It began the summer of my twelfth birthday. I awoke, as I always did, begrudgingly distempered that the sun dared to look at me. My mood was dark you see, liquid black, and the morning light transformed my dream of greatness into just being a kid who needed to clean her room. I was simply little Frannie, daughter of Francine and Michael Stevens, the preacher’s wife and the preacher. On the adolescent food chain, this put me second to last, with only the high school principal’s son, Ernest, trailing me.
I dressed in black denims and a navy tie-dye. I had to maintain my dark side at Webster Middle School; avoiding the goodie-two-shoes label my father’s calling would acquire me. Hell, it was his calling, not mine. I didn’t need to suffer for him any more than he needed to give up chocolate because it turned my face into a demonstration of connect the dots.
My mother didn’t appreciate my views. She bought fluorescent t-shirts that I found spontaneously hanging in the forefront of my closet. Not to hurt her feelings, I wore one whenever we gathered in the driveway to wash the Chevy. It made her happy. I guess that mattered to me back then, though I don’t remember thinking too much about it at the time.
School was a domain of collection, stereotypes abound. There were nerds, prom queens, jocks, yuppies, hippies, hicks, and my group of loners. Prom queens ruled, and if they took a shine to any other group, the entire social ladder of education would shift. At the end of the last day of school, the year of my twelfth birthday, the prom queens took a shine to us loners.
Summer plans changed at a rate of speed undocumented as every queen sort the companionship of a loner for her poolside parties and mall excursions. I found the idea of spending my long awaited summer as a socially acquired manifestation a bit lame. Screw the prom queens, let them sit by the pool with each other, was how I felt about it. That didn’t stop Annabelle Masterson from setting her sights on me, though.
Four foot six inches of blonde hair and hazel eyes gave Annabelle the Barbie look that caused spontaneous whiplash whenever she walked pass the football team. Watching it made me feel ill, but the cafeteria selections were more lethal coming up than going down. Why give her the satisfaction of seeing my annoyance, anyway.
A fellow loner, Mickey Rutgers, a dread-locked, purple wearing, drag queen of a teen, whispered a warning in my ear as Annabelle began her descent on me. Alas, I failed to comprehend quickly enough. Before I knew it, tiny red fingernails attached to bony fingers, bulimic fingers if ever I saw them, had wrapped themselves around my hand. I heard the hideous sound of her high-pitched voice saying my name without the better-than-thou disdain, and it caused me to look at her, really look at her. That’s when it happened. Her all too bright and brilliantly white, my father’s a dentist, smile broke into a flat mark across her face and her eyes welled up in liquid blue. Just my luck, I got the prom queen with feelings.
I tried to pay attention to her self-pitying tirade, but I began debating whether to attend the Saturday matinee at the local cinema that weekend. It wasn’t until the spunky tidbit of boy treat realized that I didn’t care she existed that she grabbed a hold of both of my shoulders and shook me.
“Why aren’t you listening to me, Frannie?” is what I thought I heard as the violent side of my nature exploded. My fist pounded her right in her daddy’s handiwork, splitting her lips against her front teeth. I’d like to say I regretted it immediately, but whom would I be fooling anyway.
The deep red of her blood overshadowed the blonde of her hair, as she stood there with her hands balled into fists determinedly placed on her hips. She let the liquid blue stream down her face as she settled a cold stare directly at me.
“Do you feel better now?” she spat out with contempt, and difficulties, giving that I had split her lips.
Actually, I did feel better, but even I knew better than to say it. My daddy was a preacher! In case you don’t see the relevance, think penance.
“I’m sorry, but you startled me. You really shouldn’t go around putting your hands on people.”
She glared at my audacity to defend my aggression, but something started working in that pea size brain of hers. I thought I saw cogs and wheels beginning to spin as she prepared to speak.
“You’re right. I’m sorry that I grabbed you, but I’m just so desperate and you’re my only hope, Frannie. Please say you’ll help me. If you really are sorry about what you did, I mean.” The conniving little witch backed me up into the politically correct corner of the moment and I began to flail.
“Well, um, yeah, I guess; if I can. What’s wrong, Annabelle?” I said as I began my own prayer that whatever it was would be beyond my control, thus removing my obligation to her deviousness.
She paused, looking around at the kids that had gathered on the corner to watch me pulverize a prom queen. Did I mention that prom queens ruled? Well everyone knows that when you are at the top, everyone else wants to see you fall.
“Not here, Frannie, please. Can’t we just go to my house? It’s kinda private, ya know.”
The question came with sincerity, I thought, which threw me off guard. What could I say? ‘Uh no, I don’t feel like it because I’m the biggest jerk that ever lived’. Uh huh, I was between the proverbial rock and the hard place.
