This is an excerpt from my novel called Outrunning Crazy:
This Chapter is called Karma.
Elaine and I had karma from the get-go. From the start, it was like we were working something out from a previous life. Maybe we had been twins in the city of Atlantis. Or she had killed my cat during the occupation of Japan. I imagine us tumbling towards our present incarnations – cartoon seeds with scrawny arms free-falling towards earth. We were both aiming for Alberta, knowing that side of the fence was the best of a bad choice. She elbowed me. I elbowed her. Kapow. She ended up on the bad side and me on the good.
From the day I was born, I was told I was from a good family. I think they put it in the birth announcement
in the paper. Tammy Babcock-born to a better family. She’d better stop her bitching. She’d better count her blessings. As it turned out, neither side was much to write home about. I wasn’t some queen and her- my servant. Circumstances turned out to be surprisingly similar. Neither of us was too far above or too far below the other. Which made things crazier in a way. We were on one big teeter-totter. One minute I was on top and then the next minute she would take off and I would fall to earth.
The grievances I had against her would never hold up in some karma court but I will list them all the same. She didn’t have enough originality to be born in a different year so we ended up in the same grade all throughout school. We’d just started grade one and the two of us had come inside from the first recess of our lives. I remember I was dressed in a long-sleeved shirt and thick beige-coloured leotards.
It was still hot that September, but Psoriatics all over the planet wear thick uncomfortable clothing even in the middle of a heatwave. They don’t want people to notice their red spots. We sat down at our new desks and I rolled up my sleeves to start learning to print. Tongue out to balance the pencil just right. I had been up all night throwing up, sure that other kids were going to learn how to spell before me, when Elaine yelled out at the top of her lungs, “Is that the chickenpox, Tammy?” She said it deliberately. She knew everybody had been worried about my skin since I was an infant. My skin ailments weren’t a family secret. Obviously, she had been holding a grudge from another lifetime, otherwise, why would she have said it so loud over and over again in front of the entire class? I tried being patient with her for a while.
At the next recess, she did it again. “Is that chicken-pox all over you, Tammy?”
I put up with her nonsense for two days until I lost it and took a baseball bat and lambasted her. Mrs. Harris made me stay in at recess and print out – ‘I must not hit people with baseball bats.’
A hundred times she made me print it until I got the heartbreak of arthritis.
Elizabeth Dowdle, who was in grade eight and stout at the time because of the thyroid, sidled up to me on the bus and whispered, “Ignore the ignorant.” A very good piece of advice, but near impossible to do as Elizabeth found out when she volunteered to supervise my tenth birthday party.
I had to invite Elaine. All the cousins were coming so there was no avoiding it. I was incredibly nervous, to begin with, as we didn’t get a party every year as some of my town cousins did. With five kids wanting to celebrate, Alberta said she would have gone bananas baking cakes every time she turned around. So we got a celebration once every five years and that meant there was a lot of pressure for it to be perfect.
I came up with the brilliant idea of a sleepover down by the river. Alberta had first threatened to camp out with us but that would’ve been a disaster, as she would’ve made us go to bed an hour after dark.
(The only point of a sleepover is to sleep when it’s over.)
I told Elizabeth of my dilemma and she must’ve felt sorry for me because she offered to help. Elaine arrived late, making a grand entrance wearing only her bikini. She waltzed down to the campsite flaunting her smooth skin, hips swaying like she was some kind of fashion model.
I was entertaining people. I say this humbly but I was a clever child. I had created my own language and I was teaching my guests a new word – ‘Sconfatisha’ – that meant peachy keen.
Everyone knew I was having fun but this wordplay annoyed Elaine. She proceeded to tear off her bathing suit.
“It’s time to skinny dip.”
It was still light out but she took her clothes off in broad daylight.
Psoriatics generally don’t skinny dip. You would never see one of us at a nudist camp.
I responded with something quite mature like, “It’s my party and we have to do what I say.” Whatever I might have said, nobody listened to me, the red-spotted birthday girl in
a one-piece bathing suit with a full-body caftan cover-up. No, they stripped down to the buff and jumped into the river while I sat there with Elizabeth, who was far too fat for nudity.
Once they all finished their nonsense, Elaine put on quite a show, getting everyone to sing to me and give me the Royal Bumps. After my backside had welts, she insisted I open my gifts – I got Evening in Paris powder, a purple smiley face pillow and an Ouija Board from the Hellion of the ball. Devil worship is what Lillian would’ve called it today, but she was the one who bought it for me. After dark around the campfire, we stuck our hands on the board and asked it questions, and it started to move around the letters, spelling out the word G.H.O.S.T. Elizabeth said ‘Elaine is controlling the board’.
Of course, she denied it, claiming that the devil himself was making it move. Didn’t that get everybody going? They all started screaming that they wanted to go back and sleep in the house. Elizabeth told her to shut her gob because she was getting everyone worked up, but Elaine wouldn’t let it go.
