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Authors: Stacey Donovan

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BOOK: Dive
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To begin with, how
can
things so insecure as the successful experiences of this world afford a stable anchorage? A chain is no stronger than its weakest link, and life is after all a chain. In the healthiest and most prosperous existence, how many links of illness, danger, and disaster are always interposed?

 

Somebody help me, please. What
I
read was: Life is a chain. How many links of illness, danger, and disaster are interposed? The answer to that, in this house, is one of each. Except for the dangerous element, who is elsewhere, and possibly reapplying lipstick at this moment.

 

“Is Dad home?”

Oh, there’s the vulture in the doorway. I didn’t hear him come in. That means my brother’s car must be running unnaturally well. Usually the Plymouth rumbles up the driveway. They’d like it to “purr,” Wadstain and my dad, which is why they are often found hands under its hood on weekend mornings. Wadnod is wearing a faded army jacket and mud-stained jeans. Very cool. It looks like he’s been slam-dancing with the ground. “No stronger than its weakest link.”

“Are you talking to me?” I say.

 

| | |

 

“Nah, it’s the chair I figure I’ll hear from.” His dark brown ponytail flops around. “I don’t got time for this, you know. So is he or not?”

I notice his earlobes turning red, so I relent. “They’re not home yet.” My chin tilts toward the couch’s dozing lumps. “Be quiet.”

 

“Well, that’s all you gotta say, you know.” He keeps his voice down, which is phenomenal, then follows with his classic vulture face, cheeks all sucked in, lips curled. Oh, I am stunned with terror. The final say is always my brother’s, whether it’s with his sneer or impressive truck-driver vocabulary. I really wonder what the girls see in him. He’s built like a scarecrow under all those baggy clothes, so it must be the car. Some females are truly desperate.

“Is that right?” I say. “And ‘hello’ is probably something you could manage.” Screw him.

“Oh yeah? Well, I don’t got time for small talk.” I have nothing else to say. I look back at my book. The chapter is appropriately called “The Sick Soul.” ‘How many links . . . ?’ Really.

“Yeah, I’m busy. . . .”

Yeah, he looks busy. Why is he telling me the same nothing thing twice? The Wad doesn’t seem to remember he never speaks to me. I realize my dad’s hospital trip has my brother really rattled, and I’m uncomfortable. Change the subject. “Did the paper come?”

“Huh?”

“Hi, Edward.” Baby Teeth is awake.

“The newspaper.”

“I suppose it’s out there.” He nods at Baby Teeth.

 

Lucky yawns. I’ll carry him outside, see if the grass reminds him of his former life. Then maybe his appetite will come back. Dr. Wheatie showed me how to lift him, both arms under the stomach. The cradle again.

“At least say hello to the dog, will you?”

“Time for a run, huh, Pegleg?”

We all crack up. It’s so unexpected, my face hurts. With their idiotic grins, my siblings don’t even look like the same people.

 

The back door slams.

“They’re home!” Baby Teeth is gone. Out the den, through the living room, the hall with its fake palm tree, into the kitchen. I hear only the clack of high heels on the kitchen’s yellow linoleum floor. My mother. Where’s Dad? I look at my brother. He’s chewing the tip of his filthy thumb.

“Huh,” he says.

 

“Right.” ‘How
can
things so insecure as the successful experiences of this world afford a stable anchorage?’ I’m beginning to understand. My brother is going. I hear Baby Teeth asking my mother questions in the kitchen

“Edward?” I say. Who?

“Yeah.”

“Ever read any James?”

“James who?”

I’ll take the dog out. Get some air. Why not? He’s in my arms. We’ll use the front door. William, William James.

 

It seemed like the flu last week. So my dad kept sleeping. But nobody else around here caught it, which is unusual. After three days, my dad wasn’t better and stopped eating. He had gone back to the office last Thursday anyway, because he is a stubborn mule, according to my mother. When he came home that night, he was just a paler and skinnier version of himself. He went to bed.

The next morning he looked even worse and finally agreed to go with my mother to the doctor, who at first also thought it was the flu. And then maybe more than the flu. The symptoms of mononucleosis—terrible chills and pains, complete exhaustion, muscle cramping—were the stuff my dad felt, and so Dr. Sweeney wanted to have some blood work done.

