The Move to Sherwin

January 22, 2008
By Carolyn Hermann, Suffolk, VA

It was one of those dinky small towns straight from Hollywood eighties films with letter jackets, fifties diners, and teenage brides. It couldn’t have had two thousand people. It was fitted (with plenty of room to spare) in Sherwin forest. Such was my first view of my new home. Yay.

“I spy with my little eye—”

“Tree,” I interrupted, knowing full well that Jenna was either about to say something green, or something that begins with t. I nudged the volume on my iPod up a few notches, and my eardrums screamed along with the band singer.

Jenna slammed her pink My Little Pony light-up sneakers into the back of my seat for only perhaps the billionth time that morning, and I winced, suppressing the urge to spin around in the passenger seat and give her a verbal lashing. “Mo-om! Jake won’t play with me!” she shrieked, her seven-year-old voice extraordinarily loud (and nerve-grating) for her seven-year-old lungs.

“Jenna, what were you going to say?” my mom asked from beside me as she maneuvered a knob for the air conditioning, ceasing the steady, chilling stream of air that had been tattooing a hole in my head for the past five minutes. I briefly marveled that my mom wasn’t at our throats by now, but then I thought about it. Oh, yeah—it’s mom.

“Well, I was going to say ‘I spy with my little eye something green,’ but then Jake interrupted me,” my sister complained sulkily. I could see her in the rearview mirror sticking her tongue—blue from some icicle from the cooler in the trunk with enough sugar to have her jump to Saturn and back again without breaking a sweat—out at the back of my head.

I could feel my mom staring at me beseechingly. I knew that look, one that she gave me so often nowadays: please, humor her. I suppressed a groan, turned around in my seat, and looked at Jenna, the bane of my existence. She was turned to the window, her honey curls coiling around her bony shoulders and folded arms. Her lower lip was protruding enormously, a pathetic, expected sign of defiant (if momentary and rare) silence. “Jenna, please say what you were going to say. I really want to guess,” I lied.

I saw Jenna’s large blue eyes flicker over to me in a brief glance that might have been sneaky, had it not been so horribly obvious. “Really?” she demanded doubtfully.

“Absolutely,” I fibbed, turning around in my seat—the belt was starting to dig into my ribcage. I was amazed that she was buying this; I was such a bad liar. My mom gave me a grateful smile, and I gave her a shrug, invisible to the midget in the backseat. I turned back to look outside. Tree…tree…treetreetreetreetreetreetree….

Where was the town, anyway? Had we taken a wrong turn and ended up on a road that would go on and on and on and on, always surrounded by stupid green trees? How many other newcomers or out-of-staters had fallen for this? It must have been the house saleswoman, I thought with my brutal, not-so-vastly-humorous humor. Stupid realtor.

“I spy with my little eye something green!” Jenna yelled with distinct, infantile triumph that curled my lip into an unconscious grimace.

“Tree,” I grunted, wishing that this game that had started at six in the morning—as soon as all three of us had hobbled out into the car from the anything-but-sanitary motel, still yawning and half-asleep. Why me? I wondered, slamming the volume on the iPod up as far as it possibly could.

The box’s corner was digging into my elbow painfully, and I grunted as I tried to shift it into a less agonizing position. No good—now it was hollowing out a ditch between two of my ribs. “Jenna, move!” I groaned, practically feeling the bones in my arm grind together under the stress of holding the carton up.

“But I’m playing!” she protested self-importantly. Around the edge of the box, I saw a little hand hold up a long-limbed, beach blonde Barbie dressed in a short jean skirt, a bubble-gum pink shirt, and mismatching hiking boots.

“Well I’m bringing this extremely heavy box up stairs! Now move!” I snapped irately, lifting a Converse-encased shoe in a move that suggested that I would send her seven-year-old body flying if she sat in my way a second longer—which, of course, was something I would probably never do, even if at times I wished to. She was still my sister, albeit the most vexing and exhausting sister on the planet. She squealed, scooped up her Barbies, and sprinted down the hall, her little sneakers lighting up the dark green carpet.

I hoisted the last of the boxes into my room: the one that just had to be the farthest down the hallway, the farthest from the stairs, the one that faced the front of the house. I kicked open the door softly and let gravity take the box as it plummeted down next to the rest of them.

I collapsed down onto my temporary “bed”, which consisted of two mattresses stacked atop one another. We (meaning my mom, the movers, and a reluctant me) had decided to depart without my bed frame. I bounced up a bit the first time, my skinny body seeming very light, but then gravity, both my faithful friend and worst nemesis in the moving business, took hold and I lay spread-eagled on the top mattress. I stared up at the smooth white ceiling in a sort of daze. I felt strange—I felt perfectly aware of everything that was happening around me, but I also felt like I was dreaming. And I felt accepting, as startling as it seemed to me. I guess that, earlier, I had unconsciously recognized that whining and remembering everything that was thousands of miles away was stupid, and that I wasn’t making it any easier on Mom, Jenna, or myself. I guess I had realized, without my immediate knowledge, that I could start new here: I didn’t have to be the disaffected artist kid that sat in the back of class and sketched during a lecture.

