Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Key, Chapter 1

The Key
by Eloise Hawking

Chapter 1

     In the beginning I thought everyone’s mother was like mine.  It’s taken me a decade to finally figure out that my mother is unique.  She’s not your average soccer mom.  I read lots of books and many of the best ones always have a mother figure that dies, like Cinderella,  Bambi, and Harry Potter.  But my mother is very much a part of my life at home, at school, and in my free time.  Sometimes she is quietly moving in the background like a gentle breeze and other days she’s like a hurricane.  Like this morning.  She lost her keys.  Again.  She loses them almost every day.

     The tirade begins like most of them do, with an exasperated cry for help that slowly and steadily builds to a full blown storm.  Here comes one now: 

     “UGHHHHHHHH!”  “WHERE ARE THEY!?!?!”  “OK!!  HELP ME!!!! WHERE did I put them?  I just had them in my hand.  I was standing here with them IN MY HAND.  I didn’t move ten steps.  I got distracted and now I lost my keys!  Now I am going to be late.  Everything always falls apart for me on the last step!  Ellen, get your butt out here right now and help me look or I am going to unleash my full fury on every living thing in this house!!!!”

      Having a happy childhood means learning how to navigate life with your family.  Mother told me once that I am the captain of my own ship.  This was one of those moments that my ship must have been a canoe and I am navigating through the bumpy, white rapids.  My mother always tells me that I have a great mind for connecting the dots.  Not like on my brother’s preschool worksheets, like in making connections in life.  I’ve been working on my families’ dot to dot for a while now, and I still can’t see what the picture is going to be. 
     I think sometimes I can’t see the picture because all my dots are so close together.  It’s like that saying, you can’t see the forest through the trees.  My house is the nucleus of my world where I live with my parents, my little brother Sam, and my older sister Hope.  We’re like five little protons and neutrons bouncing off one another.  My cousin Jack lives a mile south of here, and my grandparents live next door to the east in the house my mother grew up in. 

    I have two kinds of best friends.  Emily, is of the person kind.  She lives north of my house and our back yards connect.  Rocky is my friend of the canine sort.  His shabby red dog house lies to the west, just beyond the fence that separates my yard from his.

    “The bounty on those keys just raised from one dollar to five.  I can’t be late for work today!  A nice, crisp Mr. Lincoln to the finder!”  Mother Eloise yelled.

     Time for me to go, I guess.  Onward to the kitchen I trod only to find an all too familiar scene.  My mother, a classic beauty in her own right, is a flurry of motion, skirt swinging in her futile, frantic twirls, arms waving wildly, and her long, curly hair flying every which way.

     “Mom” I say softly.  The tirade continues.

     “Mom!” I say a second time with a bit more oomph
     She stops and looks at me and everything is silent, almost like entering the eye of a hurricane.  “They are around your neck.” 

     My mother is a teacher, the Enrichment teacher for the program at my school nonetheless.  So she is both my mother AND my teacher, giving us an unusual relationship.  According to the school district, her responsibility as my teacher is to expand my mind and broaden my horizons.  If the school only knew how absent minded my mother actually was, they never would have hired her in a million years.  I think they have a sneaking suspicion though.  The principal actually bought her a lanyard to hang around her neck to attach her keys to, because she’s lost the keys to the school so many times.

     “Oh for God’s sake, Ellen!  What is my problem?  You think that after all these years of teaching I’d finally be able to leave for work in the morning without all the drama.  Five bucks to you, Sherlock!  Add it to your IOU.”

     Mom’s voice drowned out as she left the kitchen, went into the garage, got into the car, and drove away.  Looks like I’ll be catching the bus again.  She forgot me.  I was supposed to go with her.  That’s fine, because the bus will come by in 15 minutes. 

     I slung my new polka dotted book bag over one shoulder and headed out.  I walked out the back door to take our breakfast scraps to Rocky.  I had a nice paper plate full of bits of bacon and two crusts of whole wheat toast edged with Mother’s strawberry jam.  This morning’s treat for the dog who was once known as The Red Rocket.  

     When my neighbors the Thompsons got him from the dog pound years ago, he was the liveliest one there.  Mr. Thompson hunted at the time and was looking for a dog who could flush out rabbits.  Legend has it that The Red Rocket was more like a heat seeking missile.  He could flush out a rabbit from the underbrush on the local farms faster than my mother could misplace her keys.  

     The problem was that The Red Rocket often went off course and failed to come back when called, so the Thompsons had to tie him to his doghouse.  Eventually Mr. Thompson lost his zeal for hunting, as well as the love of having a dog.  Day after day The Red Rocket was chained to his house that was nice at one time, but has faded in the ten years he’s been attached to it with a long, gray rope.  Rocky and I have been friends my whole life because he’s the same age as me.  I couldn’t say The Red Rocket when I was a baby and would toddle over to the fence to see him.  I called him Rocky instead, and it’s stuck.

     “Morning, Rocky!” I said, after I hopped the fence.  A fence post had broken off once and the Thompsons never repaired it.  My Dad, who is a neat freak, calls it unsightly.  I was glad though because it was the perfect place for me to put my foot when I needed to haul my body over it to see Rocky.  
     Rocky never wanted me to greet him from a distance through the wooden, white fence posts.  He wanted some contact which I don’t think he got from anyone besides me.  Rocky loved for me to give him a rough hug and then scratch his dirty belly.   I don’t think Rocky has ever visited the groomer.

