For those of you who knew Trey and I kept three of our nieces over the weekend, I’m sure you expected this blog post to be about that adventure. But that will have to wait: latest reports confirm that my sister and brother in-law have yet to get their surprise from the girls that we spent most of the weekend working on. I’m so proud of the work they put into it, so I won’t ruin the surprise now!
So, in lieu of that story, I decided to share this one. Months and months ago, maybe even years, I had the most vivid and amazing dream. It was so vivid that upon first waking up, I wrote it down. Every now and then I would tweak it here and there. But mostly it’s turned into a very short story. Just a page long. And maybe one day I’ll use it as inspiration for a larger work, but for now, enjoy learning to fly:
* * *
The witch doctor lived in the bottom of a valley, in the side of the mountain. Her entryway was shaded by shrubs and Spanish moss. She opened the door before I could knock. The woman was short and squat, a fair-skinned negress with freckles and short curly reddish hair. When she smiled with her mouth, her eyes rarely followed. We could hear bombs exploding in the near distance. She hurried me inside down a steep and endless flight of earthen stairs into the vast cavern that was her home and workspace. She gestured for me to sit in what resembled a dentist’s chair that swiveled. Excitement rippled through my body…excitement and sheer terror. But how could I not take this chance, how could I pass something like this up? After I was seated, she strapped me in with thick leather belts around my chest, wrists and ankles. Then she pulled a large metal hood, much like an old-fashioned beauty salon’s hairdryer, over my head. The witch doctor told me to close my eyes and said if I didn’t look, it’d only hurt for a moment. I squeezed my eyes tight and awaited pain.
At first, it was a small needle prick on the top of each of my feet, close to my toes, right in the center. The needles grew larger with each prick, stabbing me so quickly, so mechanically, that I could not separate the pain each one caused. When the needles stopped, I was flung from the chair to land on the ground face down, the metal hood still on my head. A deep red heat radiated from the hood, pounding on the back of my head, hotter and hotter, redder and redder, for what felt like hours. When it stopped, the hood was raised and the room felt silent and empty. “Well,” she said, bored and waiting, “fly already.”
I sat up slowly, praying that this time it had worked. Before, I flailed and flung my body but could only seem to hover for a few seconds. This time, I was determined to take flight. I slowly pushed myself up to sit, then shakily straightened my legs to stand. I clenched my arms tight by my side, my hands in locked fists. My feet shoulder width apart, I slowly bent my knees and pushed off from the ground as hard as I could, holding my breath and praying for success. And it happened, I took flight.
I soared into the rafters, turning my head to change direction, avoiding the enormous crystal chandelier by inches. I spread my arms and swooped from side to side, high and low, exploring and reveling in my new ability. I laughed and screamed with joy. It was everything I hoped it would be. To feel the wind rushing by my face and feel my body, weightless, soaring though the air I breathed was nothing short of miraculous. I dipped and landed with a slide and a puff of dirt in the place from which I had risen.
The witch doctor watched with detached amusement as I tried to simply levitate, face down, hovering a few feet over the ground. I wanted to know if I could soar to great heights and stay in one place to observe, to learn, to really see. But I couldn’t stay aloft for long, my balance eluded me and I dipped and swayed in all directions, only to land on all fours with a thud. I gathered myself up and tried again, this time leaning back as I slowly pushed my toes off the ground. I lay back in the air relaxed, as if swaying in an invisible hammock. I couldn’t quite control myself enough to hover in once place, but I didn’t rock and dip uncontrollably like I had when floating face down. I lay flat on my back in the air and drifted.
“Why,” I asked her, “is it easier to float on your back than on your stomach? It’s like just like floating in water.” I floated, unintentionally, right into her lap. And she laughed. The witch doctor let out the most delightful, infectious, comforting laugh and I knew right then that I had done what none of the others could. I alone was the girl who could fly.
Lola-Mae stood over her great aunt’s tea kettle waiting for the water to boil. It was extraordinarily hot for May: 92°. Aunt Leora thought “it’d be nice if we all had some ice tea to sip on while we sit out here on the porch.” That was Lola-Mae’s chance to get away from the chattery gossip of her great aunt’s circle group from the First Baptist church.
The steam from the kettle danced over Lola’s chest and neck as she pushed a golden curl behind her ear. The floral print linen dress she had borrowed from her aunt’s closet was beginning to cling to her skin because of the thin layer of perspiration on her back that had begun to form in the afternoon heat.
“That poor dear,” she heard the women saying, “she’s so pretty to be unmarried.” “Isn’t she well into her thirties?”
“Whatever happened with her and that insurance salesman, Norman somebody? He seemed nice.”
“Didn’t he marry the Hawthorne girl back in February?”
“A bit of a scandal if you ask me.”
