In sixth grade, a lot of kids signed up for something called Fortnightly. They learned old-fashioned dances like the cha cha and the fox trot, but they also learned the jitterbug and all sorts of variations on the twist. One day in the summer before I started sixth grade, when I was fetching Daddy’s golf balls in the backyard, I asked him if I could go to Fortnightly. This, I knew, was out of line because Kathy and Mary Ruth hadn’t been able to go. The notices came in the mail first for Kathy and then the next year for Mary Ruth. Mommy just threw them away. No discussion. I knew I shouldn’t ask for something they hadn’t been able to do, but I really wanted to learn to dance. So I asked, “Daddy, may I go to Fortnightly in the fall?”
It’s the only thing I can remember ever asking him for. Something just for me. He paused there, leaning on his golf club, just looking into the clouds. Then very seriously he said, “Yes, Laura. You can go to Fortnightly.”
I was on cloud nine for the rest of the summer thinking about being able to be part of that dancing group. But when the Fortnightly notice came for me, Daddy was in the hospital, and Fortnightly just became like one of the fish at the feet of the pelican on our mural, very dead. But now with Unc making that room and building us a stereo too, I’m finding another way to learn to dance.
Unc sends us to the movies sometimes on Saturdays too. He’ll hand Kathy enough money to get us inside and buy soda and candy too, and tell us to just take off. We’ll usually be in the middle of something like pulling dandelions and crabgrass out of the lawn by the roots with these long skinny fork-like weed-pulling things. It takes hours to scour the lawn, even with all three of us working. Plus dandelions and crab grass are always growing back. It’s one of those jobs that never ends. Mommy loves those. Then, if she runs out of ideas for things that really need to be done, she has us move the living room furniture around. After maybe an hour or so, it ends up right back where it started. Sometimes we even just move boxes around on the planks that serve as a floor in the attic.
The first time Unc sent us to the movies we just stood there for a while looking at the heap of quarters and nickels Unc had put in Kathy’s hand. Mommy only likes us going to movies when she decides it’s a good idea, and it’s always at the theater in Downers Grove. I’d only been to the Hinsdale Theater once in my life before. That was to see Bambi. We went as a family all together when Daddy was alive. I cried silently, tears just running down my face when Bambi’s mother died. I looked on each side of me, and Kathy and Mary Ruth were crying too. Now Unc was sending us to Hinsdale Theater on our own.
We were afraid to put down our weed pullers and just walk off to the movie.
“What about Mommy?” Kathy asked.
Unc replied, “Don’t worry, girls. Go have a good time. I’ll be here when you get back.”
It was hard not to worry, but I didn’t think Unc would ever tell us something he didn’t mean. So we set off and watched The Blob and got ourselves so scared that now we imagine that red gooey slippery shiny sludge stuff coming through the heat vents in our house. First it’s just a drop or two, then a trickle, then it comes pouring through all the vents so fast that the vents finally break off the wall, and the Blob floods in and slurps each of us up. That’s what we think is about to happen any minute. But still, it was worth it, going off on our own to see a movie in town on a Saturday. I saw lots of kids from school there. I don’t know what Unc said to Mommy, but she didn’t complain one little bit when we got home, not even after he left.
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