least there, you'll only be four hours away, instead of half a world."
Half a world away. Where I can't fix you supper, pet your curls, take care of you if you get sick. What if you get sick, baby?
Tears. Again. I press my fingers against my eyes and hiss. "I'm not going to drink any more water. Then you'll go away. Dry up. Right?"
I called my best friend from high school after supper. She's got a grown up girl of her own. I hadn't planned on sobbing, but I did. I've decided crying's like Advil when you have the flu. It helps for about four hours, then the symptoms--tears, runny nose, urge to clutch at your heart--come back. The tears are always there, simmering, just below the surface. Threatening to uncurl my eyelashes and run little creeks through my blush.
It's after midnight now. You know what that means, don't you? There's just 26 more days.
Friday, July 23, 2010
I remember the summer I was a street walker. Just about every night, I took a super long walk. On the chance you might drive by. I always went the same way. To make myself easy to find.
My heart would do a do-si-do the second I heard your car. I knew its sound. Could hear it a block away. Sometimes two. I’d count the seconds ‘til you pulled alongside me. One Mississippi. Two Mississippi.
I always made it a point to look surprised. “Well, hello. What are you doing over this way?”
“Just out driving around.” Liar. You were looking for me.
You leaned over and opened the door. I slid in. Rubbed the maroon, velour upholstery with my cheek. I’d shake the yellow, Christmas tree-looking air freshener that hung from the mirror. Eventually the pine scent wafted its way to me. Over by the door.
I thought you’d never kiss me. You'd take me on a tour all around my neighborhood and into the surrounding ones. I just sat there, leaning against my door, the arm rest poking into my kidney. I wondered what it would be like. When you finally did. Kiss me.
Then came that storm. It’d been threatening all day. Dark clouds came and went. The air felt still, yet crackly. I could smell the rain before the first drop kerplopped on your windshield. The downpour came hard and fast. Sounded like someone dropped a box of marbles on your car roof. I cowered in my corner.
You parked the car and patted the middle of the seat. “Why don’t you scoot over?”
I did. I half sat, half reclined. Rested my head on your shoulder. It was awkward though. I’m gonna have a crick in my neck in the morning. I didn’t care. You smelled clean. Like Irish Spring and Prell. I wanted to lick your arm, the part that supported my left ear. Just to see . . .
Thunder cracked. I jumped. Lightning lit the inside of your car. I hid my face in your t-shirt. And then you did it. You kissed me. And I didn’t like it.
After a moment, I pulled back. “Kissing you’s like kissing a Tang jar,” I said. “Don’t you ever shut your mouth?”
I put my hand over my lips. Tried to stuff the words back in. You flinched, like I’d smacked you. Then you started the car. I went back to my place. Over by the door.
I kept on street walking. Went out every other night ‘til school started up again. I thought, maybe . . . But you were a football player, and I was a nobody. I take that back. I wasn’t a nobody. I was a ‘tweener—in between the popular kids and the grits. I liked everyone, and everyone seemed to like me. Then we all graduated, and that was behind us.
You found me at Myrtle Beach. I was beach walking, not street walking. Me and my girlfriends asked you to join us. We were on our way to whatever hotel it was that had that James Taylor sound-alike. In the bar on the top floor, you made sure I always had a cold beer in my hand and a warm arm around my waist. You smiled at my girlfriends and me as we sang harmony to “Carolina on My Mind” and “How Sweet It Is to Be Loved by You.”
The next night, you went with us again. After the guitar guy sang, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” you leaned over and blew in my ear. I wriggled. And giggled.
You spoke into my hair. “Let’s go see if it’s high tide.”
The log we sat on felt like it’d been under the sea for a decade. I knew my butt was getting damp, but I didn’t mind. You played with the fringe on my jean cut-offs.
“Those your car wash shorts?”
I nodded. “Yep.”
I’d told you how me and my shorts had caused a car wreck at a four-way intersection the month before. It was for a good cause. The car wash.
I dug my toes into the beach. Down to where it was cold and smooth. You started piling sand up in great handfuls ‘til all that showed was my knees. I tried to move my feet, but they were stuck tight. I pulled so hard I fell backward, off the log. You joined me.
I shivered as a breeze came off the ocean. The warmth of too much sun undulated off my chest. You balanced on your elbow beside me. The light from a nearby walkway made your hair look blue black. Your teeth flashed as you smiled at something I didn’t know.
Then it was like my mouth was rainbow sherbet and you wanted to taste all the flavors—right, left, center. I reached up and touched your curls. To see if they were soft from the South Carolina water, or crisp from the salt air. Your neck was warm. Hot even.
I nibbled my bottom lip. “Oh my.”
You squinted down at me. “What?”
