Chapter 30

 

Gonna Fly Now

 

 

An hour into Saturday’s concert at the Madhouse on Madison, Jimmy Page collapsed midway through “Ten Years Gone”—suffering from a bout of gastroenteritis, according to Robert Plant—and the rest of the show got called off.  “Hang onto your ticket stubs!” the crowd was told.  “This show will be rescheduled and all your tickets will be re-honored!”  (But Robert Plant’s five-year-old son Karac would die shortly before the makeup date that summer; and Led Zeppelin came never again to The City as living men.)

 

*

 

The Song Remains the Same...

 

Over the Hills and Far Away...

 

Dazed and Confused...

 

So Vicki felt when a pretty geisha poked a sharp-cornered book into her chest.  “This is about me, isn’t it?” demanded Mam’selle Butterfly, gesturing at Connstung on the cover.  “What did I do to deserve this?” (poke) “I thought we were friends!” (poke) and Vicki tried to ask “What’re you talking about, Keiko?” between (pokes), before realizing this wasn’t Keiko Nakayama but Connie Tang from the Fischel Ballet Academy.  “We were friends!” Vicki asserted.  “Honest, Connie, it’s just a coincidence—I never told Joss anything bad about you—I haven’t even thought about you for years!”  Stricken look from Geisha Tang, who turned aside sorrowfully murmuring “What I wouldn’t give for foam-rubber butt-falsies...”  Vicki tried to run after her, but was blocked by Beth Murrisch standing hand-in-hand with another inscrutable owlish girl—ohmyGahd! could this be Amy, Visible at last?  “Of course not,” said Beth, “don’t you recognize Thumb?  Not Tom Thumb or Thumbelina—just Thumb.  All Thumb.  ‘Cause we’re in the Thumb—”

 

—and indeed this was MomMom and PopPop’s Beansville ranch house, where Vicki was now impeded by glass panels twenty yards wide and two inches thick that had to be unlatched on the double because, look! there was/were Dave Solovay and/or Jonathan Dohr sitting outside on the patio, singing to opossums.  After him/them! commanded heart and soul; before he/they get away! added brain; but her hands were full of Easter baskets heaped with miniature snowmen that kept falling out to smash on the welcome mat and turn into brimming mugs of boiling cocoa that looked like hot tomato juice—

 

—which would be what we call “soup,little schmetterling—

 

—as you j-o-l-t awake on an Easter Sunday in a big brass bed in a gable-windowed room in Queen Anne’s crown.

 

Dancing Days...

 

Trampled Under Foot...

 

Nobody’s Fault But Mine...

 

Except it wasn’t your fault.  Yes, you and Connie Tang had liked each other from the first week of Level Three at the Fischel Academy; yes, you’d been buddies at the barre and partners in Winter Wonderland, but had never seen each other outside the Norroway Theater.  Different grade schools, different neighborhoods, separate lives and circumstances.  Distance, if anything, was to blame for Connie’s having slipped your mind; remoteness in space and time.

 

So too for your friends in Pfiester Park, unseen for almost two years now.  When you thought about Hayley Tamworth and Kris Rawberry, they were little kids playing croqminton or hanging out at Brenda Pomerantz’s bakery, and you smiled at the memories but didn’t miss their current selves all that much.  As for Stephanie Lipperman, the old ingrained dislike had crept back to tarnish her remembrance: best friends do not do what she’d done to a best friend, in public, with other people listening, and then refuse to acknowledge an extra-nice please call me postcard.  Not ever.

 

Thus—as you’d concluded the Christmas before last—your Vanderlund bunch were your true friends.  And none truer than the long tall curly girl by your side in this big brass bed: Miss I-Do-NOT-Snore-You’re-Thinking-of-Meg—

 

—except that Joss wasn’t snoring but crying, quietly yet openly, and for the first time since she’d read about her namesake’s breakneck death in Beat the Turtle Drum.

 

Vicki, shifting the displeased cat Fingers out of the way, snuggled spoonwise against Joss and reached a hand around for her to clasp.

 

“(I just thought... I just thought I was gonna have a boyfriend for my birthday...)”

 

“(I know,)” murmured Vicki.  “(Same here.)”

 

“(What is wrong with guys, anyway?...)”

 

“(Dunno.  Gastroenteritis?)”

 

Snortle-through-her-tears.  “(Sheila says they think with their Things.)”

 

“(Well, she wants to be a nurse and a nun, so I guess she’d know.)”

 

Louder snortle.  “(Sheila Quirk—Nun of the Above!)”

 

“(Never gonna happen.  Too much of a hotcha.)”

 

“(...guess I’m too cold-blooded for a guy, then...)”

 

“(No way!  The right one’s out there, waiting for you.  Remember Mmmmandingo!)”

 

Tear-free laughter and a hand-squeeze.  “(Hey... I ever tell you how really glad I am you moved here?)”

 

“(Not as really glad as I am that you found me.)”

 

“(Aw, shut up.)”

 

“(You shut up.)”

 

And a myeepish yawn from Fingers, slinkily intruding back between them.

 

*

 

A week and some hours later, Smarty Rumpelmagen—or maybe it was Bootsie: still can’t tell them apart, even after five years—called Fiona to the Palace phone.

 

“Sounds like Robin... I think,” said Smarty or Bootsie.

 

“(Yeah?)” Feef muttered into the handset.

 

“Can you come over here, now?

 

Scarcely identifiable, except for the unequivocal Neapolitan timbre.

 

“(Gonna pick me up?)”

 

I—CAN’T.  Just get over here fast, ‘kay?

 

Catch a ride to Pottage Road with Aunt Polly.  Only seven blocks, but it was already 80 degrees (in the middle of April!) and your feet still hurt from that mile-and-a-quarter walk to Burrow Lane last June.  Vicki must have soles of steel—she’d even wanted to walk from school to Whierry Way the other day, as if bus fare wasn’t only 35¢.

 

“Tell Robin hi!” said Aunt Polly in the Villa driveway.

 

Robin was in no mood for “hi,” hauling you into the cellar and battening its hatches before retreating you both behind the cold furnace to gutturally confide:

 

“(Spooky—I think I’m pregnant.)”

 

Stabilize yourself against the basement wall.  (“What?...  When?...”)

 

“(Last night.)”

 

“(Where?  Here?”)  Aghast peek around the furnace at the old couch.  “(Arlo?...”)

 

“(Well of course Arlo!)”

 

“(Did he... did he make you?...)”

 

“(Naw, naw, nothing like that, we got carried away is all, except he used a rubber—)”

 

Cover your ears with both palms and slide down the wall to the floor.  “(Don’t!  Just—don’t tell me...  Wait a second: last night?  Doesn’t it take longer to know, y’know?...)”

 

“(Are you kidding?  Don’t you pay any attention in Health class?  It only takes one sperm!  And this is Arlo’s we’re talking about, so even with a rubber—)”

 

Cover your mouth with both palms, barely managing to hold back that morning’s Cheerios.  Robin meanwhile was covering her whole strawberry-blotched face as she slid down too and leaned heavily against you.

 

“(Dad is gonna kill him, Spooky!  And then they’ll send Dad to Joliet for life!  Can I come live with you?—me ‘n’ the baby, I mean?  Oh porca troia!!—how can i have a baby when I only just got my learner’s permit??)”

 

Do what you can to provide comfort, as on that grisly day when Craig Clerkington’d maligned Robin’s complexion.  This was your sister, your sorella maggiore, who usually channeled fear and grief into wrath—as when you’d starved yourself into a fainting fit, and when Fat Bob broke his nose at the Back-to-School Dance.

 

So choose your words carefully in suggesting, “(You better go see Dr. Drogue.)”

 

“(What good would that do?)”

 

“(She’s a gynecologist!  Tell your dad you’ve got ‘female troubles’—he won’t want any details—)”

 

“(Can you absofuckinglutely guarantee she won’t tell Dad I’m pregnant?)”

 

“(If you’re.)”

 

Time to muster reinforcements: one in particular.

 

By dint of some well-timed phone calls, Feef had Sheila Quirk waiting for them when she and zombie-visaged Robin got to school at Zero Hour on Monday morning.

 

“You told her??  You told her??” Robin frothed, planting a murderous punch on Fiona’s shoulder.

