COLD PONIES AND THE WAR BRACELET
By Terry Gilpin
Sometimes Common sense seems to come thru a door into your brain and when it does, it doesn't stay very long. Jim was only glad that the good forces stayed with him that night, because common sense had long departed.
Driving down Lincoln Street Jim began to think out the night ahead. He had til 7:00 to pick up Toni . Wow Toni! His excitement level grew higher each time he thought about her and when he sees her, whoa. He wondered if this is what it felt like to be in love. He already knew, he really liked her so much. And not just for her looks. He thought about it and his mind wandered to other things school, nights clubbing, kissing time with Toni. "This light always takes forever", he complained out loud while waiting for the light at Lincoln to change. He was totally pleased when he could arrange events to come out guaranteed to go according to plan. Sometimes they didn't but he felt confident that tonight's party would finally establish him a part of a crowd important for him his senior year at UCONN. Yes it was his turn to be master. He was already excited and chest busting proud of his friendship with Kathy and Toni of the UCONN cheer squad.
At first it was just infatuation with Toni, but then it was more. He liked the way she twirled her hair and scrunched her nose when she found something funny. She had the same views about politics and her family background was so similar to his. Has an older brother like himself, he was middle class from nearby Trumbull, just 20 minutes from Norwalk. It was perfect. And getting Toni interested turned out to be so easy. All it took was a cherry Blue 69 mustang that he had spent all his hard-earned money from his stock boy days. They were over for good. Thank God. Toni oh Toni. Pretty blond. 5 foot 7 inches of heaven. Lean charismatic with blue eyes so big you could see all the way to her soul. Her soul saying ' I'm nice but don't think it's an open invitation.' He couldn't believe it when she just walked up to him in the campus parking lot by Tower Residence and stood there in her short blue wool skirt and white knitted wolverine sweater with big UCONN lettering. "Hi I'm Toni." Just like that. "This car is totally sweet." "I know" he had answered. Hopefully not sounding too full of himself. Looking up at and into those amazing eyes with lashes that went on forever. "You like mustangs?" almost tripping over the words while he felt his face grow hot. "Only the older models. This is a 69 boss. My dad has all the magazines."
"I do too".
"Where did you find it? It must of cost a fortune"
"My dad and I found it in a garage in Darien. Actually my dad knew the guy from his work site. It didn't look like this though, it was covered in rust and almost everything on it was broken" He reached inside the front driver side window and under the seat and pulled out a rag and began gliding it back and forth along the top of the drivers side door. He did it remotely not really realizing his mind was preoccupied with something else. "I worked paying to restore it bit by bit a little at a time. Do you know Jensens garage?"
"No." she said as an afterthought. "Well this guy Ron who is a fanatic about every care made in the 60s, Corvair Catalina, Novas, Mustangs. He's the real genius. It's the garage my dad uses and he told me about him. After my dad bought it he asked the guy to restore it but I kinda talked my dad into letting me take over and pay for the restoration myself. Then we would sell it and make a great profit, cool huh.", he nodded in her direction. "After last year when it was half way finished", Jim had continued, "my mom conned my dad to letting me keep it. So the papers say its my dads but only because insurance costs are less for a 55 year old then a 21 year old"
"Until the insurance company finds out" he said with a laugh. "Oh I thought you were a senior" she knowingly said pointing her finger at him and looking Jim right straight in the eye. Jim felt himself melting, "You're a senior too?" "Yep" she said. Jim was just about to smoothly ask her if she wanted to go out sometime when reality had come up behind him and slapped him on the back. Jim's best friend Joel was excitedly exclaiming "Wow you got it back" The paint job is awesome. Joel was his life long best friend and sometimes friends unintentionally seem to take you from paradise back to a gritty gray parking lot . "Joel How you doing bro" He smiled squinting his eyes at his friend. Joel squinted back and got the message "Joel meet Toni, Toni Joel." He looked over at Toni and smiled a hello, without missing a beat he turned to his friend with a look of embarrassment. "Hey Man I'm sorry, am I interrupting, Ill catch up with you later." He pushed his fingers through his light brown, stick pin straight hair away from his face. It was funny how best friends shared the same height and build. Thin muscular a little too pale. Yep that was Joel and Jim. Joel started to turn away just as shrieks could be heard from the North end of the parking lot emitting from a silver BMW. The driver could only be heard muffled while two girls hung from the windows of the front and back seat passenger side of the vehicle whooping and screaming "Ooh ho yeah yeah, Huskies are the best!" shaking blue and white pom poms. "Hey Antoinette" they sing songed "Practice in 10 Minutes" the girl in the front yelled through the passenger side window, her brown curls and full lips with wolverine tattoos on her afternoon sun streaked face . Toni looked at Jim disappointed. Yeah he did, he saw disappointment in her face. Then he looked at Toni with exasperated anticipation not wanting her to go. She read it but said "I gotta go." I'll see you at the rally? She questioned. "Yeah sure." "Maybe I can get a ride sometime?" "Absolutely" he said a little too enthusiastic. "Nice meeting you. You too Joel." He couldn't help but watch her bounce away into the waiting car. And still as she waved through the open window he found it hard to turn away. And then 5 seconds later she and the silver BMW were gone zooming out of the parking lot. "Sorry man" Joel began. I didn't even really see her standing here with you" "That's ok she was about to leave anyway."
"Wow" Joel whistled "What a fox"
"Yeah she's cute.
