Andrew lives two doors down in a split-level, which is a house that only has half of a second floor. We play at my house, though, because he likes it better. He only moved here at the end of the school year, but we are already best friends. Both of us are only children and both of us like to play tag and throw my softball back and forth, even though his hardball is smaller and easier to throw.
Softballs are supposed to be for girls, which makes no sense since girls’ hands are smaller. Except Andrew’s hands are smaller than mine because he’s a shrimp. When I told Mom my new best friend is a shrimp, she said calling people names is mean, but it was
Andrew who said he was a shrimp, so I don’t think that counts.
We are in my backyard sitting on the two-seater of my swing set across from each other. It is hot, but we are holding glasses of Kool-
Aid, so we are not swinging. The sun is burning, and I feel like a chicken cooking in the oven. I ask Andrew if he feels the same and he bock bocks and says yes. We chug our Kool-Aid and laugh when we are done at the same time. We lay the glasses in the grass beside us and start to swing. Harder and faster until we make enough wind to cool us down. Now I feel like a seagull, Andrew says, and we throw our arms out and fly.
“I’m telling you, that woman is a whore.”
I wonder what a whore is, but I don’t ask because it is ten o’clock and my bedtime is nine and I am not supposed to be listening.
He’s a very nice boy, Mom says, he’s Stephanie’s best friend.
“His mother is a hooker and no daughter of mine will play with the son of a whore.”
Ah, so that’s how she was able to buy her own house, Mom says. Dad slams his hand hard on the coffee table.
It sounds just like when he says Stephanie when I have been bad. I squish myself tight against the wall. I know I should go back to my room, but I want to know more about my best friend’s mom who is a hooker and a whore.
“You think this is some kind of joke, Bev?”
Mom sighs and says no, she does not think it is a joke, but even if it’s true that Andrew’s mother is a you-know-what, why shouldn’t Stephanie play with him?
“If it’s true? Oh, it’s true, Bev. Believe you me, that woman is a bonified pros-ti-chute.” Mom says, Walter if the boy’s mother is really…
Mom closes her mouth. Opens it again. Even the son of a lady-of-the-night needs a friend, she says. Then she wonders what Andrew does at night while his mom is working.
“Beverley, it’s 1979, for God’s sake. How can you be so naive? Hooking is a twenty-four-hour business.”
Good thing I have you to tell me everything I need to know about the ins and outs of prostitution, Mom says. I cover my ears and run back to my room.
The next day when Dad is at work, there is a knock at the door. Mom answers it because I am busy watching Leave it to Beaver. A minute later, Andrew is standing in the doorway to the den. I don’t think he should be here considering what Dad said last night, and I am about to say so, but then Andrew says Eddie is a suck-up and I agree and make room for him on the couch. Mom comes in and puts a tray piled with triangles of grilled cheese sandwiches and two glasses of Kool-Aid on the coffee table. Yum, Andrew says, grape is my favourite. When Andrew and I finish lunch, we lie across the couch to watch Flintstones. This is the life, he says, and burps. Then Mom yells for us to go outside and get some fresh air. I knew it, I say, and we go out the sliding door to the backyard.
We do cartwheels on the grass. We practice handstands and hold each other’s legs straight while we count one steamboat, two steamboat, three steamboat. My dad says your mom is a prostichute, I say. Is that the same as a Protestant, Andrew asks, holding my legs for me. I guess so, I say, then tell him to let go because my arms are getting tired. I bend until my feet go all the way over then let myself sink to the grass. I turn over onto my stomach to look for four-leaf clovers and Andrew lies down beside me. No, I don’t think my mom is a prostichute, he says, I think my mom is a Catholic because that’s what I am and she’s probably the same. I tell him I’m a Catholic too and he says he knows because we go to the same Catholic school.
That night, when I am in bed, I hear Mom and Dad fighting again. I go to my spot on the landing to peek through the metal bars of the railing. Mom is holding a can of Tab and taps the end of a cigarette into the clay ashtray I made for her at school. She is not allowed to smoke in the house.
“I thought I told you not to let her play with that kid!” Dad is pacing while he shouts.
You did indeed express your feelings on the matter, Mom says, taking a sip of her drink. Dad goes still.
“I ‘expressed my feelings on the matter’? Well, Beverly, I guess you didn’t understand my feelings, then. Let me make myself clear. I do not want Stephanie exposed to that cheap whore. Ever!”
She is not exposed to the boy’s mother, Mom says, and I already told you that even a boy whose mother earns her living off the libidos of frustrated suburban men needs a friend.
“Don’t you twist this around, Beverley.”
Mom says she is not twisting anything around.
“Don’t pretend you weren’t implying I am somehow involved in that woman’s whoring.”
I didn’t say anything about you, Mom says, I said frustrated suburban men. Now that you mention it, though, how do you know so much about her profession, she wonders. Dad’s face gets so red I think fire is going to come out of his ears like it does in cartoons.
“I know because Fred told me. You remember my boss Fred, right? Family man who volunteers as the church treasurer. I believe his wife, Samantha, is your best friend.”
Now you’ve made me wonder how Fred knows, Mom says. I run on tippy toes back to my bedroom.
