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  • Marie Smysor Watson

The Things I Used to Do - Part Two

If you haven't read Part One yet, I suggest you go back and read it first. Otherwise, sorry for the swear word that starts this week off. You know how teenagers are (even fictional ones)... Also, a shout-out to my partner in crime these past 21 years, the guy who knows all the things I used to do (well most of 'em, anyway)... Happy Anniversary, KW!


Fuck!” I pull my legs towards my chest, beating the water back with my hands. Something shocked me. Well, not shocked exactly, more like it tried to go through me. My leg buzzes with leftover electricity, but it doesn’t really hurt.


Sylvy’s up and yapping from the shore, but Tater just sits beside her, his tail twitching back and forth in time to Sylvy’s voice, like he’s sort of unimpressed by all of the pandemonium*.


“Maybe? Maybe! What’s wrong? Did you get stung? Was it a bee? Ooo, I hope not! I got stung by a bee yesterday and it hurt real bad. Maybe?!?


(In case it isn’t totally obvious to you by this point: she’s easily excited).


I wade quickly towards the shore. The water here is only to my knees and is warm clear through. My heart pumps quickly and Sylvy’s still chattering away on the rock like a retarded squirrel, something about jellyfish and stingray. Tater looks at me, his little head cocked to one side like he’s waiting for an answer.


“Jesus, be quiet Sylvy!” I say, hissing at her like one of those big black snakes I find in the Woods every so often.


(Don’t you worry - they’re not poisonous. We don’t really have poisonous snakes in this part of Illinois. Dad says he’s only ever seen a rattlesnake once, curled up in Jimbo’s corn crib. He kept the rattle after he killed it, propped up on top of the TV next to my school picture. He doesn’t know it yet but Gramma Ike threw it out two weeks ago. The rattle, not the picture, because she hates snakes. You know, I don’t think I’ll tell him they’re gone. I’ll just wait until he notices).


“I’m fine! It was just, just... like. like a shock or… or-”


“That’s why you’re not supposed to swim if it’s lightning outside, did you know that, Maybe? I know it’s not lightning right now, but you get a really bad shock from it, because water of course conducts lightning, I know because I watched a show on the Discovery Channel about it and –“


(Honestly, this is exactly why people like Sylvy shouldn’t have cable. Not that I’d know anything about that. We live too far out of town to even get cable, so I’m stuck with three channels to watch – well, four if you count the one that comes out of Springfield, which I don’t because it only comes in half the time and is pretty fuzzy when it does. And even that’s only when Gramma Ike isn’t busy watching Star Trek reruns or the news. I swear to God she’s either in love with Captain Kirk or that weatherman from Channel 25. You know the one, he’s short and wears bow ties and is always talking about “big fronts” that are moving through the area. Whatever that means).


“Don’t worry, Sylvy,” I say, cutting off her babbling with a mean little smile. “It’s probably just the dead kid.” My little plan to get her to shut up backfires.


“What’re you talking about? What dead kid? Are you talking about the kid who drowned?” Sylvy’s voice is like a set of windchimes in the quiet – very pretty at first, but if you listen to them too closely or the wind starts blowing too hard, they can really, really get on your nerves.


“Yes, Sylvy,” I say, with patience I’m not really feeling at this very moment. Not that it does any good, but honestly, sometimes I do feel sorry for her because she acts so young, especially now with the whole Randall thing and all. “I’m talking about the boy who drowned.”


“Oh, wow, so it’s true?” Her face lights up like the night does when there’s a full moon.

“There was a boy who drowned here? I just thought that was some crazy thing Mommy said to keep me out of here.”


(Ten minutes in, and I’m already so freakin’ tired of her. I mean, uggggh. But that’s just the way it goes with Sylvy - it’s like she wants me to be mean to her or something. You understand, right)?


“Possibly it was murder,” I say. I pretend to close my eyes but keep one of them cracked a little just to see her reaction. Really, she brings it on herself. Those bird-wing eyebrows go straight up to her hairline. Tater sits up too.


What?” she says. Her voice is a little mouse squeak.


“The boy who drowned. Possibly he was murdered,” I say guilelessly*, like I’m the Channel 25 weatherman giving the same old boring-ass weather report


-hotter than the devil’s whorehouse-


“Maybe,” Sylvy says slowly, like she’s underwater or something.


(Honestly, I’m not sure if she’s just saying my name or if she’s agreeing with me. It’s hard for me to decide sometimes, you know?)


Tater barks once, a short, yippy bark, like he’s telling me, Yup, Maybe, I understand you totally.




June: Chapter Two

The Things Dad Tells Me about Mom


(You know how sometimes there are things you should do and then there are things you would like to do? And there are things you would never do and then things you might do? And then, at the end, there are the things you used to do? None of them ever seem to match up with each other, do you get what I mean? Oh, probably not. I’m probably being as clear as Illinois mud, like Dad says. Honestly, I’m not even sure that I understand what I’m saying).


