Monday, March 17, 2014

The Key, Chapter 17

The Key
by Eloise Hawking

Chapter 17

     Grandma and I sat next to each other with the program open between our laps.  The convertibles brought the girls around past the home stands.  One dress was as pretty as the next.  A blue velvet top and a satin bottom.  A peach colored beauty with frills on the sleeves.  A gold lame’ that sparkled in the floodlights.  And a teal and lace number that made the girl look like a southern belle.  

     I like the navy blue one the best.  It was probably the simplest of all the dresses, but there was something understated about the style of it.  It was Erin O’Malley wearing the dress and I hoped that she was the winner.

     “That dumb boy doesn’t know enough to bend his elbow,” said Grandma.  “You can’t just walk down that aisle with a pretty girl on your arm like that with a straight arm hanging there.  Doesn’t anyone teach these kids anything anymore?”

     A lady sitting in front of us turned around to affirm Grandma’s very loud admonition with a nod of her head in agreement.

     As each girl was escorted down the fifty yard line, the announcer read from a list of facts about each candidate.  We learned what their hobbies were, what activities they were in, and what they wanted to do when they left high school.  One was as accomplished, pretty, and nice as the next. 

     “I hope Erin wins!” I said to Grandma.  I considered for a moment if I should say a prayer for that outcome.  Is it right for a person to say a prayer for your favorite girl to win Homecoming Queen?  With all the starving people in the world, it almost didn’t seem right, so I held back.

     The announcer said, “The 2011 Homecoming Queen is……….”  And then came the big long pause that was probably only 3 seconds but it felt like three years.  I hate that waiting part.  It is awful, even with something as simple as wanting to hear the name of the new Homecoming Queen.  

     “ ….Erin O’Malley!!”  The crowd went wild.

     My heart leaped with joy for a girl that I barely knew.  Grandma gave me a high five and a hug since she knew that was who I was rooting for.  A prayer from me wouldn’t have mattered anyway.  The joy was short lived though, because I saw a flash.  At first I thought it was from a camera, but then I realized it was lightning.

     Grandma’s head whipped around and said to me, “Did you SEE that?” 

     I shrugged my shoulders and kind of nodded.  I could sense the anxiety rising in Grandma.  She began shifting in her seat and her eyes kept darting from the field to the sky.  “Stay close, Ellen.  Grandma will protect you,” she said.
     The convertibles were in a big hurry to pick the girls back up.  The drive off of the field had them hanging on for dear life.  I think the drivers of the cars were far more concerned with droplets of rain hitting their leather seats more so than ruining the pretty dresses of their cargo. 

     “Where in the Sam Hell is your mother?” Grandma said to me while squirming in her seat.
     I shrugged my shoulders again and motioned an “I don’t’ know” with my hands and a tilt of my head.  I knew it was futile to say anything because it would be more work shouting my response to her three times, only for her to get it wrong anyway. 

     The wind started to pick up and other people in the crowd started looking off into the west.  I heard one lady say to the other, “Good thing those girls got inside.  I think we’re in for a downpour.”

     The team ran out of the locker room and onto the field.  I moved to the end of the stadium and peered over the side to see if I could spot my mother and Sam slapping helmets and shoulder pads, but they weren’t there.  Something must have held them up. 

     Grandma alternated her attention between the start of the third quarter and looking over the side of the stands for my mother.  “You don’t think that Horse’s Peanut left us, do ya’?” Grandma said, referring to my mother.

     I shook my head no and mouthed, “I’ll keep watching.”  I curled my fingers into the shape of fake binoculars to help Grandma understand.

     I heard a yell from the away side and looked over to see their fans on their feet.  On the first play of the second half Number 42 for the other team broke away and made a long run for a touchdown.  No flags.  The touchdown stood.  The Wildcats kicked an easy extra point to make the score 10-7.  The crowd shifted in their seats. 

     “Oh, Crap!”  yelled Grandma at the top of her lungs.  “Open your eyes Defense!  Lay off the Ho-Ho’s number 88!  Maybe you’ll run faster!”

     I cringed because I saw #88’s mother sitting three rows down.  She wasn’t exactly “thin” herself.  I was mortified.  

     “Hey Grandma!” I yelled.  “How ‘bout if I watch for mom at the gate?”  I motioned to her and pointed to the west end gate.”

     “Good idea, Ellen,” said Grandma.  “Just keep your eye on the sky.  We may need to make a fast break out of here in the next couple of minutes.”

     I made my way down to Gary, who still stood at the gate even though admission was free after half time.  He seemed to be delighted to tell newcomers that there would be no charge.  I walked over to him to ask if he had seen my mother. 

     “No, Sweetheart, I have not,” Gary the Gate Guy replied.  “I did see her walk out with your brother just before half time—that’s unlike her.  Is something up?”

    “No,” I lied, “just looking for her.  I think I’ll wait here.” 

     Another roar of the crowd from the away stands.  It sounded like there was something big that happened.  I pushed my way through the crowd to see the scoreboard—the other team scored again.  I heard some old crabby guy say, “fumble!”  

     More cheers from the north side. I looked at the score board and saw the 13 change to a 14.  Northwestern was ahead now 10-14.  In a matter of minutes, our team had lost its focus.

     I could hear Grandma screaming over everyone else.  She was using words like “horses potato” and “pipsqueak.” 

