Maps in a mirror, p.111

Maps in a Mirror, page 111

 

Maps in a Mirror
 



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  “Listen, Miriam, a car is different from showers and food and bedding. It’s a lot more expensive. And I eat three meals a day and sleep once a night and take a shower every morning. It’s regular and predictable and it doesn’t go up and down. But the car I use as often as I like, and we kids used to use the cars all the time. It cost the folks hundreds and hundreds of dollars every month. And so it was perfectly fair for them to decide we should help pay.”

  “You can’t live in the modern world without a car. They might as well charge you for air.” She sounded upset.

  “You can live without a car,” I said. “You can walk, for example. I’ve walked to school a lot the last few months.”

  “I can imagine,” she said darkly.

  “I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve discovered there are things you can’t see from a car.”

  “Like bubble gum on a sidewalk,” she said, sounding rather snide.

  “I think it’s a good idea for us to help our parents pay for the cars.”

  “And I think anybody who thinks that is crazy.”

  “You do?” I asked, and I think by now I also sounded upset.

  “I do. If word of this gets around, other people’s parents will try it, too, and pretty soon an entire generation of young people will be trapped at home with their families night after night.”

  It shows you how angry I was. I said, “That doesn’t sound like a bad idea. And furthermore, I think that it’s perfectly possible for people to have a good time together without having a car at all. I think it would be a wonderful date just to walk over to a girl’s house and take her out walking and talking and maybe looking in store windows or maybe just seeing a little bit of the neighborhood and just getting to know each other without spending any money at all.”

  “That sounds hideous.”

  “Then,” I said, “I won’t ask you out on such a date.”

  I took her home and neither of us said another word except for a perfunctory goodnight-and-thanks-for-a-wonderful-evening at the door.

  When I got home, after filling the gas tank, I wrote down the mileage on the odometer, figured out my total car costs for the evening, and went inside, got the money from my room, and went into Mom and Dad’s bedroom, where they were reading the Old Testament out loud to each other the way they do every night.

  “Did you have a nice time?” asked Mother.

  “Wonderful,” I said. “I want to settle up for tonight.”

  “Oh, you don’t have to do that until the first of the month,” Dad said.

  “I want to do it now.” I showed them how much I owed them, counted out the money, and handed it to them. Then I carefully placed a five dollar bill on top of the rest.

  “What’s that for?” asked Mother.

  “It’s a tip,” I said. “For service above and beyond the call of duty.

  “I think you’re wonderful. I’m glad you laid it on the line with us. I’m glad you shared the responsibility of paying for the entire U.S. automobile industry with us kids. It’s the most adult thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.”

  Mother got tears in her eyes. Father said, “I think Jerry’s grown up, don’t you, Mother?”

  “Yes,” Mother agreed.

  “Well, you’re both wrong,” I said. “I’m just completely out of my mind.”

  I kissed them both good-night and went straight to bed feeling pretty doggone good. Also pretty doggone poor, since I had about six bucks to last me through the rest of the month. But as my sister Anne pointed out, money isn’t everything. In fact, it’s hardly anything.

  GERT FRAM

  Susan Parker decided to make a list. She sat down at her writing desk, the one her father had given her two years ago on her eleventh birthday and which she was already outgrowing.

  On the left side of a piece of paper she wrote, “People who hate me.”

  On the right side of the piece of paper she wrote, “People who like me.”

  The first name she put on the left side was Todd Slover. He was definitely a hater. She had accidentally jabbed him in the arm with a pencil and now he would probably die of lead poisoning.

  Mrs. Gray was on the “People who hate me” side, too. She had brought a fishbowl to school for the lesson on lizards. The class was supposed to catch a lizard and put it in the fishbowl. Susan broke the fishbowl.

  It hadn’t been a good day at school.

  The list of haters kept growing. In big letters she wrote, “MOTHER.”

