PDF

What Kind of Person Gives Secrets to the Sky?


by Kathy Fish


Peter and Meggy and I are putting glasses of ice water on the tables. We work in the dining room at St. Anne's Home for Aged Nuns. They wheel the Sisters in around 4:30 for their dinner so they get them back to their rooms by six. Goodnight, nuns! I stop pushing the cart and sit down. Peter asks, “What's wrong?” One of the orderlies has parked Sister William in the corner, facing the wall. “I can't stand the smell of those Harvard beets,” I tell him.


~~


My mother is dating a guy named Gil, who works for the cable company, so now we have free cable. Last night, we watched “White Oleander” and my mom kept saying, “My God, Michelle Pfeiffer is gorgeous.” Finally, Gil says, “I could take or leave her.” He sucks the salt off the popcorn seeds and spits them back into the bowl.


~~


When I was little, we used to go to Shell Rock to my uncle's farm. In the spring we'd get twenty-five-cent kites and stand in the middle of an open field and give them up to the wide blue sky. My dad scribbled on a piece of paper, tore it halfway and stuck it onto the string. After a few stutters, the paper hurried away from us, up the kite string, until we couldn't see it anymore. I asked him, was that a prayer? No, he said, it was a secret.


~~


Peter's lucky. He gets to wear a white polo shirt and khakis. Of course he looks like a dork, but consider Meggy and I in our polyester pantsuits. Harvest gold. A-line top that zips right up the middle. The pants are flared and there's piping along the sides. Once, when we went to the Barley Corn after work, I changed in the backseat of my Vega. I wadded my uniform into a ball. Two days later, I found it underneath the seat and shook it out. No wrinkles. 


~~


When my mother asked, “Who's the father?” I looked her right in the eye and said, “I don't know.” I'm not stupid. What is she going to say to that?


~~


Peter says, “no shit” and Meggy's mouth drops open. She starts to laugh. We're eating roast chicken and vanilla pudding in the break room. “Tell me what's funny because I could use a laugh,” I say. “You're grossing me out, by the way.” Her front teeth are coated with pudding. It's dribbling down her chin. When she can finally speak, she says, “When did this happen? I mean you're always with us. Or at school.”  I hand her a napkin. What Meggy doesn't seem to know is that it only takes a minute to have sex. 

One minute.


~~


The Barley Corn is this dive bar we discovered in Dike. You have to drive right out of Waterloo, out into the country until you get to the little farm towns. Dike has its own Main Street and bar after bar and nobody cards. We are sophisticated. We drink sloe gin fizzes. We roll our eyes at the selections on the jukebox. You got any real music?


~~


My mother is a large woman. She's six foot tall and she's heavy. Not fat, just big all over. And pretty. I am small, like my dad. There is nothing pretty about me. Mr. Stebbins, my algebra teacher, tells me my hair is the color of wheat and that he knows I don't dye it because most girls, if they dyed their hair, would choose a nicer shade of blonde.


~~


I've been dreaming about monkeys. Wild monkeys attacking me, scratching and clawing at me. Gil says don't eat pizza before going to bed. But that's all there is around here anymore. And another thing, does Gil live here now?


~~


I was in the backseat of the car. We had a big car then, with wide vinyl covered seats with springs underneath. I was bouncing on the seat and waiting for my parents to yell at me to stop, but they didn't say anything. My mother was driving. We parked at the train station and she grabbed hold of my hand. Ouch, I said. My dad got a suitcase out of the trunk and knelt down and kissed me. I asked him how come the sky was white and he said that means snow is coming. I can still see it. His sad face, the bare trees, the white sky.


~~


I love how the guy at the Barley Corn doesn't give me any shit when I order a sloe gin fizz. I'm just having the one anyway. “Are you tired?” Peter asks. “A little.” Meggy's dancing with some guy to a country song.  “We could go,” Peter says. Peter lost his license and now he doesn't drink anymore. I pull the maraschino cherry off the plastic sword with my teeth and swallow it. “Shall we dance?”


~~


My dad just shows up one day. I walk in the door and there he is, sitting with my mom at the kitchen table. My dad looks about a hundred years old. I drop my book bag and kick off my shoes. “Hey,” I say. He stands up and looks at me and shakes his head. Who does he think he is?


~~


Gil wants to know what I think of the name “Gunner.” To be honest; I don't think much of it at all. Gunner! My mom has no opinion. There is only so much she can think about. She keeps asking when I'm going to cash that check, the one my dad left folded and set on its ends, like a tent, on my pillow. He'd written the words, “good luck” on the memo line and underlined them. Twice.


~~


I watched from the window as he got into his car. I thought if he waves, I'll wave back. But he only looked at me and lifted his fingers off the steering wheel, the way people do when they're just dashing out for a minute and you both know they'll be right back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Endcap