Today is Mother’s Day, so we’re in Edgewater for a barbecue. All the cousins are here, the whole family. Yesterday, we picked up hotdogs and chop meat for hamburgers at the A&P. Mommy let us get Cheez Doodles and ice cream sandwiches for dessert. She was up late last night, making macaroni salad to bring with us this afternoon. I like macaroni when it’s plain, but this kind has onions and green things in it. So, no thanks.
There’s a box of chocolate covered cherries on top of the refrigerator in the kitchen here at Uncle Mike’s. Aunt Margaret said we could have some if we’re good. Already, I helped Daddy load beers into the big cooler and covered them with ice. After that, I got to put Squeeze Cheese on stuff – crackers, celery, but mostly, my fingers.
I love chocolate covered cherries. I’ve had them once before, on Valentine’s Day. There were two in a box Mommy got for herself at Simelson’s because she knew Daddy wouldn’t remember. She opened them up right outside the drug store. I took a little nibble first, so I could see the insides. I wasn’t sure if I was gonna like it or not. The syrup leakdc down my hand and it was messy, but the cherry was so good. Mommy ate hers in one bite. I wanted to go slow and make mine last.
I keep trying to think of things I can do to get attention in a good way, so I can have my candy sooner. Everybody’s bed is already made. Aunt Margaret lets me tidy up her jewelry box. I untangle the necklaces and put them in the two bottom drawers, bracelets in the middle section and earrings on top.
There’s an ashtray filled with change in one of the bedrooms with so many quarters. There’s gotta be at least, I don’t know, a lot of money in it. Quarters are the best kind of change. With a quarter, you can buy two things of gum and a Charleston Chew. With a bunch of quarters, you can get even more.
I linger near the bureau where the ashtray’s at. I steal three quarters and stir the coins that are left. No one will notice anything’s missing, and even if they do, they won’t think I did it. They’ll blame Donald or Joseph before they blame me. Those boys are always getting into trouble. I go ahead and take some dimes and a few nickels. I’m hardly ever in places where I get to spend money, but I feel better just having it. I could buy a lead pencil and a big pink eraser from the supply closet at school, chocolate milk with my lunch. The bulge in my pocket makes a jingling sound when I walk, so I transfer all the change into a piece of paper towel and tuck it behind some shampoo bottles on the window ledge in the bathroom. I’ll come back and get it later, when it’s time to leave.
I get excited when we come to Edgewater. I wish I could run wild like my cousins. They get to do things my mother won’t allow. When I ask, she says “No,” and “Don’t ask me again.” My sister and I have to sit around with the boring adults. Judy brought her book with her, so at least she has something to do. I have nothing. Mommy says I should play with Christine, but she’s kinda still a baby.
After the boys return from wherever they went, probably buying candy up at the stores, we sit on beach chairs out back and play cards. War and Go Fish are the only games I know. Now that Michael Kevin is home, it feels more like a party. He’s fifteen and so much fun to be around. He puts the big stereo speaker in the window and blasts “Honky Tonk Woman,” over and over. Nobody makes him turn it down.
I don’t know how it happened, but all of a sudden, Michael is cooler than anyone I know. He wears dungarees with boots and no shirt. He has hair under his armpits. When some kid rides up on a minibike asking for a cigarette, Michael gives him one. That’s how I know he smokes.
I take a black cherry soda out of the cooler and start shaking it to the music. When I pop the top, the contents go everywhere. My clothes are drenched, and the patio is dripping in red liquid. My cousins laugh, so I grab another can, kicking this one across the porch and down the stairs before opening it in between two parked cars. A volcano of orange erupts and fills the street, spraying both vehicles and the sidewalk in front of the house. Everybody cheers.
I move in for a third try. Donald says I shouldn’t, that I’m gonna get in trouble, but I don’t care. I fish through the ice for a ginger ale. That’s when Uncle Mike comes charging out the back door. He grabs a hold of Dennis and Joseph, picking them up off the ground by their shirts. The rest of us scatter.
Uncle Mike punches Dennis in the arm, so hard it makes him cry. When he kicks Joseph in the behind, he loses his balance and they both fall over. I’ve never seen him so mad. “Get the hose and clean this shit up,” he says, gritting his teeth. Neither boy tells on me. I feel bad but say nothing. I’m too afraid. I go back inside, past the kitchen where the grown-ups are laughing and being all loud, into the bathroom. I lock the door and check on my money. I sit on the toilet for a little while and think about more stuff I can buy.
It feels like we’ve been here forever. I wish we could just eat and go home. Daddy went with Uncle Mike to Joe Maloney’s house, and they’ve been gone almost three hours. My mother sent the boys up the block to check on things. They came back saying Daddy’s drunk, that he took his pants off and can’t put them back on. Now, he’s standing in the middle of the street in his boxer shorts. Somebody needs to go get him. Mommy won’t do it, she’s too embarrassed.
Neighbors steer my father this way, while us kids watch from the porch. Some of my cousins’ friends imitate him, staggering around in circles. They think it’s funny. Daddy has a big knot on his forehead, and the front of his underwear is soaking wet. Two men guide him up the stairs and inside, where no one else can see.
Once Daddy is cleaned up and fed, he falls asleep on the bottom bunk in the boys’ room. Us kids take turns watching the doorway in case he wakes up to pee and doesn’t remember where he is. Everybody else eats, and the grown-ups keep drinking.
Even though Mother’s Day is pretty much ruined, I remind Aunt Margaret about the chocolate covered cherries. She opens the box and lets us each have one. I want to save mine for as long as i can, but the chocolate starts to melt in my hand as I carry it from room to room. Somebody yells that I’m stupid if I don’t eat it. They’re just jealous because theirs is gone already.
The sound of the Mister Softee truck two streets over gets everyone excited. Mommy reaches for her pocketbook, slung over the back of the chair. She gives Judy money for our ice cream. As we charge out of the house and down the steps, I eat my candy and start to run. When I trip on a piece of broken sidewalk, it flies out of my mouth and tumbles across the pavement. I land on one knee and both hands.
Christine catches up to me. She is pushing a baby stroller. Her doll is naked and has green magic marker all over her eyelids and one cheek. “I saw you fall. Are you okay?”
“Yes,” I tell her, but I am crying, because there is blood. We both stare at my chocolate, caked in crud on the filthy ground.
“Don’t be sad,” she says. “We can see if there’s any left.”
“There are no more,” I sob. I was sure of it. I saw the empty box in the garbage. I cry even harder.
She looks up at the ice cream truck and back toward the house. “I’ll get you a rag.”
As soon as she leaves, I pick my candy out of the dirt and put it back in my mouth. It makes a crunching sound inside my head when I bite down, but it still tastes like chocolate.