 

“(Only that you needed medical advice,)” winced Feef, rubbing the whackspot.  They were due in the auditorium for Band’s rehearsal of Carnival, but Sheila-Q drew the Dopesters into a washroom, closed the door and set her back against it, giving Robin a clinically speculative once-over.

 

“Redo’ll have buttkittens if we’re late,” Robin grumbled.

 

“Never mind that, Robbo.  Okay: do you think you have a problem, or know you have a problem?”

 

“Know it,” conceded Robin.

 

“(Thinks it,)” corrected Fiona.

 

“Would it be a short-term problem, or long-term?”

 

“(Long,)” whispered Robin with a very red face.

 

“(Ultra long,)” muttered Fiona with a very white one.

 

“Oh,” went Sheila, with a slightly green one.  “Um... how long have you known?”

 

“(She thinks!  She doesn’t know!)” went Fiona.  “(She doesn’t want to see my gyn but she’s dying to tell somebody about it and that somebody’s not gonna be me, so—)”

 

Try to sidle away, only to feel Robin’s clutch.  “No!  Don’t go!...”

 

S-Q stepped forward then with brass-bold devotion, to disengage Fiona and take Robin gently by the wrists.  “C’mon, Robbo, anything we say in the powder room stays in the powder room.  And you know Feef won’t wanna hear the questions I’m gonna ask, so—”

 

“(I’ll go square things with Redo,)” said Fiona, scurrying out before another syllable could be uttered.

 

In the auditorium she withstood Mr. Redo’s you-are-tardy glare, letting him know that Sheila (future RN) was tending to Robin (female-troubled) and hey, why wasn’t the school nurse’s office open till eight a.m. when students were here at seven for Zero Hour?

 

(Harrumph from Mr. Redo.)

 

By the end of the day, Sheila’d convinced Robin to go see Dr. Drogue; and when the appointment rolled around, S-Q accompanied Robin into the waiting room, where they entertained the staff by having an argument about menstrual moods.  Feef stayed out in the truck with Fat Bob, trying to hold his anxious hand.

 

“(She’ll be all right.)”

 

“I know she will, of course she will... how! much! longer! till we know for sure??”

 

“(Dr. Drogue’s quick as she can be.)”

 

“Of course she is, I know she is... but there IS stuff you can take for these-kindsa-troubles, isn’t there??”

 

“(All sorts.  Believe me.)”

 

“Good!  Good!  Nothing but the best for my baby doll—is that them now??”

 

Burlying out to crush Robin into his vast midriff (“Daa-aad!  Not in front of Sheila!... look, I got this stupid prescription we have to fill”) while S-Q lugged Fiona behind the truck.

 

So—so is she? asked Feef’s eyebrows.

 

Listen to this! answered Sheila’s.  “(She went and started her ‘flow’ right there in the stirrups!  I could hear her yell ‘this is a false period, isn’t it?’ clear out in the waiting room!)”

 

“Whatever you’re telling her, shut up!” remarked Robin from in front of the truck.

 

“What’s this prescription for, anyway?” Fat Bob inquired, peering at the pharmacy slip.

 

“It’s for drugs, Dad, they want you to buy me drugs—”

 

“You watch it with that mouth of yours—”

 

“(Anyway,)” Sheila continued in Fiona’s ear, “(they’ll run tests on her wee-wee, but if you wanna start a pool—so to speak—on is-she-or-isnt-she, my money’s on swing-and-a-miss!)”

 

“(You can not hold this over her head, no matter what happens!)” Fiona ordered.

 

“(I know, I know, but Lord!  Deliver me from temptation!)” exulted Sheila-Q.  “(Guess I can’t transfer back to Houlihan, at least—I’d never have this kind of fun without you guys.)”

 

“Shut up and I mean it!” blustered Robin, shaking her mighty drummer’s fist.

 

*

 

The Spring Musical turned out to be a train wreck, ranking right up (or down) with February’s El accident.  No time for Gigi to coax Marshall into playing Paul the puppeteer, so they’d had to stick with Matt LaVintner in that role, despite his needing no eyejab from Miss Medusa to be transformed into a stoner.  Matt came to school baked so often that the counselors categorized him with John Alphonse:

 

“Mr. LaVintner,” his father was told, “we’re concerned about Matthew.  He always seems so drowsy—”

 

“Nonsense!  It’s early to bed, early to rise for my son—and we keep the liquor cabinet locked in our house, thank you!”

 

This “house” was a condo at the Aguadulce, where the LaVinters were already living when Becca Blair moved there three years ago.  She was twelve then but looked fifteen (now, at fifteen, she looked twenty-one) and enthralled Matt at first sight.  Feeling displaced away from Snead Elementary and Alex Dmitria, Becca was susceptible to Matt for longer than her usual wont.  She dated him for most of the summer between sixth and seventh grades, not putting Matt on waivers till their first week at VW—where he, after taking numerous stabs at winning her back, told anyone who’d listen that he’d dumped her when Becca began “two-timing” him.  She had never given Matt the time of day since, at school or the Aguadulce; and he now loathed her as much as he loved her as much as he got sky-high every day to cope with having lost her.

 

So: “Pretend I’m Becca!” Gigi urged at every rehearsal.

 

This would elicit the crippled cruelty and jealous insults needed for Carnival—till Matt’d sneak out, blaze up more of Skully Erle’s primo weed, and return to warble:

 

“Look my friend I’m outta, outtuhhhh... step? step—look my friend I’m outta step, she’s steppin’ out on me, out with the rest of you... oooh...

 

Nor was that the half of it.  Gigi’d conscripted an assortment of jocks to portray jugglers, stiltwalkers, and acrobatic clowns; but the most skillful of these were the least reliable about being on time, or there at all.  Nanette Magnus and Jerome Schei launched a feud to rival the Bobbsey vendetta, each accusing the other of hamhanded upstagery; and whenever this subsided, Owen O’Leary (cast against type as nice-guy Jacquot) took pains to whip it up again.  Meanwhile the Phantom of the Sock-Hop made its presence felt all the way through dress rehearsal, at which several girls underwent embarrassing costume glitches.  Spacyjane Groh (playing the live-action puppet Marguerite) had her bodice pop open during “Yum Ticky,” verifying all suspicions that she preferred to go braless.  This upset Spacyjane less than the faculty’s insistence that she be firmly Maidenformed from now on.

 

(“But that wire pinches!”)

 

On opening night, every possible thing went wrong—from the curtain’s repeated failure to rise, to the backdrop’s rackety downfall at the climax of “Always, Always You.”

 

Split-Pea Erbsen, taking photos of the wreckage for the yearbook, was heard to quip that Freddie Prinze needn’t have committed suicide by self-inflicted gunshot, when all he’d’ve had to do was come see the VW Spring Musical.

 

*

 

Gigi had changed her mind about enlisting Vicki’s help with Carnival, reasoning that anyone who dripped so copiously at a Student Court trial could not be relied on for theatrical support.  Yet even if Gigid asked, Vicki would’ve had to say no, being otherwise occupied since Petula Pierro’s precipitous resignation as Cicada’s Editor-in-Chief.

 

“Career opportunities are the ones that never knock—I won’t open letter bombs for you! Downtown had declared, quoting the Clash's debut album, and crediting it for her decision to immerse herself in political punkdom.  From now on it’d be bollocks to mainsteam junior high school annuals, and every other facet of the Claustrophobic System!

 

Meanwhile Gumbo Krauss quit fulfilling his design duties.  Hed ceased to be “so different” the minute Joss relinquished him, shedding his Man-Tan, cropping his Jewfro down to leatherneck length, and resuming his previous colorless personality (now tinged with khaki and olive drab).  He told Ms. Yehle enough layout work had been done for Cicada ‘77 to “coast home” to publication.  “I did my part and am done with it—now I’m gonna go do my part To Serve And Protect!  Oorah!

 

(“Death bollocks dishonor!” raspberried Downtown Pierro.)

 

At an emergency staff meeting, Old Yehler promoted Vicki to Editor-in-Chief and Crystal Denvour to Design Editor.  “A strong steady hand is essential, my dear young friends—one that will keep its finger on the button, consistently—unshakably—like an audio engineer, or a rocket scientist—never letting it falter at the critical instant when leaving it unpushed can put your final deadline at risk...”

