Authors: M. E. Kerr
To remember my friend,
Dr. Martha Wolfenstein,
I WONDER WHAT THAT SUMMER WOULD HAVE BEEN like if…
“ALL IN WHITEI” SKYE PENNINGTON EXCLAIMED when she greeted me.
“HELLO, GRANDPA THIS IS BUDDY.” THERE WAS A long pause.
I TRIED TO CONVINCE SKYE TO LET ME DRIVE TO…
THE POOL HOUSE AT BEAUREGARD IS BIGGER THAN the house…
“WHERE’VE YOU BEEN, BUDDY?” MY FATHER SAID.
OUR FAMILY ISN’T VERY RELIGIOUS, BUT MY MOTHER goes to…
ONCE I GOT TO BEAUREGARD, I ALWAYS SEEMED ABLE to…
IT WAS SKYE’S IDEA TO DRIVE TO MONTAUK THIS TIME.
MY GRANDFATHER WOKE ME AT QUARTER TO SIX THE next…
I’D BEEN LIVING AT MY GRANDFATHER’S FOR FOUR days. For…
MY GRANDFATHER DID EVERYTHING WELL, INCLUDING cook. He served us…
WE NAMED THE BABY RACCOON GRAHAM CRACKER, since that was…
SKYE SAID SHE WANTED TO TAKE A BATH BEFORE SHE…
WHEN I WENT BACK INSIDE THAT NIGHT, MY grandfather was…
THE ONLY THING MY MOTHER SEEMED TO CARE ABOUT was…
AFTER WE FOUND MIGNON DEAD, MY GRANDFATHER insisted that I…
KICK WAS NOT THE ONLY ONE IN SWEET MOUTH talking…
EVERY AUGUST AT BEAUREGARD, THEY THROW A Future Party. Guests…
I WONDER WHAT THAT SUMMER WOULD HAVE BEEN
like if I’d never met Skye Pennington. They always seem to have names like that, don’t they? Rich, beautiful girls are never named Elsie Pip or Mary Smith. They have these special names and they say them in their particular tones and accents, and my mother was right, I was in over my head or out of my depth, or however she put it. My father said, “She’s not our class, Buddy.” This conversation the first night I took her out.
I was in the bathroom, pretending to shave. I’m a towhead, like all male Boyles, and at sixteen my beard is not a burden; it’s not even a fact.
My mother was just outside, in the hall, pretending to straighten out the linen closet.
Streaker, my five-year-old brother, was around the corner in our bedroom, pretending he could play Yahtzee alone.
My father was using the top of the toilet seat like
a chair, while he discussed the matter with me.
“She’s not in our class?” I said. “What does that even mean?”
I knew what it meant. It meant we lived year round in Seaville, New York, on a seedy half-acre lot up near the bay, and Skye summered on five ocean-view acres at the other end of town.
Another thing it meant was that my dad was a sergeant in the Seaville police force, and Skye’s dad was head of Penn Industries.
“Do you actually pay attention to that stuff?” I said, as if I never did.
“Buddy, that stuff is a fact of life.” My mother’s voice from the hall. “Sad but true.”
“Inge, am I handling this, or are you?” said my father.
“Oh excuse me for living,” my mother said.
“I thought you asked me to handle it.”
“I asked you to talk to him.”
“What is there to talk about?” I said.
“What there is to talk about is where the hell you’re spending all your money!”
“Don’t get mad at him, Billy,” said my mother. “I said to talk to him, not to shout at him.”
“It’s my money, isn’t it? I earned it,” I said.
“Since when do you spend your money on clothes?” my father said.
“If you know where I’m spending my money,
why do you want to talk about where I’m spending it?” I said.
“You’re spending it on clothes like some girl!” my father shouted.
“He’s spending it on clothes
of some girl!” my mother shouted.
“I don’t spend one hundred and fifty dollars on clothes in six months’ time,” said my father. “You’ve spent that much in one month!”
