Pinch of Love (9781101558638) (8 page)

BOOK: Pinch of Love (9781101558638)
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“Arr, call this crazy lass off, me boy,” I croak.
Ingrid giggles.
I hope Ahab feels like running tonight. I hope he'll put on a show for Ingrid. Because the truth is, sometimes he doesn't run. The mood doesn't strike him. Some nights I walk him to the field and unclip the leash, and he looks around, nose quivering. I give him a couple of minutes. He paws the ground or whines, and I clip the leash back on and he leads the way home. Greyhounds are like cats that way: moody, mysterious. Most of the time, you can't make them do what you want them to. And like a true Munker, Ahab keeps his reasons to himself.
Ingrid and Ahab and I sprint across traffic-less Main Street and trudge up the hill toward the high school. I huff from the exertion; my lungs hum with that weird cold metallic burn.
At the football field I close the gate behind us. For safety, the spotlights here shine all night, which is fortunate for Ahab, because he's going blind—his eyes seem milkier every day—and he can't see too well in the dark.
“You can only let greyhounds off leash in a completely enclosed area where they won't be able to run off,” I say. “Like here. See?” I sweep my arm around the perimeter of the fence; it totally encloses the field. No gaps whatsoever.
“Why?” asks Ingrid.
I unclip Ahab's leash. He sniffs the night air. He is a solemn canine beatnik, composing a jazz poem in his head.
“Because he's likely to run after any furry, moving object,” I say. “That's just the way he is. Once he locks on to a squirrel or a cat or whatever, there's no stopping him.”
“Never off leash?”
“Never off leash. Unless it's completely enclosed.” I strip off Ahab's booties and stuff them in my pockets. He gets very still. He even seems to stop breathing.
Memory Smack: As Ahab sprinted across this field, Nick, next to me on the bleachers, imitated the noise of a muscle car shifting gears.
Ingrid clutches my elbow. We anticipate the Captain's sudden motion, sudden speed. But he just stands there.
I peel his coat from his back; it crackles with static electricity. I bundle the coat under my arm, and he paws the snow.
“Run,” I say.
He yawns.
“Ahab, run!”
He sneezes.
Behind us, car wheels crunch on ice. A police cruiser rolls up to the field, toward the gate. France sits behind the wheel. For a moment she watches us and talks into her radio. Slowly, she gets out of the cruiser, shuts the door, strolls over. She hangs her stick arms over the chain-link fence.
“Everything okay?” she asks. “Cold out tonight. Hey, Ingrid, right?”
Ingrid beams. “Hi, Officer Frances,” she says.
France offers Ingrid a smile of crowded, yellowing teeth.
“Hey, France,” I say through stiffened lips. It's so cold, my eyeballs sting.
She puts an arm around me and squeezes my shoulder against hers. “How's your kitchen?” she asks.
“Fine. No damage.”
“So I hear. You doin' okay?”
Ahab trots to the fence and sniffs France's fingers. She tries to scratch his chin but can't quite reach. He walks a few paces away, squats, and pees. Steam rises around him like he's onstage at a rock concert or something. For some reason the three of us all watch him pee.
“I'm not exactly comfortable with you being up here alone at night, Zell,” France says.
“I'm not alone.”
“You know what I mean.” She adjusts her neck warmer labeled WIPPAMUNK POLICE. “Be careful up here. You know? Watch for things. Be alert.”
“Ahab's going to run for me,” Ingrid says.
“Then we'll go,” I say.
“It
is
quite a sight, seeing the Captain run,” France says.
“So, can we hang out here a few more minutes?”
“Just a few more.” She pounds her leather-gloved fists on the fence points.
“Cool. Thanks for not getting all Rosco P. Coltrane on us.”
France laughs, because when we were little, our favorite show during Friday-night sleepovers was
The Dukes of Hazzard,
and our favorite character was Rosco. We always cracked up at his bumbling antics: getting tangled in the cord of his CB radio, chasing his sheriff's hat down a dusty road.