My room was small, but at least I was moving. It was rectangularly shaped, with large windows on two sides. One set of windows showed the front lawn, which had gold and red leaves scattered across the faded grass on either side of the paved driveway that disappeared into woods. The other set just showed Sherwin Forest, the closest tree being right next to my window. I made a mental note to remind Mom to tell her about that tree; I didn’t want any housebreaker getting in. The walls were white, like the rest in the house, and the carpet emerald green, like the shadows under the trees outside. The closet was on one of the walls with no windows, and was reasonably sized. The only furniture in my room besides my “bed” was my bedside table, which practically towered over my “bed”; my desk in the corner that was so scarred that only I could love it; the lamp on my desk with a wrought-iron neck; the chair behind the desk that was just as blemished as its counterpart; the dresser beside the closet; and the adjustable easel in the corner, between the two large windows that I always used; and the stool, splattered with paint and scratched.

Jenna dashed inside my room, her curly blond pigtails soaring. Does she never get tired? I wondered.

“Jake! I’m missing Sweetie!” Jenna wailed, sheer panic and horror obvious in her tone.

“I’m sure she’s just—”

“Nuh-uh! She’s missing! C’mon, we have to find her!” Jenna nearly tore my arm out of my arm out of my socket when she tried to pull me to my feet. I could feel her little fingers slipping from my skin as she loosened her grip a little. “Come on!” she ordered sternly, yanking on my arm repeatedly.

“Go away,” I whined childishly.

“MOM!” Jenna shrieked, right in my ear. I yelped and clapped my hands over my ears, though the damage was already done. Against all odds, I could still hear…barely. The ringing in my ears died down slowly.

“Fine,” I relented exasperatedly.

“Yay!” she cried, throwing her little fists up in the air. I gnashed my teeth and rolled up to my feet, the mattresses pitching slightly. I was drained of energy. Moaning, I slumped out of my room to the one next door: Jenna’s. Hers was a little smaller than mine and painted a soft pink—the previous owners had had a baby girl who had slept in this room. She had her little bed against the wall, with her white-painted dresser, tea table and chairs, bedside table and enormous toy box already arranged thanks to Mom. She had considerably fewer boxes than me, thanks to my obsession with reading books.

“Well, it’s got to be in her somewhere,” I stated unhelpfully. With a resigned and irritated expression, I tugged open the flaps of the nearest cardboard box and glanced inside. Inside was a large collection of plastic tea sets of various origins, colors, and styles: pink and stout, yellow and petal-ly, neon green and exceedingly feminine. They all still smelled like cheap manufacturing—if cheap manufacturing is a scent.

Jenna just sat on the ground and watched me dig through box after box. She always claimed that she could never find something…before she’d even tried. And Mom or I was always left to do the searching.

I mentally cursed the day my mother had brought home Sweetie Molly, a doll with a glazed stare that could give anyone nightmares. I once made the mistake of gazing at the demented doll for more than four seconds. Scary….

“Just think, Jenna,” I ordered, lifting up the bubble gum pink edge of the coverlet that dribbled over the side of her bed, hiding what was underneath. “If you were Sweetie, were would you be?” To my dismay, there was no c*** in the forbidden and little-used domain of the space under the bed, which apparently turned into a monster’s heaven after the fateful nine p.m., according to Jenna. She claimed to be a master in the art of hunting all things supernaturally foul. About twice a week, she would strap on her cheap brown plastic gunbelt and steal my old flashlight and Mom’s multicolored feather duster and go track all things beastly that stalk her bedroom. It used to be an official Saturday night activity—until Dad left and I got older and grew an unforgiving common sense.

Jenna thought for a moment, and I looked up at her in expectation. Then she beamed and declared, “I would be at the mall getting a manicure.”

I didn’t doubt it, but I realized that this was not helping. “Here’s an idea: why don’t you look for your stuff?” I snarled through gritted teeth.

“But that’s not fun,” Jenna stated, letting all the pomposity of a child silt her voice. She nodded her head to the upbeat music booming from the jukebox in her head. I imagined that the song would be I’m a Barbie Girl. Mine would probably be Entertainers.

“Well, how do you think that makes me feel, then?” I asked pointedly.

Jenna said nothing—she just stared right into my eyes. I blinked, and she blinked as well. Her gaze was sharp, like the little blue irises were examining my soul. “What?” I asked, confused and awkward.

“What color are your eyes?” she demanded.

I wore contacts that changed the color of my eyes. “Oh. Um…think of muddy water, and you’d have a pretty good comparison,” I replied, sidetracked. Jenna had that effect on me when she changed topics faster than I could manage.

“But I wanna see ’em,” she whined.

I prayed for patience. It was slow coming. “I’ll show you sometime,” I promised. I don’t think I meant it, but was still wondering why she cared.

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