“The Tang jar’s gone.”
One corner of your mouth went up. “Yeah?”
Sand found my scalp. It itched, but I didn’t scratch. I closed my eyes so you couldn’t see them.
“Um . . . maybe I should doublecheck.”
Friday, July 16, 2010
No one spoke as we walked the five blocks to the graveyard. The night was silent. Almost. I could hear the Dobie Brothers howl, even though they lived two miles away. When we got to the cemetery, we climbed the low stone wall and squatted on the other side. I flipped my flashlight on and pointed it in the direction of Mama’s grave. The beam lit up tons of tiny water particles.
"Got foggy all of a sudden,” Tabby said.
I tried to talk, but nothing came out, so I cleared my throat.
“When we get there, I’ll do my thing. Then we’ll wait and see what happens.”
Tabby looked at Miss Sandy. “Maybe you should say a little prayer for us. For her,” she said.
I tilted my head. For me, or Mama?
Miss Sandy stood, Bible tucked under her arm. “Everyone up. Let’s hold hands.”
I stood and turned my flashlight off. Put it in the back pocket of my jeans.
Vince’s hand was sweaty. Miss Sandy’s felt clammy. She lowered her head. We did the same.
“Dear Father God. Your word says where two or more are gathered, you are there. We’re so glad you’re here. I’m kind of freaked out and I’m a grown up, so I’m guessing these kids are scared too. Lord, you know what these kids want, and you know what’s best. That’s what I want. What’s best.”
I started to let go of her hand, but she started talking again.
“And Lord? Please protect us from the evil one. And all the people said—“
Tabby and I knew this part from VBS. “Amen.”
After we dropped hands, everyone just stood there. I figured they were waiting on me.
“Just my light,” I said.
I got it out and flipped it on again. Pointed the beam at our feet. We found the road and followed it to the top of the hill. I looked back at the group and saw Vince pointing.
“There it is,” he said. “There’s Mama’s grave.”
We lined up in front of it. I put my flashlight at my feet. It flickered a few times then died.
I huffed. “Aw, man!”
“Don’t worry about it,” Miss Sandy said.
Vince and Tabby stood to my right. Miss Sandy put her arm around me on my left. I looked at the sky. There was no moon. No light at all now. Miss Sandy squeezed my shoulder.
“Go on,” she said.
I shut my eyes. Hey. Jesus. I guess it’s you I’m talking to. You know what me and Vince want—“
All of a sudden something screamed. Goosebumps exploded on my arms. I opened my eyes and spun around. Couldn’t see a thing. We all huddled together.
"What was that?” Vince said.
“I think it was a cat,” Miss Sandy said. “I'm pretty sure it was.”
I felt her gaze on me. “Keep going, Kat.”
I bowed my head again. Tried to remember where I left off. Like I was saying, sir. You know what me and Vince want. This is the last time I’ll do this. Promise. And, sir? Just so you know--
My eyes flew open when I heard the first growl. It was low. Guttural. Vince yelled. I heard him hit the ground. Hard. He yelped. I heard thrashing in the grass.
I stumbled around, my arms straight out in front of me.
“Vince! Where are you?”
“It got me!” he said. “In the chest."
He was crying for real now. "I think I’m dying.”
I dropped on all fours and started crawling around. Ignored the pain from landing on gravel.
“Vince? Say something!”
The growling never stopped, 'cept for an occasional snap of teeth. And some weird grinding noise. Or is it chewing?
I sat on my heels. “Vince, you gotta talk to me. Otherwise I can’t find you.”
Finally he spoke. His voice sounded weak. Hopeless.
“I can’t . . . breathe.”
I turned toward his voice.
“Vince! What? What’s got you? Talk to--”
I heard thumps. What? Is he hitting it? My wrist brushed against something. I pulled it back, then reached out again. Fingers splayed. Touched it. Whatever it was, it felt sleek. Powerful. I screamed when it turned on me. Its exhale smelled like a garden. Of death.
Waves of heat came at me. Jaws snapped inches from my face. Spit splashed in my eye. I swiped my face with my forearm. My hands balled into fists. Stupid, freak! Messing with my little--
I launched myself at the thing. Flailing. Thrashing. Pounding.
“Get off my little brother, you gosh darned varmint!”
All of a sudden, there was another one. I heard it. Behind me. I arched my back to get away. It snarled. The vibrations rattled my ribs.
Tabs was yelling now. I finally figured out what she was saying. “Dobies! Kat! It’s the Dobie Brothers!”
And then, quiet. As fast as the fuss started, it was over. I couldn’t hear Vince rolling around anymore. He just whimpered.
A weak light caught my eye. It was my flashlight. On the ground where I'd left it. It flickered and came back on. I picked it up and aimed it at the group. Everyone was hunkered down, their eyes wide.