France won't ever get a pedicure with me, or take me to the mall to shop for a little black dress, or anything like that, but she's still my best girlfriend. My best girlfriend whose presence I have a hard time tolerating since The Trip, not only because she reminds me of Nick's last night in Wippamunk, but also because France was the one who convinced Nick and Dennis to go on The Trip in the first place, to shadow the group for a story in
The Wippamunker.
Nick returned all excited from that first informational meeting in the town hall basement. He wanted to go to New Orleans for the opportunity to photograph someplace—
any
place—other than Wippamunk. “I love it here,” he said. “But sometimes it's just so . . .
here,
you know? Plus EJ's going, and France and Russ, and Dennis is totally sold on the idea. Could be cool.”
Ahab lets out a long whine.
“He's cold, Zell,” France says. “You took his coat off.”
“He never runs with his coat on.”
“Why won't he run?” asks Ingrid.
“Sometimes greyhounds just don't want to run,” I say. “Ahab, run!”
“Sing,” Ingrid says.
“What?”
“Maybe Ahab needs music to run to. My dad says
he
can't run without music.”
“You sing, then.”
“No. You sing. It's your dog.”
“Nah.”
“I think Ahab wants you to sing,” Ingrid whispers. She tugs my arm. “He really, really wants you to sing.”
France laughs. “Yeah, Zell. Sing for us. Let's hear it.”
But I know Ahab doesn't like my singing. He only likes the singing of Gladys Knight and the Pips. And he loves the “Cookie Time” song, which Nick crooned whenever he gave Ahab a treat. He made it up to the tune of “A Pirate's Life for Me.”
“Tell you what,” France says. “I'll give you and the Captain and Ingrid a lift back home. In the croo-za.” She lifts her chin at Ingrid, as if a ride home in the cruiser beats the hell out of seeing Ahab run. “Want a ride in the croo-za?” she asks.
Ingrid cinches her hood so that only her nose and eyes show. “Run, Ahab!”
He walks over to us and whines.
Ingrid sighs. She looks at her feet and kicks the snow.
Balls.
For some reason, the thought of disappointing Ingrid seems unbearable. So I take a big breath. I crow a wobbly version of the first thing that comes to mind. “Didn't you know you'd have to hurt sometime?” I even do the Pips' part, too—“Sometime, sometime.” I blow mellow-pitched standup-bass sounds through tight, slightly parted lips.
Ahab cocks his head. He dips the eye-patch side of his face toward the ground. Then he explodes, lurching after imagined prey, tracing a huge infinity sign as snow spits behind him.
Ingrid throws back her hood and whoops, and her voice bounces off the towering white pines that edge the field. “I told you so!”
France rattles the fence. “Woo-hoo!”
I clap my mittened hands and warble the heartsick ballad, my face immobile with cold. “Didn't you know you'd have to cry sometime? Didn't anybody tell you love had another side?”
And the Captain—agape, with wild eyes—tears up the snow with abandon.
With g.d. abandon.
 
 
IT'S PAST TEN by the time France drops us off at home. She flies up High Street with the lights flashing. Ingrid asks to hear the siren, but France says some other time because she doesn't want to startle the neighbors.
At home, Ingrid changes into pajamas without my asking her to. She begs me to fake body slam her onto the couch, so I do, and tuck my hairy afghan underneath her.
“Will you read to me?” she asks.
“What, like, a bedtime story?”
“Yeah.”
“I don't have any kids' books.”
“You must have something.”
“I've got about a million old issues of
The Wippamunker
in the attic, and a wall full of anatomy textbooks. That's pretty much it.”
“I know,” says Ingrid. “
Meals in a Cinch with Polly Pinch.
I'll read it to you. I love to read.”
“You've got to get some sleep.” I go over to the turntable. I put my dry lips to the record and let them caress the tiny, cool ridges. As I cue Gladys, Ingrid says, “I like that sound.” It takes me a second to realize she's talking about the crackly sound of the needle settling into the vinyl groove.
“I like it, too,” I say.
Gladys sings about getting by okay, and learning not to cry away the day.
One paw at a time, Ahab heaves his old body onto the couch and gets comfortable. He sighs, nuzzles his nose under Ingrid's calves, and closes his eyes.