She claimed she had read in her mother’s True Confessions magazine that you could get possessed while you’re sleeping. “The devil can climb up under your flannelette nightgown and take over your soul.”
“I don’t want to be possessed by the devil,” Amy cried – as if anybody would.
Elaine started rolling on the ground making spit come out of the side of her mouth and the girls were screaming so much Elizabeth had to go over her and slap Elaine across the head.
“Shut up, right this instant,” said Elizabeth and Elaine stayed still on the ground and got a demented look on her face and rolled around in the dirt. When everybody was hysterical, she stood up and started laughing at us.
“Suckers! Only suckers believe in demonic possession!” Then she climbed in the sleeping bag and rolled over and went to sleep.
That’s Elaine for you. She could stir things up and still sleep like a log. I calmed them all with one of Dad’s crazy animal stories and eventually, they all nodded off, whimpering in their sleep – filling the tent with sounds of whistling snores.
I lay there wide-awake, worried sick that if I dozed off, the devil would climb into my underpants.
Another thing that bugged me about her was there wasn’t one special occasion she didn’t try to hone in on. All she wanted was some attention but I was jealous of her effect on people, especially my father. He had a soft spot for her.
King had rented an ice cream truck – it was one of the best bad ideas he had. That summer he had to deliver gallons of ice cream to general stores for a sixty-mile radius. We’d drive around Hawley, from Fredricksburgh to Addington up to Sills Junction and Buck Lake. Fourteen stores in total. In the hot weather, the route might take all day because the storeowners ordered more ice cream when there were cottagers. With nearly two hundred tubs to deliver, he asked me to help him out. When you’re the oldest of five kids, it’s a big deal to get a private audience with your parents, so this was my opportunity to be his favourite. We had to leave before dawn so I could get back home in time for the night milking. As far as Pope Alberta was concerned nothing got me special dispensation from milking. So, I would wake up earlier than him. I see him on the couch, snoring like Fred Flintstone. Quietly I would light the stove
in the summer kitchen to get the dampness out of the air and tip-toe around trying to make our lunch: bologna sandwiches with Miracle Whip. By the time he came to, I had our lunches and a thermos of coffee ready.
After a quick breakfast, King would back the truck out of his shed and I’d climb in and he would sit with his coffee cup. Then he’d roll down the driver’s window a crack, and light
up a smoke. I’d roll down my window, and light up a Popeye cigarette. It had red on the end so it looked real. I’d suck. He’d suck. We’d both suck. He’d try to find something good on the radio.
“What kind of music would you like, Tammy? Country or Western?”
“I think Western.”
“Well, Country it is then.”
It was our little joke and he’d turn the dial until he brought in the channel.
Thinking about those mornings is like ginger ale. It bubbles up through my nose and makes me cry. I felt urgent when I was with him, like any day the world would discover his genius and I would have no father. So, I prepared for our field trips like I was auditioning for him. I wanted him to be proud that he had a smart daughter like me. I would read the newspaper and save my important questions all week for him, big-thinker questions that would show him exactly how advanced my mind could be. He would listen to me go on, laughing and being impressed in the right places, then he’d shake his head and say, “Yer mouth is running like a whip-poor-will’s ass,” which he meant as a compliment. I think.
But the honeymoon period was soon over. After about three Saturdays of father-daughter bliss, we pulled out of our driveway one morning and there she was standing at the end of hers. Elaine stood in the grove of trees wearing only
a sleeveless shirt and a pair of shorts – short shorts with no bum cups hanging below. Her mother was asleep in their car, at the end of the driveway. When Elaine saw us, she tapped her watch like we were late. King pulled up beside her and rolled down the window.
“What are you doing, out here ‘Lainy?”
“Waiting for you. You are thirteen minutes behind schedule. You’ve got over 140 miles to cover today so you don’t want to get behind from the get-go.”
King looked up toward her house and we both saw Boots standing at the window, holding a Red Cap in his hand, his belly hanging over his belt like a burp. “Okay, hop in, Lainy, yer making me cold just looking at you.”
Elaine tried to push me over so she could get the window seat, but I put my feet out to block her. She karate-chopped my legs when I wouldn’t give in; she eventually had to climb over me. There were brown hooks hanging down on her white skin.
“Your underwear has knobs,” I said.
“It’s not underwear. It’s my girdle.”She said.
“What the heck you got a girdle on for?”
“I’m a slouch. With a girdle on, I have to sit up straight, or I get a big wedgie on my stomach.”
“Where on earth did you get the girdle?” King asked. Everything she said or did, he thought was cute.
“From mom’s underwear drawer.”
“You stole it!” I accused.“No, Tammy, I borrowed it. If you wear a girdle, you can get the fat from your stomach up into your boobs’ vicinity.”
“She’s not allowed to say boobs. It’s a curse word.”
“No, it’s not. We watch the boob tube. What’s the diff?”Elaine rationalized.
“You don’t need to be thinking about tubes or boobs.” King never liked any word that had to do with girls’ bodies. Nothing could get him to exit a room faster than anything else were female trouble.