“What happened?” I said.
Tabby shushed me. Pointed at Miss Sandy. She stood slowly, holding her Bible up in the air. I followed her gaze. She was staring at the Dobermans. I thought they’d left, but there they were. Not even ten feet away from us. They looked frozen.
When Miss Sandy spoke, hairs stood up on the back of my neck. I’d never heard her talk like that. Her voice was low. Stern.
"This is the word of God, you hell hounds,” she said. “And I will use it. You and I know it’s sharper than any double-edged sword. It will slice you up.”
My mouth hung open as the dogs cringed and started backing away. Their heads turned at odd angles. They whined as if they were in pain. I blinked. They were gone.
I heard Tabby’s breath come out in a rush. “Holy cow!” she said. “That was awesome, Miss Sandy.”
Miss Sandy glanced over at us then up at the sky. “Thank you, Jesus.”
I knelt beside Vince. He clutched his little boy chest.
I brushed hair out of his eyes. “You okay, little buddy?” I said. “Let me see your--”
I bit my lip and pointed the light at him. Shone it on his chest, then face, then legs. Not a scratch. I gently lifted his hands from over his heart. There was no blood. His shirt wasn’t even torn. I looked at Miss Sandy and shook my head.
“There’s nothing,” I said. “No marks or anything.”
She shrugged. “Jesus probably healed him,” she said. “Vince, honey. Does it hurt?”
Vince pounced his chest with his fingertips. “Nope. Not at all.”
Miss Sandy reached out a hand to help him up. Then she motioned for us to make a circle.
“Okay, then. Where were we?”
I took a deep breath and shut my eyes. Again. Wow, Jesus! Sir. That was epic. Now I believe. I mean, I’ve been believing, bit by bit, all week, but after what just happened? I really believe now.
I snuck a look at the sky, grinned, and rolled my fingers. I put my hands back together and bowed my head.
"So. Where was I? Oh, yeah. In case you need reminding, sir, Mama was just 34 when she . . . you know. Don’t you think she should have more—She should have another—“
“Shhh! You’re supposed to be praying.”
I opened my eyes. Tabby’s pointer finger was in front of her lips.
“What?” I said.
“You’re talking out loud.”
Vince gasped. “Look!”
He pointed to Mama’s headstone. A silvery mist covered the dark granite. It seemed as if the night itself had exhaled onto the stone. My eyes felt like they were drying out, but I didn’t dare blink. A hand, almost see-through, materialized to the right of the monument. It flowed over and wrote something. On Mama’s grave.
No one spoke. None of us moved. I couldn’t hear anyone breathe for what seemed like forever.
Miss Sandy leaned over and whispered in my ear. “It’s like in the book of Daniel.”
“The hand writing.”
“What’s it say?” Vince said. His voice cracked.
“Tetelestai,” Miss Sandy said, after the hand disappeared.
“Te-tell-a-what??” I said. “That’s not English.”
“No,” Miss Sandy said. “It’s Greek.”
“What’s it mean?” I said.
Miss Sandy pulled her jacket closer around her.
“It’s the last thing Jesus said. From the cross. It means, ‘It is finished.’”
I huffed. “What do you mean--” I said. “What does the hand mean, ‘it is finished?’”
“I have no idea. Let’s wait and see if anything . . .”
We sat cross-legged in the grass. We stared at Mama’s grave even though the writing was gone now. I put my head on Miss Sandy’s shoulder. That’s the last thing I remember.
I woke first. I looked around, then tapped Miss Sandy on the leg.
“The sun’s coming up,” I said. “Mama didn’t come. It didn’t work.”
I pinched the inside corners of my eyes. They burned.
Miss Sandy looked down at me. Her face looked like it was melting again.
“I’m sorry, Kat,” she said. “I think . . . maybe Tetelestai meant your dead raising days are over. You know, like they’re finished.”
My voice sounded loud when I finally found it. “But I believed. Really hard. Way more than the other times.”
I stood and put my hands on my hips. I looked at Miss Sandy. I knew my voice sounded harsh, like she was to blame, but I didn't stop.
“Isn’t that why you said God raised people from the dead? So that folks who don’t believe, would start?”
Miss Sandy stood and came over and put her arm around my waist. “I’m sure you—“
I squirmed out of her grip. “This isn’t fair! I was so—“
Miss Sandy reached for my shoulder. “I know, honey,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
I looked down at Tabby. She was focused on the ground in front of her.
I glanced at Vince. Tears ran down his cheeks and polka-dotted his t-shirt.
Miss Sandy brushed the seat of her pants. “Come on, kids,” she said. “I have to get you home.”
