We go down into the cool basement to play house. Laura takes all the clothes pins, the clothes line and the old blankets lying on top of the drier to make her house. Linda gets the space under the stairs. Ellen makes a place beneath the workbench. I get the corner by the oil tank.
When Ellen parks the red wagon by the work bench for her car, Laura grabs the handle and says, “Thanks for sharing!”
When Linda takes a few canned goods off the shelves for her kitchen, Laura says, “Hey, I already hoxied those.” We all know she didn’t, but no one crosses her.
She sets up the cans on a folding stool beside her house and announces her grocery store. We all know where we will shop.
By the time Mrs. Thompson serves us tuna fish sandwiches and potato chips for lunch, huge thunderheads have formed. You can hear the heat lightening rumble in the distance. The air is humid, and my legs stick to the red vinyl seat of the dinette set.
It hasn’t started to rain, but we know it’s coming. Up the stairs we go to Ellen’s room over the garage. Laura herds us into the huge closet under the eaves. Laura asks Ellen to get a deck of cards, and she fetches immediately. Linda and I are squished under the sloping ceiling. Ellen crouches below the dresses.
Laura sits upright by the door shuffling the deck, “What shall we play?”
Linda raises her hand, “Crazy eight?”
Ellen cracks a smile, “Gin rummy?”
“How about strip poker?” Laura starts to deal.
I don’t know how to play, but it’s easy. When you lose a hand, you have to take off a piece of clothing. I am in blue shorts, a blue gingham blouse and barefoot. It doesn’t take long before we are all sitting in our underwear, all except Laura who has only taken bobby pins out of her hair. I’ve never seen Laura use a bobby pin before. But she says they count, so they count.
That’s when the thunder cracks. We all jump and instinctively put our clothes back on. It’s the break, the excuse that somehow overrides Laura’s secret power. Rain pounds the roof, and we all come out of the stifling closet. A breeze blows through the bedroom. Ellen smacks the western window shut and mops the water off the floor with a dirty sock. Lightning flashes and we all flow downstairs. I just want to go home. I’m sick of Laura. I want to get rid of her. I want her to vanish off the face of the earth, so I can have my friend to myself and play what we want to play when we want to play it. I’m sick of her secret power that pushes and pulls like the tides of the moon.
I blast out the door and hop on my wet bike. Thunder and lightning explode all around me. I splash through puddles, muddy spray up my back. I don’t care. I want to get to my house where nobody can boss me, where I’m safe! I put my kick stand down on the damp concrete of the garage and look back towards Westholm Road. Laura is peddling hard for home. Linda eats her wake. Where is safe for Linda?
I dry myself off with a dish towel and harrumph into a chair in the den. Why did we all have to strip when Laura didn’t reveal a freckle? What is she hiding?
As a child, I didn’t realize I already had my answer. There was nowhere safe for Laura when her secret was powered by fear. Fear that without her pretty sister, no one would care if she vanished off the face of the planet. Without her biting tongue, she’d never be picked first. Her fear made her do things even she didn’t want to do. How do any of us break free from the horrible gravity of our own solar system?