My house is filled with strangers.
I walk through the rooms an outcast in my own home, not quite sure how to keep my footing through the unfamiliar faces. The air is thick with smoke that smells sweet. I know its dope. Doobies. Weed. Black Gold. Grass. Hooch. I know all the names, because I’m twelve now and not just some stupid kid. Actually, I’m twelve years and three months, and I see everything that goes on at these parties. They don’t think I get it, but I get it.
My parents go away on weekends, touring with dad’s band, The Banjo Bandits. I stay here with my sister, who thinks she knows everything. She thinks she’s in charge because she’s sixteen years old and eight months. She orders me around more than Mom and Dad ever do She even makes me do the dishes right after I eat, instead of letting them pile up in the sink. She says stupid things like “you’ve had enough snacks; you’ll ruin your dinner”. She’s all high and mighty but she’s not the boss of me. Not now. Not since I know she spends most of the weekends alone in her room with her new boyfriend, Mikey Tork. My parents would freak if they knew, since we have a strict boys-are-off-limit zone upstairs where the bedrooms are. So when I went into her room this morning to let her know we were out of milk and I hate Captain Crunch just dry, I was pretty shocked to see Tork-the-Dork’s big hairy foot sticking out from under her covers.
“Whoa! What’s he doing in here?” I ask.
Dawn chucks her pillow at me. “Get out of here, Abby!”
“Mom and Dad would freak out! Wow – you’ll be in so much trouble. This is huge.” I shake my head and stuff my hand into the cereal box. This situation requires something to munch on.
She goes to whip another pillow at me, but stops and looks down at Mikey’s head buried in the duvet, hair sticking up everywhere. She looks to him then to me, then back to him before she slumps the pillow on her lap and lets out a huge sigh. It gushes out of her fast and huffy. It’s the sound of defeat and I have to admit, its sounds pretty darn nice. As my mother would say, it was music to my ears.
Now, I get to eat cereal for dinner and ice cream for breakfast. It’s better this way for both of us. It also comes in handy that she’ll clean my room and do the dishes for the next month. Maybe having the dork around won’t be so bad after all. Most times that Mikey comes over I just stay outside so I don’t have to hear them make out. I ride my bike around and collect rocks that have sparkles in them. I come home with my pockets full and line them up on my dresser. So far I have one hundred and forty-two. I’d have more, but, I need the room for my hamster cage, his box of food and treats, and my Smurf collection. I have seventeen of those. I’d like more of them too, but I have to wait for my birthday to get more since I used all my Christmas money. It was worth it though, because I bought a Queen album, which is my Dad’s favourite band. We listen to it while he gets ready for his gigs. My favourite songs are Another One Bites the Dust” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”. I have a whole routine that goes with crazy little thing, where I act out the words and my dad loves when I do it. He says I’m a natural showman. My money was well spent in my opinion, but it still means I have to wait to add to my Smurfs. For now I just add rocks to my dresser, but only the rare white sparkly ones because I have enough pink and black to last me a lifetime.
We live in the middle of nowhere, really. There’s a crappy old variety store, and a used car dealership at the end of a long dark road. Other than that, the little horseshoe of houses in the middle of farm-country has little entertainment. I do like to chase cows out of my mom’s garden. When I wake up and hear them chewing their cud underneath my bedroom window, I bolt downstairs to catch them by surprise. You have to smack them, sharp on their hind end, to get them out of the daisies and marigolds. Even the darn cows are looking for a change of scenery from this place that’s just nowhere.
That’s why, when my parents go away for the weekend our house is flooded with people. This weekend, my parents had to drive almost five hours away for the gig, so they left Friday and won’t be back until dinner on Sunday. Dawn gets one night for playing house with the dorkster, and one night to host a crowd full of people looking for something to do. Some of the faces I know, but since I’m still in grade school, my sister would rather drop dead than let me invite one of my “baby” friends to the party, so most of the people in my home tonight are strangers.
I sneak into the kitchen and turn the tap on, sticking my fingers in the flow until the water runs ice-cold, and fill a big glass. I look at the cluster of boys around the stove. They have knives stuck underneath the red-hot coils where mom puts her kettle. The short guy with big glasses pulls out the knives quick, and plops a drop of something on one, then pushes the other knife on top of it and squashes. Smoke billows from the knives, and one of the guys in the huddle sticks his face over it. He sucks in the air, almost like he’s getting ready to go underwater for a long time. He sucks until his face is all red and I wait to see if he’ll fall right over when his lungs burst. But he doesn’t. He just leans back, smiles, and lets a big stream of smoke out towards the ceiling.
