Authors: Hilary T. Smith
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Girls & Women, #Social Issues, #Depression & Mental Illness, #Adolescence
For my family
It’s the first day of summer
and I know three things: One, I am happy. Two, I am stoned. Three, if Lukas Malcywyck’s T-shirt was any redder I would lean over and bite it like an apple.
Lukas and I are sitting in his basement, which is my favorite place in the entire world. Last summer, we covered the walls and ceiling with carpet remnants we found behind the Flooring World on South Granville and strung up yellow Christmas lights to replace the nasty fluorescents. Now, it’s our band room. Lukas’s drum kit is set up in one corner, and there’s a stand for my synth.
Except at the moment, I’m holding the synth in my lap and making laser noises while Lukas sits beside me on the blue couch. His arms, sculpted from hours of drumming and daily man-yoga, are draped over the cushions, and his eyes are bright with strategy.
“We need a new band name,” he says.
“What’s wrong with Snake Eats Kitten?”
“Too jokey,” says Lukas. “I was thinking Sonic Drift.”
I twist the knobs on my synth, then stab a key. It makes a sound like a xylophone crossed with an atomic bomb. I plunk out a xylobomb version of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
Lukas cringes. “Do you
to do that?”
I ignore him and keep playing.
“Sonic Drift sounds like music for dead people,” I say. “It’s too—” I fish around for the word, a task rendered more difficult by the fact that my brain keeps getting distracted by the soft electric twinkle of the Christmas lights on the walls. “Too conceptual,” I finish with a scholarly twirl of my hand. “It’s like something you’d read in a textbook.”
Lukas sits up. “Exactly. It’s abstract. It sounds like the name of a serious band.”
“It sounds like the name of a pretentious band. Snake Eats Kitten is accessible. You were there Saturday night—people loved it.”
“People thought it was
. There’s a difference.”
I lean over to put my synth on the floor. There’s a box of old books next to the couch marked
. I pull it over. “Is your mom giving these away?”
I paw through them and pull out one called
The Adolescent Depression Workbook
. Lukas’s mom is a social worker, and their house is crammed with stuff like this. The book’s cover shows a goth girl sitting against a brick wall, her kohl-rimmed eyes gazing out from beneath the edge of her tattered black hood. She’s holding—absurdly—a graphing calculator. Like she ran a few equations, found out the world is more effed than you can possibly imagine, and is just chilling by this brick wall, waiting for the zombies to arrive. I open it up and flip through the pages. “Okay, Lukas, I’m going to test your level of adolescent depression.”
“Come on, Kiri.”
“I thought you wanted something deep. This’ll help us dig into our psyches.” I give Lukas my best psychiatrist look. “In the past fourteen days, have you felt worthless?”
“Can you be serious for one second?” says Lukas. “We need a better name before the semifinals.”
He tries to snatch the book away from me, but I pull it out of his reach.
serious. Don’t you want to find out if you’re depressed?”
Lukas lunges across the couch and tries to wrestle the book out of my hands. With his body that close I can smell the lavender laundry detergent on his T-shirt, the eco-friendly stuff his mom buys. I take a big sniff while he pries my fingers off the book. Lovely.
“Lukas, Kiri, dinner’s ready,” calls Lukas’s mom from upstairs.
At the word
, I relinquish my hold on the book and Lukas tosses it to the floor. Goth Girl lands facedown on the carpet. Sorry, Goth Girl. Good luck with the zombies.
“I still say Sonic Drift,” Lukas says as we tromp upstairs.
“All right, Sonny Bono. Take a chill pill.”
Upstairs, Lukas’s mom is taking some kind of scalloped-potato thing out of the oven. The edges of the sliced potatoes are golden brown and swimming in cream. Petra Malcywyck sees me and waves.
, would you grab me that oven mitt?”
I get it for her, and she lifts the casserole dish out of the oven and sets it on top of the stove. Lukas disappears into his room to change. He claims that drumming makes him sweaty, although I’ve never seen nor smelled nor tasted anything resembling sweat on Lukas’s perfect body.
“How is your summer, Kiri? How are you surviving in that house all by yourself?”
Mrs. Malcywyck—Petra—is Polish and a total babe despite being in her early fifties and having completely gray hair. She has a really high voice but a serious manner, like Minnie Mouse addressing the United Nations.
“It’s been good so far. I’m getting a ton of practicing done.”
Which reminds me I need to go home soon and practice some more. I thought about telling Lukas I didn’t have time for Battle of the Bands on top of the International Young Pianists’ Showcase, but when a golden sex god begs you to make the musical equivalent of hot, sweaty love with him, it’s pretty hard to say no.
“It doesn’t bother you at night to be alone?” says Petra.
I smile brightly. “Nope.”
Petra furrows her brow and mutters something in Polish. “When your mother told me they were planning to do this trip, I said to her she must be crazy.”
