In the midst of polishing my bad side, I have had to dramatically edit – and shift – a key moment in Dee’s childhood, a birthday party for which she had supreme expectations. As part of my mourning process, I present the scene here unabridged:
Janey’s birthday invitation had a picture of a bearded pirate in a red jacket and giant boots; his arms were in a blur, throwing cream pies in a whirlwind at scattering parrots and kids. The invitation promised games and ice cream, treasure hunts and goody bags, but all I could think about was the pirates and their swords and chain belts, all of the thundering, spitting and swearing, and how we would run with crazy legs, the birds swooping over us, screaming and squawking, all of us caked in thick balls of cream and chocolate. I couldn’t believe that such a thing was possible. I lay awake staring up at the long line of light from the bottom of the window. I had crazy laughing in my head. I was going to be throwing food. I was going to be throwing pies. I was going to be dancing on tables and running from pirates. Everything was going to be crazy bright and wild. It was just so amazing. I had never been so excited in my life. I have never been since.
I couldn’t do anything that day. I stared at the TV, went through the channels, and turned it off. I looked out the window. I waited in the front hall. I turned Nani’s porcelain dogs around and around. She took forever to come down the stairs, and then she had to get her purse and then her coat. And then she couldn’t find her keys.
“Nani, come on!”
She stopped and looked down at me. “Dee, if you don’t stop this nonsense this minute, there won’t be any party.”
I waited while she found her keys and then put on her lipstick and backed the car out of the garage. She made the turn out of the driveway purposely weird and long. She drove as slow as she could. I tried to sit properly but I was stiff. My shoulders were too far back. My elbows were banging into everything.
“Is this Smithfield?” Nani slouched forward, looking at the signs. “Woods? Where is Smithfield then? I’ll have to turn back here.” We went around the block and stopped and then came back to where we had been.
“Nani!” I was going to get out and run.
“Stop your nonsense, Dee. Just stop it.”
I stared at the corner of the window, the black rubber bending out, knowing that I was missing everything, that the pirates were stampeding the room. It was hot in the car. I punched my elbow down.
“I’ll just take you home then.”
We turned and then again and were on a long empty street that ran to the river. We were in front of a brown brick building with glass doors and a black awning J & L Boutique. “Can you read the address, Dee?”
“This isn’t it, Nani.”
“What’s the address?”
“I’m going to miss the party.”
“What number is it, Dee?”
I looked up and down the street, looking for a running pirate, a stray bird, a fleeing child, anything, but there was nothing, just the number above the awning. “327.”
“This is it.”
“No, Nani. It isn’t.”
A woman came outside; it was Janey’s mother. I didn’t understand that. She opened the door and led me down a small set of stairs and then a wide room with a low ceiling and long checker-clothed table with stacks of Pittsburgh Pirates Styrofoam plates and cups and a bowl of plastic forks and knives and a green cake covered in cellophane. All of the kids were sitting along a bench against the wall, under a Pittsburgh Pirates flag and orange and black streamers. There were no pirates. There were no parrots. There was a fat man in a Black Flag T-shirt and apron and two guys beside him, one with a wet brown beard, the other in a tight black shirt, leaning on a plastic mop. The Black Flag man waited until we were all sitting on the bench with our feet flat on the cement and told us to stay while the other two squirted globules of Reddi Whip onto the Pittsburgh Pirates plates. The Reddi Whip cans made crummy slurping sounds. The Black Flag man told us not to move, to wait until it was our turn even though there was nothing to do. The worst of it wasn’t that his pants were falling off his bum or that he was a liar. It was that he was allowed to do this. He was allowed to stand in front of us in his cheap Black Flag T-shirt and tell us what to do. He was allowed to lie to us. I didn’t understand that. I thought I had had something. I had seen the picture. I had seen it. The running pirates were there. The parrots were there. I had had it there in my ribs, my legs, my toes stretched out, big and tiny, my hands balled tight. I had had it in me, entire. I didn’t understand how he could be allowed to trample this cartoon world, this magic, and do this.
The Black Flag man told Janey to take her plate and she tried to throw it, but it flipped around and fell sideways to the ground, and then there was a rush and everyone was grabbing the plates, and it was just a mess, flimsy, slippery and stupid. There was a treasure hunt and sandwiches with the crusts cut off and peanut butter and chocolate ice cream and goody bags, and I had to wait on the bench for Nani to pick me up. I took a can of Reddi Whip and smeared it on the Black Flag man’s pants. I was happy about that.