Friday, March 14, 2014

The Key, Chapter 14

The Key
by Eloise Hawking

Chapter 14

     I lay upon the floor of my tree house.  My knees were bent at a forty-five degree angle and my feet rested on the trunk of the tree.  The fall breeze was picking up.  I could feel the sway of the tree and see the leaves move through the cracks in the roof.  Suddenly the can clanged.  It was Emily calling from next door.

     The two of us rigged up a communication system between our houses.  She lives in the yard kitty corner from mine.  Emily is an only child, so when she was young, her parents bought her a playhouse any little girl would die for.  It had a little door that opened and shut and was split in half so that the bottom could stay shut and just the top was open.  We used to play “Drive Thru Window” all of the time and take turns being the cashier with the plastic cash register.  As we got older, we didn’t fit in the playhouse so well, so we usually hung out in her bedroom instead.  

     When my tree house was built, we ran a line of string between Emily's playhouse and my tree house.  We  attached cans to either end.  If you yell really loudly into the can, you can hear the voice  if you are very quiet.  I could hear a muffled, “EEELLLLLEEEENNNNNN!!!!”

     I rose from my comfortable position and grabbed the can, placing it to my mouth. 

   “WHHHAAAATTTTT??????” I yelled back.  I yanked the string with three firm tugs to confirm that I knew she was there.  It usually was easier just to yell back and forth between our yards, but this was way more fun.

     I opened the door to my tree house and stepped out onto the balcony, and faced Emily’s house.  I grabbed my binoculars and peered through them.  Sure enough, Em was there.  I saw her crawl out of the playhouse on her hands and knees and could clearly see the duct taped number 77 on the back of her t shirt.  I watched her stand up, brush off her scarred knees from years of skateboard abuse, and heard her yell, “Are you going to the game tonight?”

     I cupped my hands along the sides of my mouth and yelled back, “I think so!  Are you?” 

     “Yep.  I am going with my parents.  I’ll look for you!” was her reply.

     All the while Rocky lay outside of his dog house, head resting on his paws.  His eyes moved back and forth as if listening to our conversation.  Rocky understood.
     At least Emily’s family was brave enough to chance the weather.  Maybe mine would be, too.  I ventured inside to see what the final decision was. 

     As I entered the house, I could tell there was a sharp tone to my mother’s words, even though I couldn’t make out what they were.  Her words were clipped and had sharp edges like scissors when she was trying to get her way.

     “…………Too bad.  I’m going.  We live 5 minutes away.  If it rains hard, we’ll come home, “ I heard Mom say.

     My dad’s voice is lower and he rarely raises it, even when he is really, really mad, like when Sam flushes one of his toys down the toilet.  He spoke softly and I could only make out a low toned mumble. 

     “I’m sure Ellen wants to go.  She’ll want to run around with her friends.  I’ll take anyone else that wants to go too.  How about you, Hope?” Mom asked in the direction of my sister.

     “No.  No fank you.  Rain.  All wet.  Yucky,” Hope replied.

     “Look at me this time and say it again,” said Mom, always encouraging eye contact with Hope, a thing my sister liked to avoid.

     “No fank you,” Hope said again with a fleeting glance towards my mother.

     “OK—You can stay with Dad then,” said Mom.  

   Next came a long pause.  I could tell there was a stare down going on in the living room, because the next question was pretty obvious and both of my parents were making game plans in their heads as to how they would answer…….  “What about Sam?”

     The question hung in the air like a flying kick in a Jackie Chan movie.  I thought this would be a good time to cut the tension with a question.  I stepped through the doorway to the living room at the most opportune of moments and asked, “Are we going to the game tonight?  Emily is and wants to know if we’re going.”

     Mother looked at me and said, “Yes, I am going.  Do you want to come along, too?  I bet lots of your friends will be there tonight.  It is the homecoming game.”

     “Sure,”  I replied.

    Mom and Dad were just about to speak to one another again when we were interrupted by a loud blast--- WWWAAAAHHHHHHHHH!

