Jerry is in my way. Every morning he stands, eyes closed, backpack on, in this hallway, waiting for me to leave. Waiting for his school bus. He is like a seven year old slumbering giant waiting in the hallway between the kitchen and the front door. When he was little, and I was going off to school, he'd be bopping about, under chairs, over tables, into stuff, with this crazy little grin on his tiny pointed face. Like an elf. A frantic elf our mother would call him, and she'd be laughing and running after him trying to corral him and put him in his high chair for safety.
It was kind of cute.
But now. Now it really creeps me out the way he's changed.
“See you JP,” I say, but not too loud and making sure not to breathe in his face. He hates that. Once safely past him, I croak, “I'm going.” I think I could shout it out loud and he'd not notice, but I don't want to take that chance. A Tantrum now would mean that I'd have to stay and help, and then I'd miss the bus.
“Bye. Have a good day.”
My mother's voice from the kitchen is still sharp, holding onto the edges of her anxiety. It makes me feel guilty. Getting Jerry ready for anything takes a lot of concentrated effort and I'm too busy to help her with him on a school day.
“Bye,” I say as I open the door.
The heat outside is murder. Sweat pops.
“Close the door!” Her voice shrill.
I nod, even though she can't see me. But I don't leave yet. I just need a moment to get adjusted. The oppression outside weighs as heavily as the atmosphere behind me.
A blue haze clogs every breath I take. It's like entering a sauna. The air on the black top is shimmering and wavering.
I want to leave.
Some days it's hard to move on, hard to go out, hard to venture forth ( I like that word, it fills my mouth)
“Forth,” I whisper.
Now I'm ready.
“See you,” I call.
“Diana close the door!”
“Bye.” The sadness I feel colors the word as it trickles from my mouth.
I close the door. I'm glad to close the door.
I stand on the top step and look over at her house to see if Gillian is waiting. Not yet.
I take a breathe. It's still just as hot and humid as it was two minutes ago. The heat beats on my face, reflects from the concrete, over fills my lungs.
I wish I could shake myself free. Free of the heat, free of Jerry, free of my family, free from thinking and feeling. All I want is a normal life, without the chaos of Jerry, without guilt and anger. All I want is a life that is quiet, organized and predictable. And it's too hot. But I know that freedom from the weather, or my life ,or thinking, or Jerry, is not on the agenda.
I leave my house. I step down the sun bleached steps. Down one step, down another. The heat is so strong it bites through the cork soles of my Birkenstock's. The fronds of the burgeoning mint plant shower me with their smell. Motes of seeds, and clouds of petals swirl, as I twirl my fingers in the green depths. Suddenly I feel happy. And that's a surprise. Happiness is not my usual mode of operation.
Holding onto my moment of happiness, I appreciate the feel of the sun on my head and I turn to welcome the slight movement in the air, as an incredibly light breeze strokes my cheeks. I swing my arms as I stride down the front path. If no one was watching me I could hop, skip, and jump. If I felt like it. If I wasn't fifteen. If I wasn't me. If I dared.
I stop at the end of Gillian's driveway.
The steady beat of my feet echoes on for a moment then fades away. The sounds of morning fill the space. Across the street, the Norman's sprinklers hiss and splash. In the distance car doors snick, snack, a child cries, a dog barks. Above me, three dark dots dart in the sky. Two tiny birds are vigorously defending their lives and loves.
I wait, Gillian will be out in one minute. Then, on the days like today, when we have to catch the school bus, we will first walk, stroll, and slouch, until we have to hurry to the bus stop where the few other students without rides, like us, are already milling around.
Gillian and I straggle up to the bus stop and stand the regulation three feet away from nearest person. We turn our backs. Gillian peers around, up, down, back, and over to her left. Then she squints up at the lamp behind me.
“What're you doing?” A feeling of anxiety begins to bubble in my head.
“Have you ever thought what it would be like to be that guy who was always being watched?” Gillian whispered
“What guy? Did he do something wrong?” I feel like I need to crouch down to make myself smaller. The happiness of those front-door-mint-smelling-minutes, all gone.
“Dumbo. I mean that guy in the movies.”
“You mean the Truman Show. And... ” dramatic pause. The nasal tones break into our conversation. I know without looking exactly who it is. As if we cared.
“Oh hi Madison,” Gillian says.
“He didn't know he was being watched,” Madison continued in her prissy, prim, voice.
Her obnoxious tones have knocked out the last of my happiness. I stare at her not saying anything. She poses, and preens, one leg forward, one leg behind, her arms curled into a dancers position in front of her body. She is tiny and shiny. Her hair is perfectly fitted to her head, an expensive cut, screaming money. The carefully placed black curls frame her chubby face. Her pale lips are fixed in a photographic style false smile.
