Monday's child is fair of face, Tuesday's child is full of grace, Wednesday's child is full of woe, Thursday's child has far to go . . .
We were sitting around on my front porch reading Nancy Drew mysteries and drinking lemonade with Ritz crackers and peanut butter when I got to feeling all hot and sticky and wished someone would take us to the river to swim. No one would though. It was already after three o'clock and there wasn't time to get there and back before suppertime, even if somebody's mother wanted to.
I dropped Nancy Drew and the Mystery of the Squeaking Door on the floor without marking my place. I like to do this because someone always says, now you've lost your place, and I say, I never use a book mark; I just remember the page I'm on. To tell the truth, I forget lots of times, but my older brother Harley told me once that if you couldn't remember a simple thing like a page number you were pretty stupid. I don't really think it's stupid, and I hate Harley about half the time, but he seems to be right about a lot of things, especially since Daddy died, so I practice hard on remembering page numbers.
I looked down at my legs and thought they looked pretty cruddy and wondered if Mother would get after me if I shaved them. Actually, I didn't think she would say anything because she didn't seem to notice much of anything about me lately, but I was pretty sure that Jane would have a couple of snotty things to say about how I'm always trying to act older than I really am. Jane happens to be my older sister, older than Harley even. She's real plain and won't even wear lipstick and always has her saddle shoes polished and keeps her things in little boxes all lined up in her bureau drawer. She hates having to share a room with me.
After figuring out how I would snitch Jane's razor when I took my bath tonight, I looked over at Mary Payne. She was all curved down in the green striped canvas chair with her legs stuck out in front of her half way across the porch. Mary Payne has this awful habit of scratching her head when she reads. I don't mean just now and then like everybody else, but all the time. If she sits around for three straight hours reading, she's scratching her head the whole time. She's probably scratched away at least half her scalp by now and today it really irritated me.
Her legs are long and brown and smooth and look terrific in shorts. She's been having a lot of trouble with her skin though and has to keep this green stuff all over her chin and forehead. I guess Mary Payne is just about my best friend, except for Sybil Underwood. I really like Sybil best because we don't argue very much and she's a lot of fun; but my mother and Mary Payne's mother played together when they were little girls, so now it's kind of like we're relatives instead of just friends. Maybe that's why we're so hateful to each other a good bit of the time. It seems like lately I never can tell what kind of a mood she's going to be in and we can't seem to get through a single week without a big fuss over something.
Finally Mary Payne quit scratching her head and looked up from her book. Sometimes I stare at people for ages and they always look up after a while, like they thought someone had called them.
"Whaddya want?" She sounded teed off, like I'd snatched the book out of her hand or something.
I looked surprised. "I don't want anything . . . I didn't say a word, did I?" I stared out into the yard like she was out of her mind or something.
"Oh, never mind." She looked at her nails and cleaned out what she'd scratched from her head. I looked away. Mary Payne has these awful habits.
"Let's do something." She picked up a little coin purse from under her chair and started sucking on the end of the zipper. She's always chewing or scratching or sucking on something. She really irritates me sometimes.
"Whaddya wanta do?" I asked. Since we were already reading and it was too late to go swimming, I couldn't think of anything else. That's all we ever do when school is out in the summer.
"I don't know . . . let's go down to Kessler's."
"What for?" I asked. It embarrasses me to go into a store just to look around. Clerks always know that kids our age aren't going to buy anything and they sort of hang around giving you fishy looks. It isn't so bad in the five-and-ten, but in a place like Kessler's you only go with your mother to really buy something.
"Oh, nothing in particular . . . just looking." She was still chewing on the coin purse and I noticed it looked pretty bumpy. Maybe she would set us up at Cooper's drug store later and it would be worth the hot walk downtown. I had a quarter, but I was saving it for some new Big Little books.
I got up and picked up our empty glasses and the box of crackers and the jar of peanut butter. "Well, O.K . . . I'll tell Mother we're going."
I went back to the kitchen and put the glasses in the sink and everything back in the cabinet. Going down the hall to Mother's bedroom where she was resting, I passed the big mirror and got a look at myself. In the dark hall I didn't look so skinny and my hair just looked sort of shiny instead of all streaky from being bleached out in the sun. I decided I wouldn't take the time to change into a skirt.
I knocked easy on Mother's door. "Mary Payne and I are going downtown,. Is it O.K.?"
"Well, all right . . . just be sure you're back here in time to go up to Uncle RB's for the milk. It's your turn tonight." Through the door her voice sounded funny, like she'd been crying. It made me feel awful and I wanted to go in and see if she really was.
