Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Key, Chapter 9

The Key
by Eloise Hawking

Chapter 9

     I woke up to the sound of the rain hitting my window.  Pitter patter, pitter patter, drip, drip, drip.  I looked over at the clock and squinted my eyes.  I could make out a blurry, red 6:59 on my alarm clock.  In less than a minute, my alarm would go off.  It was going to be a good day despite the rain. 

     Any day I wake up before my alarm and manage to shut it off before its annoying beep, I consider a good one.  I set my alarm every day, even on the weekends.  The only days I actually like my alarm to go off are Saturday and Sunday.  I love the feeling of hearing that beep, realizing I don’t have school, and shutting it off to go back to sleep.  Nothing beats that feeling.

     The smell of frying bacon had already wafted up to my bedroom.  That was my signal reminding me that it was Friday.  My father made amazing breakfasts on Fridays—sausage, pancakes, French toast, omelets, and bacon—the works.  He does it to celebrate the upcoming weekend.  Dad is a teacher too, but in a neighboring school district.  Dad says that he needs the extra nourishment to make it one more day with the kids.  The growling of my stomach moved me along a little faster.

     I grabbed the pile of clothes my mother had set out the night before and headed to the bathroom.  I quickly changed and was downstairs in less than two minutes.  Whether I told her this or not, I did appreciate the easy path my mother made for me in the morning by prepping my clothes pile.  One less thing for me to think about and I always had a lot on my mind, it seemed.

     As I made my way into the good smelling kitchen I found my Dad was standing at the stove in his boxer shorts and a t-shirt, stirring home fries around a frying pan.  “Good morning, Dad,” I said. 

     “Morning,” he said to me with a quick smile and went back to his work at the stove.

     I walked over to the window to see how bad the rain was.  The sky was gray and colorless and the precipitation was so fine that you could barely see the drops.  It looked more like a mist.  I wondered what that would mean for the football game tonight.

     Mom’s voice came wafting out from her bedroom.    “………..It’s not going to be THAT bad.  It’s RAIN for God’s sake.  We won’t melt.”  I could see my dad bristle at the sound of it, so they must have been in the middle of some sort of heated exchange.

     They must have been discussing going to the football game in the yucky weather.  My mom would sit there through anything.  She always said that we aren’t allowed to be fair weathered fans and that “weathering the weather” was good for us and it built our character, whatever that meant. 

    “The game is going to be televised on Channel 6 tonight.  How can you get any better view of the game than from your warm, dry living room?  You’re crazy if you want to drag the kids out there and want to get them soaking wet.”   He sounded tired and cranky.
    I took my usual seat at the table and Dad dished up some home fries onto my plate.  He was making eggs too, but I am allergic to eggs.  I can’t eat them so he gave me an extra big pile of potatoes.   He walked over to the refrigerator and got out the ketchup bottle.  He picked it up and it must have felt light to him.  Dad got a quizzical look on his face and shook it twice, puzzled at the lack of weight.  He set it on the table next to me.

    I held my breath, my mind racing trying to think of how I was going to explain the empty ketchup if I was asked about it, when Mom saved me.  Well, sort of.  She came breezing into the kitchen with measured, determined steps—the kind she takes when she’s all charged up, trying to prove a point about something.  She was wearing the Huskie suit.

    Our school mascot is the Husky, as in native Alaskan, wolf-like dog.  It was chosen because we live in a very snowy portion of the United States.  The Great Lakes Region, particularly Lake Erie where I live along the banks of, gets more than its fair share of snow.  Someone back in the 1940’s thought the school mascot should be named after snow dogs up in Alaska—the ones that run the Iditarod today—the Huskies. Huskies are tough in the snow, so they thought it would be a good choice for our school.  I have to agree.

     My mother is friends with the cheerleading advisor, so she must have loaned her the suit.  It looks as though Mrs. Eloise was going to wear the mascot suit to school today and use it as part of her lesson.  She was carrying the husky head tucked under her right arm, with its open mouth and fangs.  The inside the mouth where the uvula should be was a little screen where the person inside can look out of to see where they are going. 

     “What are we teaching our children by staying home?”asked my gray, fur clad mother.  She pressed on,  not seeming to notice me sitting at the table.  “…….that when conditions get the slightest bit tough, we have to go hide?  There is merit in riding through a storm, you know.  I am going and I don’t care if you go along or not.”

