by Jane Doe
Leigh and I skated very well together. We were almost the same height so our strides matched giving us a togetherness no one else on the floor had. We were so close in body build, we skated like one person. I was thrilled when the pro, the guy who skated around as if his feet didn't belong to him, invited Leigh and I to the center of the floor to give us some pointers in making the cross-overs.
I could hardly keep my mind on his instructions. I was so busy rejoicing that I had found, if not a partner for life, at least a good skating partner, one who might even asked to take me home tonight. We had gone around the rink only a couple times, trying out our new steps, before the music changed to do the Grand March. The idea of doing this quadrille on wheels was to mix up the crowd, to give the girls skating with girls a chance to link arms with a boy. This caused giggling and for some giggling and skating was an unwise combination. Someone fell, there was a pile-up. No one was hurt but it changed the groupings so when the march ended I was no longer meeting up with Leigh.
Off the rink, as the evening wore on, the hum of who was going home with whom rose to a deafening pitch. I had lost sight of Leigh, but continued to skate because I didn't want to lose one second of the pleasure; plus, I felt so strongly that he was merely out looking
There was only one more skate. One for couples only as they dimmed the lights and played "romantic" music. It was hard for me to be sitting out this last chance to skate. It was too dark to see if I could locate Leigh. I gave up. I skated to the bench where some were already removing their skates to get a jump-start on the evening to come.
I sat down beside Sarah, the junior girl who had driven the four of us here. Because she was going steady with a college man she was not looking for a date. She was ready to quit, gather up the girls who were going home with her to get started on the drive back home. "Do you have a way home with someone?" Sarah asked me. I was glad it was
I was even more glad for the thick smoky atmosphere when she told me the other three girls had other rides home so it would be just her and me going back home. I didn't know Sarah very well. I was very ashamed of losing Leigh when it seemed such a sure thing. I wondered if I would have to talk to her through the strip of black that separated the roller rink from our small town. I welcomed the excuse to leave her as I returned my skates to the checker.
In her car, Sarah turned into a different being. While driving through the city she was centered on her driving so she said not a word. I felt comfortable with her. It was good to be quiet, to try to sort out the events of the evening, to try to figure out what went wrong.
As soon as the traffic thinned out, Sarah began to ask me questions about myself. I tried to be evasive, giving her the barest truths to leave unsaid anything painful. Still, it only took about two miles until I was spilling out my innermost thoughts – thoughts I couldn't
By the time the car pulled into the thin shine of our town's street lights, she had diagnosed my problem with boys and was suggesting a remedy. I should try out college boys. They were much more sophisticated; of course, one couldn't figure them out any better than the high school nerds, but at least it was more exciting. I thanked her for the ride, the ear, the advice, the offer, but I didn't think I wanted another close scrape with these older guys looking for a wife.
"Where shall I drop you off?" Sarah had no idea where I lived.
On the chance that the folks were still working at the new house, I suggested we go by there to save her the drive out the other side of town. When I said "Hillcrest" she asked where with new interest in her voice.
"The old MacPhearson place."
"Was it your folks who bought that?" she asked incredulously. I hesitated to admit it because I felt the old place should have been bull-dozed instead of being renovated. With Sarah one often didn't have to say anything because she understood silences. "Hey, that is just two doors down from my house! I was so glad to see someone buy that lovely place
"Years." I felt a dismal answer was needed. "At the rate my parents are going it will be ready to live in just about the time I graduate."
"But I see lights on there nearly every evening."
"Yeah, they work on it every spare minute. See, they are still at it tonight." As I stiffly unfolded myself from her car, she said I should come over to her house if the smell of work got to me. After her laugh at her own joke, she said wistfully, " I would really like
"Now?" I offered but we were both tired and knew it would be another
The warmth of the spring afternoons seemed too lovely to waste riding on the school bus. If, instead, I went to the new house, I could walk the three blocks under newly budding trees while surveying the new neighborhood. I didn't like having to stay out of mother's way as she painted and sanded yet another door. The dirt and noise got on my nerves. I tried to shut out these changes by making a desk out of a carton in one of the rooms. I thought about just boldly going over to Sarah's but I wondered if maybe in the cold light of day the invitation had turned over. Come to find out, she was thinking the same thing!
We walked home from school together one afternoon to find two very new persons we were when we were not at a skating rink or in a car. She was eager to see the house so we went there first. Her face took on such a dreamy glow I stepped back out of her reverie. Soon she too had enough of the disruptions that had come with the house and the change of ownership. Without a word we agreed to go to her house.