She tucks her feet under his rump. “I like how it looks like he's got an eye patch,” she says.
“Good night. I'll be right upstairs.”
“Zell? Your skeleton's sort of awesome.”
“Hank? I'll tell him you said so. Sleep tight, okay?”
“Wait. I need to talk to you about something.”
I stand by the coffee table, hands on hips. “Okay. Make it quick. Your dad won't be very happy with me if he finds out you were up this late.”
“I think you need some help,” she says. “With baking.”
“You know how to bake?”
“Well, I do watch
Pinch of Love
several times a day. And I read the magazine cover to cover. Usually more than once. And since Polly Pinch
is
my mother, baking's in my blood. So maybe I could help you with your experiments. And we could win the contest
together.
As a team.” She beams at me from the couch, my afghan wrapped around her little face like a bonnet.
I never anticipated sharing my baking endeavors, and I just don't think I can reveal my dysfunctional kitchen to anyone, let alone this little girl I hardly know.
“I'm not sure that's such a good idea, Ingrid.”
She blinks, staring at me. Tears fill her eyes, just like before.
Balls.
“You know what?” I nod. “On second thought, two heads are better than one, right?”
She sits up, her eyes bright once again. “Right. Especially in a kitchen.” Her arm protrudes from the afghan. “We have to pinkie swear it,” she whispers.
We lock pinkies in the dim room. “We'll win the Warm the Soul baking contest together,” she says. “And we'll get invited to
Pinch of Love Live
together. A team.”
“A team,” I repeat. “Sounds good.”
I'm not really sure about this plan. But I'm locked in now; I pinkie swore. There's no turning back.
EJ
 
EJ throws another log into the fire and returns to his bench. He removes his sweater; outside, before the fire in the February night, he wears a hat and a T-shirt, flannel-lined jeans, and boots.
A light goes on in Mr. Roy's workshop across Malden Pond. Nick's dad descends his basement steps. The three top steps are all EJ can see of the workshop because the windows are just above the ground, and most of the basement is underground.
Back in the day, Mr. Roy stored a six-person toboggan in his garage. The toboggan was old-fashioned, with polished wood and padded seats. Nick kept the bottom lubed with the waxy stuff he used on his snowboard.
As far as EJ's concerned, tobogganing—or the memory of it—makes living in “the Great White North,” as Charlene says, worth the dark afternoons, the soggy socks, the staticky hair, skin so dry it feels sore, shoveling at five A.M., and having to warm up your car for ten minutes before you drive anywhere.
The Roys' side yard was the best in town for sledding. It was clear of obstacles, steep, long, and sloped right down to the pond. And so every snow day—from first grade through his senior year at Wippamunk High—EJ trudged across the ice to Mr. Roy's house. EJ and Nick built a little ramp by smoothing snow over a few logs. Before long, Zell arrived. She snowshoed through the woods from the north side of town, where her parents lived before they moved to Vermont. France came, too; her dad was a cop and dropped her off in his cruiser and gave the four of them—EJ, Nick, France, and Zell—a stern lecture about not driving anywhere today because the highway guys needed the roads to themselves while they plowed. But the lecture was unnecessary because none of them had licenses yet, and besides, all they cared about was tobogganing.
EJ rode in front because he was heaviest. He straddled the sled and held it in place while the rest loaded on: first Nick, then Zell, then France, who was skin and bones. Still is. In a toboggan you can't hold on to the edge because there is no edge; you simply cling to the body in front of you. So they linked into each other, and if one person fell off, it caused a chain reaction. But none of them ever fell off.
EJ lifted his feet. They sailed down the hill, down, down, straight down, no need to turn, no need to steer. No way
to
steer, really, even if you had to. Mr. Roy's house whizzed by, and the wet, snow-splattered trees whizzed by.
Zell screamed the entire way down. France made no sound. Nick laughed his spurty, punchy laugh. EJ ducked behind the front of the toboggan, which scrolled like a wave over his knees. But his face was exposed, and snow and wind whipped his cheeks and forehead.
They sailed over the ice, fifty miles an hour, maybe more.
BOOK: Pinch of Love (9781101558638)
3.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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