 

“So,” Vicki asked Crystal as they left the Art room, “do we have enough to ‘coast home’ on?”

 

“Why sure—just like a shopping cart with two jammed wheels.”

 

“What the heck does this mean?” hissy-snitted Nanette Magnus, pursuing them down the hall.  Talk about jammed wheels: Nanette had gone from trying to be Incomparable in a dramatic fiasco, to seeing her boyfriend Hank Hickey fall for a Methodist girl, to being forced (as a result) to binge-and-puke a whole pint of buttercrunch ice cream; and now this.  “Do you want us to quit too?

 

“Ooh, cute swimsuits!” added Delia Shanafelt, leafing through the new Vogue she’d peeked at through the emergency meeting.  “They ought to’ve used Kaylene, though, instead of these bony types—”

 

“There is nothing wrong with being slim,” Nanette snapped.

 

“Are you calling my sister fat?  Kaylene’s got a great bod!  I wish I had her thighs—”

 

Dee-lee-uhh!  We’re trying to talk yearbook here!”

 

Milky-blue bulbous-blink.  “Still?  I thought we were finished.”

 

“Well, maybe we are!  What do YOU say?” Nanette crackled at Vicki.

 

“Let’s make a deal,” offered the new Editor-in-Chief.

 

“Oh I love that show!” said Delia.

 

“If you two’ll stay on the staff” (and give me no bull-oney) “you can be in charge of the Cicada Dance—as long as you make us more money than you spend.”

 

Nanette’s downward-crescent eyes elevated as she pondered this.  “Would we have to use your band?”

 

“I think there’s been too many goings-on about bands this year,” said Vicki.  “Better to just play records, like at the Halloween Dance—don’t you think?  Less expensive too.”

 

“We could have a beach party theme!” gushed Delia, waving her Vogue.  “Wouldn’t it be fun, y’know, to ‘Boogie All Night in Bikinis’?”

 

Even Nanette smiled at this notion.  “We should’ve done that last year for Summer Council, at Maine Street Beach—Sell-O wouldn’t’ve had anywhere to run off to!  For now, though... maybe like a cruise-ship theme?  So people could dress up Hawaiian-y?”

 

“Mahalo!” went Crystal, who loved luau food.  “Sounds good to me!”

 

“Me too,” Vicki nodded.  “Can you give me a guesstimate by next week on how much it’d cost?”

 

“Less than the Sweetheart Hop did, that’s for sure.”

 

“Oh, but that was so pretty,” said Delia.  “‘So Red the Rose’—all those paper flowers—it was like being in a movie garden.”

 

“A tacky movie garden,” retorted Nanette.  “I bet we can do better at half the price, and without me having to sing with an upstagey fruitcake!  C’mon, Delia, let’s go check out party stuff at Trimmings—we’ll see you guys tomorrow.”

 

Which, from Nanette Magnus, was an amiable adieu.

 

“See ya!  (Nan, will we be singing at this dance?  And having Hawaiian fruitcake?)”

 

Which, from Delia Shanafelt, was par for the course.

 

Crystal gave Vicki a noogie-nudge.  “Smooth moves there, ma’am!”

 

“It’s called appeasement,” snortled Vicki, using a vocab word.  “And don’t call me ‘Ma’am’—‘Boss’ will do nicely.”

 

*

 

The shaken-up yearbook staff had a hectic April-into-May.  Vicki brought in Joss to take over Crystal’s job as copyreader, and relegated Gumbo and Downtown to the bottom of the masthead among “Additional contributions by...”

 

Also appearing there was Spacyjane Groh, Split-Pea’s new “accessory” (as he put it).  By incidental chance his camera had been focused on her puppet-bodice when it popped open, but gallant Sid said this exposure would never be developed (“as it were”) even if Spacyjane didn’t go with him to see Annie Hall.  Which she gladly did, several times, quickly yielding to his proposal that she adopt Diane Keaton’s bowler hat, vest and necktie (all as charming on her as they were on Diane) and start assisting with his photographic endeavors.  Some people wondered if these involved Spacyjane posing for him in just the tie and hat; but Gallant Sid would only say, “She’s excellent at setting up tripods (in a manner of speaking).”

 

“Doesn’t he talk neat?” twittered Spacyjane, kissing the top of Split-Pea’s rusty head.

 

“Can you guys please make out on your own time?” requested Vicki the Editor, sounding very much In-Chief.

 

A “take-charge” person was not how she would have defined herself.  As a Ladybug, she’d deferred to Mumbles and Alex; even as the Dartles’s manager, her job had been to implement and facilitate—not be their Leader.

 

“Are you joking?” scoffed Joss in Vicki’s bedroom.  “Who led us into the Vinyl Spinnaker?”

 

“That was for my birthday!  I was the hostess of that—you said so yourself.”

 

“Okay then, who led us into the faculty conference room after the Back-to-School Dance?  It was all we could do to keep up with you—”

 

“That doesn’t count either, I was mad then.”

 

“‘Oh, you can’t help that.  We’re all mad here,’” said Crystal Denvour, citing the Cheshire Cat; and Vicki glanced at the shelf on which her old stuffed animals were arrayed—among them one with a few surviving fluorescent teeth, that still (if feebly) gleamed in the dark.

 

You must be mad, or you wouldn’t have come here.

 

Wrestling with Cicada paste-ups, listening to David Soul plead “Don’t Give Up on Us” and Thelma Houston add “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” Vicki flashed back to Tricia in their Walrock Avenue bedroom, doing similar editwork on Pfiester High’s Magic Harp yearbook, with “Lady Marmalade” on the radio and Cynthia Dollfuss having a joyous horselaugh over Voulez-vous coucher avec moi (ce soir)?

 

“Gahd,” went Vicki.  “All of a sudden I miss my big sisters.”

 

“Sisters?” said Crystal.  “I thought you just have one.”

 

“Her best friend was like one too, to me—more like one, most of the time.”

 

“One big sister’s too many,” groused Joss.  “I’m so looking forward to missing mine!”

 

(Meg was camped out by the Jupiter Street phone and mailbox, hoping against hope for a late acceptance off Smith College’s waitlist, since her best alternative was Overton in Ohio—and Meg was already sick of telling people “No, not Oberlin.”)

 

“Well, I suppose I miss Flint,” said Crystal, active with scissors, “though it sure is nice not having to wait for a mirror till he finishes making goo-goo eyes at himself in it.”

 

(The bunch had seen Crystal’s collegiate brother do this at the Denvours’s Christmas party.)

 

“Better goo-goo than gaga,” said Joss.

 

“Okay, here’s the new layout for the Sweetheart spread,” Crystal continued, a tad too casually.

 

“Whoa!  What happened here?” asked Vicki, indicating a luscious photo of Crystal in a décolleté gown—with all of her escort scissored out.  “That was a pretty good picture of Rags.”

 

Crystal’s dimples disappeared.  “Since Ivar is not speaking to me, I think this is only appropriate.”

 

(Sidelong sub-talk between Vicki and Joss:)

 

“Not speaking?”  Wasn’t that Rags at our lunch table yesterday, jabbering away?

 

I guess “that was then”— it’s never a good sign when she uses his real name.

 

(Weighty silence, broken only by “Hotel California’s” minor chords.)

 

“All right, if you must know, he hasn’t asked me to the Cicada Dance!” exclaimed Crystal.  “And why?  ‘Cause he takes it for granted I’ll be going with him!  Probably won’t even mention it, till he shows up that night to fetch me like a dog—in his dad’s car! with his dad driving!  OH I need to start dating older guys—especially mentally older!”

 

“Well,” said Joss, “there’s only four months till we start senior high.”

 

“You could do like Becca and get a head start dating those guys,” said Vicki.  “I mean, you ‘n’ Becca already sort of have a head start, y’know...”

 

Crystal stuck out her tongue at being twitted about pulchritude, but simmered down to dimply normal.  “I ought to do the opposite and seduce some younger guy.  Do you know Jed Wainwright, Eddie’s brother?  He’s pretty cute, and big for his age—”

 

(Sardonic cough from Joss.)

 

“—oh hush—and it’d drive Eddie crazy, as well as Ivar.  I still owe Eddie some crazy-driving, he was such a Quick Draw McGraw—”

 

(Louder cough, more sardonic.)  “You really want to date an eighter named after a hillbilly?