“Okay, Annabelle.” I smiled, giving her credit for the victory. I may have thrown the first punch, but she got the win by decision based on the knock out combination of guilt, fear, and her knowledge of my daddy’s holy retribution.
Nothing could have prepared me for Annabelle’s request as I walked into the courtyard of her parent’s estate, complete with swimming pool and tennis courts. Her parents were out of town, as they often were she confided, and her dog of ten years had died suddenly. Her parents, not being very religious, didn’t have a Bible in the house and little Annabelle Masterson wanted to give Riviera, her poodle, the Last Rites!
“And Consuela, our housekeeper, doesn’t speak English really. I mean she has a couple of phrases, like ‘I’ll tell your Mama’ and ‘such a nice girl’. You must know how it is, Frannie.” Annabelle babbled continually, holding a towel drenched in blood to her face, less I forget that I had punched her.
“Nope.” I looked at her as I answered her honestly, realizing that Annabelle really didn’t understand. It had never crossed her mind that we didn’t have servants. It was at that moment that I changed. I suddenly realized that Annabelle had no idea that most parents didn’t often leave their children in the care of a non-English speaking servant, or any servant for that matter. I felt something, pity, no, compassion. There it was, all my father’s hard work paying off! I felt Christian, and I looked at Annabelle for the first time as a person. The most amazing thing happened in the next second, completely changing my life forever.
“Will you give Riviera her Last Rites, Frannie, please?” the liquid blue dropping from her cheek directly into my heart as she asked me for help melted my barricade of cool indifference. God, help me, it happened. I found a friend. Could someone please tell me, huh, what does a loner do when she finds a friend?
I could recite all the boring details, but to what avail. That summer, I gave my rendition of the Last Rites to Riviera, and six years later, Annabelle and I drove out of town together. College bound, we made a perfect pair, the boy-crazed fashion trendsetter, and the suffering artist determined to discover the meaning of life in the stroke of a paintbrush.
We enjoyed the first few weeks of life at the university with a compromise. Every weekend, I could invite home for dinner a different Adonis, hand chiseled and toned by the Greek gods no doubt, if Annabelle could paint their portraits as only she could in pale silhouettes of light blue and ivory. You see time had taken its wise and all knowing toll on us. I had given to Annabelle a depth of life beyond the football field, and she to me the knowledge of joy simply to enjoy. The only ones surprised by our metamorphosis more than us, were the preacher’s wife and the preacher, who no doubt viewed Annabelle as both my salvation and my downfall. I’d like to say that the Masterson’s were surprised, but in truth, I don’t think they ever really noticed.
I wish I could say that Annabelle had failed to notice her parents’ indifference, but it often haunted her with lingering insecurities and sadness. Whenever her mood turned towards this darkness, I would catch a glimpse of my old self, before I met Annabelle. I imagined the Masterson’s at my mercy as a direct result of retribution by the fist of the preacher’s daughter. I never had enough time to turn that daydream into reality, though, as Annabelle was incapable of remaining dark for very long.
By our second year, we were out of the dorm and living on the edge in the city. School by day, work by afternoon, drinking and dancing until sunset, and finally studying until the sun came up and we started all over again. Weekends, we lay around in our pajamas, ate junk food, and planned our future. Yes, it was a singular future because as of yet, we couldn’t imagine life as individuals.
We were Annie and Frannie, sisters on the verge of everything. We just didn’t realize that being on the verge of everything meant coming to terms with the unpleasant as well. We faced reality the year of graduation, while sitting at home on my front porch, opening the mail to retrieve the diplomas sent by the university for our efforts.
We had come home to attend my father’s graveside funeral a few weeks before graduation, and we stayed because my mother had a breakdown facing my father’s passing. It should only have been one diploma in the mail, but Annabelle was Annabelle. She never left my side, at least not until I tried to force her to return to life because I knew it was wrong to hold her back.
Knowing Annabelle the way I did, I knew it would take more than a punch in the face to turn her away from me. Therefore, I reached into the past for my cloak of liquid black and bitterness, and then I did the unthinkable. I did what ever it took to hurt Annabelle enough to drive her away from me and towards her destiny. She was the best painter our university had ever had the privilege of tutoring, and I had to give her back to the world as the world had giving her to me. After all, I was the preacher’s daughter at heart.
The solemn quiet of that night consumed the house by sundown. I helped my mother to bed and returned to the kitchen to wash the supper dishes. I waited for Annabelle to sit at the table to sketch me as she had done every night since our return. It was the compromise we had arranged upon arriving; she would cook, I would clean, and thus we would all survive.
