Summer in a Red Mustang with Cookies by Boo King - HTML preview
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After she left I went inside to look up the word in the Webster’s (we didn’t have a Funk & Wagnall’s) my old man bought when I was in first grade. He thought it would make me smarter.
Until Beth came to town it was rarely opened. I figured I was smart enough without it. Stick to words you know and leave the big ones for geniuses and English professors; that was my philosophy. Danny used it once and awhile to stand on when she needed a little extra height getting stuff out of the top cupboard in the kitchen.
The house was empty, quiet and peaceful, a welcome reprieve from the blistering heat. My mother took Danny down to the bakery where Joe Senior worked. It was their Saturday morning ritual. They’d pick up bread for the week along with some sweet pastries as a treat for dessert that night. Then they sat next to the door on dilapidated paint-chipped-wobbly-legged chairs and watched Joe Senior as he waited on customers in the oppressive little storefront with its sweaty windows from non-stop bread baking. It was enough to make you crazy. The truth is I don’t think it was the heat that made my father behave the way he did but whenever I stood in that sopping yeast hive I could see how it could turn a normal person into a raving lunatic.
At noon the three of them would go for lunch at the Hoito, a Finnish restaurant in the basement of the Finlandia Club just around the corner from the bakery. They’d have Finnish pancakes smothered in pure Canadian maple syrup with crispy bacon on the side or greasy pork sausages dipped in mounds of Heinz ketchup, bottles of which were kept in endless supply on every table. Everyone had the same thing. It was part of the ritual. At one o’clock Danny and Ma would give him goodbye kisses on the cheek and walk back home. I knew all this because up until two years ago, that was my Saturday morning ritual too. I stopped because I found it embarrassing to be seen in public with my parents, even if it was just the Hoito; and besides it was the only time I could get away from Danny, my eleven year old shadow. Danny wasn’t a bad kid. She just drove me crazy some times. Everywhere I went Danny had to go too—kinda like Mary’s little lamb. She idolized me and that only made things worse. She had two imaginary pets, Boo Boo Kitty and Zee Bee the dog. My mother was allergic to all animals, at least that’s what she told us. No pets were allowed in or near our house. I was okay with this but poor Danny loved anything that walked on four legs and preferably had a tail. Before she made up Boo Boo Kitty and Zee Bee she was forever trying to sneak some stray into her bedroom. Danny was pretty slow about this whole pet thing though because Ma would always catch her but instead of yelling at Dan she’d take it out on me. Like I was supposed to know better. So I threatened to strangle the next animal she brought into the house. That’s when she invented her imaginary pets. Everybody was pretty happy after that. I poured myself a glass of cherry flavored Kool-Aid and brought it into the living room along with the Webster’s. I sank into the secure comfort of our couch that was as reassuring as it was shabby with its well-worn burgundy cushions that were faded by the sun and years of holding the weight of our family. I turned the pages slowly and methodically, letter by letter until I came to the U’s, where I stopped and picked up my Kool-Aid, emptying the glass all at once. I couldn’t find anything even remotely close to what I was looking for.
Accepting defeat and the fact that I was a lousy speller, I called Harold, the drip nerd that I was practically raised with. Harold and I were born on the same day of the same year, six hours apart. Our mothers shared a room together in the hospital and became instant and lifelong friends. This circumstance of bad timing on our mothers’ part accidentally forced Harold and I into each other’s lives permanently. If I had been born a week earlier instead of six hours I would never have known him. My mother loved Mrs. Korkala though so for that I am grateful; since my mother didn’t really have any other friends or close family members to speak of. Everyone who met my mother loved her immediately but she kept to herself and this always made me a little sad. It was one of the mysteries of my mother I never fully understood until I was much older and could see the truth about our family secrets and how closely we all guarded them, in particular Ma. Harold’s father Vilho died when he was two, and shortly after that he and his mother, Mrs. K. as we all came to call her, moved a mere two doors away so it was like we practically lived together. You couldn’t belch without Harold knowing about it. But like I said I was happy for Ma having a friend like Mrs. K. so near by especially with the way Joe could be sometimes.
Harold had quite a few physical problems that made him stand out. First there was his poor vision and consequently his need for glasses as thick as the bottom of Coke bottles. Then there were his slightly oversized ears and rather problematic skin, which made him the butt of many jokes and name calling at school. Crater Face and Dumbo were just two of the kinder monikers that were said to his face, those said behind his back I can’t bring myself to repeat even after all these years. I tried to disassociate myself from him but he was just like Danny that way, everywhere I went Harold was sure to follow. The more I tried to brush him off, the more he pursued until one day in about the sixth grade I gave up and accepted my situation. The thing was, I basically liked Harold. He was truly a nice guy, kind and generous to a fault, perhaps a little too sensitive at times, but he would do anything, I mean anything for me. And most importantly, he could be trusted.
I picked up the phone and called him. Considering his looks, Harold had the deepest, sexiest telephone voice. It defied reason. “It’s spelled E-U-T-H-A-N-A-S-I-A beginning with an E not a U,” he said, spelling out each letter for me as I wrote it down on the pad of paper Ma kept by the phone. “That’s why you couldn’t find it. What do you wanna know for eh?”
“No reason,” I said, “just something I heard on TV.” I hung up quickly before he could ask any more questions. Harold had one of those naturally scientific, enquiring minds. Something like this would make him suspicious to the point where he’d pester me until I snapped and we got into a fight, which was what usually happened. No one—absolutely, positively no one—could irritate me like Harold.
I whipped open the Webster’s and found it spelled just like he said but it made no sense at all. It only left me with two questions: why was she talking to me, a complete stranger, about something awful like that and what made Beth Luoto tick?