"How long you know her?" Joel asked bubbling over with excitement for his friend. "Just now. right here. she came over to me." He said his voice high and tight. "It's the car that drew her over to me. This car is my destiny. It was worth 4 years of hard work." Joel had stared at his friend with realization then said "Maybe it's the car. I don't want you to get too high on this. She really is very popular." "I know, I know you think she likes my car and not really interested in me. Sure she's popular can have any guy she wants but I feel that there was something else about I don't know our chemistry. Call me crazy but I just feel it." "Man you're hooked" Joel noted. "Girls like Toni have their own set of friends. They hardly ever venture out of their own crowd. Like this is who we are. bro. Just regular Joes that's us. Were friends with everyone. If you ask me that's the best way to be. Who needs that clique shit?" Joel had said and he knew he was right.
Jim had opened the driver side door and closed it pretending not to have heard what Joel was saying. But he remembered it nawing at his insides causing the beginning of a dark mood that had lasted all that day.
That was two weeks ago on a Tuesday. The next day on his way to Anthropology class he turned the corner and there she was his idea of the perfect girl. "Hey Boss 69" Did she forget his name? "Hi Toni how's it going?"Her blond curls were soft around her oval shaped blue eyes and she was wearing a white sweater with a pink denim belted skirt and suspenders. The clasps hugging her small waist. She completely caught him off guard. He was still thinking about the C+ from Eng Lit. Man he worked his brains off studying Ken Kesey and researched him for two weeks. English was never one of his strong suits. "Good" she answered hugging her purse closer to her shoulder. "Where you off to?" Jim looked around to see if anyone was watching him talk to the most beautiful girl in the school. "Got Anthropology with Dr. Winston. And you?"
"I got Poli Si with Battista Id better get going or ill be late."
"Bye he said see ya later"
Jim started past her and brushed her arm accidentally with his and felt electricity fly up through it. He turned to meet her eyes and was surprised when she said suddenly "Hey when can I get that ride you promised me?" Her eyes seemed afraid he would deny her. "How about today?" He looked at her nonchalant trying to be cool. "What time is your last class?"He had felt his heart pounding against the thick wall of his chest and found he was having trouble breathing. " My last is like 1:20. Is that ok" That's perfect" he had lied. His last class ended at 11:45 he would have to wait almost two hours for her. "Great! see you then." she smiled
That was the ride that changed his life. He couldn't believe how easy it was to talk to her. They talked about cars and teachers and graduation and careers. She wanted to be a journalist. They started dating immediately. It worked out so great because Joel ended up dating her friend Kathy and soon the foursome were always seen together. Kathy had just broken up with Parker, star football, baseball athlete and she had sworn off athletes for the time being at least. Even though Joel saw himself as a rebound guy he didn't care. Jim and Joel felt that life was being extremely good to them maybe… too good Jim had thought. He had pushed that thought out of his mind.
HONK! HONK!, a blast from car impatient behind him startled Jim into the changed light above him "OK OK keep your pants on" Pushing into first gear he sped through the green light slid kicked into second as the car jolted forward. Then quickly before his brain could fully decipher the danger, his right foot jammed on the brake pedal narrowly missing a green Mercedes stopping to await a left turn. He swooped to the right around him and passed "You idiot" the Mercedess driver yelled. "Everybody's in a rush." He mouthed whoops and then smiled to himself. He was still smiling when we passed the Barclay bank with the digital clock illuminating 4:15 and 34 degrees. Jesus, it was cold. The sky looked slate Grey in the November sky Thanksgiving being 5 days away, Another blast of cold air from a Buick rushing past bit into the mustangs interior It is definately rush hour. The driver of the Buick that passed him was shaking his head. Too bad for you Jim thought nothing is going to ruin my mood today. Reaching the corner of Todd and Byre he glanced over at Jensen's garage on his left and saw Ron tinkering under the hood a minivan. Thinking and moving fast Jim quickly maneuvered the mustang into the left lane of the two lane street and turned into the entrance of the garage. The loud engine startled the part time kid that works on Friday afternoon. "Hey you again" Ron looked up and yelled. Walking to the driver door. "Is she a beauty or what?" "Looks better every time I see her. How ya doing? You taking care of my baby?" smiled Ron. The part timer turned away seeing a customer that just pulled his Toyota Camry into the station. Jim breathed to Ron "Its purring like a kitten. A loud kitten but still purring, Ron You're a genius." You bet I am fitting the rebuilt 302 in this baby worked out pretty good. I guess Jim nodded. He knew very little about cars. He was working on art advertising and he knew he would have to figure out cars someday. He used to joke to Ron that when he got big and wealthy he would hire Ron to teach him. Ron had laughed and said you're on your own. 26 years it took him to teach himself everything. Working junk yards and reading up on every model every car company put out. That's what Jim's dad had said at dinner that night 4 years ago when Jim was a senior at Norwalk High.
"Hot date tonight" Ron asked with a wry smile. "Yes indeed." Jim answered "Big party at friend's house in Danbury. A lot of people. Parents away, whole deal." "Great have a good time but no drinking and driving" he sternly warned Jim. "You mess up 4 years of my blood sweat and tears and I'll hang you." "No way" Jim shook his head "My blood, sweat and humility paid for this car to get it to where it is today. He seriously looked at Ron. "What you think? I'm not that stupid." "Nah I know you're a good kid. You're dad's a good guy and the apple don't fall far from the tree. It's the truth. Your dad is one together guy and I know you are too. But don't let fools tempt you. Right?" "Right". Jim agreed. Say Ron I noticed the heater now that it's getting colder I've been putting it on and it keeps going off and on. The fan I think. Jim was worried because if we get cold enough tonight and with the mustang it could get quite cold. "I got no time today" Ron squinted as the clouds broke away letting in a little sunshine. "Bring it in tomorrow, I'll take a look"
"Yeah and maybe you can work on fixing the trunk hinge. I'm getting tired of untying and tying it every time I need to use it"
"Yes sir", Ron Saluted. "You know what I mean", Jim laughed. "See you tomorrow?"
"Sounds good. See ya."
