Today is Mother’s Day, so we’re in Edgewater for a barbecue. All my cousins are here, the whole family. Yesterday, we got hotdogs and chop meat for hamburgers at the A&P, Cheez Doodles and ice cream sandwiches for dessert. Mommy was up late last night, making macaroni salad to bring with us this afternoon. I like macaroni when it’s plain, but she ruins it when she puts onions and green things in it.
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 don’t break balls. So already, I helped Daddy load beers into the big cooler and covered them with ice. Then I asked if I could put Squeeze Cheese on stuff – crackers and 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, so I could see the insides first. I wasn’t sure if I was gonna like it or not. The syrup leaked down my hand. It was messy, but the cherry was so good. Mommy ate hers in one bite. I wanted to go slow and make mine last.
Right now, I keep trying to think of things I can do to get attention, so I can have my candy sooner. I’m real good at making beds, but all the beds are already made.
Aunt Margaret let me tidy up her jewelry box. I untangled 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. Maybe even 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 want to run wild like my cousins. They get to do things I can’t. When I ask, my mother “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 it was that 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. Michael Kevin just came home, so now, it feels more like a party. He’s fifteen and really 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, all the soda goes everywhere. My clothes are drenched, and the patio is dripping in sticky red liquid. My cousins laugh, so I grab another can, kicking this one across the porch and down the stairs before opening it up between two parked cars. A volcano of orange explodes 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 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 Uncle Mike 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 inside, past the kitchen where the grown-ups are laughing and being all loud. Into the bathroom again. 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 for 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 underwear. 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, stumbling around and crashing into each other. They think it’s funny. Daddy has a big knot on his forehead, and the front of his boxer shorts are soaking wet. Two men guide him up the stairs and back inside, where no one else can see.
Once they get him cleaned up, Daddy 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 know where he is. Everybody else eats, and the grown-ups keep drinking.
When things calm down, 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 my hand is hot and the chocolate starts to melt. “Eat it, stupid,” somebody says. They’re just jealous because theirs is gone already.
Everyone gets excited when we hear the Mr. Softee truck, two blocks over. Mommy reaches for her pocketbook, slung along the back of the chair. She gives Judy money to get us ice cream. As we charge out of the house and down the steps, I finally 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 fall 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. “Are you okay?”
“Yes,” but I still cry. There is blood. We both stare at my chocolate, caked in crud on the filthy ground.
“Don’t be sad,” she says.
“But there’s no more,” I sob. I knew it for a fact. 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. “If you watch my baby, 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.