I pushed my feet up under the heater and Elaine started reading highway signs: 42 miles to Kaladar; 31 miles to Hogue’s Hollow. She read on and on, one number after another like she was a bus tour operator. I drifted off and when I came to we were at our first stop, The Cone Away from Home.
It was the same routine at every stop. He’d pull up the truck, and the owner would come out and my dad would rest his arm on the half rolled-down window and say, “Hey, Bill, (or John or Frank) what are you up to?”
Bill or John or Frank would say, “Not much.”
Then Dad would say, “Well, that’ll keep you out of trouble.”
And they’d say, “You bet.”
Then my father would put the truck in park and say, “Is it okay if I park it here?”
And Bill or John or Frank would say, “Sure, Mr. Babcock.”
He’d turn off the engine and suck on his Player’s Plain like he was trying to get enough breath to carry all those ice cream tubs up the steps. The lit cigarette would activate his Old Spice Cologne like an air freshener. Elaine and I always loved a man with that smell.
“You want me to help, Dad?”
“No, you keep an eye on Elaine.” He knew she could talk me into anything.
Once, we were sent out to play and she told me we should put our tongues on the steel pole to see if they would stick. Hers came loose, no problem, but her mother Lillian had to pour warm water on mine to get it loose. For a week my tongue tasted like liver.
People say you remember what you love about someone, but I haven’t found that to be true. You remember what you hate about them a helluva lot more. I can see her standing outside the store on the sidewalk, staring off into the distance with that arrogant look on her face. Standing on one leg then switching it to the other, her girdle hooks blowing in the wind. She pushed her gut out, surveying each place like she was a building inspector.
At noon, we got the sandwiches out of the freezer. Crystals had formed on the rind of the bologna. Chew. Chew. Then dessert. We had three choices – the cheapest of course – a Nutty Cone, an Ice Cream Sandwich, or a Creamsicle. I only picked the Creamsicle once, as that orange coating was too much like fruit so once again, the ice cream sandwich won out.
Once we were done with the deliveries, we started back and that meant Dad started in on the daydreaming, sharing with us the bigger ideas he had for his life.
“You know who I think is the smartest man on earth?” he’d ask.
“John F. Kennedy,” I said, knowing what he wanted to hear.
“He’s the smartest in politics, but one of the smartest men on earth is Walt Disney. He doodled a mouse on a piece of paper and look where that took him.”
“It took him to Disneyland,” I answered right again.
“That’s right. This year, if we get ahead of the game, we might go to Disneyland,” King continued.
What was he dreaming of now? “We can’t afford that, Dad.”
“We can afford to dream, can’t we?” Actually, we couldn’t afford that either.
“Yeah Tammy, King and I can dream.” Elaine piped in.“Would we fly, Uncle King?”
“Sure we would.”
“The plane tickets alone would cost us a fortune.” Elaine egging him on would only give him more bad ideas.
“Uncle King, we could drive.”
“Elaine, that’s brilliant.”
“We could cook on the way, and it would save money –at least thirty bucks a day.”
“Drive all the way to California, that’s too far, Elaine, don’t be stupid,” I butted in.
“They’re opening one up in Florida. It’s going to be called Disney World. I heard it on the news,” said King. When we pulled into the driveway, Dad went into the house to talk to Boots.
Elaine turned to me and said, “There are 14 main characters in the Disney World family. Did you know that?”
“Everybody knows that,” I said even though had never heard of this. “If we ever did get enough money to go to Disney World, you would never go.”
“Why?” Elaine squinted.
“Aunt Lillian said something. That’s all.” “What?”
“Nothing.” I turned away from her.
“Whaattttttt?” She drew out the word in a long irritating whine.
“I overhead your Mom telling my mother that your family is barely getting by.”
“What’s ‘getting by?”
“You’re broke, you moron.”
“You’re the broke one. We have a meat shop.”
“Then how come Lillian came over last night and said she was going to have to give you away?”
“I’m her only kid. Technically that makes no sense.” “Technically it does,” I shook my head, “Because you’re adopted.”
I could have stopped. I could have said I was kidding but then she started to cry. It was a wonderful thing, watching her face get blotchy. Her nose went first – that beautiful milky skin of hers turned red. Her girdle boobs sank back into her stomach.
She ran into the house bawling, and I thought that would be the last of it. But that’s not the way karma works. I was dragged to confession for lying to her and the next week she and King went alone while I was stuck at home doing housework. When they came back that night I shot hate beams at her house, convinced I would despise her forever.
But karma is a complicated dance. That night, looking over at her place in the dusk, I saw her playing with Reg. It was hours after my Dad had dropped her off, long after we had eaten supper. She stood out there throwing the stick over and over again. With the last of the light, I saw Lillian come out of the house and she and Elaine climbed into their car to sleep.
This book Outrunning Crazy was published in 2013 and is on Amazon as both a paperback and Kindle. Click here to get your copy!
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