At the sight of her, as usual, no words pass my lips, which have curled into something which I can feel is not exactly a smile, but not a sneer either. It's a nothing curl of my lips. I think of it as a snile,or a smeer. What ever. I don't care. I don't like her.
“Nice boots , “Gillian says.
Madison looks down “My mother got them for me when she was in London. They're a copy of Mary Quant boots. Look no toes.”
She's wearing a pair of cute open-toed white leather boots. I think they're actually pretty cool but I don't say anything. I just look. Her red painted manicured toe nails peep out of the end of her boots. It's kind of like a letter box. There's this space on top where the shoe leather should be.
I want to huff and puff. I want to say, get lost bitch. But I don't. I keep my anger close. I feed it with my thoughts. They burn and boil inside. I hate how she's taken to hanging around us. I think she wants to be friends. I don't want to be her friend. I don't want to be her anything. I turn my back.
I hear tap,tap, on the sidewalk. I hear the snap of heels like a Nazi. The sound is so sharp it gets everyone looking, including me.
I actually like her boots. They're this cool shiny white leather that end just below her calf, with a low heel and no toes. I open my mouth to tell her that. But she asks, “Where's Jerry?” before I have a chance.
She's a jerk. She knows he goes on the special ed bus later. She knows I don't like to talk about him. I snap my mouth closed.
Gillian glares at her, then moves towards me like a body guard and stands between us until the school bus pulls up.
“ If they were mine I'd wear them with a short shift dress to complete the sixties look,” she whispers.
“She'd never think of that.” I smile, a real one this time. Gillian is a good friend. I think I could tell her anything.
“Not unless her mother got it in London.” We both laugh.
I turn back to Madison, “I like your boots,” I say. “They're cool.”But the words are like dry dust in my mouth. Being nice gets harder everyday.
Gillian stares at me. “ What are you doing? Are you pretending?”
My smeer-snile morphs into a grin. I can feel my cheeks swell and bulge with joy.
“Being a good person,” I say.
I'm not really enjoying this but it's better than swallowing my anger.
“It's weird. You do know that? Don't you?” Gillian leans closer to ask, “Who were you this time?”
“The southern belle.”
“You should stop watching those movies.”
“But I like the costumes.” The plaintive note in my voice surprised me.
Gillian says, “Do you remember ?”
“The lace curtain dresses.”
“Hanging out in the dirt by the pond under the curve of the forsythia bushes.”
“The tea made from mint leaves.”
“and smelly, ” I end the litany of our past.
I turn away. That was all before BRB. Before Retard Brother.
“BRB” Gillian says.
She could always read my mind. Well she always used to be able to read my mind. I look at her. I need to talk to you. The words were pressing against my reluctant lips. But I don't let them free. But even now hope springs eternal. Maybe I can tell her. Maybe she'll understand, if anyone can.
But before I can say anymore, Gillian touched her round chin with one finger, looked at me winked, stroked an imaginary beard and said, “No ,I'm going to say BRB, anytime I want.”
“K,” I nod. Does she think she's being funny!
“Cool,” She says.
I wanted to tell her, even then. My mouth still wanted to open and spew all the confusion, that is burning a hole of guilt in my chest. I'll get an ulcer. I just know it. I hug myself , but pretend I'm just adjusting my back pack. I want to tell her about the drawings I make and hide under my bed. I was going to speak, but right then, the doors of the school bus swished open and we had to get on.
The stink of bodies breathing in a confined space hit me harder than the hot air outside. The air conditioner is in no way able to cope
“Only three more weeks,” I say.
Gillan lets me sit next to the window. Madison sits across from her. I know she's going to keep talking to Gillian. I wanted to talk to Gillian. I wanted to tell her how difficult things are for me, right now, at home. I wanted to tell her about my mother who's kind of freezing up and not dealing with Jerry. I wanted to tell her how he's getting now. But she's talking to Madison.
I hate her! I lean forward to glare. Now I'll have to wait. For the right moment, the right time, the right place. For a second I long for the shade of the forsythia tree, the tea and those times BRB. But hey, tempus fugit as my granddad used to say. And anyway the noise in the bus is too much to talk. I look out of the window. Madison keeps talking. Gillian reads. I cannot read in a moving vehicle. (I love that word, vehicle, it fills my mouth).
I murmur, “ Vehicle.”
“Oh, nothing,” I say. “Nothing.”
Why am I such an emotional retard!
I could kick myself.
What am I hiding from? What's wrong with me! I lean against the window. The throbbing of the diesel engine rattles the window and vibrates my teeth. It hurts, but I stay there. I deserve to be hurt.
I'm a worthless piece of shit who does not love her brother, who hates her mother, and resents her father, the man who never comes home until it's too late to help. The unspoken words fill my throat, desperate to get out.
I press my cheek harder against the glass. I put my tongue between my vibrating teeth and bite down hard.