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Every nine and a half years I see Amanda. This is not a rule. It does not have to happen but it does. It has happened four times that I have seen her every nine and a half years which tends to make it more like a rule than an exception. But each time it is always and everywhere exceptional. Most recently was today. I had three dollars.
As children we were put in the same class at school although she was a year younger than me, and has been ever since. It was part of a pilot programme to have the brightest children from the year below put into a composite class with the brightest children of the year above and me. I don't know how I got into that class because I had not demonstrated a particular capacity for anything much. It was not that I was not interested in things but rather that I was interested in too many things. This interest in everything was completely internal to me, without external manifestations, and so went unnoticed by all adults except my parents, who were worried by it. I would just sit around and think; at least that's the way I remember it. Perhaps Amanda remembers it differently. I couldn't be bothered running around or even making much trouble. There were too many things to contemplate for me to be tempted into running at speed from A to B in order to get there sooner. While we were being taught about trains or mammals, I was wondering how it was the teacher managed to have the same smell every day, a musky smell that announced him long after he had gone and always would.
Amanda had a smell of her own and long, long hair that was whiter than it needed to be to pass for blonde. She smiled a lot and could have been mistaken for Heidi were it not for her tendency to get dirty. This worried her parents, particularly her mother whose severe Calvinist bleaching techniques were in constant battle with the toughest stains Amanda could find. The dirt from basketballs hugged her chest at recess and lunchtimes and had to be treated with the sternest pre-wash solutions her mother could obtain on the open market. The scrubbing and bleaching left their own stains on the felt letters that spelt Amanda on her t-shirt.
We were at a government school and Amanda's mother seemed to feel it was this, more than anything intrinsic to Amanda, that was staining the angelic Heidi shampoo commercial that left home so perfect each morning with her brothers. The family lived in a large Georgian-style house across the road from a plant, fruit and vegetable nursery by the canal. Her mother never set foot inside the nursery, preferring instead to buy the family's fruit and vegetable requirements in the shopping strip that called itself `the village'.
Amanda's father was more of a presence than a person. She seldom referred to him and I think I only ever saw him once. He wore a dark suit with a crisp white starched shirt. Her mother must have loved doing his laundry or perhaps it was the housekeeper who had this privilege? He was a cross between Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity and Fred MacMurray in `My Three Sons'. His pronouncements were never heard, just heard about. His status in the family was seigneurial. And not only in the family: he was the first person I had ever come across with a job that had a two-word name. He was a chemical engineer.
Amanda would say it from time to time, not boastfully but matter-of-factly, `a chemical engineer'. It sounded good but we didn't know what it meant. My father worked for the council in ways he could never bring himself to discuss and I never pressed him. He wore a white shirt and tie too but it was more crumpled than Amanda's father's shirt, something Amanda might have noticed on one of those evenings at our place after school. But what were the chances of an eight-and-a-half-year-old girl noticing something like that? Only her mother was sensitive to pleats.
There were quite a few afternoons at our place when a group of us would hide from each other, not just Amanda and me but also a few of her friends and some of mine. I tried to make it about equal. My mother would make afternoon tea for us. Sometimes Amanda and I would hide in my parents' wardrobe. We all hid in different permutations and combinations but I never took anyone else but Amanda into the wardrobe. We wouldn't say a word, we would just wait in the dark, bunched up and the sides of our knees pressed against each other as we sat on my parents' shoes. In the warmer months she wore my beach hat, the one with my name embroidered on it, and when her parents took her away with her brothers to Coff's Harbour for a holiday she called me on the public phone, feeding her pocket money in, coin by coin.
`It sucks here,' she said and I, never having been there, agreed and was delighted to hear it. My sister Kirsten had a David Bowie album I had learnt by heart while watching her and her friends colour their Faces. I quoted a line from it to Amanda in Coff's Harbour and told her to write it down when she got off the phone and to carry it around with her. Be elusive but don't walk far.
I had no idea what it meant.
It was through Amanda that I first learned of the precariousness of things and of the arrogance of certain memories in demanding your attention out of turn. When her mother called our place for the first time ever I expected her to want to speak to my mother, or at least to my older sister who had just started secondary school and had taken to wearing make-up when she went up the road for bread or milk. But Amanda's mother told me that I would do. Amanda would not be coming back to school after the summer and there was to be no more playing. I remember she asked me to have a good day. That was the end of the first time I saw Amanda.
When I saw her today I had three dollars. This might not be so bad under certain circumstances. I cannot imagine what they might be but I was not under them.