Lola had moved in with her aunt three months ago after Norman got married. Since then she’d walked around in a daze. Her Aunt Leora was sure that she was in no condition to live by herself; in fact, she hardly let Lola out of her sight for more than ten minutes. She was afraid that Lola would do something to hurt herself. Lola didn’t mind living with her aunt, she just couldn’t seem to understand why Norman never came to call on her anymore.
Lola pursed her lips and closed her eyes tightly, trying to remember why Norman had left her. After several minutes the memories of what had happened between her and Norman invaded her mind and she clenched her fists in anger.
It was the two year anniversary of their first date; Lola wanted to surprise Norman with a romantic dinner in his office, since he told her he couldn’t get off work. She’d spent half the afternoon making her famous potato salad (first prize at the County Fair three years running), and cutting peanut butter and apple jelly sandwiches into little shapes: a star, a heart, a little man, a cow…anything she had a cookie cutter for, just the way Norman liked them. She wrapped up each of the sandwiches and put them in her basket, along with a Tupperware bowl of her potato salad and two Coca-Colas.
On her way to the Pierce Insurance Firm, where Norman worked, Lola ran into her aunt. Aunt Leora walked with her as far as the First Baptist Church. They got there in just enough time to see Norman, in a tuxedo, helping Scarlet Hawthorne get her wedding dress to fit into his car. The guests were throwing rice and waving at the newlyweds. Lola dropped the picnic basket and let Aunt Leora take her home.
The shrewd whistle of the tea kettle stabbed her thoughts like a dull knife.
“Hurry along with that tea now, Lola-Mae,” her aunt called from the porch.
“I’m comin’ Aunt Leora…where do you keep your tea cups?”
“They’re in the top left cabinet b’side the ice box,” Aunt Leora reminded her.
Lola pulled a chair from the kitchen table to the cabinet. Just as she pulled up the skirt of her dress so that she could step up on the chair, there was a knock at the door. Lola smoothed the front of her dress carefully as she walked through the living room to the front door.
She was startled by the deep blue eyes that looked down at her when she opened the door.
“May I help you?” she asked, trying to muffle the shock of being visited by an attractive stranger. People hardly ever ran into strangers in a small town like Robinson, Virginia. Most everyone there knew every one else, and no one new ever entered into the picture.
“Hi there ma’am,” he answered in a smooth, deep southern twang, “I’m here lookin’ for my Granny, she’s s’posed to be here for the circle meetin’.”
His young form reminded Lola of all the handsome young men that had pursued her when she was that age. Now, after 32 years in the same town, Lola had given up on ever getting married. She had vowed to never love another man after Norman.
“They’re not quite finished. But you’re more than welcome to come sit with me and have a cup of tea while you wait,” she offered.
“Why thank y’ ma’am. I’d be much obliged.”
As the handsome stranger followed Lola to the kitchen, she tossed her blonde curls over her left shoulder, glancing at him as her hair settled down her back. Lola liked the way he raised his right eyebrow and the slight smile that melted over his face.
“You can have a seat there at the table,” Lola said as she chewed at the nail on her left pinky finger.
He nodded and took a seat as Lola climbed up onto the chair under the cabinet to retrieve the tea cups. She didn’t hear him ease out of his chair to stand behind her, and she was startled when she felt his hand on the back of her calf.
“Let me get that for y’,” he offered. “By the way, my name’s Tyler Malone.”
Lola’s eyes followed his and he stepped onto the chair with her.
“I’m Lola,” she whispered, as he easily reached up and grabbed one of the cups on the top shelf. “I need eight cups…well, nine, counting you.”
Tyler handed the cups to Lola one by one, and she placed them on the counter. Once all nine cups were safely down from the shelf Tyler stepped down off the chair, picked Lola up by the waste and easily lowered her to the floor.
“Lola-Mae!” her aunt screeched from the porch, breaking the calmness in the kitchen. “What’s taking so long?”
Lola quickly poured seven cups of tea, placed them on a tray and took them outside to the ladies.
“Sorry, there was someone at the door,” Lola muttered as she handed out the cups. Aunt Leora grabbed Lola’s wrist in warning.
“Now what did I tell you about answerin’ the door, Lola-Mae? You’re supposed to let me take care of that.”
“I didn’t want to interrupt your circle meetin’. I won’t do it again ma’am.” Aunt Leora released Lola’s arm at the meek apology and nodded.
When Lola returned to the kitchen, Tyler had already poured them each a cup.
“You wouldn’t happen to have any sugar I can put in this do y’ ma’am?” he asked.
“No, we ran out yesterday, I meant to run to the market this morning but Aunt Leora never got around to takin’ me,” Lola answered regretfully.
“Why don’t I take you now, while we’re waiting on the circle meeting to finish? Would that be alright?” he asked with raised eyebrows.
