Sister Sadie What Have You Done
Actually there were a lot of eligible young women who could have become Skeeter’s stepsister, but here and now there was only a fifteen-year-old coppertop with the arguably regrettable name of Mercedes Benison, whose look of eager welcome turned to one of moderate fury when Skeeter rolled on the floor in ecstasies when they were first introduced.
So at the very beginning of their acquaintance Skeeter got treated to the extremes of Sadie B.’s expression-range, and not for the last time either.
Skeeter had come to Demortuis to visit her mother and meet Carrie’s getting-serious gentleman-friend Arnold Benison. He turned out to be bashfully affable and the father of two daughters, the elder of whom was undergoing an old-fashioned Lithuanian wedding in order to become Alexis (Mrs. Lenny) Czolgosz. The reception took place at the Benison house on Oswald Avenue, where the everyday atmosphere yielded to one of rice and cake and orange blossom and the groom’s Brut and the best man’s Aqua Velva and the photographer’s Hai Karate.
Now, Mercedes Benison applauded ethnicity as much or more than the average Demortuisian. But when the receptionists went so far as to put a stack of Frankie Yankovic records on the turntable, she could take no more and had to escape.
“C’mon,” she said to wedding guest Skeeter, who followed obediently and not just because Sadie B. was a tallish fifteen and Skeeter a shorty not yet ten. Nor just because she admired Sadie’s red hair, or the slinky oyster-colored minidress and Nancy Sinatra boots that Arnold had thought unsuitable for a wedding but was too softhearted to forbid her to wear.
No: Sadie B. was a take-charge type, a would-be toppler of barricades, sayer of “Let’s go this way” and meaner of “Let’s go my way.” She could contain contradictory multitudes; what Sadie assumed, you should assume. So she went and Skeeter tagged after in her own midget pink party frock, rubbernecking to left and right.
The city of Demortuis (to quote its Chamber of Commerce) was the “thrivingest” spot in the entire Middle West. You could not have proved it by Oswald Avenue, once a genteel thoroughfare, now rankling into kitschdom. “Bummerburg,” Sadie termed it. “This place is a tomb.”
“I like it,” said Skeeter. “I think it’s far out.”
“Far out! Kiddo, you wouldn’t know the difference between ‘far out’ and a fart-out.”
“Would so!” said Skeeter. It was too far-out, so nyaah to you Sadie Benison.
Whose mood was not improved by being all dressed up in her most devastating outfit with nobody around worth showing off to. No one but a crusty old bunch of jaspers lumping the afternoon away on their crusty old front stoops. Bug off, creeps. And even they didn’t whistle or go “rowrowr” at her, disgusting as that would have been. What a fart-out life was.
“Where are we going? Is there a McDonald’s around here? I want a Big Mac.”
“Gag! I should’ve left you at the reception. We’re not going anywhere. The park maybe. Just keep on truckin’.”
Skeeter approximated truckin’ down the sidewalk in her little pink pumps till Sadie told her for God’s sake to quit it.
“Oh all right... am I walking silent enough for you now? And this park we’re going to, how much farther is it? What’s its name? Any hippies hang out there?”
“I wish,” Sadie sighed. “God do I wish. It’s called Whitman Park and it’s at the end of the block and God am I going to blow this burg just as soon as I can and take off for somewhere real. Where things happen. Where I can do things, my own thing, and where they haven’t even HEARD of McDonald’s! But look at this place—”
She gestured at a stretch of common greenery turning grey in May.
“Saturday afternoon in the park, and nobody here.”
“What about them?” said Skeeter, indicating a smooching couple. The male was in Bermuda shorts, the female in culottes, and Blood Sweat & Tears oozed out of their transistor radio.
“Oh wow! Free love! Here come the hippies!”
“Well,” said Skeeter, “maybe everyone else is at a wedding reception.”
They wandered on to the playground area, where Skeeter promptly claimed a swing.
“That’s kid stuff.”
“I am a kid! I like to swing! Look, I’m a swinger!”
Sadie broke up a bit at that and took the next swing over, rocking on her bootheels and displaying a good deal of healthy teenage thigh.
“I wish I had long legs,” said Skeeter. “And red hair too. And freckles. And bosoms. In fact I wish I looked exactly like you.”