Tetelestai. That was the first thing I thought when I woke up. I looked over at the clock. It was eleven. I’ve never slept this late.
“Katherine! Vincent! Get down here. Right now! Your breakfast is getting cold! I swear. Getting you two up in the summer is like trying to raise the dead.”
I threw back the covers and ran for the stairs. Vince and I almost collided. He rubbed his eyes and looked at me. Did it again.
I shook my head. “I know what you’re thinking, little buddy,” I said.
“We’re awake.” I poked him in the side. “See? It’s not a dream. It’s a miracle.”
And with that, we tore down the steps.
Friday, July 9, 2010
I started slapping at whoever was sitting on my chest before I opened my eyes. Turned out to be Vince. I shoved him hard.
“Get off, pest!”
Vince aimed his finger at me from his spot on the floor. “You’re the dead raiser,” he said.
I turned to face the wall. Bit my knuckles to keep from saying anything. How does—
Vince laughed. “Ha! I knew it!”
I turned back and looked down at him, my eyes squinty.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Yeah, right,” he said. “It is so you, and you’re gonna do it again so I can watch.”
“No way,” I said. “I’m done.”
“Oh, no you’re not,” he said. He grinned, and my stomach flopped.
I gulped and shook my head.
“I got you on video. You and Tabby."
My right eye twitched. “You’re lying.”
Vince’s gaze was steady. “I’ll show you,” he said. “I filmed it all. From Old Man Farley’s tree stand. You and Tabby. And all those puppies.”
“You’re kidding,” Tabby said, when I called her.
“No, I’m not,” I said. “He says if we don’t take him next time, he’s gonna post the video on YouTube.”
I heard her suck her breath in. “What’re you gonna do?”
I huffed. “What am I gonna do?” I said. “Isn’t it more like, what are we gonna do?”
“Oh. Yeah,” she said. “What are we gonna do?”
“Miss Sandy?” I said, when we got in her car that night. “Can we go someplace and talk?”
She glanced back at Tabby and me.
“Sure, honey,” she said. “What’s up?”
“Let’s go to Dairy Dream. I brought money.”
I led the way to a picnic table apart from the rest. I put my turtle sundae and spoon on the table and climbed onto the bench.
Miss Sandy sat across from us. “So? What do you want to talk about?”
Tabby and l looked at each other, then at Miss Sandy.
“I’m the dead raiser,” I said.
Tabby raised her hand. “And I’m her helper.”
Miss Sandy frowned and shook her head. “I don’t understand.”
I set my spoon down and put my elbows on the table. Rested my chin on my clasped hands.
“I brought that dead boy back to life.”
Miss Sandy’s eyes got huge. “You did?” she said. “How?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. Tabs and I went in for a drink of water—“
Tabby made a time out sign. “Her dad works at Tatham’s, Miss Sandy. He told her where the spare key is.”
I nodded. “When I saw the little guy, I thought to myself, ‘He’s so young. So small. He should have another chance.’ And then he opened his eyes.”
Miss Sandy’s mouth fell open. A little stream of melted ice cream dripped towards her chin.
Tabby leaned forward. “That’s when she called 911.”
Miss Sandy started bouncing her palms on the picnic table. “He’s doing it,” she said. “He’s doing it, girls.”
Tabby and I squinted at each other, then back at her
“Who’s doing what?”
“Jesus,” she said. “Jesus showed Tabby he’s real when he used her to raise that little boy from the dead.”
Tabby pointed at Miss Sandy with her banana split spoon.
“She brought puppies back from the dead too.”
Miss Sandy looked at me, her head tilted. Her voice was hushed.
“You did it more than once?”
“Oh my,” Miss Sandy said. She was quiet for a few moments. Most of the time her eyes were closed. Finally she opened them.
“I think I know what happened,” she said. “You weren’t thinking to yourself, Kat. You were talking to God. You were praying.”
I shook my head and took a bite of my sundae. “No, I wasn’t,” I said with my mouth full.
“I don’t pray. Never have.”
Miss Sandy reached across the table and put her hands over mine. “Sure you do, Kat,” she said. “Didn’t you pray when your mom was sick?”
I snatched my hands back and glared. “How do you know about my mama?”
Miss Sandy’s face looked like it was melting. “Oh, Kat-- This is a small town.”
I used my Dairy Dream napkin to wipe my mouth and eyes. I didn't blink when I spoke to Miss Sandy.
“Whatever. I’m gonna bring her back. For Vince and me. Tomorrow night. And I need your help.”
It was the last night of VBS. Even so, it was really hard to act normal for two whole hours. I snapped out of my funk when the parents started picking up their kids. I hugged every single child.
"Have a nice life,” I said into each one’s hair. In case I never see you again. I’d had a bad feeling all day.
