"Sophia Loren Florsheim!!"
If the whole world had earplugs, they would wear them for the times when my mother bellows like a human fog horn, though she seems to do it without warning. Usually, I've done nothing wrong – nothing terribly wrong, anyway. Just because one floods the basement because they forgot to turn off the sink, and then proceeds to hide it by using dirty laundry – which happens to be delicate – one time doesn't mean I deserve to be yelled at…at least, that's what I think. Theo tells me it was entirely deserved.
I happen to be writing something very profound before the sound of my name comes rattling through the floorboards; it's to be an essay for my English teacher, Mr. Blane. He told me to write about endings.
Mr. Blane believes that endings don't truly exist at the end of a story, but neither do they happen at the beginning. He's a very solemn person who reads Nietzsche and Albert Camus, and wears black turtlenecks all the time. He spouts a lot of philosophy and existentialism theories and fabrications that he's read in strange books written by Russians, and drinks entirely too much black coffee, cold. Yuck. Theo once told me that he was a 'recovering poet', whatever that means. I don't really care for him; he never makes any sense to me. He's gone on one hour tangents about how we shouldn't be depressed about life, yet his entire attitude has made me wonder if he doesn't contemplate hanging himself every night (he told us that's the best way).
So far I had come up with an idea that had me so intent, my pen had jumped across the page when the strangely warbled voice of my mother cut through the comfortable silence. Theo looks up from his reading and smirks, shaking his head but not saying a word.
"I wish I were deaf." I mutter as I stand and walk to the door of the library room. "What?!" I yell back. That's how our family communicates most of the time. To the rest of the neighborhood we just sound crazy.
"Why are there dirty footprints on my newly Mr. Cleaned floor?" Mothers are strange creatures. They know exactly why there are dirty footprints on the newly cleaned floor, but for some reason, they prefer to ask a second opinion, as if they don't trust themselves.
I shrug, even though I know she can't see me do it from the second floor. "Someone must have walked there I guess."
Even from upstairs I can hear her sigh, that long suffering kind of sigh that says 'Why in the world do I ask stupid questions?' or so I like to think. She says she sighs like that because her patience runs on a thin line, or was that thread? Maybe it was rope. Maybe it had nothing to do with anything straight, and maybe she meant eggshells. Patience running on eggshells makes sense, doesn't it? I make a note to ask Theo later; he remembers archaic clichéd lines like that.
"Sophia, why did you walk on my Mr. Cleaned floor with your muddy feet?" Finally, she asks the real questions. She should have gotten to the point ages ago.
I snap my fingers repeatedly, a habit that occurs only when I'm thinking of something supremely clever. "Well," I begin, "It just seemed too clean today."
Theo snorts and flips the page from within the library. He doesn't have to make up excuses like I do; his parents don't really care.
There's another sigh, this time a little more frustrated than long suffering. She should have given me up for adoption years ago – I know that's what she's thinking. It definitely would have saved having this conversation, and several hundred pointless rhetorical questions during the eighteen years of my life. "Come down here, grab the Mr. Clean, and clean this up, please." Her voice is tight with annoyance and frustration, but she's restraining it because I haven't said anything supremely stupid, yet.
I hesitate, but dive for it anyway. "I bought some Vim yesterday; could I use that?" My eyes twinkle with merry wickedness.
You see, my mother, Sarah Lee Florsheim (sounds like floorshine with an 'm'), is a very sweet character, generally speaking. She bakes cookies for bake sales, has driven me to countless soccer games, basketball games, volleyball games, grass hockey games – even a few rugby games before I broke my arm; she gardens, goes walking with a neighbor every day, and even grocery shops, though she doesn't take me anymore because she says I cause her stress about children in Africa. However, there is one dark and deeply hidden yet blatantly obvious secret about my mother – well, my whole family, really: They worship brand names like Catholics worship saints – and I'm talking ardent faith here. There are very specific brands that Sarah Lee will not use for various reasons, no questions asked, and Vim happens to be a sin. I would be doing penance the rest of the day for such heresy if I weren't so good at talking my way out of it.
