Gramma loves me. I know this by the way she says my name, Laura. She lilts it, tickles the air with it, like I’m a ruby she’s just spied glittering in one of the sidewalk cracks in front of her great big red brick apartment building. It’s on Birchwood Avenue. And that’s where I am right now. Looking out the parlor window. Waiting. It’s like I’m standing on a mountain of cream puffs all mine alone because any minute Gramma will call my name and tell me it’s time for our special ride. Nobody else says my name the way Gramma does. Not Daddy, not Kathy and Mary Ruth, not Uncle John, and not Mommy, who loves church so much I think maybe she up and moved into one a while back.
Daddy has two ways of saying my name. The first is like it’s the punch line to a joke that only he understands, a joke that jiggles him up tall almost all the way out of his shiny black shoes. He looks at me with his gray eyes sparkling like a silver spoon with all the tarnish wiped off. When he’s happy like that, he calls me “Shimp,” which he says is shrimp and imp put together, or he says “Laura Fadora Fadoo.” He stretches that doo out real long like the last note of a song, and then Kathy and Mary Ruth turn it into “Laura Kapora Kapoo.” They stretch the poo out just as long, and just like that, all the fun of having him say my name is gone.
The second way Daddy says my name is like a ball he’s thrown really hard to get my attention because he wants me to stop doing whatever it is I’m doing. When he says my name this way his face looks harder than the sides of Gramma’s building, and the last thing I want is to scrape up against him. The second is the way he says my name most often. And that makes me mad, but I’m not supposed to ever get mad at Daddy.
Now when Daddy’s around, which isn’t all that often, and when he’s not stretched out asleep with his dark hair mixing in with the tatters of Gramma’s soft green couch, he’s making a commotion. He’s like pots and pans falling from Gramma’s kitchen cupboards, knocking against the stove and table and chairs and banging hard on the wooden patches in the floor where the old linoleum is worn clear off. He echoes all through the building like thunder. But Daddy all the time tells me, “Laura, be quiet! Laura, settle down! Be a good girl now, Laura!” He has to throw my name around a lot to hammer this idea home; it’s about as hard to be quiet as it is to keep my Cracker Jacks from falling out of the box when I open it and turn it upside down looking for the charm hidden inside.
My sisters, Kathy and Mary Ruth, have their blond heads glued together most of the time whispering. And sometimes they set their deep blue eyes on me and say my name either right at the same time or one after the other like echoes in a tunnel. Their lips are moving, but my name seems to come out of their noses like when you snort your milk instead of swallowing it, and it burns going through your nostrils until you spurt it out, finally, and you’re not at all pleased. That’s Kathy and Mary Ruth, not at all pleased when they say, “Laura peed in her pants, Gramma,” or “Laura’s eating bouillon cubes again, Gramma,” or “Laura can’t sing the ABC song yet, Gramma.”
But they always include me in games, morning to night, like me or not. They never tell me I can’t play
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