I was conceived with warm, loving hands in a spirit of fun and adventure. All things so conceived rarely stay intact and inevitably I shall not survive. I was inspired thought destined to act only as a temporary sentinel of the reality and goings on around Waterside. I stand now on the frozen pond, proudly facing the gales and gusts of December alone. There’s no snow on the ground any longer, except at my base, a despondent dissolving line of slush lovingly created by Grandpa Nick in a moment of festive cheer. His love for his grandchildren was my germ of my creation.
The winds are strong today, after the torrential rains and squalls of Christmas Day. The sky had been filled with deafening thunder and lightning that saturated the gloomy, gray heavens of the holiday. The air is filled with flakes and pellets of ice that bite into my snowy cheeks and clash against my being. I’m just so thankful that the rain has stopped as it was eating, like acid against my flesh, withering my being inch by inch with every blast.
The children are gone now, having hauled the gifts from their grandparents to their own homes and preparing for another year of school. In a few days, they will forget all about me but I will remain sturdy and steadfast until that magic day when the rain makes me completely forgotten. I will remain here as the sentinel of this neighborhood, protecting and seeing all. I watch the beaver as he hides in his strong and cozy hut, sleeping peacefully through the winter. My being will melt away until I become from whence I came, a part of the beauty of nature. Until that time, I will see to my post and watch over my kingdom.
Katie laid on her bed, exhaled a deep sigh and stared at the popcorn ceiling and dark oaken support beams wondering what she could do with herself. There just wasn’t anything to do anymore. Boredom was making her lose her mind. She’d slept until almost noon after staying awake until two a.m. reading a mystery thriller book. The prose was so bad and predictable she didn’t even care who did it anymore. She rolled to her side and stared at the walls of her room, a typical teenager’s room. There were posters on the walls, clothes on the floor and trinkets on the dresser top: friendship bracelets and cheap jewelry that was way out of style or had one earring missing. Junk filled the rest of the open space on her dresser, junk she’d once thought cute but was only crap she was too lazy or sentimental to throw away. Maybe she could redecorate. Nah, that was a stupid waste of time. Without warning the door opened and banged against the wall behind it.
“That’s it. I’ve had it!” Katie’s mother said, with a loud voice. “It’s time you got your lazy bones out of bed already. You’re wasting your life away in this dreary room.” Her mother yanked on Katie’s wrist until she’d reluctantly sat up, if for no other reason than to keep from being dragged out of bed onto the floor.
“All right, all right. I’m up already.”
“No, you’re not. You’ll be up when you’re dressed and doing something.”
“What am I supposed to be doing that I’m not?”
“Living life. You’re just holed up in this room all the time.” Katie’s mom stood with her hands on her hips, her eyes glaring at her daughter. “It’s not natural. It’s summer. You should be enjoying yourself.”
“There’s nothing to do. I can’t drive yet, and you’re too busy to take me anywhere.”
“Those legs of yours still worked last time I checked,” her mother said. She pulled Katie to her feet and pointed her in the direction of the bathroom. “Get yourself cleaned up and I’ll drop you wherever you want to go on my way to the city planning meeting. You can figure out a ride home or walk. You’ve got ten minutes.”
“Ten minutes. Awww, mom!”
Standing in the shower letting the warm water flow over her face, Katie had decided that she would take advantage of the beautiful summer day and go to the beach. Her best friend, Melissa, lived on Lake Kallawood next door to the county park with a sandy beach right next to the boat access. It was sometimes crowded with RVs, campers, and people camping. Maybe they could get an afternoon to enjoy the peacefulness of warm sun on their bikini-clad bodies. There was a limit to how much trouble they could get in since neither of them could drive.
Her mother dropped her off at Melissa’s house, and she’d waited while Melissa got dressed in her bikini. The girls gathered their beach gear, complete with coconut-scented suntan oil, giant sunglasses, big floppy hats, giant towels, flip-flops and, of course, floaty reclining beds. They’d done this kind of thing before and had the shtick down pat. The girls walked, arms filled with goodies, including a couple of granola bars in case they got hungry and two large water bottles filled with ice water. They were in for the duration of the afternoon, which was ideal for Melissa, who had an even dark-toned complexion that easily tanned and complemented her dark, luxurious brown hair. Katie, on the other hand, was blue-eyed, blond and fair-skinned. By the end of the afternoon, especially after slathering on tanning lotion, her skin would be cooked to a brilliant lobster red, much like Peking duck in a Chinese restaurant. She knew she shouldn’t sun-bathe, but she enjoyed the time with her best friend doing what they did best: nothing.