Lola peeked out the door to make sure that her aunt wasn’t watching. She quickly grabbed Tyler’s hand and they ran out the door. Tyler opened the door of his pale blue Ford pick-up truck and helped Lola inside. She smiled to herself as he walked around to the driver’s side of the truck.
Tyler started up the truck and politely asked if Lola minded if he turned on the radio. She didn’t.
Crazy, I’m crazy for feelin’ so lonely. I’m crazy, crazy for feelin’ so blue.
“I sure do love Miss Patsy Cline,” he said, as the first verse of Crazy came through the speakers.
Lola hummed along with the radio and smiled at her successful getaway. When the truck hit the pothole at the end of the gravel driveway Lola bounced into the middle of the seat. She grabbed Tyler’s arm for support, and quickly apologized, though she let her hand rest a moment on his tanned skin before removing it.
“That’s quite alright ma’am,” he grinned as Lola blushed.
They turned left out of the drive and bounced down Waters Street toward the market. Lola wondered what Tyler was thinking, then promptly scolded herself for being attracted to a man so much younger than her. Why, when she was his age, he was still in grammar school. But he sure was handsome with those deep blue eyes that sucked you in like a vacuum, and his raven hair, and skin as dark and smooth as the leather of his boots.
Crazy for thinkin’ that my love would hold you. I’m crazy for tryin’ and crazy for cryin’…
“And I’m crazy for lovin’ you,” Tyler sang along with the radio. He grinned at Lola and she smiled back, convincing herself that ten or twelve years wasn’t that big of a difference.
The pick-up truck pulled up in front of the market. Lola started to get out of the car, when Tyler stopped her.
“Ma’am, what kind of gentleman would I be if I let a lady go buy her own groceries? Especially when I’m the one who asked for the sugar. You jes’ wait right here and I’ll be back b’fore y’ know it.” Tyler winked at her and got out of the truck. She watched him as he walked up the steps and into the store. What a nice young man, she thought to herself.
After Tyler had entered the store, Lola turned to look out the passenger’s side window at the building across the street. Scarlet Hawthorne Pierce was carrying a picnic basket into the door of her new husband’s insurance office. As Norman greeted her at the door Scarlet pointed outside to the blue pickup truck. Lola pressed her nose to the window as Norman started walking toward her.
Before Norman could cross the street, Tyler jumped in and immediately started the truck. He sped away from the store headed the opposite direction from which they had come. The abruptness of his driving snapped Lola’s face away from the window. It took her several minutes to realize that they were going the wrong way.
“Where are we going?” she asked nonchalantly. “My Aunt’s house is the other way.”
“It’s a surprise,” he winked and slid his arm to rest along the back of the seat. Lola scooted closer to her escort and reached over her right shoulder to pull his arm around her. She hadn’t been away from her aunt this long in three months. Lola didn’t care where they were going, she was just happy to be going somewhere. She grinned to herself and pictured them running away together. Away from Aunt Leora and the circle group ladies; away from Robinson, where everyone knew about what Norman had done to her; away from Scarlet Hawthorne Pierce, who so willingly flaunted her new wedding ring; and most of all, away from Norman.
About ten miles out of town, Tyler pulled the truck over. Lola looked up at him, puzzled, but smiling at the adventure that was sure to come. Tyler walked around the back of the pick-up and grabbed a duffle bag out of the bed, he then opened Lola’s door and helped her out of the truck. She held his hand and followed him down a path through the woods.
The shady path eventually led them to a small clearing.
“What are we doing here?” Lola asked innocently.
“It’s a surprise,” Tyler whispered. “Now, turn around and close your eyes fer just a second.”
On impulse, Lola kissed him on the cheek and smiled. She closed her eyes and was turning around when she felt a sharp blow on the side of her head. Lola fell to the ground.
* * *
Tyler Malone turned off the engine of his light blue pick up truck and scratched his head. He’d been in Robinson for a week and a half and that was long enough for him to find out that Mrs. Leora Townsend was the only person in town who had a decent amount of money. After talking to a few of the locals, Tyler discovered that Mrs. Townsend’s family basically owned the small town. Her grandfather’s mining company was the sole income of Robinson for 50 years before the cotton mill opened up about ten miles east of there. Tyler also learned that Mrs. Townsend was very protective of her sister’s grand-daughter, Lola-Mae, who people say went crazy after her gentleman friend ran off and married the town hussy. All Tyler needed now was a reason to go by the house. Luckily there was a sign out in front of the First Baptist Church saying that the weekly circle meeting had been moved to Mrs. Leora Townsend’s house, he was sure he could come up with an excuse to drop in.
Tyler eased out of his truck and made his way to the front door. He peeked through the window and saw a pretty blonde woman down the hallway pulling her skirt up to nearly mid-thigh. He knocked on the door just as she was about to step onto a chair that was beside the refrigerator.
