Judge Not

So far things are going fair at today’s church fair.  Saturday’s October Fall Fest Fair I mean.

By eleven fifty I paint two butterflies, two ladybugs, a few ghosts while I nurse my coffee, a big invisible sign over my head reads:  ‘Enter At Your Own Risk.’

A toddler waddles over, asks for only knives and skeleton tattoos.  I comply.  Hope kids are not too particular with my attempts with stub crayon details.  Hate painting their superfine skin.  Ask them not to wiggle so much.  From one Botticelli I take four tickets for a greased cherry and purple flower.

Another comes in, switches me up.  Just the hair, she says.  Hot pink.

Okay, okay, I can do this, I tell myself.  Suit up, put a paper towel over her eyes.  A glow cloud sprays in her direction.  Hangs over the both of us.  Weather conditions prevail.  It goes everywhere.  Splatters mostly on the chair where she sits, drips across her thin trash bag apron.

How much are we both breathing of this quality air?

Still I cannot get her hair to turn vivid pink.  More a fade of sheer.  I keep spraying until I get a splotch over her forehead.  A widower’s ‘dot,’ fuchsia.  Hand the kid the mirror.  She thanks me sweetly, hands me her four tickets.

Keep the tickets, I say, feeling a twinge, I’m just tuning up.

Ten minutes later, shift over, booth manager arrives from her son’s soccer game to take charge.  Thanks me profusely for doing nothing.  Your welcome, I say.  Hand her my clean apron. Watch the booth from afar for the rest of the day.  See the boss go to work.  Spread her flat bristle tip tools of the church carnival trade across the table.  Plastic gloves, baby wipes, alcohol, make-up assorteds, face paint, pirate press on tattoos – large, small – roses, ribbons, candy designs, photocopy examples for make-up counter consults.

Then, she takes out her line of hair products.

Super gooey epoxy stuff from the black depths in her purse.  Comic color neon hairsprays, hair waxes, that will take weeks to wash from baby hair.  Ones teachers will write notes home over all week.

‘Maestra Capelli.’  Spaghetti hair meets its match.  A hair contortionist.

Hair that should not stand up, goes ridge pole in her hands.

In an hour flat, the church parking lot fills with rainbow punks, flare freaks, Goths.  Lines wrap the Gathering Tree from where I sit to watch the scene where I take notes with my colleagues, other off-duty types in the ‘volunteer breakroom,’ a place where we parents do double duty, where everyone’s a winner, sales always brisk.  We sit back and peel yet more tickets for our kids, greenback answers to young and old.

Do our prayers.  Where all is forgiven.

‘Done,’ or not, we are unjudged in the pop-up chapel for the fallen away.  The Beer Tent. (c) MK Smyth 2012

Mums the Word

Mom says, ‘’Ulbefine,’ or ‘Wheelbefinenowgit.’  Or variations on this idea. Places I hope to soon live.  Words uttered by Mom the minute I start to tug at her dress when I fret and cry.  Places I cannot find on the shrill green globe I take from the shelf off Daddy’s oak roll top desk.  The one Mommy calls an eyesore blizzard before she slams the tambor top with a thud.

My eight-year-old index finger runs over crease mountains Daddy calls Ghana and Poughkeepsie.  Where my aunts, Dad’s sisters live.  My hands and eyes travel in return traces, until my head tells me I must have the wrong map.  With another rattle spin, I pick the globe up and carry it into the kitchen.  My face full of water and ooze, I find Mommy at the sink, beg her to look at me.

“You’re going to be fine,” she says wiping her hands on her dress’ front as she moves to the table.

I am not so sure she is so sure.

“Show me where,”  I say pushing the globe into her, my fingers on the red gloss buttons of her dress.  Thick cucumber slices that run up and down the front of the yardstick print of her dress.

She sets the globe on the table, sits down, takes a ‘Superstiff’ hair pomade stick from her pocket and pulls my seven-year-old brother Andrew from the floor to stand between her knees.  Two short swipes later, a week’s worth of boy hair is pushed to the side of my brother’s head, his bangs stiff peaks above his freckled forehead. He does not mind his church hair today.

Mom has her good loafers on, the mahogany ones, a good luck cent in each penny spot.  Days on end I watch Mr. Lincoln go about his business with Mom between rooms winking honest copper at me.  I bide my time in waits between fills, when the shoe pair wait in Mom’s closet.  Like Mommy, Mr. Lincoln is a hard worker, one who does not gather dust.

He pays me no mind.

Day comes, Mr. Lincoln and his twin safe in my pocket, I look to the ceiling at a float question.  I will wait, then buy myself a piece of Bazooka Bubblegum from The Associated Grocers like the piece already in my skirt pocket bought for waving in front of my younger brothers or sister to keep their attention.  Gum is not for chewing.

Besides, I have a plan to go somewhere more important today.

I am going to ‘Befine.’

Mommy and me.  Together or alone.  Still in the kitchen with Mom. Between dry sniffs I tell her my plan.

“I am ready to be fine.  When will we go?  When will it be time?”

Confused, Mom says, “What?” She, squint looking at me.  “Church first young lady, that will be enough for today.”

She brushes past me into the living room to stand at the bottom of the stairs.  There, her frosted head tilts back, soft as powder cheeks, through pink lips razor words fly up the stairs.

“Bernadette Mary I called you down here once already.  Whatever it is you are doing stop this instant.  Come downstairs.  Do not make me come up there in person.”

I no longer think we will go anywhere.  ‘Ulbefine’ anyway, water wells my eyes, followed by a new round of moans.

My brothers and sisters on the ‘company’ sofa sit in a ‘finish line,’ next to the ‘almost finish line.’  Where they watch a stop-motion TV clay family, ‘Gumby’ solve putty problems.

My brothers, ready for church in Sears’ Permapress plaid shirts tucked into starched white shorts, my sisters, two in ‘Deb ‘n’ Heir’ blue seersucker skirts with crisp white Peter Pans, Sharon, too old, in a facsimile.

Keds all around.

 

(c) M K Smyth

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