The truth was that she and Melissa had been growing apart over the past couple of years, and she hoped to rekindle their friendship with something Melissa loved to do. Melissa had gone from a fun pal in elementary school to a boy-crazy teenager and Katie just didn’t feel the same way. Would she like to have a boyfriend? Well, sure, but she wasn’t sure just what she’d do with one. She had lots of friends at school who were boys, and it was a lot more fun to talk to them or do something, like fix a bike or go fishing with them than to think about sucking face. I mean, there was a limit to how long you could kiss without being disgusting, wasn’t there? And she knew all about the birds and bees and didn’t think she was old enough for any of that stuff yet. No, she just wasn’t as crazy about boys and all that hoop-la as Melissa was.
They blew up their floating loungers, dropped their stash on the beach and laid out in their bikinis in the water, deep enough so get away from bugs and sand but not so deep that they couldn’t sit up and get to shore quickly. It was relaxing, and so far there was only one mother with a small baby enjoying the beach. There’d be more people flocking to the swimming area in the next few hours.
After twenty minutes of floating and soaking up the sun, the tedium of doing nothing left her feeling bored, although she knew Melissa was having the time of her life. This wasn’t her style. She didn’t want just to lay around, and she feared Melissa would be content just to lay there all day, plus Katie could actually feel her skin burning to a crisp out there on the water. She could almost hear her skin cells popping. She sat up on her floaty, glanced towards the shore and noticed a young man, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt in front of the lodge area, changing the bags in the garbage bins.
“Melissa, who is that working at the lodge? Do you know him?”
“Sure. It’s Luke Backman. Why?”
“Well, because he’s watching us.”
“Oh, really?” Melissa sat up on her floaty and waved. “He’s hot for me.”
“How do you know that?”
“I just know.”
“What do you know about him?” Katie asked.
“Not much. He’s got a motorcycle he revs too loud around my place. He’s trying to get my attention because he’s hot for me.”
“How do you know he’s not hot for me? I mean, we’re both out here in bikinis.”
“You make it sound like I’m uggo or something.”
“No, you’re not uggo. You’re just pure as the driven snow.” Melissa put her sunglasses back on and leaned back to relaxing on her floaty, “You’re a goody two-shoes, and everybody knows it.”
“I’ll bet you ten dollars I can get cute-pie Luke to give me a ride home on his motorcycle.” Katie got off her floaty and made her way to shore. “I think he’s watching me and not you.”
Melissa heaved out a deep sigh. “Fine. I hate to see you get spurned but you’re asking for it, and you’re on.” She got off her floaty, muttering to herself as she walked to shore as well.
Five minutes later Katie had grabbed her gear, walked up the staircase from the beach and was standing next to Luke as he sat on his motorcycle where he’d parked it. She asked him all kinds of pertinent questions: where did he get it, how much did it cost, how did he mother feel about him riding a motorcycle. He was eating up the attention he was getting from Katie in a big way when Melissa walked up to the two of them. Melissa dropped her gear at Katie’s feet and swung her leg over the back of the bike behind Luke and squeezed her front to his back.
“Give me a ride around the park, Luke,” she said, leaning into him, putting her mouth right next to his ear. “Pleeease?”
“Sure, he said,” as he stood up, jumping down on his kick-starter and revving the engine. He made a couple of rounds around the dirt roads that weaved around the park, with Melissa throwing her hands up in the air, squealing with delight at his antics, coming around to the lodge where Katie stood.
Melissa jumped off the back of the bike, leaned over to Luke and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Thanks, Luke. That was fun.” She came back to Katie and whispered in a small voice. “Point goes to me.”
Luke revved his engine a couple more times and said, “What about you? Do you want a spin? You’re looking kind of hot in that bikini.”
“Me?” Katie said. “No, I need a ride home, but I suppose you’re still working, huh?”
“Nah, I’m off now,” he said. “Things are pretty quiet today, and I’ve got everything cleaned up. I can give you a ride home. Hop on?”
Katie turned to her friend. “I’m sorry, Melissa, I suppose you’ll have to carry all this stuff home by yourself, huh? It’ll save me a long walk if I get a ride with Luke.” She grinned at her friend.
