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Sweetheart: a novel
VROOM! I woke with a start as a motorcycle engine started. It only sent me into a deeper reverie, dreaming of my own boy to be with. Sigh~ I watched as the leather jacket clad boy drove off in a whoosh on his motorcycle. I was sitting at my window on a parlor couch so I could daydream at the window, the sun warming my face. I pulled out my pink metal-and-glass gumball dispenser and put in the key that I wore around my neck. It made a soft click as I turned the elaborate key, and out rolled a red, heart-shaped gumball with a scratch on one of the humps. A thin crack ran through the middle, a physical picturesque of my heart. I fit it in my cheek and tried again. Click. This time, a smooth pink heart gumball rolled out. I fit it in my other cheek and chewed.
I split my pale green curtain and watched as a new, gleaming Model T Ford drove bumpily by. The couple in the front seat looked as happy as could be, peas in a pod, snug. Sigh~ I tore myself away from the torturing window, as I was sure it was jeering at me now. I put on an apron and went downstairs to help my mother. She was washing dishes, so I took up a rag and dried the dishes she cleaned. “Oh, Margaret, darling, I need to tell you this before I forget. Go sit down and I’ll finish this up.” So I put down the soaked rag and wipe my hand on the apron. I sit at a fanciful, white chair with a curling back.
I bounced up and down, feeling my curls go up and down, brushing my cheeks. Mother scolded me gently, “Sit still Marge, dear. Watch your manners at all times, remember that; especially where you’re going.” “I’m not going anywhere!” I protested a little too loudly. “Quiet your voice, Margaret! You’re going to Grandmama’s. It’s hard here without Father, him being in war. So Uncle James and I have talked it over, and your brother John has gathered some money for a train ticket,” she added as I opened my mouth, “You leave the day after today.” I watched her red lips move as she said these horrible words. “What about the little ones, Lizzie and Thomas?” I countered. She only pulled her stubborn face and sat there. I felt torn: away from my family I’ve always been with, away from friends, away from neighbors. I screamed inside, but not showing Mother.
I ran upstairs to my room and started to angrily throw things into a suitcase. I opened it on my bed, then grabbed my precious gumball machine and nearly threw it on my bed, but I stopped. I wiped my angry tears away and crumpled to the floor. I still had the gum in my mouth, still sweet and savory. I tucked it carefully with my nightclothes and Sunday dress. I finished packing by putting in my key and locket with the whole family: Charlie, Mother, Father, and me. Those were the happy days, before the war. But there was nothing I could do now, only face the truths and bowl straight on. I untied my apron and I decided to embroider to keep my mind off everything.
I put on my gold (not really) rimmed glasses and stared, concentrated, at my finger nimbly poking the needle in and out of my apron pocket, careful not to poke through both layers. I started with silvery pink thread. In, out, in, out, go down, further down, shorter rows until a point is left; now back up, in, out, in, out, in, and tie the thread and snip! cut it. It was now a shimmering pink heart, symbolic of my beloved gumball machine and my one-of-a-kind gumballs.
The next morning, I felt better; I felt fresher. I thrust my window open and breathed deeply in, and choked. I closed my window with watery eyes. I kept coughing into my arm. I wiped my tears on the hem of my sleeve. I trod heavily downstairs, still groggy. I breathed in the sharp smell of breakfast. Mother had the table prepared with watery porridge and buttermilk. I choked down breakfast quickly. I was a little choosy with my wardrobe today. I rifled through everything twice, finally settling on a sky blue sundress with a thick bow at the hip. It had a collar made of lace and pearly white buttons going down the front, stopping midway. I smoothed the skirt and tied the apron around my waist.
