A member of both Redwood Writers and the Storytelling Association of California, Laura has been a featured teller at the Lake Tahoe Storytelling Festival.
It was an accident. Not the suicide. I planned that, although there are some things I would change if I were to do it over now. But the mess after the suicide, that was the accident. Amoebic anxiety dividing and rising like yeast in my husband’s lower intestine, grief unattended pouring wet cement into the pauses of my children’s games, the replacement wife/mother
hiding every picture of me in paper bags taped shut and marked, “Do not touch. Alligators inside.”I never intended all of that. I thought
things would be more bearable if my family were spared my madness. And I thought I would return in penance to our Holy Father. I was wrong.
Gramma loves me. I know this by the way she says my name, Laura. She lilts it, tickles the air with it, like I’m a ruby she’s just spied glittering in one of the sidewalk cracks in front of her great big red brick apartment building. It’s on Birchwood Avenue. And that’s where I am right now. Looking out the parlor window. Waiting. It’s like I’m standing on a mountain of cream puffs all mine alone because any minute Gramma will call my name and tell me it’s time for our special ride. Nobody else says my name the way Gramma does. Not Daddy, not Kathy and Mary Ruth, not Uncle John, and not Mommy, who loves church so much I think maybe she up and moved into one a while back.
Daddy has two ways of saying my name. The first is like it’s the punch line to a joke that only he understands, a joke that jiggles him up tall almost all the way out of his shiny black shoes. He looks at me with his gray eyes sparkling like a silver spoon with all the tarnish wiped off. When he’s happy like that, he calls me “Shimp,” which he says is shrimp
and imp put together, or he says “Laura Fadora Fadoo.” He stretches that doo out real long like the last note of a song, and then Kathy and Mary Ruth turn it into “Laura Kapora Kapoo.” They stretch the poo out just as long, and just like that, all the fun of having him say my name is gone.
The second way Daddy says my name is like a ball he’s thrown really hard to get my attention because he wants me to stop doing whatever it is I’m doing. When he says my name this way his face looks harder than the sides of Gramma’s building, and the last thing I want is to scrape up against him. The second is the way he says my name most often. And that makes me mad, but I’m not supposed to ever get mad at Daddy.
Now when Daddy’s around, which isn’t all that often, and when he’s not stretched out asleep with his dark hair mixing in with the tatters of Gramma’s soft green couch, he’s making a commotion. He’s like pots and pans falling from Gramma’s kitchen cupboards, knocking against the stove and table and chairs and banging hard on the wooden patches in the floor where the old linoleum is worn clear off. He echoes all through the building like thunder. But Daddy all the time tells me,
“Laura, be quiet! Laura, settle down! Be a good girl now, Laura!” He has to throw my name around a lot to hammer this idea home; it’s about as hard to be quiet as it is to keep my Cracker Jacks from falling out of the box when I open it and turn it upside down looking for the charm hidden inside.
My sisters, Kathy and Mary Ruth, have their blond heads glued together most of the time whispering. And sometimes they set their deep blue eyes on me and say my name either right at the same time or one after the other like echoes in a tunnel. Their lips are moving, but my name seems to come out of their noses like when you snort your milk instead of swallowing it, and it burns going through your nostrils until you spurt it out, finally, and you’re not at all pleased.
That’s Kathy and Mary Ruth, not at all pleased when they say, “Laura peed in her pants, Gramma,” or “Laura’s eating bouillon cubes again, Gramma,” or “Laura can’t sing the ABC song yet, Gramma.”
But they always include me in games, morning to night, like me or not. They never tell me I can’t play. The first thing we usually do is ride trikes. We have two red ones, all dented and scratched up, and one green one a little bigger and newer, but still pretty banged up too. The green one is mine. I got it for my second birthday, which was way long ago because Gramma says now I’m going on three years old. It was a thrill when Daddy set it down on the sidewalk for the first time and lifted me onto the marshmallow white seat. Oh, what a beauty! The handlebars and body of the trike were deep green; the grips were green and white striped and there were green and white streamers coming out of a little hole in the end of each grip. The tires were all firm and darkest black, and the spokes of the wheels were gleaming in the sunshine. My trike, my very own trike. I couldn’t wait to ride it. Until this moment I could only ride one of the red trikes if Kathy and Mary Ruth didn’t want it first because they were their trikes, not mine. They had first dibs.
So there I was on my ride. My pride fanned out around me like a great big peacock tail. I gripped the handlebars and stretched my legs. I could reach the top pedal, but the lower one was way beyond reach.
“Look, Daddy, she can’t ride it,” said Kathy.
“Yeah, it’s too big for her,” Mary Ruth added.
“Looks like you’re right, girls. Maybe one of you should give it a try,” Daddy said, lifting me off the trike.
“No! No! No!” I shrieked. “My trike. My trike.”
“Oh, settle down, Laura” Daddy said, “What good will it do just sitting on the sidewalk?”
