Writers Institute

Rhythmic Like Count Basie

I was particularly squirmy the day I listened to Mrs. Ravenport's conversation with her son, as I hungrily guzzled down my cherry and vanilla bean ice cream soda. My mother eyed me across the glass-plated table, and with one whip of her fragile hand smoothed down a lost wisp of an auburn bang that stuck straight out of my mop hair.

"It's sweaty out," I declared to Mom across the table, but she rolled her eyes and said it couldn't be sweaty out. I thought it was sweaty.

"Sweltering is more like it," Mom said peering at me through her brass-rimmed spectacles. Sweltering. I repeated the word over and over again and rolled the syllables around my mouth before I popped a luscious cherry off its stem and moved it back m forth within my chubby cheeks. It was sweaty in the air, and I wiped the perspiration of my forehead and onto my yellow, floral sundress. Mom was reading The Wall Street Journal, and I tried making out a sentence from across the slippery surface of the table yet the lettering was so small, so fine, that the words were unreadable.

Leaning against the cool plate of stained-glass, that separated our red leather cushioned booth from another identical booth, I felt the chill of the smooth surface run down my cheek, up my neck, and into my ear. I pressed my freckled ear against the glass cupping it so it suctioned to the multicolored plate, and then I pulled away slow and listened as my ear made a hollow, popping sound. I pressed my ear once again to the stained-glass, resting it on a triangular shaped piece of blue glass within the booth's divider.

I didn't even mean to listen. Honest. Mom always said that I shouldn't be so nosy because eavesdropping

is incredibly rude. But here I am, sweltering on a sweaty day, and I hear the word "goddamn." As a little girl, I was struck with a horrible, yet the same time, mischievous sensation. I knew "goddamn" was a bad word, because once Mom smacked me on the bottom for screaming it at my cat when he bit my ankle. I learned the word from Tommy up the street and didn't know it was bad until after my bottom was stinging and pink. After hearing "goddamn" through this blue chip of shin glass in the divider, I formed an "o" with my sticky lips. This surprise reaction slowly crept into a playful grin, as I continued to listen intently to the conversation between these intriguing people in the booth next door.

"Mother, it is plain to see that you cannot and will not be able to take care of yourself without Father

around anymore." A starchy man's voice spoke deeply to his mother, his tone neither kind nor reassuring. The mother didn't respond.

I remember being as silent as when I have time-out at home, and I sat motionless in the booth, listening to the low growl of the son's voice as my heart beat rapidly against my chest. There was silence for a long while, and all I could think about was the word "goddamn" and how I wished that these people would say it again. Or, for that matter, maybe they would say another curse, and this time I would make sure not to repeat the bad word near Mom.

The mother spoke: "1 am not going into the home, Joseph." She sounded disturbed through her quaking voice and I immediately liked her. I could tell from her voice; she had a sweet., high-tone, consoling, and melodic voice and it was warm honey to my cold, little ear. I leaned back, and as my eyes traveled up the divider, I could see Joseph throw his big, burly hands up in frustration. "Mother, we both know your medical condition, and it is not safe for you to be alone in that big house! Let's bring you to Granby's Home and see how you like it." The honey voice retorted, "No. I don't care if I live alone. I got along fine for forty-seven years with your father, and I will get along just fine by myself" I was startled when I heard the sharp rapping of her palms against the glass table.

A cheerful waitress interrupted the old woman. "Hello, Mrs. Ravenport! It's nice to see you again. May I get you anything to drink?" Mrs. Ravenport was her name. "Good afternoon, Sandy. May I please have a hot, herbal tea. Thank you."

No longer refreshed against the glass, my ear felt clammy and hot. My cherry and vanilla bean ice cream soda was a mere pile of foam at the bottom of the cloudy mug. I sat up and leaned across the table and imitated the formal address that Joseph had used. "Mother. Mother." Mom answered me coolly without looking up. "What?" She continued to study her paper. "Mother." She snapped, "Why are you calling me that?" I didn't answer but breathed in deeply and sucked the foam out of the bottom of the dirty jug with an unladylike sound. Mom didn't even look up.

Wondering how Mrs. Ravenport was doing, I again pressed the side of my flushed and sticky face to the stained-glass avoiding the sweaty vestige from earlier. This time I pressed my ear upon a newer, green chunk of cold, refreshing color. I heard Mrs. Ravenport sobbing quietly. I could tell she was sobbing for she was hiccupping. I always hiccup when I cry intensely. When I hiccup~cry no one hears me but my cat. Tommy heard me once too but that just because I fell out of our tree for in the back woods and hurt my right elbow Mom never hears me hiccup-cry. She says that crying should be against the law because it only shows how weak a person is. "Especially never cry in public," Mom always says. "That, in itself, should be considered a crime." Mrs. Ravenport was hiccup-ciying in public, and I briefly wondered what her sentence in jail would be if Mom were the harsh judge. I heard Joseph mumble something, low and rough, not kind or consoling in any way. I wanted to jump over the divider and give Mrs. Ravenport a hug and tell her that hiccup-cries were okay and that her son was being mean. Unfortunately. I couldn't see over the divider without standing up on the red leather cushion. My feet could hardly reach the black and white tiled floor below the table, let alone peer at the identities being hidden from me.