  Mother had sent her to the store for eggs. Susan had been absolutely positive Mother had sent her for eggs. She got home with the eggs. Mother thanked her for the eggs and then asked about the butter, which is what she sent her to the store for.

  “Eggs are nice, I can always use them,” Mother said. “But what I need to finish the cookies for the party tonight is butter.”

  “Oh, yeah, butter,” Susan had answered. Mother had gotten that tight little look she always got when she was trying not to get mad. Susan had decided that was a good time to head for the bedroom.

  Susan held up the list and looked at it. So far, it said:

  People who hate me

  People who like me

  Todd Slover

  Mrs. Gray

  MOTHER

  It was a depressing list. She had already made three people very angry today. And the night was still young.

  And so Susan decided that it was about time for Gert Fram to write another novel. Gert Fram was a world-famous thirteen-year-old novelist who preferred to avoid publicity and therefore never published more than one copy of her work. So far, she had written five novels. They were arranged in a neat stack on the desk: Samy Davis Worm, by Gert Fram. Little Purple Pears, by Gert Fram. A Decent Book about Nothing, by Gert Fram. Water Warts, by Gert Fram. And her favorite: Chapy Nukls. Also by Gert Fram.

  Susan picked up her pen and reached for an empty book. She had made a batch of about five books the last time. They consisted of pieces of paper about two inches by four inches, stapled together along one edge. Making the empty book first was a good idea. That way she always knew when to end her novel, because she would run out of paper.

  She thought for a moment, and then wrote, “RASIN MOON, by Gert Fram.” Then she smiled, and began to write:

  “There was a little man & everyday he would eat and he would eat rasins always. now there was a rasin moon in the sky. And every day it would get fatter because the rasins would keep growing + nobody would eat them exept grayity + it doesn’t have a mouth, well this little man was getting hungry for rasins one supper night but the world would run out because the rasins would evaporate, + if it wasn’t for evaporation the rasin moon would be a nothing moon. the man decided to go to the rasin moon but he didn’t know that there was such thing as one but he decided to check anyway. He didnt really know how to get up there but all of a sudden”

  All of a sudden what? Susan Parker pursed her lips. Susan always pursed her lips when Gert Fram was stuck for an idea. Finally Gert Fram got the idea and Susan unpursed her lips and wrote some more:

  “it started raining. It was raining up instead of down. no, it was evaporating rasins. so the little man jumped on a rasin + flew up on it. when he got up in space he saw the rasin moon and it looked like one big Prune. He was overjoyed. In fact he was so overjoyed that he forgot his name and that is why his name isn’t said in this book.”

  Susan Parker laughed. Gert Fram really had a funny way with words.

  “He had a bunch of rasins for his supper + he was thirsty and he didnt know what to do. All of a sudden he got an idea. He jumped on a molecule + floated down to the supermarket. He went in and got all the juice, and threw it all in the sky + it started floating up and it made a juice moon. For days he lived up there + after a while he got sick of it so he went down to earth again, + threw all the food and it all floated up in the sky. There was a banana moon + a cornflake moon etc. There even was a pencil moon because he accidently threw some pencils, soon it was a food sky + soo
n all the gravity got soaked up so there was none left. So the little man observed + every thing floated down to earth again.”

  Uh-oh. Last page. Two-inch by four-inch pages filled up fast. Gert Fram decided to wrap things up fast.

  “All except rasin moon because he was there in the first place + it wouldn’t be fair. After a while the rasins stopped evaporating but the rasin moon stayed. in the sky. It was happy + so was the little man.”

  On the back of the book Gert Fram drew a picture of a wrinkled up lumpy moon with little wrinkled lumps rising up to it and a man at the bottom. She labeled it, “The little man riding up to the rasin moon.”

  Actually, both Susan and Gert Fram knew how to spell raisin. But leaving out the first i gave the word a little more class.

  Susan reread the novel. Gert Fram was OK.

