This is posted here as the request of Holly West, who edited this anthology.
from a picnic table as Ava seized control of the playground’s merry-go-round —
or that’s what they called the thing in her childhood. And this was a
playground from the eighties, she thought, eyeing the dented monkey bars, the
finger-pinching swings. A thousand tiny feet pounding circles produced dirt as
hard as stone.
Looking at Ava in
the too-short dress she’d insisted on wearing, red-faced and panting as she ran
faster and faster, Katherine was reminded of her mother's doggedness. Her
daughter's stance when she huffed to a stop to let a toddler climb on was not a
six-year old's. Even her feet splayed like her grandmother's. It was as if she
too endured years of standing while she stamped metal in the Chrysler auto
Ava's feet were lifting as the spinning disk's speed increased.
visions of a child flying off, a limb getting mangled. She looked around, but the
other adults seemed oblivious to the danger. Grateful, in fact, for a few
minute’s peace, few of them even were watching the spectacle.
woman sitting on Katherine’s right put her paperback down, saying, “She's a
mama bird, isn't she? Your kid, right?"
Katherine began, “she shouldn’t—"
“Watch how she slows it down whenever anyone
wants to get on or off,” the woman interrupted. “What is she anyway—seven,
“Six!” The woman
shook her head in disbelief. “Now my kid….” The woman looked in the direction
of a boy on his belly pushing a hot wheels car in figure 8s in the dust beneath
the speeding apparatus. “Billy,” she shouted suddenly, “you’re gonna lose a
hand doing that." She raced off to rescue Billy from certain amputation.
helpful—helpful to a fault. Like her grandmother, she was always the first to
jump in. Why did it rub Katherine the
wrong way? Why did the similarities between them annoy her? Maybe she needed a
therapist to figure it out. Her mother seemed born to be a grandmother and
perhaps Ava was too. Bunny never had the time to be the mother Katherine longed
ready to go?” Tom asked, sneaking up. His new longish hairstyle made him look
fifteen. He slipped in beside her, bumping his knee on the table leg and
wincing. Looking up, he caught his daughter helping a smaller child off the
ride. “No one has to tell our kid to play nice.”
“Don’t you think
it’s odd she never takes a turn herself?”
Tom laughed, his
face crinkling. “So what if she gets a charge out of running the show! I mean
how entertaining is whirling around on a rusty old plate?”
“She did the same
thing on the swings! And after that, she planted herself at the bottom of the
slide to be sure no one got hurt.”
just bored by this outdated playground.” Tom's face shone with pride.
catching sight of her father, waved. “Hiya, baby!” he called, his grin wide. “Look,
no one’s bothered to put down a measly layer of mulch to break a fall. I
thought the city checked out that kind of thing."
“Maybe not around
here. We should have waited till we got closer to home before stopping. It
looks like the sort of place child molesters frequent.” They both looked around
Tom stood and began
gathering up the last items of their impromptu picnic. “Are you going to finish
your sub?” he asked, holding it up.
“No, of course you're not. The calories might
turn up on the scale tomorrow." Katherine looked at him quickly, but he
was smiling. "Ready, kid,” Tom shouted to Ava.
“Can we stop for
ice-cream?” Ava asked, dashing over and taking a hefty swig of a half-empty cup
of lemonade. Avoiding her mother’s eyes, she added, “I’m gonna order a purple
cow.” She squinted. “I like purple cows, don’t I?”
“Let me comb your
hair first,” Katherine said, pulling a comb from her purse. Her daughter held
still for a few seconds before tearing away. Katherine watched as she ran after
Tom. She'd toss that dress in the Goodwill bin at church. Ava wouldn’t mind a
younger child getting her outgrown clothing.
quarter of my patients are overweight,” the pediatrician said as he helped Ava
down from the examining table at her checkup last month. “When we were kids, it
was less than ten percent. We’re stoking our kids instead of stroking them.”
writing these pearls down?” she asked. Luckily, he was an old friend of Tom's
and didn't take umbrage.
“She takes after
me,” Tom said when she told him about Ava’s checkup. “I was a chunkster. She’ll
“No, no— she takes
after my mother. And it’s not the kind of weight that goes away!” At 5’4” Bunny
weighed in at 170, tending to be soft and squishy through the middle, though
her limbs were muscular.