She was older than he originally thought. But there was no guarantee that this was the girl he was looking for. Tyler made up some excuse about picking up his grandmother from the circle meeting and she let him in. He willingly followed her to the kitchen where she offered him a cup of tea.
The woman climbed up onto the chair and reached for the top shelf of the cupboard. Tyler noticed the muscles in her legs tense as she ascended to her tiptoes. Without a sound, he rose from his chair and touched the back of her leg. As he climbed up onto the chair beside her he forgot why he was there. He looked down into her wide blue eyes and would have forgotten his name if he hadn’t told her right then. It only took two words for him to remember why he was there: “I’m Lola.”
After he retrieved the cups she needed, Tyler lowered her to the floor. He had to think of a way to get her to leave with him, that is, without making a scene. As she took the other cups of tea to the back porch he poured them both a cup. One sip of his tea and the idea came to him.
Not two minutes later the two were out the door and on their way to the market for a pound of sugar. Tyler sang along with the radio as they bounced down the dirt road toward the center of town. He liked the way Lola grabbed his arm every time they hit a bump.
As he pulled up to the market Tyler made a point to park the truck facing away from the entrance. He figured he could make a little extra money inside and didn’t want Lola to witness anything. When he exited the truck he made sure Lola’s attention was elsewhere before he went inside.
Tyler nodded at the clerk as he walked to the back of the store to get the bag of sugar. As he walked back toward the cash register he glanced around, making sure there were no other customers in the store, and slowly pulled a knife out of his left front pocket.
“I’d ‘ppreciate it if you’d open up that there register and hand me what money y’ have,” Tyler grinned at the wide-eyed clerk. He began to clean out his fingernails with the knife as the clerk stared in disbelief. “I asked y’ awful nicely sir, now I’d hate to hafta use this here blade to persuade y’.”
The trembling clerk began to gather all the bills out of the register and stuff them in a bag for the polite crook. Tyler glanced out the window; Lola wasn’t watching him.
Tyler jumped back into the truck and started the engine with one swift motion. As he sped away from the store he kicked up enough dust to cause a man in the street to cough. Tyler turned around in his seat to make sure the man hadn’t seen anything. It took Lola a while to notice that he was going in the opposite direction from which they came. When she mentioned it Tyler lied and told her it was a surprise. He liked the way she trusted him so blindly.
Roughly ten miles out of town Tyler pulled off the side of the road at a small path. He had hiked up there when he first got to Robinson and discovered an old abandoned cabin about a half hour’s walk from the road. Tyler got out of the truck and walked around back so he could grab some supplies. He picked up his bag; filled with rope, a blindfold, and about a week’s worth of food; and then opened the door for Lola and helped her out of the truck. Lola willingly grabbed his hand and he led her down the path.
After about ten minutes worth of walking they came to a small clearing. Tyler supposed he’d better at least blindfold her now, so in case she escaped once they got to the cabin she wouldn’t know where to go. Because she had been so trusting of him thus far, Tyler figured the easiest way to do this was to ask her to close her eyes for a “surprise” while he got the blindfold out of his bag.
Lola kissed him on the cheek and smiled before closing her eyes. A twinge of guilt tugged at Tyler’s heart as he reached into his bag. Just as Lola’s eyes were closed, a man came up behind them and knocked Lola out with a rock the size of his fist.
“Who the hell are you?” Tyler shouted at the attacker.
“I’d like to ask you the same thing,” the man shouted back. “I already know you robbed the grocery store, so why don’t you tell me what you want with Lola-Mae?”
Tyler had to think fast. He half wanted to run away and forget the whole thing, but he couldn’t deny the fact that he’d get a nice fortune in ransom money from Lola’s aunt.
“Well, if yer s’pposed to be chasin’ me, then why’d you knock her over the head?” Tyler barely had the question out of his mouth before the man charged at him with the rock. He didn’t have enough time to duck and was struck right between the eyes.
* * *
Norman Pierce sat in his office impatiently awaiting his lunch. Since the day after he married Scarlet, she had brought him a picnic lunch every day at work at 12:30 on the dot. It was getting close to 1:00 and Norman was not a patient man. As he made his way down the hallway of his office he saw Scarlet coming up the walk outside. Usually she would give him a kiss hello, but today she was busy staring across the street.
“Norman honey, isn’t that that Townsend girl?” Scarlet asked as she looked up at her husband through dark lashes.
“What are you talking about, you know Mrs. Townsend doesn’t let Lola out by herself anymore.” Norman was irritated and hungry.
“No, look in that blue truck.” Scarlet pointed directly at Lola, who now had her nose pressed firmly against the glass of the passenger’s side window.
Norman squinted hard and walked toward the truck. Just as he was entering the street, a man came running out of the market, jumped into the truck and sped away. Norman coughed as he was surrounded by a cloud of dust left by the blue pickup. He stared hard at the truck, trying to figure out why Lola would be with this hoodlum.
