One fourth of July we went over to my Aunt Barb’s like we always do, and my dad got drunk, like he always does. I didn’t mind, because when he’s like that he's a little easier to manage. Not when he’s drunk, but when he was drunk around other people.
It’s like he had this sensor that turned on when he left the house, a sensor that only he could see or hear, that stopped him before he started getting too loud or too emphatic -- like those invisible fences that keep your dog in the yard, only it was an invisible fence that kept dad’s rage in the house, where no one but us hostages to fortune could hear.
I liked going to the aunt houses for holidays. Aunt Barb for July Fourth, Aunt Pat for Memorial Day, Aunt Dorothy (Dotty) for Christmas. I like the way the nine cousins boiled in and out of the kitchen and steamed up and down the stairs.
I liked the way the women talked and talked around the dining room table, so much that dad would say if walked in there you’d have to kick the words out of your way just to get to the refrigerator to get a beer. I liked the image of that, all these words stacked up like snowdrifts around the edges of the room, in piles you could kick apart like laughter.
There was an above ground pool, and a strict rule that no little kid could be in the pool without a big kid. Grandpa threw coins from his pocket into the water and we’d dive down and I always loved the way the water looked so clear against the blue vinyl bottom of the pool, the way the sunlight would catch on the ripples and the silver of the dimes and quarters.
At some point your fingers would be so pruney you had to get out and go to your towel. Here you go, Uncle Matt said, and gave me my towel with the picture of the big roll of Lifesavers, the one that I ordered from the inside of the wrapper for $4.99 that was delivered from a place called Kenstown, Ohio. The colors bled which looked sort of cool, the towel like a smeary oil painting of itself.
Everyone ran inside shivering in the air conditioning and their wet hair and damp towels and and I went to follow them because although I wore a bikini and had breasts I was still mostly a kid who liked to dive for dimes and play Yahtzee.
The little kids were asking to play Hungry Hungry Hippo and Connect Four and all those board games that they drug out from the basement every time the cousins visited for the Fourth. I always favored games of luck over skill.
Come for a ride with me, Uncle Matt said, and his voice was sort of low and quiet and really friendly, which I couldn't help but notice because he normally doesn’t say boo to me except that time the past Christmas when we were all standing in the dining room chatting and eating cocktail nuts and he said to me all of a sudden “You get prettier every day” and he hadn’t even started drinking yet, he only had one beer.
Uncle Matt sells something, I can never remember what. I think long distance plans for businesses.. He drove a restored Thunderbird painted shiny cobalt blue which my dad disapproved of for some reason. He never drove it to family events, or to work. I don’t know if he still has it.
Dad always said Matt could sell a roast beef sandwich to a deli, but I never could tell what he meant about that.
Come for a ride with me, he said and took my hand and tugged at me and I went with him out of curiosity , thinking maybe he had driven the Thunderbird but no, it was just their dusty black mini van. You could just tell by looking at it that if you looked between the bench seat and the back rest you’d find an ancient pacifier or two, moldy old Cheerios and maybe a naked GI Joe doll.Come for a ride, he said, he tugged my arm and when I tried to pull my arm away he tried to hold onto it, but it was still slippery with water and I escaped into the kitchen where the aunts were talking and talking.
I saw him standing there glowering at me through the screen door and I was surprised how his voice could sound so friendly and his face look so mean. I went downstairs to play Connect Four. Later during dinner we could all hear him throwing up in the back yard.