Stephanie was furious with Diane and me. She lashed out at Diane but I knew fifty percent of her fury was meant for me. Stephanie, 13, with a hot date in a few hours, needed her dresses cleaned and pressed. I remember two sleeveless linen sheaths with plunging necklines decorated by bows or floppy lace. In prettiness, Stephanie could not compete with her sister Diane who, like me, was two years younger. What Stephanie did not have in looks, she made up for in availability. Stephanie got the attention of the older boys whose arrival from other neighborhoods to ours mysteriously coincided with her menarche. These boys upset me. I had nothing against boys I knew like Sam who played Barbie with me or Sam's super skinny little brother, Bernie, whose billowy shorts offered a girl without brothers a surprising and unwelcome lesson in male anatomy. I even tolerated rough and tumble Johnny who seemed to enjoy pinning me down on the dusty ground while he dangled viscous spittle threateningly above my face. I neither knew nor trusted the boys that came like an invasive species into the sanctity of our block to see Stephanie.
Stephanie was nice when she acted her age but that was infrequent because I doubt she liked being a kid. When we played our street games in front of her house, she never joined in. She brooded and watched. Once, however, she made me a delicious liverwurst sandwich at a sleep-over. Stephanie even showed me the dolls from Italy that belonged to Diane and her. The blond doll with the blue dress was Stephanie's and the brunette doll in pink was Diane's. Stephanie could also be very vicious particularly to Diane whom she berated for one infraction or another.
It was a monotonously long mid-summer day. In a sweet smiling voice, Stephanie asked us to take her dresses to the dry cleaners about five long sunny uphill and ten short shady level blocks away. Stephanie sent us to the cleaners with the big neon sign advertising one hour "martinizing". She wanted both dresses dry-cleaned so she could choose which one better suited the Grecian curls her beautician friend fashioned for her. For our trouble, Stephanie gave us money for malteds - the kids' cocktail of choice. We could stop at any one of the ubiquitous candy stores that dotted residential streets not zoned for business but okay for them. The typical proprietors of these candy stores were husband and wife. Each store had a soda fountain with quilted aluminum splash boards, convection ovens for heating hot dogs and sandwiches, hand dipped ice cream, newspapers, toys, dirty magazines, gadgets, gifts and greeting cards. They were cool dimly lit, fragrantly sweet palaces of delight situated in the most surprising of places. They sold the same stuff but had their unique charm. Lucky, well heeled kids like Diane and me would belly up to the soda fountain for a malteds - the chilly confection served in two side by side vessels : curvy glasses with leftovers waiting post headache in the tall metal container used to make them.
Diane and I left with our assignment not forgetting to sing Stephanie's praises. "Stephanie is the best sister, ever", Diane would say forgetting all her cruelties. "She's so pretty", I added, overlooking her squinty eyes, bad skin and short chubby legs. For that moment in time, Stephanie was our patron saint. Diane, painfully aware of her sister's flaws would never tolerate criticism of her. We arrived at the cleaners and presented the two dresses to the proprietor requesting the one hour service advertised in the window only to learn that the person who handles that was out. Did we want to leave the dresses? That was a huge question for two 11 year old girls. I reasoned to Diane that two crumpled dresses (made even more crumpled by our hot summer walk) was better than no dresses. We should take them back to Stephanie but before we did, we should stop for our malteds. Diane, looking like a wounded doe, acquiesced. Stephanie was her difficult sister, not mine. I wanted the malted. At the candy store next to the cleaners, we sat on the stools, ordered the malteds. I was in heaven slurping up every drop. Diane hardly touched hers.
All hell broke loose when we arrived back to Stephanie and presented the ball of dress and the money for the cleaning minus the money for the malteds. She cried, she screamed, she slapped - her fury targeted on Diane leaving Diane shaking and crying. Per usual, not an adult in sight to intervene. It was Stephanie's anger and desperation that made me remember this day 45 years ago so vividly. I felt a little responsible as well.