Norman began to dust himself off as he walked back toward the Pierce Insurance Firm. Just before he opened the door to his office he heard Mr. Peterson, the owner of the grocery store, screaming that he’d been robbed. Norman wasted no time running inside to get his car keys. He was soon speeding down the road, not knowing what he’d do if he caught up with them.
Norman slammed his foot on the break the second he saw the light blue pickup truck on the side of the road. He jumped out of his car and looked around frantically for any trace of where that man took Lola. As soon as Norman found the path he began running as fast as he could. His heart was hammering at the inside of his chest; if Scarlet’s father heard about this, Norman would be a dead man. He couldn’t quite figure out why he was chasing after Lola; maybe he felt like he owed her something for marrying Scarlet. He wouldn’t have done that if Mr. Hawthorne hadn’t caught him banging her in the hayloft of the Hawthorne family barn. After that it was either marry Scarlet, or meet the end of her father’s shotgun. It was a short engagement: two weeks. Norman was too much of a coward to tell Lola what was happening, she had to find out from her aunt on the day of the ceremony. After that Lola was never quite herself. There were even rumors that she had tried to kill herself, but Norman didn’t want to believe that.
Norman ran harder when he saw them ahead of him. The man was carrying a duffle bag, no doubt filled with stolen money or guns, or something else just as horrible. They stopped ahead of him in a clearing and Norman wasted no time, he picked up a rock the size of his fist, hid behind a tree about five feet away and waited for the perfect moment to attack.
He heard the man tell Lola to close her eyes and he crept from behind the tree. To his shock and utter disgust Lola leaned forward and kissed the strange man. The blood rushed to Norman’s face and he angrily rushed forward and brought the rock down firmly on Lola’s skull. As she crumpled to the ground he stared accusingly at the man: the man who was with his Lola, the man who had the audacity to ask who he was.
Norman’s heart sped up and he lunged forward. The rock in his hand landed squarely between the stranger’s eyes and the man fell to the ground. He kicked the outsider to make sure he wasn’t going to wake up and then crouched down beside Lola’s lifeless body.
There was a gash across the left side of her forehead where Norman had hit her with the rock. He brushed a thick curl out of her face and lifted her shoulders. It took him a moment to get his balance, and when he did he threw Lola over his left shoulder and carried her back to his car.
Norman opened the back door and easily slid Lola from his shoulder onto the back seat. He had to crawl in with her in order to scoot her back far enough so that her legs wouldn’t stick out the door. As he slid her body back towards the far door, Norman noticed that her dress had slithered up around her waste to expose her long slender legs.
In the two years he had courted her, Norman and Lola had never made love.
Norman placed his hand on Lola’s bare stomach and ran it down to stroke her thigh. He leaned down far enough to place his cheek on her naked abdomen and kissed her navel. His heart was pounding as Norman unfastened his pants and climbed on top of Lola’s unconscious body.
* * *
Lola awoke an hour later on her Aunt Leora’s bed. Her head was throbbing and she couldn’t remember how she got there. She lay awake, blinking to clear her vision, for several minutes before her aunt entered the room carrying a water basin and a washcloth.
“There’s my girl, I was getting worried about you,” Aunt Leora whispered. “You’ve got quite a cut on your forehead there. Do you remember what happened to ya honey?”
Lola shook her head and closed her eyes.
“Where’s Tyler?” she mumbled.
Aunt Leora shook her head and placed the wet washcloth on Lola-Mae’s forehead.
“Don’t you fret about that now dearie. You just wait till you’ve got your strength back, and then you can tell us what happened.”
“Who’s us?” Lola asked, confused.
“Why, Mr. Pierce and me,” her aunt explained.
Up until that point Lola hadn’t noticed Norman standing on the other side of the bed.
“What’s he doing here? I don’t want to see him.” Lola was getting upset.
“I rescued you!” Norman half shouted.
Lola crinkled up her nose and pointed at Norman.
“You married that slut instead of me. You didn’t rescue me. Tyler rescued me!” Lola was now sitting strait up in bed.
“Who is Tyler?” Aunt Leora interrupted.
“Tyler Malone. He was going to take me far away from here so I would never have to see Mr. and Mrs. Norman Delaney Pierce ever again. We were going to be happy and he was going to take care of me! I want to see Tyler!” Lola was getting angry by this point.
“Shhh, hush now. Don’t get yourself all worked up. We’ll sort this out tomorrow,” Aunt Leora tried to soothe her niece. “Right now miss Lola-Mae, you need to get some rest.”
Lola’s aunt kissed her on the cheek and exited the room. Norman stayed behind.
After a few moments Norman started to leave the room. He took one last look back at Lola: she was grinning at him. He squinted his eyes to make sure he was seeing correctly.
