Yesterday I was delighted to learn that one of my stories/blog entries was published online. Due to the word count, they could only post a portion of the story. Now that Word Weavers International has published the story, I can share the rest (without the errors italicized and corrected) with you. I hope you enjoy. Blessed regards,
The Summer the Earth Moved
By Leah A. Taylor
Go. Play. Outside. Children who play inside all day later build destructive devices with their idle minds. Hopscotch and Tic-Tac-Toe on cement meant fun to adults in need of their privacy. My best friend, Annie-Mae, and I were not allowed to open the cabinet and attach the Atari game to the television to play Pac-Man and Asteroids like other children on Saturday mornings. We were brushed outside of our red brick duplex apartment by the broom of Annie-Mae’s sister, Big Teena, who pretended to be our mom while the adults were still recovering from the night before.
Back then, my parents Ben and Lynn, partied through the weekends. Bid whist, libations, cigarettes, and bad words settled most Friday nights. Most of the adults did not have to work the following day, and even if they did, they had to sleep off their indulgences before punching in at a job. A Saturday morning of cartoons and the light housekeeping Big Teena did, collecting empty bottles, straightening furniture, and washing dishes were justifiable noises up to a certain decibel. If we dropped a dish or laughed too loud, or worst, got into an argument, there would be religious castigation for our behinds.
Teena, who had afternoon summer plans of her own, worked to maintain the peace amongst us for the hours our parents slept. This was how she earned time away, time spent with her high school friends and the boys her mother did not know about. “Get up,” Teena’d whisper to us sleepyheads and then march us into the living room and direct us onto the floor in front of the floor model TV where we would sit in our pj’s with a bowl of cereal on top of used newspapers so we couldn’t dirty up the already dingy carpet.
“Watch this while I finish cleaning.”
The choices were the Flintstones, Scooby-Doo, or Looney Tunes. I hated Looney Tunes. Only the Road Runner deserved my attention. After an hour or so, Teena’s broom would hit our thighs or backs, always about the time the show was getting good. “When this is over, y’all need to go put on some clothes.” This was our cue to brush our teeth and wash our faces. The only problem was we had to keep the noise down.
Annie-Mae always took too long in the bathroom. What she did in there, I still don’t know. We were fifth graders, straight as arrows, wearing training bras and two thick ponytails with barrettes on the end. I loved my friend, but Dad said she ran up the water bill, and I was about ready for her and her family to move out too.
Eventually, Annie-Mae would emerge, a look of satisfaction in her eyes. I think it pleased her to make her brother, Stan, and I wait our turn. I’d try to beat him in, but he’d race ahead only to be pushed back by his sister, who’d turn him around like a professional wrestler and put her hand across his mouth so he couldn’t yell for his mom.
The sight of her wrestling him onto the floor was her saving grace. Age before runts was code, and I had every right to wash up next. Once inside the bathroom, I’d turn the fan on to hide a giggle from watching Stan squirm in her arms. Then I’d do everything Annie-Mae probably did, only ten times faster.
When I finished, we didn’t wait for Stan before we headed outdoors. We left him to Teena. She knew her mom would want her to do a check under his arms, in his ears, and down his throat before releasing him into the neighborhood. We did not roam far from the duplex, only about thirty feet to the coolness under a shade tree with branches so full they hung over the cars parked one behind the other in the driveway. We’d sit on the hood of the car closest to the road and count the cars driving by. When Stan arrived, I’d stop counting, and I lean back on the windshield to read a book.
Sometimes we’d play hopscotch or double Dutch until we were tired, and then we’d play clapping games and sing, “Oh Mary Mack, Mack, Mack, all dressed in black.” We’d sing until our mouths were dry, and we’d find the water hose and quench our thirsts. I became chatty when I was bored, preferring to act out the books I was reading for my audience, but Annie-Mae did not want to talk much in the mornings unless it was about boys. We didn’t like them yet, but we were always talking about them.
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Boys—the things they did to try an embarrass us, what they did to get our attention after school, and how we imagined they were spending their summers. All the boys from school seemed to live in the same large neighborhood across town. They rode dirt bikes to school, and their older siblings had mopeds and cars.
Annie-Mae and I were driven to school, dropped off by one parent, and picked up by another. We didn’t notice any kids in our neighborhood. There was the one short blonde-haired kid who called me the N-word because I beat him in a foot race. That was the first time I had heard the word directed at me, but it would not be the last.
I told my dad what he said, and I never saw that boy or his family again.
Our neighborhood consisted of us, in our misplaced duplex, surrounded by a sea of elderly white people, who live in pastel-colored bungalow homes that sat in the center of wide fenced-in yards.