 

“A rich hillbilly.”

 

“This is all very fascinating,” said Vicki, “but we’ve got a long ways to go, so—”

 

“Yes Boss,” went Crystal.

 

“Your Highness/Majesty,” added Joss.

 

“Oh shut up—”

 

“You shut up—”

 

*

 

The Dopesters spent April-to-May in limbo, holed up (or down) in the Villa cellar.  Robin splintered drumstick after drumstick whaling away at her skins, while Fiona and her Fender sought some new outlet for them to plug their music into.

 

Sheila-Qd reacted as you might expect to the news that Britt Groningen had parted company with the Dartles.  “Lookit, everybody has tiffs, they’re nonstop in my family, we hafta use scorecards to keep track of who’s fighting who, so lemme give Britt a call, we’ll patch this up in a jiffy—”

 

“(Forget your tiffs and jiffies.  We don’t want it patched up.)”

 

“Feef, don’t be such a sourpuss!  Why should we care what Britt gets up to, so long as she rocks-‘n’-rolls right with us?  We need her, you guys, if we wanna go on rockin’ right—and if she does gets in trouble, the rest of us can just play dumb.  I’m gonna run over and see her—”

 

Coming back from Sunny Squash Court to glumly report that Britt was forming a group of her own“‘Smooch Smarks,’ she’s calling it!  ‘Feel free to audition for rhythm guitarist,’ she told me!”—with Flake Hasleman on keyboards, Dino Tattaglia on bass and Lenny Otis on drums.  “In other words, Queen Bitch & The New Smarks Brothers!”

 

All the same tie-in merchandise would again be for sale, using a variant on her old logo—same crimson kissylips but on a white background, X’d through by crossed lines of black diamonds, with a splattery black SMOOCH replacing THE ROSA above and SMARKS instead of DARTLES below

 

 

“(Can she do that??)”

 

Raymond Murrisch’s considered opinion, as an attorney and alderman and father of the Dartle Electrapianist, was that yes Britt could.

 

Sheila had no intention of auditioning for any group, troupe, or ensemble that included Dino Tattaglia, so that was that: the breach was complete.  And the Rosa Dartles were back where they’d been a year ago, except that now they had a name and rep as a band, and insufficient means to capitalize on either.  No lead guitar; no souvenir concessions; no open-reel tape deck for recording cassettes...

 

...and no eagerness to remedy any of this.

 

Robin was too morose to even argue with S-Q about it.

 

Nor was her dejection lightened by Arlo Sowell’s lumbering around school and town, wearing a ding’d heart on his dented sleeve.

 

Having no clue how to let a guy down gently—particularly an unswayable sumo-type like Arlo—Robin had been bluntly Noli mi tangere-ish with him, till he got the message that he was being heaved overboard in concrete galoshes.  Not that this made Robin feel any happier, or more appreciative of the irony that Dr. Drogue’s prescription was beginning to work wonders on her zits.

 

“Can you help me with this?” she asked Fiona one downcast afternoon, chucking a clump of blotty scribbles at her.  “It’s s’posed to be, y’know, like a song...”

 

(Silent Oh crap.)

 

Occasionally Robin took it into her head to do a crossword puzzle: which was to say that she’d start one, ram straightaway into frustration, curse the newspaper in English and Italiano, bellow for Feef’s assistance, then kibitz carpishly while Feef deduced the answers and filled out the grid.  Much the same routine occurred that Saturday in the Villa basement, till Fiona almost yearned for the days of collaboration-by-mail with Britt.  But by nightfall, after many pulls at the water pipe and harangues at each other, the Dopesters had achieved a joint composition in aggressive melancholy:

 

 

You met yourself a razzlin’ man

   and let yourself be caught

You got yourself a lesson learned

   without a second thought

 

Forgot that men will act like dogs

   in collars but unleashed

To savage you ‘cause that’s (you knew)

   The Nature of The Beast

 

Think twice about the road you choose

   and where you might be led

Or else you’ll have the Razzlin’ Blues

   that fill your heart with dread
 

 

“(Can you take me home now?)” Fiona mutter-moaned at the end of this grueling onslaught.

 

“Aren’t you sleeping here tonight?”

 

“(I would if I could.  But you’ll be up till all hours, trying to rewrite everything we just got done.)”

 

“Will not!” Robin vowed, even as she picked up her sticks to reassess again which melodic line they should skew toward, “Smoke on the Water” or “House of the Rising Sun”—

 

“(Please let it be!)” Feef beseeched.  “(Let it be, let it be, let it BE...)”

 

“If I take you home now, will you quit with the Paul McCartney?” asked Robin, sounding a good deal more like her typical self; revving the Margutta’s engine with jaunty belligerence as she scootered Fiona the seven blocks to Windy Poplar Lane, and a three-point landing in front of the Plexiglass Palace.  “Hey, get this!—five months from now, I’ll be driving you wherever in my new used car!

 

“(Just make sure you get a black-and-blue one.)”

 

“Why?”

 

“(To match what you make the rest of us.)”

 

Robin socked her on the shoulder as Fiona slithered off the scooter.  “That’s for being a wiseass!  And a partypooper!... but maybe I’ll go drop by Arlo’s.  Me ‘n’ him could still be pals, dontcha think?  Long as I don’t let him razzle me?”

 

“(Try it over the phone first.  To stay on the safe side.)”

 

Robin socked her again, lighter and longer.  “You better always be there when I need you, Pee Wee!” she said; making an endearment sound like a threat, as was her knack.

 

Away she vroomed, leaving Fiona to hoist her weary self over the Plexiglass threshold and be hailed with surprise by Moth and Aunt Polly.  It was another wild ‘n’ crazy Saturday night for the Dunlop sisters, watching “Uncle Kup”—Irv Kupcinet, an old journalistic chum of their father Jock—on the Palace TV.

 

“Fiona?  Is that you?”

 

“We thought you were spending the night at Robin’s.”

 

“Is everything okay?”

 

“You’re not feeling poorly, are you dear?  Do you need to lie down?”

 

“(Just to sleep.  Busy day.  Bed now.)”

 

“Well, if you’re sure you’re all right...”

 

I should live so long thought Feef as she trudged up to her room.  Which shouldve been empty but was full of lamentations from a half-dressed Chloe, who lay sprawled on her bed in a sobbing twisted heap.

 

Oh for crying out loud, not you now!—and you better not think you’re pregnant, at barely thirteen—

 

Tweety Snot, in the literal sense of the words.  Peeling a face smeared with tears, phlegm, and cosmetics off an equally splotched pillow. to waah “Deww deyy dohhhh...?”

 

Dammit.  “(Does who know what?)”

 

“Momm’n’AuntMarrthuhh!  Iznat why deyy maydja come hoooome?...”

 

Dammit—rewind the clock and bring back the Margutta!  “(F’they knew you’re spazzing out, they’d be up here themselves”)—yawn—“(so whyncha go down ‘n’ cry on them?  I’m tired...)”

 

Chloe only wept afresh.  No longer a condescending snippy-ass, but a wretched little creature in padded bra and day-of-the-week panties.  “Ohhhh, I’mmm soooo MIZZ-rubble!

 

And soooo likely to thwart Fiona from getting any shuteye.

 

Plunk a large box of kleenex by the sopping-wet pillow and, with a pretense of interest, ask “(Why?)”

 

Because Chloe’d gone to a party where Bart Schtapp, her alleged boyfriend, had flirted his ass off with Another Woman, that’s why!  And not just any Other Woman, but “Tippi Lingerspiel! of all people! who thinks she’s soooo hot ‘n’ soooo fine ‘n’ SOOOO

 

“(I get it already!...  Okay.  Go wash your face and put on pajamas, and I’ll do you a favor.)”

 

“...whutt?...”

 

“(I’ll—brush your damn hair.)”

 

Tweety-tears boggled back into their ducts, and mucus back into its membranes.  “Hack hawk hoff!” went Chloe.  “Y-you’d r-really do that?... y-you n-never do that...”

 

“(And I won’t now, if you talk anymore.  Hurry up!  And change that cruddy pillowcase before it makes us both sick!)”