“I know what you did!” She giggled in a singsong voice. “You thought I was asleep,” her eyes were widening. “I’m gonna tell Miss Scarlet! I’m gonna tell them all what you did!” A throaty laugh escaped from Lola’s lips.
Norman clenched his fists and the blood rushed to his face. He closed the door.
“Miss Scarlet’s gonna be mad at you!” Lola couldn’t stop laughing. “I win, I win, I win,” she chanted over and over.
Norman took deliberate steps as he approached the bed. Lola shrunk down in her sheets as if she was scared, but she kept laughing. She kept laughing as Norman picked up the pillow from beside her head. She even laughed as he lowered it over her face.
Aunt Leora walked back in the room just as Norman was removing the pillow from Lola’s smiling face. Her mind went numb as she slowly walked downstairs and called the police. When they arrived Norman was laying beside Lola’s dead body crying and saying, “I’m sorry” over and over.
After the coroner took Lola’s body away and the police finished questioning her about the murder, Mrs. Leora Townsend wrote a letter to the reverend at the First Baptist Church explaining that in the event of her death, all of her earthly belongings, and everything she had in the bank was to go to a Mr. Tyler Malone, “the man who rescued my beloved Lola-Mae.” Aunt Leora stuffed the letter into an envelope, stamped and addressed it to the church, and walked down her long driveway to place it in the mailbox.
Upon returning to the house, she made herself a cup of tea and went to bed. Her housekeeper found her dead the next morning; the doctor said she had passed in her sleep; it was most likely a heart attack.
Tyler Malone returned to Robinson a month later on his way to Baltimore. He stopped at a soda shop on the outskirts of town and, out of curiosity, mentioned Lola’s name to the man behind the counter.
“Well now, Lola-Mae and her Aunt Leora Townsend both passed away about a month ago,” the man explained. “Funny thing is, old Mrs. Townsend left everything to some Malone person that none of us ever heard of.”
“Where would I go to find out more about that?” Tyler asked; his right eyebrow raised.
“Try the reverend over at the First Baptist Church first, but my guess is that they have all the paperwork over at the bank.”
After a brief chat with the good reverend and a lot of paperwork, Tyler Malone left Robinson with a key to the old Townsend house and a check for over nine hundred thousand dollars. He never came back.
I laughed as I popped the movie into the VCR. I had only had one audition before, but that time I knew what I was getting into. I had never even seen Grease before. Why had I let Sara talk me into this? As I watched the characters on the screen, I was immediately drawn to Betty Rizzo. She dominated every scene. I knew that was the part I wanted.
For the next few days I watched the movie over and over. Stockard Channing became my idol. I studied her voice, and her mannerisms, I wanted to be her. Once I got the idea of playing Rizzo into my head, I couldn’t let it go. For the audition I decided to sing “There Are Worse Things I Could Do.” I sang it everywhere I went. The words were permanently embedded in my mind. I even started touching the tip of my tongue to the front of my teeth when I smiled, just because Stockard Channing did it. I still do it sometimes.
As the day of the audition neared, I began to develop a small head cold, which inevitably caused a frog to take up residence in my throat. I thought I was nervous about auditioning before…now I was terrified! All the other girls auditioning for the part of Rizzo had at least some theatre experience; not to mention that they all seemed to be in perfect health. In my eyes, I was the underdog by a long shot.
I waited impatiently outside the auditorium doors 15 minutes before my audition time. My cough drop seemed to be dissolving too slowly. I was playing with the too-long sleeves of my navy blue sweater when the door opened and out popped the head of Mr. Michael Dove, the director. This man had the power to make me a queen or squash me like a bug. I accidentally swallowed what was left of my cough drop.
My heart caught in my throat.
“You’re up!” he grinned.
I slowly made my way to the stage, my heart pounding faster with every step. I stood there, almost trembling, with the stage lights nearly blinding me, and waited.
“Whenever you’re ready” came a voice from the blackness in front of me.
I nodded at the sound girl who immediately pushed play.
By some miracle of God, the frog, who had made his home in my vocal chords, disappeared and my voice was restored. The music seemed to flow from my mouth as if the song was written solely for me to sing. I sang louder and more passionately that I had ever sung before.
In that moment my heart lifted and I finally knew what truly made me happy. I wanted to sing forever. I could barely contain the sound coming from my mouth as the song came to an end. When I was finished, the doors at the back of the auditorium were flung open and I was greeted with exuberant applause from my fellow auditionees. Phase one was over.
Two days later, Mr. Dove posted the call-backs list. I was thrilled when my name was on it. I scanned the list of the other names called back to read for the part of Rizzo just so I would know who my competition was. My heart stopped beating and sheer panic seized my body. There, on the list, only two names below my own, were the two words I was dreading: Vanessa Randazzo.
