He laughs a hearty laugh. The kind where the teeth clench, the belly protrudes and shakes, and the arms flail up exposing long grainy armpit hair. My father isn't usually the one to laugh or smile except when his brothers and sisters make a visit to our side of town in the summer. They sip on tequila grape punch while sitting on yellow and green fold-able chairs. They talk about the no good son-of-a-bitch mayor, Glen Fairbanks. Apparently Glen hates the blue collar folk. He makes them pay for parking and wait longer for welfare cheques. They laugh about all the different ways they would mess with him. Tie his suspenders to a parachute, or fill his Toyota Camry with cow poop. "pff, what kind of a man owns a Toyota Camry!" my uncle roars. Meanwhile, I lay back on my auntie's lap and tilt my head so I can admire the curves of her three chins. As she speaks, the folds vibrate at every vowel and syllable like jelly shaking back and forth in a plastic cup.
"Here", my uncle hands me a plastic cup filled with a red liquid. "You're old enough, aren't ya?". It smells fruity. I look at my father and he nods his head and smiles. I love the summer.
"Glo, we're leaving now, hurry up and grab your lunch box" my mom calls from the back porch of our trailer home. We're are sitting near the back end of our one acre lot so she has to yell to get our attention. If I squint I can see the outline of her roundish plump face. Father nudges me to go; my feet tickle as they shuffle through the long grass.
"Ok mom, but why do we have to leave so early?"
"We won't want to be late for your first day now, would we?"
"Maybe it's OK to be a little late?" She ignores me and begins straightening out the collar on my red and blue dress. Summer is over and I have to return to school. I hate school, but dad says its good for me. I'm not good at any of it though. Math, social studies, English. If I could I would take art class all day. Miss McCarthy, my favourite art teacher of all time, lets me paint whatever I like. Sometimes she even lets me borrow her special brush to use for my paintings. Maybe she will teach me again this year but maybe not; I heard Melissa saying that Miss McCarthy may not be coming back this year.
"We're here honey. I won't be able to pick you up after school so you'll have to walk home. You can call me from home if you need me."
"Thanks, Mom". I open the door and jump to the curb. The crossing walk lady waves in my direction. The large six-sided "stop" sign in her hand makes her head look small and shiny. I can see some classmates I know now running towards the door to my school. I begin to count my steps; I count down from 54. The numbers fade away one by one like rain drops on a car windshield. As I get closer to the door, I realize I have too many numbers left. I take ten quick steps on the spot until I have just enough steps left to step inside the school.
I walk along the grey walls decorated sporadically with the graduation class' year end art assignments. Drawings of animals, people and scenery are juxtaposed, seemingly randomly, across the bland wall. I notice one painting that used paper mache to create a 3D effect. The dinosaur appears to be launching itself out of the painting. Perhaps it's running away from something, or maybe it just fell off a cliff. Its expression doesn't provide much for a clue as to its true predicament. It would be fun if the objects in paintings could escape and join us in the real world, wouldn't it? I would draw all sorts of funny looking animals and creatures. Maybe I could draw my father and then I would have two. But he may not like that. He is always going on about how we should not be too greedy but at the same time conserve what we have carefully. So I guess I can't have a second father and I also cannot share the one I do have?
I keep waking as the hallway opens into a cafeteria where long tables with affixed chairs are surrounding a metallic kitchen. On the opposite corner is our school's sports trophy case. It stands there like an embarrassment. The case is simply too big for the pitiful lack of trophies filling the shelves inside. I have never been good at sports. Maybe they should turn it into an art trophy case? Then I'm sure it would be filled to the top. I think Charlie won a few awards before, but then again, I'm not sure.
Miss McCarthy is motioning for us to sit down before starting the class. Miss McCarthy has a nice name. Last year when Jed was trying to get her attention, he accidentally called her Miss Mc-Cry-Thee, and since then, we started calling her Miss C. "Ok class. Please take out your crayons and one piece of paper. Today, I want you to draw something you saw or imagined this morning before coming to school." "Remember, start with an outline in pencil, next colour the background with a light colour, and finally begin to add darker shades and colours."
