Daddy’s wearing his tux. He says he is Double-Oh-Seven. I said, what’s Double-Oh-Seven, and he laughed. “Bond, James Bond,” he said. “Don’t you know who James Bond is?”
I said, “Yeah. I’m not stupid. I just didn’t know the Double-Oh-Seven part. What does that mean, anyway?”
Daddy changed the subject quick. I don’t think he knows what it means either.
It took me most of September to think up my costume. I’m a mad scientist. I got Celia to crimp my hair and tease it out, and I’m wearing a lab coat from science class.
“You look cute, Shug,” Daddy reaches out to ruffle my hair, and I twist away before he can mess it up. “Where’s your sister?”
“Margaret Tolliver’s throwing a Halloween party, and Celia won’t even let me go. She never takes me anywhere. So me and Elaine are gonna go trick-or-treating, just for kicks.” He isn’t even listening to me anymore; he’s looking over my shoulder.
It’s Mama walking down the stairwell in her Helen of Troy costume. Her hair is piled high on her head, and she is wearing a white silk dress with an empire waist and folds and folds of silk. Daddy looks at her like she’s the only person in the room, in the world. This makes me feel safe. I know there won’t be any fighting tonight, just loving. I won’t have to put my headphones on to drown out their yelling. I won’t hear a thing. I’ll just sleep.
That’s how it is with my parents. It’s all or nothing. They fight like tomcats, and then they make up for it later.
“You’re beautiful,” Daddy says, like it’s a fact. And it is. She is. He reaches out and touches her cheek, and she smiles a secret smile meant only for him.
All of a sudden my father remembers that I am there too, and he says, “Isn’t your mama beautiful, Shug? Isn’t she somethin’?”
She’s somethin’ all right. I don’t say anything, and it doesn’t matter, because they won’t hear me anyway. Daddy helps Mama with her coat, and he tells me to be good and have fun.
To be good and have fun. Can you be good and have fun all at the same time? Is that even possible?
As soon as it starts to get dark, I head over to Elaine’s. Mrs. Kim makes a big fuss over my costume and takes about a million pictures of the two of us. Elaine is dressed up as Daisy from The Great Gatsby. We got the idea when we were flipping through channels one afternoon, and The Great Gatsby was on the old movie network. Elaine had never heard of it, but I’d read it last summer because it was on Celia’s reading list.
Mrs. Kim spent two weeks sewing Elaine’s costume, and it shows. Elaine’s dress is a silky periwinkle blue, and she’s tied a lace sash just below her hips. She’s wearing a shiny blond wig cut in a bob, and a pearl and feather headpiece. And dark red lipstick. She’s not usually allowed to wear makeup, but her mother let her just this once because it was a special occasion.
We run into the boys on Thurston Street. When I see the way the boys look at Elaine, my stomach turns. Mark stares at her like he’s never seen a girl before. Even Jack looks at her, and he doesn’t look at any girl. I feel silly in my mad scientist costume, and to think I’d been so proud of it just a few minutes before. I’d thought it was such a clever idea, and now it feels all wrong. I wish I’d picked something glamorous instead of something babyish. I’m the one with the blond hair; I should have been Daisy instead of a stupid mad scientist. It was my idea.
Hugh whistles. “Who are you?” he says admiringly. He isn’t looking at me, of course.
“Duh, I’m Daisy from The Great Gatsby.”
“What’s that?” Hugh says.
“It’s a book; it’s famous.” She bats her fake eyelashes at him and says, “The schools down South really are deficient. Can you even read, Huey?”
I bristle. Elaine has a lot of nerve talking about the South like that. She didn’t even know who Daisy was until I told her.
Whooping, Hugh grabs the headpiece from her head and takes off running down the street. Elaine laughs and chases after him, tottering in her heels.
The rest of us stand around awkwardly. It’s cold outside, and at least my lab coat is keeping me warm. Well, warmer than Elaine in her skimpy little dress, anyway.
Jack pokes my hair, and I slap his hand away. Laughing, he says, “Your costume’s not half bad, Einstein.”
I flush. I hadn’t even thought of that. I hadn’t gotten the idea from him, had I? And Einstein wasn’t really a scientist, he was more of a mathematician. Wasn’t he? He did have that wild hair, though.…
My whole life I wanted to eat at Mark’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. I almost got my wish a few years back when Daddy couldn’t come home because of work, and Mama got so drunk she forgot to put the turkey in the oven. I was looking forward to eating that turkey all day, and then dinnertime came, and I asked Mama, when do we get to eat? She said, “Damnation!” And that turkey was still frozen solid in the refrigerator. I threw a fit—all I ever wanted was that turkey! Turkey for dinner and turkey sandwiches all week. I said that I was going to the Findleys’ for dinner, and Mama said absolutely not. While I was crying upstairs, she went to Kentucky Fried Chicken and bought a twenty-piece bucket. She got a family-size portion of mashed potatoes, extra biscuits, and two corn on the cobs just for me. Mama got that part right at least.
Thanksgiving is a big deal at Mark’s house. They even hang a turkey flag on the front porch. Mrs. Findley starts cooking three days in advance. Food prep, she calls it, so there’s less to do on the big day. I’d help her by doing little things—chopping onions and rolling out piecrust, stuff like that. She always makes exactly the same dishes, and I know it all by heart. Turkey with giblet gravy, fresh-baked yeast rolls, cranberry sauce from scratch, sweet corn pudding, green bean casserole, real mashed potatoes, whipped sweet potatoes with baby marshmallows, oyster stuffing (homemade, not box), pumpkin pie and pecan pie (homemade, not store bought). Mark’s grandparents come all the way from Detroit, and the men work on Mr. Findley’s antique train set. I’m not sure what the women do. I guess they cook. I never bothered to ask.
This year we’re having guests too. Well, we are now, anyway. Daddy called last Monday and said that he’d invited the Honeycutts over for Thanksgiving dinner. You can just bet that Mama wasn’t too happy about that one. She lit into him good. She called Daddy a selfish, good-for-nothing louse of a husband. She also said that the last time she saw him, he’d put on some weight, and maybe he’d be better off skipping Thanksgiving dinner altogether. I’m surprised the whole neighborhood didn’t hear some of the names she was calling him.