- Go under the bed.
Under Mother’s bed is a light bulb, a pink sweater, a safety pin, and an umbrella. Also, three pillows and a box of Gold-n-Treasure with marshmallow bits. Kendall, Jennifer, and Lisa May are camping at Birch Bay, Mount Rainier, and Lake Chelan. Ruby Nickels is visiting her divorced dad in Oregon. I don’t know those places, but I have the best hideout.
I stretch my shredded yellow baby blanket over the umbrella and make a travel tent. I travel my tent to the living room and camp near the radiator. Mother is reading Ladies Home Journal. “It’s bad luck to open an umbrella in the house,” she says matter-of-factly. “But that’s just superstition. You can break that rule.”
I leave the warmth of the radiator and go outside. It’s the first summer in our apartment since Mother had her nervous breakdown. An oil slick runs below the curb, blue purple green yellow orange dark blue pink red in a spilt rainbow. I walk around, toward a lake of puddle. I splash. It starts to rain.
I have the umbrella to keep me dry.
When you’re lucky, you can break rules.
- Wear the green vest.
I graduated from Sparrows and that means I’m a Forest Craft Girl. I never wanted to be a Sparrow, but Grandma said, “She needs to develop social skills,” and it’s where I met Ruby Nickels. In the dark with tons of candles and six rows of girls, we have a ceremony and sing Kum Ba Yah. Some girls have badges all over their new vests, round ones, square ones, triangles. Badges for cooking recipes, building a campfire, making friends, seeing old people in Dirwood Nursing Home, playing piano, and knowing all the kinds of fish at the Seattle Aquarium. The only badge I have is the brown sparrow in a light blue circle.
Ruby Nickels never got her green vest because she quit. When you’re lucky, you don’t have to quit.
- Make up recipes.
If you stand on the gold-flecked kitchen counter with shoes on, you can reach way back into the cupboard. In a see-through bag there are marshmallows. There’s an old recipe card for Split Pea Soup, and the other side is blank for me to write on.
Marshmellow Delite –
Chop three mini marshmallows.
Break five Triscuitz. Put in bowl. Put in 16 raisins.
Put in 11 pieces Gold-n-Treasure cereal.
Sprinkel red cupcake sugar on top.
- Play in the dark.
We turn off the lights. I do six jumping jacks. I clomp like a clown. My brother clicks the flashlight, off, on off, on off. It makes a fast-motion movie like Laurel and Hardy. Nothing looks like what it is.
We make shadow shapes. Eagles are easy. Theodore shadows a fantastic dog. It’s hard to make fingers move and close in the right direction, so my shadow dog has a hole in its face.
I hold the flashlight to my chin. In the mirror my face turns red with blood.
- Walk to Safeway.
Mother stands by the milk with her big wool coat and her brown sensible shoes pointing down the aisle. In the seat-part of the cart where I used to ride sits her puffy brown purse holding paper-clipped food stamps, orange green blue white. She looks past the cottage cheese, small curd. “Christy! Where are you? Christy!” She says it like I am getting murdered. If I had an umbrella, I could hide under it. Two teenagers are watching, chewing gum, and one rolls her eyes and nudges the other. “Crazy lady,” the girl mutters.
“I’m right here behind you,” I whisper.
It happens again by the creamed corn.
- Write a letter.
I put a letter in our secret mailbox but it rained and got all soggy and the pages stuck together and our dirt hole turned into a gigantuc mud puddle. Also my felt pen was all blury. Maybe this new letter will stay dry plus I can’t remember when you get home from Oregun. I wish we could listen to your Elton John album again at your house and make more tator tot kool aid cookies.
Your very best friend, really your sister, forever and forever, XOXOXOXO
P.S. My hair’s getting long like yours.
- Get Mother a glass of water.
She likes it warm. Her head hurts. She lies on top of her unmade bed and sips, and sets down the glass, and reaches for her bottle of pills, white white white.
- Use the Sparrows Telephone & Address Book.
Count the rings. Twelve rings for Kendall. Fifteen for Jennifer. Untwist the pig tail cord on the phone. Twenty-four rings for Lisa May. Lisa May said she would be home in August, and we could probably play sometime. Six more rings for Lisa May. There’s no point in calling Ruby Nickels. Stop at forty-seven.
- Get my birthday present.
Mother talked to Grandma, and instead of crying on the phone she was whispering. Then Grandma went to the Piggly Wiggly, and I can’t believe what’s outside, leaning against the apartment porch, tied with a royal blue bow.
“It’s a Schwinn,” says Grandma.
Just my size. With a yellow banana seat.
“Look at you,” says Grandma, “riding around. Quite the lucky little racer.”
The other person Grandma talked to was the social worker. Something about a foster home. Having a bike means if I go to a foster home, I can race out of there.
- Visit the drugstore.
Me and Mother cross the street. She reaches for my hand. Nobody is looking, so I take it. The rules run different for Mother. She knows rhymes and rules and bad luck but can’t pay attention. She doesn’t have friends so she doesn’t have to worry about them. When she paints with watercolors, she whispers her own lines and goes outside. When I hide on purpose, or not on purpose, she looks for me. Even when her mind goes dark and foggy, her hand is warm, her colors singing. Swirls of paint, flowing where no one else can see.
The light turns red for the cars and the walk sign with its walking person turning white, and we walk slow across the street. She’s wearing her tan panty hose and her brown sensible shoes. Her shoelaces are tied in small bows.
Mother squeezes my hand.
I squeeze back.
Trapped in the stale summer nothing, tucked in the creases of my palm, puffy and hidden; it is there: all the luck I will need.