My sister unlaced her white buckskin shoes. Her blue eyes were slit with a severity. ”We are going to catch frogs,” she barked. “Now, Chris, you go along the far end of the pond. “And Edmund,” she turned to me. Her voice turned to a tone of a tired, life-long annoyance. “You stay here and be quiet.”
My sister is younger than me and bosses me around. I know most people would be upset at such a predicament. I don’t care (but I really do). There is nothing I can do about it. I am not allowed to hit girls.
I really don’t care for catching frogs either. I am too nervous to catch frogs. The thought of holding something alive in my hands makes me jittery. The notion of a little heart, brains and lungs; all slippery and pulsating in my palm almost makes me throw up and faint. My mother says I have a very Catholic nervous system.
A shriek rolled down a hill fourteen year old Neil was haranguing his eight-year-old sister, Farley. Farley has a white canopy bed piled with stuffed animals and has caramel colored teeth. She is sickly, confused and operates on a high decibel. Farley was wearing a plaid and ruffled swimsuit Farley’s stringy brown hair flapped off her shoulders, Neil grabbed a gnarl of it, twisted it, and shouted, ”That will teach you, Bitch!” With his pointed black boot, he kicked her as if he was dribbling a soccer ball.
“Stop it Neil,” she screamed.
Neil’s fist plummeted right on her spine. It resounded in her chest and ricochet off mine. Farley’s eyes and mouth turned agape. A sad, loud moan slobbered into the air. You could hear all the pain in her life.
Farley fell to her knees historically.
Neil spat on her. Neil religiously watched the wrestling matches every Saturday night. “Little punk,” he spewed. He pivoted on his heel and strutted away gloating in his petty tyranny. I think Neil is the one man that Will Rodgers wouldn’t have liked.
Neil was on the top of the hill looking down at us. ”Beatin’ up bitches has given me a fearsome appetite,” he said in an imitation of Yosemite Sam. He walked away from the pond yet somehow his shadow still seemed cast on us.
Farley was hunched over in a sobbing mound on the hill’s incline. “Why didn’t you help me?” she cried. ”What kind of friends are you any way?” Her eyes glared at us. She has every right to call us “friends”. Especially when you think of all the ice cream sandwiches and popsicles she had given us. ”Jesus, Edmund,” she said singling me out. ”You are Neil’s age, why didn’t you help me?”
“What’s the sense of having my face broken too?” My cowardice and logic valiantly showed through my defensive exterior. And to think, there was a part of me who wanted to be President Kennedy. J.F.K. was the best President this country ever had. He had promised this country a “future.” And it was the popular consensus that the future was arriving on schedule. The “future” was wide-bodied, plastic and white. The “future” was everywhere either it be the electric can opener in the kitchen or when you changed gears in a Plymouth Valiant by just pushing a button.
John Glenn circled the globe three times and the “future” was close at hand.
John Kennedy would have stood up to Neil. But as much as I wanted to be J.F.K., I know I couldn’t possibly be him. John Kennedy and the “future” were perfect. He is great looking and has a great looking wife and great looking kids. John Kennedy stands up for things that he believes are right and just.
When Russian missiles were discovered on Cuba, President Kennedy took that as an act of war. And retaliated with an act of war himself. He encircled Cuba with a naval blockade. For those four weeks, we had air raid drills twice a week at school. As much as there was a promise in the future, there was equally as much terror. After all, the world could blow up and all it would take is someone pushing a button, just as easy as someone changing gears on a Valiant.
But President Kennedy stayed cool. Eventually he made the Russians dissemble the missiles and ship them back to Moscow University.
I shrugged. “You should learn to run faster, Farley,” I advised. “I mean that’s what I’d do.”
“I have nobody,” began Farley. When Farley gets like that, she reminds me of Boom Boom. As she should, after all, Boom Boom is Farley’s mother.
Madam Boom Boom is forty-three or whatever. You see, Madam Boom Boom, you could never tell. She had crossed into a platinum time warp. She is the l963 epitome of everything I was told to lust after. She was the champagne afternoon without the hangover. She was frivolous, narcissistic and had a randy rasp in her voice.
Her real name was Dot (sometimes Dorothy) Quail. My father at a New Year’s party christened her “Boom Boom”. Everyone since then has called her “Boom Boom” in front of, as well as, behind her back.
Boom Boom kept glossy cracked photos of herself when she was a successful nightclub singer in a yellowed Bonwit Teller hatbox. She wore a slinky sequined dress and she could have been Peggy Lee.
Then Boom Boom became a successful divorcee.
And her children became products of a very successful divorce.
“I really have nobody who is really my friend,” reiterated Farley.
