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Annie Times Four
By Flora Milyn
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Flora Milyn
All right reserved.
Chapter Onetake 1: the fiction
Here I am, languidly dreaming of delving into the depths of your body again but it never happened, then.
Annie walked into the kitchen and slammed the door behind her. The noise of the banging door reverberated through the house. Walls shuddering, Annie continued on down the hall. She was way too deep into her own little world to even begin to fathom the commotion she created. She was on fire! She was glowing! She was in love!
This was it! The beginning of her life! It finally happened! Like most fourteen-year-olds, Annie did not realize just how young she really was, or that on the whole timeline of her life, she was just springing from the starting grid. She thought she was quite the adult, and adult that she was, she knew everything. Looming mightily in the center of her universe, she thought that universe careened through the cosmos solely for her.
Echoes faded from that glorious door-slamming entry and silence softly descended as she raced through the house. She threw her books in her room (bam!) then hurried back to the kitchen to get everything ready for dinner. It was February 10, 1970, a little after five o'clock.
How could she possibly know that thirty-five years later she would dig this memory, this slice of time, out of a musty old box stuffed deep within the basement of her mind? There it was, thrust way behind all those other mortifyingly embarrassing scenes from her life, hidden as far back in the garbage pit of her mind as she could possibly shove it. She would find this box, pick it up, dust it off and peer into it, viewing its intricate contents, savoring each little scene.
Alone, forty-nine years old and imprisoned in bed by an illness that she wishes would just go away, she faces a stretch of bleak-looking months in front of her. She is bored out of her skull from all this inactivity! How much longer can she take it? But take it she does, getting more and more bored as the weeks roll on. With nothing to do but think, after a few weeks she has pretty much thought and re-thought every major or minor event that had ever happened in her life. Then she thinks some more and more, until she has eventually dissected every relationship she has ever had. She thoroughly turns over and rehashes every moment, every scene, every nuance and every gesture.
As the days go by she journeys further and further down into the basement of her mind, looking into all the old cardboard boxes and wooden crates. She reaches a point. She is about fifteen years old. The area is pretty clean now, of old boyfriends, anyway. She sees her sisters and brothers. She sees her friends. She sees all the kids she went to grade school with, all so fresh and so alive in the contours of her mind. But no boyfriends. She never did date in her early teens.
Then, hardly visible, she notices a shape stashed way back against the wall. She can hardly make out what it is, but it looks like its sides have been smashed and dented. Yet it appears soft. As she gets closer, she realizes it is that musty old box, softened now by layers of cobwebs. She approaches it, brushes the cobwebs away and begins to open it. As she remembers, even she, who has always had way too good of a memory (how she wishes she could just forget some of the things she had done!) is startled by how clear, how so very crystal clear, her memories of him are.
She remembers passing him standing near a car in a parking lot at a dance long after they were through. She hears his voice with its exact intonation: Hi Annie. She remembers his hair. She remembers his jacket. But most of all, she remembers the caring look in his eyes which she can see, even though it is dusk and she is on the other side of the drive. She remembers talking to him on the phone all those nights so long ago. She can hear his voice. She can hear its exact inflection and melody, the way it rises and falls as he says his words. She recalls whole sentences of his and can repeat them verbatim, even though she heard them thirty-five years ago and then banished them to the wastelands of her mind just a few short months after they had been muttered, never to be enjoyed again. Until now.
As she digs deeper and deeper into this memory, she begins to wonder about what had taken place thirty-five years earlier. Of course, she remembers all too vividly what happened, but now, all this time later, she wonders about different endings. Maybe they would have only spent a year together, or maybe two, or maybe they would even have gotten married. But as it was, on this day in February, it was only the beginning, not the beginning of the end.
Now, just shy of fifty years old and looking back through that great tunnel of years, she was surprised at how much she had liked him, the persona of him, that being of his that compromised him and how little his looks had played into it. Sure, he was gorgeous, with his high cheekbones covered by skin bronzed from all the outdoor sports he loved. Then there was his smooth hair, golden streaks running through shiny brown locks. His frame was slight and he was just a few inches taller than she which was great, she didn't need to look up to him. But it was him she liked. They had met at a basketball game between their schools and neither knew the other. They just knew they liked each other. A lot. And for that brief flicker of time when she was fourteen years old, he had been hers! How she had loved that flicker!