 

Off shuffled Chloe to bathroom and linen closet, while Fiona slouched into her ancient Ziggy Stardust T-shirt/nightie.  Straining to stay awake lest she dream about Tippi Lingerspiel (of all people!) being interviewed by Irv Kupcinet about being soooo fine.

 

Snot-free Tweety reappeared with a clean face, pink PJs, newly-cased pillow, and boar-bristle hairbrush.  Handing the latter over with timorous caution: would it be applied to the seat of her pajama bottoms?

 

But Fiona just groped for the handle, then for Chloe’s head, to draw boarish bristles through finespun goldilocks as she quietly crooned three choruses of “Razzlin’ Blues.”

 

(Along the melodic line of “House of the Rising Sun.”)

 

(Not “Smoke on the Water.”)

 

*

 

Cicada ‘77’s final proofs were rushed to the printer on Friday the 13th of May, clearing the way for concentration on May 21st’s Spring Dance.  This would get its own yearbook insert (separate and unbound) if it generated enough profit to cover the annual budget deficit.

 

Nanette was deadset on making this happen.  In organizing “Tropic Island Cruise” she cut every corner and stretched every penny, leaving no belt untightened (her own always cinched-as-could-be) and discounting each of Gigi’s suggestions to two cents’s worth.

 

She was just as cost-effective in choosing a date for the dance.  Staked out on the front steps of Calvary Lutheran Church, modeling a new spring dress whose skirt fluttered in the Sunday morning breeze, Nanette took a dispassionate survey of the congregation’s younger males.  Too tubbish—too shortish—too nerdish—too much of a fickle-pickle (that one being Hank Hickey)—

 

Finally bestowing a cool you’ll do smile on William “Boffer” Freuen, a ninth-grader at Misch East, whod been a recent Silver Gloves contender before getting KOd in the semifinals.  Boffer was also a bit of a lout (his mother made him come to church that day after catching him swiping a ten-spot out of her purse) but he had a nebulous resemblance to Sylvester Stallone, so Nanette was inclined to overlook a few character flaws.  Such as Boffer’s grabbing the back of her fluttery skirt in the Calvary vestibule, and evaluating it as “Kinda skinny-assed but she might put out, and anyhoo she’s a rich chick.”

 

(Mr. Magnus being a well-to-do canner of frozen orange juice.)

 

Delia, following Nanette’s lead, went fishing in foreign waters and reeled in Dalton “Salty” Pilchard, a freshman at Athens Grove.  His parents owned a racing sloop called the King Oscar, from which various ideas and items of gear were taken for “Tropic Island Cruise”; plus Salty gave Delia a recipe (pungent yet economical) for pineapple-anchovy pizza that he swore would not cause mal de mer.

 

Kim Zimmer was still going with Norman Lesser, who might be a lamebrain but whose branch of the Lesser Park Lessers had an outlet warehouse of slightly irregular fabrics.  Many of these were in bright Aloha patterns intended for muumuus or Honolulu shirts, but serviceable as gym-wall drapery; and these (in Kim’s estimation) absolutely consummated the “Tropic Island Cruise” theme.

 

Which, in Gigi Pyle’s estimation, was a load of nautical hoohaw.  Leaving her far from certain that she’d even buy a ticket—or, rather, have Marshall McConchie buy one for her—to the Spring Dance.

 

It wasn’t like anybody in her own clique showed the least curiosity what Gigi might think of their plans, even though she’d masterminded an entire Sweetheart Hop a mere three months ago.  Proving yet again that the planet was populated with unreliable fly-by-nights—as had been repeatedly demonstrated at every performance of Carnival!

 

Yet there remained the question of who’d be this year’s Cicada Queen, and Gigi had not yet abdicated her right to that title.  If rumors were true, Bionic Becca wouldn’t be making even a token stopover at this dance.  Add Gigi to the no-shows, and Nanette Magnus might win the tiara—as good as rewarding her for the bickersome egg she’d laid playing The Incomparable Rosalie!

 

Fan your fevered brow, and perish that ignoble thought.

 

“Marshall honey?  Yew bought our tickets for the Spring Dance yet?”

 

“Oh—are we going, then?”

 

“Why sure, sugar!  Ah wouldn’t go with anyone else.”

 

“I’m not really much of a dancer.”

 

“Baby, we don’t go there to dance—we go to be seen.  It’s practically a costume ball, with a silly desert-island theme.  Ah ‘spect we could dress lahk Ginger and the Perfessor.”

 

“Oh.  Well then (heh!) I’d better ‘shell out’ for those tickets.  ‘Shell out’—”

 

“Yes, Marshall, Ah get it.”

 

“Did you know my sister Mavis used to sell seashells by the Lakeshore?”

 

“...that’s funny too...”

 

“No, honest!  She hand-painted them for tourists.  Now she’s in New Mexico, carving cactus-sculptures.”

 

“Really?...  How much do those cost?  Ah got me some friends Ah really oughta give things lahk that to...”

 

*

 

As per usual, the only way Papa Dmitria would allow Alex to attend a school dance was in the company of her most special girlfriends; and since Vicki and Joss were “temporarily sans beaux” (to quote Joss) they were happy, or at least willing, to oblige.  But an attempt to rib Fiona into joining them did not tickle Feef pink.

 

“(If you want to see me dance, put me up on a stage with a bass in my hands and a mike at my mouth.)”

 

“Ooh!  Would Mike Spurgeon do?”

 

“(Spurge you for even saying that!)”

 

Joss and Vicki were more successful in alerting Rags Ragnarsson that he should do his romantic duty, or risk losing Crystal to the Mystery Man they hinted she had her eye on.  Rags, never one to not go to extremes, went so far as to present Crystal with a gaudy corsage in front of the whole cafeteria.  The fact that it would wilt long before dance night was not held against him—unlike Crystal’s bosom, after Rags lovingly pinned the corsage upon it.

 

(Watched with mass envy by niner girls and boys alike.)

 

Vicki did another good deed by matchmaking Laurie Harrison with Buddy Marcellus, who was a nice guy and fun to be around, plus a great dancer—though Vicki did warn Laurie to steer him away from any spillable dairy-bar beverages.

 

Laurie in turn did all she could to link up her stepsister and Patrick Baxter, Big Sue’s brother, whom Little Sue’d been smitten with since they began working together on next fall’s cross country program.  Patrick, captain-elect of the new boys squad, had just enjoyed a growth spurt and begun shaving once a week; but Susie, captain-elect of the girls squad, despaired of ever reaching puberty or being seen as more than a fellow long-distance runner.

 

“You are gonna outknockout ‘em all before you know it!” Laurie reaffirmed.

 

“Oh sure, ‘when I blossom’—like you’ve been telling me for three years now, Lo!  Well, it’s never gonna happen and he’s never gonna like me!”

 

Laurie made secret contact with Big Sue, who let Patrick know in curt unequivocal terms that he was going to ask out Susie Zane, or cough up a good reason to the contrary.

 

“Aw c’mon, she looks like a kid!”

 

“Look closer,” advised Big Sue, administering a cuff to the back of Patrick’s head.

 

Patrick happened to do a lot of fantasizing about Laurie Harrison, and thought a perfunctory date with her twig-of-a-sister might somehow be a springboard to intimacy with Laurie herself.  But when he offhandedly asked Susie to the Spring Dance, she let out a shriek, threw her arms around Patrick’s neck, and gave him such a massive mwah that his fantasies got rearranged to a remarkable extent.

 

Blossom time!

 

On a more jaded (though still zesty) level, Sheila Quirk and John Alphonse decided to take a short-term whack at each other; yet even on this provisional one-time basis, they couldn’t cajole Robin and Arlo into doubling with them to the dance.  Robin’s lunchtime declaration that she and Arlo were now Just Good Friends made S-Q choke on her sweet’n’sour meatballs, before starting an argument over whether Robin had thereby earned the rank of Bobbsey Quadruplet.

 

Amelia Quirk (the Bobbsey Triplet, aka Mealy aka Taters) did a good matchmaking deed of her own.  Having a long queue of boys on her dating string, she generously delegated K.C. Battenburg to ask out Chloe Rumpelmagen; which he dutifully did, being not just an affable guy but aware of how pretty Chloe could be when not in a sobbing twisted heap.

