Renaissance Online's second serial story, "Dear Dreadful Book" will appear over four months, concluding with the November 1999 issue.
SHARON E. SVENDSEN, an English teacher and writing instructor, is a contributing writer to Renaissance Online Magazine. She makes her home in Bremerton, Washington.
Dear Dreadful Book
SHARON E. SVENDSEN
Aunt Lizzy and Rose came over for dinner. Dad is such a hypocrite. He's always making fruit loops jokes about the two of them, but when they come over, he's always nicey nicey to them.
Lizzy was making all this fuss about my graduation and I should go to college (as if that wasn't already decided) and what a bright future I have. Then she started in on all the cutey pie things I did when I was a kid. Make me barf. All gushy and sentimental. Strictly pukesville. Rose pretended to be interested, but I know she knows that I hate her, so she hates me. Thank God. I wouldn't want some fruitcake interested in me.
Trina came over this afternoon. We walked down to Bob's Big Boy and got a milk shake. She said all Oogy wants to talk about is cars and motorcycles. Men!
Thank God. The school is going to have a party for us kids after commencement. Now I won't have to go to my Mom's stupid party.
Wrongo! Mom moved her party to Sunday. Now it's going to be a "brunch." Aunt Lizzy and Rose will be there. What a joke. Lardbutt hasn't even talked to me this week. He sees me in the hall and he just blushes. I wonder if he's having second thoughts about the prom. I hope he doesn't just back out on me at the last minute. I have a hair appointment on Saturday. It would be awful to waste all that money.
Lardbutt talked to me today. At least I don't have to worry that he's not going to take me to the prom. He is. He wants to take me out to dinner first. I said, "Sure." Why not?
Mom and I argued about Aunt Lizzy again. She said to me, "You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Your Aunt Liz has never given you anything but kindness and love." I realized she was right. But having a lesbian for an aunt is just so embarrassing. I said, "I think I can do without a lesbian's love." Mom gave me this kind of disgusted look and turned away, but she turned back and shook her finger at me and said, "Someday you are going to realize what a great and brave person she is." I said, "I can wait." I know Mom was mad, but she didn't say anything else.
My head is packed full of American History. We have an exam on Monday. I'm not very likely to study tomorrow or Sunday, so like a good little girl, I sat down and studied tonight. Names and dates and all that. But I find myself staring off into space, wondering about things like the underground railroad. We probably won't even be questioned about that. But what was it like? Traveling at night, was it difficult to see? Or did you prefer nights without a moon so that you wouldn't be seen?
We used to play hide and seek in the yard at night and sometimes, if you found a really dark spot, you could sit there very still and someone could look right at you and not see you. But you'd think that they couldn't miss you, you were so obvious. Imagine that plus a fear for your very life. How brave you would have to be. And you'd have to believe so much that you deserved to be free. Imagine all your life you were told you were nobody, then by some miracle you grew to know you were somebody - somebody worth taking risks for, somebody who deserved to be free. Did the rivers have snakes? Would I swim through a river full of snakes for anything? Were the people sick? If a mother was trying to steal away with her child, how could she keep the child quiet? Imagine the constant fear, the fear of traveling and the fear of staying put, having to be still and quiet in dark, cramped, hidden rooms. And the exultation of reaching Canada. Canada! When it's always the United States that everyone holds up as the be all and end all of liberty. I don't know. I get lost in this type of thing - the type of thing you're never tested on. I guess I'd make a pretty lousy historian.
I was at the beauty parlor for two hours today, but it was worth it. My hair still looks fabulous. I came home and did my nails. Mom was all fussing around. "Your hair looks so cute." "Are you sure you want to wear that color polish?" "Do you want to borrow my beaded bag?" I did. When my nails were dry, I took a careful, well-oiled bath and made every inch of me smell wonderful. Then I put on my new underwear and nylons, and did my makeup. Then I put on my dress and shoes. Marvelous. Lardbutt Lawrence showed up at 6:00. Dad answered the door and sat and talked with him. Mom was busy fussing at me and taking my picture. She went on downstairs and I made my big entrance. Dad whistled, which was kind of embarrassing but nice. Lardb Lawrence just kind of stood there like he was in shock. I was in shock. He looks good in a tuxedo. And he didn't have his glasses on. (I found out later he was wearing contacts.) He looked human. No, that's not very nice. He really looked pretty good. He gave me this big corsage and I thought: oh no, I can't put that on my dress, but it turned out it was a wrist corsage. It went with my dress perfectly. Mom brought out this boutonniere for him. I hadn't even thought of that. Mom had to get half a dozen pictures before we left.
Lawrence led me to his car - he has his own car. It's a little bit old, but clean outside and inside (not greasy inside, like some cars I have been in. I didn't have to worry that the oily upholstery would wreck my dress.) He held the door open for me and closed it gently. When he got in, he just looked at me for a moment. "You look so beautiful," he said. I said, "Thank you. You look nice, too." He did. We went to Ambrozio's. I had never been inside before. It is really nice. Lawrence ordered sparkling cider. It was sort of like champagne. Lawrence said to order whatever I wanted. I didn't want to eat a whole lot and feel uncomfortable in my dress, so I ordered the tropical chicken salad. Lawrence ordered some kind of chicken. It turned out my salad was enormous. It had pineapple in it.
We were still feeling awkward with each other. We were thinking up things to say. Lawrence asked me if I remembered the time we all (the whole senior class) went to the art museum. Of course I remembered. He said he remembered me stopping in the entrance way where they have all the stained glass everywhere. I remembered that. It was so kind of wonderful. It felt like you were inside the heart of a rainbow. It was exhilarating. I remembered that, but I didn't remember Lardb Lawrence being there. He said he'd felt like that the first time he went to the museum, too. I remember talking to some people after we left the museum, and none of them had felt what I called the rainbow high. None of them had felt it. I had thought I was the only one. Now Lawrence said he'd felt that way, too. We had something in common. We talked about that and other things that had just stopped us in our tracks-like waterfalls or mountains and things. I even told him how I think it's neat at the bowling alley, just before the leagues start to play, when all the pin setters set up all at once, how it's kind of like a salute - then I thought, that's stupid. He's really going to think I'm dumb. But he understood, and he talked about how he likes to watch bulldozers and he likes that moment in an airplane when you're just taking off. I said I kind of like that, too, but it's also kind of scary. It was a different kind of conversation. Not like the kinds of things Sid and I used to talk about.
[ MORE: Prom Aftermath ]