by Eloise Hawking
The ride to school was a little bit fast and a lot a bit loud. My mother listens to jamming music. She cranks the volume up as loud as it will go. She listens to a wide variety of tunes, too. Everything from 80’s hair bands to Christian hymns made new again by popular country singers. Mother Eloise says that music speaks to your soul. She always sings along nice and loud, too, even though she can’t carry a tune in Grandma’s margarita bucket. I often wonder if Grandma sang like that that when she was young and made herself deaf.
“Watch out for Fangs,” I said as we approached Farmer Richter’s treacherous curve on our road. His house sits right in the middle of it.
Fangs is Farmer Richter’s blue heeler he uses for corralling the cows on his farm. Fangs thinks tires are cattle and goes after them with vengeance when anyone drives by. The dog’s real name is Bandit, but my mom renamed him Fangs.
Mother Eloise has a thing for nicknames, too. Fangs is what keeps my world even smaller than it is. I can’t ride my bike past Farmer Richter’s house for fear of getting eaten. It just isn’t worth the risk, so I keep my frequent exploring to the confines of a smaller area of my neighborhood.
“Darn dog,” said Mom. “I am going to run that frothing-mouthed beast over one of these days.”
My mother has quite a sassy mouth on her when she is not in school. I often wonder how she controls it when she’s around all those kids at school. I know her so well that I can see when she’s thinking things like that. I can see it in her eyes, even though her mouth is saying something different like, “Settle down, children!” when she really is thinking, “Sit down and shut your bratty yaps.” Mom’s big blue eyes are very telling.
“I’m surprised you haven’t squashed him yet,” I tested, still stewing from her forgetting me.
Mom’s driving skills left much to be desired. She manages to run over just about everything. Her specialties include mailboxes and garbage cans. She ran over my little brother’s tricycle last week and crunched up the side view mirror of my dad’s truck on the edge of the garage door. My mother has not managed to run over people or pets yet, but there is always tomorrow. Mom looked over at me frowning, not able to hear what I said over the music.
“Quit mumbling, Ellen. You have to learn to speak up, “she shouted over the Christian Rock that was playing.
Our road was a mile and a half long with about twenty houses on it. The people on our road seemed to live here for centuries. People settled in homes nearby their parents or moved into their grandmother’s houses after they died. It is just what people do around here, stick close to home. Even old Farmer Richter lived on
his whole life. Just like my mom. She built our house right next door to her
parents. Happily ever after, she calls
On an ordinary day, the trip to school takes about three minutes, but today, because we were late, we got there in about sixty seconds flat. So, you’d think my mom would be in a hurry to rush right into the school to make it before the bell, but she didn’t. She also has this weird quirk about shutting off a song before it is done playing. She likes to listen to it all the way through to the end. I knew enough to get out of the car on my own and just go ahead inside, grabbing her big, heavy teacher bag for her.
I walked into the school and my favorite teacher, Mrs. Smith spotted me. “Good morning, Miss McGraw! How are you today? Is your mom out sick?”
“No,” I replied, “she’s still in the car.”
“No,” I replied, “she’s still in the car.”
“What’s playing?” said Mrs. S with her all knowing smile.
“Amazing Grace,” I said. “I guess you can’t cut that one short.”
“You’re right,” said Mrs. Smith giving me a warm pat on the back.
I headed up the hallway lugging my bag and hers, the one I carried in for her every morning. I was only halfway up the hall when I heard the telltale, hurried click-click-clicking of my mother’s high heels on the tile floor. She was trotting to catch up with me.
“Thanks, Gracie. You are truly amazing.” Mom eased some of my heavy burden by taking her bag back.
Both my mother and I are tall. She says that we are “sturdy” like the poor German peasant stock we came from. Mother Eloise has this way of killing my secret dream that I really am royalty and that my real mother and father are going to come for me someday. They’ll wish me away to their castle in a kingdom far, far away. I told my parents this once, that I suspected as much, and that I would be willing to share my riches with them if they only told me the truth. No luck. They are still sticking with the story that I am theirs.
Although I am tall like my mother, I resemble my father’s family. I have dark hair, brown eyes, and skin that tans easily. My older sister and little brother look like my mother. Their fair skin reddens in the sun, and they always need sunglasses to shade their light blue eyes on a bright day. I am the odd one out but kind of like being different. Maybe I’m the brown sheep of the family.
“Hey, Einstein. Since you are in my class first thing this morning, do you want to help me set up the lesson materials?” asked Mom.
“Sure,” I reply. “Can I write the schedule on the board?”
This is one of my favorite things to do. Our school is pretty old and we still have chalkboards in some classrooms and hot and cold water that come out of different spigots in the bathroom sinks. I love the way the chalk sounds when it hits the slate. I know just how hard to push to make a nice, thick line without breaking it. Plus it gives me a sneak peek at what we will be doing in class. Mrs. Eloise is very secretive and likes to keep me guessing like everyone else. No preferential treatment for me.
Just as my mother has nicknames for me, I refer to her in several ways as well. When things are normal and going smoothly, she is just my mom, so I call her Mom. When she is being obscure, off the wall, or in a key tirade, I think of her as Mother Eloise. And when she is my teacher at school, everyone calls her Mrs. McGraw, or Mrs. McG for short. It is hard for me to call her that because it’s just plain awkward. Instead I think of her in my head as Mrs. Eloise.
“Put up today’s date,’ Mrs. Eloise instructed from the back of the classroom. “List the first five Roman Numerals, and write this quote in large letters at the top of the board for me.” Mrs. McG paused to make sure I was ready and then continued, “THE KEY TO ALL THINGS IS __________________________.”
I did as my mother instructed me. She was busy typing away on her laptop and seemed lost in whatever she was writing.
“Mom,” I say softly. No response.
“Mom,” I say again with a bit more oomph.
Mother looks up with a dazed expression for a few seconds. I see the look often. It is the look she has on her face when she pulls away from her writing and tries to bring herself back to reality. It takes a second, but I can always spot it.
“What is it?” I ask.
“What’s what?” She replied.
“What is “the key to all things?”
“That, Cinderella, is for you to figure out,” said Mrs. McG with a hint of smugness.
Great. Yet another problem in need of a solution.