 

Dad came home from Dr. Sweeney’s and slept all weekend. He ate a full dinner on Sunday, his first entire meal in days, and claimed he felt better. But he was gray. Even his lips.

 

Yesterday, which was Monday, he went back to work. Because he’s a fool, said my mother. Was that yesterday? Yes, as I dropped some six-grain bread into the toaster slots. I hadn’t even put my socks on yet. Everybody had left. Then the doorbell rang . . . and Lucky . . .

And today, Dad stayed home again. They waited. . . . The mono test was negative. Off to the hospital they went. Okay, it’s not mono. So what is it?

 

Lucky eyes the grass. He sniffs, attempts to lift his leg. He groans because he can’t. I groan. Anyway, he can pee. Good. That’s my boy. I carry him around the side of the house. I see my mother through the kitchen window. Her mouth is moving. Of course I can’t hear the words. I wait. Her hand lifts the glass to her lips. A wicked gulp. Unparalleled, really. So much can happen in so little liquid. But under an April sky anything is possible. Once she swallows, the edge of her mood softens. It’s okay to go in.

 


They want to keep him overnight,” she says as I shut the kitchen door with my foot, Lucky in my arms. She has a gift for stating the obvious and lying about everything else. My mother wanted to kill my dog. She made
that
clear enough with no trouble. So why not say everything she knows about Dad? The irritation drags along my tongue like a rusty chain. I can taste it. I hate my mother.

I’ll Tell the Truth

 

Sometimes it’s better not to say a word. Raisinets come to mind.

 

It was my mother who came downstairs in a hurry last Friday morning, before we left for school, to telephone the doctor. I remember another emergency call when Baby Teeth wedged several Raisinets up her preschool nose. She had just turned three. Eventually the chocolate melted and she was able to blow them out, unscathed.

 

Morning has never been my mother’s chosen time of day. She’s just not herself. Hell, the day didn’t start until the 5:00
P.M.
ice cubes sent cold music into her waiting glass. Well, on Friday morning her hands shook so badly that to hit the buttons on the phone she had to put the receiver on the kitchen table because she had already dropped it twice.

 

Whoever answered must’ve said the doctor was busy or something because my mother said, “So sorry to burst that bubble!” She slammed the phone down, stomped upstairs, and they left the house immediately. My dad was still in his pajamas, too, which was just awful. I mean, picture it. A grown man in his blue plaids whisked away to the doctor. Like a cartoon but the opposite of funny.

 

The image of those electronic chairs that glide up and down the stairs came stupidly into my head. I had seen the commercial about a thousand times on late-night television. My dad’s face was all puffy and yellow beside his mouth. Around him, the air was green. Who cares if it’s possible or not; it’s true. It took him forever to come down the stairs, even with my mother and EdWad supporting him under his armpits. My brother’s face was the color of an old plum.

 

I almost dropped my bowl of cereal when I saw them. I looked over at Baby Teeth. Can eyes rumble? Hers were. What is she so afraid of? Does she think Dad is going to
die
or something? I thought. But I would never have said that. And why not is because I wasn’t sure that those thoughts weren’t coming from the inside of my own head. It’s better not to say a word sometimes.

 

We were in the living room. Baby Teeth had followed me in because she wanted the rest of my Banana Nut Crunch cereal. She could easily have made herself ten bowls, but that was not the point. She was after mine, the milk just wetting, not drowning, the stuff so it still crunched.

 

“We’re going to Dr. Sweeney. Don’t miss the bus,” my mother said. Wadnod loped away, mumbling “Good luck,” I think. When the door closed behind them, I walked over to Baby Teeth.

“I can’t eat it all.” I handed her my cereal. The smell of bananas filled the air between us.

She took it.

 

There are, however, occasions when it is crucial to say stuff out loud. This is true in friendship. Eileen Connor and I have been best friends forever. We’ve been in the same grade since kindergarten and always sit near each other in any classes we share because of our last names—Connor and Dunn. And we’re both Irish. All somebody has to do is see her red bush of hair hovering above the street like a big cloud to see how Irish Eileen is.