 

His offer—a bolt from the spontaneous blue, so far as Chloe knew—sent her over the moon and halfway to Venus.  Scheming all the way how she’d rub Bart Schtapp and Tippi Lingerspiel’s noses (not to mention Patches and Smarty and Bootsie and Chuckles’s) in her having been asked out by a freshman! and a cute one! who used to date the Quirk sisters! yet chose CHLOE over them and every other girl in school, to ask out to the Spring Dance!!!—

 

(She was careful, however, not to gloat too obviously within Fiona’s ear-or-eyeshot.)

 

*

 

Down Oakapple Road, one block east of Eugene G. Green’s.  Cecidia Drive, Chirosia Drive, Knopper Drive—and suddenly there it was, behind the chain-link fence.  Big heavy stack of irregular concrete slabs, three stories high, with three parallel wings jutting out like fingers on a giant robotic gauntlet.  Skinny little windows wedged between the slabs, with stark stone walkways wrapped around the upper floors.  And out front the sign read:

 

V W 

 

Vanderlund  Junior  High  School

 

Home of the Beetles

 

And the Ladybugs it ought to add, but didn’t.  A change that Vicki’d fought for in vain through two terms on Student Council, one on Summer Council, and one on Frosh Board.

 

Which kind of summed up the not-quite-two years that had passed since the first day she’d come running by this place.  And gotten lost in Baroque Vista.  But then had met her very best friend.  Who’d been by her side the first time she entered Home Base—climbed the back stairs to 8-Z—gone down to eat in the cafeteria where she’d feared being shunned and ostracized—but instead had broken bread with the Dopesters, no less, after just a few hours’s acquaintance!  Robin and Fiona, whom Vicki might’ve been too scared even to talk to had Joss not known them from Band and made introductions.  Now it was difficult to imagine them not being part of her bunch, her life.

 

And that same first morning, in the gymnasium to which they were currently headed, she’d encountered the gazelle-like cheerybabe who would become her second-best friend.  Alex Dmitria, whose hyperactive mainspring was less tightly-wound nowadays, yet not a jot less amazingly radiant as she hopped out of Felicia’s Firebird and bopped toward the playing-field doors:

 

“Thanks, Mrs. Volester!  C’mon, girls, shake your legs!  ‘I feel like dancin’, dancin’ / dance the night away!’  I bet I could, too, and not need a wink of sleep!”

 

“While I may choose to snooze in these shoes,” grumped Joss, never at her merriest when weather was this muggy.  “Ninety degrees out and spoiling for a thunderstorm—so hey, let’s put on long skirts and hoof it all round the gym!”

 

“Hoof it?  This isn’t Horse Camp, Joss!  We’re wearing nice light sundresses, the gym’ll be air-conditioned, it’s the last dance of the school year, and we’re going to have superfun!”

 

Vicki, lagging a step behind, listened to reverberations from the past.  Here’s where we bail out—we’ll hoof it the rest of the way—well-lighted—plenty of foot traffic...

 

Never got to dance with Roger Mustardman, unless you mean metaphorically.  Nor with Dave Solovay or Tony Pierro; and Ordinary Mark Welk back in seventh grade counted for zilch.  All the dancing she had done was insignificant jiggety-jog—no magic to it, no allure.  She might as well have been one of those dime-a-throw taxi-types in the olden days, like Barbara Stanwyck in that Ten Cents a Dance Late Movie.

 

Well...

 

Maybe tonight would be different.

 

Tickets at the door; date-stamp on the hand; both services an Additional Contribution by Spacyjane Groh, who was attired in her Annie Hall collar/tie/hat despite the heat.  Which Vicki’s trio didn’t escape from as they went into the “air-conditioned” gym, and found it decorated as if for the opening scene of Lord of the Flies.

 

Red and black were predominant, aptly so for the Home of the Beetles (and the Ladybugs!) but also evocative of fresh blood and dark shadows.  Other colors were vivid on the walls, hung with slightly irregular bursts of purple, yellow, hungry-jungle green.  Tie-dyed bedsheets shimmered like sky-blue mirages flapping over the South Pacific; and from cardboard palm trees dangled artful bunches of Gumboesque coconuts.  No pig’s heads on sticks, or with apples in their mouths; but the night was young.

 

“And we didn’t go a nickel over budget!” boasted Nanette.

 

She and Delia were sheathed in hibiscus sarongs from just below their armpits to just above their knees.  Mrs. Driscoll had forbidden any wearing of swimsuits, halter tops, or chest-baring open shirts (by either sex) but sarongs must have passed muster; and they made Delia and Nanette—and Kim Zimmer, lurking in the undergrowth—look a lot cooler than Vicki felt, temperature- or fashionwise.

 

She had to commend them, though, for a thrifty job well done.  Not even Aunt Fritzi could’ve silkified so many sow’s ears using frugal VW resources.  Turnout wasn’t shaping up badly either, even at $1.25 a head, and without a Battle of Bands to whet student enthusiasm.

 

Ms. Yehle was there as chief chaperone in another of her handsewn jumpsuit/headscarf concoctions, along with Coach Smitty and Mr. “Mispronounced” Martincich and Miss Stabeldore the typing teacher, plus a genuine celebrity to help them judge the Cicada Queen competition: that star of local TV blurbs and dinner theater, Mimi McLaine.

 

Which had to mean automatic ineligibility for Becca Blair—didn’t it?—even if Becca did show up?  Which she hadn’t yet and what would be the point, if she couldn’t be crowned Queen of a Dance judged by her own mother?

 

Thus reckoned a multitude of niner girls, none more so than Gigi Pyle, who’d come in a stunning (even for her) gownlike garment of spangly coral-pink: far removed from all those unsullied country-orphan frocks, and farthest removed from much of her chest and most of her back.

 

Lawdy, pass that muster!

 

As up popped Split-Pea, camera in hand, to capture this cheesecake for the unbound insert; while his own Spacy girlfriend was swaddled à la Annie Hall, and in a steambath atmosphere too.  It almost made Vicki head for a pay phone to call for a ride home.

 

But no: even if Joss was prepared to split, they’d never be able to pry Alex loose this early.  So sigh and stay put till the P.A. blasted forth the theme song from Rocky, during which her hand was grasped and she got hauled in amid the jiggety-joggers—

 

by who?  Chipper Farlowe, oh Gahd—

 

for a pugnacious bob-and-weave to Gonna fly now / flying high now / gonna fly, fly, flyyyy—

 

(Would that she could now / away, away, awayyyy—)

 

Oh well: at least she wasn’t doing this with Mack “The Arm” Pittley.

 

Numerous other guys asked her to dance, to get down and shake it with them, just as they had at that “Stairway to Heaven” dance two years ago.  Many wanting another turn, each guy making the right moves, yet every one of them rooted in the mundaneno spills taken; no thrills given.

 

Between bouts of the Bee Gees, Trammps, T-Connection and Love Unlimited Orchestra, her partners offered her cup after cup of Hawaiian Punch, slice after slice of pineapple-anchovy pizza, and invite after invite to go see the big new space movie premiering next week.  Its special effects were supposedly out of this world—“a spectacle light-years ahead of its time!”—but except for playing Astro Co-eds with Hayley Tamworth, Vicki’d never been that much into science fiction, and politely deflected the invites along with the pizza.

 

(Goofus, needless to say, was wild to be first in line to behold the film Joss had already started calling Mars Bars, and he’d postponed his eleventh birthday celebration till next week to coincide with this momentous opening.)

 

On and on went the dance.  Gloria Gaynor; Donna Summer; Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band.  At last they ran short on time and had to crown a Cicada potentate.  Vicki thought no one could outqualify Kinks Farghetti for such a title, but all the freshmen girls were summoned to go jig around the judges’s platform, while ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” was spun.

 

Vicki took her jog with Jerome Schei, who kept giving her the latest latest about Mike and Irina’s “cuckolding” of poor Sell-O Fayne who oh my Gahd was s-m-i-l-i-n-g right this minute at Rachel Gleistein even as he boogied with Irina (don't look!) ooooh, Miss Dont-Touch-The-Hair had to be skating on thin ice now, ‘cause everyone knew Mike’d be here with Keiko Nakayama if her scandalized parents hadnt put her under virtual house arrest which was a real shame since Keiko would’ve been a sure shot for the Cicada court if only so the judges could validate their ethnic open-mindedness—

 

While four Swedes sang You can dance, you can jive / having the time of your lyyyyfe...