Vanessa had been in musicals since she was old enough to talk. She had been in every play directed by Mr. Dove, she was best friends with his daughter, and to top it off, she’s ITALIAN! Rizzo is Italian! How could I possibly compete with all that?
Lucky for me, Vanessa was also on the call-back list for Sandy. Sandy was the bigger part of the two (although not nearly as much fun) so I was hopeful that she would concentrate on that.
When the day came for call-backs, all we had to do was read from the script. That narrowed it down to about three girls for the part of Rizzo from the 12 who made it to call-backs. On to Phase three.
For second call-backs, we were to be prepared to sing any solo by our character. I was relieved when the song picked for the Rizzo auditionees was the song I sang for my audition. My second performance went well, though not so much as the first, I thought. I suppose the reason for that was the lack of adrenaline pulsing through my veins.
A week passed before the cast list was posted. I hurried from my Latin class across campus to the chorus room praying for the part I wanted. As I neared the room, I could see the mob of people that had beat me to the door. I quickened my pace, anxious to see what they were seeing. Then, from out of the crowd, like an angel’s voice in the dark, I heard the most glorious words:
“Vanessa Randazzo is Sandy?!?!”
I pushed people out of the way and frantically searched the list.
There, on the left side of the page, across from the words “Betty Rizzo” was my name.
I did it.
I felt the most amazing sense of accomplishment. People I didn’t even know were congratulating me. I was dumbstruck. My eyes welled up with tears. I couldn’t stop grinning no matter how I tried. I was so proud of myself, not only for getting the part, but for finding my niche.
Through one audition, one moment on stage, I discovered what I want to do for the rest of my life.
I want to sing.
Toby sat indian-style against the chain-link fence that encircled the playground, staring down at his untied shoelaces. They were gray and frayed with age, telling anyone who noticed that his family was too poor for Toby to get a new pair of shoes each year like the other kids in his class.
The pair of formerly white bargain brand sneakers had belonged to Toby’s sister Jean before him, and their brother Alex before Jean. Toby hated the shoes. They were uncomfortable because the padding on the insides had worn thin with age and because they were only slightly too small. They were ugly, not only because they were old and worn, but because they were ugly shoes to begin with. They were so ugly and uncomfortable that Toby had trouble walking in them. The other kids in Toby’s class made fun of the shoes. It didn’t matter that they knew he couldn’t afford nicer shoes; they made fun of Toby for wearing the shoes anyway.
Toby glanced up from his sneakers to see a brand new red and black pair of cross-trainers dart across the playground. Oh, how Toby wished he were wearing those shoes. The boy in the cross-trainers was Randy Stone. Randy could run faster and jump higher than any other kid in the fifth grade. Randy, in his shiny new shoes, made fun of Toby’s hand-me-down bargain sneakers as he ran past him on his way to the basketball court,
“Toby, Toby smelly feet, gets his shoes from off the street!”
Toby scowled at Randy and wished that he would trip over his cross-trainers. He didn’t.
As Toby glared at Randy’s cross-trainers running and jumping on the basketball court, he heard the sharp clickity-clack of Ms. Goodman’s slide-on penny loafers. Ms. Goodman was the nicest teacher in the fifth grade and Toby was in her class. Toby stared hard down at her shoes. They were relatively new with only a few scuffs, and were the exact same brown as her eyes. In the right shoe there was a not-so-shiny penny peeking face up through the slit in the top of the leather.
“Why do you have a penny in one shoe and not the other?” he asked, puzzled.
“I wear it because it’s my lucky penny.” Ms. Goodman smiled down at Toby, who was picking at the frays on his shoelaces. “And you can only have one lucky penny. So if I had a penny in each shoe then I would have one lucky penny and one unlucky penny, and that wouldn’t be very good, now would it?”
“What makes a lucky penny different from any other penny?” Toby was still curious about Ms. Goodman’s shoes.
“Well, Toby,” Ms. Goodman sat down next to him on the ground as she started to explain.
“For my eleventh birthday I had a beautiful party outside at the park. We played games, and ran races, we skipped rope, and there was even a clown who could make balloon animals! Well, when it was time for me to blow out the candles on my cake and make my wish, a great gust of wind came up and all the candles went out. I was so upset about losing my birthday wish that I started to cry. When my best friend Margaret saw my distress, she came and took my hand and led me to the big fountain in the center of the park. She reached deep in her pocket and found a penny. Margaret said that I could make my birthday wish on that penny and throw it into the fountain, and if it landed heads up then my wish would come true!” Ms. Goodman’s eyes grew wide at her remembrance. The children on the playground giggled and screamed as they went down the slide or skipped rope, or played basketball. She could tell that Toby wished the other kids would let him play with them.
“What did you wish for?” Toby asked, his eyes wide with anticipation.