"What is it, honey?"
"Can I have a nickel?" I didn't want to take a chance on Mary Payne deciding to be generous. She can be an awful stingy-gut sometimes.
"I guess so. Come in and get it out of my purse."
The bedroom was dark because the shutters on the big windows were closed to keep out the heat. I opened the top drawer of the bureau and found her purse and felt around for a nickel in the little change compartment.
"What time is it?" She was lying on top of the spread, all dressed except for her shoes, with one hand across her chest and a wet cloth on her forehead. My mother's never sloppy, even when she doesn't feel good.
I looked at the little clock on her bedside table and told her it was three-twenty. "I didn't know you had a headache . . . I'll stay home if you want me to; I mean, the phone might ring, or somebody might come to the door or something." I was just glad she hadn't been crying again. I never can figure out what to do when a grown-up cries.
"Oh, no. You run ahead. I'm feeling a lot better and I'll be getting up in a little bit anyway." I knew she meant it; when she says something like that she never has this whiny tone in her voice that makes you feel like you really ought to stay around. I mean, she really makes you feel like a bad headache isn't anything at all and that it's lots more important for you to go on skating or to the picture show or something.
I stood there a minute looking at her. "Well, all right; if you're real sure?"
"I'm sure. You go on now. Just don't forget about the milk."
"No ma'am, I won't." I managed to close the door quietly and went back down the hall. Through the screen door I could see Mary Payne still stretched out in the chair in this silly pose like she thought she was Hedy Lamarr or somebody. All of a sudden I wanted to kick the chair rung out of its notch and make her fall flat on her fanny.
I whacked the door open and let it bang shut. "I got a nickel for a coke . . . I think I'll have a cherry one. Hey, Mary Payne, let's go by Sybil's house and see if she can play out tonight. If she can and you can, then I know Mother'll let Harley and Jane and me."
She finally managed to get up out of the chair and gave me this hateful, stuck-up look. "Who wants to play baby games every night, for heaven's sake?" I started blushing. All summer she's been making me feel like I'm about five years old every time I mention doing something fun we've always done. Besides, I'd rather play than anything in summer, except for swimming and reading like this afternoon. Nobody has to go to bed till nine o'clock so we all gulp down our supper and go up to Mary Payne's and play Kick the Can or Sardines or Piggly Wiggly. Sometimes, when it gets dark enough, Clarence Mitchell tells us ghost stories. We all sit around on the wet grass getting chigger bites and grass stains on our clothes while he scares the daylights out of us, until somebody's mother starts calling to come on home. I can't imagine anybody not wanting to play out, except grown-ups.
"What's 'baby' about playing out, I'd like to know? Since when are you too old to play Kick the Can . . . I'd just like to know? You're just six months older than me, remember?" I never can think of anything really smart to say when I get mad. My voice just gets trembly and I think I'm going to start crying.
I straight-armed the screen door and went down the front steps three at a time, letting the door slam right in her face. All she did when she caught up with me out on the sidewalk was give me another dirty look. Mary Payne really has a rotten disposition.
Outside, the heat from the sidewalk and the streets made things look all blurry. I like being out in the middle of the afternoon. Hardly anybody is around and everything sounds kind of far away. All the mothers and really little kids are inside resting with the shades and blinds closed and the colored girls are sitting in straight chairs out on the back porches, waiting for everyone to wake up. When you go into anybody's house at this time of day everything is dark and cool and about all you can hear is the refrigerator humming out in the kitchen.
We stayed on the shady side of the streets so it wasn't too bad going downtown, but I was glad I had a nickel for a coke. Once, I stuck the nickel hard into the palm of my hand to see if it would stay there when I turned my hand over. It didn't. I bent over to pick it up off the sidewalk and when I straightened up I felt dizzy, like the top of my head weighed about a million pounds.
"Are we going to Kessler's or the drug store first?" I asked.
"I don't care. Let's go to Kessler's."
Hardly anybody was in town. We passed Cooper's and a lot of business men were standing around the cigar counter drinking cokes and laughing. They'd get all bunched up together and one of them would talk real low for a minute, then all of a sudden they'd start laughing like anything and Judge Harris would whoop out real loud and slap his knee. Once I asked Harley what they were doing and he said I was stupid.
I was kind of nervous about going into Kessler's, but I figured out that I'd pretend I was looking around for a new blouse because that's all they have out on tables that you can look at without having a clerk pull things off shelves for you. I can't stand to have someone fuss over me when I know I'm not going to buy anything.
