Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Page 7Rebecca Wells
He glances back at us girls for a second, and then gestures our way. “Now it is my pleasure to be in your fine town and look over your crop of little girls. It’s my job to judge which one of these young ladies comes closest to Shirley Temple’s wholesome charm and innocence. Which one of them is adorable enough to cheer up this great nation of ours like America’s Sweetheart?”
Oh, if only they would let me show my real talent, I could cheer up this nation! I would tell my story about Alligator Girl with the head and shoulders of a girl, and the rest of her body pure alligator. Kind of like a mermaid, but mean. Oh! I am the world’s best scary-story teller!
If I could only strut my stuff, I would not only win this contest, but I’d win the one in New Orleans too. I would get my own private rail car with my own bathtub in it and velvet curtains, and then I’d invite Caro and Teensy and Necie to come with me on my trip around America. We’d go to Washington, D.C., where the President and Mrs. Roosevelt would be waiting, begging me to come have tomato sandwiches with the crust cut off. I’d tell them this Great Depression has gone on too long and I’ll give them my ideas on how to help the poor folks at Ollie Trott’s Trailer Paradise who lost their real homes. Oh, I’ll wave to everybody and they will forget Shirley Temple ever existed!
Mr. Hollywood turns to us, with his hands up to his mouth, stretching out his lips. Has he hurt his lips? No, he is trying to make us smile wider. He gives a signal to the piano player, who starts playing “On the Good Ship Lollipop.” Then he circles around us and stops at one girl who’s wearing a fuzzy white fur coat. He makes her turn in a circle, then he writes something down on his clipboard. He doesn’t say a word, just sort of examines her like you do a horse.
“My mouth is starting to hurt from all this smiling,” I whisper to Teensy. Then, I don’t have the slightest idea in the world what gets into her, but she hauls off and steps on my toe. So I step right back on her toe and grind down a little.
“Ouch!” Teensy hollers. She loves stuff like this. It’s what keeps her going. She turns around at one of the other little girls and sticks her tongue out. Well, that makes that little sissy start crying.
“Titty-baby! Little sissy titty-baby!” Teensy whispers. Then out of nowhere, nowhere at all, Teensy poots! One of the biggest poots you have ever heard! You would not think that a poot that big could come out of a girl that small. The look on her face is shocked. She looks behind her like she can’t believe she did it. Like when our dog poots and it scares him.
All the other girls heard it, though, and they back away from us. Like Teensy’s poot is alive and might knock them down and crawl all over them. Teensy and I start laughing and we cannot stop. If you know of something funnier than pooting, then I wish you’d tell me about it.
Mr. Hollywood himself must not have heard the actual poot. He’s still on the other side of the stage, still examining girls. But when he hears us laughing, he looks over our way, and I can see his lips moving, mouthing the words, “Be quiet.”
Well, that makes us laugh even harder, and Caro and Necie start cracking up too.
“Shhh!” Mr. Hollywood signals, his Shhh! finger in front of his mouth. Then he takes that same finger and uses it at the corner of his lips to make a big smile, trying to make us do the same thing. The sight of Mr. Hollywood smiling like that just pushes us over the edge and we start howling, the kind of laughing that makes our mothers send us outdoors.
Then, all of a sudden, Mr. Hollywood turns on his fancy heels and heads our way. By this point, there is no stopping us. We couldn’t stop laughing even if we wanted to.
Mr. Hollywood stops right in front of us. “Pipe down this very instant!” he says.
His eyes are popping out and his mouth is wide open, and we can see that he has not one, not two, but three rotten brown teeth! The front ones are shiny white, but those back ones are rotted! This just makes us scream with laughter. When we don’t quiet down, he throws his clipboard slam-bam right on the stage floor, and takes a step toward us, and for a second I think he’s going to hit us. But then he changes his mind.
He signals to the piano player to play a little softer. Then Old Rotted Teeth steps up to the microphone and says, “Some of our would-be Shirleys seem to think something is very funny. Numbers 39, 40, 41, and 61, would you please step over here to the microphone?”