Jim started the car and shifted into 1st. With one whack on the hood from Ron he left the garage asphalt and turned right onto Main as Ron yelled "Hey watch the weather it might snow." He heard. He just couldn't believe that this time after 2 panic filled false alarms, the weatherman got it right.
Jim watched through the windshield catching glimpses up at the sky. He frowned. He pulled the car into the right lane, turned and saw Joel walking out of the local CVS. He pulled over. Leaning over he cranked the window open. "Hey whats going on?" Joel gave his friend a concerned look, then with a lightened tone chirped "actually you can drive me home. My car blew the water pump. " It's in the shop again!" Jim turned to his friend and whined. "That's because you don't take care of it. You gotta keep up the maintenance, change the oil check the antifreeze tune it up" "Yeah Yeah whatever" was Joel's answer to him." I mean it if you're not gonna take care of it, then get rid of it. Before it turns into a piece of junk" Joel turned to his friend an amusing hurt expression on his face. "That car is a classic. You think you're the only one that can own one. No siree she's my baby" Joel had a 2000 Malibu. "More like an old man than a baby" Jim muttered.
Arriving home he parked in the driveway glanced at his watch 4:35 and already almost dark. God he hated winter. He swung open the back kitchen door. "Mom you home? Shutting the door behind him. "Lucy Im home", he said in his best Ricky Ricardo accent. His moms real name was Lucille and everyone always called her Lucille but he liked to joke around with her.
The counter top 9 inch TV in the kitchen showed the heavily coiffed hair of its anchor doling out the news of the day. "In here" came the reply of his mother's always-pleasant voice. It amazed him that she was almost never in a bad mood. Not like some his friends' mothers. Joel's mother was constantly ragging about something or other. With Joel always cutting any visiting guest time spent there short with his famous "Cmon Let's get out of here". "Where Dad?" Jim asked with one hand on the refrigerator door pulling it open. "He's at Michael's lot picking up the new car? She explained walking in the kitchen and opening the cabinet under the sink. New car Jim thought with humor. It was probably a bomb so he could take to work at his construction site where he was mason foreman. Something that could take a little mud. An old wrangler he had said. "The wrangler?" Jim asked. Jim's mom stood up straight turned and eyed him as he started to drink from the orange juice carton. "Everyone does it" he defended himself. She gave him the Tsk Tsk look as she reached in the cupboard and handed him a short glass without berating him. "If he doesn't come home with the wrangler its because Trance talked him into another car. You know you're father. He's too easy going sometimes." Jim said "Nah he pretty much knows who he can trust. Remember with that guy who tried to sell him the lawn mower last year. That salesman was such a liar." He chuckled. His mom looked at him with surprise. She liked seeing her son looking so happy. " You're in good mood today. Oh yes I know why. The party and the girl." She smiled. Jim smiled back. He opened the refrigerator and took out last nights meatloaf. He lopped off two slices and dropped onto a plate then practically threw it into the microwave and hit the time and walked to the utensil draw to collect a knife and fork.
"Where the party again?" his mom asked.
"Please drive safe. The TV said something about snow tonight."
"I know Mom its supposed to be only a flurry." The microwave announced the ready for his meatloaf with 3 steady high-pitched beeps. Jim crossed over to it and retrieved his dinner. His mom grabbed the sponge from the sink and wiped the counter where pieces of meatloaf had escaped onto the kitchen cutting board where Jim was slicing it. After one quick swipe the sponge was returned via airmail back into the sink. "I'm doing laundry. Are your dirty clothes in the hamper?" "Most of them" Jim lied. He just couldn't seem to get his worn clothes into the hamper that was 3 feet away from his bed. They seemed to always end up on the floor. He wolfed down the last of the meatloaf and through a full mouth said
"You and dad going to dinner tonight"
"Yep to The Italian Table." His mom's favorite. His mom was the seafood lover his Dad liked pasta and hated the slight scent of anything from the ocean, Jim thought shaking his head.
"We plan on going around 7, when is your party?" Jim shrugged, downed the last of the juice and put his dish in the dishwasher. Gotta get ready. And he kissed his mom and bound up the hallway stairs. Those long lean legs taking two at a time. While his mom turned her attention to the TV anchor announcing the grave site found by the Vietnamese government. Marcus Chanet was seriously stoling out that " what appears to be soldiers and vehicles from the late 1960s. Platoon 2111 with the US army while convoying thru the Ia Dang Village of Central Vietnam must have encountered heavy rain and the a mudslide had wiped them out without a trace" Then he went on to say that until recently another mudslide had dislodged the corpse of the men and their jeeps. It appears that 8 men and two jeep vechicles were recovered. The Vietamese and the United States were working towards identifying the bodies. Lucille stared at Marcus Chanet for a few seconds before picking up the portable and called Dan her husband to tell him. He always wore the POW/MIA bracelet from when he was 14 years old The soft metal had remained strong and sturdy while still it had adapted to his growing wrist.
Once at the top of the stairs, Jim snapped his fingers and forced his brain into hyper drive. Jeans white and black sweater he bounded into his room pulled the essentials from the drawer and closet and zipped into the hall bathroom singing to himself "Whistle baby, whistle baby and we'll start real slow." Then he heard it. Over his right shoulder he heard a low masculine whisper. Jimmmm It stopped him dead in his tracks. He quickly whirled around and saw no one. He went to the top of the stairs and yelled "Joel" "Mom is Joel here?" He asked. His mom told her husband to hold and came to the bottom of the stairs and looking up at him glancing out the front bay window and said "no". quizzically. "Oh I thought I heard his voice. Must have been a mind echo." He nervously explained to his mom. Sometimes he heard his mom's or his dad's voice calling him when they hadn't. A mind echo. Except this voice didn't sound the least bit like his dad or even Joel for that matter. Just a fluke he shrugged and jumped into the shower.