"Sophia Loren –" before she has time to continue on another rant about why Vim is of the devil and should be cast into the fiery bin of garbage I open my mouth. There's no point in having to hear her preach, because Theo and I have heard the sermon repeated to us at least a hundred times since we were five. We're still not converted.
"I'm kidding," I interrupt and saunter down the stairs as if I'd been intending to clean the floor the whole time.
I pass our Pepsi decorated living room on my way to the kitchen. Yes, Pepsi is about as close to holy wine as it gets in the Florsheim family. We have Pepsi memorabilia dating back to the fifties – at least that's what my father claims. To me, it looks like a rusty old bottle cap. Every Pepsi bottle, can, cup, sticker, jersey, poster, lamp, knick knack, and even recorded commercials reside in that room, along with a picture of my father with the president of the Pepsi company, blown up and framed. We stalked him down during a family vacation. I don't think the President of the Pepsi company knew anyone could be so fanatical about a carbonated beverage. John claims that our collection is possibly one of the largest in the entire world. Even the walls are bright blue, with Tommy Hilfiger paint called 'Electric Rain', of course. I personally can't stand the stuff – the paint and the Pepsi.
I became "allergic" to the soda pop in grade school, when we'd done an experiment with nails, pennies, and Pepsi. We'd dropped pennies and nails into cups of Pepsi and had left it there for a week. I'd dropped a newly yanked tooth into the dark liquid. It had been my second front tooth to go, and it had been gummy with blood and bits of my mouth still attached. A week later, the pennies looked new, the nails, rusted, and my tooth…my tooth was nowhere to be found. My parents find the explanation of: "I wish to live a few years longer than thirty," somewhat amusing, and generally leave me to my juice boxes and water bottles – all organic and recyclable, of course.
My mom is waiting when I get to the kitchen. She has that annoyed yet amused look on her face, generally a good indication that she's not really mad. I get my murky grey-blue eyes from her, though mine seem a little lighter at times than hers. I also get my small ears from her, which are different only by the fact that mine are pierced in several places and stretched a little. Her blue eyes suddenly squint as she looks at my hair, frowning and sighing at what she sees.
"Did you put another bead in that mop of Rasta again?" My mom likes to think she's 'hip' every once in awhile, and I suppose she is in some ways, but not in this case.
Ever since I dredded my hair she speaks all seventies, which is at least part of her era, except that she was never even close to being a hippie. She grew up in a Mormon community…in Wisconsin. Saying words like 'groovy' and 'dude' would have been a sin or something.
I finger the colored bead that Theo found in a cereal box; it's made of blue glass with silver painted on it. "They're dreadlocks, Sarah Lee, and yes; Theo found it in his breakfast this morning."
"Oh, I hope he wasn't eating that no name brand stuff again. They put all kinds of things in their foods; I just don't understand how people can buy it."
I don't respond. I've learned long ago that responding to such a comment will either get me grounded, or in an argument, or both, and none of them are very appealing at the moment. This is part of the reason only Theo has been to my house, and only because at such a young age, I had no idea just how strange a pair my parents were, and still are.
John and Sarah Lee Florsheim, aside from their brand name religion and Pepsi shrine, like to make a game out of talking in product trademark lines. "Hi Honey! Have you had your break today?" The correct response is undoubtedly: "With two scoops of raisins! I'm lovin' it!" I don't participate; it will only encourage them. The other day in the car they went through the alphabet of brand names, starting with 'A' is for Astro Yogurt! Most of their arguments consist of why Febreeze changed the look of their bottles at least twice and why Chips Ahoy cookies seem to get smaller by the package. They're a couple of raving lunatics, but I love them to death.
I like to think that I'm the only sane and practical one in the family, but Theo smirks and rolls his eyes every time I make claim to sanity; it's probably because in fifth grade I dared him to go swimming in the creek – during the dead of winter. I'd stripped down to practically nothing and jumped in without him, just to prove to him it wasn't as cold as he predicted. Two weeks of pneumonia later and he was nattering me about being right. Theo was always right. I usually forget this and seem to enjoy trying to prove him wrong, ending myself up in one calamity or another.
