by Jane Doe
In the eighth grade I began to distance myself from Mary as I was secretly pulled more and more by the magnetism of the boy-girl world. Thus, with greater frequency as the winter closed in on us again, I would "forget" my sack lunch, but remembered to take a quarter to buy my lunch in the cafeteria. After knowing for so long the giant solitude
of the study hall with Mary and her familiar peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwiches, I was more than a little overwhelmed by the noise of the students, talking and eating, usually with the same motions, the clatter of trays and tableware, the many conversations that swirled about me. The conversations were most interesting because here were the most changes. The last time I had sat with the girls in my class their topics had
Now it was nights at our round table. Most of the girls, at least the ones who were most verbal, chattered on about boy friends not in the giggly, "Oh, he looked in my direction in math class today." but "Mark brought me home from the basketball game and I didn't get in until one o'clock and my parents are furious!" I found myself chewing slower while I wondered what they could be doing in a car from ten thirty until one o'clock in the morning. I didn't need to wonder long. I only had to overhear another bit of monologue.
"...so we double-dated with Jeannie and Merv. Wow! those two really go at it! They were bouncing all over the back seat of the car. For hours, they didn't say a word. Just necking up a storm. Roy and I were so embarrassed when we turned around to ask them if they were ready to go home and Merv was hooking her bra back together. We thought that was going a little too far! We'll never double-date with those two again. And Rosemary and James said when they double dated with them..."
Little Jeannie, who looked so dreamy and childlike, did all that? More than once?
".... and don't tell anyone, but I think Roger is giving me a sweet heart necklace for Christmas. We are spending Christmas Eve together. I'm going to his house to help the family trim the tree."
"Oh, Louise! Then you'll be going steady?"
"Yes, I guess so. I wish Roger were a junior. Then he'd have a ring. I'd love to have a class ring. They are talking about letting the sophomores wear their rings as soon as they arrive in the spring. I hope so."
Did you see Mary Lou has Bob's ring?"
"Yeah. She is still deciding whether to keep wearing it on a chain or to tape and nail polish it like some of the high school girls do." It's a lot more work to keep the tape and polish looking nice, but I think it makes one's hand look so neat to wear such a big ring."
"It's much more like being engaged, I think."
At this point I decided I had had enough of hot dogs, cornbread, green beans and jello salad. I took my tray up to the counter just as Sandra was standing there talking to "her" Paul. Sandra had been one of the first girls in our class to begin dating, so everyone had studied her progress for a pattern to follow. Now she and Paul were an "old couple" and together had gained a measure of respect among the rest of the girls in the class.
Seeing Sandra with Paul, threw me off balance. I didn't know if I should speak to Sandra when she was with him. Or if I dared to speak to him when he was with her. Here was a gap in my social training. Sandra solved the problems by reaching out to grab my arm. "Jane, I was looking for you. Paul, I'll see you when school is out and we can decide then if we go with Fran and Billy to the game, okay?"
Up close, I wondered what Sandra saw in Paul. He was short and wiry, all arms and legs and no chest. His face was cratered with an assortment of pimples demonstrating every stage of development. His hair, the kind that has to be combed constantly or it falls into lumpy strings, was brown and too long. But, when I saw the way he looked at Sandra
Dee. That was new. I never thought of Sandra as Dee! As a Dee, Sandra's face was glowing. I felt like an old maid watching the children of my friends get married. "Jane, you roller skate, don't you?"
"Is there going to be a roller skating party?" Sometimes one of the organizations or high school clubs would, in order to earn money, rent the roller rink in Bloomington for the evening. I was hoping Sandra knew such a party was coming up. Perhaps I'd have better luck on one of those buses than I did with the boys on the band bus.
"Not that I know of. Since yesterday the river is frozen solid enough for ice skating. We were skating there last night. But you know what, Jane? I was the only girl there! Paul and I like to skate and it's a good excuse to be with Paul, but my brothers were there too, and they told mom about there not being any other girls there. She gave me a talking to and said if no other girls came, I shouldn't stay there alone with twenty- five or more boys on the river at night."
"I've never ice skated. Is it hard?"
"Only when you fall down! No. If you can stand up on rolling wheels you can stand up on a silver blade."
"I don't have any ice skates. Where would I get some? "
"Could you borrow a pair? What size do you wear?"
We both looked at my giant black and white saddle shoes. "Ten." I could not lie.
"That's my big brother's size, but he skates all the time. We'd never get his away from him. I'll ask around. Perhaps he has a friend who has a pair. Also, the hardware store has some. Could you ask for a pair as an early Christmas present?"