45 minutes later he was set to go. "Not too late" warned his mother in the typical parent goodbye. "Watch the weather" she waved to him. A minute later he was behind the wheel of the mustang trying to slip the key into the rebuilt ignition but it was giving him a hard time ..again. He must remember to mention that also to Ron tomorrow. He glanced at his watch, 6:20 and darkness covered the Fairfield Connecticut town. Finally the mustang's ignition synced with the key and the engine roared.
Jim , Joel Toni and Kathy were talking and laughing on Route 7 just about 12 miles outside of Danbury. Jim maneuvered the car to the right past the front lawn of high pine trees covering the view to a large imposing building made of stone with three pillars lining the entrance. New Jersey born Kathy inquired what the tall older building was. "That is Cornet Institute where people with emotional psychiatric problems go." Joel exclaimed. "You know wackos." " No kidding no wonder it looks so creepy" Yeah, my mom said they are moving the patients to another facility soon. One in Hartford" said Jim. "Why" Toni asked. "No money. They are gonna close it" Jim answered. Form the back seat Kathy wide eyes stared as they passed the main gate the only section with a clear cut view of the barred window. They did not notice the small frightened face gazing out from the fourth floor.
Backing away from the barred window slowly Carmen felt the heaviness of hot dry air from the heat register around her feel like the hot air was trying to steal her breath. If she was getting out tonight, she would have to miss bingo. She hated that bingo. Suddenly Betty Benwith, the 4th floor nurse appeared. Her soft sole shoes doing their job of never giving her away. Carmen smirked "Hmph" She felt the anger rising within her and she gave the night nurse a piece of it. "What's the problem?" she snapped at the dour face of the nurse. Nurse Benwith sucked in some air that helped her keep calm. "Nothing Carmen she forced a smile. Bingo is about to begin. Won't you join us?" Well thought Carmen. It might be a good idea. Sort of throw them off track. She smiled and tried to look demure to Nurse Benwith and followed her. She padded into the brightly lit but worn rec room. With its high ceilings, mustard yellow walls and barred windows. Trying to disguise the presence of the rooms each window was donned with decorative cornucopia made by the residents and store bought ones from the staff. It was enough to make Carmen sick. Why try to cheer this place up it was depressing she thought as she sat down she couldn't help noticing Nurse Benwith eyeing her suspiciously. Did she know what she was about to do? How could she? A streak of panic rose up in her and she forced it back down. Calm down. How could she know? She had been behaving normally. Hadn't she? Stay in control girl can't blow it now. She found herself nervously chuckling as she settled down in her seat at one of the back tables. She looked around the hideous room and thought 'this is the last time I will have to look at these faces.' All appeared twisted and sort of destroyed. "Carmen" Nurse Benwith interrupted her thoughts. "Would you like some hot cocoa" "Yes, please that would be nice". Smiling thinking how that lovely serene face would look if she had to smash it with the radiator valve. It had taken her two weeks to loosen it. She had to use her gown doubled up because of the heat. The exercise room had 4 such radiators in the room's perimeter. She just waited for a fight to break out. It always did. Sometimes heart pumping exercise is all one needs. She would pretend to retreat into the corner near the radiator pretending that the altercation bothered her and with her back to the radiator she worked the valve. Sometimes she would entice the ruckas by stirring the pot between two residents. It was easy. And when that final twist had freed it from the metal rod yesterday she felt freedom and elation. With that twist was the beginning of a new life a free life not this boxed up holed up claustrophobic animal cage of a life. She only prayed that no one noticed the missing valve before tonight was over and she was gone.
Mr. Fiorecci touched her hand "I16 you forgot to put your chip you got it see there" he nagged. Carmen looked at him with cold brown eyes that her smile coundn't soften. He looked away hurriedly then looked down as if ready to cry. "Thank you" she nodded the steel look was still there. And Fiorecci knew it without even looking up. Sergio the bingo caller alias mean son of a bitch, bellowed another ball. By 10:30 the night skeleton crew begins. Just the security guard, cleaning lady and two orderly plus head nurse Barbara Renard. And Renard leaves at 11:00.
Carmen's mind was racing. But in spite of everything it still went back to the beginning When all hell broke loose! She was a teacher for the first time. Teaching 3rd grade at Calder Elementary school in Wilton before it happened.
The year had started out so promising, full of anticipation of her first job and a good one at that. Not many teachers were so lucky to have this school as their first placement. She remembers the first day like it was yesterday. She had set up her small but purposeful classroom a week before with brightly colored calendars and with season mural on the walls underneath each workstation against the wall. Even though the job was a good one she had accepted it with a little apprehension. She had majored in musical theater. But musical theater instructors were low in demand. Thanks to budget cuts. So she would teach 3rd grade until a position came along. Reading, English and Mathematics were first priority. She had looked around for months after receiving her degree. She was going to have to start making payments towards her school loan. It killed her the way the government could
bail out big greedy corporations, but not students with huge education debts, unable to find jobs. Finally Wilton board of Ed had called and told her that her qualifications were excellent and they would love to have her teach third grade. Maybe later when the school received funds for the revised budget there she would be placed in performing arts program position.
She quietly celebrated with a good bottle of wine and a feast of filet mignon and shrimp with her father at their favorite Long Island restaurant Miller Ridge Inn. She felt so blessed finally. She wasn't used to counting her blessings because she never before felt blessed.