“Oh yeah, right on.” He says.
I think he’d be a good swimmer or deep-sea diver. He’d definitely win at any game that included holding your breath or taking up all the oxygen in the whole room. He looks at me and sticks his two pointer fingers on the top of his head like horns and flicks his tongue out like a snake. I give him the hairy eyeball to let him know I think he looks like a genuine freak.
“Piss off.” He points the knife in his hand towards the other room. “Beat it.”
I do beat it, and quick. I go to the other side of the pantry, and start to head to the next room to find a place to sit and watch. Before I can walk through the archway, some scrawny guy gets off his chair, and announces to nobody in particular that he needs to take a piss. Probably in my mother’s flowerbed. I grab his empty seat in the corner.
Four guys sit at the kitchen table circling a bottle filled with smoke. They pass it around and breathe in waves of grey. A guy in a dark blue Adidas shirt cuts up a little chunk of brown stuff, and sits it on a pin. The brown square is wrapped in tinfoil, so it looks like a brownie. He waits for the bottle to come back to him, and puts the smoking hunk inside. It must be good, because they all say about how mellow it is. The guy in the plaid shirt starts to laugh and cough at the same time. Gross stuff shoots out his nose, and lands in the spot where my dinner plate usually sits.
I take a good look at each one of them sitting there. They’re older than my sister, for sure. I bet they’re at least nineteen, maybe even twenty. The one guy has a full beard and super hairy arms. We think my Uncle Joe is half gorilla, and this guy has even more hair than him. He looks like Sasquatch. The guy beside the Bigfoot in my kitchen spots me reading his t-shirt. I startle when he speaks.
“Do you like them?” he asks.
I casually look behind me, in case he’s speaking to someone back even further in the corner than me. I have no idea what he’s talking about. “What?”
“Pink Floyd,” he points to his shirt. “You like them?” he stares at me as the bottle gets passed to him, and he sucks in a big blast of smoke. He holds it in while I’m thinking. I don’t know what to say, because I don’t know if I know who they are. I figure they must be cool, or he wouldn’t be wearing a t-shirt with their name. So I bluff.
“Yeah, they’re cool. Haven’t heard them in a while.” I look at my socks while I fib, and realize I have one green sock and one blue. It didn’t seem like a big deal this morning when I got dressed, but suddenly they look radioactive.
The circle of bottle-suckers all laugh. “Yeah? It’s been a while? Do you hear them now?” They laugh even louder.
My cheeks flush and I want outta here. I touch my toes together to hide my socks.
“Comfortably Numb? Sound familiar? It’s playing now, loser,” Loose-booger guy snorts again, and I watch more goo hit my spot at the dinner table.
“Time for bed, dork. Or, do you want some?” Mr. Adidas holds the smoky bottle towards me, and they burst into laughter again.
I point at the snot guy. “That guy keeps shooting boogers on it, and then you put it in your mouth. I saw it.” I get up off the stool and slink out of my kitchen. I hate that song, and I’m changing my spot at the table. My sister can sit there now, since it is her dumb party.
I head to the other room, passing a couple in a fight about some girl named Deb, and two girls crying over some guy named Rob. I’m almost at the stairs when I hear my name.
“Abby? Where are you going?”
Randy stands there, with a big smile on his face. He wears a brown cowboy hat that covers what the girls call “rock star hair”, and he has a great face. Little sparkles seem to light it all up like a movie star. He could be on TV, I decide, and picture him on the Love Boat, with Charo.
“You’re not talking. Playing shy tonight?” He waits for me to answer, but I just shrug. “Too many people?” he smiles again. He has straight, white teeth. I can’t meet his eyes, and I know
my face is bright red again. I hate that. I can’t even hide behind my own skin.
“I dunno.” I confess, because I really don’t know why I’m not talking.
“Play you a game of Ping-Pong?” he asks. I beam.
“Right on! Okay!” I’m happy someone doesn’t seem to mind me being in my own home.
Randy never seems to mind. I’ve met him lots of times and he’s always so cool. Last summer in my pool, we raced. I beat him three out of five times. He gave me a piece of his gum later as the prize, and when he blew a giant bubble at me, it broke on his face and I laughed so hard my guts hurt. He doesn’t care when his friends ask him why he’s hanging with a dumb kid. He’d just give me a wink, and head off with them. “Go easy, she’s a kid” he’d say to them, as they walked away. He’s totally cool, and not a bottle-sucking loser, like the idiots in my
We head downstairs at just the right time because two guys are just finished a game and head upstairs talking about grabbing more beer. Randy lifts off his hat, peels off his jean jacket, and throws them both on the back of the couch.