There was nothing to do outside but get hot and sticky from the Florida humidity. One summer afternoon, we walked about four blocks, only to run all the way back home when one of the neighbor’s dogs hopped the fence. That dog chased us to our front yard.
We huffed and puffed, trying to catch our breaths, before falling to the ground with laughter at the way that dog watched us from the middle of the street. He barked a couple of times and then strutted down the road like he had done his job for the day. I think, for whatever reason, that dog was scared to come into our yard.
The only friendly dog in the neighborhood had a bark like a foghorn. The dog lived with its owner next door, and their fence was taller than me and all the other fences in the area. Still, that dog’s grey head would lean over into our backyard anytime we grilled hamburgers and hotdogs.
In the dog’s younger years, he might have jumped over a fence, but his owner, a small elderly woman who wore pink a lot, said her Great Dane was too old to play with kids. I suppose she was correct. The only time I ever saw that dog hurry was the postman came around.
Nothing much happened on those summer days between the fifth and sixth grade while we lived in the duplex. Nothing but sweat beads rolling down my neck and back.
I got so frustrated one day, I knelt and prayed for rain. Rain meant we could stay inside where the air-conditioner ran full blast. Rain meant, us kids could enjoy cold lunches and play video games while eavesdropping on the adults with each maneuver of our joysticks. It also meant minimal baths.
One morning I got my wish. The rains fell hard on a strangely sunny Saturday morning that turned smokey grey by afternoon. My dad placed sandbags at the foot of the front and back doors. Afterward, he locked himself away in his bedroom, the music piped loud over the thunderous booms outside.
The moms (mine and Annie-Mae’s) and Big Teena occupied the kitchen for hours, cooking and chatting about “who shot John and why?” The pastor would have deemed it gossiping, and he would have been right. The whole duplex smelled like Sunday supper, but “no food until later,” my mom said. Instead, she made us P&Js on Merita bread, placed apple slices on the side, and mixed Nestle in our milk to make it taste chocolaty. After lunch, I purposely lost a game of Donkey Kong so I could curl up on the couch and read.
The rain kept falling, light at times and then torrential, with distant cracks and flashes of lightning that made everybody jump, and the electricity flicker off then back on again. “The devil is beating his wife,” somebody said. Somebody always said that back then.
My dad was mad, too. He couldn’t find a dry place to smoke. Despite the sandbags, the front porch and patio were soaked. I heard him swear that if the rain didn’t stop soon, all the kids had to go in their rooms so he could light one in the living room. He told my mom he would spray some air freshener when he was done. Thank God, Mom disagreed.
I hated smoking. My teacher said it caused cancer, and I did not want my parents to die. Mom compromised with Dad, and they both escaped to take a few puffs near the kitchen window. It did not last long, and I never smelled anything. But afterward, Big Teena brought Mom the mop from the hall closet.
By evening nothing had changed except our video games were replaced with the local news. Yellow clad, weather-beaten meteorologists reported from different areas of town, all while we ate enough food for a holiday celebration—oven-baked chicken, baked beans, green beans, corn, salad, mustard greens, cornbread, banana pudding, and sweet tea. It felt like a party.
The following morning, we awoke to the sound of soft drizzles. Supposedly the worst was over. After twenty-four hours, Mom said it was time to let some fresh air inside.
What we saw next was a sight I will never forget. Across the street lived another granny lady who drove a dark-colored station wagon which she parked in a massive shed in her backyard. She never said much, but she had a kind smile.
Anyway, the morning after the storm, when my dad opened the front door to the brightest sunshine in days, there was our neighbor, wearing a yellow raincoat paddling around her home in a canoe. My dad ran for the phone, but I think the authorities were already on the way.
Our slightly elevated front yard had turned into a river, and the runoff had created what looked like an ocean across the street. A third of our neighbor’s home and the shed were hidden underwater. Everything once green or brown was the color of water.
You could hear the lady cry as she seemingly struggled to find something in the deep. Later I would find out that she had buried her dog in the yard years before we moved to the neighborhood. But the rain, as forceful as it was, had raised her dead, and she had felt her lifeless Collie drifting away.
Dad put on his rain gear. Along with our other neighbors, they helped emergency responders get the lady safely to safety. I felt miserable for her. So, when the media storm was over and the floods had gone away, I walked across the yard to place a handwritten get-well card in her mailbox.
I never saw her again. That was our last year in the duplex and the last time another family would move in with my family, temporary or otherwise. It would also be the last summer I prayed selfishly for rain.