We left the church and went to pick up Vince. He came out of the house toting his video camera.
I rolled down the car window. “You can’t bring that, Vince,” I said. “Not where we’re going.”
He sneered, but he put the camera back in the house and came out to the car. He got in back with Tabby. I sat up front with Miss Sandy.
“Did you see Dad?” I said over my shoulder.
“Yep," he said. "He's on six-pack number two. I told him we were going to a VBS slumber party. Just like you said.”
I held up my hand for a high five. “Good job.”
I patted Miss Sandy on the shoulder. “Thanks for being our cover,” I said. "Dad never would’ve let us stay out all night alone.”
Miss Sandy glanced in her rearview mirror. “Seatbelts, everyone.”
At the first stop sign, I turned to her. “Least it’s dark now.”
She didn’t answer. No one did.
“Park on Walnut Street,” I said. “We’ll walk the rest of the way.”
I snuck a sideways peek at Miss Sandy. She looked as if she was made of stone. Her hands, on the steering wheel, and her strawberry blonde hair, blown by the air conditioning, were the only things that moved.
“You sure you’re okay with this?” I said.
“Not really,” she said, as she flipped on her turn signal. “But I can hardly let you kids do it alone. Do you realize what you’re doing?”
I picked at my fingernails and shrugged. “I think so.”
“I don’t think you do,” she said, as she parallel parked. “Kat, there are spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms right now. Right here in Cabin Creek. “
I put my nose on the window and looked out. My breath made a fog circle on the window. I didn’t see anything.
“Does that mean you wanna bail?”
I snuck a look at her. Her face looked blue in the dashboard light.
“No, I don’t want to bail,” she said. “I fasted all day today, Kat. I’m prayed up. I’ve got my Bible. I’m ready. Besides--“
I saw one corner of her mouth go up a wee bit.
“Besides, I think it would be pretty cool to see a miracle.”
I opened the car door. “Alrighty then. Let’s go.”
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
The next morning, I put the phone next to my bowl of Fruit Loops. In case Tabby called. She did.
“Let’s do it again,” she said.
“Do what?” I said. Like I didn’t know.
I heard her huff. “Bring something back, silly.”
“I know just the thing. I’ll be over soon as I get dressed.”
We rode our bikes over to Old Man Farley’s property. For some reason, it was the county’s drop-off-unwanted-baby-animals-in-garbage-bags location.
“Puppies or kittens?” I said, as we ate granola bars beside the creek.
“Puppies today. Kittens tomorrow,” she said.
We’d pulled off the road a quarter mile away from Farley’s place. Didn’t want to set off his alarm system—two big, honking, Doberman Pinschers. My dad called ‘em the Dobie Brothers. When they barked, I could feel it in my breastbone.
I squinted toward the compound of buildings. “How long ‘til he leaves?”
Tabby glanced at her watch. “He’ll head for Kwik Mart to get his Frappucino from Ilsa, in approximately 20 minutes.”
We knew Farley’s schedule ‘cause last summer we’d been bored the two weeks before school started up again. We decided to sit outside of Kwik Mart and document the folks coming and going. The most interesting thing we discovered was that Old Man Farley had a thing for Ilsa, the former Swedish super model. She was a big deal back when Twiggy was queen of the Paris fashion shows. Least, that’s what Darla, the old gal who ran the Dairy Dream said.
“I have no idea who Twiggy is, but that’s gotta be a drag,” Tabby said. “Going from modeling in Paris to being check out girl in Cabin Creek.”
“Darla told me Ilsa dated Rod Stewart, back in the day,” I said.
“Who’s Rod Stewart?”
“Not sure,” I said.
“And now Mr. Farley likes her,” Tabby said.
I popped the last bite of chocolate chip granola bar in my mouth.
“Kinda sad,” I said, with my mouth full.
“And yet, kinda cute,” Tabby said. “It’s nice when old people find love.”
I snarled my nose. “I think it’s gross.”
My little brother, Vince, was totally into spying. He’d let us borrow his binoculars for our project.
“He said, ‘You owe me now,’” I told Tabs, imitating Vince’s hold-his-nose-and-suck-helium voice. “I told him I’d bring him a Laffy Taffy.”
Tabby held the binoculars up to her eyes.
“What’s Farley buying today?” I said.
“Same thing as yesterday,” Tabby said. “Same thing as every day. A Frappucino and a pack of gum.”
I picked up a milky white pebble and licked the dust off. Stuck it in my pocket. For my collection.
“Now what’s he doing?”
“Leaning on the counter. Sweeping his hair over to one side.”
I nodded. “He does have nice hair,” I said. “For an old guy. What’s Ilsa doing?”
Tabby made a gagging noise. “Oooh! She’s putting on lipstick. Does that mean she wants to kiss him?”