Her father looked at her over the table that night with pride in his eyes. They had been alone since she was 11, growing up in a small house in Long Island, NY. That year after her 11th birthday her mother decided that she just could not take being tied down a minute longer had left. They never heard from her again. Maybe she was dead. She used to think that maybe her father killed her. Even though her father had lavished gifts and attention on Carmen she could see he was bitter about her mother, the whore-bitch. She could see that no matter how he hard he tried to hide it, he never got over it. Sometimes she would catch him in the study looking at her mother's picture that he never gotten rid of. And when she caught him she noticed hot bitter resentment burning in his eyes. Then as if to catch himself he always suddenly smiled. It was always the same every time she happened to catch him. It was like that til the day he died. Lying on his deathbed for days he would mention her mother and always say "Remember the last really happy day we all had together?" They had gone to the Carousel museum in Guilford, CT. It was a great, fun day. It was there her father saw her looking at a small musical carousel in the giftshop window. It had a gold canopy and had nine painted ponies with brass rods in a circle. The horses were arranged in different positions, one with its tail high and its head low. Another with his head high and mouth opened showing white teeth. All the saddles were done in high gloss porcelain and the pretty pastels of purple, yellow and blue had made her eyes glisten. "The artwork is incredible" her father had commented. It was pretty pricey but her mother had made her father buy it for her. Maybe for reconciliation for she knew she was planning to leave.
So as she was remembering that celebration night with her father, considering her self lucky and counting her blessings, she realized now she should have been counting her damnation instead. Damn that kid. He destroyed everything.
On that first day she found herself in from of 22 innocent potential music and theater lovers, a lofty idealism but that is how she wanted to see them. She looked over at their eager but inquiring faces, trying to sum her up already. All eyes seemed to be curious about the same thing. What's this one about? How much homework will she give? I hope she doesn't smell funny."Good morning, my name is Miss Durant." She began "Let me tell you a little about myself. I'm new to Wilton. I grew up in Long Island, NY. I moved here about six monts ago and I am still getting used to it but I like it very much. And I'm so looking forward to teaching 3rd grade this year. This year we will be doing a lot of reading and writing." Some of the children groaned and she looked wistfully at them. She knew children didn't want structure they want to express themselves. "But I have to tell you", she continued. Since I am such a great lover of the Arts, I know some of you will be happy to know that I will be asking you to add pictures to most writing that you do. "That's a bunch of bull, I hate that." Came a cry from the back of the room.
Her smile took a turn of a semi tight grimace as her eyes searched the rows till they came to a little ruffled clothedboy sitting sprawled in his seat in the back row. His hair was unkept black in color and wearing brown corduroys with a black stained sweatshirt. "Oh an art hater" She said trying to keep her voice light hoping no one noticed the slight quiver as her lips trembled. All heads turned to face the bitter youth. " I don't like pictures or art that's all" He said scoffing "And what's your name?" Carmen tried to remain cool "Ken Bennett" the child answered matter of factly tone. Oh come Carmen Durant eyed him " you don't mean that you don't like all pictures or art?" "yeah I do" "But why" Carmen questioned. "Drawing is for sissy Marys." the young boy nastily squirmed in his chair. A couple of girls groaned and rolled their eyes "Speak for yourself, Kenny!" exclaimed the small Latino girl in the front burning her eyes into him. "Everyone tells you make it colorful all the time. Its so boring" He squarely looked at her and his eyes were that of a snakes. Dark almost black eyes squinted almost shut as if he was lacking sleep from the night before." Carmen Hey Heyed them to stop. Okay I have challenge Carmen thought "Now Ken, I think I can change your mind." "Hey" he leaned forward in his chair, "If I don't feel like doing something I don't do it." Steady now Carmen told herself. Why was that little imp calling her out like that, testing her authority in front of the whole class and on her first day, no less? And why hadn't someone from the faculty warned her about him. Arent they supposed to do that? She walked over to him and leaned down "Ken" she almost whispered to him "Can you stay a few minutes after school so we can discuss this?" "Oh, Oh" Came the class comment. "Somebody's' already is trouble" one said "Its figures" said another "Now that's enough of that" she demanded. " I know it's the first day and some of you are still in Summer vacation moods" she half laughed. No no, she had thought to herself, no running to the principal or whining to fellow teachers about this. This she would handle herself.
"Carmen, Carmen! A high pitched voice brought her back to the bingo room and her present existence which after tonight would be history. Fred Tolstein(or as he is better known "the twitcher") her bingo neighbor on her right was standing up excitingly pointing at her card. "You have Bingo!" You're not paying attention he looked down at her. Twitch, twitch. Carmen looked at the board on the table in front of her blankly. Fred sat back down and pointed again. B-6, I-19, N-24, G44, O-66. "Damn Bingo" she meekly said. Fred stared at her with bewilderment. No twitching there. He slowly turned back to his card, as did all eyes in near vicinity. What did it matter. The coveted prize was two desserts at dinner the next night. But I won't be here for another lousy dinner in this place. Some one at the next table shouted Bingo. And all others groaned. " Ok" Head nurse Stephanie Renard declared with triumph in her voice for the winner. "Full card is two deserts for dinner for a week." Oh came gleeful exclaims from 4 or 5 people. Carmen endured the next few minutes until bingo was called and all patients were told to go back to their rooms. Like they didn't know the drill. They were like lab rats same routine week in week out.
Missy Bellingham passed Carmen in the hall then back tracked sidling up to her. "I have to show you what my daughter gave me." Missy Bellingham was a sweet lady in her mid 50s whose husband basically drove her nuts. Most the time you see her just sitting by the window, unlit cigarette in her mouth and drinking cokes through a straw and talking to anyone who was near. Talk around the staff says she was probably one of those women who try to please everyone and her husband turned out to be one of those perfectionists. If you listen to rumors, that is. What was also said is when she finally snapped, they found her naked on route 7 pulling at her hair. Sad story. The board at the hospital deemed her to be making amazing progress after a year and thinking about releasing her in a month. Back to her husband. She'll be back in 6 weeks, figured Carmen. Running , naked pulling her hair out. Yeah they eventually let you out after suffering a nervous breakdown. But not for murder.