Daddy put me down and turned around, taking a few steps toward Gramma’s front door. Kathy and Mary Ruth raced to the new trike, shoving each other and screaming.
“Lemme,” cried Mary Ruth.
“No. Lemme,” cried Kathy.
I ran to the trike and held on hard to one of the handlebars. “Mine, mine!” I yelled.
Kathy was holding the other handlebar, and Mary Ruth had hold of the seat. We were kicking and spitting up a storm. Each of us had one hand on the trike and with the free hand was trying to pry the other two off. But each of us was holding her ground.
Daddy spun around, “Stop it, you three. Stop fighting right now,” he commanded.
We were so worked up. We heard him, but kept right on batting and clawing. I had just gotten my teeth on Mary Ruth’s wrist. She’d got hold of one of my pigtails that Gramma had fixed for me, with dark green ribbons to match my trike. And then Daddy’s hands were on us, lifting all three of us at once in one motion.
We were still kicking and screaming as he lined us up against the side of Gramma’s building and said, “Stay there and keep quiet.”
Except for our heavy breathing, we stood still as the row of cars parked along the curb a few feet away.
“You girls can’t act like this, like a pack of wild hyenas, screaming over a little trike,” he continued, standing really tall, both hands on his hips. “Now listen and listen well. I’m going upstairs. And if I hear you fighting again once I get up there, I’m going to come back down and take all three of these trikes away. Do you understand?”
We all looked down at the sidewalk and nodded.
“And you two, keep your hands off Laura’s trike for now,” he said to Kathy and Mary Ruth. “She’ll find out soon enough she’s too small to ride it. Do you understand?”
They nodded their heads.
“Don’t just nod like deaf mutes. Say it out loud.”
“Yes, Daddy, we understand,” they both said.
He turned and walked toward the door, opened it and headed up the stairs.
I wanted to prove everybody wrong. I wanted to prove that I could ride my trike as good as anybody. I marched up to the trike, put my left foot on a pedal and tried to lift my right leg up over the seat so I could get on, but instead, I fell on the sidewalk, scraping my elbow.
“See, she can’t even get on. How’s she gonna ride?” Mary Ruth whispered to Kathy.
“Yeah, she’ll never do it,” Kathy hissed back. They slid down the edge of the building and squatted on the sidewalk, arms folded over their chests, smiling as I fell again and again trying to get on.
Each fall made me more determined to find a way to ride my trike. I took a running jump and landed briefly on the seat and then fell off the other side, scraping myself up some more.
Kathy giggled softly at this and said, “See, she really is too puny for that trike.”
“Yeah, when’s she gonna give up?” Mary Ruth said.
I tried and fell again, and the trike plopped on top of me. I wiggled out from under. Then I yanked and tugged on different parts of the trike until, finally, it was right side up again. It was a little scratched on the side of the front fender, and the white seat had a big scrape on it too. I dragged it over to the tree growing in the patch of green grass between the sidewalk and the curb, leaned its rear against the trunk and climbed on from the back. And then I cracked a proud smile right there on the big white seat.
“What are you smiling at? You’re not going anywhere, Laura Kapora,” said Kathy.
“Yeah, you still can’t pedal it, Kapoo,” Mary Ruth taunted.
So I stretched and stretched until, at last, I got the trike moving by a combination of leaning forward onto the handlebars, batting my feet at the pedals and sliding back onto the seat. After I inched forward two whole sidewalk squares without falling off, I was exhausted, bleeding and bruised and ready to just ride one of the smaller trikes.
“Done now,” I announced, sitting tall on the seat. Kathy and Mary Ruth rushed to the trike. Each of them grabbed a handlebar, and I slid off. They started pulling.
“You hafta ask,” I said.
“What?” Kathy sneered.
“You hafta ask me. It’s my trike,” I insisted.
“Okay, Laura,” Kathy said, with an ugly thump on the Laura like I’m a big lump in a bedspread she’s trying to squish down. “Can we ride it now?”
“Yes,” I said as I leaped onto one of the beat up red trikes.
I watched the two of them wrestle until Kathy was on my trike and pedaling fast down the sidewalk. As I watched the green and white streamers flowing in the wind, I was mad that Kathy, Mary Ruth and Daddy were right about the trike being too big for me because I wanted to be right for once. But at least I rode my birthday trike a little bit that day, and I was the one who gave it its first scratch. I pedaled hard, chasing Kathy. Mary Ruth jumped on the other red trike and followed too. Instantly she and I became cops chasing Kathy,
the robber, until Gramma called us in for lunch.
Laura McHale Holland’s REVERSIBLE SKIRT ONLINE BOOK TOUR DECEMBER 2011 will officially begin December 5th and end December 16th. If you would like to host her on her tour, please contact Jaime at jmfictionscribe(at)yahoo.com.au. Thank you for your support!