Anyway, when I get back from the Hole, I head straight for the Addition. Gramma Ike is banging pans around in the kitchen, but I don’t stop to talk to her. She’s told me over and over again that she doesn’t want me bothering her when she’s in there. Anyway, she’ll be in there for a while. She likes to cook these gross, heavy meals, even in the middle of summer, even with absolutely no air-conditioning. Mystifying*. Of course, the Channel 25 News at Noon is on and the Gramma’s favorite weatherman is giving his boring-ass weather report, telling everybody how we’re in the middle of an unprecedented* heat wave. No shit, Sherlock, I think, which is exactly something Dad would say. Gramma Ike doesn’t even look up at me, but I don’t want her anyway. I want Dad. He’ll know what to do about this feeling I have, the one that just won’t go away.


(It’s like the way you might feel when you see someone you know in a place where they just don’t belong. For me, it’s like running into Pastor Wright at the grocery store buying cat food or seeing one of my teachers at the movie theater, trying to decide whether to get Junior Mints or Sugar Babies. It’s just plain weird).


On the way, I pass by my bedroom, but I don’t go in. It’s not really my room anymore, since I have to share it with Gramma Ike.


(You can guess that it’s not by my choice).


C’mon Maybe, don’t give me a hard time about it, Dad said, right when he first told me Gramma was coming to live with us and that she would be rooming with me for a while. Your Gramma is getting older. You can’t expect her to sleep on the couch, can you? Besides it won’t be for that long. Then he told me all about the plans for the Addition to our little house, this house that he and Uncle Ricky built when Dad and Mom were first married. It only has two bedrooms, which is why I have to share with Gramma Ike for the time-being. But Dad told me that he’d take care of it, it’s just fugnacious*, it won’t be long before things are as right as a left hand turn, according to him and when he said this, his blue eyes were big and round and hopeful and his handsome face was opened up like my favorite song, one that I know all of the beats to by heart. He was - is - hard, very hard, to resist.


Okay, Dad, I said, like I had a choice in the whole thing. I didn’t mind then, but only because I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I’ve been miserable every night since. Number one, because I hate the thin mattress on the fold up bed and the pillows Dad gave me smell like dead bugs. Gramma, of course, got my bed, the one with the Holly Hobby sheets that I’ve always slept on. Stupid, I know, but I can’t seem to give them up. Mom bought them for me, right before she died. And the low spot in the mattress, a perfect nest for me to curl up in? Feels like a pig has been wallowing here Gramma Ike said the very first night she slept on it.


Number two, Gramma Ike makes a lot of noises in the night and sometimes she mutters things in German that sound like some kind of conjuration*. Sometimes she says the same thing over and over: vergib mir, vergib mir. Honestly, it creeps me out.


(Number three, as long as I’m divulging* secrets, nighttime is my time for things, private things I don’t need an audience for. You get what I mean? I don’t think I need to spell it out for you. You seem pretty smart. Brighter than the sun’s headlights, like Dad says. But it doesn’t matter anyway because all of that’s had to stop with Gramma Ike in the room. I swear if I so much as let a tiny little fart in my sleep then she’s giving me the evil eye the next morning, nevermind anything else).


Dad’s working away at framing out a window when I peek around the door. He’s not wearing a shirt, which is no surprise since it’s so hot. The top half of him is tan from all of his days of working outside and his body is rippled and muscle-y from all of the heavy lifting he does.


Ohmygod, your dad is soooo hot, Wendy Sharp whispered last year when Dad came to school to bring me my gym clothes I forgot in his truck. Ummm gross, I said, because I couldn’t think of anything better to say. I mean, what do you say when someone’s looking at your Dad like he’s a big slice of their favorite kind of pizza? After that, though, I did get Dad to start wearing a shirt whenever he came to school. Score one for me.


The radio’s on, the paint spattered one he uses when he’s working, and it’s playing a song with lots of heavy guitar. He must’ve heard me coming even over the loud music because he turns around and smiles his big Dad smile at me, the one that shows every single one of his crooked bottom teeth and makes the corners of his eyes crinkle just a little. He turned forty last January but he still looks like he’s about twenty-five. He doesn’t look like someone’s Dad at all. Not like my Dad, for sure. He’s that handsome.


(I bet you’ve seen him around town in his red truck that advertises his and Uncle Ricky’s construction business. Best Construction – There’s Best, and then There’s the Rest! it says in big white lettering across the side. Not very original, I know. Inauthentic* even).


Even Billy Benson, my swimming lesson teacher, isn’t as good-looking as Dad but he’s closer to my age. Well, he’s sixteen, but that’s much closer than forty for sure and I’m not related to him which is the other important thing.


“Hey, Maybe Best,” he says, reaching over to turn down the music. “What’s shakin,’ bacon?”

He’s measuring a hole in the wall where a window is going. The Addition is being built for Gramma Ike since she’s for sure staying with us. She sold her house in Carlton just as soon as school got out. It was pretty old and smelled like an old lady - like her - all dusty and tired but it sold very quickly to a family with two sets of twins because it had what the realtor lady called character, and, as you know, that’s what everyone’s looking for these days. It was a big house, five bedrooms, which is pretty dumb considering it was only ever just Gramma Ike living there. Really, though, she could’ve just bought a smaller house in town and saved us all the trouble.