"I could try. If my folks would agree, I could buy them in the morning and you could teach me in the afternoon!"
"Even if you don't find skates, Jane, would you consider coming to my house anyway to stay overnight? " We looked at each other remembering the episode with the leeches and Sandra's father. "Dad's away, now." She said softly. I had remember hearing that he had gone into some institution for alcoholism. "If you'd just come down to the river with me in the evening so I'm not the only girl there. You could bring a sled or something. We had a fire last night and someone brought a bag of marshmallows. When we were tired and cold, we sat around the fire and roasted them. Some of the guys said we should have hot dogs on Saturday night."
"Sounds good. I'll ask my folks about the skates. That's a good idea. I still don' t know what I want for Christmas. Anyway, I'll ask if I can stay overnight. I couldn't come before afternoon as Saturday is mother's holy cleaning day. With Christmas coming it'll take six times as long to do it. I'll call you tonight to let you know what gives or doesn't with my folks, I never know."
"I won't be home till late tonight. Paul and I are meeting after the basketball game. Call me tomorrow about noon."
Sandra left me standing outside the study hall as she turned toward the home room to pick up her books. I knew Mary would be sitting in the big room alone, reading. I would go in to keep her company if I could be sure she'd go on reading. I didn't want to talk. I had more than dinner to digest.
I slipped into my seat next to Mary. "Hi!" I whispered.
"Hi, how was dinner at the greasy spoon?"
"It all slid down. Hey, how many pages were we to read for General Science?"
"Oh, just the last six pages on the chapter of Beginning Chemistry. It's all so easy you probably already know it. What did you think about the test old Krenshaw gave us in math today Pretty mean for the last day before the weekend, I'd say. How did you do?"
"Hey, wait a minute. I haven't read this science junk. Perhaps I could quickly skim over it before class." I lowered my head over the stale smelling book, hoping Mary would have forgotten how when I started reading anything I couldn't stop until I was done, no matter how boring it was. I was glad I had read it, so now I could stare at the words and think about everything Sandra said. The same words went through my head like trains on a circular track, all afternoon, all the way home from school. The only time I saw my surroundings was when I noticed the low bank of thick clouds settling around the early sunset. If it snowed a lot, can people still ice skate?
"Mom," I began as I slammed my books on the counter top to begin shedding the layers of scarves, gloves, boots and the world's ugliest bought-on-sale-at-the-end-of-the-season coat.
"Hey, look out. Don't lay your stuff so close to the cookies. The frosting isn't hard, yet."
"Right!" I snatched one up, stuffing it sideways in my mouth.
"Look, if you want cookies, eat the broken ones without frosting. Save the nice ones for Christmas."
"Save the nice ones for Christmas." I thought, "Today is my Christmas!" Out loud I said, "Mom, I know what I want for Christmas now." singing it out in a teasing tone, hoping to gain some of her attention away from pressing the tin cutters in the yellow circle of dough.
"I want a pair of ice skates."
"Ice skates! you don't even know how to ice skate." I stopped pouring my glass of milk, to concentrate on my inward moan. "Oh, please not the whole thing with the bicycle again. I pleaded with the powers above. Don't parents ever learn? Why do they always say the same things even when the questions are different?"
"You expect me to learn to skate in my bare feet?"
"That's a smart-aleckly answer and it won't get you anywhere, young lady." She slammed the oven door shut with such a bang, I felt it wiser to make an escape, but I still needed to know if I could go to Sandra's. The timing's terrible, but if I can go there tomorrow there is much to do tonight. I'll ask the old Dragon anyway. "The cookies are pretty good, mom. Do you need any help?"
"That's the last batch in the oven now. I'll put these things aside while I get dinner. You can wash the baking things when you do the rest of the supper dishes." I looked at the mound of bowls, and spoons and measuring cups, enough crummy cookie sheets to roof a shed, four thousand little bowls of colored crème frosting, a mountain range of cookie cutters, the worst things in the world to get clean, and I decided with that mess I had the right to ask my question.
"May I go to stay overnight with Sandra tomorrow night?"
"Tomorrow is cleaning day. There are lots of extras to be done. I expect you to help with it all."
"I wouldn't want to go until afternoon. We'd be done by then, wouldn't we?"
"I hope so. You'll have to ask your dad if he has time to take you in and get you back."
"Sandra asked me to stay overnight. I can take my Sunday clothes so we can meet at church and I can come home with you. So it is only one extra trip for him to take me to town."
"And a trip back for him, don't forget.''
At supper I decided getting to Sandra's had the priority so I started with that.
"Dad do you have to go to town tomorrow afternoon?"
"Not that I had planned, Why?"