I wrinkled my nose. “Probably. Now what?”
“She just lifted her hair and let it fall. It’s so white. Do you think she bleaches it?”
“Oh, pa-lease,” I said. “Of course she does. Grey hair starts when you’re like, 30.”
We had watched that whole ritual for two weeks straight. Then it got old.
Tabby stood. “Almost time.”
We giggled when Old Man Farley came out his front door.
Tabby spoke in my ear. “Just like clockwork.”
I grinned and nodded.
We watched him walk into the outbuilding that held his many works-in-progress—motorcycles, totaled cars, old trucks.
“Bet you a quarter he takes the Harley,” Tabby said.
“Nah,” I said. “It’s gonna be the Mustang.”
Farley drove out in the Mustang. I held out my hand. Tabby huffed and pulled out the empty pockets of her shorts. We watched the car disappear in a puff of gravel dust.
The Dobie Brothers started barking their heads off when we were still 100 yards off. Sounded like they wanted to eat us for supper. We ignored them.
On either side of Farley’s driveway there were always a couple black garbage bags. Everybody knew they were flimsy body bags, full of litters of puppies and kittens. Dead or close to. There were never more than two or four bags though.
“Brad McMillion over at Save-A-Lot says Old Man Farley never buys dog food,” Tabby said. “You know what that means, don’t you?”
I shook my head.
“It means he feeds the dead babies to the Dobie Brothers.”
I put my hand over my mouth as my stomach lurched.
“Just kidding,” Tabby said. “I think.”
“Maybe coyotes get ‘em,” I said.
Tabby grinned. “Not today. It’s these pups lucky day.”
She pointed to a bag off by itself. “Let’s do that one.”
I crossed my arms and rubbed them. It felt chilly all of a sudden.
“What do I do?” I said.
Tabby huffed. “I don’t know. Say whatever you did for that baby boy.”
We stopped about five feet from the bag. I closed my eyes. Put my hands together and tucked my nose into the space in between my pointer fingers.
Hey. It’s me again. Katherine Martin. I bowed my head in the direction of the bag. They’re so young. It’s not their fault some stupid jerk didn’t want ‘em. Why don’t you give them another chance? Like you did the little boy in the super small coffin.
Tabby almost knocked me off my feet when she started shaking me.
“Holy cow, Kat,” she said. “You did it! Again!”
I opened my eyes to a squint. I looked at the bag. It was wriggling, like a roadkill full of maggots. My mouth fell open.
“Do something, Tabs,” I said. “Cut open the bag with your knife, or they’ll die all over again!”
Tabby dug in her back pocket for her little pink Swiss Army knife. The one with her initials on it. She pulled out the serrated blade, then knelt down. She sawed back and forth on the bag, right below the knot. I heard the babies before I saw them. Their tiny whimpers seemed miles away.
I reached into the bag and pulled them out one by one. I felt like a doctor delivering babies. Only thing was, they were cool to the touch. The last one came out still dead. It felt like a half thawed-out pot roast. I could press my fingers in about an inch. After that, it was like I was pressing on a cinder block.
I looked up. Did you forget this one? I looked down at the puppy. One eye opened, then the other. Its little baby jaws started working like it had Purina Puppy Chow in its mouth or something.
Tabby shook her head. “I can’t believe you did it again,” she said. “I didn’t think you could.”
“Did you girls hear the fuss?” Miss Sandy said as we set out the little plaster Noah’s arks the kids would be painting that night.
Tabby looked over at me. I narrowed my eyes.
I shook my head. “No ma’am,” I said. “What fuss?”
“A little boy was found alive over at Tatham’s Almost Final Resting Home,” Miss Sandy said.
“Did he just wander in there?” Tabby said.
Good thing Miss Sandy wasn’t looking at her. She was about to crack up.
“No,” she said. “He was dead. Least they thought he was. They were gonna bury him on Friday. A mysterious caller tipped off 911. The police found him. He was sitting up in his little white coffin.”
I scratched under my nose. “No kidding,” I said. “What the heck?”
Miss Sandy squinted at me and frowned. She gave us paint brushes to set out.
“They haven’t decided if it was a medical mistake or a miracle,” she said.
She snorted. “As if it could be anything but a miracle,” she said. “Don’t they know this kind of thing happens all over the world? Every day?”
Tabby and I gawked at her.
“What kind of thing?” Tabby said.
“People raising from the dead?” I said.
“Absolutely. I read stories about it all the time in Today’s Church magazine,” Miss Sandy said. “In Africa. In the underground church in China. They see this kind of stuff all the time. God’s moving in Cabin Creek. Mark my word, girls. This is how God grows his church. One believer at a time.”
