Friday, May 21, 2010

Driving With Laura: Part 2

At the age of seven I hated to be alone, so weekends were a real bummer. God made it so that only little boys my brother’s age came to live on our street, surely an oversight on His part, but for years this meant out cookie-cutter suburban community was filled with “No Girls Allowed” rules, most decidedly directed at me. Solitude was boring; I needed real live kids to play with. My mother took her weekends to do laundry and garden and mop up the gunk from the kitchen floor, and if I wasn’t at ballet, I’d use that excess time to lie on the ground and protest.

“Big girls learn how to play by themselves,” my mother would say, to which I’d reply with a loud scream, “I hate Saturdays!”

The wonderful thing about my tantrums was that my mom would get so sick of hearing my cries at the inhumanity of God that she’d pick out her phone book from under the kitchen counter and hand it to me to begin dialing.

“Hello, Mrs. Johnson?” I’d tangle the cord into my fingers and stare at the floor. “Can Amy come over and play at my house?”

Most of these calls were completely fruitless; who didn’t already have set plans on a Saturday morning? Families were out hiking the hills, or eating picnic lunches, or shopping for new shoes. I was alone.

The luckiest of days was when Laura was home too.

“Do you think they’ll let you come?” I’d whisper into the receiver, hold my breath, and cross my fingers, like I was waiting on a decision about a life or death sentence. Laura would often come back on the phone after a long, hurtful pause and say, “My dad said no.” I could hear her frown, and then giggle. “I’m just kidding, he’s dropping me off!”

I can only assume that Laura’s parents were as eager to get rid of her for the day as mine were to get rid of me. My mom sighed a huge relief when I said Laura was on her way. Only now could she go about her business without a seven-year-old barnacle attached to her ankles.

The phone rings, announcing Laura’s arrival at the gate; I press 9 to let her in. She’s wearing navy shorts and a flowered t-shirt, both from Limited Too, our favorite store. Her hair is a few shades darker than mine, and so is her skin, but she’s much shorter than me, a trait I haven’t really picked up on yet but one that will haunt me later in our adolescence.

We run upstairs to my room to play “Theatre,” a game where we’d write plays and act them out in my parent’s living room. This time Laura’s wandering the Prairie with nothing but a doll and a piece of beef jerky, and she’s about to die of starvation. “Not if the rattlers don’t get me first!” she cries dramatically into the blistering sun on the ceiling fan above.

“Wait, wait,” I hold up my notebook in a motion to “call cut.” “Let’s change this part; I don’t like how it sounds.”

Laura sighs and crosses her arms. “You can’t just change things around like that. We’re already doing it this way.”

Laura was always big on following the rules, whereas I was frequently pushing the envelope, and her nerves. When hitting a wall like this one, where we both obviously disagreed, more often than not we’d tire of each other and change the game altogether.

“Do you want to keep playing this?” Laura asks. What she means to say is, ‘This game is stupid. Let’s play something else.’

“How about we set up your Barbie tent, and we play camping?”

I roll my eyes hugely. Camping Barbies is just about the last thing on the planet I feel like playing. First of all the tent is in a huge box at the top of my closet shelf, and secondly it takes a million years to put the thing together.
“We can’t play that game,” I say sinisterly.

Laura doesn’t buy it. “Why not? Isn’t it just at the top of your shelf?” she peers into the dark void above our heads, and I watch her, willing the box to disappear into the shadows.

“No, no! We really can’t because I don’t know where it is.” I’m lying.
Laura walks towards my bedroom door. “So what’s the big deal? Just ask your mom.” Leave it to her to be so damn clever. I’ll have to come up with something, quick.

“Okay,” I say quietly, “I’m going to tell you something, but you can’t tell anyone, ok?”

The thought of a secret has Laura intrigued. She tilts her head. “What is it?” Ok, I’ve got her. Don’t mess this one up.

“We can’t go looking for the tent because my dad has a gun hidden somewhere in the house.” I pause, waiting for Laura to catch on. “If we look for it, and we find the gun instead, we’ll be in huge trouble. It might even go off, and we might even kill ourselves.”

Laura’s eyes have grown two sizes bigger, and her lips are pressing together in a downward curl.

“But you can’t cry or anything,” I warn, noting her upset expression. “And you can’t say anything about it to my mom, because she doesn’t know about it either.”

Laura does cry, and she does go downstairs to get my mother.
Mom climbs the stairs to my room, where I’m sitting in the middle of the carpet picking out an outfit for my Barbie.

“You two are fighting already?” she asks, exasperated. Laura stands behind her, hiding in the doorway. Mom reaches up into the closet and pulls down the Barbie tent, setting down the box on the floor in front of me. “Tell Laura you’re sorry for lying to her.” My mother isn’t often angry, but she looks angry now, so I answer quickly. “Sorry, Laura.”

Mom assesses the treaty and walks out my door and back downstairs, calling as she goes, “If I hear you’re fighting again, Laura’s going home!”

Solitude is worse than Camping Barbie, so I open up the box to play.

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