This is my first short story. I turned it in for Creative Writing & was critiqued on it but I would love your thoughts as well!
“My dad is taller than your dad.”
“Nuh-huh, my dad is taller. My dad is 6' 3.”
“Well, my dad is 6' 5.”
“No he isn't. You just made that up”.
There we sat debating one of the great issues in life, whose dad was taller. Sitting on top of those monkey bars in my backyard it was probably 95 degrees outside, but we didn't even notice. We had real business to settle out there and besides, my play-set was under the shade of at least six tall oak trees. The only thing we noticed were the pesky mosquitoes that seemed to never be satisfied. It didn't matter that my mother had sprayed us down from head to toe in repellant, we were young and I suppose our flesh was just right for a mosquito feast.
Even though I knew Elaine's dad was taller, I still held my position that my dad was taller. I felt I would have shamed my father had I admitted he was the shorter man, not that he would have ever known about this little debate. Nonetheless, I felt it my daughterly duty to fully support my father's stature and its superiority. The fact was both of our dads were tall men therefore there was no need for shame on either side, but when you're nine the trivial becomes competition.
We continued on with more valuable conversations about life. Did Hadley really like Landon? We just knew she did even though Landon said he liked Brandi. Oh that Hadley, she was always stirring up trouble.
Now, what about Candice? Was she really moving to Florida next summer or was she just making that up? Either way we agreed we hoped it was true. You see, Candice had this big slumber birthday party back in the spring and all of the girls in our class got invited. Of course all of the girls came, she was going to teach us how to be cheerleaders after-all and what nine year old girl would pass up such an opportunity. Learning how to be a cheerleader would secure our fate as the next Kelly Kapowski, and if truth be told we all wanted those thick long locks with teased bangs. My bangs just sat flat as a pancake all the way across my forehead. Elaine however had perfected the whispied bang look. She could always fix her own hair to look so cool. My mom still did my hair every morning just as she did that Saturday morning in April before Candice's birthday-cheer-leading-
slumber-party extravaganza. Elaine and I arrived together as we did to everything. Not only were Elaine and I best friends but so were our mothers and our fathers and our brothers and sisters. In fact, for several years at our private elementary school the principal never allowed us to be in the same class because she thought we were cousins. Now don't ask me what the atrocity of cousins having class together is because I don't know. All I know is it wasn't allowed and the last time we were in class together was the first grade. Not cool.
There we stood on Candice's front porch, gifts in hand, ringing the doorbell. Her mother answered with a high-pitched drawl that she was “so excited to have all of Candice's little friends over”. She took the gifts and sent us upstairs to find the gang of girls while she gave my mother the details on what we'd be doing and that she'd bring us to church the next morning so she didn't need to worry about picking us up beforehand.
“Hey y'all it's Elaine and Catherine! I'm so glad y'all came to my birthday party, I'm going to teach y'all cheer leading,” Candice exclaimed in the same drawl as her mother. I wanted to reply, “Duh, we know that, that's why we came,” but I just squealed as though I had opened up a surprise Barbie doll house on Christmas morning. We eventually trodden down the stairs into Candice's kitchen to “ooh” and “ahh” over her birthday cake. Her mother suggested we go outside to do the cheer leading while Candice's dad finished grilling the hamburgers. Candice's dad was shorter than both of our own dads and that should have been a sign right there. Naturally she'd have to over compensate for her father's lacking stature.
We were all chompin' at the bit to gain our pom-pom waiving skills. We were out on her back porch in the warm April air. The sun was almost gone and their back porch lights were casting that mustard-yellow glow. There seemed to be a million gnats gathered around the lights but it didn't matter to us as long as they stayed away. We could hear the crickets and cichadias chirping loudly in the woods as if to provide the music that our cheers would be set to. Candice lined us all up and stood in front of us so that she could watch everyone's progress. She began to show us a cheer and then would repeat it slowly so that we could learn the words but I already knew all of them because my older cousins were always cheer leading. They were pre-teens and they were so cool. I was kind of bored but the excitement from the other girls was starting to be contagious and besides Elaine was really taking it seriously. I kept trying to tell her I already knew all of these cheers.