The crayons make a clacking sounds as I drop them on my desk and reach for the paper. I begin a basic sketch, drawing the lines lightly first so I can erase and redraw as necessary. I learned this technique last year. I peer over Melissa's shoulder. She is drawing a black cat with yellow polka dots. Five polka dots, to be sure. It looks like a cat from a scary dream or horror movie. Or maybe its only yawning really wide. I'm drawing a picture of my family standing in front of my house. But its hard to imagine the three of us frozen in place like a picture. I want to make them move, like in a movie.
Melissa is my friend. Sometimes we play together and I like to play with her dolls when she brings them to school. She is taller than me with rounder cheeks, brown curly hair, and always wears the nicest flowery dresses. I asked my Dad to buy one for me, but he said I already had two dresses and "three is two too many already". Melissa has a lot of friends at school too. I don't think I have any other friends, but maybe I do.
One hour passes and the recess bell rings. I run outside into the sun to escape the moldy classroom. Charlie is playing tether ball with the other boys. Charlie's mom is friends with my mom. She is always trying to get us to play together, but I don't much like the games he plays. Instead, I sit alone between two people on a bench. I don't know them. I don't want to talk to them. It's sunny today and I just want to melt into the chair. The rays shine on daisies and sunflowers lining the grayish pale walkway leading to the school's entrance. It shines as much on those flowers as it does on Miss C's brown leather hat. She has already come outside to find me, again.
"Glo, there you are hon. What trouble are you up to now?"
"It's time for art class sweetheart. Why don't you hold my hand and come with me?"
As she walks me back I release a long sigh. She ushers me to my seat. The cold metal presses against my leg as I sit down.
"Ok class, please bring your drawing to me and then return to your tables" Miss McCarthy says as she writes our homework on the board.
Do something this week that scares you. Present your experience to the class next Tuesday, September 21.
After school I follow Melissa home. One, three, seven, ten. I stay eight steps behind her and dodge all of the lines splicing up the sidewalk. I'm really lucky; she always walks by my house on her way home. Sometimes I follow her to the end of the street just to see where she goes, but then I have to take the trail back home. Two, four, eight, twelve. The steps are getting wider; I'm falling behind. A vehicle passing me suddenly slows and rolls the passenger window down. I see the passenger look out at Melissa and then their hand extends out the window and a long finger points at Melissa. The car starts to drift to the shoulder of the road, and I can see it is black and rusted behind the fenders. The car slows down beside Melissa and the door starts to open. One, two, four, six. As I close distance on Melissa the passenger happens to see me walking up. She says something to the driver then hurriedly closes the door and the car accelerates away, black smoke flaring from the exhaust pipe as it goes. A cold chill runs up my spine and I cross my arms over my chest. Perhaps they were lost and looking to ask someone for directions? Yes..that is most likely. But as I turn onto the longish winding gravel driveway of my house, something still feels weird and familiar about that car, and I can't seem to forget about it.
I open the back door and skip to the kitchen table. A candle sits silently in the center of the table, the small pin sized flame glowing back. I grab the candle and dash upstairs. I lay the candle down and begin collecting the wax drippings and rubbing them against my closet door. If I do this all day, I will be able to paint half the door blueish green. What does she mean do something that scares you? I'm scared of snakes, so am I supposed to make friends with a snake? "yuk", no...I'm not doing that. Some things should just be left alone. That's what my father says when mom gets mad at him too. My mom is kind of like a snake when she's mad. I think I've even seen the fangs. Or maybe I can ask my dad to surprise scare me? He could jump from a corner and yell "boo!" just when I least expect it. That sounds more fun than scary, but its stupid so he wouldn't do it.
The smell of breakfast bacon washes over my bed. I'm up and running downstairs as fast as I can; skipping every second step is not as easy as it sounds. I run into the kitchen and find Dad moving the bacon chips from the pan to a plate. I grab at them with my hands and stuff one into my salivating mouth.
“Leave enough for everyone, Glo. Five is plenty and six is too many" he says as he hands me a plate. "Oh and use a plate, you're not an animal". I grab the plate and pick out the five largest bacon chips from the stack that I can find. Our family calls them "chips" because my Dad always overcooks them until they become hard and brittle like a potato chips. I like them better this way too, but he just does it to remove all of the fat and kill the bacteria. I sit down at the table and start eating while my dad keeps frying more chips.
"What did you learn on your first day back to school, Glo?" Dad asks while still looking intently at the bacon burning in the pan.
"Miss McCarthy wants us to scare ourselves this week"
Dad turns his head quizzically in my direction; oil splattering off of the pancake flipper onto the floor. "She wants you to scare yourself?" He asks again.
