“strings” (from memoir “whitegirrrl”) short chapter

Summer sand and summer sea.  You’re wearing the shell necklaces you make that year with your best friend on the beach.  Little periwinkles wash up and you mix these with puka shells and turquoise.  The two of you are thirteen that year and filled with dreams about what the future will hold.  You walk by the edge of the water barefoot, the tide lapping at your toes.

Her hair is long and blond and shiny, hanging to her waist.  She’s impish and tiny, and she’s your best friend.  The two of you make this decision somehow like a pact, that year.  You buy your first straw hat and your first straw bag, all Ibiza and French and you have learned to crochet from the lady who babysits for you and your little brother.  Over and over you learn the knots with a series of hooks.  You’re making little vests from Granny squares.  You’re making bikini tops out of string.  Colored strings like rainbows zig and zag as the pattern unfolds before you.

It’s the summer you learn about bad girls.

Your friends run in little packs up and down the main street, getting ice cream cones and laughing.  Everyone goes downtown to see movies together at the old fashioned theaters and your friends are there, faces shining, tossing popcorn from little red and white striped bags at each other.

It’s the summer you see Summer of ’42, at the movies.  You watch, sharing popcorn in the silence.  It isn’t something the two of you are going to discuss with each other.  You are just going to absorb it  like a lesson about boys and girls and what is going to happen, later.

Your bedroom is a place of refuge.  She’s calling you and the two of you talk for hours on the phone, telling each other everything.  The crochet piles up all over the floor in various projects you keep starting.

“We’re going to meet Jane,” she says.  “Downtown.”

“Bring your back pack.”

You’re getting ready by dancing around your room choosing outfits that you throw all over the bed in piles.  Jane runs on the periphery of the people you know.  Some girls have reputations, and she does.

“She taught me how to kype.”

“I’m not going to,” you say.

“Yes you are,” she laughs.  “I did last week.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Yes you do.”

“No I don’t.”

It’s going to be like other times when you got talked into things that you didn’t really want to do with her.

“Are you taking your bike?”

“I’m going to thumb.”

“Where should we meet?”

“The Library.”

“When are you going to be there?”

“Around three.”

“Can’t we go to the beach instead?”

“Not today.”

There are two separate worlds you think, that day.  The world of good, and the world of bad.  You know which world you are going to be in.  It’s something you start learning how to choose at thirteen.  It was something you learned to choose all by yourself.

You can’t stand your mother’s boyfriend.  He isn’t your father and he has moved in with her.  He likes to fly kites on the beach in summer as if he can impress your little brother, but he can’t.  Your house is huge and it hangs off the hill looking out over the city.  Your room is a refuge from the two of them.  He drinks too much.  You are always trying to run away and so is your best friend.

You go down to the harbor because your grandfather has a boat there and he’s given you a keycard.  It’s where you can write, and where you can read books after school.

Your mother’s boyfriend flies his kites from an old Gladstone bag he carries around.  He’s elaborate along the string, tying endless bows and attaching streamers.  You move your beach towel as far away from the two of them as you can, watching your little brother from the corner of your eye.  He isn’t Daddy.

“I’m going to run away,” she says on the phone.

“Where are you going?”

“The caves.”

“But?”

“I’m just going to.”

She’s crying because her parents are going to get divorced.  Her father has moved out, like yours did.

“Let’s go get ice cream,” you say.  “Don’t cry.”

“We can meet at Baskin’s.”

“Okay.”

She says it in a little voice, as if suddenly all her power is gone.

There are strings in the heart that connect people, but they don’t always last.

The two of you sit with her pet raccoon Roscoe near Baskin’s eating cones.  People stop and ask what he is as if they have never seen anything like that before.

“What is that?” they ask.

“A Tasmanian Tibet.”

“Got any spare change?” she asks.

“I need to get him special food.”

In those days people bummed rides, and they always had spare change if people asked.

She assembles the coins and the dollar bills in her pockets.  The two of you decide to buy food for she and Roscoe and carry the bags up to the caves yourselves.

“Maybe I better not,” she decides.

“Maybe I better just go home.”

You catch a ride back to her house in a van full of surfers.  You’ve climbed in the back with Roscoe and her dog and your dog and your bags full of cookies and cheese and all the things that thirteen year old girls go shopping for in the year they had to grow up too fast.  Because of their parents.

“Mark held my hand,” she says on the phone that night.

“He understands.”

Years later you remember the boys that summer, and how the two of you had confided in them as friends.  You remember the years that your parent’s marriages fell apart and your tiny shell necklaces and the way she had said to you, “We are always going to be best friends.”

The tide is rolling out to sea and the little shells tumble with it.  The hem of your Victorian white skirt is soaking wet up to your knees but you don’t mind.  The two of you are laughing making plans about being mothers and best friends together.

“We’re going to push our strollers right here,” she says.

“We’ll never be like them, because our hearts have strings.”

~

“strings” — copyright 2010 — by Valentine Bonnaire — all rights reserved

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