After breakfast, I ride over to Linda and Laura’s. We have to wait for Helen to discover her bathing suit, so Laura hauls the heavy black phone off the telephone table, over the bannister, and we all camp out on the carpeted stairs.
Linda opens the yellow pages to alterations, and Laura places our call. “Hello, is this The House of Alterations?”
“Yes, it is.” Linda and I lean in.
“Well,” Laura stifles a giggle. “I need to have some alterations done to my prom gown. I wonder if you can help me.””
“I certainly hope so, dear. Would you like to make an appointment?”
Laura bites her lip. “Well, my measurements are really unusual.”
“What do you mean unusual?”
“My bust is 74”, my waist is 48”, and my hips are 21”!”
I pipe in, “The human triangle!”
Tears run down Linda’s cheeks, Laura bangs down the receiver, and we all roll down the bottom few steps.
Mrs. Zinn comes up from the basement laundry. “What are you girls doing?”
Laura places the phone back on the table and says, “We just called Helen to see if she could play.”
I can’t believe her mother believes the lie. Linda opens the front door, and we ride around the neighborhood until we can’t stand the suspense. We park our bikes outside the hedge and sneak into Helen’s side yard. The bikini is gone. The footprints too. We go to the back door and knock.
Mrs. Thompson answers. “Very funny girls.” Her smile is not her usual. She says Helen doesn’t want to come out to play. I shift my gaze to the stinky marigolds by the side of the stoop. I know we’ve broken something valuable. We back away and walk to our bikes.
Laura says, “Hey, it’s Saturday. Wanna go see Darby O’Gill and the Little People at Proctor’s Theater?”
I slowly push up my kick stand. “I’ll go ask my mom.” My stomach flip flops, but I want to see the movie.
Linda, Laura and I are old enough now to take the Upper Union bus from St. David’s Lane to downtown, so we pay our quarters and breath the stop-and-go diesel until the bus reaches our destination in front of Woolworths. For another quarter we crowd into Woolworths’ photo booth and make faces until the camera spits out a strip of black and white shots. There is Laura sticking out her tongue, putting rabbit ears over Linda’s head, Linda beautiful as always, me cracking up in my cat-eye glasses, braces, and bangs my mother always cuts too short. We burst out of the booth and stroll down the bustling aisles, inspecting pale pink lipsticks in the new frosted shades. We try on sunglasses, cheap ID bracelets, and crazy hats. Because the matinee starts at two o’clock, we bypass the soda fountain and the red and yellow popcorn machine that makes the whole store smell like hot oil. Proctors is directly across State Street, so we wait until the stop light turns red and dart through the crowd of pedestrians to the glittering marquee. Inside a woman in an elevated booth passes our tickets below fancy iron bars. A man dressed like an organ grinder’s monkey rips them in half, hands us our stubs, and opens the thick velvet rope that separates us from the candy counter. Laura chooses a pink and black box of Good & Plenty. I choose rubbery Jugyfruits, and Linda buys Milk Duds. We climb into the balcony below the gilded ceiling, and I wonder, as always, how you get to the box seats that hang on the sides of the ornately plastered walls. We slump into our plush cushions. The curtain rises. Buena Vista Studios appears on the big screen. For the next two hours our bodies disappear in the dark as our imaginations travel to the Emerald Isle full of mischievous leprechauns, pots of gold, and terrifying banshees who ferry souls to death.
When we return home, Laura says she’s starting a new club, the Black Banshees. To be in it you have to meet in the empty field at the intersection of Dover Road and Westholm tomorrow at midnight and say the Lord’s Prayer backwards.
This is the beginning of being in or out of a shrinking world that feels dangerous. In the crowd or cast out like Helen. I’m not built to float around the universe alone. I need friends to anchor me, to play with, to split my sides with over silly, stupid stuff. But I want friends I can trust. If Laura played tricks on Helen, will she play tricks on me? If she lies to her mother, will she lie to me? Even though I know the answer, I set the clock radio I got last Christmas for 11:50 PM. I hit the snooze button and Frankie Valli serenades, “Dawn, don’t you know I’m no good for you…”
I am sound asleep when I feel someone shaking my shoulder.
The words to Dead Man’s Curve mingle in my consciousness with my mother’s voice, “Where’s your radio?”
I hug the thing I’m hiding, but it’s too late. “Sorry, I put it under my pillow, so it wouldn’t bother you and Dad. I must have hit the on button in my sleep.” I’m grateful my mom can’t see my face in the dark.
She sets the vanilla box with the clear plastic dial on my night stand and kisses me good night. “Sweet dreams.”
As she closes the door, I cover my mouth with my hand. I can’t believe I just lied to my mother—just like Laura, so easy, so natural. My first lie, betraying the one person I know I can trust to get what I’m not sure I even want. Truth, trust, they’re not the same without each other.
And yet I creep downstairs and out the back door. My feet propel me to the end of Bentley Road. It’s only another block to our meeting place. The air is heavy with humidity. Cicadas drone. The moon is full. Anyone watching could see me in my blue night shirt, sneaking barefoot down the middle of the street. I’m more afraid of what I’m about to do than the eerie silver light.
I don’t really want to say the Lord’s Prayer backwards. I know it’s wrong, even if I can’t explain why. But how do I say no to Laura? I didn’t say no to the footprints and the bathing suit, even though I knew it would hurt Helen’s feelings. I didn’t say no to the prank phone call. It was too hilarious. I didn’t want to get out of bed after my mom tucked me in, but here I am again under Laura’s spell, unable to act on my own.
Amazingly, when I arrive at the vacant lot—no Linda, no Laura. Too late? Too early? I turn and sprint for home before the mysterious cord that’s come undone can pull me back. My arms pump like wings through the damp that in only hours will form dew drops in the morning light. With the dawn will I still be free?
Before I go back to bed, I sit on our milk crate, and for the first time, whisper the Lord’s Prayer aware of the words. Can the father in faraway heaven who rescued me from reversing his prayer, forgive me for becoming a real Black Banshee?