Carmen could still hear his screams as he hung out the 4th floor window. "Don't let me go. Don't let me go."
"Come in" Miffy was tugging at Carmen. Miffy went to her closet and pulled out a cardboard carton that was the floor. Gently pulling back the flap she pulled out a rudely assembled, pink plaster paris carousel. "My grand daughter made it." I liked yours so much I mentioned it to my daughter and she went to a craft store and her and my 3 year old granddaughter made it. Look! It's almost like yours."
("Daddy one more time can I ride it?")The haunting memories came flooding back. "Ok" her father had relented. Her mother smiling". That lying smile of hers.
With one swift motion Carmen upswung at the carousel and it went flying toward the wall. Crack! It slid down to the brown dingy throw carpet and lay there with the wide eyed third horse staring up at the ceiling. The canopy top had split and the jagged netting was twisted. "How dare you have what I have. You can't do that!" Carmen screamed enraged. Miffy looked at the carousel and then at Carmen and ran from the room crying. Carmen went over to the broken carousel and picked it up. She really shouldn't have done that. She was holding it when Nurse Benwith came stomping in with Miffy Bellingham right behind her. "What's going on here? Carmen did you knock Miffy's present out of her hand?" "What?" Carmen feigned surprise. "I said I was sorry. It was an accident. I reached out to hold it-"she stammered, "and I knocked it out of her hand by accident. She turned to Miffy with a innocent look "Really it was an accident." "No! NO! you did it on purpose." Miffy protested." "Now, now ladies." Nurse Benwith said. "It's time for sleep. Its OK Miffy, it's just cracked on top I have plaster paris and I can fix this tomorrow." Miffly looked a little relieved and she gave Carmen the evil eye. "You're rotten" She said. That what Ken had said to her. Carmen just gave her a wry smile and walked out and into the yellow-lit hall into her dingy yellow colored space of her own. Her heart started to feel very light and once in her room she started to giggle and she found she couldn't stop.
"What was that house number again?" Jim asked Joel looking in his rear view mirror "27 There it is" Joel came across the front seat pointing to a white & black shuttered colonial surrounded by pine trees just across the intersection where they sat. Rolling the window down Jim heard the music coming from the home's stereo system. "It's cold" Toni squealed. Jim looked at her cute scrunched up face and quickly rolled up the window. After knocking for what seemed eternity then pounding on the door, it punched open sending a force of warm air, bright lights, laugher and music to greet them. Not to mention the clicking of beer cans being opened. "Hey it's the two Js. Jim and Joel and the rest. How's it going?!" Matthew Connelly from Engl. Lit. greeted them. A stogie held tightly in the corner of his mouth. Other nearby guests chimed in their hellos. The host Matthew was one of Joel and Jim's good friends. They had met at the beginning of the semester during soccer, which neither of them turned out to be very good at. He had a girl on each arm when he answered the door. Just friends he seemed to say as he glanced at the two and shrugged. "Good seein ya, glad you could come." Matthew exclaimed balancing that cigar like a big tycoon. Jim nodded and said "Beautiful house Matt." "Yeah my parents like to live large. There's even a pool." "What good is a pool in November?" asked Joel. Toni giggled. "It's in the basement dude" Matthew laughed. "No way. " Kathy and Toni looked surprisingly shocked. "Check it out go down the stairs at the back of the house. The doorbell rang again. And Matt went to answer it "Catch you later!" "Yeah later" Joel said. "Lets go look" they snaked their way through the mass horde of some of UCONN's student population.
The high ceilings were all glossy white and the walls went from one neutral color of beige to gold to light green as they moved from the entrance to the kitchen to the family room, searching for the stairs. Heavy tapestry type drapes adorned all the windows. The stairs turned out to be not so hard to find, you just had to follow the people with bathing suit and towels. The basement door was next to the sliding glass doors leading outside. Down the wide carpeted stairwell they descended to the tiled floor lined with indoor, outdoor grey mats. People were sitting on the white edge of the pool with their feet in the water. Music was playing from the speakers in the corner of the stone walls, while about 15 people laughed and swam jumping in the pool. No Diving signs were posted everywhere. The pool was only 4 ½ feet. In the corner underneath one of the speakers, stood an inviting black leather standup bar to serve whatever your pleasure. You just had to get it yourself, no acting bartender on duty. Jim and Joel Kathy and Toni looked at the glistening green blue tinted water under the high hats in the ceiling. "Wow" "Awesome" and "Unbelievable" they all seemed to say at once. Kathy let out a whoop laugh when she saw some of the swimmers were fully clothed. While some other clothed personnel were looking at the inviting water trying to decide if they were going to do the same. "In or out?' Michelle and Danielle two other cheerleaders on the squad were asking Toni and Kathy. They were fully dressed and in the water. And not surprisingly very drunk. Kathy turned to them and said "It took me 1 hour and a half to get my hair this way. Not me." "Oh come on", they urged in their wet skirts and sweaters. Toni said "We're in jeans. You know what wet jeans feel like? All you had to do was take off your tights and shoes." "At least take off your shoes and roll up your jeans to stick your feet in. "Maybe later" Toni said giving them a Yeah sure… not, look. Turning to Kathy "Come on you want to get a wine."
"Yeah sounds good. Hey guys" Joel and Jim turned to them
"We are gonna get something to drink. You want something?" The girls failed to notice that the boys were entranced with watching all the girls with wet tops scamping around. "Ah just a coke or Pepsi for me" Jim said. "You're driving I'll take a beer." Said Joel. Toni smiled at Jim. What a great guy, she thought. That's what drew her to him. His sincerity. He seemed so responsible and committed to things like the car and his future and he wasn't bad looking either. And she liked the car.