     I saw my dad gesture with his head—a quick tip in my direction to signal to my mother that I was sitting there.  My parents rarely argued—in front of me anyway.  I could tell if they were in a disagreement about something simply from the rate of my mother’s words and the hard edge they had to them. 

     “Oh—Good morning, Ellen,” my mother said lightening her tone.  “I didn’t see you there.   Surprise!  Do you like my outfit for school today?” She whirled around twice and shook her tail at me.

     “UMMMM, yeah.  I guess,” I replied.  You are just wearing that for the Friday teacher breakfast, right? Not for class or anything,” I inquired meekly.

    “Oh, you’ll just have to wait and see!” Mom said in a sing-song.

     I knew what that meant and it was spelled H-U-M-I-L-I-A-T-I-O-N.  I didn’t need that word on today’s spelling test.  I knew it by heart from frequent practice

    Mom walked over to the coffee pot and poured herself the last of the coffee.  She probably had been up for hours already.  She was always the last one asleep in the house and the first one up in the morning.  I never saw her with a morning face.  I asked my dad once what mom looked like when she first got up and he winced and grimaced.  He said, “All I can say is this—if you do catch her first thing in the morning, just don’t look her straight in the eyes or you’ll turn to stone.” 

     RRRIIIINNNNNGGGGG!  went the the telephone.

   “Who the heck is that so early?” inquired my mother, glancing in the direction of the caller identification box on the telephone stand.  We all knew the answer to the question.   My mother didn’t have to ask.  I could tell by the expression on Mom’s face when the number flashed on the screen exactly who it was.  

     “Don’t get it,” Mom said, “I’m not in the mood.”

     Confirmation.  It was Grandma.

     Three rings after that the answering machine clicked on.  I heard my own recorded voice speak, “Sorry, we are not available right now.  Please leave us a message.”  My parents let me record the message a few years ago, and my voice sounded babyish.

    A voice scratchy with the remnants of last night’s snoring came onto the machine.  “I know you are there!  Wwhhhhsssuuuuuppppp!  Pick up the gosh darn phone!”  The wwwhhhhsssuuuupppp sound Grandma made was her sucking on her morning cigarette.

     I saw mom close her eyes as if to muster up strength from the core of her being.  She dropped her head, shut her eyes, and paused for a moment before she picked up the phone and said, “Yes?”

     I kept my eyes on my mother and watched the conversation unfold.  There was a pause followed by, “No, I didn’t check my texts yet.”  


   “Yes, I do have the weather on.”

     “Yes, it’s a local station.”  


     “Tonight is a long way from now, Mom.  We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.  I’ll call you after school.”  Mom clumsily returned the phone to its base and sighed.

     “What did she want?” asked Dad, already knowing who was on the other end of the conversation.

My mother just turned to him with her eyebrows raised and made her famous gesture.  It was the one when she stretches her arms out to the sides, elbows bent almost like wings, with her palms facing up.  I’ve learned it kind of means, “What the heck?”  I’ve also learned that when mom did that—take cover.

    And so began the crabby speech.  Mom started a long winded speech and didn’t seem to care that I was sitting right there.  She went on about how could he NOT know who that was, and what other person would send a text then call to see if you received it at 7:00 in the morning.  Couldn’t he put context clues together and see the big picture?  Blah, blah, blah.   

     Eventually the words began to fade and Mother’s voice became like an all too familiar song in the background.  The melody rose and fell as the more worked up she became.  Over the years I learned to tune out that tune.

    Mom roughly set the Husky head down next to me.  He landed upside down, with his eyes facing mine and snout wide open.  It is kind of gruesome looking at a decapitated dog sitting next to you while you are eating breakfast.  

   She walked over to the frying pan to scoop out some home fries for herself. Mom managed to get some on the plate, and didn’t notice the ones that missed and landed on the floor next to the stove.  She dropped the plate onto the counter top, the plastic making a loud clatter against the granite surface.  She saw the ketchup bottle sitting there and flipped it over to squeeze a blob out to no avail.  

     “What the heck?” mom said this time along with the gesture.  “What happened to all the ketchup?” 

    When Mom motioned with her arms, some ketchup shot out and landed on the fangs of the husky.  It looked just like blood.  Gross.  Mom didn’t seem to notice though, because on she went about the empty ketchup bottle.