     Everyone jumped, including me, even though I was the only one who knew the answer to the next obvious question which was vocalized my mother.  “What in the heck was that?”

     We all moved to the front porch to see where the noise was coming from.  We looked east and saw Grandma standing in her side yard.  She was waving her arms to me.  

     Grandma yelled, “Good girl, Ellen.  This was just a test—don’t go gather the goods yet.  But there is a Storm Watch for tonight.  I’ll use this only when it is a storm Warning.  It would be a good idea to get your bag ready just in case.”

     Our weather system in Erie County was broken into threat levels.  If the weather office issued a Storm Watch, that meant conditions were right for a storm to form.  I learned in school to think of it like “checking your watch.”  A storm could be on its way and could be here at any time, you just had to be on the lookout for it.  A Watch was not as worrisome.  If the Weather Man issued a storm Warning, that meant that dangerous weather had officially been spotted on the radar—like a funnel cloud or something, and that people should take shelter immediately. 

     Mother looked at me quizzically and said, “Don’t tell me you know what she’s talking about, do you?”

     I shrugged and didn’t know how I was going to begin explaining all of this when I was suddenly saved by my little brother.  Enter Sam.  “Hey!  I want to go to the football game, too!” he yelled, pushing through all of us gathered on the front porch.

     Mother frowned for a second.  I am sure she was hoping to get a night off from watching him.  Sam was not the easiest kid to take places.  He had a habit of wandering off and also peeing in public if he had to go.  Once he peed on the side of the dug out when I was playing a softball game.   Tonight, I am sure Mom wanted to give her full attention to the game since it was a big one. 

     “I’ll help with Sam, Mom,” I volunteered.  “He can sit with me if you want.”  

     It was my trump card.  I knew this would keep the peace in my house and settle things between my parents.  I hated it when they argued. Dad would be happy to be free of Sam and be content watching the game on TV with Hope.  Mom would get to go to the game and give it almost her full attention if I agreed to keep an eye on Sam.  Just call me the Peace Maker.

     Mom smiled and said, “OK, Jimmy Carter—that sounds great!   Now can you please fill me in about what that God awful sound was?”

     I didn’t need to because by that time Grandma had walked across the yard to our house.  “Could you hear that loud and clear, Ellen?” Grandma said to me as she added herself into our little family gathering.

     “What in the heck is that, Mom?” my mother asked Grandma.

      “Why it’s an air horn!” she exclaimed.

     Grandma went on,   “Ellen and I are using it for our new weather alert system.   I’ll set this sucker off if I see some bad weather coming, because Lord knows you won’t be watching,” said Grandma.

     My mother gave an incredulous look to my father and just shook her head at Grandma.  “Mom, that is not necessary.  I always keep an eye on the weather and the children safe.  Besides, you can’t change the weather, Mom.”

     “That is total crap…..,” Grandma said with a fighting look on her face.  She patted her pockets down.  I knew she was looking for a lighter for the unlit cigarette she pulled out of her shirt pocket. 

     Suddenly, Sam busted into our circle of conversation, wriggling his way in between the spaces of our legs.  He stood in the middle of our circle and shook his finger at Grandma.  “Crap is a potty word!  My teacher said you are not allowed to use potty words—EVER,” yapped Sam.

     “You’re right, Sam.  Crap is not a nice word,” said Mom, giving a quick glare at Grandma. 

     “Mom,” she said turning to Grandma, “Ellen, Sam, and I are going over to the game tonight.  Would you like to ride along?”

     “Are you crazy, girl?  There is a Storm Watch and you know they always turn to Warnings this time of year,” Grandma said.  “Wouldn’t you just rather watch it on Channel 6?  It would be much safer.”

     Mom shook her head no and turned to me and said, “Cinderella, the pumpkin is going to turn into a coach in about a half an hour---better start looking for my keys if we are going to get there in time.  I can’t remember where I put them.”

     Preparedness.  Could that be the key to all things?  Whether it’s preparing for inclement weather with an air horn blast or calling in Cinderella to hunt for your keys—it was preparedness just the same.

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