Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Key, Chapter 18

The Key
by Eloise Hawking

Chapter 18

     A flash of lightning followed a loud clap of thunder and lit up the inside of the van.  Mom stared intently out the window.  Her long, bony fingers gripped the steering wheel.

     Grandma had a horrified expression on her face, yet still had the wet cigarette between her lips.  It flapped limply as she yelled, “You buffoon!” whapping my mother in the head.

     Mom’s head jerked slightly to the left.  With no further reaction she said, “Five bucks, Ellen. “A crisp Abe Lincoln for your piggy bank if you run over there and grab those keys.  I think I see them right inside the gate.”

     “Lands alive!  You aren’t sending your own daughter out there in this storm to get those keys are you?” Grandma yelled. 

     “She’s a kid, Mom.  She’s faster than I am anyway.  Plus I am tired and I don’t feel like getting wetter than I already am,” said my mother.

     I sat in the back seat and looked back and forth between them as they bantered about the dangerous situation that my mother was about to put me in.  I glanced at Sam who still had my mother’s sweatshirt over his head.  He didn’t like storms and was as quiet as a church mouse.

     “We wouldn’t be in this predicament if you would have been back on time to see those dimwits of yours screw up the third quarter,” Grandma shot back.  “Where the heck were you anyway?

     Apparently when mom went to change Sam into the spare pants she had in the car, she ran into an old high school friend in the parking lot.  The woman was a former classmate and is now a financial planner.   The two of them got into a conversation about long range financial planning and lost track of time.

     “There was a GAME going, on for God’s sake,” said Grandma.  “Save those conversations to have over lunch sometime.  When will you ever learn?”

     “Well,  I’ll have to set some money aside for your oxygen tanks and wheel chair ramp if you don’t stop that nasty habit of yours,” my Mother replied in reference to Grandma’s cigarette habit.

     The conversation had just moved up a notch from testy to tense.  Grandma finally got her cigarette to light and she blew some smoke towards my mother’s face.  I decided now was as good a time as any to volunteer for the job and lighten the conversation at the same time. 

     “I’ll go,” I said, “but ten bucks—not five.”

     My mother, happy to be released from the unpleasant job of retrieving her keys, quickly shot back, “Seven fifty.”

     “It’s really raining hard, so I am firm at ten,” I flatly replied.

“     What are you girls saying?” questioned Grandma.  “You know to face me when I don’t have my hearing aids in.” 

     We both ignored her and didn’t break eye contact with one another in our Mother-Daughter stare down of sorts.

     “IF you can tell me which president is on the ten dollar bill, then ten it is,” said Mom narrowing her eyes to slits. 

     I smiled.  “Alexander Hamilton,” I said extending my hand, palm up, in her direction.  I knew she would never have money on her to slap me the cash in the age of debit cards and all.  “And you owe me an extra buck for catching your trick.  Hamilton was the first US Secretary of the Treasury.  He was not a US President.” 

     Mom slapped my hand and said, “Very impressive.   You must have one heck of a teacher.”

     “Skippy is far better than people think he is,” I retorted, trying to mentally avoid thinking about the challenge I just agreed to for a moment or two longer.

     “You’re not going to let her run out there, are ya’ ?,” Grandma shouted.  I could detect the edge of horror creeping into her voice.
     “She volunteered,” Mom said smugly.  “Now go, Ellen, GO!”

     I waited for the flash and the following rumble.  I was wet anyway, so I wasn’t too worried about getting wetter.  The thought of being electrocuted did cross my mind, as I grabbed the door handle and pulled it upwards to slide the van door back, but I wanted that eleven bucks.

     “Ellen!  DON’T!”  Grandma shouted.

     I just went for it without looking back.  As I stepped out into the sideways rain, it was colder than I had expected.  The temperature must have fallen drastically in minutes.  The rain was falling with such force that it actually hurt the skin on my cheeks as I ran directly into it toward the gate.
     FLASH.  Another lightning bolt lit up the sky.  The storm was upon us full force now.  It was up to me to be the hero.  