Sarah's dad was a surgeon in the city. I assumed some sort of specialist because Sarah said a word I didn't recognize when she told me about him. She had a sister older than she was already a sophomore in college and a sister two years younger than I was. She laughed as she told how her dad called them "The Tribe," saying it was a woman-run
"Wow!" I couldn't believe Sarah's room. What a mess! What a classic mess! Yet because it was carpeted, furnished with matching furniture, dotted Swiss curtains that fit, a bed with a canopy over it, the disorder of her clothes could not make her room look as bad as mine when it was at its neatest. I loved her room. This was my room. At least the one I had always wanted. Instantly I was at home. Never mind the Victorian factory two doors away. Here I was.
My admiration for her room spread to Sarah. We gave ourselves new names. She was Sere and I was Jen. I found out she, too, was lonely. It wasn't as easy as she had made it sound to be going with a college boy. They only got to see each other on weekends, if at all, and in the meantime she was stuck in high school for another whole year.
Within a couple of weeks Sere had found a way to include me in her dates. The college was giving a Spring Recital and Jeffry was in it. She wanted to go to it but he couldn't come to pick her up because of a conflict with a late rehearsal. Schemer that she was, Sere worked it out so Rich, who had just broken up with his girl friend, could be my date for the evening. She and I would drive to the city, go shopping, go to the concert, then she and Jeff could come back in his car and Rich and I could bring her car back, and then Rich and Jeff could go back to Bloomington together.
Sere should have been a general. She wasn't much good as a match-maker. It wasn't her fault. Rich was obviously still very much in love with his Elaine. Nearly every sentence he began with her name. After awhile it got funny. To everyone but me. Another good evening wasted. Well, not really all wasted. The music was good and Rich did hold my hand during the last half of the program, even though he carefully kept our hands under a corner of my skirt so no one could see us.
I hoped Sere would not give up on me. I had really enjoyed going shopping with her. Sere shopped as if money did not matter. Though she never spent more than I did, she shopped with a different attitude. When Sere walked into a store, everything in it belonged to her. Clerks treated her like the owner's daughter. It wasn't a matter of her
The next time I went to Sere's house, I could hear loud voices before I lifted my hand to knock. Sere and her mom were going at it. The "no you won'ts" and the "Mom, please let me" sounds were upsetting. How could anyone argue with a swell mom like Bec?" While I was standing there trying to decide how to sneak off the porch so they wouldn't know my intent, Sere came sailing out the door.
Where her argument with Bec left off, she picked it up with me. I hadn't said anything, but she was explaining why it was so important to her to take this painting class at the end of the semester. For the first three weeks of summer, Rollins, a well-known artist was giving an intensive course en plein Sere HAD to go to it. She had it all worked out how she and her older sister could stay at her grandparent's cottage at the lake. It was too early in the season for them to be there. They could do their own cooking so food was no more expensive than it was at home. Sere could walk to the lessons and she'd be surrounded by so much inspiration. It was perfect.
Bec came out on the patio, just in time to remind Sere that "No. There was no way she would agree to this plan. I know you, you just want to be with Jeff."
"No, Bec, that is not so. Jeff will be two hundred miles away. He has to go home to work for the summer."
I wondered if all mothers distrusted their daughters. Even when they seemed so modern in so many ways? I looked at the brochure Sere had shoved into my hands while Bec picked up pop bottles and shoved the lawn furniture into its rightful place. It never would have crossed my mind to attend such a class. I looked to see if there was an age restriction.
"Bec, you know how much Rollins needs money. Otherwise he wouldn't give these classes. You know he is far too talented for teaching. If he had the money he could spend his valuable time painting. This is a real chance for me to study with someone important. Though he never acts that way, does he, Bec?"
Chills went up my back as I realized Sere's tactic. "Geez, what a fighter.
"Whadda you say, Bec, let me help Rollins out?"
"How do I know you and your sister won't have the house full of boys?"
"Send Jen with us. You know she is good."
Was this a compliment? I wondered. Bec gave Sere a look as she went back into the house to say the conversation had ended.
But this did not stop Sere. She began to work on me. Did I like to draw? Did I want to learn to do water colors? What else did I have planned for the summer?
That night before turning out the light over my bed, I reread the brochure once more. In the quiet of frogs croaking I began to recall the pictures I had drawn with Jane. How far away that was. But this year, wasn't the best part of biology diagramming the specimens we dissected? I always got an A+ on those. Maybe I had some talent? A hidden one? One that would be brought out by studying with a college professor?