Once I finish 'Mr. Clean'ing the floor again I head back upstairs to the library where Theo is still reading his comic book.
"You know, if you read more real books, you might be able to pass Physics." I comment as I sit down, earning myself a silencing look from my friend.
In all actual fact, Theo is quite brilliant, just not in the ways people think, and not always in public. He carries a wallet-sized book of eighteenth century poetry in his back pocket, and every once in awhile he'll quote it by heart. Sometimes I'll find him reading something other than comics, like Shakespeare or some philosopher. I'd once quizzed him for a test and he'd answered everything correctly, yet somehow failed an hour later. He's a very logical person with a vast amount of common sense, things that 'smart people' don't seem to understand; it's probably why his teachers send him out of class most of the time. He likes to get into great debates that are usually deeper than what the teaching material allows. They say he won't graduate again this year, but Theo says he won't go back. Generally he's a pretty quiet guy, and kind of strange. I don't always understand him, but my friend Naomi says that he's a 'good grounding kind of person' for me.
As I stare at my paper, the words that I had written don't make any more sense than my dad driving three hours to buy Hanes underwear. I sigh and snap my fingers, hoping it'll jog my memory, but after a few minutes I give up. It's useless to try and find my last train of thought; it's gone.
I slouch in my chair and lean my head back to get a good look at the ceiling, perhaps giving me the next sentence to my essay. Another sigh fills the space of comfortable silence and Theo puts down his comic book, giving me a contemplative kind of look. I tilt my head sideways a little and squint at him.
"I can't write your essay," Theo says finally. "You'd get kicked out of school." I hate it how he can tell what I'm thinking.
"Sophia!" My mother's voice again interrupts me. She really needs a new hobby – or maybe not. Her current hobbies border on obsessive and the neighbors are probably beginning to wonder. "Are you writing your essay? It's due tomorrow you know!"
Theo smirks and waits for my answer as I roll my eyes.
"I'm working on it!" I yell back and sit up. We sit in silence for awhile, just listening to lawn mowers and dogs barking and bikes racing through sprinklers outside. The library has a large bay window with a seat where I like to read; it looks over the entire neighborhood, the one that seems so appealing at the moment.
"Let's go." I say, dropping my pen and standing up.
Theo looks up, not ready to commit just yet to my idea of leaving. "You're finished already?" He asks doubtfully. Unless I've plagiarized something in a matter of seconds, there's no way that I'm done, and he knows it.
I shrug and begin wandering to the door. "No, but I'll finish it tonight or something. Let's go."
"Sophie," he looks at me like he's disappointed, the look that always perturbs me every time he uses it. His eyes are kind of grey, and they seem so large when he looks at me the way he does, like the moon really.
I toss back a pleading look, the one that's led him to hitchhike with me to Louisiana. We never did catch an alligator. "We'll only be gone a couple of hours, and then we can come back and work on it. I just need some air."
It takes a few long minutes. There's a pause of silence, then he glances at me, and slowly he concedes, something which isn't hard to make him do. His steps follow somewhat gradually, unsure of what troubles we'll get into this afternoon.
The day is muggy when we get outside, yet the smell of purple lilacs from the next door neighbor's house drifts through the heavy air and permeates all of our senses, reminding me of a steam bath. Every yard seems to be watering, the sprinklers shooting at the grass like machine guns. The end of June just feels so perfect in comparison with the soggy spring that we'd just gone through. I take a deep breath of the earthy air and smile as the door closes behind us. Sarah Lee will probably wonder, but hopefully she's too deeply involved in her Stouffer's dinner to care.
We take our long boards and bomb around town for half an hour, passing the same yard with the yappy Pekinese in a pink bow at least four times. A lady from the city lives there. I think her name is Miss Delview, but she rarely comes out of her huge house with the yellow stucco, unless it's to sunbathe with her top off. I heard Mrs. Lane say once that she used to be famous, but something wrong happened to her face and now no one will take her back. I don't care whether it's true or not, her dog is bloody annoying; but it's interesting to hear the rumors about people around here. There aren't too many exciting things that happen in our town, which is probably why the citizens that reside there take to creating half-truths.