As we speak, my parents are on Day Four of the twenty-fifth-anniversary cruise they’ve been planning for years. It’s their first time going anywhere, ever, and they fretted over it like they were expecting a baby: shopping for Travel Clothes, reading Travel Books, taking a whole rainbow of Travel Pills for the obscure and possibly imaginary tropical diseases they would otherwise almost certainly contract abroad. My brother, Denny, was supposed to come home from college to stay with me, but at the last minute he decided to spend his summer torturing sea urchins at the marine biology lab instead.
My parents’ decision to leave me at home alone is a sensitive subject with Lukas’s mom, who believes—to paraphrase—that they are one trill short of a sonatina.
Petra takes down olive oil and balsamic vinegar from a shelf and starts making vinaigrette for the salad.
“And what will you eat?” she says.
“I eat cereal.”
“And what will you eat with this cereal?”
“Soymilk and a banana.”
Judging by the look she gives me, I might as well have said I was eating my cereal with malt liquor and Adderall. She shakes her head and whacks the salad tongs against the side of the bowl.
“I am afraid you will starve to death with this cereal. This can go to the table.”
I take the salad bowl and carry it to the kitchen table. Besides the scalloped potatoes and salad, there’s fresh bread and butter, green beans, and a plate of roast chicken. How Lukas manages to be so skinny while eating Petra’s cooking every day is a mystery on par with metaparticles.
“And what will happen if you hit your head on the floor?”
I’m trying to figure out how, exactly, I would manage to hit my head on the floor, when Lukas comes out of his room in a fresh pair of jeans and a white T-shirt, and I’m still high enough that I just gaze at him while Petra calls Lukas’s dad in from his study for dinner.
After a dinner full of typical Malcywyck-family repartee over the fine distinction between
as pertaining to various obscure seventies bands, Lukas and I load the dishwasher while Petra packs enough leftovers to last me a month. By the time she’s finished, the stack of Tupperware is practically scraping the ceiling. She packs them into two canvas grocery bags and hands them to me.
“Take this home. You will eat something besides this banana and cereal.”
When I say thanks, Petra squints at me. “You will call if there is anything wrong?”
“You will lock the doors?”
She holds my gaze a few seconds longer. Petra has this way of looking at you that makes you want to confess things you didn’t even know you were hiding. It’s a social worker trick, and if you’re not careful, it’ll nail you every time. She burned me with it last fall when I was so stressed out over auditions for the Showcase, I started crying at their kitchen table. I had to grin like a freaking used-car salesman every time I saw her for weeks after that to convince her I wasn’t some kind of Depressed Teen like Goth Girl on the book downstairs.
I give her a dopey smile.
No problems here, lady
“You want to stay for a while and watch TV?” says Lukas.
“Uh-uh. I need to get home and practice.”
Petra crosses her arms.
“Kiri. You are sure you don’t want to stay?”
I hesitate. Lukas’s dad puts his hands on Lukas’s shoulders and squeezes them, waiting for my answer.
Something about that gesture that makes my heart twinge, and for one disorienting moment I’m aware of myself, standing in their kitchen, loaded down with containers of their food.
This is not your family
I think about my parents snug in their Luxury Berth, and Denny snug in his lab.
I think about the practice schedule I taped to the lid of the piano this morning, with lesson days filled in with yellow highlighter and self-imposed deadlines (memorize Bach; bring Chopin up to speed; play entire recital with eyes closed) circled in blue.
I think about the grocery money Mom left on top of the fridge, and the taped-up reminders to water the azaleas and take out the recycling.
I smile at Petra and shake my head.
“No thanks,” I say.
I spend the six-block walk planning which piece I’ll tackle first when I get home. But when I put my key in the front door, I can hear the telephone ringing inside.
And that’s when things get weird.
I drop the bags of leftovers on the floor and press the phone to my ear. It’s probably Petra calling to make sure I made it home safely, even though you can barely put in a pair of ear-buds in the time it takes to walk from Lukas’s house to mine. I roll my eyes, getting ready to deliver my nightly report on the state of the deadbolts.
But instead of Petra’s authoritative chirp, I hear a long, rasping garkle.
Great. It’s one of Dad’s clients.
“Byrd residence,” I say, this time in the drippy professional tone my dad prefers us to use in situations like this.
There’s another long pause. I hear someone coughing.
Finally, the old coot speaketh.
“I want to talk to Al.”
“Is this concerning a home health-care equipment rental issue?” I coo.
Silence. Then, “I said, is Al Byrd there?”
He sounds just like my grandpa Bob used to sound on the phone—suspicious, almost hostile, like he doesn’t quite trust that the person on the other end of the line is really who they claim to be and not an imposter.
“He’s busy at the moment. May I take a message?”
I pick up a pen and doodle on the message pad.
Caller: stick figure with a long, squiggly beard.
“May I ask who’s calling?” I say.
There’s another pause, as if my words are reaching him after a long delay.
“This is Doug Fieldgrass.”
I draw a row of tulips in the “Message” field. Then a swarm of bees. Taking detailed and accurate phone messages is a serious matter, as Mom and Dad reminded me about a million times before they left.