Here she was, sick and lethargic, thinking of Dan and wondering why he broke up with her, because he sure had never told her. She thought she knew, but was so ashamed by what she had done that she had long ago banished that memory to a box deep within the basement of her mind and sealed it off with a huge "Do Not Enter" sign. But here she was, and after all, it was thirty-five years later. How about breaking down that sign? Opening up that box? After all, he may have been her soul mate and it was some kind of cosmic joke that he was not with her.
Her mom was always giving her stuff to read. Stuff about aliens, stuff about karma, stuff about reincarnation and past lives and soul mates. You name it, she'd read it. Annie had grown up listening to her mother talking about this stuff all the time. Now, in the early years of the twenty-first century, it was not all that "out there" anymore. But in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it was way "out there". People thought you were strange or wacky if you talked about stuff like this and it was neither a good strange nor a charming wacky. Her mom was into it fully. So, kind of by osmosis, it drifted through to Annie.
Her mom and her aliens. How embarrassed Annie had been by all that nonsense when she was growing up. Why did her mom have to do yoga and then broadcast it all over the place? Why did she have to harp on eating healthy and talk about the importance of spirituality? Why not just be a good little Catholic, like everyone else's mom? Why not just be normal? No one believed in aliens, no one talked about aliens ... no one, that is, except Annie's mom.
On that day, way back in the beginning of her life, Annie took the ground beef out of the refrigerator. Because her parents worked and her sisters both had after-school jobs in addition to chores of their own, she was the one who made supper. Instead of being put out about being in eighth grade and having to make dinner, she liked doing it. It gave her a sense of responsibility. It never occurred to her to complain. It would not have done any good, anyhow. She would have had to do it whether she liked it or not. She got to make whatever she wanted, which was the greatest thing about being the cook!
As she peeled away the wrapper from the ground beef, she was fantasizing wildly about Gone With the Wind, which she had read during Christmas vacation. The prior weekend, while dropping off her older sister at a friend's house in a well-heeled area, there was a beautiful mansion with white columns seemingly floating in front, just like Tara. She could almost hear Mammie scolding Scarlett while tightening Scarlett's corset. As Annie cut the onions and celery, she dreamed of this house and what it would be like to live in it. She knew Dan lived somewhere out that way. Maybe he knew the people who lived in that house.
Would he call? As she pondered this, she formed the meat into a loaf and put it into the oven, then began peeling the potatoes. She thought he would. There was a kindness in his eyes, a look of sincerity about him. She was not used to having boys call her because they liked her or anything like that. When they called it was usually to ask if she wanted to go down to school and play baseball. As she was getting out the vegetables, the phone rang.
It was Dan! He called! If only she could slow down and talk to him, but she had to get dinner on the table! The various members of her family were slowly drifting in the door, eyebrows shooting up, quizzically wondering about dinner and her on the phone. She did not want to end the conversation. What happened if he never called again? But she had to go! Yes! He'd call back about seven.
Happily humming, she finished making dinner. Then they ate. Now she was a live wire. Time just moved so slowly sometimes. When was it going to be seven o'clock? Her brother and sister were doing the dishes. She wished they would hurry up and be done and out of the kitchen. It would be kind of awkward if Dan called with the phone just on the other side of the counter from the sink, all of two feet away. The cord was so short! The last thing she wanted was them knowing she was talking to a boy and it was not about baseball.
At about five minutes to seven, she strolled into the kitchen and pretended to look at something on the counter. Good, they were just hanging up the towels and leaving the kitchen. The phone rang. It was Dan. He called again!
They chatted for several minutes about all the important stuff: birthdays, (hers January 7, his June 30), ages (hers fourteen, his fifteen) and grades in school (she was in eighth grade; he was a sophomore in high school), and where they lived. He knew the people who her sister had gone to visit the past weekend and she was vividly describing that beautiful Southern-style home, adding that she had just read Gone With The Wind and how that house looked just like Tara. It was a white plantation house, complete with wide porch and pillars in front. She could almost see Scarlett daintily running down the steps in front, gathering her skirts with her ladylike hands.
"That's my house," he suddenly broke in. What? Was he joking?
"That's my house." There, he said it again. He lived there! She never thought of someone actually living there! And Dan did. It was his house! She had seen his house. Maybe she would even get to see the inside of his house. Oh! What glory!