When we get over to the microphone stand, Pete yells out, “It’s Stinky!” I throw a kiss out to the audience.
Mr. Hollywood Rot-Tooth looks at us and smiles this big old fake grin. “Girls, since you know something so funny, I want you to tell it to the rest of us.”
The four of us look at each other. Then Caro steps closer to the microphone. She reaches up and takes her aviator cap off and holds it down at her side. Her hair is flat as a rug. “Do you really want to know what is so funny?” she says into the microphone.
Mr. Hollywood leans into the microphone and says, “Yes, Number 40, we do.”
“Well, okay,” Caro says, and looks straight out into the audience. She opens her mouth and says loud and clear: “Teensy farted.”
Well, the whole theater just busts its seams! They start laughing and hooting, and a whole gang of them up front—led by my brother, I bet—starts making poot noises with their hands. And pretty soon other sections of the theater join in making the same noise until it sounds like we’re in one giant theater full of pooters! The few that aren’t making poot sounds are screaming out things like “Yay! Teensy!”
All the other contestants have clumped together at the back of the stage. I am laughing so hard I can hardly breathe.
Mr. Hollywood shakes his clipboard in Caro’s face and booms into the microphone. “What are your names, little girls? Girls Number 39, 40, 41, 61, give me your names immediately!”
We just stare back at him. It is so much fun to see a grown-up get this mad.
“I said: Tell me your Christian names!”
I am still dying to talk into the microphone all by myself, so I take a step forward. I take a deep breath and give a big smile to the audience. “My name,” I announce, “is Pooty Pootwell.”
The whole audience breaks into applause! For me. Waves of applause just wash up on the stage and crash against my new shoes. I knew they would love me if I had half a chance!
Old Mr. Hollyrot pushes me away and leans into the microphone. “All four of you are disqualified! Do you hear me? Disqualified!”
His hands are shaking so hard he can hardly hold his clipboard. His mouth is all pinched together, and the veins in his face are about to pop! All because of me!
The place is going completely wild. Popcorn flying all over the place, JuJuBes landing on the stage, and a group of boys standing up yelling, “Go Pooty!” Ushers are running up and down the aisles trying to make kids stop throwing their Coca-Cola cups in the air. They’re yelling, “We want Pooty! We want Pooty!” and climbing over seats and stomping on the floor! It’s wonderful!
The other little girls are crying and calling for their mothers. Some of the mothers rush up to the stage. You can hear them saying to us, “You should be ashamed of yourselves!”
But I am not ashamed at all. The whole theater is going mad and it’s all because of me.
“Bring down the curtains!” Mr. Hollyrot says into the microphone.
And then Mr. Bob is at the microphone saying, “All right now, boys and girls, pipe down. I know you’re a little stirred up, but I’ve got a special treat for you. Listen up now. Who wants to see an extra installment of Flash Gordon? If you all will settle back down, I’ll show a special, unplanned screening of next week’s installment, Flash Gordon and the Planet of Mongo.” He signals to the piano player, who starts playing something soothing. The popcorn stops flying and kids start back to their seats. When you mention Planet Mongo around here, people shut up and listen.
Then Mrs. Bob steps up to the microphone and says, “Mothers, would you please come out and get your daughters? And those of you girls whose mothers are
n’t here, please come on back to the dressing room with me. Everything is just fine.”
Teensy and Caro and Necie and I start to walk off the stage, but Teensy cannot stand it. She runs back to the center of the stage, turns and sticks her little booty out at the audience, and wiggles it for all she’s worth.
Well, Mr. Lance Toothrot Lacey storms over to Teensy and yanks her arm so hard he just about pulls it off. And there he is, leaning Teensy over his knee with his hand in the air, about to give her a spanking right on her tiny little behind!
But Mr. Bob stops him. “Son, I think you better watch your manners. This child doesn’t belong to you.”
“I don’t care who the hell she belongs to,” Mr. Rottenteeth says. “She has ruined the official Shirley Temple Look-Alike Contest! This has never happened to me before!”
Old Hollywood’s voice has changed. He doesn’t sound like a movie star with a velvet-curtain voice anymore, but like one of those fellows who come to town with the circus and spit out of the sides of their mouth.
