She wakes too late to shower. Someone forgot to set the alarm and the entire family oversleeps.
“Please!” she begs.
“We just don’t have time, honey,” Dad says. He holds his hands out to her—a kind of offering. His smooth smooth hands, skin softened by raw fat. The suet that rubs against his hands as he slices through flesh—carves steaks, fillets, grinds the tougher cuts into hamburger.
He tells her that he and Mom must get to work and Mandy and her sister, Lara, must be dropped off at school. Mandy requires neither his explanations—the details of which is she aware—nor his sympathy. She only wants a shower. Her mother doesn’t allow her to wash her hair every day. She insists daily shampoos will damage it. But Mandy’s hair is oily. Sleek and shiny. Almost pretty, on the days she shampoos. Flat from bed and greasy on the days she doesn’t. (The girls have made note of it, obliquely. But it is only a matter of time.)
This day, the day the alarm clock does not go off, is a shampoo day. But there is not enough time. It has been two days now since her hair was washed. She is panicked.
“But my hair is dirty, Mom!”
It is winter.
She is twelve. Seventh grade.
“Mandy, you look fine. It’ll be okay.” Her mother touches her shoulder gently.
She does not look fine, though. Mom is just saying that.
“You can wash it tonight,” her mother adds.
Tonight is another lifetime altogether.
Mandy dresses quickly. She jams a knit hat over her hair and dreads the unavoidable moment when she will have to remove it. She pictures her hair vividly dirty and matted. Some of the boys might laugh and say some stupid things she will almost be able to ignore, or at the least successfully pretend to brush off. But the girls, who might say nothing at all, will look at her sharply and shrewdly and efficiently, with cool nonchalance and cooler blue eyes or brown or some other color. And with no words at all, they will say more.
The entire school day she lightly runs her hand over her hair. She imagines it slippery and wet-looking. Dripping onto the collar of her white oxford shirt. Trips to the girls’ room prove it not quite as bad as her imagination conjures, but her thoughts continually slide back to the greasy image of herself. She thinks it and thinks it until it becomes her. Not the hair, not the oiliness but some bigger, more horrible thing. It overtakes her to the point that she forgets the day is about come to an end. She almost forgets that she is not the unnameable thing, heavy and slow and slunk down in the wooden chair with the desk part attached like a big flat arm. She almost forgets there will be other days, other moments.
Then the bell rings. Relief more like joy floods her.
She gathers her things. Shoves her hat on her head before she puts on her coat.
She moves quietly away out of the classroom, meets up with her sister in the schoolyard.
It is bitterly cold, like ice on teeth.
It is winter and Mandy is in seventh grade.
As she walks away from the school on her way home, she and Lara talk; they giggle; they belly laugh. Distance between her and the school lengthens. The space starts out thick and heavy, wide and dark, growing thin and transparent until enough has uncoiled and the space, now thin as spaghetti and light as organdy ribbon, turns to white smoke and is gone, absorbed into the blue of the sky.
There are times when she is heavy and times when she is light.
The day is cold and brittle. It hurts to smile. Yet they do. Bring forth the hot insides of mouth and tongue and exhale warmth where it needs to be.
Summer is light.
She wakes to the sound of the shade snapping against the frame of the window—pulled in and blown out by the cool morning breeze. The shade snaps this way only during summer. Mandy doesn’t open her eyes. The sheets and pillows smell of fresh air. During summer, they dry their clothes outside in the sun. The clothesline pulley is stuck into the house outside Mandy’s bedroom window—the line runs in a white loop to a tall wooden pole where the other pulley is secured. Both pulleys squeak crazily as the line is run towards or away from the window.
“I’ve got to get Daddy to spray those with WD-40,” Mom says. Mandy’s dad always gets those little jobs. Mom has plenty of her own—she teaches all year and is almost never still when she is home.
They drop clothespins to the ground sometimes as they hang clothes on the line. When enough have gathered beneath the window, sunk in the soft moss and the tender green of the grass, Mom calls to Mandy and Lara as they play outside.
From the window she calls out, “Girls! Can you get the clothespins, please?” They run to the window, stoop to pick up the clothespins and stand on tippy-toes to hand them up to her as she reaches down from the window. The girls gather them up in little bunches. The ones that fell first, weeks ago, are damp and weathered. They laugh as some fall again from Mom’s hands.
Summer is light.
Mandy nestles under the sweet grass-smelling sheets and with her eyes closed, listens to the shade snapping. Maybe right now she needs only to slide the soles of her feet and the palms of her hands slowly across the smooth sheets—the green and yellow flowers, sun-faded, washed many times, rubbed to thin softness.
It is summer after seventh grade. She is twelve but not for long. She turns thirteen at the end of the summer. Not that she’s in a hurry to be thirteen as the other girls are, whose favorite topics include: boys, teen magazines, periods, boobs, high school boys. To all of their talk she smiles enough to show interest, not enough to be called out.
But all of that is far away and now she can press her face into the softness and scent of the sheets.
The summer morning is a cool sweet-smelling hushed thing with its own weight pressing into the new day. She opens her eyes. As air pushes the shade away from the window, bright white sunlight erupts into the room, then, as quickly, rushes away like the ocean, as the shade is sucked back into the window frame.
Mandy listens and hears her sister talking with their Mom in the kitchen. She throws off the covers, tosses her thin tan legs over the side of the bed. Her feet touch the wood floor and slap lightly to her bedroom door, are silenced on the pile-carpet of the hallway.
It will be a sunny hot day—they will go to the beach.
And she steeps herself in the comfort of slipping on a day like a best-loved sweater. Soft, cottony, fat loopy weave, loved, unraveling. Some pretty, faded color.
This morning Mom has sliced some strawberries for the corn flakes. Sprinkled with sugar, floating in the creamy white.
For the following several Thursdays the story will be continued through the ending. Hope to see you back here for more!