I snuck the phone into my room later that night. Whispered into the receiver, under the covers.
“It happens all the time?” I said.
“And just think,” Tabby said. “You've done it twice. Maybe it's like Miss Sandy said, and God's using you. How cool is that?”
I hung up the phone and folded the covers back down. I looked up at the ceiling. You’re using me? But I’ve never even been in a church. Not ‘til this week.
Friday, July 2, 2010
Vacation Bible School changed my life, but not the way you think. See, it was the last week of school and me and Tabby, she’s my best friend, got in big, fat trouble. Tabby guarded the girls’ bathroom door while I scratched, “Ms. Collins’ butt is bigger than Greenland,” on the stall wall. Little did we know, Amy Riggs was standing on the toilet closest to the door, and she heard everything. And squealed. Hence, our VBS experience.
Tabby drummed her fingernails on the arm of her chair. I kept clearing my throat ‘cause it felt so dry. It seemed like it took forever for Mr. Gore, the principal, to join us. We were pretty freaked out. Ms. Collins was his second cousin. No telling what he’d do to us. He came in and sat down. Put his elbows on his desk and clasped his hands. His pointer fingers looked like a steeple.
“Girls, I’m disappointed. Very disappointed.”
He looked over at me. “Especially with you, Kat. I don’t know what got into you.”
I stared at the floor. Pointed and flexed my feet.
“Poor Ms. Collins,” he said. “She was doing so good on that Weigh Down plan she was on. She’d lost seven pounds already.”
I peeked over at Tabby. She was looking up at the ceiling.
“Did you hear what happened?” Mr. Gore said. “When she heard what you two did?”
I winced. Tabby coughed. We hadn’t heard. I stuck my bottom lip out in anticipation.
Mr. Gore started tapping his desk with a pencil.
“She went out and bought a half sheet bakery cake and ate it in her car. With a spork. Then she stopped at Pizza Hut and got a Meat Lovers pizza. Large. Ate the whole thing, right there in the front seat. Then she went through the KFC drive-thru. Got one of those new Double Down sandwiches. She hit a fire hydrant pulling out of KFC’s lot because her fingers were so greasy she couldn’t grip the steering wheel.”
Tabby whimpered. I bit my lip. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Ms. Collins was the only teacher ever to punish me in my eight years of schooling. I had to pay her back. I just had to. Gosh! All I did was put super glue on Jimmy Nelson’s desk seat while he was up at the pencil sharpener. It just made the tiniest hole in his jeans when he stood up. First, Ms. Collins made me stand in the corner with my nose against the wall for 45 minutes. Then, when we went to lunch, she taped two red construction paper G’s on my chest.
“You’re Glue Girl, Katherine Martin,” she said. And everybody at Cabin Creek Middle School is going to know it now.”
Me! The only girl with straight A’s all the way through seventh grade with not one, but two red letters on my chest. I tried killing Ms. Collins with my glare stare in the cafeteria, but it didn’t work. Hence, the writing on the stall.
Mr. Gore pushed two pieces of paper across the desk. We didn’t budge.
“Go on,” he said. “Pick them up.”
I looked at mine. “Community Service Project--Craft Helper, Vacation Bible School, First Baptist Church of Cabin Creek, June 14-18, 2010.”
VBS? Are you kidding me? I’d never even been to church.
Miss Sandy stopped wiping the last table with a damp paper towel.. She stared at Tabby and me from her bent over position.
Tabby huffed. “What?”
“Anyone ever tell you two you look like sisters? With your dark hair and eyes?”
I shook my head. “My hair’s way long, and hers is super short. I don’t think we look alike at all.”
Miss Sandy straightened up, grabbed her lower back, and started rubbing it.
“You girls were a big help tonight,” she said. “You need a ride home?”
“Yes, please,” I said. “By now, my dad’s on his third or fourth Miller Lite. He probably shouldn’t drive.”
Tabby sighed. “My mom can’t leave the twins. A ride would be swell.”
Miss Sandy stopped in front of my house first. I unbuckled my seat belt.
“Hold on a second, Kat,” Miss Sandy said.
I had one hand on the door. “Yes’m?”
She looked at me in the rearview mirror. “I was just wondering,” she said. “At the closing ceremony tonight, did you ask Jesus to be your forever friend?”
I shook my head. “No, ma’am.”
I saw her shoulders sag a bit.
“I asked him something else,” I said.
Her forehead wrinkled. “You did?”
I nodded. “I said, ‘Sir, if you’re for real, prove it.’”
“You said that?”
The ditches in her forehead disappeared.
“Well, then,” she said. “Now we wait.”
Tabby leaned over the front seat. “For what?” she said.
Miss Sandy turned to face us. “For Jesus to show Kat. That he’s real.”