"Well, I guess she wants us to do something we think we're afraid of doing"
"That could be fun. Have you thought of anything yet?"
"No. I don't know. Well, maybe I could steal something from Mr. Rohit's convenience store?"
"That would be illegal, honey. I don't think Miss McCarthy would want you to do something illegal." "What about doing something you have a curiosity for but haven't yet built up the courage to try?"
"I'll think about it. To be honest, not much scares me these days" I say as I start collecting my things.
As I leave the house I decide that I will skip all the way to school. I begin and immediately feel exhilarated by the height and speed. I imagine that this must be what it feels like to be a bird flying high in the sky, overlooking the funny and confusing world below. From my new vantage point, I start to notice a million different things that I barely noticed with such clarity before. I see perfectly groomed grass lawns and manicured driveways lined one after another like rows of an orchestra. I see Mr. Lefebre's lama munching on weeds in his large backyard; his lower jaw moving in figure 8's in constant rhythm. I see grass poking out from cracks in the sidewalk; weirdly shaped tree trunks and paper bags floating in the wind and tied around stop signs. When I finally make it to Mr. Rohit's convenience store, I turn the corner and stop to catch my breath.
If I wasn't exhausted I may have yelled out after seeing what was happening in front of my eyes. Two crows are fighting over a garbage bag at the back of the store. One of the birds begins violently stabbing the other with its beak, then grabbing it by the neck. As the weaker crow attempts to flee the large crow strikes a final blow into his stomach, causing him to collapse and slip into a gutter.
Im back in class. Melissa suddenly runs by the chalkboard. She is chasing after Charlie who stole her notebook. He is yelling something inaudible, dancing between each of our classmates desks. I find my spot and lay my head down on the desk. I ignore the commotion, rest on my folded arms and try to fall asleep. The sweater I am wearing is soft, and it doesn't take long to find a comfortable position.
The day passes without much of a scamper. I pack my things, record the day's homework and then start for the door. Leaves have begun to fall and an evening rainfall left the streets wet but not flooded. The fallen leaves are making brown, green and yellow imprints on the concrete sidewalk. It's like every leaf has its own 'print' which it engraves into the sidewalk every autumn before disappearing and decomposing. I think I want to be like a leaf and leave something behind before I die. I move step by step along the sidewalk, trying to step on as many of the fallen leaves as I can. Just before I reach the driveway I am forced to surrender my feat as the trees have not left any leaves close enough to my house. I move quickly to the front door, but then I hear something inside. The sound of yelling grows louder when I press my ear against the cold, wet door. I wait motionless for a time, my sleeves tucked over my hands; my hands softly pushing against the door. I prefer to wait till the fighting stops before going inside but today I can't help it so I turn the knob and walk inside, head down, aiming for the stairs. Before I reach the foot of the stairs I hear a loud thud and see my mother fall to the floor. My father is still yelling as she falls, her arms bracing the tile floor. She leaps up, screaming at Dad before charging out of the kitchen towards me. "Your father cares nothing about you, all he cares about is his money!" she shouts at me while running by me towards the garage door. From the front window I can see the car speed away. My dad walks from the kitchen. He stops when he sees me looking back at him; my head twisted awkwardly to meet his gaze. His eyes are penetrating. In a stare that lasts less than a second I see one thousand expressions of sadness and contemplation. I have seen my parents argue before, but I have never seen those eyes on my father. The feeling hits my gut, and I don't know if I should be petrified or empathetic. Before I can do anything, he mumbles something under his breath and trudges upstairs.
When I was younger I would have chased after my father. My face damp with tears I would beg him to get mommy back. He would stare down at me reassuringly and convince me she would return eventually; She just needed to cool off. But with every passing year, the fights only escalated. After I got older I stopped asking my father for reassurances. I don't know if it was because I actually thought she would always come back, or because I was afraid after asking so many times that my father may actually tell me that she had finally decided not to return.
I look down at the crease between the couch cushions. If I was a tiny person it would look like a huge valley cutting between two huge mountain ranges. The cliffs are joined together by a river which flows sometimes smooth and sometimes violently. I stuff my finger into the crease, hoping to feel the water squirm around it. I don't feel the water, but I suddenly hear the voice of my father. You have so many days on this earth, you can afford to wait. In any case, you already have enough. Three is two too many.