“You wear a uniform half the time,” I said.
don’t even spend that much on clothes in six months,” said my mother.
I wiped my face with a towel and said between my teeth, slowly, “I do not plan to spend one hundred and fifty dollars every month on clothes. I just needed new things, that’s all. I can’t go everywhere in dumb, stupid jeans, old shirts, patched pants, and dumb, stupid worn-out shoes!”
“It’s summer, for God’s sake!” said my father. “Who are you expecting to meet?”
“He’s already met her,” said my mother.
“She must be some hotsy-totsy phony!” said my father.
“Well it’s been nice talking to you, Dad,” I said.
“I can’t talk to you,” he said.
“You’ve just proven that,” I said.
He got up and sighed and stood for a minute with his hands on his hips. He looked miserable,
but I didn’t help him out any. He’d just had a haircut and he has these big ears, and he had that raw kid’s look that was in all the old photographs of the days when he and my mother were first married. Whenever I looked at the family album I felt sorry for my father. He’d be standing in our yard, which didn’t have any trees in those days or any grass; he’d be holding this little bundle in his arms with a little head sticking out of it (that was me) and he’d look like he’d sure bitten off more than he could chew. My mother was quite a beauty in those days and she looked sure of herself and up to settling down and being a wife and mother, but there was something about my poor dad that said he should have still been riding bicycles with the boys, or hanging around the pizza parlor making cracks at the girls who went by. He didn’t look ready for the Mr. and Mrs. towels my grandmother Boyle had given them for a wedding present.
“I don’t know, Buddy,” my father said. He ran his palm through his short-cropped hair and shook his head. He never could talk very well about things and he hated it that he sometimes got mad when he was trying to.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’m watching it.”
“Yeah,” he said, as though he had his doubts.
“I didn’t buy me a tuxedo yet,” I said. I smiled at him.
He gave me back one of his red-faced, lopsided smiles and said, “That’ll be next, a monkey suit. Huh?” He gave me a punch in my gut.
I feinted one near his jaw. “Don’t worry,” I said. “I won’t make your mistake.”
“What’s my mistake?”
“Getting married before you were dry behind your ears.”
“Oh I like that,” said my mother. “Thanks a lot for that.”
My dad laughed and sniffed and tried to land another one on me. I ducked and said, “Get outta here.”
He threw his hands up in the air and muttered something like “oh what the heck,” then walked out. So much for our talk.
When he went into the kitchen to get a bottle of beer, my mother followed him. I could hear them talking in low voices. I suppose she was giving it to him, but not really bad because she was always the first to say Dad had trouble expressing himself.
I went into the bedroom and started looking through all the new stuff I’d bought, while Streaker curled up in the top bunk and pretended to be asleep.
“I know you’re awake,” I said.
He didn’t answer me.
“Maybe Mom should put you to bed every
night around seven o’clock,” I said. “You obviously get all worn out by this time.”
He didn’t rise to the bait.
I guess I bought so many clothes because I didn’t know very much about clothes. Not
. I knew about putting on what everybody else puts on to go to school or hang around, but I didn’t know what to show up in for my first date with Skye Pennington. I chose a pair of white slacks and a white shirt with this red belt. I had a white cotton jacket to go with it, so I decided to do a white number. My tan was started. I liked white with a tan.
Streaker was pretending to snore.
“Well, little bitsy teeny-tiny kids are always put to sleep by big people’s talk,” I said. Streaker still didn’t bite. He stuck with his act. Once, while I was buttoning my shirt, I whirled around and caught him looking at me through his baby fingers, which he had over his face.
“Caught you!” I laughed, but he wanted more of a game. I wasn’t up to it. I was too nervous about my date.
I was always giving myself lectures about being more of a big brother to Streaker. He was too little to tag along with me most places I went. Where we lived there weren’t any other kids his age nearby. He spent a lot of his time wandering around to neighbors’ houses, like old Mrs.