     When the school put in the artificial turf in the stadium years ago, they put in a new drainage.   Yet I looked down to see that the water was already over the tops of my shoes and seemed to be pooling at the drain grates.  Maybe Sam did do his stuffing toilet paper trick after all.  

     The wind picked up again and I could see the gate blow shut.  It wouldn’t lock but I would have to push it open with my hand to get to the other side.  I could see the keys with the bright orange lanyard lying on the ground.  I bet mom had them in the pocket of her jacket and they fell out when she wrapped it around Sam to protect him. 

     I saw her out of the corner of my eye before I heard her.  There was a quickly moving ball of person off to my right—could it be?  It was.  Grandma.  “Ellen!  Don’t touch the gate with your hand.  Kick it with the sole of your shoe like this.”

     With that, Grandma did some sort of flying leap and kicked the gate open with her foot.  It banged back with quite a force, allowing me enough space to scoot right on through, retrieve the keys, and turn back in the direction of the van.
     I was surprised how strong and fast my Grandma still was.  I knew she was scared to death of storms.  I heard of stories of when people get scared and their adrenaline gets rushing they can lift cars off of people and stuff.  I think that is what happened to Grandma.

     “Come on, Ellen!” she yelled into the wind.  “RUN!”  She grabbed the sleeve of my soaking wet shirt and we ran together to the van and jumped inside.

     We were no sooner inside when we heard the loud clatters begin.  They sounded like rocks being thrown at the car.  In the floodlights of the stadium, I could see little hard chunks of ice bouncing off of the bleachers.  Hail. 

    “Get us the Sam Hell out of here!” Grandma yelled.  “That’s hail!”

     My mom inserted the keys into the ignition, turned the key, and threw the van into reverse.  She swung it around and headed out to the road.  It would be a short trip home on a good day, but the rivers of rushing water and poor visibility made it difficult for my mother to see.  She had to go slower which turned the usually short ride home into one of the longest rides ever.

     Grandma reached out and clonked my mom over the head with the Kleenex box.  She was using the tissues inside of it to dry off her cigarettes.  

     “What is the matter with you?” she shouted at my mother.  “You better hope I don’t tell your father about this!”

     “Mom, I’m FORTY!” she replied.  “I don’t care if you tell Dad or not.  You are nearly seventy years old and too old to be scared of storms like this.  When are you going to give this up?”

     “I’m not afraid,” said Grandma, who could now hear my mother without a problem because my mother was shouting, too.  “I’m just being sensible.  You put your child’s life in jeopardy all because of your own stupidity!”

     “I didn’t put her life in JEOPARDY!” Mom yelled back.  “It’s a storm, Mother, not a war.”
“You are downright defiant with Mother Nature.  She’s going to come back and bite you for playing chicken with her.  You better watch yourself, Young Lady.”

     Once a young lady, always a young lady with Grandma.

     Mom shook her head and kept staring out of the windshield, hunched over the wheel trying to see.  “If I find myself in the path of a storm someday, then so be it.  That is just part of the plan.  I am trying to teach my children to trust that storms will come, but they will weather them just like the rest of us always have.”

     “Well isn’t that the biggest pile of horse crap that I ever heard!” Grandma yelled back.

     From the back seat we heard a muffled voice come from beneath mom’s sweatshirt.  “I told you!  Crap is a potty word!  We don’t use potty words.  It is not nice.” 

     All three of us said in unison, “Shut up, Sam.”  For once, we were united in our thinking.

     The journey to retrieve the lost keys did make me the hero.  If it wasn’t for my heroic actions, we’d still be sitting in that parking lot with flood waters rising around the car---well maybe not flood waters, as the rain was already letting up, but it was fun to imagine anyway.  

     Maybe bravery in the face of adversity was the key to all things.  Ellen the Brave.  I liked it.  It was certainly much better than Cinderella.

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