“This is understandable,” said Sadie. “Well, don’t worry, kiddo, give yourself a few years. I mean I sometimes wish I could wear pink. Or had blue eyes like yours. And you’re almost strawberry blonde, that’s kind of like red; we could make you an honorary redhead—”
But Skeeter was too busy swinging with careless abandon to pay heed. “Faaaar out!” she swooped, down and out and up: “Helter Skelter! Comin’ down faaaast!” Party frock and petticoat fluttering, down and in and back: “Tell me tell me tell me the answer—”
“I know the answer,” Sadie assured her. “I know all the answers. You got any questions about Life, kiddo, just pass them on to me.”
Skeeter immediately wanted to know why she had to chew with her mouth closed while eating seafood, did Sadie get it? “See” food? Like “for all to see?” Cackle-ackle-ackle!
Her companion maintained tightlipped silence for a minute or two, then went “Knock knock.” Who was there? Howard. Howard who?
“How weird of you to ask that question,” said Sadie, gratified when Skeeter fell off her swing in hysterics. “You okay?”
“Hey! I never get hurt.”
“You live with your grandmother, right? Out in Marble Orchard?”
“Yeah, but not just with her,” said Skeeter, resuming her swinger career. “There’s Supertimmy and New Junebug, my two ponies.”
“Oh you lucky! God I’d love to have even one pony.”
“Well, I’ve also got a cat that I call Whippy but my Gramma mostly calls Margaret ‘cause she started off as Ann-Margret (the cat not my Gramma). Then there’s this guinea pig named William, I was going to call him Billy Boy ‘cause I thought he’d be great to play hide-‘n’-seek with, you know, ‘Ohh-ohh where have you been, charming Billy?,’ but he’s really dull even for a guinea pig and won’t eat anything but graham crackers. You can have William if you like.”
Sadie chose not to pursue this handsome offer. “So how long haven’t you lived with your mom?”
“Oh, I dunno. Three or four years? She’s only got this apartment, see, on Harding Street, with this kitchen sink that backs up every so often. (Yuggh.) You should hear her yell at the landlord. Gramma says I’ve got her tongue, what do you think?” Skeeter exhibited the tongue in question in Sadie’s direction, then paid another visit to Gigglesville.
“So what happens...” went Sadie, crossing her legs and attracting the eye of Bermuda Shorts even as he smooched Culottes. “What if, say, your mom and my dad were to get married?”
“I hope they do,” said Skeeter, who hadn’t thought about it. “Your dad’s a sweetie. He blushed when I kissed him.”
“Well, he is nice,” Sadie allowed. “For a drugstore manager. I mean that’s such an Establishment job.”
“What do you want him to be, a drug dealer?”
“What do you know about dealers, kiddo?”
“Hey! I get around,” said Skeeter, swinging up and down.
“Oh wow, I bet... Your mom seems like fun. And Dad’s been so lonesome since my mother died. What about your father?”
“Oh, he’s a major or something” (swing high) “in the Marines. He sends me” (swing low) “cards and money and stuff.”
“Is he in Vietnam?”
“Hey, he wanted to go. They kept turning him down, see, when he wanted to be an astronaut.”
“An astronaut! That’s disgusting too, all those millions of dollars spent on the moon instead of down here on Earth.” And Sadie held forth for some little while on her opinion of Project Apollo, from which Skeeter might have learned a lot had she not been paying closer attention to the park fauna.
“I love squirrels,” she remarked.
“Squirrels! They’re so cute ‘n’ stupid, I could look at them all day.”
These enormous red ones had appeared in Marble Orchard during a raging blizzard the previous December, the day of her Grampa Otto’s funeral. Like giant flying Rockys they had flung themselves out of nowhere onto the Otto birdfeeders, and looted them.
“I stood at the window all day long watching those squirrels in the snow, and just laughed and laughed. Everyone thought I was being weird and my mom got so mad, but it was funny... I wish I could get a squirrel to come eat nuts from my hand. But I can’t ever keep still long enough, and anyway I don’t have any nuts.”
Sadie, uncrossing and recrossing her legs, suggested that Skeeter needed to learn yoga. And (despite her exasperation at Skeeter’s immediate “Yoga! What if I make a boo-boo?”) she demonstrated the basics of om mani padme hum, which soon had Skeeter rolling on the ground again.
“Oh forget it! You are being weird! Come on, we might as well go.” They left the playground and started back. “Our folks shouldn’t get married anyway,” Sadie added.
“What they really ought to do is live together. You don’t need a piece of paper from the City Hall to guarantee you happiness.”
“No, but a Big Mac’d sure help.”
“Gag! You are one crazy kid, you know that? Still... it’d be kind of nice to have a sister.”
