Tooie’s mother always called out the window for him just when things were heating up, just when the score was closing in, just when I might really win. “T O O EEEEEE! T O O EEEEEE!” She cried. I swear to God she knew Tooie was about to be whooped and up goes the window in 2F, up goes the screen and out comes Mrs. Mahoney’s big head, big mouth, and there goes my win!
Tooie was the best scully player in the neighborhood. Since 4 he’s been out playing on his knees, head sideways against the chalked in scully court, eyes squinting to make his best shot. If his mother let you, and you got to visit and make it to his room, you saw an enviable collection of bottle caps on Tooie’s dresser; in some he melted down crayon to give ‘em good weight and scratched in a thin “t”. When Tooie was 5 he won the district wide kindergarten competition. For Tooie that was no match and when he was 6 he competed with the 5th and 6th graders. That’s how good he was.
More and more it seemed Tooie’s mother was at the window calling out for him to come up for naps, meals, baths when the rest of us were roller skating, playing stoop ball or trading baseball cards. His mother was what our mothers called overprotective. Mothers buzzed how Tooie was going to have problems, be a mama’s boy, and that he was tied to his mother’s apron strings, though I could never figure out why she’d tie her own son in apron strings, and that Mrs. Mahoney was making up for her loneliness since Mr. Mahoney ran off with Miss Bloom in 5H. But to me her biggest crime was her timing. Then Tooie got real sick when he was 7 and 2 months old because he had some kind of immune thing, or not enough immune thing, and all the mothers gossiped how Mrs. Mahoney let Tooie out so much and didn’t keep him in more. My friend Sam’s mother told him that Tooie’s mother was to blame because Tooie was always scrapping his knees on the asphalt when playing scully and that is number one cause of infection and he should never have been out there, or at least been in long pants.
When I’m practicing my scully moves I feel Tooie close by. Like when I bend my head real low and squint my eyes and flick my best shot. Sometimes I hear the screech of Mrs. Mahoney sliding up the screen and stop my breath and wait for Tooie’s name. Instead she rests her heavy round arms on the windowsill and looks down on me. Sometimes I wave and Mrs. Mahoney waves back. I think about asking what’s gonna happen to all of Tooie’s bottle caps now, and if I can have one. But I’m afraid to ask.
At the funeral Mrs. Mahoney fainted as Tooie was being carried down the aisle in a small box. Four men helped her up because Mrs. Mahoney is a big woman. I knew at 6 ½ this was the worst thing that could happen to Tooie because our teachers and mothers told us we would never see him again. I don’t know who else knows it but me, but after Tooie’s mother called down on him Tooie always said, “my mother needs me. I’m the man of the house now and I have to be with my mother.” And Tooie would gather up his bottle caps without caring that we didn’t finish our game and rise off the ground and make it upstairs to be with Mrs. Mahoney.
We pull out two lockers from beneath the bed. Jeffrey removes his summer clothes and neatly replaces them with his winter clothes and non-toxic moth repellent. I exchange my winter clothes for summer clothes and we shove the lockers back beneath the bed.
I flip the mattress, put on daisy sheets with matching coverlet, bring down the brocade curtains, dust, put up white lace curtains, scrub the kitchen floor and vacuum. Jeffrey moves through the rooms like a sniffing bear flashing large white-capped teeth and says, C L E E E N.
* * *
Jeffrey picks a book off the nightstand, drags an index finger down the spine and holds it up at me.
Dust? I say.
He swipes his finger on the daisy sheet, turns out the light and mounts me. Long skinny fingers grab hold of my shoulders and bony hips pound.
Ooow! You bit me.
Sorry, I say.
He rolls off like a wet log and squeals, I WAS JUST ABOUT TO BRONCO!!
Jeffrey teaches two graduate courses two evenings a week and gets home after light has drained from these walls. I make dinner for one and sing along to the latest sensation: Love, love me do, you know I love you, I’ll always be true, so pleee ee ee ese, love me doooo.
Jeffrey thinks in squares times triangles and infinity. He says his thoughts are in the clouds, but I find them splattered around the toilet bowl.
Summer Send Off
We drive out to the Gilberts’ suburban ranch style home. This will be our fourth year at their end of summer shindig. Roger Gilbert is Jeffrey’s dean. When the invitation arrives Jeffrey shoves a fat cigar in his mouth and tells me to go out and buy a new party dress. I already have three hanging in the closet! I protest. Dewdrop, he croons, learn from the snake, shed one get one, and slaps a handful of bills into my palm. Jeffrey hopes to hop from assistant professor to associate professor.
The party rocks on the Gilberts’ wide stretch of lawn. People mingle, stumble, and twist beneath a string of white lights. I chew on small wieners wrapped in pastry dough and spot Roger Gilbert sailing towards us like an arrow. He smacks Jeffrey on the back and greets me with a voracious hug and pats my ass - which Jeffrey advises I ignore each year. As we embrace I whisper into his hairy ear, you’re a pig Dr. Gilbert.
Jeffrey marches off to pump hands and get a Gin and Tonic. I follow the path we took that first year when my husband passed me around like a tray of hors d’oeuvres.
On the drive home Jeffrey says: I saw you talking to Will Johnston. I hope you flirted with him sufficiently, and cups my knee. Why should I flirt with Johnston? Jeffrey spins the wheel jerking us off the road. Don’t you ever listen to anything I say? Will is Chair of The Appointments Committee! His blue eyes rage. I shrug. He guns it back onto the main road; his white knuckled fingers clutch the wheel like it’s my neck.
We pull the lockers out from beneath the bed and remove our winter clothes. We repack our summer clothes and shove the lockers back beneath the bed.
The trees will turn color. The leaves will fall to the ground. The trees will bare gray twisted branches.
* * *
I make Steak Diane and mashed potatoes. Jeffrey says the steak is too cooked and the mashed potatoes not mashed enough. He forks a lump to prove it.
Maybe your potatoes need gentle stroking with your fork, I advise. Jeffrey leaves the table.
Old Man Winter
Clumps of snow fall from the sky. I say: did you know no two snowflakes are alike? Jeffrey says: snow is the albino of nature, the absence of color, the absence of life, the color of corpses.
Jeffrey and I pull the lockers out from beneath the bed. He removes his summer clothes and puts away his winter clothes and non-toxic moth repellant. I pull out my summer clothes and stare at my party dresses. I hold up the oldest and recall how we danced under the stars, how the seasons always return, how one day we won’t. I think about my husband’s over sized capped teeth that look like a dozen large white eggs. I think. I think. I think. I stuff all my clothes back into the locker and shut the lid.
Penelope Mermall made Glimmer Train's Best Start competition list in 2009. She will be published in Bartleby Snopes this October. Penelope is a social worker who treated children and families in child psychiatry and was the director of a mental health program for homeless women run by NYU's School of Social Work. She lives in NYC with her husband Thomas. She nearly fell off the chair when she received an acceptance from OffCourse rather than another rejection. This is her first publication.