“Well, that might be true, son,” Mr. Bob says, “but you still don’t take a hand to one of our daughters. Her own father can spank her if he sees fit.”
Mr. Hollywood straightens his ascot and pulls down the cuffs of his sleeves. “Well, I’m glad you’re the one who runs a hick movie house in this hick town with that bunch of under-age hick vixens. I’m on the next train out of here.”
And then he turns to leave, but not before Mr. Bob says, “I’ll be sure and call your Twentieth Century Fox pals and let them know you’re on your way. When they ask me who won the contest, I’ll just tell em our gals were too pretty to pick just one.”
Genevieve is standing backstage, holding our coats, and oh, she looks mad! “Que méchante, Teensy!” she says. “You went too far with that last little butt shake! Que faiseur d’embarras!”
Genevieve pushes open the stage door and we step outside into the cold fresh air. Jack is there to meet us, blowing on his fingers, stomping his feet, and laughing.
“Go, Pooties,” he says, “Garnet Parish Pooties are the best!”
“We are Temples of the Holy Spirit,” I say. And we all crack up again.
“That is enough,” Genevieve says. “I am taking you girls home. Jack, please go find Mr. Bob and Mrs. Bob and let them know that we’ll be over at their house later.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Jack says, and turns to go. But not before he gives me a wink and hands me a box of JuJuBes. Oh, I like that Jack.
Our curls are gone.
All 168 of them.
Genevieve brushed them out. Hard.
At Caro’s house, the four of us are standing in the living room. Mr. Bob is in his easy chair, Mrs. Bob is sitting in her rocker.
“Bob,” Genevieve says, “I want you to give these girls their punishment.”
For the first time I get scared.
“Girls,” Mr. Bob says, “I have thought about this long and hard. The four of you—well, the four of you behaved simply terribly in my public theater. You ruined the day for a lot of little girls, and their mothers too. I am not going to hear the end of it. They’ve already been ringing my phone off the hook.”
Genevieve says, “Think of les petites pauvres. Yall ruined it for the poor children. Nothing to eat but onions and turnips in months, non? Some of them, pères haven’t had a job in two, three years. Sharecropper enfants coming to town once a week for to see Flash Gordon. They don’t want to see your derrière, filles. Comprendez-vous? You show those poor little girls the respect.”
I look at Genevieve because she always makes me think things I want to forget about.
“Genevieve is right,” Mr. Bob says. “There is a depression going on in this country, even if you four princesses don’t see it.”
“One of these days you girls have got to start behaving like ladies,” Mrs. Bob says. “You’re not babies anymore. You are young ladies. And there is a right way and a wrong way to act. What you did today was definitely wrong. You don’t want to get reputations for being bad girls, do you?”
“But, Mrs. Bob,” I say, before I can stop myself, “it’s so much fun being a bad girl.”
“Vivi,” she says, “do you want me to call your mother and father and have them talk to you instead of me?”
No, I don’t want her to call my mother, and definitely not my father, because he doesn’t talk. He just takes off his belt and lets it do his talking for him.
“No, ma’am,” I say.
“You all have got to start acting like ladies if you expect to get along in this town,” Mrs. Bob says. “How can I get that through your head, Caro?”
“But, Mama,” Caro says, “we can’t help it if Teensy pooted.”
“I know, I know,” Mrs. Bob says, “you can’t fight Mother Nature. But the four of you couldn’t just leave it at that.”
I drop my head, but I am secretly thinking about how very original the name Pooty Pootwell is.
“Thought I was going to have to call out for help,” Mr. Bob says. “Never in my life have I had that much trouble trying to calm a theater down. Yall are not going to get away with this scot-free. For the next month—that is four straight Saturdays—you bad little girls are going to clean up The Bob after the Saturday matinee. Yall are going to sweep up every single piece of popcorn and pick up every candy wrapper that’s left on the floor. Furthermore, you will not be allowed into The Bob except to clean. No movies during the whole time of your punishment. And I’m going to talk to Mr. Hyde over at the Paramount too, ask him to give his ticket people and his ushers strict instructions not to let the four of you into his theater either. Not until the month is up.”