Kessler's is the only really nice store in town. It has great big display windows out front, and inside it's all carpeted and quiet and you can see three sides of yourself when you're trying something on. The only trouble with this is, no matter how good a dress you have on when you go into Kessler's, it always looks old and tacky next to everything they have. Mary Payne went in first and I followed her, wishing I'd put on a skirt instead of wearing these ugly old shorts.
Mrs. Kessler was behind the jewelry counter and gave us a look over her glasses. "Can I help you, girls?" Mrs. Kessler is real gushy when she thinks you're going to buy something, and I could tell right away she knew we were just going to poke around. I sort of stayed behind Mary Payne and looked over toward the blouses, wishing we hadn't come in.
Mary Payne stuck her chin up in the air and walked straight up to Mrs. Kessler. "Yes, I'd like to see some lingerie, please."
I thought she'd lost her mind or something. We never even looked at Mrs. Kessler unless our mothers were with us. I didn't know whether to stay with Mary Payne or sneak off toward the blouses.
"Right over here, dear." She moved toward a counter where they had slips and panties and things in little frames sitting around on the glass top. "Now, what is it you need, dear? Panties, or a new slip?" She was talking to Mary Payne like she was a grown-up, for heaven's sake.
Mary Payne didn't bat an eye. "No, not today. I need a new brassiere."
A brassiere! A new brassiere! Like she had about a million old ones at home! I knew for a fact that Mary Payne had never owned a brassiere in her entire life. I almost giggled but saw that Mrs. Kessler hadn't even cracked a smile. She just looked real sharp at Mary Payne's front and squinched up her lips and said, "Well now, what size would that be?"
"A thirty-two, in white I think." She sounded like she'd been buying one every week for a year. Mrs. Kessler laid two or three out on the counter and Mary Payne picked them up and turned them over, and they talked about cups and support and comfort and things, and finally she picked out one with a little pink rosebud on the middle part of the front.
While Mary Payne was fishing her money out, Mrs. Kessler looked at me and said, "What about you, dear? Anything today?"
I started to blush and folded my arms across my chest. I didn't want her to see that I wasn't anywhere near needing something like that.
"NO! No, ma'am . . . not today, thank you." Mary Payne got her package and picked up her change and we left.
Outside, we didn't say anything and started walking back toward Cooper's. I felt kind of miserable and dumb and wondered why I'd left a perfectly good book just to come downtown in all this heat.
We sat down at a back table and ordered cokes, but it wasn't much fun. We didn't talk any until finally I brought up the subject of playing out again. "Let's stop by Sybil's on the way home and see if she can play out tonight, O.K.?"
Mary Payne finished pinching her straw, he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not, and leaned back in her chair, pretending she was Lana Turner or somebody, I guess.
"Well . . . if you must know, don't bother. It so happens that Sybil and I are going to the picture show tonight."
I felt all funny inside for a minute. Sybil and I had been going to the show every Saturday afternoon for ages, and right now it was the middle of a Flash Gordon serial. "You and Sybil? She can't! We always go on Saturday . . . besides she doesn't have enough money to go twice a week!"
"Well, for your information, some of us don't like to waste our time and money on that kid stuff. Sybil and I are going to see Rebecca at the early show tonight, so there."
For a minute I thought I was going to start this dumb crying so I looked over toward the magazine rack, squinting my eyes hard like I was trying to read the printing on one of the magazines. All I could think about was who I would sit with on Saturday. Harley would die before he would let me sit with him, and I'd die before I'd sit with Jane. I hated Mary Payne so much I couldn't look at her.
"Well, drop dead then! And for your information, maybe some of us don't like to waste our time and money on a bunch of grown-up junk either!"
She didn't pay any attention to me, so we finished our cokes without talking any more and went home without stopping at Sybil's house. When we got to my house I just said, "I'll see you," and didn't even ask her to come in.
Mary Payne had left her book under the chair, so I picked it up with mine and went through the house to the kitchen.
Mother was standing at the cabinet patting out biscuit dough, looking fresh and cool, like she was feeling all right.
"What did you go downtown for?"
"Oh, nothing. Just a coke." I went out on the back porch and picked up the empty milk bottles. It was cooler now that the sun had started to go down, and everything looked all gold and clean. Inside, I could hear Mother cutting out the biscuits on the metal cabinet top. In the bright sun I took a good look at my legs. They really looked terrible.
"Mother, how much does a razor cost . . . ?"
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Warren Wedin email@example.com