As Annie entered Somerset Elementary School the next day, she felt like a glowing star, for she was no longer quite the same Annie who had exited it the night before. A boy had called her! And it wasn't about baseball! This was a first in their grade, a grade so small that they shared a classroom and teacher with the seventh grade; a grade so small that there were only eight kids in it. Being so small, everyone knew just about everything about everybody else. They all knew how many brothers and sisters each other had and what their names were; they knew where each other lived; they knew what each other liked to do. And by lunch, they knew something had happened in Annie's life.
Annie did not exactly announce it; she just loudly and excitedly whispered it to Tracey and Gail, her two best girl friends in a grade filled with girls, and they whispered it to anyone else who had not heard. If anyone was wondering what all this hush-hush whispering was about, they all knew by noon. And Bill, that boy who Annie had a crush on at school, well, that childhood crush was history by noon, too. After all, he never called Annie, never came down and played baseball with her and the others; she had never even seen him outside of school. Dan was not a childhood crush; Dan was the real thing.
The next few days were filled with that special glamour of first love and that magical sparkle trailed Annie through the hallways at school, down the path walking home and into the door when she threw her books on the counter. Her days were filled with Dan. He was her world and he was all she talked about. Nights were spent waiting for the phone to ring and hearing the melody of his voice on the line. She would hope that her mother would not be playing the piano, much as she usually loved to hear her playing and would sing along while she went about doing her things, but she did not love to hear that piano while she was talking to Dan. It was too loud! Then, of course, she had to hope against hope that no one else was on the phone. Oh! Those exasperating days before call-waiting, caller-ID and cordless phones! The phone was hardwired to the jack in the wall. When someone called you stood there and talked, no matter who was in the room or who was playing the piano. Then there was always one of her brothers or sisters wishing she would get off the phone so they could use it! But for that hour or so each night, she was in her own little slice of heaven, talking to Dan.
Everything in Annie's life went on pretty much the same as it had before. She went to school, she did her housework, she did her homework, she got together with her friends, she fought with her brothers and sisters and she laughed with them. But over everything, there was now this shiny gloss as she thought about and talked about Dan. Too bad he lived so far away. They hardly ever got to see each other. She was not allowed to have boyfriends, so she could hardly ask her mom to take her to Dan's house. She could not even begin to imagine him at her house. Everybody would be gawking at him, this guy with Annie and she could hardly escape to the bedroom with a boy like she could with a girlfriend. Then the news came. She would be cheerleading at Dan's school again! They could hardly wait to see each other.
They anxiously waited. And waited. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of days crawling by, but was actually two weeks, the day of the big event came. Excitedly, she jumped out of bed. She had carefully ironed her blue cheerleading culottes the night before, and now she zipped them up and tucked in her blouse. Too bad she actually had to do cheerleading at the game; she was so looking forward to spending the time with Dan. Hopefully she would get a break and be able to sneak off with him for a few minutes. Annie anxiously eyed the clock as game day crawled by.
Finally, it was time. The cheerleaders went to Dan's school, and then, suddenly, there he was. It was awkward that first few minutes after she got inside the school and hung up her coat. All the anticipation, all the waiting, and now, here they were, seeing each other again, neither knowing quite what to say, quite what to do, but they knew they were happy to see each other again. The game started and Annie went in with the rest of the cheerleading squad, excitedly waiting for halftime.
When finally halftime arrived, she and Dan slowly walked around his school. It had been snowing on and off all day long, but had stopped about an hour earlier. The clouds had cleared and the sky was a brilliant blue. They stopped and sat on a bench underneath a huge apple tree, its bare branches heavy with sparkling white snow. The air was crisp, cold, still. She was cold and started shivering. He took her hand in his hands. His hands felt so warm, so soft, not that she had anything to compare them to, for this was the first time she had ever had her hand inside a boy's hands in any sort of romantic way. He released one of his hands and put the other hand, with hers, in his pocket. Was this holding hands, like everyone was always talking about?
"Here we are, standing, freezing, shivering." His face lit up with that smile that only he had, that smile that encompassed his whole face, starting as light deep behind his eyes. "See that barn? You can see it if you look way out there, it looks like just a speck from here," he said as he pointed toward a dot on the horizon with the hand that was not tangled with hers. "You wouldn't believe how quick that fire was." They both squinted off into the white, snow-shrouded, blue-skied distance. She never forgot the contrast between the leaping flames and the cold, clear day that she heard about them. And she was always wary of fire and never even liked lighting candles after hearing about those flames.
Excerpted from Annie Times Four by Flora Milyn Copyright © 2011 by Flora Milyn. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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