“Psst, Elaine, my cousins already taught me this one at Christmas time last year.” “Shhhh! Catherine, I'm trying to hear Candice”.
Fine then, I would just give in to the atmosphere. The whole cheer session ended up being really unproductive but after-all a nine year old birthday girl was leading the whole shindig. We all crammed inside for hamburgers and potato chips with glistening skin, from the early on-set humidity, and less-than-Kelly-Kapowski hair. My bangs had become quite greasy as they smooshed against my forehead attempting to permanently stick there. Elaine's hair had poofed out and her bangs were a bit too whispy. After all of the food and singing and cake we had to take showers and get ready for bed. We couldn't be up too late, we had to be at Sunday School the next morning. As we pulled out our sleeping bags it seemed as though everyone already had their designated spot on the floor in Candice's room. Where was there room for Elaine and me, we wondered.
“Oh, I guess there isn't any room on my floor. Catherine, you and Elaine will just have to sleep in my loft,” Candice dictated.
The loft? The loft! But then we wouldn't be able to hear what all the girls were whispering about on the floor and we had to know if Landon liked Hadley or Brandi. What could we do? It was Candice's party and as her guests we were obligated to listen to her. Resigned, we crawled up in the really weird box-hole in her bedroom wall that she called “the loft” and sighed and grumbled until we fell asleep. I almost cried and asked Candice's mother to call my mother to come get me but I knew Elaine wouldn't think that was very cool so I just sucked it up. Besides, Elaine was next to me so it wasn't so awful.
The next morning we woke up and Candice's mother called us downstairs for an ever-nutritious breakfast of cereal and milk. All of the girls chose some chocolatey or fruity flavored cereal. They poured so much milk in their bowls that really they were having cereal-flavored milk for breakfast, but I hated milk in my cereal. It made the cereal all soggy and I couldn't eat enough crunchy cereal pieces to fill me up in time. I chose my favorite corn cereal, dry. Well, apparently this wasn't very cool because Bossy Candice started laughing and making fun of my cereal choice. It was really too bad her dad was shorter than most dads. It's probably why she was so mean. She had to over compensate.
Thankfully, we had to rush off to church so the party ended pretty quickly the next morning. After enduring the cheer leading that wasn't, sleeping in the loft and being made fun of for my cereal choice one can see why Elaine and I were eager for Candice to move to Florida. Too bad it wasn't this summer that she might go. We made an informal pact that if she had another spend-the-night birthday party next spring we wouldn't go.
Life continued to move slowly on those monkey bars in my backyard. As the afternoon went on we talked and talked and talked some more. Talking was something Elaine and I were good at. Those summer afternoons seemed endless and so did our conversation topics. When the afternoon hit its peak we began to feel not only the heat but also the oppressive humidity. The humidity made it seem as though every part of our bodies was weighed down, even our fast-moving mouths. We walked up the stairs of my back deck and inside the nice cool house. We decided to get a can of coke because our mouths were so dry and sticky. We gulped it down so fast and without even speaking decided to race to see who could drink the most. Elaine won. She always won everything. It wasn't fair sometimes. She was taller and bigger than I and she had long, thick blonde hair. I was so thin and I had thin brown hair to match. Everything about me was stick-straight and everything about Elaine wasn't, even at age nine.
“Is it too hot out there, girls?” my mother asked.
“Yes ma'am, I think we're gonna watch TV,” I replied.
“Well James is watching his movie right now so why don't y'all just find something else to do,” mother informed us. My baby brother James was always watching a movie. My parents bought him all different tapes for Christmas and we had them all memorized by the new year.
