Made It Way Up
part 7: Kelly
by Ian Donnell Arbuckle
Parts 5 and 6 appeared in issue 91.
I wanted a pack of grape bubble gum and an ice cream waffle and a coloring book and a pair of Lubba slippers and something I’ve never seen before. Lane gave daddy the keys and said, Fill ’im up. And dad kinda smiled, kinda nodded, and said, Sure. Then Lane went back inside and slammed the door somehow without touching it.
Dad listened to me tell him things all the way from the driveway to the church to the store. But we didn’t stop when we got there. We pulled into the bank and I told him not to do the drive through. There’s a funny smell that comes out of those boxes that hiss and send the money around on what daddy said are called nomadics. I told him not to but he did anyway. That’s okay, because the real reason is that I don’t get to choose what flavor of sucker I want when we use the nomadics. I didn’t really feel like a sucker this time. Not with grape bubble gum and maybe a chocolate chip mint ice cream waffle.
Laddy almost ran over another car when he went out into the road. It was a woman and she pressed on her horn and then stopped and scowled at her finger. Then she gave us her finger. Daddy laughed and gave it back. Then he said,
“Don’t you learn from me, now, smartie pants. That works in the city, but not here. Here people know you.”
“Who was that?” I said.
“Pastor Chuck’s wife.” He laughed then and drove right on past the store. I was squirming in my seat, trying not to get too much dust on my legs and the green stripes on my dress.
“Aren’t we going to the store?” I asked.
“In a minute, honey. We need to check on something else, first.”
“Something for you and Lane?”
“I want a present,” I said. I felt the two balls of hot water underneath my eyes and the thick snot in my throat, then I started to cry.
“Aw,” said dad, letting Laddy drive. “Someone put a bucket on that lip.” He went back to keeping his eyes on the road. We pulled into a parking lot that we barely fit into. It was in front of a red brick building that had two rows of darker red running across the wall under the windows.
“Where are we?” I asked.
“This is the hospital,” he said.
“Was I born here?”
“No,” he said, stomping on the click brake.
“Were you born here?”
“Nope. I was born in Virginia. Remember?”
“Dead and buried, little lady. Want to come in with me?” I slid across the dust. I lost one of my flip flops. It bounced under Laddy and dad had to reach under to get it out while I stood on one leg like the guy who brought the rain to Kapiti plain and waved at the police man.
I put my hand in daddy’s, even though his was all dry and dirty. I’d wash my hands before I ate the ice cream. Unless it looked really good. Then I’d just eat it. The sliding door didn’t open until I stuck my tongue out to lick at it. Daddy laughed and said,
“I guess it wouldn’t hurt much here.”
We went to a little moon desk. A woman sat behind it with her eyes glued on the door. She had blonde hair. She had curls so deep that they were black at the center. And not yellow black. Just black.
“Can I help you?” she said just perfect.
“I’m lookin’ for Cal,” said dad.
“Just a sec,” the woman said. Dad smiled at her while she poked something that was hiding under the lip of the desk. She talked in the phone and her voice echoed around me. It got me from both sides, kinda like a hug I couldn’t run away from.
“Cal, please come to the front desk. Cal to the front desk, please.” She said things twice in case I was too scared the first time to pay attention. I couldn’t help but think it was a good idea. Maybe I’ll use it. To start a new favorite word, I have to say to myself a few times before I go to sleep, while I’m under the covers. It doesn’t work if I do it before my prayers for some reason. So I say, God be a little closer, and then sneak under the blanket and say, Laddy buck Laddy buck. The next day, it’s all mine.
Dad leaned forward on the counter and called the lady some name. It was probably hers. He asked her how she was doing. She blew out all her air and made her eyes go all froggy. She said she was doing fine.
“Sure,” daddy said.
She giggled. A big guy with not much hair came around a corner. He put out a big hand and spoke in a funny small voice that I could make mine sound like if I wanted to.
“Hey there. Bernard, right?”
“Why don’t you come on around to my office.” Daddy tugged on me and I just about jumped on his leg to make him carry me. Just about.
We went outside and around the side of the building. I put my fingers on one of the dark red stripes and followed it through the flower beds where I could blame the line if I stepped on something precious. There was an alleyway that the big man got to first. It was gravelly and I got a sharp one caught under my big toe. I didn’t notice until I stepped down on it. I took off my flip flop quick to get whatever it was out in case it was a bug.
The big man was looking at me when I stood up. I stared back and picked my nose. He shook his head, grinning and not blinking. Then he slapped his hand across daddy’s shoulders and said,
“Lane tell yuh what I’m askin’?”
“That’ll do it.”
Dad took a lot of money out of his pocket and handed it away. The big man took it, fanned his face with the bills, and then he blinked.
“Be right back.” He took a stack of jangly keys from his pocket and opened a grey ugly door behind him. He kept the door propped open with his foot. The door closed and I could see he was wheeling a big green pipe with some kind of crown on top, only it wasn’t a good crown because it was silver.
“I better bring the truck around,” said dad.
“Good plan, son,” said the big man. Daddy patted me on the shoulder as he went by, saying,
“Stay put, hon.”
I sat down and pretended to get more rocks stuck in my toes. The sun was getting me and my cheeks were fighting back and I think they were winning. The big man was looking at me again. He started to say something, but Laddy growled and came up around behind him. He shrugged a little at his shoes and then wheeled the pipe around to Laddy’s butt. Daddy didn’t even look at me when he got out to help.
“I don’t even want to know what you guys need this for,” said the big man when the pipe was stuck between a couple of tires and was done squeaking over Laddy’s metal back.
Dad grinned and nodded.
“What do you need this for?” the big man asked.
I yelled at him and I threw the sharpest rocks and I got him I got him. Daddy bent down and said some things and then a little girl said — it was me said — It’s a good thing we’re where we are, ain’t it? And it was like getting a fever.
Copyright © 2004 by Ian Donnell Arbuckle