“Nonsense, we can take some of it on the bike and drop it off at Melissa’s place, then I can take you home,” Luke said.
“That okay with you, Melissa?” Katie said, her eyes wide, amazed at the way this was going.
“That’s just fine,” Melissa said, almost hissing her words. “I’ll see you both around.”
Katie picked up part of the stash she’d hauled up the stairs from the swimming area and organized it into a makeshift backpack to carry on the bike and placed it behind her on the seat of Luke’s bike.
“You ready?” he called back to her.
“Ready as I can be.”
“Okay, we’ll go slow until we get to Melissa’s and then hit the road and have some fun,” he said.
“Bye, Melissa,” Katie said, waving to her friend who was now standing her hands on her hips, lips tight and eyes fixed on Katie like she’d never seen before. She was only waving goodbye for the moment, but somehow Katie felt that she was parting with her life-long friend and over a boy. It was ridiculous, but she knew Melissa saw this as the ultimate betrayal. In a way, she was saying goodbye to her childhood and the silly games little girls play. She was playing different games that bigger girls play, like stealing a boy’s interest. She leaned forward into Luke’s back and held onto his body tight as the motorcycle lurched up the gravel road.
Luke did what he promised, swung by Melissa’s house to drop the beach gear off then took her for a joy-ride across miles and miles of open road. It was exhilarating and fun. Something wild and crazy that only teenagers do. Katie knew she shouldn’t be on a motorcycle. Her mother would be furious. If she were going to ride a motorcycle, she wouldn’t be allowed to do it wearing a bikini and sneakers without a helmet and not with Luke Backman. Not that there was anything wrong with Luke. He was a good guy who was just having fun with a cute girl, but he was a teenage boy, and she’d been warned about teenage boys and motorcycles.
The next day, she found herself laying in bed again. Moving even one inch with her sunburned skin against the sheets was painful, so she tried to lay as still as possible, flat on her stomach staring at her headboard. Her mother came in and put some aloe vera on her knees, shoulders and back.
“Well, I told you to get out and live life, and you did that. I hope you learned your lesson because now that you’re grounded, you won’t be going anywhere for a while. Growing up is hard to do. You’ll have a lot of painful lessons like this.” Her mother slapped her daughter’s fanny as she rose to leave.
“Rule number one: don’t ever ride a motorcycle in a bikini. You’ll get sunburned.”
“Thanks, Mom. Good to know.”
Her mother stood one hand on the door jam and another holding the aloe vera at her hip. “You should’ve asked me. I could’ve told you. I did the same thing when I was your age.”
First of all, I’d like to say thank you. For years now, almost three, you’ve run through cycle after cycle, at the minimum three to four per week, asking for very little in return and for those small payments, you have returned to me a plentiful bounty of clean clothes. Some of those batches were admittedly far too large and for that I’d like to apologize. Those were almost always the husband’s batches. Believe me, I’ve tried explaining so many things about laundry to him. The simple fact that there’s a limit to how much should be put in you seems to be one step too far for him.
I still greatly appreciate everything you’ve done for me. No matter what kind of canine bodily fluid or semi-solid the items have on them when I give them to you, you always return them back to me as though they were almost fresh from the store. Charlie is definitely out to make your life more difficult. Don’t feel too bad. He’s tried to trip and kill us, then turns around to be demanding as hell twice a day. At least he doesn’t expect food from you.
I know you don’t expect much from me and that I’ve been neglectful. I swear every time I run out of cleaner for you that I’m going to remember to buy more at the store and clean you more frequently, but it almost always gets forgotten behind the necessity of buying food and paper products. I know it’s important, so I’ll try harder. I truly promise I will try harder. And if I forget, I’ll search the Internet far and wide to come up with a home remedy that will clean you up. I promise that at least once or twice a quarter I’ll pull back your gaskets and give them a good scrub. I know the husband never does that and that’s because he’s a wussy-face. He’s scared of what he might find there and you know that it’s never nice, so don’t hold it against him. Either that or he doesn’t even realize they need to be cleaned.