 

The tune ended; Mimi McLaine tapped on the microphone; Buddy Marcellus called out, “Show us how to do the hula!”

 

[Laughter] from the gym.

 

“I’m afraid I didn’t bring my grass skirt,” smiled Mimi.

 

[Whistles] from the boys in the gym.

 

“We hope you’ve all had a night to remember,” Mimi went on in her best Canfield’s Diet Chocolate Fudge voice.  “It is now my honor, on behalf of the judges, to announce your four Cicada Court Attendants.”

 

[Inhalations] by the girls in the gym.

 

“Miss Gigi Pyle!”

 

[Shockwave] across the combined gymnasiums.

 

Since the finalists were being presented in reverse order, this meant Gigi’d come in fifth.  Thunder crashed overhead, as if to express Mother Nature’s disbelief, and the lights flickered (oh Gahd not again) as though to hide Gigi’s degradation as Marshall led her to the platform and boosted her up onto it.  A plastic lei was tossed over her head, a plastic flower was thrust into her hands, and FLASSSHHHH flassshhhh flassshhhh went Split-Pea’s camera as Gigi stared glassily into the abyss.

 

“Miss Crystal Denvour!”

 

Tremendous yell of triumph from Rags as Crystal swept past Gigi, displaying the nonchalance of a soloist accustomed to plaudits for her voice, her bearing, her dimples, her cleavage, and general virtuoso starshine.

 

“Miss Nanette Magnus!”

 

Darting swiftly up as if on a tennis or racquetball court, to accept her lei with a great flounce of ash-blonditude.  Miffed at not scoring better than the bronze, yet taking infinite satisfaction at eclipsing one specific cliquety-clack who shall remain namelesswhile reserving the right to snitty-hiss whoever did win.

 

“Your First Attendant—Miss Vicki Volester!”

 

Screams from Jerome, from Joss, from all her friends and fans: outnumbering (or at least outloudening) the utmost quantity in her wildest dreams.

 

Dreamwalk onto the platform.  Nod at catatonic Gigi, trade civil smiles with Nanette, swap noogie-nudges with Crystal.  Receive two plastic leis from Mimi McLaine; notice that the matching flowers were just like the ones they’d taped on Fiona’s locker around her goopy get-well card.  Blink at the FLASSSHHHHing (gahdammit Sidney!) and reflect that Candy Gates had mounted a whole Hanes pantyhose campaign to achieve what Vicki’d accomplished without even trying.

 

“Finally, this year’s Cicada Queen—Miss Alex Dmitria!”

 

Krakatoan reaction.  Every cheer she might have led for Beetle teams, every shout she might have rallied from a crowd at football or basketball games, erupted in a volcanic tsunami for Alex herself.  Surfing it like a born wahine, Alex landed on the platform and arched into Vicki’s embrace.

 

“I can’t believe this!” she cried, touching the tiara on her brow with shaky fingers.  “I cannot believe this!”

 

“Believe it, champ!—you’re our best ‘n’ brightest,” said Vicki, raising Alex’s arm as a ref would a prizefighter’s: Alex(andra the Great), Queen of the VW Cossacks, beaming like a brilliant supernova unto the world.

 

Which did not stop raucous sobs from tearing through the gym, or Kim Zimmer from doing the same as she emitted them.

 

Joss (being Joss) reached out as Kim ran past and turned to go after her, regardless of old betrayals; but Kim threw her off and dodged around a figure in the doorway—a shapely gray shape with red LED optics, one of which gave Vicki the merest squint of a wink.

 

Everything’s arranged for a purpose.

 

*

 

Or maybe not.

 

Laurie and her Gossip Brigade had to put in another twelve-hour shift that Sunday, spreading the word on what Mr. and Mrs. Zimmer discovered when they came home from a hostile Saturday night out.  Up rumbled their garage door to reveal Kim hanging from the rafters, a noose around her neck—and one hapless armpit, exactly like the old Charles Addams “Can’t you do anything right?” cartoon.  Her sarong had come undone and fallen off, revealing even more of Kim to her parents and a group of neighbors drawn by the tumult, since the garage door jammed open and resisted Mr. Zimmer’s efforts to yank it shut.

 

“Will you help me get her down from there??” Mrs. Zimmer demanded.  “And you, young lady!!—why aren’t you wearing a bra??

 

“W-A-A-A-A-I-I-I-I-L-L-L-L,” went Kim.

 

Physically she sustained some rope abrasions and a dislocated shoulder; emotionally, her plug had been pulled.  Arrangements were made so Kim could complete ninth grade without having to return for the last three weeks of school.  She refused to see anyone from VW, even Delia who’d also missed making the Cicada court, but certainly hadn’t felt suicidal or cry-for-helpish about it.  Nanette went to see Kim too, thinking it her Christian duty; as did compassionate Alex, and Rachel Gleistein from Red Cross Club—though Rachel hadn’t forgotten the crack Kim had made concerning her Phantom-wedgied backside.  All were rebuffed.  Gigi Pyle might not have been; but she (after regaining consciousness and hearing about Kim’s escapade) washed her magnolia hands of Miss Manic-Demented, blaming her own fifth-place finish on Kimmy’s psycho discipleship.

 

“What can yew ‘spect from someone so fly-by-nighty?”

 

As for Joss, she alternated between feeling terrible and giggling uncontrollably.  “I shouldn’t laugh about it, I know I shouldn’t, but hee hee hee hee hee!  Oh, Jeez!  If only she hadn’t weighed the same as a duck...”

 

*

 

On June 2nd, Vicki and many of her schoolmates went to Vanderlund Senior High’s commencement ceremony: Meg Murrisch was graduating, as were her boyfriend Brooksy and Lamar Twofields and Hogan Quirk and Riley Pyle and scuzzy Jason Zane, not to mention Fleur Groningen the valedictorian.

 

Joss had sworn she was going to give Lamar a hug and kiss after the final procession, going so far as to accept wagers on it.  When her chance came, Joss chickened out (“Well, Toughie was right there, wasn’t she?”) and had to settle for squeezing Lamar’s big brown hands.  (“But even that was fantastic!”)

 

There were no caps and gowns or beribboned diplomas for VW’s departing freshmen; just an assembly at which the results of the class ballot were broadcast:

 

  Most Athletic   Samantha Tiggs   Eddie Wainwright  
  Most Dramatic   Gigi Pyle    Matt LaVintner  
  Most Artistic   Britt Groningen   Sidney Erbsen  
  Most Studious   Keiko Nakayama   Marshall McConchie  
  Most Talkative   Laurie Harrison   Jerome Schei  
  Best Hair   Irina Saranoff   Brad Faussett  
  Cutest Couple   Crystal Denvour   Ivar Ragnarsson  
  Class Flirt and Wolf   Carly Thibert    John Alphonse  
  Class Clowns   Petula Pierro   Morey Krauss  
  Personality Plus   Alex Dmitria   Mike Spurgeon  
  Most Likely to Succeed   Becca Blair   Bennett Fayne  

 

And special recognition was given (though no engraved plaque or trophy) to Vicki Volester for “stepping up” and bringing in the yearbook on deadline.

 

Cicada ’77 came out not only as scheduled but in fairly admirable shape.  By then Vicki was sick at the sight of its contents, including the separate unbound insert that had to be manually stuffed behind each front cover.  Plenty of other folk found plenty to praise, or so they said: staff, students, faculty, administration, and eventually parents.

 

The yearbooks were distributed on the last day of school.  Everyone had to report to homeroom for attendance-taking, but then discipline slackened and a degree of hall-roaming was tolerated.  Pens weren’t used to fill out final exams or extra-credit reports, but to inscribe countless Have a nice summer!s.

 

Vicki wore out two new Flair markers as she rambled round the wings and over to Home Base.  Cicada after Cicada got poked into her chest with requests for her signature; her own copy was in constant demand, sometimes circulated from hand to hand till she almost lost track of it.

 

(Again and again she heard her two-year-younger self telling Hayley Tamworth, I’ve got to start over again as a New Girl.  First day of school, I’m gonna be all alone...)

 

(Well, look at her now.)

 

(Look at the clumps of little sevvie girls, same age as she’d been that last week at Reulbach, approaching her with eyes all deferential and wanna-be-like-you, to basically ask for her autograph.  Who’da thunk it?)