“Let's go downstairs and play Barbies!” Elaine suggested. That was cool with me. I loved barbies and it was one of mine & Elaine's favorite things to play together. We had so much Barbie stuff. Elaine had a pink Barbie jeep, I had a hot pink Barbie corvette. She had a Barbie house, I had the Barbie fold out house which was also hot pink. My sister, Ruth, had a Barbie Pizza Hut and Elaine's sister, Carol, had a Barbie ski boat. When we had all of our Barbie stuff together we created another world. Obviously we had a million of the dolls plus several Ken dolls and about a trillion different outfits and shoes for our Barbies and Kens.
Last summer our friend Jana had a birthday party and we went horseback riding. It was fun but we were really soar the next day. We almost didn't even notice the aches we had though, because as party favors Jana's mom had made each of us a new outfit for our Barbies. It was really cool plus at Jana's party we got to all sleep on the floor together. Her dad was really tall so she didn't need to over compensate like Candice. In fact, our dad's worked together so I saw Jana a lot. She called me her best friend and I thought that was nice but I never called her mine back. I knew it wasn't the truth and I knew if I ever said it just to make Jana happy, Elaine would be hurt.
“Let's make a pact,” Jana was saying to me one day on the playground at school. “Let's never be like those stuck up girls. We can be cool because we're smart. We'll read lots of books.” There we sat in the big grassy field filled with little white clovers that seemed to decorate the grass to celebrate spring.
“Yeah, we'll be smart,” I said. I was agreeing out loud but really I knew I would never sit and read all day with Jana. Those “stuck up” girls were my friends and we had plans. We were always scheming to get one of the boys or another to notice us. Currently I was working on Mac. He was dreamy. Also, we had to practice our cheer leading. Middle school wasn't that far away and we had to get a jump start on our cool factor. Plus, if I really committed to reading and “being smart” with Jana all the time I probably wouldn't get invited to slumber parties and Elaine wouldn't want to hang around me anymore. I had to choose the option that kept me closest to Elaine. I always would. She was my best friend and I needed her. She took care of me.
Even though I was nine and should have been able to do my own hair, I couldn't. I suppose my scrawny arms weren't strong enough to twist and curl my hair in just the right way. Thankfully, Elaine always took care of my hair when I spent the night. She would put it into a pony-tail at just the right height or she would curl the ends out with her hot pink curling iron. On the day her most sophisticated hair-styling tool came in the mail I knew to assume my place on the bathroom stool.
“Look, Catherine! My mom ordered me the topsy-turvy off that TV commercial! Now I can do your hair in a topsy-turvy and it won't take me that long. Sit down, let me try it on you,” she ordered. I sat there looking in the mirror watching Elaine's every move as she gathered all my hair back and pulled it through the purple, plastic loop. She was great, it only took her about five minutes and my hair was in the perfect topsy-turvy with no frizzies. Now it was her turn to try it on herself. Of course she couldn't just have an ordinary topsy-turvy so it took her a bit longer to get it absolutely perfect. In the meantime I sat on the faux-rock counter in the bathroom and watched her in amazement. I was jealous of her hair-styling skills and longed to be able to do everything Elaine could. She told me to go in her room and get her boombox so we could listen to Toni Braxton while she worked. I came back in the bathroom and stretched the cord across the top of the toilet and blared Toni's smooth voice. Toni Braxton was so cool so naturally Elaine had her tape. I looked out of the tiny window in the bathroom as the sun was going down. I was sad that the light was waning fast and wished these long summer days would last forever. I could smell the charcoal burning as Elaine's father was grilling us hotdogs.
“Guess what Catherine? I heard my dad say a cuss word the other night.”
I gasped, “You did?! What did he say?”
“He said, 'Dammit!' He was working on my doll house and I guess he got tired of it. My mom told me to take him a glass of water and tell him he probably needed to cool down.”
“Whoa. I can't believe your dad cussed. My dad has never cussed,” I said feeling piously upper-handed.
“Well, he didn't mean to. He just got angry. My mom said he didn't mean to.”