Back home in my bedroom, I sit down and think about what all has happened. And the more I think about it, the madder I get. It is all so unfair! I get so mad that my brain squeezes together and pushes out the most brilliant idea of my life to date! I will start my very own newspaper where I can print NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH! The name of my newspaper comes to me in a flash! It will be called “Vivi’s Very Important News!” V.V.I.N. for short. Pronounced “Va-Vinn.” I sharpen a pencil, get out my Big Chief tablet, and just start writing. I must reveal the news of this terrible injustice.
In spite of the light drizzle that evening, Sidda was possessed with the idea of building a fire at the edge of the lake. She hadn’t built an outdoor fire since she was a nine-year-old Girl Scout—the year Vivi and Necie had led Troop 55 and backed into the flagpole with Necie’s County Squire station wagon.
She toyed with the twigs and newspapers, used up eight kitchen matches, and blew until she was hyperventilating. Then she gave up, sat back on her feet, and felt foolish. She only required a small fire. She wasn’t cold, it’s not that she needed heat. She had no plans to cook anything over the flames. She simply wanted to build a little fire outdoors and watch it burn. Her incompetence made her feel out of place in the great Northwest. She missed the screeching urban comfort of Manhattan.
If her mother were here, she’d have built a fabulous fire. Mama or Caro. Nights at Spring Creek, they’d build fires for hot dogs, s’mores, maybe toss in a firecracker or two. They’d sing, tell ghost stories, host talent shows, and compete in limbo contests, that broom lowering till it all but touched the pine needles. Later, their skin coated with 6—12, the kids would lean back against their mothers’ bodies and watch the flames of the fire and the citronella candles burning, and the smoke curling up from the mosquito coils.
“Piney pitch is the secret to starting a fire,” Vivi used to say. “Unless you have kerosene, of course.”
Sidda hadn’t thought she even remembered that instruction.
“Get hard pitchwood from the center of a loblolly pine stump if you can find it, Sidda, and you can’t go wrong.”
Well, Mama, there aren’t any loblolly pines around this place.
She stood up and looked around her. All around her were Sitka spruce, Western red cedar, and hemlock, but she didn’t kn
ow which was which. She’d never thought much about trees before. Except for the old live oak tree at Pecan Grove, with its hundred-and-twenty-foot-branch spread. That tree could make any member of her family weep when they talked about it. When Sidda was a girl, she believed if she ever got married it would be under that tree.
Pitch, Sidda thought. I’m looking for pitch. Perfect pitch.
There was no perfect pitch, but Sidda did find a rotting stump. Not five feet from where she had been squatting. She looked into the center of it, and there was the resiny part, the last part to rot. Reaching into the trunk, she broke off several pieces and returned to her erstwhile fire site.
“Separate your sticks, Siddalee,” she heard her mother (or Caro) say. “Start with a tiny teepee, with the littlest twigs over some shavings. Good. Now use some slightly larger sticks for your next layer. Just keep building it like that, easy does it, while your fire builds.”
Sidda did exactly as her mother had taught her. But the fire would not catch. Everything was simply too wet. It was dark, only the tiny lights on the other side of the lake were visible. Still a thick cloud cover, no stars visible. And this was supposed to be the time of meteors. May had told her the Olympic Peninsula was known for shooting stars in late summer. Just Sidda’s luck to show up the one summer when clouds refused to budge. All this quiet dampness was somewhat spiritual. And somewhat depressing.
Returning to the cabin, Sidda slipped into a pair of dry, warm sweatpants, and lit a fire in the fireplace. She put on a Rickie Lee Jones CD of songs from the forties, poured herself a glass of brandy, sat down, and tried to make herself read a Jungian book on marriage. Three pages in, she closed the book.
Lying down in front of the fire, she stroked Hueylene. She could smell the alder logs as their burning warmed the room. Through the glass doors she could see nothing but gray and rain. This is cozy, all right, Sidda thought, but if it’s like this in August, I hate to think what December looks like.