I grab the red-handled paddle first. It’s my lucky one, and I never lose a game when I use it. It works again tonight, and I crush him. I smash the ball, and every time he misses I laugh hysterically because he sucks-large at ping-pong, and because he sticks his tongue out at me.
The four girls standing at the back of the room keep rolling their eyes and every time I miss the ball, they snicker. The one with the feathery blond hair grabs the ball off the floor before I can reach it, and calls to Randy.
“Think fast, Randy!” she pretends to throw the ball but keeps it in her hand.
“Don’t make me come get that ball,” Randy says, and all the girls giggle and nudge her.
“Promises, promises…” she calls back, with her hands on her hips and her boobs sticking way out in front. She tosses her hair like she’s in a shampoo commercial, sticks her boobs out some more and raises one eyebrow. I roll my eyes because she’s so obviously flirting with him. He’ll know for sure, I think. But she doesn’t seem to care if he knows as long as he comes and gets that darn ball.
Randy leaps over a cooler and races at her. She squeals and squirms as he smacks her rear end with the paddle. I sit on the arm of the couch and look down at my socks again. My middle toe sticks out of a hole in the green sock and I think, I need to cut my toenail because it looks more like a finger than a toe.
Randy taps the top of my head with the paddle. “Ready to lose?” he asks, and we’re back at the game. I defeat him, and take no mercy.
“I am the Champion, my friend!” I chant my own version of Queen’s triumph song. “Another round? Can you take it?” I ask, and the girls behind me groan.
“Isn’t it your bedtime?” A girl snarks as she flicks cigarette ashes on my mom’s new carpet.
“Come on, Randy, I got something for ya.” This time, it’s the girl with the jean jacket and brown hair talking to him. She holds a rolled cigarette in her hand and waves it under her nose. “Good stuff, come have a taste.”
Randy heads towards the circle of girls and pokes me in the stomach on his way past. “Thanks for the game. You wait – next time you will go down.”
“You wish!” I taunt, but our game is done. He’s already got his hand on the waist of the ping –pong ball stealing girl. I start to head upstairs, and look back at him. His hat’s back on, and he’s laughing as she passes him that joint. She looks up at me and squints her eyes all nasty-like. I stick my tongue out, and reel around the corner so I don’t have to look at her stupid face.
My sister and her best friend Rebecca catch me as I come back into the kitchen. “There you are, Abby.” Dawn chirps in her fake happy voice. I wonder what that’s all about until I see two guys looking over at them. My sister sees it too. I wonder where Tork-the-dork is. He always stays right on her, but he doesn’t seem to be anywhere around.
Rebecca tugs at my sleeve a bit. “Hey kiddo, I’ll give you a quarter if you go get me a beer.” She smiles at me and says please. She’s drunk, I can tell by her droopy eyes and by how her voice sounds, but she’s still pretty. Probably the prettiest girl at their school. For sure she’s the prettiest one at this party. She’s always nice to me. I want to get her the beer. I like her.
“That’s pretty cheap, Rebecca. That’s what you’d give a little kid. How about a buck?”
“Deal, but get me two then.” She says.
“Sure,” I say. “Which cooler is yours?”
“I don’t have one, just take any. Somebody must have extra in one of those over there.”
“Don’t make her steal beer for you, Becca. Gawd. Besides, she should be in bed.” Dawn gives both Rebecca and I one of her famous dirty looks.
“Seriously. Time for bed, now.” She demands.
I start to protest, but I know if I refuse it will mean a fight. This isn’t fun anyway, so I give up and go. I push past the couple still fighting and a guy passed out on the stairs. I figure there’s no chance I’ll get to sleep with the music and the sound of idiots yelling and laughing and stuff. But I go. At least upstairs is off-limits. I won’t have to hide in the corners of my own
My hamster, Itch, runs on his wheel like crazy. He doesn’t like the music too loud either. He jumps off, and runs over to the side when I lift his treat tin and shake it. He chomps on his snack, while I change into my nightgown; then I take him out, and put him into my green sock. He runs down in it until his little nose peeks out the hole, and puts a paw through, as if he’s feeling for solid ground. I kiss his little nose, and put him back on his wheel which drowns out the music a little, and the hum of it finally lulls me to sleep.
Light creeps into my room when the door opens. I’m thick with sleep, but stir enough to turn and grunt at the intrusion. “This is my room. Get out, I’m sleeping here!”
The door closes, but I hear movement inside, so I try to shake off the sleep, and open my eyes. The room is dark, but the moon peeks through my shade and casts just enough light to make out the frame of a head, with long rock star hair, coming silently towards me.