By morning I had myself convinced that I should take the course with Sere. At breakfast I interrupted the folks' argument about whether the pantry door should swing to the right or the left long enough to lay out my plans. I could see, I thought, mother's mind calculating
"What does it cost?" asked dad.
"Only thirty dollars for the tuition."
"Room?" Food?" I wiped out those two items with Sere's plans.
Mother picked up on the $30. "That we do not have. What with the expenses for the house and all." With that statement she won. Dad nodded in agreement.
I was eager to see Sere after school as we now had a common cause. She was ecstatic that I was interested in joining her. If I came the last little fears of being the youngest one in the class disappeared. There was still the problem of the tuition. Naturally Sere had a plan.
She talked her parents into hiring me to tutor her younger sister, Essy, who was probably going to fail seventh grade general science. Essy's real name was Ester, but they called her Essy since it sounded like "Essig" which was vinegar. The kid was a brat. Why do rich people spoil their kids, I wondered.
It was agreed that three afternoons a week I sat down with Essy to pound some science into her head. She was not interested in science but she did want the little mini-bike her parents had promised her if she passed. Mrs. Fisher served model for my role, though my tactics were very different. I figured out there was not enough time to teach Essy a year's worth of science, so I figured out the probable questions that would be on the final by looking at the old tests. I worked to get Essy to commit them to memory. Essy was smart. As soon as she realized she didn't have to learn everything but just memorize what
Among the clutter in Sere's room I had seen tubes of water color paints and it was the easel in the corner that made the mess so bohemian. I had none of that. With all the end-of-the year activities, I pushed the nagging thought of how (or who was) to pay for paper, paints and brushes. In our moves and mother's zeal for neatness, even the cheap ones from grade school were long gone. I speculated about making my own brushes out of dog hair. I was just a beginner. I didn't need expensive paper but the idea of using water colors from tubes seemed the only thing to do.
On Wednesday's Sere's dad sometimes came home early from work. While Essy and I were finishing up her lesson, the rest of the family had drifted to the table. Bec loved to cook when she loved to cook. If she was hot on the scent of some inequality, everyone was responsible for their own menu. I loved this freedom and I took it on as my own
Sere's dad said something about his high hopes for Essy passing the science test. She pointedly reminded him that she expected a red mini-bike with one and one-half horsepower; not the slow, older model. To turn of her demands, he turned to me asking, "What is your reward for getting Essy over the hump?" I felt like the governess in Wuthering Heights. I couldn't say, "I'm getting paid just to tutor her." so I said nothing.
He wouldn't stop. "You deserve a reward, too. What do you want?"
The first thing that popped into my head was "my period" but I was afraid that as surgeon he might just be the only one to get it for me. I could hardly swallow my mouthful of water.
Sere butted in with, "She needs the tuition for Rollins' class."
"That seems fair enough," he said. I thought I was going to choke to death or spray water over the table. Behind a napkin I got my throat to figure out how to deal with the situation.
"That's not fair," interrupted Bec. "How can you make Jen's reward contingent on Essy's behavior? That's not fair. Jen could be the best teacher in the world and still Essy could fluff it."
I watched the tuition and the class melt like the sugar Bec stirred into her coffee.
"To be really fair," Sere was on the trail again, "Jen should be rewarded the tuition like a scholarship just for putting up with Essy." She gave her sister a mean look and was rewarded with Essy's tongue still covered with bread and hot dog.
Nothing was concluded as other talked rushed around the table. All I could do was wait for the last week of May, hope Essy passed her test and whoever paid me that week would remember this conversation.
On May 20th, I got out of bed, went to the bathroom, looked in my pajamas bottoms. Nothing. After peeing, I wiped myself and saw a red-brown streak on the tissue. I didn't believe it. I got dressed for school, ate my toast and milk, piled my books by the door, ready to head out the lane.
Having to make one last trip to the bathroom, I could now see in my panties that the red streak had widened. This time, instead of putting on the narrow belt I used for my sham periods, I pulled out the package under the sink, from behind the Clorox bottles and cleanser. Now I could wear the special rubber bottomed underpants which mother had
I ripped open the brand new, but now very dusty, paper-covered Kotex box to begin a ritual I had so well practiced. I already knew to wash out my underpants with cold water. Instead of hiding them in the laundry chute on the nail, I scooted the shower curtain aside, and with a unpracticed flip, tossed them over the rod. I felt there should be a shout of victory, but I was alone in the house. There was no one to hear it. But that was okay.
My body was normal and it had learned to paint.
Copyright © the Estate of Jane Doe 2010