"Look out" screamed a big guy with black curly hair. Toni yelled "Kevin." "Coming through" he shot past the four and canon balled into the pool. Jim pulled Toni back and stepped in front of her and got drenched. Joel and Kathy also got splashed. "You saved me" Toni looked into his eyes with a look made hisis water-clogged eyes shine and made him go weak in the knees. "Let's go back upstairs to get our drinks." He said shaking the water drops off his clothes. "I think I need a towel too"
"Good idea" and they followed the stairwell back up to less insanity. Once back upstairs the mood carried thru the four large rooms that occupied the first floor of the house. Laughter seemed to be echoing back and forth between rows as the groups of different young people that came together began mingling with other partiers. Upstairs in one of the bedrooms music droned sweetly. While two bodies entangled on the king size bed so lost in each other they didnt notice at the end of the love song the interruption of a winter storm warning.
"Temperatures would hover around freezing with cloud mass moving in predicting 12 to 18 " of snow in our area. warning that everyone should stay home tonight in the greater NY,CT, NJ area."
Carmen switched off the radio and blew out a desperate sigh. Just what I need. She thought. Walking over to her closet she pulled out 2 pairs of pants 3 sweaters and threw them quietly on the bed carefully tiptoeing to the bureau she peered out the door into the hall. Just to check if any one was coming. Satisfied that this was not the case, she pulled open the bottom draw for her leotard used for exercise class and then the top drawer holding her wool socks. She then walked to the wall by the room door and hit the switch. Pulling the door closed to the darkness of the room. She felt her way back to bed and started to dress. She was satisfied knowing that she would look like she over 200 lbs when she finished dressing. Through the darkness she could still envision that child hanging out of the window held up by his hand on the ledge screaming "Help me! Help me." She could see her hand grasping his to pull him up then suddenly her hands slipped out of his. 'Let go on purpose' they had said. Those little monsters, why did they lie about it. They were all sitting right there. Frozen. They saw the whole thing. It was an accident! Yes it was! She told herself for the 100th time as she pulled on the thick sweater. She was traumatized for months and had tens of hours of therapy. All that and it still landed her here.
At the Danbury house party, most everyone was out of the pool and soaking wet holding drinks and starting up the stairs for their quest for towels. The host had emptied his closet of dry clothes and ill fitting as they were, at least they were dry. The loud hum of chatter was everywhere with the occasional break out of song by those who were feeling really good and drunk. The two in the bedroom had finished their business and were now downstairs on the couch very cuddly deep in each others eyes while outside the first snowflakes were starting to fall. So infrequently at first that you had to stare a while to catch seeing them fall.
By this time Carmen had taken her solid steel radiator valve and had given Head Nurse Stephanie Renard a nice concussion right at her desk. Taking her keys knowing her password yes she had been very attentive and over heard her complain to Mr. Troy the director, why she had to change her password every week. She sometimes forgot. So she watched her. She had heard her mouth it the other day to herself. Benny it must be her boyfriend's name. Carmen noted to herself that the head nurse looked quite the large rag doll sprawled out on the white and black tile floor. Carmen quickly undressed her and then dragged her behind her desk and put the uniform over her clothes tying her hair up and putting on her glasses on Carmen's head. It made her dizzy but she thought the disguise would work better with the glasses. She knew she had to work fast. She pulled off the Head Nurse's brown wig off her head and pulled it over her tied up hair. There was only one person watching the surveillance cameras. And she had seen him appear down outside her window grabbing a smoke out the back door. She slid over the coaster chair, positioning it as close to the desk as she could. She then put Renard's coat on that was hanging on the clothes rack. It was one of those thick long black coats that had a fur-lined hood. In the bottom draw she found Nurse Renard's black pocketbook opening it she pulled out her wallet and got the $57 and about a dollar in quarters that was tucked inside. She put the purse back in the draw and quietly closed it. She then took the paper shopping bag that was used to transport the head nurse's dinner she brought from home. She removed the Tupperware and placed the cloth enclosed carousel into the bag. The change jangled when she put the money in the pocket so she took the gloves that were from the other pocket and stuffed them in to silence them. She walked downstairs
On the first floor landing Albert the security guard was walking back from his cigarette break talking to Liberty the big black cleaning lady at the lobby desk. She glanced at the wall clock above the sign in desk it said 10:55. 11:00 came the bread truck to supply the next day's bread. She pulled her wool hat over and mimicking Nurse Renard voice and said goodnite. Liberty and Albert waved goodnite not stopping their conversation about who was going to end up going to Hartford and who was going to the unemployment office. Albert reached over to the door release button and Carmen walked calmly through the door. She ducked in the visitors lounge 15 feet from the front door and hid there until she heard the bread truck. Albert walked through the kitchen to check out the driver" Its Ray. Albert said to himself. "My man what up? It's a cold frigid night let's let this unloaded so I can go back inside."
"Yeah and its starting to snow. I wanna get home" Ray said.
"Your patriots are gonna lose again tomorrow man" teased Albert
"NO Way, your Jets are gonna lose tomorrow" Ray talked as he worked to get the trays of yeast products off the truck and into the silver doored pantry in the kitchen. They bantered back and forth while Ray worked and Albert stayed on his heels. He got the last load of bread muffins and rolls. Carmen moved quickly through the back door of the delivery truck while the few kitchen help moved to prepare the pantry before their shift ended. Carmen soundlessly moved through the empty trays retrieved from the Cornet's kitchen to the back. She crouched down as far as her small frame could squeeze despite the coat with the layers of clothes. Albert signed the bill and checked the back of the truck as he always did. While still yapping about how the Patriots defense is shot because of all the injuries. Ray put away his hand truck and he did not see Carmen crouched low between the stack of bread trays. Carmen was jubilant. The breath she was holding was let out in a slow quiet sigh.