“I wish you’d
check with me first,” Katherine said now as she hurried after him toward the
parking lot. “She’s already eaten half a box of animal crackers.” Drop it, you
idiot, she commanded herself. Don’t
ruin a nice day. Be glad she has a father who adores her.
you, Kit?" Tom asked her when they got to the ice cream stand. She
wrinkled her nose in response, and he turned to order two Purple Cows. "You
don't know what you're missing," he said, digging in. "I've never saw
a purple cow."
"I never hope
to see one," Ava chimed in.
"But I can
tell you anyhow," Katherine added.
see then be one," Tom finished laughing.
She wished she'd
had a Dad like Tom. Katherine’s father took off when she was four, and after
that, it had been just Katherine and Bunny. Or Kitty and Bunny, in Bunny’s
parlance. Bunny didn’t badmouth her former husband much despite his desertion. She
never shared much about her childhood either. She had a sunny disposition that
pointed her toward the assets in her life—namely her good health, her loyal
friends, and firstly, Katherine. Katherine had no doubt Bunny would give up her
life without a second's hesitation for her. Such devotion was sometimes
“I don’t know why
you can’t see the resemblance,” Katherine whispered to Tom later that evening,
watching Ava tote the watering can from the faucet to her own garden. Ava’s
flowers, Katherine noticed, were doing better than hers; the sunflowers, in
particular, were nearly a foot high and the second planting of lettuce ready to
eat. Except it would never be eaten.
“I like how it
looks,” Ava had said when Katherine suggested harvesting the leaf lettuce.
“Can’t you just buy lettuce at Krogers? " Wrinkling her nose, Ava pinched
back her marigolds, her fingers already strong enough at six.
opportunity for a closer comparison next week,” Tom joked once Ava was tucked
in, flipping the page of his Sports Illustrated. Bunny was coming along
for their week at Cape Cod. She lived half a
day away from them nowadays in Traverse
City so it was hard to deny her an extended visit. But
Katherine tried to for some reason.
“You know you’ll end up babysitting most of
what I want to do.” Bunny sniffed. “Of course, if you don’t want me tagging
would be crushed if you didn't come.” And that was true. Only later, she
realized she should have included herself in that statement.
someone to water her garden,” Katherine informed Tom the next day, stifling a
yawn. She was working too many hours at the design center but couldn't cut
back. Not with the week at the Cape looming.
He put down the
“That kid who tags
after her at school. Birdy something.”
Taggert." Tom was a school district social worker and knew all the kids.
"How much is she paying him?”
“They have a
sliding scale worked out—depending on whether it rains.” Katherine had heard
the transaction from the next room, jumping in only when Ava was about to take
the spare key out of the kitchen drawer.
“Why does he need
to come inside the house while we're gone?” Katherine asked, sliding the drawer
“He’s gonna feed the Little Mermaid,” Ava
explained. “We’re gonna be gone nine days, Mom!” Berty, underfoot to look the
place over, stared at Katherine disdainfully, no doubt thinking she was one of
those mothers who flushed inconvenient things down the toilet.
“We can put
aquatic plants in the bowl for the Little Mermaid. Just like we did when Aunt
Helen died and we had to go to Ohio."
agreeably after a moment, but Katherine put the key in another spot anyway.
She’d been fooled by Ava’s apparent acquiescence more than once. In this
regard, Ava took after her father.
At the beach at
Truro a week later, Bunny was digging in the sand with Ava, wearing one of
those matronly swim suits that came in two pieces. A good idea, but the top
rolled up to exhibit her sizeable breasts every time she bent over, exposing
her slack and sizable belly. “Mom!”
Katherine said, throwing her a spare tee shirt. Both Bunny and Ava looked up
from their sandcastle. Bunny shrugged and pulled the shirt over her head,
stretching Katherine’s size four to a sixteen in seconds. The crab on the tee
shirt's front took on the proportions of something zapped by nuclear fallout in
a disaster film.
Tom stood over
them dripping. “Water’s great,” he panted. “Anybody wanna try the raft.” All
three women looked toward the crashing waves, the necklaces of seaweed, the
sharp stones and broken shells—and declined.