Don’t call me that, Dad,” I say, rolling my eyes.


“Sorry, sorry, it’s just an expression,” he says with a smile. I know that, I just don’t want to be called anything that’s reminiscent* of a pig. I guess I’m afraid he might say it someday in front of someone from school and then that’s what they’ll call me all through eighth grade. And, trust me, with a name like Maybe Best, it’s absolutely the last thing I need.


(Yes, my name is Maybe Best. Yes, it’s awful and stupid. Believe me, I know. It’s like a joke without a punchline or like a song with no bass guitar, like Dad says. Here’s how my name came about, since you probably want to know: Mom was in pretty bad shape after I was born. She hemorrhaged* from her lady parts because I was a big baby – over ten pounds – and she just wasn’t big enough where it counted, I guess. This isn’t what killed her though. That came later. So, with Mom being totally and completely out of it, it was up to Dad to name me. He did, after one of his favorite songs. Maybellene, by Chuck Berry. The guitar riff in that song is amazing, he says. It’s the name of a mascara, I say. Anyway, you can bet that Mom threw a gargantuan* hissy fit when she found out. She’d wanted to name me Lenore after that Poe poem - you know the one about the stupid, talking raven. Mom was a book lover through and through. Honestly, given both of these choices, I would’ve been better off if the drunk doctor who delivered me had given me my name. Anyway, since I’m stuck with Maybe as my name, I never use the word commonly. You might have noticed that already. Say you would answer, Hmmm, maybe… to a question like, Are you going to the football game tonight? But I would answer possibly or it’s likely. For sure, it’s stretched my vocabulary, having this name. That’s the one good thing, if there is an upshot to being stuck with Maybellene Augusta Best for a name. Augusta comes from the fact that I was born in August, original, I know. All in all, it’s a pretty stupid name, but I know it could worse because Mom’s name was Shirley and she didn’t keep her maiden name. Let that one sink in).


“So, what’ve you been up to today?” he asks, turning back to the hole in the wall.


“Not much,” I shrug. “I went down to the Creek.” Of course, I don’t tell him this was after I swam in the Hole.


“Anything interesting?” I usually have a story about some animal tracks I found or a leaf that was shaped like a monkey’s butt or a new arrowhead to show him or something like that. But today, I can’t think of a single thing to say.


(I feel just like you do when you misplace something important. I’m checking my pockets, but I don’t even know what I’m actually looking for. You know what I mean, right?)


“Not really. Kinda boring and hot. Sylvy showed up,” I tack on, an addendum*.


Dad sighs quietly like he doesn’t want me to hear. Sylvy is his only niece and he loves her almost as much as he loves me. He sure teases her the same way. Honestly, I think she’s half in love with him, the way she moons after him sometimes. She certainly doesn’t do that with her own dad. Not that I blame her or anything. I mean, he’s good-looking enough, Uncle Ricky is, in a weasel-y sort of way, but he’s not Dad.


“Poor Sylvy. That little thing doesn’t know which end is up right now. Did she say anything about how things were going with Randall?” Actually she barely mentioned him, which is strange for Sylvy, since she hardly ever shuts up.

“No, she didn’t say. I guess things are fine.” It’s probably a lie but I didn’t come here to talk about Sylvy. Or Randall, who I haven’t even met yet. I really, really want to talk with Dad about what went on down at the Hole. Trouble is, I know I can’t say anything because I wasn’t supposed to be there in the first place.


(Wanting to tell something that you know will get you in trouble is a fizzy kind of feeling, like something bubbling just below the surface. You know what I mean, don’t you)?


He grunts, a noise he makes that either means that he has plenty more to say and just won’t say it or that he’s actually done with the conversation. He dry-fits a piece of wood into the hole where the window will go. He squares it up and then nail-guns it in place. Hiss-thwack.


“Did I ever tell you about how your Mom and I met?” he says. I roll my eyes. He’s not really looking for an answer, he’s just in one of his weird moods. Sure enough, he starts in on the story of how she, meaning Mom, was studying English Lit at the University of Iowa…


(You probably already know this, but it wasn’t until last year that I finally realized that “Lit” stood for “Literature” and it wasn’t something about fire).


… and he was working with a big construction company out of the Quad Cities, doing finishing work on the new English-Philosophy Building. Dad was on a ladder installing a big piece of crown molding and Mom wasn’t even supposed to be in that section of the building because it was closed for construction. Of course, there were signs, but Mom ignored them because she was busy reading a book.


(If you ever hear him tell this, you’ll notice that the book changes, depending on his mood. I doubt he realizes he does this, but I do).


Just at the exact moment Mom walks by, one end of the big piece of trim that Dad’s holding falls on Mom’s head and she drops her book and Dad comes rushing down the ladder to her rescue and they are both just so wide-eyed…


To be continued next week!


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thanks

Elegy