 

Guys of all ages dogged her trail, their eyes no doubt upon her tail; but that was nothing new.  Nor was there much novelty in the way they smudged her yearbook with ill-spelt memorials.  Some were sweet: Rags’s To the second prettiest chick in this school; K.C.’s Your [sic] a real neat gal & cute lookin [sic] too!; Mr. Erickson’s Being your teacher has been a joy, Vicki, you do excellent work—

 

(s-i-g-h...)

 

Some were well-meaning: Jerome’s I only hope someday you’ll find the right guy, oh what am I saying? of course you will; Howard Ullmann’s Sorry I didn’t get to know you too well this semester; Artie Rist’s Finally we’re free of this bourgeous [sic] hellhole torture chamber—

 

And, big surprise, more than a few verged on the indecent: such as Brad’s and Craig’s and Fast Eddie’s variations on Have a great sex life, babe! you sure could use one!—

 

(Proving yet again that boys think with their Things.)

 

Vicki cordoned off the inside back cover for her bunch to sign, the better to treasure their sentiments at a single glance:

 

 

 

 

Vicki was wiping her eyes after the fifth or sixth private reread of these feelings (whoa whoa whoa) when for the first time she spotted something in the bottom corner—a tiny mess of spider-scratches, apparently made by a bone-dry ballpoint.  Poring over them through a tremulous magnifying glass, she thought she could decipher seven words:

 

 

*

 

Mr. Murrisch had some business to tend to in the state capital, so he undertook to drive Alex downstate to Girl Scout Horse Camp while ferrying Joss to Youth Music Camp at the State U.  Vicki would’ve tagged along and maybe stayed awhile with Aunt Fritzi and Gross Uncle Doug (eww) but the Carlisles were up in Canada, imitating Pierre and Margaret Trudeau.  That left the shotgun seat open for Beththough not Invisible Amy, who’d reputedly hitched a ride with Meg to Brooksy’s family’s summer place in Wisconsin.  Mittens, Fingers, and Thumb would spend a day and night fending for themselves, well supplied with food, water, litter, and windows to sun themselves in.

 

Vicki planned to catch plenty of rays herself later that month, when the Volesters went to Florida (gonna fly now!) to visit Diamond Joel Schmelz, who’d moved to Fort Lauderdale just before a hurricane wiped out Fiddler Key.

 

“The luck o’ the Irish rubbed off on a Galitzer!” Dime had crowed over the phone.  “Kopf oder Zahl, eh Dillydoll?”

 

“Take my advice and don’t get too tan,” Joss warned Vicki and Alex as they loaded bags into the Murrisch Lincoln Continental.  “Looking hotsy today can mean being wrinkly tomorrow!”

 

“Well, maybe not tomorrow...

 

“Think about it!  Picture Carly Thibert in thirty years—she’ll blend right in with a box of Raisin Bran.”

 

“I’ll try to pack a parasol,” Vicki promised.

 

“One thing’s for sure,” Alex told them.  “Soon as we’re all back home, I am getting you two up into saddles—no ifs-ands-or-buts about it!”

 

“‘No butts’ is right, if you mean mine on top of a horse,” said Joss.  “Find me a nice tame panther to ride—”

 

She and Vicki had gone a couple times to Pony Paradise Stable and watched Alex be an equestrienne—though not up close, neither wanting to get within trample-range of the livestock.  Joss thought horses might be bad luck—her namesake in Beat the Turtle Drum had been crazy about them, and look what’d happened to her.  Vicki couldn’t even bear to watch while Alex fed an apple to Mumbles Metcalf’s palomino, a monstrous brute named “Dandelion.”

 

“Aaagh!—it bit you, didn’t it?  I heard it bite you!”

 

“For heaven’s sake, Vicki!  That’s just Dandy chewing her apple!”

 

“If you ask me, there’s enough horse apples around here already,” sniffed Joss.

 

“I am not giving up on you two,” Alex declared then and repeated now.

 

“You better never,” said her special friends.

 

Luggage stowed, the triumvirate shared a big sisterly cuddle-clinch.

 

“Don’t you guys fight too much along the way,” said Vicki.

 

“We do not fight.”

 

“‘Cept over which of us’ll miss you the most.”

 

“Oh don’t—we won’t have time for that—we’ll keep those cards ‘n’ letters coming ‘n’ going, y’know, so it’ll be just as if we’re right there with each other.  ‘Kay?”

 

“Yes, your Highness/Majesty,” they chorused.

 

“Oh go and get out of here already!”

 

She stood waving in the Queen Anne driveway till the Continental vanished from sight; then collapsed in tears on Toughie’s shoulder.

 

“Child, get a hold of yourself—they’ll be back soon.

 

To rub further salt in her wound, Vicki dropped by Windy Poplar Lane and bade farewell to Fiona.  It’d taken Lem Weller five full years, but he’d finally agreed to be visited on such home turf as he was presently renting in Los Angeles.

 

“(I just wish I wasn’t going to La-La Land with her,)” muttered Feef, meaning her mother.  “(She’ll never admit it, but I know she thinks he’s ‘come to his senses’ and they’ll get back together.)”

 

Sudden panic: “You don’t mean you might stay out there, do you?”

 

“(According to Lem, ‘out there’ is right here.)”

 

“But you can’t, Feef!  What’d we do without you?”

 

“(Dunno—have lousier lyrics?)”

 

“I mean it!  We can’t let our bunch break up till college, at least!”

 

“(Noooo, don’t worry, I can’t see it happening—me back in California, anyway.)”

 

Vicki gave her a hug then, as cuddle-clinchy as the one she’d shared with Joss and Alex; and Fiona emerged looking positively pink-cheeked for only the second time in their acquaintance.

 

“See that?  Check us out!” Vicki commanded, yanking Feef beside her in front of a Plexiglass Palace mirror.  “The two foxiest ladies in town!  Those guys in senior high won’t know what hit em once they get a load of us!”

 

“(Um, Vicki?...”)

 

“Yeah?”

 

“(...nothing...)”

 

*

 

In May the Volesters had delayed Goofus’s birthday for a week; now in June they advanced Ozzie’s a week early, so he could enjoy it at home and not on the road.  (Father’s Day would have to be “split” with Dime in Florida.)  A costly set of golf clubs, obtained from the Cathedral of All the Stores, was hidden in the Burrow Lane laundry room to await Ozzie’s wowing his fellow linksters at Petty Hills.  Though not before noon; he traditionally slept late on his birthday or equivalent, giving Vicki a chance for an early run beforehand.

 

It was a beautiful Sunday, recalling similar mornings last September, which might explain why she took her Adidases over toward the Lake.  Running from Burrow to Foxtail to Lesser to Panama; crossing Petty Bridge to the south side of the boulevard; turning at the Expressway overpass onto Wheaf Avenue so she could run past the ivied bulk of Vanderlund Senior High School (see you next September!) and then six more blocks east to Spanish Castle Square.  Taking a breather by the fountain modeled after Seville’s Torre del Oro.

 

In whose shadow lurked no tall broad shaggy silhouette.

 

At least not to her naked eye.  (Redden tingle blush.)

 

Too much to hope for, maybe.

 

But why not hope for as much as you could, and then some?  Wasn’t that the whole point of hoping?  Or praying?  Or wishing again, with a flip of a copper penny into Spanish Castle Fountain?

 

As PopPop said: You’ve got to be strong to get along.

 

And so onward to Fortitude Road, that great shoreside thoroughfare, which bordered beaches from The City limits all the way north to the state line.  Down it Vicki sprinted (I am a butterfly: I float, I glide) with the Lake As Big As An Ocean at her left elbow, and all of Vanderlund at her right.

 

To anybody’s naked eye (except maybe Lana Eisensteins, on the far side of the bedroom window back on Burrow Lane) it would appear she had the road largely to herself.

 

Yet Vicki could sense other selves hovering at those elbows, matching her self stride for stride: intent on peeling hers off—swerving hers away—and plunging them all endlessly, relentlessly, everlastingly into/onto/unto the Dismal Plane of Existence.

 

 

 * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

 

 * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Return to Chapter 29                          Proceed to Chapter 31

 

 

A Split Infinitive Production
Copyright © 2015 by P. S. Ehrlich

 

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