“I told you we
should find a bay beach,” Katherine reminded him. “Ava’s not used to such big
“I don’t think Kitty saw the ocean till she
was grown,” Bunny said to Tom, shielding her eyes. “Funny, since I grew up only
thirty miles from the ocean in Maine.”
She perked up. “But most years, my mom and me came down to the Cape to Dennisport to stay with my aunt and uncle and
their kids. He ran a religious bookstore in town.” She wrinkled her nose.
"He was a true believer. I guess everyone in my family was."
“I saw Dennisport
on a sign we passed, Grandma,” Ava informed them, wetting the drying sand
carefully with her pail of water. “I can read now, you know."
“And I loved the story you read last night.
The one about the duck.” Picking up someone’s discarded straw, Bunny stuck it
on the highest tower of the castle. “There!”
“Where did you go
for your vacations when you were a kid, Mom?” Ava asked.
remembered one—a weekend at Mackinaw Island in Michigan.
She remembered eating enough pink fudge to make her sick and riding in a
horse-drawn carriage with Bunny chattering away to the driver. The cost of a
cottage for a week was too much on Bunny's salary. Vacations were for other
people. But now she was one of those other people.
“We went to
different places,” she answered evasively. “Daddy and I went to the Caribbean for our honeymoon. We spent every day on the
“When you weren’t
busy elsewhere!” Bunny added, wiping her sandy hands off on her suit. Exchanging
an amused look with Tom, she asked, “Want to go up for a clam roll?” She
directed her question toward Ava. Then she glanced at Katherine and Tom,
adding, “How ‘bout it, you guys?”
at her watch. “It’s not even noon, Mom. And we brought sandwiches along.” Bunny
had actually helped prepare them, insisting on adding pickle relish to the
tuna, lavishing mayo on the bread, throwing in the chips she had harpooned at
the grocery store. “Remember?”
“How often do you
get a chance to eat clamrolls, Kit? Why don’t you three go? Girls lunch out.”
Tom nudged her and she acquiesced, standing up and jamming on her hat. Bunny
and Ava were already half way up the beach, neither looking back.
“Can I bring you
His eyes were half-shut.
“I’ll eat the tuna. And relish it.”
funny But you just…Oh, never mind.” She caught up with Bunny and Ava a few
minutes later. Walking in dry sand was a chore and their progress slow since
Ava stopped every few seconds to add another shell to her pail.
“Go wash your hands off, Ava,” she told her
daughter as they approached the shanty, motioning toward an outdoor spigot.
Both Bunny and Ava were covered in sand. She'd like to tell her mother to do the same. How could a grown
woman stand it? Plus they'd get it all over their booth. It was one thing for a
child not to understand, another for a grown woman.
“The trouble with
you …” Bunny said suddenly, surprisingly her. She pulled her sunhat off and
blinked blindly as they walked inside.
“The trouble with me…
is what?” Katherine asked.
“No, go ahead.”
Inside, they found an empty booth by the window. Katherine looked out and saw
her daughter washing off every shell along with her hands.
“Okay then,” Bunny
said, anticipating Ava’s seating preference and sliding over. “The trouble with
you is—you don’t know how to have fun.”
“Oh, and having
fun is spreading sand all over a restaurant, Mother.” The thought of adding
that maybe she didn't learn to have fun at the right age flitted through her
Bunny rolled her
eyes. Katherine grabbed a napkin from the holder and swept some sand off the
about the sand here, honey. You can't fight it." Bunny covered Katherine’s
hands with her own to still them. “Maybe my idea of fun isn’t yours? Hey, did I
ever tell you about the summer I became a beatnik?"
This was rarity.
Her mother hardly ever talked about her past.
"You mean a
beatnik." Bunny straightened up, preparing for a long reminiscence. "We
were at some beach on the Cape--I don't even remember which one now. It was dusk
and I was headed home from some activity--maybe just a walk, but probably
eating ice cream. There was this great little dairy stand..." She sighed.
"Anyway, I heard this strange music coming from the beach--music I'd never
heard before--and I saw a bonfire lighting up a bunch of kids. Must have been
ten or fifteen of them."
too young to be a beatnik?"