The town of Laughlin is one of those towns that you can't seem to escape, yet can't really stand to live in. My dad has to drive one hour to the city just to work, and a lot of other people do as well. At least he's driving a car that saves the environment by being more fuel efficient. There's a corner store, an ice cream shop, gas station, hardware store, grocery store, and a few clothing shops – not much, though. We're surrounded by forest – mostly Firs and Evergreens and Willows and all the other kinds of trees – and we have a large river that meanders through peoples' backyards and under some of the roads. Boney Creek – that's what most of us call it – flooded this spring, and had Mr. Wells' basement under at least three feet of water. Sometimes I wish I could have lived somewhere other than the same house my entire life. Theo said that when he was little he and his family lived by the ocean where the sun melts into the water at the end of the day like ice cream.
We end up hiking to our spot, the one that no one knows about. Theo and I have several spots that we like to think no one knows of, like the one at the river where we'd built a fort and camped there the better part of one summer. The one I like the most is high above Laughlin, overlooking the town and the mountains surrounding it. A small cliff juts out, and if one were to fall off of it, they'd probably die. An old homestead used to sit there, cuddled by trees that surrounded a little meadow. Now it's just a pile of rotting grey wood where we'd once tried to grow a marijuana plant – it didn't work. Someone must have died there because there's a concrete cross that sits almost at the edge of the cliff. Theo and I like to sit by it to watch the sun go down. Theo goes there a lot by himself, just to sit and think, he says; he was the one who found it in the first place.
For a long time we say nothing, simply look out over the town and the mountain range that stretches beyond it. I pretend I can see the smoggy gray-brown pollution rising from the city an hour away, and then I get a melancholy kind of feeling. June is coming to an end, and I don't know what I'll do. My parents want me to go to college, but I really don't want to, not because I have horrible grades, but because I don't really care enough to go. It's a dilemma that's had me up late at night thinking for several weeks.
I lie down on the moss-covered earth with my legs hanging over the edge of the cliff as I stare up at the bleached blue sky. "Theo?"
"Hm." He answers, still staring out at the landscape with a brooding look covering his features.
"What are you going to do this summer?"
He throws a pebble into the empty space before us and shrugs. "I don't know. What I do every summer, I guess." Theo loves to fix cars, so he does it all summer and makes people pay him for it. Sometimes he makes little go-carts that we race around the Kerr's cherry orchard. My dad lets him use the old garage out in our backyard to "tinker" as he likes to call it; my dad was never any kind of mechanic, so he likes that it's getting some use. I like to watch him sometimes on a half-melted lawn chair, talking absently about deep philosophical topics like how horrible and torturous Hell is going to be. Theo had told me in tenth grade that he didn't believe in Hell, he believed in science. I'd asked him if that meant he was going to Heaven, and he'd laughed.
There's no grand adventure teeming through his brain though, and it makes me a little disappointed, though I shouldn't be surprised. The only time he's ever come up with a brilliant escapade is when he began building his fort out by the river. We'd even built a raft and sailed it down the white waters a few yards before it fell apart. Ever since then, however, it's been me with the ideas. Theo throws another pebble and glances at me. "What are you doing this summer?"
I sit up on my elbows and frown. "I think I'll get a job. Mr. Ackerman said I have good people skills."
Theo looks at me dubiously. "You need people skills to run a worm farm?"
It's a good question. Mr. Ackerman runs his own worm farm, Ackerman's Worms, only a mile or two from where Theo lives. He told me just the other day that I had good people skills, which would be perfect for working on his farm. Now that Theo's brought up the question, working with worms all day doesn't seem like it would require too many people skills.
I shrug. "I don't know."
We sit there a few good hours before the sun starts to set and I remember that I have an essay to write. Tomorrow is the last day of school, and if I don't hand it in, I never will, leaving me with a less than perfect grade.
Theo leaves me to go hang out with some buddies of his down by the river, and I'm left in my room, tapping my pen against a blank sheet of lined Hilroy paper, wondering what in the world I'm going to write about.