I heard Tabby gasp.
“He can do that?” she said.
A funny look came over Miss Sandy’s face. Like she was thinking about her husband, ‘cept she’d told us she didn’t have one.
“Oh, he can do that,” Miss Sandy said. “And he will. Just wait. And watch.”
I opened the door and put one foot on the sidewalk.
“Night, Tabs. Thanks for the ride, Miss Sandy. See you tomorrow night.”
The phone rang four times before Dad yelled.
“Answer the gosh darned phone, Kat!”
“Got it, Dad!” I said. “Hello?”
“It’s me,” Tabby said. “Let’s ride bikes. Before it gets hot.”
“I’m thirsty,” Tabby said, when we slowed down at the stop sign across from the Kwik Mart.
“Got any money?” I said.
Tabby snorted. “Do I ever have money?”
“Follow me,” I said.
I headed towards my dad’s office. Well, the place where he works. We parked our bikes in the bushes. Walked along the side of the building. I reached up and felt each window sill.
“What’re you doing?” Tabby said.
“Dad told me they keep a spare key on one of the window sills,” I said. “Just can’t remember which one.”
Found it. We kept walking ‘til we came out behind the building.
“Does it creep out your dad to work in a funeral home?” Tabby said, as we walked towards the back door.
I shrugged. “I dunno. He hasn’t been here long. I think he’s just glad to have a job again.”
“Why do they let him drive? Don’t they care about his D.U.I.’s?”
“Guess not,” I said. “I mean, dead people can’t sue him if he drives drunk, can they?”
I put the key in the lock and turned it. Before I opened the door, I faced Tabby and held up two fingers.
“Two rules,” I said. “Don’t touch anything. And don’t go in any rooms with occupied coffins. Got it?”
Tabby nodded. I saw her clench her teeth and shiver.
It was cool when we stepped inside. I wrinkled my nose. I smell dead people.
I grabbed my crotch. “I have to go to the bathroom,” I said. “Don’t move.”
I looked both ways when I came out of the bathroom. “Gosh darn it.! Where is she?”
I don’t know why I tiptoed. No one was there but us. Tatham’s Almost Final Resting Home didn’t open ‘til noon. I crept down the hall, looking into one viewing room after another, before I found her.
I spoke through my teeth. “What’re you doing? I told you not to—“
Tabby didn’t turn around when she spoke, but I still heard what she said.
“Come here. This is the tiniest coffin ever. I think it’s a little boy. The lining is swimming pool blue.”
I hate dead people. Ever since Mom . . .
I about fainted when Dad told me he’d be working here. I’d been inside the building once before. Two months ago. On Take Your Daughter to Work Day. It wasn’t quite so freaky when I was with him.
“I’ve never seen a dead person,” Tabby said. “He’s not much older than the twins.”
I stood behind her. Willing myself to be brave. Like Tabby.
I stood on my tippy toes and looked over her shoulder. My knees buckled, and I grabbed her waist. Pressed my face into her back. Then I got on my toes again. Made my eyes stay open. A breath escaped me as I looked at the little guy. I stuck my lower lip out.
“Aw, man. He’s so tiny.” I could barely hear my own voice. It sounded like a sigh. I had a thought. I looked at the ceiling.
He’s so little. So young. Why don’t you give him another chance?
I didn’t even know my eyes were shut until I heard Tabby gasp. I opened them at the same time that she reached back and slapped at the air, trying to find me. Her Precious Pink fingernails made contact. Dug into my wrist.
“Kat! Look! Holy cow! The kid’s turning pink.”
I pushed Tabby out of the way. Put my hands on the edge of the little white box. Looked down. The little guy’s eyes fluttered open. They were the color of Tootsie Rolls. He looked at me, then at Tabby. His bottom lip came out and started quivering. Then he began to cry. No. Wail.
Tabby sounded hoarse when she spoke. “Do something, Kat! Pick him up!”
I shook my head and backed away from the coffin. “I’m not touching him,” I said. “You stay here. I’ll call 911.”
I sprinted down the hall and into the secretary’s office. I spun around in a circle. What do I do? What do I do? I yanked two tissues out of the box on the desk. Used one to pick up the phone, the other to punch the numbers.
When the dispatch officer answered, I pinched my nostrils.
“Emergency at Tatham’s Almost Final Resting Place,” I said. I tried to sound like a grownup. From another country.
“A toddler has been found.” I hung up. Before she could ask questions.
I ran back down the hall. Stopped in front of the baby boy’s room.
“Tabby, quick! We gotta get outta here.”
She looked at me over her shoulder. “What if he falls off the table?”
I hissed at her as I ran towards the door. “He won’t, and if he does, the carpet’s soft. Come on!”