Mom and I drive to Grandma’s cottage the next day. I am glad because even though I want to play with Andrew, I don’t want Mom to get in any more trouble. When we get there, Grandma has tuna sandwiches waiting for us on the picnic table. I take mine to eat in the rowboat that is tied to the dock. Mom says she doesn’t understand how I can eat in the boat and not get seasick, and I say because this is a lake and not the sea. After I finish eating, I hop into the water to look for minnows. If I stand very still, they will surround my legs in no time, but the ground is mushy, and I am afraid I will be swallowed up by quicksand if I stay in one spot. I see a frog at the water’s edge. Frogs are fast but I am good at catching them, and I get it on my first try. I stare into its bulging eyes. I try to pet its head, but it straightens its legs and launches itself back into the water. It pops up a few feet away, but I don’t try to catch it again.
Grandma calls me to help clean up the lunch dishes and I get mine from the rowboat. I don’t see Mom, and I think she must be inside the cottage, but Grandma says she went back to the city so that we can have special Grandma-Stephanie time. That’s what she used to call it when I was little kid, but I don’t mind. We go for a paddleboat ride, and I eat five chocolate chip cookies in the boat. We steer over to Mr. Parsons’ cottage at the end of the bay, where I have a swim and Grandma has a rum and coke with Mr. Parsons. He says his granddaughter Katie will be there soon and asks us to stay for dinner. Katie is two years older than me, and she used to be my best friend before Andrew moved onto my street. I lie on the dock on my stomach and look for fish in the spaces between the wood while I wait for Katie to be dropped off. When I hear the car, I jump up and run to get her, and we go into the woods to find marshmallow-roasting sticks.
Mr. Parsons grills hamburgers for dinner and we put so much ketchup on them that it squirts out the sides and all over our hands and faces. When we are finished eating, Katie and I ask if we can jump in the lake to clean off and her grandpa says no at the same time that my grandma says yes. Grandma tells him that she can save us if we get a cramp. We run to the end of the dock, and I say we should jump on the count of three but then Katie says her grandpa and my grandma are in love and I push her into the lake. She races up the ladder and says she’s gonna get me back, but I jump in before she can. Later, Mr. Parsons brings Grandma and me back to her cottage in his speedboat because it has a light. Grandma tells me to run up and get my pajamas on while she says goodbye to Mr. Parsons, and I think maybe Katie is right about them being in love. Her older sister is a teenager, so she probably knows a lot more about love than me. Maybe she even knows about prostichutes and whores and hookers.
The next morning, the cottage feels as hot as a bonfire, so I decide I will eat breakfast outside. I find scones under a dishtowel on the counter and put two on a plate. In the fridge there are strawberries and a bowl of whipped cream, so I take a handful of strawberries and plop a few spoons on top. I check the bookshelf for something to read. Mom says that nine years old is too young to read The Shining, but Grandma probably doesn’t know that, so I tuck it in my armpit before I head outside. I see you found breakfast, Grandma says from her chair on the dock, and I nod and go sit beside her. I read as I alternate taking a bite of scone with taking a bite a strawberry with cream. When I am done breakfast, I ask if I can go to Mr. Parsons’ cottage to see Katie. Grandma says yes but says that I need to be home for dinner because Mom is coming back.
At dinner time, Katie and I canoe back to Grandma’s cottage while Mr. Parsons follows behind us in his old green rowboat. We tell him we are good canoeists, and can go alone, but he says he needs to make sure we don’t drown. I whisper to Katie that he probably just wants to see my grandma to give her a big fat kiss. She laughs and we both make kissy sounds. We are so busy puckering and lip-smacking that we nearly crash into the dock, but Grandma is already standing there, and she reaches down to stop the canoe. What’s so funny, she asks, and we can’t help it, we bust a gut. Cheeky girls, Mr. Parsons says. I get out of the boat and tell Katie I will see her tomorrow, but Grandma says Mom and I are going home in the morning. I rush up to the cottage to beg her to let me stay at the cottage, forgetting to thank Mr. Parsons for having me.
I find Mom at the picnic table. She scoops two squares of lasagne onto a plate and hands it to me, but I don’t say thank you. Instead, I say that I don’t want to go home and ask if I can stay with Grandma. Mom says no. Why not, I ask, and she shakes her head no. Please, I say, pretty please with sugar on top? Mom says we are going home in the morning and that is final, and that whining will get me nowhere. I say I wasn’t whining and take my lasagne to eat in the rowboat. Later, while I am alone inside the cottage, the party line rings. Two longs and one short means the call is for Grandma, and I yell through the window that I’ll get it. It is Katie and she asks if I can sleep over, so I yell outside and ask Mom, who says I can. I decide I will ask Katie what a prostichute and a whore and a hooker are for sure.
Back at home the next day, I am in the den watching TV because I am feeling tired and grumpy. Katie told me what a hooker and a whore and a prostichute are and I did not like what she said. I rest my head on a pillow as Flintstones starts and I am asleep before Fred even shouts for Wilma. Mom wakes me up to tell me to go have a bath because we are having company for dinner, and that they will be here soon. The only company we ever have is my aunts and uncles when it is someone’s birthday, so I ask Mom whose birthday it is.
“What the heck are you talking about?”
“Who is coming for dinner?” I ask instead, and she tells me that our dinner guests are Andrew and his mother.
“Dad will be mad,” I say.
“Your father won’t be home for dinner. In fact, he won’t be home for a while because he had to go on an unexpected business trip,” she says. I think that is strange because Dad has never gone on a business trip before, but I don’t even get to ask about it.
“Go on, lazy bones, they’ll be here soon, and you need a bath.” She laughs as I jump up and run. I hope mom is making spaghetti with meatballs because that is Andrew’s favourite.