"Sandra has invited her to stay overnight and she's raring to go." interrupted mother. "What's the occasion?" Dad directed the question to mother. I was no longer a part of the discussion. "The river's frozen and she's got it in her head she can learn to ice skate."
"Can she? Does she have skates?"
"No and no. I don't know why she wants to go there when she has no skates."
Dad, calculating, looked under the table. "What size shoes does the kid wear now?"
We all went on eating chili soup and crackers with longhorn cheddar cheese. Was there a chance that dad was thinking of getting me skates for Christmas? I didn't dare push him, now. He still hadn't made any promises about taking me to town in the afternoon. Perhaps I could put in my plea for skates in a different way. He'd never do anything without consulting mother. Perhaps though, he and I could go look at the skates to make sure they had my size.
"Dorothy, did you see my skates the last time we moved?"
"I think they are in the basement in that box with your old tennis racket, ukulele, and other remnants of your boyhood."
Perhaps, dad will teach me to skate. That would be new. He and I never did anything alone together. He was always too busy or he was alone with mother.
While I was working my way through the mountain of dirty dishes, dad came into the kitchen carrying a pair of black ice skates. They didn't look like something Sonja Heine would wear. Wordless, dad held them out to me.
In a flash I dried my hands, pulled the rag rug from in front of the back door over to a kitchen chair and ripped off my shoes. Dad walked into the bathroom to wash his hands. My fingers were trembling. I tried to stick my foot into the shoe but it wouldn't fit! More strings had to be unlaced. My foot slid in. And kept on sliding forward. There was quite a bit of room in these skates after all. Quickly I laced them up, hoping they'd fit better if I could pull the strings hard enough. Grunting and groaning, puffing with excitement, I yanked the laces as tight as I could in my hurry. As dad came back into the kitchen I stood up, one foot a mile high from the floor in the skate. Cautiously I put my weight on it. Flop. Like a spastic, my foot fell over, banging the outside of my foot on the floor.
Dad laughed. Looks like you've got some learning to do. Are they way too big?" I sat down to start unlacing the shoe. "Before you take it off, let me see." He knelt down like the men in the shoe stores to pinch around the skate. "It's not the best fit in the world. If you wore two pairs of heavy socks it would help. They can be laced tighter. Maybe some paper stuffed in the toe..."
I took off the skates and was sitting there admiring how the heavy steel blade was attached the leather sole, the little chips out of the toe of the blade. It seemed an awfully small area on which to stand, let alone dance.
"The blades need oiling and sharpening." He said wistfully, like what he had wasn't really good enough. Maybe he saw the white skates in my head.
"I think they look sharp enough for me." I wanted him to feel better. It seemed that these were going to be my skates now. Perhaps he felt that if he gave them to me they would never again be his skates.
Mother came through the kitchen, stuck her finger in the dishwater and announced. "You've let the dishwater get cold and you aren't half done, yet." I moved away leaving dad kneeling before the carelessly dropped skates on the rag rug. Dad put my chair back at it's place at the table. He smoothed out the strings to tie them together in a neat bow so the two skates hung down like pine cones on a Christmas wreath. With his foot he pulled the rug back to it's place by the door. He opened the door and laid the skates on the back porch.
"Dad," I asked above the noise of the running water making billows in the dishwater because I had again put in too much soap, "did you wear two pairs of socks when you skated?"
I wanted him to stay to talk to me while I fought on with the baking dishes. "Did you skate on Little Creek at Granddad's?" Before I knew what was happening, dad, who was always so distant and not at home for me, picked up the dishtowel, and started idly wiping the silverware, while telling me of his days with his brothers skating on Little Creek and even later on the pond at the university. I listened like a dream come true.
" Joe, you don't need to help her. She's got all the time in the world to do those dishes. She doesn't have to practice her clarinet anymore as she told me, because she's not invited to be in the Christmas Band Concert this year!"
"Is that so, Snooks?" Tears were close. He had used his old name for me. I was mad at mother. I was furious she took this moment to tell him about me getting kicked out of the band for the concert. NOW he would hate me more than ever when he found out I couldn't play the clarinet any better than I did the piano. I just nodded, seeming to be concentrating on getting a bit of batter out of the boot of the Santa Claus cookie cutter.
"Don't feel badly," he said leaning over to me to get the dripping wet cookie sheet, "if you had a mile of Greers, not one of them could play a musical instrument. Jim couldn't keep the thing from whistling off-key, either."
"Joe. I need your help moving this chair."
Dad laid the towel down on the edge of the drain board, turned his back on me to follow her voice into the living room.
Copyright © the Estate of Jane Doe 2010