"Just listen to
my story, Kitty. Hippie, Beatnik, who cares? Well, I walked out onto the beach
and in that second, it was like there was some cosmic shift in the atmosphere. It
was magic, pure magic. These kids were different from anyone I'd seen before.
Dressed different, different hair, different music. I swear they even smelled
different, but maybe that was the pot."
was this?" Katherine was still focusing on the hippie/beatnik question.
probably fourteen," Bunny said, after a few seconds. "So say '62."
"I guess it
was beatniks then," Katherine acknowledged. "Hippies were more like
"So anyway, a
couple of them had instruments. Guitars and some bongos. maybe that round thing
with bells on it. I am drawing a blank on the name."
"Right. And castanets, I think. And this
one girl--well, actually she was a woman more than a girl--was singing this
song about the wind."
anyway, she had long blonde hair. People I knew didn't wear their hair like
that yet. And she had a sort of Mumu on, an outfit I'd never seen before. The
only thing I could think of was that guy on Dobie
"Who's Dobie Gillis?" Katherine asked.
Bunny shook her
head. "Never mind. Let's keep on with the story here."
funny name, Grandma," Ava said, rejoining them, hands clean and held out
for inspection. "Dopey. Wasn't he one of the seven dwarves?"
not dopey. You two can sure get a girl off track. Anyway, one of them wore a
beret and another a porkpie hat. Now, never mind what that is, Ava. We can look
it up later. Next, they were doing the limbo with a sand rake someone had
limbo?" Ava asked
started to demonstrate, and then stopped. " I'll show you that later too.
Or you might have to, Kitty. Limbo's a young person's game." She paused.
"I forgot how different things were then. We had a president we loved,
didn't know we were polluting the world, we all seemed to get along. Sorry, now
I'm getting off the subject."
what happened?"Ava asked.
actually, they did something bad next. They pulled out some grass and started
passing it around."
like the grass on the lawn?" Ava asked, puzzled.
Bunny said, looking over her head at Katherine. "They were passing around
"I am never
going to smoke," Ava said, crossing her heart.
hope not," Bunny said.
supposed you partook," Katherine said.
"And you hung
out with these beatniks the rest of the summer?"
"I did. When
I could manage it. I was mesmerized. They treated me like their very own Gidget."
"That was Sally
Fields?" Katherine asked.
Bunny blinked her eyes. "Or Sandra Dee. Wow.
I just remembered the end of my story. Which wasn't so much fun. Remember, I
told you we always stayed with an aunt and uncle in Dennisport? The bible
on." Finally Katherine was engaged in the story.
"One Sunday night, my cousin and I were
supposed to be attending a Luther League swimming party."
"What is Luther
League anyway? It features heavily in your childhood reminisces. It sounds like a Hitler Youth group."
incendiary. It was a church group for teenagers. The Brewsters were a real
religious family as I said. That always put a damper on things when we stayed
didn't go, did you? To Luther League."
"Ooh, were you a bad girl that time, Grandma. Smoking and then not going
to Luther League."
Smiling down at
Ava, Bunny said, "Nope, I didn't go. They were having a luau on the beach
that night. Roasting a pig or something crazy. So I talked Peggy, that was my cousin,
into going. I didn't usually invite her to come out with me because she was
barely thirteen, but it wasn't too hard to get her to ditch church. We went to
the luau and that's about it. We ate some barbecue. Listened to music. Tried to
get the older guys to notice us. Nothing really happened. Not then, at least."
when?" Ava asked.
we got back to the cottage," Bunny continued, "my uncle was waiting
outside on the street. It wasn't late but he was pacing. 'Guess who I just had
a call from?'" he asked Peggy, but I knew he was really asking me,"
wasn't a good listener, right?" Ava had made a face on the table out of
spilled sugar and turned the smile into a frown. "My teacher tells me that
Bunny sighed and
patted Ava's head. "No, he knew I was the one who convinced Peggy to ditch
church and go to a party. Peggy would've have never done it on her own. "
She looked at Katherine. "She was a lot like you, Kitty. Virtuous."
need to wash your hands again. They are full of sugar and who knows what
else." Katherine pulled her daughter to her feet.
"You can hear
it another time."
Giving a big sigh,
Ava went outside to the spigot.