“You have a sister.”
“Oh, Alexis. And you think your guinea pig’s a bore.”
Alexis, it seemed, had spent years acting as though she were Sadie’s mommy— Arnold’s, too. And even that wouldn’t have been so bad had Alexis not been so awfully dress shields and pantygirdle and Julie Eisenhower about it, so essentially “Mrs. Lenny Czolgosz”—
Pause in midphilippic to laugh. “She made me go with her when she was picking out her patterns and stuff, right? God you should’ve been there—I found this big white maternity smock and shouted, ‘Alexis! This is just what you’ll need for your wedding gown!’”
Even so: it might be nice to have a little sister of one’s own. To show and tell and teach things about Life—
“You mean one you can boss around,” said her intended. “You think you can boss me around, do you? No way!”
Sadie lapsed into speechlessness and remained there the rest of the way out of the park, till just at the verge where they encountered some newcomers and Skeeter blurted, “Wow! Real live Negroes!” right out loud.
“SSSHHHH!... Get over here! What is the matter with you? They prefer to be called ‘Blacks,’ or ‘Afro-Americans!’”
“I like the way they dress,” said Skeeter.
“You got that right,” said one of the newcomers.
Sadie was still lecturing about race relations and social injustice when they reached the edge of Oswald Avenue. Here Skeeter found it necessary to punch her on the arm.
“Ow! What was that for?”
“Slug-Bug went by,” Skeeter explained, pointing to a passing Volkswagen. “Look, there goes another—”
“Ow! Quit it! Who do you think you’re punching, squirt?”
“Gee, Sadie, I thought it was you.”
“Well cut it out! I mean it!”
“Are you bossing me again? We’re not sisters yet, so nyaah.”
“You’re not going to live long enough to be anybody’s sister when I get hold of you—come back here!”
The Whitman squirrels were then treated to the spectacle of a leggy young redhead chasing a cackly pink midget back into the park, and losing her in the underbrush.
“All right, where are you?... Aw, come on, kid—your mom’s not going to like it if you go disappearing.”
Skeeter popped out of the shrubbery with a sudden “YAAAAA,” causing Sadie to gasp and fall to her knees.
“You little bozo! If you’ve ripped my pantyhose I’ll strangle you with ‘em!”
“I didn’t rip them, you fell. I was only trying to give you a hug.”
Sadie, her knees still bequeathed to the dirt, held out a solemn pair of freckled arms that Skeeter approached and nimbly dodged as Sadie lunged and missed and landed on her elbows this time.
“Well tsk,” went Skeeter in response to the fallen one’s profanity. “Look what you’ve done. Made a mess of your pretty dress. What am I going to do with you?”
The question, for a murderous moment, seemed rather what was going to be done with-and-to Skeeter Kitefly. But then Sadie unbent her coppery brows and said, “Oh well. I guess I can always tie-dye it.”
“That’d be COOwull! Can I help?”
Sadie glanced at her, jocose and twinkle-eyed and not yet ten. “You can help me up. No, no, come back and help me, I’m too tired to fight, and I’ve got these damn boots on... uffff. Thanks.” She went through the motions of brushing herself off, with Skeeter’s energetic assistance. “Ow. Stop!... okay. So: if my dad and your mom do get whatever’d, what about you? Would you move here and live with us?”
“What about your grandmother and cat and what’s their names, your two ponies?”
“Oh,” said Skeeter, and considered. “Well, I could always go visit them. Except William; he’s too dull. Besides, I won’t need two ponies when you teach me how to drive.”
“I haven’t learned myself yet—”
“And I wouldn’t mind having a sister either, a big sister, think of it! I could borrow all your clothes when I get big enough, and your makeup and jewelry and stuff, and then when you split for Somewhere Real I’ll get your room and furniture and everything. Maybe your car too, and all your old boyfriends.”
“Oh really! You’ve got a lot to learn about Life, kiddo.”
“And you’re going to teach me! Oh Sadie! You can teach me all about sex and drugs and yoga, and you’ll try to boss me and I won’t let you, and we’ll have such freakin’ fun. This is going to be great! We’ll get our folks together, and be sisters forever and ever. I can hardly wait!”
And if Sadie B. had any second thoughts at this point, they didn’t get aired as Skeeter went skipping off, afoot and lighthearted, truckin’ on through a patch of dandelions and kicking into puffereens all those as had not already inherited the wind.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Copyright © 2001-03 by P. S. Ehrlich
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