I have only one favor to ask of you. I don’t know where you put them because I can’t ever find a cause much less a solution, but I’d like you to please, please, please stop stealing my socks. You never seem to steal the husbands’ socks. You only steal mine and then you only steal them one at a time, leaving a sad and lonely sock that needs therapy for its separation anxiety. I know that everybody has this problem, but that’s because your kind suffer from being demented or possessed. If I need to, just let me know, and I’ll bring in a priest to perform an exorcism; whatever it takes I’ll do it because I only have two pair left and it gets cold here in the winter. I need a few more decent pair of socks, so if you wouldn’t mind spitting back those that you’ve taken, that would be greatly appreciated.
Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. There’s no mistaking where they’re going. There’s really nowhere else they could be, so let’s not demean each other by acting like you don’t know what I’m insinuating here. Just give up the goods or else. I’ll keep up the occasional ammonia treatments and regular cleanings, if you’ll just give back the damned socks!
Thanks much for your time and attention. Now get back to work!
“Give her back to me,” I said, breathless after running all the way from the house when I saw daddy out in the barn, loading hogs into the trailer. My eyes filled with tears that I refused to shed. “I’m not going to let you take her away just to butcher her. She deserves better than that. She’s smart.”
“Honey, you know we can’t do that,” my father said. I knew that my crying was getting to him. It had been an ongoing argument for a week and one I knew I’d eventually lose. “They all have to go. We’re done with farming, and we have to be done all the way.”
He released his grip of MaeBelle’s collar, the one I had lovingly bought from my allowance so daddy would know that she wasn’t just any pig. She was my pig. He walked up to me and held me in his warm embrace, my tears flowing now as I sniffled against his bib overalls. He gently rocked me in his arms and stroked my back.
“It’ll be okay, baby. You know we have to let MaeBelle go with the others, don’t you?”
I barely nodded my head at all, but I did know. We were going to have to leave the farm behind and move to Chicago where daddy had a new job, but a big part of me … no, a huge part … didn’t want to leave the freedom of the farm behind. It was a life I loved. When I came home from school, I knew exactly what to do. I would rush to the fridge, get a glass of milk and scrounge for a snack in the kitchen, throw my book bag onto my bed and change clothes into my chore clothes. I’d put on my boots and do my chores: shoveling manure from the chicken coop, collecting eggs, washing them in the downstairs sink and carefully placing them on top of the pile in the big fridge downstairs. My next job was to muck out the farrowing house where MaeBelle lived. When I was done, before going in the house to do my homework and practice my piano lesson, I would often take some time to teach MaeBelle to count. Well, not so much count anymore. We’d worked our way up to adding now.
You may not believe it, but MaeBelle can do math. She can add and subtract, and I bet you anything, if I had more time and the patience to sit there with her, we’d probably shock you to death someday to teach her to multiply. She has it in her. She’s a very smart pig. Bet you didn’t know pigs were that smart, did you? You probably think they’re nothing but delicious.
But I knew that carefree life of throwing tennis balls against the garage wall was over. The days of coming home and building a snow fort in the backyard or digging up arrowheads where the old duck shed used to sit were coming to an end. I’d have to figure out how to live in a city and get along with all those people everywhere and keep myself from being bored to death with whatever it was that city kids did all day.
Daddy stroked at my hair and patted my head. “SuzieQ, you’re going to have to say good-bye now. Lester is going to be here any minute to take the last haul of hogs off. Do you want me to stay with you? Or would you rather be alone?” He placed his hand under my chin and lifted my face up to his. My cheeks were wet from the tears I’d shed, and my eyelashes were in the way of being able to see daddy clearly.
“Alone. I can do it alone, I think.”
Daddy leaned down and kissed my forehead. “Okay, baby. You say goodbye then come in the house and get washed up for supper,” he said, walking away from me, his hands in the pockets of his striped overalls. He loved those striped overalls. I wondered, just for a second, if daddy would miss farm life too. Would he ever wear striped overalls again in the city? Folks would probably think he was a hick if he did that, but he looked just fine in them on the farm. After all, you don’t want to wear anything you care about out on the farm.
I walked over to MaeBelle’s stall and sat in my usual spot, in front of her pen, and she came up to the fence and snorted. I reached my hand in and gently rubbed her snout. She’s such a good pig and so smart and gentle. I think she knows how sad I am. I’m sure she can tell.
“Oh, MaeBelle. What am I going to do without you? You’re my best friend in the world, well, outside of Lily. She’s nice, but she gets jealous of stuff sometimes, and you never do.” Maybe this was just part of growing up, part of life, I suppose … learning to let things go, whether you want to or not.