Mommy says, ‘'Ulbefine,' or 'Wheelbefinenowgit.’ Or variations on this idea. Places I hope to soon live. Place names uttered by my Mom the minute I start to tug on the skirt of her dress in long pulls when I fret and cry. Places I cannot find on the shrill green and aqua globe I take from the shelf off Daddy’s oak roll top desk. The one Mommy calls an eyesore blizzard before she slams the tambor top down with a thud.
My eight-year-old index finger runs over the crease mountains and green bumps Daddy calls Ghana and Poughkeepsie. Places, my aunts, Dad's sisters live. Places my hands and eyes travel to in return traces, until my head tells me I must have the wrong map. With another rattle spin, I look for my place, pick the globe up and carry it into the kitchen looking for someone to tell me where my place is. My face full of water and ooze, I find Mommy at the sink, beg her to turn around and look at me.
“You’re going to be fine,” she says wiping her hands on her dress' front as she moves to the table.
I am not so sure she is so sure anymore.
“Show me where,” I say pushing the globe into her, my fingers now on the red gloss buttons of her dress. Buttons the size of thick cucumber slices that run up and down the front of the yardstick print of her dress.
She sets the globe on the formica table, sits down, takes a ‘Superstiff’ hair pomade stick from her pocket and pulls my seven-year-old brother Andrew from the floor to stand between her knees. In two short swipes, a week's worth of boy hair pushes to the side of my brother's head, his bangs mix with wax to form stiff peaks above his freckled forehead. He does not mind his Sunday hair today. A church day.
Mom has her good loafers on, the mahogany ones, a good luck cent in each penny spot. Days on end I watch as Mr. Lincoln goes about his business with Mom between rooms winking his honest bright copper at me. I bide my time in waits between fills in the shoe pairs when I can pluck the new pennies from the shoe slots when Mr. Lincoln sits in Mom's closet in an unguarded corner. Like Mommy, Mr. Lincoln is a hard worker, one who does not gather dust. Unlike Mommy, he pays me no mind. (c) M.K. Smyth 2012
Day comes, Mr. Lincoln and his twin safe in my pocket, I will look to the ceiling at a float question volleying. I will wait some time then buy myself a piece of Bazooka Bubblegum from The Associated like the piece already in my skirt pocket bought for waving in front of my younger brothers or sister to keep their attention. Gum is not for chewing in my way of thinking.
Besides, I have a plan to go somewhere more important today.
Today I am going to 'Befine.'
Mommy and me. Or alone. Still in the kitchen with Mom between dry sniffs, I tell her my plan, “I am ready to be fine. When will we go? When will it be my time?"
Confused, Mom says, “What?" She, squint looking at me. "Church first young lady, that will be enough.”
She brushes past me into the living room to stand at the bottom of the stairs. There, her petite frosted head tilts back, cheeks soft as powder, through Maybelline pink lips razor words fly up the stairs.
“Bernadette Mary I called you down here once already. Stop whatever it is you are doing this instant. Come downstairs now this instant. Do not make me come up there in person.”
I no longer think we will go anywhere important today.
Not to Ulbefine anyway, water wells start my eyes again, followed by a new round of moans.
My brothers and sisters on the 'company' sofa sit in the 'finish line,' next to the 'almost finish line.' Where they watch a stop-motion TV clay family, 'Gumby.'
Ready for church in their Sears' Permapress for Boys plaid shirts tucked into starched white shorts. The three girls in 'Deb 'n' Heir' blue seersucker skirts with crisp white Peter Pans. Keds all around.
Hands cup ears in the direction of the TV as my siblings yell at me over the dumpty-dum music, “Baby, baby. Stick your head in gravy, wash it off ith bubblegum now you're in the navy." The only song they know. They do not know I am also bawling for a good reason. From a pinch twist I got on my upper left arm my brother Michael gave me. The hot bruise pulses under my puff sleeve.
“He is a first class bully,” Mom says later into the phone after I tell her in the quiet between jags. “One who should be old enough to know she will cry at the drop of a hat.”
A left eyebrow hides under Mom's short bangs, the other one crunches low near her eye.
Mommy tells me, “Youaregoingtobefine young lady.”
A split thought I think about a long time.
One thing I do know is Michael will be crying soon too. When I decide today is the day to get my brother Patrick or Thomas to go ‘git him’ for me. Tell Mommy to tell Daddy.
Most days St. Agnes Elementary calls home to agree with them. "He is a troublemaker for sure," his teacher Mrs. Stockdale says.
Mom’s face blanches, knows there will be a teacher meeting in the morning. Dad will then need to straighten Mike out in a basement later. Then sounds of kid dread will shiver up between the tight floorboards. My family frozen in a mid-pause bites above their cooling TV dinners on compartmentalized aluminum trays. The shaky folding table stands set before the Ethan Allen American Colonial Collection sofa just.
Mike cannot help himself. At least it is not one of us. Every family has a black sheep. Some, two.
Mike, like me, like the rest of the ones in the middle, the ones who must pick sides but are afraid they won;t be able to go back to the edges, others, who, like Andrew, Bernadette, Patrick, and Sharon who tell me that by far, I am the best crier. Better than any of them. I am better than anyone in my family at something.
Mommy says again, "You're special, and you'll be fine, " with the metal spring barrette she fixes into my pixie hair that matches my sisters.
Rules about little and big, how to be a big girl in a little world, a little girl in a big world. Rules to learn. The way a bakery cake is called a birthday cake, birthday or not. Something that looks good but something is missing. Birthday fork into dryness, baby mouth on dust sponge, grease rose from a garden someone in a faraway room pushes through the tip of a silver tube. Dewdrop candy tossed on comb swirls. White waves on a white lake.
Finger lick curls set next to my ears, the day's warning on either side of my face. “Now leave them alone," Mommy says, "Do not touch them until they dry stiff. And stop that cattawallin.' Get in the car. I don’t want any trouble from you. You are going to be fine.”
My heart skips a beat.