I started my chores with dusting my room, wiping it all with a damp cloth. Then I took a broom and cleaned the wooden floorboards. When the cleaning was done, I fed and redressed Lizzie and Thomas. I finally got to take a break and listen to the radio, sprawled un-lady-like on my bed. I listened for a while, static-y music and announcer voices coming on and off as I played with the dial. I finally just turned it off, got off the bed, and stretched like a cat. My body was sore from being in one position for so long. I stepped downstairs for a quick snack. Instead, I found my uncle sitting at the table with Mother. They had their heads together, whispering. I shuffled my feet and coughed. They both looked up, with wide eyes and slightly agape mouths. I coughed again hiding my laugh. Mother spoke first, “Come here Carolyn, Uncle James as something to tell you.” I shrugged and pulled myself a chair next to him. His moustache moved as he spoke, “I got a letter from your father. He says he’s well, but he was injured from a gunshot to the arm. None to serious.” What he meant was At least he didn’t die.
I sighed and complained, “War is something we could most definitely live without! I do NOT understand why must go through this nonsense!” Mother stood up and left. Uncle James stood as well, and Mother showed him out. “Do not be so rude, Carolyn.” “I was only stating my opinion,” I countered. “Go to your room and pack,” she said tiredly. I didn’t want to, but the tired voice she used, like she was sore and weary and tired from explaining to me about war. I tip-toed up the stairs and heard a slight sob escape my mother. I felt terrible and stayed in my room rolling the key around in my hand or watching people pass. I only came downstairs for lunch and dinner., my last day on Graham Rd.
I brought the carpetbag downstairs with me, using one hand to carry it. I carefully laid it down on each step, making sure not crash anything fragile inside (my gumball machine) or wrinkle my ironed clothes. Mother had my lunch packed in a shopping bag with the words RICHARDSON FRUITS handwritten in black. I took it, stuffed (in an un-lady-like manner) my soggy sandwich in my mouth and left for my 8 o’ clock train.
It was gleaming and jet-black, and gray smoke billowing from its top. In black numbers, above the flat, round “face”, was 1932 hanging lopsided underneath the smoke. I sighed in amazement and handed the erect man my yellow ticket. He took it stiffly and I climbed in, clutching my sun hat to my chest. The ribbon on my hat fluttered as the smoke was blown by the wind into my face. I scrunched my face at the stench and hurriedly sat at the chair marked 19. It had hardly any cushion, but I made myself comfortable. And old lady was asleep next to me, and I smiled sweetly at her.
The train was quite symmetrical; the blinds were all a ruby red, all rolled up. Fans were above us and lights dotted the roof. The aisle was bare, a few splinters and scuff marks. I just tilted my head and fell asleep. A horn blast woke me. I covered my ears immediately. The lady beside me was gone, and it was my stop. I took a deep breath and prepared myself for an overexcited grandmother. I looked towards the light and prayed silently for it all to turn out well. I stepped off and scanned the crowd of people for an old wrinkly face full of kindness.
Instead an old, crazy looking grandma waved at me and I shuffled ve-e-e-ery slowly to her. She grabbed my arm and cried, “Oh! Margaret, you’ve grown so MUCH!” She was pretty much the Queen of Enthusiasm. I was a little edgy now, looking for a chance to re-ride that train, but it’d already chugged away into the country mountains. I decided I’d be so rude, so bad, so annoying, she’d send me away gladly. She gave my arm a tight squeeze. She was stronger than her thin body let on. I gasped in pain. “Are you sure your name is Helen Rooney?” “Of course, honey! You want tea when we get to our house?” I dreaded how she said ‘our’ and I wondered what was IN the tea. I wished to be at home with Lizzie wailing and Thomas whimpering into his soft, blue blanket.
I entered a white house with everything else either blue or yellow. I followed a bouncy grandmother into an electric blue room with a rickety bed and a wobbly desk in one corner. “Here’s your room,” she said sweetly, then swept away to the kitchen to make dinner. I toppled into the bed and it screamed like thousands of dying mice. I bolted back up and gingerly put my carpetbag on the bed. It squeaked and sagged. I opened the bag as fast as possible, trying to end the painful sound. I took out my cushioned gumball machine and placed it lovingly on the pale desk. I placed my clothes piled up on the chair since there was no closet. Right, my room was the closet. I sighed and waltzed into the kitchen, following a sweet aroma. My dress swished around my dancing legs and I nearly ran into my grandmother who was carrying a tray.