Cici sat on the curb staring down at the black tar filling the cracks in the street. She was wearing a white tank top and green shorts and her bare feet were dirty from walking around the baseball field in her flip flops this morning at her brother Sid’s practice.
It was hot. It was so hot that it was hard to take a full breath. The tar was sticky and gooey and had little bubbles which Cici was popping and pulling on. Summer was hard for the nine year old because there was nothing to do. She couldn’t play in the kiddie pool with her five year old sister Fran because she was just way too old for that. Sid thought he was too cool for her now that he had turned thirteen. So here she sat.
Her best friend Lisa was at her grandpa’s farm and wouldn’t be back until a week before school started. Lisa’s mom had asked if Cici could go with Lisa but she’d had bible camp and her parents wouldn’t let her miss it. She was actually kind of glad because Lisa’s grandpa made Cici kind of nervous.
He was nice and all but he was old and he sounded funny. He had wisps of greasy gray hair that floated above his head like the plants in the bottom of Sid’s fish tank, his false teeth were outlined in brown and yellow in the middle and they were too big for his mouth because he was constantly having to push them back in, his hands were gnarled like tree roots and hard and sandpapery. Her dad had told her that Lisa’s Grandpa Elliott was a farmer and that was why his hands were like that but Cici didn’t like it.
Her own Grandpa Bob had soft hands and no hair and he could still run five miles three times a week. Her mom called Grandpa Bob a “bantam rooster” which always made her dad mad but she didn’t understand why.
Cici grew bored of popping tar bubbles so she wiped her hands on the dead grass alongside the road and stood up to amble aimlessly down the street to the cul de sac around the corner from her house. Maybe Gail was home and would want to play barbies. Gail’s house was always really dark and really cold. Her mom would let them make their own sweet tea and they would use tons of sugar and make a big mess on the big gouged up wooden table and they wouldn’t even get in trouble. Cici’s mom didn’t really like her going there but she would never tell Cici why. Sid told Cici once that it was because Gail’s mom had a lot of boyfriends but Cici just couldn’t understand why that would make Mom’s jaw tighten like when she was mad at Daddy. Gail’s mom was young and pretty and the men were always really nice to Gail and her friends, buying them ice cream or taking them to the movies.
As she rounded the corner of the cul de sac she saw Gail’s mom and Gail pull out in their blue car, both waving to her as they drove by. “Oh NO” Cici gasped as she crumpled to the sidewalk dramatically “what am I going to do now?”
She sat for a minute picking at the scab on her right shin that she had gotten last week trying to ride Sid’s skateboard. The sidewalk was hot and rough under her knees and feet so she got up and turned back toward home walking loose limbed and emanating despair and boredom with every step.
“Mom I’m bored” Cici called out as she walked through the side door into the kitchen. Her mom was on the phone in the dining room and she held up one finger without looking up. Cici’s mom had short frizzy hair and brown eyes and always looked like she was in a hurry. She had a dish towel slung over her shoulder and an apron on so Cici knew she’d been washing dishes. With exaggerated quiet Cici reached into the fruit bowl on the butcher block table and pulled an apple out. Polishing it on her shirt she wandered into the dining room and sat on the floor by the register letting the cold air run over her face.
“Cecelia!” she suddenly heard her mother yelp as she rushed over and grabbed the apple out of her hand. “Look at your hands! Go outside and put some gasoline on one of your Dad’s rags and get that tar off your hands. How many times have I told you not to play in that stuff?”
Cici hustled into the garage and did as her mother had told her to. The garage was her Dad’s domain and it always intimidated and fascinated her to be out there. They hadn’t parked a car in here for as long she could remember. Dad called this his “thinking place” and the only person who really spent any time there besides Dad was Sid.
When she had cleaned the tar off she went back into the kitchen and washed the gasoline smell off of her hands in the sink. She liked using the dish washing detergent to wash her hands because it made a lot of suds and she would blow big rainbow colored bubbles.
While she was working up a good lather with the good smelling blue detergent she was suddenly tackled at the knees by her little sister. “Mom! Frannie just almost knocked me down and there’s knives and stuff in this sink I could have been …” “Hush Cic you’re fine” her mother called from the living room “why don’t you go outside and play in the pool with Frannie for a while”. “Please Cici please play with me” Frannie wheedled while pulling on her wet soapy hand and landing on her backside on the tile floor. Cici closed one eye waiting for the explosion of tears but they never came. Frannie was so excited about the prospect of having Cici to play with she didn’t even care that she’d just fallen.
Grateful for the reprieve from the “you have to be careful with your sister” lecture Cici generously agreed to go swimming. “Let me go and put my swimsuit on then we can go Frannie.” Her sister hopped along beside her excitedly while Cici went into their shared room and put on her favorite swimsuit.
They walked outside and ran across the hot patio that burned their feet and lowered themselves into the water. The pool was one of those collapsible ones with fish on the sides and it was three feet deep. Frannie put her mermaid innertube on and floated aimlessly along with her head thrown back singing “do your ears hang low, do they wobble to and throw” over and over again. They were the only words she knew and she couldn’t even get them right but no amount of coaching from her or Sid helped so they just let her go with it.
Cici laid on her back in the water letting her long hair float around her head. With her head in the water all she could hear was her sister’s muffled voice and the splash of the water from Frannie’s legs kicking around in the water.
She closed her eyes, letting the sun beat down on her face and pretended like she was in the ocean. Running her hands back and forth in the silky, cool water she floated lazily while fantasizing about fish jumping around her and salty waves lifting her gently and moving her away from the shore. Just as she was getting into it and she had just run aground on an island full of cheeseburgers and chocolate milkshake trees she heard Frannie scream.
Sputtering Cici pushed herself upright and looked around through the wall of wet hair until she spotted Frannie standing petrified as a dragonfly flitted around her. “Ugh what a baby” Cici muttered as she trudged through the water and picked Frannie up lifting her onto the grass alongside the pool. She knew her sister well enough to know that swimming was now over for the day. She grabbed one of the warm from the sun over-sized beach towels sitting on the plastic chair next to the gas grill and draped it over Frannie’s skinny heaving shoulders and then her own. They both crouched in the grass in their wet swimsuits waiting to be dry enough to go inside.
The grass in the back yard was still green and she knew it was because her father watered it every night when he came home from work. She had learned in school that it wasn’t “green” to use that much water and she tried to tell her dad that but her mom told her to stop because it was her dad’s only hobby and he needed it.
Cici’s head was down and her shoulders were curved inward with the towel draped over her head and back. She could hear her own breathing as she crouched in the grass next to Frannie. She could feel the water trickling down her neck and her front from her wet hair and it tickled like a spider might feel as it traveled down her stomach and dripped into the grass. Frannie was singing again, this time it was the song they had learned in bible camp, “Jethuth lovth the little children all the children of the world” she was singing over and over again while pulling the grass around her feet. Cici marveled at Frannie’s ability to completely immerse herself in whatever she was doing.
Frannie suddenly looked up, sodden blonde hair drying in a frizzy halo around her head and said “I’m hungry Cici”. Sighing the big sister sigh she picked Frannie up and carried her inside yelling even before the screen door had slammed shut behind them “Mom we’re hungry!”