  “It’s dinner time, Susan and Annabelle and Vanessa and Jonathan!” her mother called from downstairs. Susan leaned back in her chair and wondered whether her agent would like Rasin Moon. Probably not. Her agent wasn’t really very happy because nobody had ever bought any of Gert Fram’s novels yet and a ten percent commission of nothing doesn’t add up to much.

  “Susan, everybody’s here except you!”

  Susan proudly added Rasin Moon to her library.

  Downstairs Father was mumbling something to Mother. Then Father called out, “Gert Fram! It’s suppertime!”

  Susan got up carefully from her chair and walked with dignity to the door of her study/library/den/bedroom. Then she ran down the stairs and scurried into the dining room and dove into her chair and said, “Gert Fram just finished a novel and it’s the greatest yet.”

  No one paid much attention to what she said, however, because in diving for her chair she had jostled the table and two glasses of lemonade had spilled.

  “Can’t you be careful for even a minute!” her mother said, crossly wiping up the mess.

  “Gert Fram writes a novel and Susan has to drown us to celebrate,” Jonathan said in his funny voice that he reserved for making jokes about Susan.

  Susan got up from the table and ran back upstairs. She heard them talking downstairs. “You didn’t need to talk like that, Jonathan.”

  “Dad, she’s so dumb, she’s always knocking things around—”

  “She’s not dumb, and now she’s upset and gone upstairs—”

  “Careful, Annabelle, the lemonade’s about to drip off the table on you.”

  Susan shut the bedroom door. She walked to the desk and added a name to the list: “Creepy Jonathan,” she wrote, because he hated to be called that. Then she heard her father calling. “Gert Fram or Susan Parker, whichever of you is hungrier, come downstairs and eat dinner.”

  Susan didn’t want to go back down. Everybody would watch her walk in and sit down. Jonathan would be thinking she was dumb. So would everybody else. On the other hand she was hungry.

  Well, if Susan didn’t have any nerve, Gert Fram did. Gert Fram walked with dignity out the door of the bedroom and down the stairs. She paused at the bottom of the steps (all great and famous writers pause at the bottoms of stairways), and then turned and walked with dignity to the table.

  She heard Jonathan laugh and only looked down her nose at him. Susan would have been humiliated. But Gert Fram could put such riff-raff in their place.

  But during dinner she forgot to be Gert Fram and almost cried once when she knocked over the salt and Annabelle sighed and set it back up. Annabelle could afford to sigh. She was sixteen and smart and wore makeup and never spilled anything.

  After dinner everything went okay for about two minutes. Then she heard her father say, “All right, who did it?”

  He sounded angry.

  “Who did what, dear?” Mother asked in her don’t-be-angry-dear voice.

  Susan looked up at her mother and said, “If it’s something bad, I did it.”

  Father came into the dining room holding the Herald.

  “I did it, all right,” Susan said.

  “Somebody cut something out of the other side of the newspaper and now all I’ve got is half a crossword puzzle,” Father said. Father always did the crossword puzzle.

  “Well, dear,” said Mother in her please-don’t-get-upset-at-anyone voice, “you never do more than half of it anyway.”

  Father didn’t think it was funny. “I thought I told everybody in the family not to cut anything out of a newspaper until it was a day old!”

  Susan jumped up from the table, where she had been sitting pulling petals off the flowers in the vase. “Well I thought it was the old newspaper and it was a picture of a bride who’s getting married in the temple and I cut it out because I wanted a picture of her and I’m sorry I didn’t know it was today’s paper.”

  Father and Mother looked at Susan. They really weren’t sure what to say to this outburst.

  “I’ll go get the picture and I’ll glue it back in!” Susan shouted. “I’ll glue it back in with my own blood if you want, I’m sorry I cut out the crossword puzzle!”

  Then Father noticed the little pile of petals on the table.

  “Susan, you have pulled every single petal off the flowers.”