Schneider’s up on Underwood Drive, where he always got fed fudge brownies. I’d vow to spend more time with him when I was home, but something always came up. After school was out, I got a job at The Sweet Mouth Soda Shoppe, and shortly after that Skye Pennington came waltzing in with her gang. From that day on my life seemed to have one focus, and I’d go over and over our conversations, sifting through them for meanings that probably weren’t there, looks that probably didn’t mean anything, whatever I could use to spin a fantasy with.
Then I just came out with it one afternoon. “I’d like to take you out Friday night.”
“I’d like to have you take me out Friday night.”
That was it.
My mother appeared in the doorway of the bedroom and said, “What are you smiling at?”
“I was remembering something.”
“He’s in a coma up there,” I said. “He did a swan dive off the bed and hit his head on the Yahtzee dice. I can’t wake him up.”
Streaker’s little body was choking on suppressed laughter.
“Buddy,” my mother said, “it isn’t that you’re not supposed to date girls who aren’t in our class. It’s just that if you need to go out and spend a whole year’s savings on clothes to date
one, she’s not worth it.”
“I won’t know that until the night’s over,” I said.
“Oh yeah, what could make it worth it, huh? One hundred and fifty dollars. What could make it worth it?”
“Don’t ask,” I said.
“Buddy, don’t get fresh with me.” She put on one of her stern looks and folded her arms and stared at me. She always looked older than my dad, but when she put on weight the way she was doing at the beginning of that summer, she really added years to her age. She was forty, but she looked five or six years older.
“I’m not getting fresh,” I said.
“It sounded fresh.” She has long blond hair which goes all the way to her waist, when it isn’t done up on top of her head the way it was that night. She has the bluest eyes of any of us Boyles; we all have blue eyes, and she has the greatest smile. She and Streaker are the smilers in the family.
“I’m sorry if it sounded fresh. I wish everybody wouldn’t worry so. I can take care of myself, Mom.”
“I know that. Just don’t turn into a snob like your grandfather.”
I have only one living grandfather and it’s her father, but she never calls him her anything; she
doesn’t even call him Dad or Papa. He lives in Montauk now, which is a twenty-minute drive from Seaville, but she never goes there to see him.
” I said. “
” spitting out what little German I knew. My mother was actually born in Germany, but she left before she could walk or talk, and never knew her father. He didn’t even look her up until she was a grown woman, never even tried to write her or write to anyone to find out if she and her mother were all right.
By the time he got around to caring about his daughter, it was too late. I think my mother hates him.
“One thing I can’t stand is a snob!” my mother said.
“Grandpa Trenker doesn’t seem like such a snob.” I’d met him only twice, once when I was little, and don’t remember; once when my mother took me to see him in Montauk. He lives in this huge house by the ocean. He seemed all right to me, one of these foreign types with the classical music going and a lot of talk about his gardens. I couldn’t wait to leave, though, because my mother was so uncomfortable around him. She just thought I ought to meet him, she said; he is your grandfather, she said, and he doesn’t have two heads or anything, so you’ll see for yourself.
“Grandpa Trenker doesn’t think his you-know-what smells,” my mother said. She couldn’t bring
herself to say the word “pee,” so she made the expression sound worse than it was.
“Well I’m not going to turn into Grandpa Trenker, so don’t worry,” I said.
“Streaker,” my mother said, “I know you’re awake. Get down from there and put on your pajamas.”
Streaker didn’t move.
“All in white,” my mother said, looking me over, smiling. “Streaker! Get down from there this minute and put on your pajamas!”
Streaker sat up and glared down at us. “I’m not going to sleep in those dumb, stupid old pajamas!” he blurted out.
“Little pitchers have big ears,” my mother said.
“I’m not!” Streaker said. “I’m not going to wear those dumb, stupid pajamas.”
“Good-bye, big shot,” I said to him. “Good-bye, Mom. I have to rush.”
“All in white,” my mom said. “You look like Prince Charming.”