 

It wasn’t always a bush. Not many Irish people have natural hair bushes, I suspect. But she needed a change a few months ago. Before the cut, her hair looked like a piece of discolored corn attached to the back of her head. Because it was utterly impossible for Eileen to get a comb through the heap when it got loose, she held it captive with a barrette.

 

I convinced her to have her hair permed and cut because she became so depressed about it. She wouldn’t talk about anything else once she was obsessed, and that became pretty dull. “Corncob,” I simply said, “it’s a mess. Cut it off.”

 

I’m Black Irish. I’ve got the dark wavy hair, with just a shadow of chestnut in it. They call us Black Irish because the Spanish fleets invaded Ireland centuries ago and pillaged the towns and raped the women. So some Irish are freckled and red-haired, and some are pale and black-haired, because of the Spanish. I guess I must have old Spanish blood in me too. Perhaps this accounts for some of my bad temper. What bad temper? Did my mother say that? Maybe it’s just the feeling she’s out to get me. Unfathomably paranoid? Who knows.
Pillage
is a great word, though. Pillage, loot, and plunder.

 

I think I’ll call Eileen right now. Maybe we can get out of the house for a while. She lives just around the corner, so she’s number 2 on the phone’s memory. There is no number 1, which is perplexing. The memory only runs numbers 2 through 9. Why? Stuff without reasons always annoys me.

 

“What are you doing?” I say.

“Oh, hi. Well, since it’s you, I’ll tell the truth. I’m sitting here holding my breath, but every so often I have to gasp because I’m worried about killing off some of the brain cells I might need to get my homework done. . . . Not that this material on metamorphic rocks is greatly challenging, mind you, but I try. But, V, I have this oozing feeling that my face will turn blue—and stay that way. I mean, now and happily ever after. Can you imagine?”

 

Eileen’s elective this semester is geology. “Did you say metamorphic rocks? What do they do? Change into people? Let’s see if I can name one. . . . How about Loretta Getz, metamorphosed pebble-brain?” “Sedimentary, my dear Watson.” Eileen laughs.

“So what was it today?” I am, as usual, referring to her father’s ‘intestinal complications.’

“My guess is something from the bottom of the sea. You’d think he’d at least confine himself to one room instead of spreading it around everywhere so other people die of the fumes. Maybe I could go on TV, and we could unearth some
cure.
What do you think, V? ‘Daughter gulps for air—story at four.’ ”

“It’s an idea—let’s make a list of all the talk shows. Can you get out for a while?”

Eileen hesitates. “I think so. Maybe a little race-walk before dinner, okay? Some
fresh air.
See you in ten.”

 

Eileen is taller than most guys, and to her horror, just as flat-chested. Her features are as sharp as her manner—the long, straight nose, the firm, determined mouth. Only her eyes, more gray than a sky blue, are soft. This combination of qualities has made her popular. The new cloud of hair helps even more.

 

I’ve always admired that sharpness of hers. Eileen knows what she thinks about something, it seems, without even thinking. I’m the opposite. If we see a whodunit, and it’s any
good,
it’s not until later I can really decide how all the parts of the movie fit together. My mind seems to like rewinding stuff before it finds any answers, whereas Eileen’s operates in fast forward. Ten minutes into a film, she’ll blurt out who the murderer is—and she’s usually right.

 

Today, we decide to walk through the new development, called Sagamore, which is close by.

“How’s Lucky, poor little creature?”

“Still a wreck. He won’t eat.”

“Well, you know, I’m surprised you left the house at all.”

“I know he’ll be there when I get back. Baby Teeth’s watching him. My dad’s staying at the hospital.”

“Wow, he is? For how long?”

“I don’t know. Tests.”

“Oh, horrible. V, that’s bad, or what?”

“I don’t know either.” I shrug on purpose. I want to ignore how my heart stops as I say those words. “Whatever it is, it’s not good.”

 

We used to ride sleds here when we were kids, but all the sledding hills were destroyed to make room for these houses. It’s all flat now, the most pitiful strands of grass inching out of the brown, steamrolled ground.

 

Eileen does the deep-knee bends we are required to do at the beginning of gym three times a week. “What,
really,
are these good for, I’d like to know? I mean, in what context in my actual life will I perform this move?”

“Knees are your friends, don’t forget. So what’s for dinner?” I say. I want to lighten things up.

BOOK: Dive
11.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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