  Susan looked at the petals. She looked at her father. She decided not to cry in front of them. She ran out of the room.

  As she left, she heard Mother saying to Father, “I really don’t think that was the best time to say that, dear.”

  When Susan got to the front door, which she had to pass in order to go up the stairs, Vanessa was standing there with her boyfriend Raymond. They looked very surprised to see her. They looked like it was not a pleasant surprise. Because Susan didn’t know what else to do, she stopped and looked at them and said, “Hi.” Raymond let go of Vanessa’s hand.

  Raymond made a face and looked away and Vanessa said, “Honestly, there isn’t a place in the entire house where a person can find any privacy.”

  Susan tried to defend herself. “There isn’t another stairway. When I’m going to my room I have to pass through here.”

  Vanessa looked up at the ceiling in disgust. “When you are coming, you could at least have the courtesy to announce your presence.”

  “All right, all right,” Susan said. She walked up the stairs, shouting at the top of her voice, “I’m coming, I’m coming! Unclean, unclean! Beware, beware! Susan’s presence is coming!”

  From downstairs somewhere three voices shouted at once, “Susan will you stop that shouting! For heaven’s sake!” Jonathan’s voice added, “What a jerk.” Mother’s voice said, “Jonathan, that doesn’t help a thing.”

  Susan slammed her door and didn’t hear anything else from downstairs.

  I will not cry I will not cry I will not cry.

  She didn’t cry. Instead, she sat down at the desk and wrote on the list. When she was finished, it looked like this:

  People who hate me

  People who like me

  Todd Slover

  Mrs. Gray

  MOTHER

  Creepy Jonathan

  FATHER!!!

  Vanessa

  Raymond

  Arinabelle

  The whole world

  The whole universe!!!!!!!

  Then, to be fair, she thought for a while about whether anybody liked her. Under “People who like me” she finally wrote, “The dog because he’s too dumb to know how dumb I am and because whenever I spill something which is alot he gets to lick it up.”

  Then she thought for a while more and under “People who like me” she wrote in big letters, “GERT FRAM.”

  Then Gert Fram started writing another novel. It was called Susan the Jerk. It went like this:

  “Once upon a time there was a jerk named Susan. She was the only jerk in the entire world except for the soda jerk and people liked him because they liked soda but they didnt like Susan because she was also a creep. she was a creep because everytime she did something it was wrong. once she tried to pet a dog but the dog bit her because he didnt like to be peted. once
she tried to vacuum the rug but the vacuum sucked up the whole rug and then the floor and then the whole basement which made everybody mad because they were all in the basement and got sucked up and couldn’t get out until Susan cleaned the dust bag on the vacuum cleaner which she didnt do right so that everybody yelled at her and made her do all the dishes for a week which wasn’t a good idea because she broke them all.”

  Susan stopped and reread what Gert Fram had just written. Boy, wasn’t it the truth!

  “They never let Susan go anywhere except with a gag on her mouth because if they didnt keep her mouth shut she would talk all the time and also they have to tie her up and put her in the corner because she is all the time wiggling and poking people. This is all because Susan is a jerk.”

  Gert Fram was beginning to warm up to this.

  “Boy is Susan a jerk. She is not only a jerk, she is a jerk with bad manners. she burps and doesn’t say excuse me and kicks people when they are walking by because how was she suppose to know they were going to walk by right then? What a jerk, jerk jerk jerk jerk jerk.”

  Gert Fram was running out of paper. It was time to wrap up the novel with a bang. Gert Fram always liked to end her novels with a bang.

  “So one day Susan the jerk decided that one jerk on the earth was enough, and it better be the soda jerk because everybody likes him, and so she left the earth and flew off on a rocket. But because Susan was a jerk the rocket crashed and blew up the sun and everybody had to use flashlights all the time from then on because without the sun it was always night and everytime their flashlights ran out of batteries they would shake their fists and yell, boy that Susan is sure a jerk.”

 

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