Ray got into the driver's seat and saw the flickering of snowflakes dancing on the window. He switched on the wipers and put the truck in 1st. His truck rumbled toward the exit gate and Albert hit the remote opening from inside the archway by the side entrance. The gate's aged metal creaked open and the bread truck disappeared from Albert's view onto route 7.
The party in Danbury was hitting an all time high with singing by the piano in the music room in the front of the house and again cannonballs in the basement. "Be careful one girl cried. It's not even 5ft deep. Its supposed to be a lap pool you'll break something" "I'm not diving" the redheaded boy yelled back. "Come on out. I'm scarfed" Lets go get something", the staying dry girl yelled. Red head nodded and headed for the ladder just as cannon baller #2 landed splat right where he was. "Oh man that was so close you don't know" he warned. The other was laughing and sputtering at the same time as he came to the surface.
Toni and Jim were in the pine paneled den getting some peace and quiet. They were pretending to look at the great books on the wall. "Hemingway, Joyce, Poe. Man, If I had a study these are the authors that I would have" Jim softly said. Suddenly Toni walked over to Jim put her arms around him from the back. "I like you" she sighed." Jim turned into her arms and kissed her a long soft kiss. When they parted they looked into each other's eyes and smiled. Hugging each other, Jim stared out the paladin window with the richly hung, tasseled velvet green drapes. It was a moment he never wanted to end. It was snowing harder now and a dusting was on the ground. Jim said "You know what? It's getting worse. Lets get closer to home we can go to my house. My parents will be home and you and Kathy can sleep in the guest room if you want to, that is." Toni agreed with a nod. "Let's find Joel and Kathy."
Carmen lay still behind the piles bread trays as the truck rode through the snow covering on the ground slipping and sliding slightly from time to time making a whish sound. She tried to stop her heart from pounding in her chest, so she began to breathe deeply in and out. And yet again she thought of that day in school when she let that boy fall. A month before in October, she had called in his parents and had spoken to the principal about his behavior. The parents were divorced and also the mother had substance abuse problems. But the state was helping her work them out. Mondays were the worse. You could see what the weekend at home had done to him. He was so angry all the time. Carmen was told he was starting to see a therapist. She and the therapist had also had a meeting. All in all Carmen could honestly say she hated little Ken, even if she would never admit it to anyone else. The kids in her class knew. She never thought she would ever hate a child. After all she went through so much with her mother leaving and she turned out alright. Right? She hadn't let him fall, her inner voice said again in her head. But she had and deep down she knew it. The truck was slowing and stopping. Ray had pulled into a gas station. She couldn't be seen this was still in a busy area. Her bladder ached. Why hadn't she thought about that, before. She had to go to the bathroom real bad. Through the back she could see the sign RESTROOMSà pointing to the side of the building. She would have to hold it. Ray finished pumping and had walked inside the store. He looked like he was getting coffee. She looked out the back window and saw a fat man with a sweatshirt that said Binghamton University was walking to the side of the building swinging a large block of wood? She sighed when she realized that he was using the rest room. Ray was sipping his coffee talking to the attendant. She really had to go. She could pee in the corner on top of the linens but the bathroom was right there. She slowly opened the back door and walked to the restroom.
The snow was coming down thicker and the air made it hard to breathe. Just then the Fat man stepped out of the bathroom. He eyed her in her long wool coat and tied up hair and white soft sole shoes. A nurse he thought to himself. Jackpot he also thought when she smiled at him. "The attendant told me to wait and get the key from you." Taking it from him "I will return it" and this she said coldly and the smile disappeared. "Stay warm" he said nervously watching her face change. "Sheesh, what's with her?", and he was gone into his Ford truck with the plow attached. She ran inside and almost puked maybe it would have been better to pee in the truck. She quickly undid and squatted to relieve herself yeah there's toilet paper. Her mind filled with thoughts and images about where she would go and what she would do maybe Mexico. She couldn't have been more than 30 seconds when she heard an engine start and when she stepped out of the bathroom all she saw was two gas pumps and swirling snow no linen truck. She began to panic. And then she began to yell at herself you idiot how could you not hear him get in his truck. And resigned herself to the fact that she would have to spend the night in this disgusting bathroom. She retreated inside and putting toilet paper along the floor she sat down it was cold. She fell into twilight like sleep and dreamed of the carousel.
Carmen thought she was dreaming hearing the sound growing louder rising her from her sleep. When the sound was close she fully jolted awake. A car had pulled into the station she opened the door a crack and looked at the funny older car with the horse emblem on the back. She felt exhilaration fill her as she gazed at the Silver symbol through the white dotted dark. What that? A piece of rope was holding the trunk down to keep it closed.
A tall middle aged thin gentleman sauntered out. You guys are lucky I was just about to close. He pulled his cap on tighter against the wind. Fill er? "Ill do it" said Jim. And he proceeded to pull out the gas cap of the car. "Suits me fine, man it's getting hairy out here" he said looking toward the sky as he whooshed the door open and disappeared inside. The inside of the mustang was freezing in spite of the four warm bodies. "I want a coffee" said Kathy. "Me too" said Toni and Joel said "okay" and they walked inside telling Jim that they were getting something inside. While inside Kathy asked if the coffee was still hot. Yeah the attendant had said. I just shut it off. He talked smacking his chewing gum. "What a bad night it turned out to be. All the time chewing and talking until his mouth became distorted his teeth moved but his jaw became wide and disfigured. "Oh heavens" he turned his back to the girls When he turned back he was normal again. Kathy and Toni just stared at him. "Lost my dentures" he chuckled. Kathy and Toni burst out laughing. His face told them he didn't like it one bit that they were laughing at him. "Im sorry we had a little wine before. We didn't mean to laugh." "You kids better get home. Its starting to get." He said sourly.