   Her morning song built in its intensity.  “What genius decided to put away the EMPTY ketchup bottle?  Don’t you know how much of a pain that is for me?    Do you have any idea how disappointing it is to have something there that you think is all ready for you, and when you need it the most it is just sitting there empty, taking up space?”  la, la, la, la, la, la, la.

     I didn’t really have to answer any questions because mom kept right on talking as she stormed around the kitchen readying the last things for the school day yelling about stuff to no one in particular and her voice faded away into the depths of the house.  I just ate bite after bite and watched her.  Dad just stood there in his boxers with his spatula in his hand, not saying a single word. 

     The volume turned up on Mom’s morning song again as she retraced her steps back into the kitchen.  Upon this reentry, she was armed with her school gear; purse, school bag, and lunch bag.  She managed to remember her shoes because I could see the black points of her high heels poking through the zipper of her school bag. 

     The tirade continued:  “Darn it!  Where are my keys?  How can a person remember everything?  It is not humanly possible to have to remember all of the things that I do.  Someone better help me or this entire day is going to end up being one big disaster…..” said Mom in one big giant run on sentence.
     “Maybe you should put on the Husky head and it will make you think more clearly,” replied dad flatly.  I know Dad was just attempting to lighten the mood, but there was a part of me that guessed he was tired of looking at her this morning.

     Mom stuck her tongue out at him and said, “Don’t mind if I do.”  When she flipped the head upside down to stuff her big hair into it, the keys fell out.  She must have put them in there when she carried the head into the kitchen this morning.  It kind of looked like the Husky barfed them up.

     Dad laughed.  “How’s it smell in there, honey?  You are always saying kids are smelly.  I bet the teenager who wore that suit last week had a hormone surge that kicked off a zit break out.  Did you remember to disinfect it?

     I knew dad was just trying to get into mom’s head and she was trying hard not to let him.  She just stood still and faced him, saying nothing. 

   Dad, too, noticed the ketchup drips. “It looks like the Huskies are out for blood tonight dear, because you got something red on those fangs of yours.  You better go brush them.”  Dad made a tooth brushing gesture with his finger going back and forth against his teeth. 

     Dad and I looked at each other and started laughing.  We had the same sense of humor and found the same things funny.  But you know how that goes.  When you are already mad, the last thing you want is someone laughing at you.  Clearly Mom was not laughing with us. 

     Mother Eloise got the last laugh of the morning though.  When dad turned around and went back to his potatoes, she took his pants that he had brought up freshly ironed from the basement and wiped her fang off with the rear end of his trousers. 

   She then very calmly said in a muffled voice, “I’ll go get Sam up before I leave.  You can take him to school today,” turned and left the kitchen.
  I could already hear her feet thud, thud, thudding up the fourteen steps when my dad turned to me and said, “What did she say?”

     I just kind of shrugged because I did have a mouthful of ketchupless home fries.  I hadn’t even finished my swallow when I heard the scream.

   “AHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!   Get out of my room you ugly coyote!  I am going to punch you!  Where’s my sling shot!” 

   It was Sam’s frantic voice from his room.  I could hear a few more muffled exchanges between the two of them before mom skidded into the kitchen linoleum in a sideways slide on her furry, gray feet. 

  “Better be careful, with him this morning,” she said to my dad in reference to Sam.  “He’s a bit pissy today.  Something startled him awake.  You may need a few extra minutes to get him ready.”

     Before she left she turned to me and said, “Ellen honey, I assume you are not going to school with me.  You are taking the bus, correct?”

      I nodded my head in affirmation.  There was no way I was walking into school with my mother in this type of mood donning a dog suit.

    “Well, then,” said mom,  “remind Grandma that we ARE going to the game tonight, and ask her if she wants to come.”  

     She turned to face my father as she stressed the word ARE, but he didn’t flinch.

Mother Eloise gathered up her things, deposited them into the car, and zoomed off down the driveway.  I could hear the school’s fight song blaring out the open windows.  As she pulled away I saw her wave a hairy gray paw in my direction, salute, howl out the window, and drive off.

     “Hey, where did that ugly coyote go?” said a little voice standing behind me.  I turned to find Sam,  wearing his Super Hero pajamas, a football helmet, and carrying a plastic sword.  “I am NOT going to school today until I find that coyote!”

    I wish my mother was here to see this one.  Revenge was sweet.  I wonder if that was the key to all things.  Revenge.   That word certainly had some bite to it, didn’t it? 

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