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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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Fairway, 1965

 

by Angele Ellis

 

 

 

I’m running as fast as I can down the fairway. Daddy hits the ball off the tee—which is a homonym, a big wooden thumbtack in the shape of a T. I don’t have to pick up the tee after the shot because Daddy does that himself, and puts it into a special compartment in his golf bag. When the ball flies up, the force of the shot makes a divot fly up too. Daddy picks up the divot, and smooths it back in place on the fairway. He puts things in their proper places, just like he always shaves his face in the morning—even the dimple in his chin—and makes sure his thick dark hair is combed straight back. I’m not good at putting things away—sometimes Daddy calls me “The Absent-Minded Professor” or “Oblivious de Havilland,” after an old-time movie star. I keep books and papers on my bed, and then just crawl underneath the rustling pile at night—their weight, the way that they shift whenever I move, makes me feel safe, as if I had hollowed out a hiding space inside one of the stacks at the library. 

 

Mommy nags at me to clean my room, and she is fierce about table manners. “No elbows on the table” and “No talking with your mouth full” and “No boarding-house reach”—which means not stretching my arm across the table, instead of asking Mommy or Daddy to pass something to me—like if I lived in a boarding house, where people have to grab food off the table at meals, because if they don’t, other people who are greedy and have no manners will gobble everything up.

 

I’m running as fast as I can down the fairway. Daddy’s ball leaps off the tee, and my job is to follow. The ball can land in the rough, or in the sand trap. Daddy can try to force it out with a wedge, but sometimes it digs itself in deeper. If the ball falls in the water hazard, it’s lost. I listen hard after Daddy makes his shot, but no splash. My hearing is excellent, except when I’m daydreaming.

 

Sometimes Daddy gets furious in a second—if I’m daydreaming at the dinner table and not listening to him—and he reaches out with one of his huge hands and slaps my face. The slap makes the world spin for a few moments. I’m just Daddy’s vassal, and so I have to endure the slap, and pay better attention. If I start to cry, he stares darkly at me through his invisible visor and says, “Don’t cry, if you know what’s good for you,” and Mommy only mops up the glass of milk that Daddy spills, her perfect blonde hair sprayed stiff like a princess’s coronet.

 

Mommy likes to mind her own business. She just listens when other women say mean things over afternoon coffee, her mouth pulled straight as a string, and later she says, “I don’t tell strangers what goes on in this house,” and “Family is family,” which is a repetition and a contradiction, because what could family be, except family?

 

I’m running as fast as I can down the fairway. I’m not a good runner, but at the golf course I’m only running against myself, and I’m light for nine—forty-eight pounds when the school nurse weighed me. The nurse yelled out the numbers, and I felt a shock, like she was forcing my finger into a lamp socket. I’ve always been one of the small kids in my class, but it’s worse for the littlest boys and for Melinda Marco, who has a medical condition, like the people in a book in the adult section of the library that I shouldn’t have been looking at.

 

This book is called Freaks, but then it says: “Do not call these unfortunate individuals ‘freaks,’” which is a contradiction. The photographs are of ladies with long beards like old-time presidents, and Siamese twins joined together under their skins so they can never be separated—they share bones and blood vessels and even hearts, and if one of them dies, the other one has to die too—and tall men like skeletons, and hugely fat ladies, and people with tiny skulls like dolls’ cups. 

 

Melinda isn’t horrible, but she’s too tall and big, with flaming pimples like a teenager and a thick line of dandruff along the part in her orange hair. Her mother tries to hide Melinda’s condition by buying Melinda flowered dresses with white collars—but Melinda’s chest sticks out like a teacher’s chest, and her girly dresses only make it worse. I would rather be undersized  and plain, with wispy brown hair, than have to be Melinda Marco, and I would rather be a girl than a boy. I have to wear ugly cat-eye glasses all the time, and my arms are too weak to climb the ropes in the gym. I’m only good at reading and remembering things, except for arithmetic.

 

This is another reason I’m grateful not to be a boy, because boys are good at math—Daddy loves math, he can do any kind of problem, he can take apart a wooden puzzle that has twenty-five odd pieces and put it back together into a perfect ball, which I never could do—and if someone threw the wooden puzzle ball for me to catch, it probably would hit me in the face, like it was drawn to me by magnetism. Even if the puzzle ball didn’t break my glasses, it would fall to bits, and Daddy would be angry. But no golf balls in my face today, please, because I’m Daddy’s caddy, and the caddy has to find the ball. Usually the caddy carries the clubs too, but when I tried to pick up his golf bag, Daddy said that I looked like an ant trying to drag an apple core. 

 

I’m running as fast as I can down the fairway. Sometimes I wonder if puberty will happen to me. It didn’t happen to some of the people in the do-not-call-these-unfortunate-individuals-freaks book. The thought of looking like a little girl forever makes a squiggle of fear run down my spine, but I could go to college—I have seen newspaper pictures of very smart kids allowed into college—and I could read and write and get around, even if I had to use a fake leg (if God took my leg instead of taking my eyesight, like I pray-bargain for him to do every time I have an eye exam, because my eyes are getting worse).

 

I couldn’t run on the artificial leg, probably, but I hardly ever run, except for gym class and special days like today. Nobody would want to marry me, of course, but nobody would want to marry me anyway—although I get crushes on boys that I keep secret. You don’t tell strangers what goes on in this house, and the mind is like a house, like an ant colony with different rooms, and some of the rooms are blocked, and no one can get inside them, ever. 

 

When I was in kindergarten and too young to know better, I told Mommy that I loved a boy with curly black eyelashes named Anthony, because when Anthony sat next to me at juice time, it made me feel happy.  But then Mommy told Daddy what I said, and Daddy thundered: “You are not to like that boy, Allegra; he’s not in your class.” I was confused, because Anthony was in my class—but then Daddy explained that class also means a group of people who belong together. 

 

I don’t believe that Anthony was in a different class than I am, but I started looking words up in the big dictionary on the stand in the living room that I have to use a stool to reach. Daddy was right about the meanings of words. Some of them have three or four meanings, and some have ten or twenty meanings. After I finish college, I could get a job writing dictionaries. And if I got a crush on a boy, I could think about Anthony, and that his sitting next to me at juice time was just a coincidence.

 

I’m running as fast as I can down the fairway, and I see Daddy’s ball, a few feet from the hole on the velvet green. I feel like an eagle that has spotted something from a great height—and I swoop down on the ball, and with the ball held so tightly in my right fist that I can feel its craters making marks on my palm, I run back up the fairway to where Daddy is waiting for me. I see him small at first, and then growing bigger until he is life-sized, and without stopping to catch my breath I smile, and hold out the ball. 

 

And then Daddy is laughing, harder than I have ever heard him laugh, and he says: “Allegra—you’re not—supposed—to bring the ball—back to me—you’re supposed—to tell me where it is—just tell me where it is—” and I feel embarrassment like stinging slaps all over my face, all over my body in its red shirt and shorts, because I was thinking about so many things that I couldn’t remember this basic rule of the game. 

 

Daddy isn’t mad, he really thinks this is funny—as if I were a stray dog that had brought him a stick to make him like me, to make him throw it back to me—and after I’m able to breathe again, I start laughing too.