Friday, August 18, 2006

once upon a...

on top of the refrigerator there were two tootsie roll banks. next to each of those was a plaster of paris bank in the shape of a clown. one clown was holding a bunch of balloons and at the feet of the other clown lay a brown and cream puppy. both banks were painted sloppily. green and yellow. blue and purple. red and orange--all the colors of the rainbow combined into a garish display of all that was wrong with america in 1974.

the clown banks had been presents to the daughters of the house. their grandparents had bought them on one of their many trips to fort lauderdale. the tootsie roll banks were remnants of stocking stuffers and had once held a cache of tootsie rolls. now the tootsie roll banks held "special" money--half dollars, silver dollars, feather pennies and buffalo nickels. in two years the banks would hold bicentennial coins sent to them from the same grandparents who had given them the clown banks. the clown banks held spending money--also sent from the giving grandparents. the card would read, "don't let this burn a hole in your pocket," and that meant a trip to the drugstore to buy charms pops, apple jolly ranchers and now or laters. sometimes the cards had five dollar bills taped into them with directions to, "save this for a rainy day." the younger girl thought she could only spend that money on a wet wednesday and was still waiting for that day to come. the older girl was saving her money for a 110 camera she had picked out of the jc penney catalog. she had saved almost half of the $14.95 plus shipping that it would cost.

the refrigerator in the kitchen was down the hall and around the corner from where the two girls now slept-- stacked on top of one another in their bunk beds, covered up in bright yellow coverlets emblazoned with gigantic black smiley faces. it was sunday morning and that meant everyone in the house was sleeping in. sunday school was not a religion the family believed in. the morning paper and football on t.v. held much more sway than church. so when the triangle of sunlight slid across the avocado shag carpet as the front door was slipped open, no one was awake to notice.

a teenaged couple entered the house and crossed the living room to the kitchen. the tootsie roll banks were popped open and emptied into the long-haired girl's purse. the clown banks were pulled off the top of the refrigerator too and the plug bottoms jimmied open with the boy's pocket knife. he shoved the crumpled bills into his jeans pockets. months later, the older girl would notice the nicks the knife had made in the plaster hole on the bottom of the cheap bank and she would be angry, but she didn't understand why--she didn't even like clowns; they scared her.

while the boy went about the kitchen silently pulling and pushing the cabinets and drawers open and closed, the long-haired girl crept down the hallway and into the girls' bedroom.

their mouths were slack and she could hear the coo of them sleeping. stuffed animals littered their beds. she stood at the end of the bed and whispered, "love ya...bye bye." the older girl woke up just in time to see her stepsister's honey colored waist-length hair flip through the doorway. she barely heard the front door click shut and the car sputter down the street.

there was a commercial on t.v. imploring runaways to call their parents to let them know they were okay. the older girl hadn't known what runaway meant, but in a few hours she'd understand. she wondered to herself why her stepsister didn't do what the commercial had made sound so easy--"just pick up the phone and call." for weeks, each time the phone rang, her mother jumped.

a few months later her stepsister would send her a spoon ring she'd made out of a sterling silver fork handle. the girl would immediately recognize it as a curled up twin to a flat one lying in the kitchen drawer. as she twirled the too big ring around her thumb, her mother cried and her father silently took a swig from his can of beer. the girl thought the ring an unfair trade for the endless stream of snapshots she had planned on putting in her scrapbook.

1 comment:

Becky said...

one of the best sentences is the ...wet wednesday... you truly have a gift.