The End. I write in purple ink, and then frown. I rewrite over the words in black for the sake of my deeply depressing English teacher. Purple probably gives him nightmares or something. Besides, if he ends up grading my paper on the basis of ink colour, I might as well forget about writing something interesting; it won't matter.
The end is so final, I think. The end never really ends at the end, it continues. For the sake of the story, there has to be an end, but it doesn't really stop there. They all live happily ever after, but what does that really mean? My mind begins buzzing and bustling with new ideas that seem to flow onto the page, never really making sense, but still running with the same train of thought.
By the time Theo hops through the window at eleven, I almost have two pages; just enough to satisfy Mr. Blane's philosophical mind.
"Done?" Theo asks as he comes to stand over me. He smells of beer and pot, something the kids around Laughlin enjoy quite a bit for lack of better entertainment. I abstain because even if it's natural, I have enough sanity issues without the use of drugs.
I glance up and shrug. "Kind of, but at this point, I don't really care."
He rests his chin on the top of my head and skims through what I've written. When we were little he took a speed reading class, and now he can finish a book in hours instead of days. I feel that to thoroughly enjoy a book one must take time to read each word; it's like eating ice cream. If you wolf down a scoop, you're apt to get a brain freeze instead of remembering what it tasted like.
"It's good." He says finally and goes to sit on the couch. He's lying, because he's a perfectionist, but he changes the subject before I can say anything about it. "I don't think there'll be too many kids showing up to school tomorrow. They're having a bonfire down by the river, and Rylan brought a keg."
"Rylan Davies? That kid is a hermit! What's he doing bringing a keg?" Really, the kid never speaks a word to anyone, and half the time he disappears into some secret hallway to listen to music and do homework, or sniff white board markers – red ones.
Theo shrugs again, his grey eyes half closed like he's stoned.
"Why'd you come here if there's a party?" I ask, absently writing my name in the corner of my paper. I write it in purple to see if Mr. Blane will kill himself over it.
"I dunno," he replies, "I was tired and Troy McTague was getting drunk and angry."
Troy McTague is the town's golden boy. If half of the people around here knew how much that kid drinks, they would probably trade his halo for a pair of horns. He has a scholarship to some classy university out in New York, and he cheated on his SAT's. I don't like him in the least, but that's probably because I'm also one of the only girls he hasn't screwed. Every time Troy drinks too much – which is almost always – he tends to want to pick a fight with anyone that will fight back.
"Hm." I mutter as I scan a line of my essay and wince; it really is bad. Some drabble about how the end is relative due to the belief or lack thereof in the afterlife, and then it goes off on some rabbit trail. Who knows, maybe it's brilliant and I'm just not deep enough to psychoanalyze it. I resolve that it's too late to start over or do anything about it. What I have will have to do, and besides, it's the last essay of the year.
Theo makes his bed and passes out some time while I'm brushing my teeth and getting dressed for bed. I pause as I notice he hasn't even bothered to take his shoes off, strange boy.
"Goodnight, Theo." I whisper as I turn the light off. He mumbles something like 'Mmuhyehhnn…' and rolls over.
My eyes stare at the ceiling of blank darkness. I've never been able to sleep until sometime after midnight. I read somewhere that the chemicals in your body to make you sleep don't begin to be produced until nine at night, and I'm sure that since I live in a home with lunatics I probably have some mutated gene that makes it longer. An owl hoots outside. He lives in the Granger's back yard and makes the night just a little more unnerving.
Through the strings of thoughts that rattle through an addle mind, I just get a feeling: something is about to happen, something very profound. I'm not sure what it is, but I know that I'm usually right about my premonitions. For instance, I had a feeling that Theo was hurt one night, and at three in the morning he hobbled through the window all banged up. He said he'd gotten into a fight, but he wouldn't say with whom. I also had a feeling that my aunt Ida would win the lottery, and it turned out she'd won five dollars that day; it was at Bingo, but that's not the point.
No, something is going to happen. Something amazing.
I'm just not sure what that amazing something is going to be.
A/N: Something new. Please review!