“Nothing.” Ms. Goodman said, matter-of-factly. “I didn’t want to waste that lucky wishing penny on anything silly, so I saved it. Now, I keep it in my loafers so I know where it is just in case I think of a really good wish.”
“I wish I had a lucky penny.” Toby said, glancing back at Randy on the basketball court.
“Really? What would you wish for?” The teacher asked, knowing what he would say.
“I would wish for a brand new red and black pair of cross-trainers, so the other kids wouldn’t make fun of me anymore.” Toby moved his gaze from Randy’s shoes to his own tattered sneakers.
Ms. Goodman’s eyes started to water as she tried to think of a reply, but before she could, the recess bell rang and all the children lined up to go back inside.
The next day, when Toby arrived at school, Ms. Goodman told all the students to move all the desks away from the center of the room and to take off their shoes and put them against the wall. Then all the children sat in a circle. Ms. Goodman brought a big bowl full of water to the center of the room.
“Okay class,” she began. “Today we’re going to play a game that will help us learn the new spelling words! I’m going to call you up one at a time and give you a word from our new vocabulary list. If you can spell your word correctly, then I will give you a penny to toss in this fountain and make a wish.” Ms. Goodman explained, pointing to the bowl of water. “Now, who wants to go first?”
Randy Stone thrust his hand in the air, “ooh, me, me, me!”
“Very well, Randy,” said Ms. Goodman. “Spell tomorrow.”
Randy thought for a moment. “T-O-M-M-O-R-O-W.” Randy grinned at what he was sure was his success.
“Aw, I’m sorry Randy, that was incorrect,” Ms. Goodman frowned. “The correct spelling is: T-O-M-O-R-R-O-W.”
Randy pouted as Ms. Goodman went around the room, quizzing the students and awarding pennies to those who spelled their words correctly. The students awarded pennies would squeeze their eyes tightly and toss their pennies into the bowl, no doubt wishing for some new toy or pet or superpower. Toby was the last student Ms. Goodman called on.
“Toby, can you please spell desire?”
Toby knew that a desire was something you hoped for, something you wished would happen. He glanced across the room at Randy’s cross-trainers.
Ms. Goodman smiled. “That was wonderful Toby!” She reached in her pocket and pulled out her hand, empty. “Hmmm. I seem to have run out of pennies! Let me see what I can find.” Ms. Goodman slowly stood up and walked across the room to her slide-on penny loafers and slipped out the penny from her right shoe. “Make a wish, Toby.” Ms. Goodman winked as she handed Toby her lucky penny.
Toby furrowed his brow in confusion; why would Ms. Goodman give up her birthday wishing penny so that he could wish for new sneakers? He couldn’t understand it at all. Toby closed his eyes tight, made his wish, and tossed the penny into the bowl.
It landed tails up. Ms. Goodman cringed and looked to see Toby’s reaction. Much to her surprise, he was smiling. Toby was grinning from ear to ear and he couldn’t stop. He smiled all day long.
When the bell rang at the end of the day all the students ran out the door, but Toby stayed behind.
“Can I help you with something, Toby?” Ms. Goodman asked curiously.
“I know you want to know why I’m so happy about my wish not coming true, don’t you?” Toby grinned.
“Well, I must say, I am a bit curious.”
“I knew it was gonna land heads down. It’s your lucky penny, not mine,” Toby explained. “It wouldn’t be right for me to take your birthday wish; so I wished for exactly the opposite of what I wanted. I figure, since my wish won’t come true then the penny is still good for you to make your wish.” Toby smiled up at his teacher. “But thank you for offering it to me anyway. That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me.”
As Toby was walking home from school that day, he tripped over a curb and ripped the entire sole off his right sneaker. He stifled tears as he meandered through the trailer park to his home. His parents were arguing about something when he opened the door.
“Just because you got a raise doesn’t mean we should go and spend it all!” his mother snapped at his father.
“I just thought we could use a new TV to keep the kids busy after school,” Toby’s father threw up his arms in frustration. Toby glanced to the back of the room at the brand new 13-inch television screen where a new cross-trainers commercial flashed silently.
“I wrecked my shoes on the way home,” Toby mumbled as he wiggled his toes through the hole in the bottom of his right sneaker.
“See,” Toby’s mother snapped, “you’re wasting your money on TVs when your youngest son doesn’t even have a decent pair of shoes to his name. Poor thing could catch his death of cold!”
Toby’s father grumbled as he turned off the television and snatched the plug from the wall. He fought against the foam packing to get the TV back in the box. Once he got the box sealed he picked it up and headed out the door. He dropped the TV into the bed of his dirty gray pick-up. He climbed into the driver’s side and, as he started the engine, yelled inside to his son, “Toby, you comin’ or what boy? I cain’t buy yer shoes without ya!”
Toby grinned up at his mother and ran out the door, hopping in the truck just as it started to roll away.