"I'm not going. I'm not going," whimpered Mrs. Ravenport. "Yes you are. Don't start this again, Mother." Joseph stressed the word mother in a condescending and horrible way that made my nose wrinkle up just like it does when I taste the pasty film of lima beans. "Suzy. Suzy." I leaned up when I heard Mom's voice trailing in the air. "I'm going to the ladies' room. Be good and sit up straight." There was jazz music playing in the background. Tommy likes jazz. Usually I play the imaginary trumpet or saxophone when we are pretend practicing with our famous band, but sometimes, only rarely, I am allowed to beat those drums. Tommy almost always beats the drums. He bangs his two branches from the large sycamore onto the hollow sounding, empty paint cans and we make music just like his idol, Count Basie.

Mrs. Ravenport was quiet now, and Joseph ordered, "Have your belongings packed and ready by tomorrow. I'll go call you a cab." I noticed him rise and a dark shadow was cast upon the seat where Mom had been sitting. Joseph was as burly as his thick hands. His dark, unshaven lace emphasized his broad shoulders and protruding belly. Drawing tightly toward his square jawbone, his narrow lips anchored into a large scowl. He trudged away from the table leaving Mrs. Ravenport all alone.

I stuck my sticky palms to the table and pushed myself up. Standing on the booth's padded seat, I could fully absorb the actual Mrs. Ravenport through my curious eyes. Silver hair, like the color of my cat, twisted neatly into a bun at the top of her tiny head. Her piercing blue eyes were puffy and red-stained like my sundress spotted from the ice cream's cherry dye. I smiled shyly, and as she beamed back I noticed that her smile, surrounded by fine lines, was soothing like her voice.

"Hi," I announced. "Hi there. Have you been listening to me?" I felt my sweltering face perspire further as I shamefully nodded my head up and down. Mrs. Ravenport laughed lightly and reached up to cup one of her hands over mine. "Are you okay?" J asked, reassured by her touch. "Oh yes. When I have a sweet, little girl care about how I'm feeling, I know everything is going to be quite all right." She blinked away a lonesome tear and smoothed her lace shawl down across her breast. "Are you sad because you have to move?" I asked. I smoothed my dress, mirroring her gesture, and tucked a strand of my wild mop behind my clammy ear. Mrs. Ravenport sighed and squeezed my hand. Straining her shriveled face towards my freckled skin she whispered. "I'm sad because the one I love is hurting inside, and I'm afraid I won't be able to do anything about it anymore." Her voice trailed off as I saw Mom walking towards the table. "Bye Mrs. Ravenport." I quickly laid a light kiss upon her frail and wrinkled hand and flopped down onto the red leather cushion sprawling my feet out on the end.

Mom arrived at the table fishing for some loose change deep within her pocketbook. "Get your feet off the booth. Haven't I taught you anything?" She muttered something under her breath that I could not translate, and I instantly wondered if she was still missing Daddy. Trailing behind her clicking heels, I followed her out of the restaurant. Clamped in my moist fist was my straw wrapper that I intended to fling at that horrible man, Joseph, but he was nowhere to be found. Upon exiting the restaurant, the wrapper floated and drifted silently to the scorching pavement below.

"Why are you littering?" scolded Mom and she bent down to retrieve the crinkled paper at my feet. Her face was so close to mine when she stooped toward the roasting concrete, that I could feel the silky strands of her auburn hair against my skin, and I could smell the sweet aroma of her lilac perfume. She grabbed the paper wrapper, and as she began to stand up, she paused when she caught my hazel eyes drilling over her delicate features. Kneeling in the middle of the parking lot, outside of a restaurant with connecting red leather cushioned booths, my mommy looked me in my eyes and asked softly, "Suzy, why did you drop that? You know better." I wasn't listening; as I ran my damp fingers over her face, our noses almost touched, and our breaths pulsed in time with each other, rhythmic like Count Basic. And I hugged her. I pressed my sweltering body against her starchy suit, and I didn't let go. My sticky, pudgy hands clamped onto her back, and I felt her delicate fingers hesitantly grasp the stained, yellow sundress.

 

Susan Elizabeth Ulbrich
Coginchaug Regional #13 High School
Durham, Conn.
Teacher:  Melissa Frey




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