     The wind really picked up and I could feel a change in the air.  And then it happened.  I sensed it a second before it hit.  A big bolt of lightning zig zagged in the distance, followed by a loud clap of thunder.  The storm was getting closer and it didn’t’ look like we were going to miss it.

     The guy holding the yardage marker started to look a little nervous.  The referees were looking to the sky.  Moments later a huge bolt hit right in the middle of the football field.  I could feel the electricity in the air this time.  There was a pause before the pandemonium began.    

     The people were in a big hurry to get away from the metal bleachers they were sitting on.  Fans quickly stood and gathered their things.  The stairways filled and the windy wheelchair ramp already had a trickle of bodies headed down it.
     Now here I was separated from my family.  Should I go back to Grandma?  Should I go look for my Mom and Sam?   Should I just stay at the gate and get swallowed up by the crowd?  I was pondering these questions for only a few seconds when I heard it…

     WWAAAAHHHHHHHH!  The loud blast of the air horn. 

     “What the he…..” exclaimed Gary the Gate Guy, looking around and stopping himself before he said a swear word in front of me.

     “EEELLLLLEEEENNN!   Stay put,  Honey!  Grandma’s comin’ for ya!” Grandma yelled.  “Don’t touch the metal fence!  I’ll be right there!”
     I could see the air horn in her right hand.  She was waving it nice and big so that I would see her.  Just then Kenny walked by to exit the gates with his older brother.

     Kenny turned to me and yelled, “Ellen, Did your Grandma just launch a missile or something?”  He cackled and disappeared into crowd.  

     The man in the press box announced there would be a thirty minute delay in game due to inclement weather conditions and lightning.   I could hear his drone, obviously reading a pre-written statement.  I tried to tune it out and kept my eyes peeled for any member of my family. 

     Boom!  Crack!  Another loud clap of thunder and a flash of lightning.  This time the crowd screamed right before the droplets of rain came—at first just a few pelts, and then the wind brought it in sheets.  I looked to the field to see the referees huddle up then signal to the booth and to the coaches that the game was being called.  

     The players pounded each other on the shoulder pads and jumped up and down out of anger.  They wanted to play.  They quickly removed their cleats and headed en masse into the locker area.  No one lined up to slap helmets this time.  There was a crush of players and cheerleaders and spectators one big, soggy, wet husky mascot all converging upon the same area at the same time.

     Rumble!  Crash!  More thunder and lightning and my heart was starting to beat a little faster.  Where was my family? 


     Question answered.  Grandma was about ten yards in front of me through the crowd.  I could see her, and I tried yelling, but over the tone of the announcer, the chatter of the crowd, and the sound of the rain driving against the bleachers, it would be impossible for even a person with super hero hearing to hear me. 

   Although I am the tallest in my class, I am still ten, so I got swallowed up in the crowd.  The announcer was saying something and I could only catch bits and pieces of it.  Something about the game being rescheduled……..played at a later date……..check the school’s website.  Then the announcer paused and shouted, “AND WOULD SPECTATORS PLEASE REFRAIN FROM USING……..ANNOYING NOISE DEVICES AT THIS TIME!!”

     I could tell where Grandma was standing because the crowd began to part around her, almost as if they were afraid of her or something.   Just as I was about to make my way over to her, the head coach ran by.  Coach was carrying some equipment in one hand and holding his ball cap to his head with the other. 

     Grandma smacked him in the butt as he ran by and yelled, “Get those boys off the field a little sooner next time.  They can get electrocuted, ya’ know!” and she sounded one quick little blast of that air horn in his direction.

     I felt a yank on my sweatshirt sleeve.  It was my mother and Sam.  Hallelelujah!  “Where’s Grandma?”  Mom  shouted over the rain.  She was holding Sam on one hip and had her sweatshirt thrown over him like a blanket.  He had his head buried in her shoulder and was clinging to her for dear life.  I wished for a second that I could climb up the other side because I was becoming increasingly frightened, too.

     I pointed in Grandma’s direction and I could see my mother frown and clench her teeth when she spotted the air horn.  “MOM!  Over here!” she shouted and waved to Grandma.  

     There must be a sixth sense when it comes to mothers and their children.  I doubted Grandma could hear my mother shouting over the driving rain, but she sensed her presence.  Grandma turned in our direction and jogged toward us. 

     “It’s about time you showed up!  I could have blown to kingdom come by now.  Where’s the van?”

     “Illegally parked in the handicapped spot---where’s your pass?” my mother asked.

     “Atta girl!” Grandma patted my mother on the back as we all ran towards the car. 

     We jumped inside and all let out a sigh of relief.  We just sat there panting for thirty seconds when Grandma said—“Get a local station on!  Let’s see if there is a weather update.”  She patted her jacket pockets and said, “Now where are my cigarettes.”

     “It’s school property, Mom,” said my mother as she too patted her pockets.  “You can’t smoke.”

     “I don’t care if your frying pan broke,”  Grandma misinterpreted.  “Put the pedal to the metal, Girlie and get us the heck home!”   

     Grandma found her lighter and tried to light her soggy cigarette to no avail.

     The silence from my mother was almost as deafening as the claps of thunder that were only seconds apart.  When a flash of silver-gray lightning lit up her face I followed her eyes toward the gate.  What was she looking at?

     “WELLLLL……….,” said Grandma, looking at my mother, droopy cigarette hanging from her lips.  “What’s the hold up?”

     Finally, Mother spoke.  “I lost my keys.”

    Oh, boy.  Boom!

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