"Did you hear
this story before?" Bunny asked. "Is that why you sent her
it suddenly. You must have told it to me when I was that age. Anyway, he pulled
off his belt and whipped Peggy across the backs of her legs, didn't he?" Katherine looked white.
" I can still hear the sound of the slap of that belt on her legs now. And
when I tried to leave, he stopped me, told me my punishment was having to
watch. My mother wasn't there to stop him or she would have. She'd gone bowling
with my aunt. And, of course, I stood there frozen. It seemed like it went on
forever but it was probably only a minute."
pretty long to have your legs switched. And you've always regretted not doing
than that. That night, once Peggy fell asleep, I pulled the sheet down and
looked at the back of her legs."
were full of cuts?"
beneath the marks from that day, there were lots of silvery scars. I was sure
he beat her regularly. I thought about pulling the sheet up higher to see if
her back was scarred too, but I didn't."
her head. "And this was your uncle?"
"Uh, huh. But
it was his wife who was my mother's sister. We left the next day. I think that
was the last time we stayed with them. Maybe the last time we saw them."
She paused. "Peggy didn't cry out once, didn't try to get away, didn't
even beg him to stop. I could never forgive myself for not saying something.
For not telling my mom at least."
think she figured it out and that's why you left?"
"I never had the heart to ask."
what happened to the beatniks?" Katherine said.
"Ha. I heard
later they got caught robbing a house. I thought they were up to something
because they never dressed the same way twice. And such food they brought to those
bonfires. Fancy stuff." She took a sip of iced tea. "Not the kind of
stuff kids buy. Of course at fourteen, what did I know?"
done something. Saved her somehow."
were a kid. You couldn't have saved her. Oh, here you are,” Katherine said as
Ava slid in next to her grandmother. The waitress returned with their food a
few minutes later. Bunny and Ava chattered on about making a tunnel from their
castle while Katherine munched absentmindedly on her own clam roll. Ava was
done soon and out the door.
kind of exhausting, hasn't it? I forgot how tiring walking in the sand is. And
the sun wears me out." Her mother rubbed a foot and stood up.
"And poor Ava
getting the bum's rush."
sleepily toward the window."That spigot got a workout all right."
out. "Hey, wait just a minute. Who's that going up the beach with Ava?
It's certainly not Tom."
Bunny said, on her feet at once.
But Katherine was
already out the door, her flip-flops slapping the sand as she ran.
It's okay," Bunny yelled. "It's the man we rented the cottage from.
Ava's probably following him back to Tom. Kitty!"
But Katherine didn't
hear her and before Bunny could catch up, Katherine had tackled the man from his
waist and brought him to his knees.
do you think you are going with my kid?" she asked, her hand gripping his
pony tail from behind. His head was pulled back far enough to make his mouth
from what she'd witnessed, stood frozen.
down," Bunny said, arriving at the scene."It's Jack Owens. The guy
who rented us the cottage. Remember, he helped us carry in the bags. Guess
being far-sighted came in handy for once." Bent over, hands on her knees,
she struggled to catch her breath.
climbed off the man's back, stood, and wiped the sand off her shins.
"Sorry, Jack. Without my glasses, you looked like Jack the Ripper to me"
He rose, laughing.
"You sure ran
after us, Mom," Ava said, her speech returning. "You were like that
old wind Mariah coming down the beach."
"My story put
you in that kind of mood," Bunny said, "Seeing danger
"I think I
came to that myself," Katherine told her.
were gone a long time," Tom said, sleepily opening his eyes. "Were
they out of clam rolls or something?"
never guess what happened."
"What happened?" he
said sitting up. The two women looked at each other.
a bunch of beatniks on the beach near here. They sang songs, did the mambo, and
wore funny hats that she's gonna show me later."
"It was a
long time ago, Daddy," Ava said chuckling."When kids did olden
"But you got
your clam rolls, right?"
The three of them
for some ice cream?" Tom asked.
am," Katherine said.
never seen you eat ice-cream," Ava shrieked. "What kind do you
at her mother. "What kind do I like, Mom
"Something green, I think. Maybe pistachio."
"But if could be chocolate mint, right?" Ava
smiled. "That's my third favorite flavor. I hope it's that flavor. You
could take after me sometimes."