She was right. Nobody was going to risk their life to save Farley. Farley was the most unpopular kid on our road because she played with dolls and concentrated on trying to look nice which only made her look worse.
However Farley liked me because I was the only one in our circle wouldn’t badger her. I really didn’t like her but I had nothing against her either.
“Pipe down,” said my sister in a martinet snap. “You and your bitching is going to scare away all the frogs.”
Farley’s sobs finally subsided and a mosquito meshed laziness resumed over the pond. Farley wiped her nose and called Neil a nice rolling string of curses. If he had been around, he would have beat the living shit out of her. But he wasn’t. So she laughed and we laughed and that ended that.
“Now Farley you stay by Edmund and watch,” ordered Madge.
“You know,” snickered Chris, ”Farley and Edmund ought to get married.”
Farley stuck out her popsicle pink tongue. “Yuk, I would rather be dead,” she said. “It would be the fastest marriage on record. I would take a cyanide table before putting on my ensemble.”
“Think of the children,” chorused my sister.
“Children,” exclaimed Farley. ”Then I would have to divorce you,” she said in an over blown imitation of her mother. “I don’t want to go through another divorce.”
“No,” said Chris, “she doesn’t do it like that, she does it like this.” Chris proceeded to do the same thing Farley had done except he fell over on the word,” divorce.”
“Not only that,” added my sister, “Edmund wouldn’t know what to do.”
I do know what to do and I don’t know what to do I really don’t know how. It sounds disgusting. I can’t believe my parents would do anything like that.
“Do you, Edmund?” tested my sister.
My cheeks grew taut and my features chiseled. I had to defend myself like a truly civilized person. ”Of course, I do,” I lied. “I have known for years. I read it in a book.”
“What book?” quizzed my sister.
“The Carpetbaggers,” I said resolutely. Well actually just the good parts of the Carpetbaggers. “
“The Carpetbaggers had been out in paperback for two years. I had gotten my hands on a copy that my mother had bought. I knew what blondes liked and what men were supposed to be: erect and mean. In bed, I would close my eyes and think of doing it to either Carol Baker or Boom Boom. The scenario would start with an impromptu nude swim in Boom Boom’s oval pool, beneath the moon and the stars. This would be followed by an invitation to her satin curtained boudoir and there, according to Hemingway and Robbins, the rolling infinity of her loins.
With a ‘you’re so full of shit’ shrug, Madge turned to the real business at hand. Her hands were cupped and expectant as her hunched form circled the pond. Her concentration focused like a young executive. A slippery gleam shined at the water’s edge. Madge’s shadow slowly crept over the speckled back. Her ominous form reflected in the water. Plop! The frog sprang away. Madge’s face swelled to a fierce red. She sprayed the frog with curses. Her outburst was familiar to me as familiar as my father in a traffic jam.
Chris and Farley laughed.
“Shut up,” my sister scowled. ”How do you assholes expect to catch any frogs, if you keep laughing!”
Like a reprimanded class, we quieted.
“That’s more like it,” she stage whispered.
A bug crawled on the birthmark of her left foot. She turned continued her hunt. The sun filtered through the towering limbs in serrated shafts of light. Her prowling silhouette slowly lowered on to her hams. A ‘ssh’ was heard. She snapped up the frog in her hands faster than anyone could see it. “I got the little bugger!” she catcalled. ”I got the little bugger!”
“Yabba-dabba-doo!” exclaimed Chris pulling out a grey cherry bomb from his pocket.
The frog hung upside down from my sister’s clenched fist. The frog’s brown and startled eyes swung around and around.
Farley squealed in savage delight. Repulsed but still drawn, I looked on.
“O.K. Buddy,” cackled Madge as she cocked the frog’s mouth open. Chris forced the barrel shaped firework into the frog’s squirming body.
“If this little bitch gets the fuse wet,” said Madge referring to the frog, ”I am going to jump on it.”
“Hold on,” said Chris striking a match in a quick and fleeting stroke.
The flame ignited and then went out.
“Chris,” shouted Madge,” can’t you light a match? Spaz!”
“Listen Thing,” retorted Chris, “I don’t need any gas from you.” He took out another match from the turquoise and tangerine Howard Johnson matchbook. The frog jerked at the flame.
Holding the frog by its hind flippers, Madge waited until the flame burned steadily.
“Now,” shrieked Farley.
Madge lobbed the frog into the air. It somersaulted. A muffled burst the frog apart.
Gunpowder and pink little organs exploded in the balmy afternoon.
“Good one,” complimented Chris on their homespun gore. Tears of terror and joy wetted Farley’s eyes. It was sick and funny. My shirt was speckled with blood as I looked on the blasted amphibian: there and not there.