I just looked at Elaine. Of course she would defend her father's honor. I would've done the same although I might have been too embarrassed to even divulge that information in the first place. Her dad might be taller but at least mine had never cussed.
“Come on Elaine, let's go jump on the trampoline.” I begged.
“No, I'm not done with my topsy-turvy. You can go get Carol and jump but she's such a baby.”
Elaine knew I wouldn't ask Carol to jump. Carol was only five and there's no way I would jump with a baby. I would bounce her right off and she would cry. It wasn't worth the trouble, so I just waited 'til Elaine perfected her hair. When she was finally done she raced me out her back door and we jumped and jumped while the mosquitoes ate and ate on our ripe flesh.
We squealed and laughed and Carol tried to climb on. We let her but only because Elaine's mother said we had to. Her father lit the tiki torches on their deck and they flipped on their spot lights so we could continue jumping.
The shadowy trees were endlessly tall and we just knew that one good bounce would get us to the tops of those trees. We tried so hard. Each bounce was the one bounce that would catapult us among the branches and each landing brought us down to the reality of the ground. But, when you're nine, the ground doesn't faze you. You just keep jumping higher and higher believing that each jump will get you there. And so we jumped. We squealed, we fell back down and we laughed. We laughed until our stomachs hurt and we heard Elaine's mother calling, “Girls! Come in and eat your hotdogs.” Her mother made the best hotdogs. She would split them just like a hotdog bun and fill the dog up with mashed potatoes and cheese. It was our favorite.
Twelve years later, on an evening not unlike the ones from our eternal pasts, we laid on the trampoline. It was hot and the humidity was oppressive as always. The mosquitoes dined on our skin leaving the ugly evidence behind. We didn't notice any of it. We laid there with only our heads and hands touching. We looked upward at those same trees that had stood the test of the past twelve years. They were the same as they had been for the most part but they didn't seem quite as large nor quite as beautiful. We looked right through them, in fact, we could hardly seem them at all through the blur of our tears staining the trampoline with our childhood memories. The crickets and cichadias sang their songs but it was not music to us. It seemed a racket distracting us from our sorrow. We were still in our black dresses and pearls and no one said a thing when they walked past us to go in the back door of Elaine's house. They could hardly even look at us at all. We clung to each other for life in a soft way.
The funeral for Elaine's dad was beautiful of course. Just about the whole church had come out. Elaine's family was loved and respected and her father's death was so unexpected. I had walked in with the family letting Elaine squeeze my hand the whole way. I held her up, my other hand on the small of her back. I didn't shush her, I just let her be and I was just there. Of course I was hurting. He was a second father to me but for the first time in our lives Elaine needed me. I held my heavy head up and attempted to appear to be made out of stone while Elaine let the weight of her grief overtake her. She laid on my shoulder and cried sobs into it. I was soaked. As we walked out behind the casket I glanced at my mother with a sense of childlike desperation. I wanted her to rescue me, us, make it all-right, but she just looked at me solemnly and nodded ever so slightly.
As the sun disappeared and those tiki torches didn't come on we were left in the pitch black of our grief. We both cried harder than we had all day, but I sat up without even an attempt at wiping my face and said, “Come on Elaine, let's go inside. I'll fix us hotdogs.”
As we drudged up the back steps and into the kitchen I could hear the soft shuffling of feet upstairs as my mother tended to Elaine's mother. She was putting her to bed. It was comforting to hear my mother's feet moving graciously above.
I dug through the fridge while Elaine sat pathetically at the table. She was just staring into the darkness. That's what hurt the most, the pressure of now being the care-taker.
“Mashed potatoes and cheese?” I asked already knowing the answer. She turned to face me and gave me a grateful look. I pulled out the cheese and hotdogs and closed the refrigerator door. As I stood back up I was eye-to-eye with a picture of our parents from five Christmases ago. I could feel Elaine watching my gaze. I stared hard at the picture, fighting back tears and said, “Huh. Your dad was always taller.”