Annabelle entered with her usual flare, turned a chair towards the sink, and sat with charcoal in hand staring at me. As soon as she had taken the mental measure of the light and distance between us, her hand began to play across her pad in fluid motion. She was as smooth as running water in her movements, as she worked without a thought to what she was doing. She was instinct, and in her domain, she was free to discuss all of life’s little nuances with me as she sketched. I took in the moment, pulling it close to my heart since I reconciled that it was the last that we would share.
Annabelle’s conversation drifted towards the past. I heard descriptions of several old classmates as they appeared to her at the market earlier.
“Mickey Rutgers got married! Can you believe it, just up and moved to Massachusetts with that moose he used to date from Wimbley High? What was his name, oh yeah, Richard.” She giggled and continued.
I kept my back to her so that I could hide my nervousness. Only one of us was aware that this was our last conversation, and I dreaded how I knew it must end. Before I realized how much time had passed or how close her voice was, I felt her hands upon my shoulders turning me from the dishes to face her.
“Why aren’t you listening to me, Frannie?”
These words broke my heart as I realized that they were not just the first words of our friendship but they would also be the last. I knew it was time.
“What do you want from me Annie? My father’s dead, my mom begs to join him and you want to gossip about the locals and expect me to pay homage to your needs. God, I am so tired of coddling your every whim.” I screamed the words in a tone as close as I could get to anger as my heart shattered.
“Frannie, what are you saying?” Annabelle was beyond hurt and confusion, yet she reached for me with her words to try to understand. She wanted to help me. I saw it in her eyes, and I knew that I would have to be more convincing.
“My God, Annie, how long does it have to be all about you, huh? How long can I pity you because your parent’s never knew you existed? I don’t have parents left to share with you anymore. I don’t have the time to worry about you; it’s time you just grew up. My mother needs me now, Annie. For once in your life, try not to be so selfish.”
I screamed these words quickly with my eyes closed so that my tears could not witness the pain that I knew was on her face. The pain I had meant to put there. I closed my eyes so she didn’t see that doing this to her, for her, was killing the part of me that had managed to survive my father’s passing.
Calmness settled over me as I thought I heard my father’s voice telling me to set Annabelle free. I opened my eyes in the wind of change, as I began to regret my actions, and began to think that there must be another way to get Annabelle to return to her life. I expected her to be standing there, bloodied, with her fist balled up and determinedly placed on her hips. I saw the empty room, the sketchpad on the table, and I listened to the sound of the front door creaking closed as she walked away. I expected too much.
Thinking I could not stand another moment, I moved toward the table and sat, less I collapse. With tremble in my hand, I picked up Annabelle’s sketchpad both afraid to see and not to see the truth that always escaped her hands. I stared hard at the picture for several minutes, until the ice inside my soul began to melt and drip from my face upon the page.
As the clear spots of pure emotion stained her masterpiece, I saw my father’s face in charcoal, more life like than the last memory of him that lingered in my mind. I was amazed at how Annabelle always managed to get to the heart of every thought, word, and deed. I saw her words in printed blocks across the bottom and I realized that yet again, she had bested me. For across the bottom of the page she had written me a note.
“I love you too, bonehead. I’ll call from New York, as soon as I sell my first painting. It will be the one I will call ‘FRIEND’, you know, ‘The Preacher’s Daughter’.”
The drips of sorrow became fluid laughter as I realized that she had set me free. She was not sacrificing her life for me. She was allowing me to make a sacrifice for her. She was giving me the gift of giving, and in so doing, giving me another piece of my father to cherish in the character that he instilled in me. She was wisdom, recognizing that moving on into life would be easier for her than coming to terms with returning to the past would be for me.
Once again, the laughter turned to sadness as I realized that in accepting her gift, I would accept the loneliness of living my daily life without her. During the next several days, I framed that sketch of my father and hung it in my mother’s parlor. It remains there, on the wall above my father’s favorite chair even to this day. Though Annabelle’s paintings now reside on the walls of the world’s most famous artistic domains, it is this piece of her work that I treasure most of all. I point to this sketch whenever I tell my daughter about her Aunt Annie and how we became best friends forever the summer of my twelfth birthday.
THE BACKWARD CAROUSEL earned an Honorable Mention in the 2008 Competition.
Nancy A. Silveria, born and raised in New England, aspires to become a published writer. As a graduate of the Community College of Rhode Island, in the study of Clinical Laboratory Science, Nancy works for a leading New England hospital specializing in infant care. The only thing she loves as much as family and friends is the literary realm, and she now creates poetry, articles, and short stories. Her first novel has recently been submitted for competition.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
THE BACKWARD CAROUSEL by Nancy A. Silveria
Posted by Lorian at 11:30 PM