     Rocky wagged his long reddish tail at the sound of my voice.  “Yeah, Boy, I got some breakfast for ya’,” I announced.  “Bacon today!”

     Long strands of drool started to run from his slobbery jowls that hung down about as far as his long floppy ears.  Rocky was a mutt, probably a mix between a lab and some type of beagle.  Even though he was dying for that taste of bacon, he still rolled over onto his back to reveal his scaly belly for a good scratching.  

     “Oh yeah!  Rocky loves his belly scratched.  Oh yes he does!”  Rocky writhed and twisted beneath my fingernails. 

     “Mom lost her keys again this morning, Rocky.  But I found them.  Earned myself another five dollars.  I’m up to $17 already.  I’m saving up for a shopping trip to the mall.  I’ll be sure to get you a nice chewy bone from the pet store to keep you busy,” I confessed to Rocky.   Rocky knew all of the details of my life.  I loved confiding in him because I knew he’d never tell on me.

     I dumped the remnants of breakfast into Rocky’s empty silver bowl.  The Thompsons came out to feed him once a day, one scoop of the cheapest dry dog kibble the dollar store sold.  You’d see Rocky wag and whimper as Mr. Thompson approached hoping that today would be the day that he would take him hunting again, and allow him to stretch his legs and run free like hunting dogs are supposed to.  But Mr. Thompson would never give Rocky even the slightest acknowledgment.  He’d just dump the food, sometimes missing the dish completely, and walk back up to his house without giving that loyal dog as much as a second glance. 

     Rather than wait at the end of the driveway for either the bus to come or for mom to realize her mistake and come flying back to retrieve me, I decided to walk fifty yards east to see what my grandparents were up to.  

     You don’t even have to knock at their house.  You are allowed just to go right in.  It is not because they are cool though.  It is because Grandma is hard of hearing and she can’t hear the knock anyway.  I always try to make big movements with my arms and body so she can see me, but I seem to startle her every time.

     “Grandma!  Are you home?”  I make big swinging motions with my book bag to see if it catches her eye.  Nope.  She is standing in the middle of the kitchen smoking a cigarette, glued to the weather channel, which is up so loud it is vibrating.

      “Oh, Crap Ellen!  You made me jump!  Did your mother forget you again?  There’s a storm front brewing over the Midwest, headed our way.”  Grandma shoves over her coffee cup and the newspaper and makes room for me at the table while she searches for the remote to turn the sound down.

     “These darn commercials are so loud, it’s annoying,” says Grandma butting her cigarette and waving the trail of smoke away from me.  “What was the hissy fit over this morning?”

     “Her keys,” I reply flatly.

     “When in God’s name will she learn to keep track of those things?  You know, she always was an airhead.  Can’t go walking around life with your head full of air.  Someone will pop her like a balloon one of these days,” says Grandma.

     My grandma is always full of advice and never holds her tongue.  I am never left guessing what she is trying to tell me, because she always tells me straight up in a funny sort of way. 

     Once, my dad brought me home some new sneakers for me.  I really didn’t like them at all.  I wanted white ones with pink on them, but he found me charcoal gray ones with a big, clunky heel and the tiniest bit of pink you could find—I guess he considered that close enough to my request.  He called them nice, solid shoes.  

     He was so excited about them I just couldn’t tell him that they really weren’t what I wanted. After all, I was growing fast and I knew I’d need a new pair soon.  I made a promise to myself to walk through every puddle possible to wear them out a little faster.  

     When I walked over my grandma’s house to show her my new sneakers she paused and said, “Those are ugly.  Who picked those out?”  It didn’t hurt my feelings; it made me laugh.  Grandma made me take them off and we returned them to the store.  She got me the pair I really wanted, white ones with little pink swooshes, plus two more pairs because she had a pocket full of money to spend on just me.

     “Did you have breakfast, Ellen?” says Grandma.

     “Some toast,” I replied.

     “That’s boring,” she said.  “Here, I have something better,” while lifting a lid to something that smelled really good on the stove.

     It was squash.  Bright orange, fluffy butternut squash.  I love non breakfast food for breakfast.  I’m allergic to eggs, so that takes out all the breakfast foods like omelets and stuff.  I like lunch food in the morning, but my mother tells me to “keep it easy” for her.  She has enough problems finding her keys and remembering to take me to school every day.  I would hate to tell her to prepare me some squash.  That would really push her over the edge.   So it is toast for me most mornings.

     I watched grandma stir in some extra butter into the squash before she put it some on a plate for me.  Grandma is a really good cook.  She must have got good at it from all the years of cooking for my mother and her sister.  Grandma’s specialty is soup of any kind, except she doesn’t bring it over to house in one of those traditional soup pots with the pot belly lid in a grandma-sort-of-way.  She brings soup in an empty plastic bucket from her margarita mix.  She always seems to have an empty bucket at the ready.

     I no sooner had two bites down when I saw our van come zooming in their driveway.  It clipped the garbage cans that were sitting at the end of the driveway and knocked them over before it came to a screeching halt.  The lids popped off and some garbage slid out of the now horizontal garbage can.

     Mother Eloise yelled as she hopped from the van to kick the garbage back into the can with her high heeled boot.  “Darn it Ellen, Get out here!  I am having a heck of a morning and now I am late!   I can’t stand it when I am rushed.   I can’t think.  Hurry up!  Let’s go.”

Onward.  Off to school I go.  Mother Eloise calls.

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