Professor LeBon and his family lived in a split level house in the new subdivision which had a floor plan exactly like the others but with the added enhancement of a view. The “view” was of a sagebrush-filled ravine but that no less diminished its value to the professor’s wife who often remarked that, although the Dean’s house across the street was much larger, its view was of a wooden fence.
She of such discriminating taste answered my knock at eight a.m. already dressed in a beige pantsuit, her grey-brown hair in such tight curls that at first I thought she still had the rollers in. “Good morning Riley. Susan is almost ready.” She looked down at my wet feet, “Wipe your feet well and I’ll allow you to wait in the foyer for her.”
“Thanks. It’s freezing out here.” The previous night’s rain was now ice in the gutters and frost on the rooftops. The LeBon’s foyer — a tiny nook separating the kitchen from the staircase — contained two well-dusted Curio Cabinets filled with the porcelain figurines of rosy-cheeked Bavarian children. Farm children, healthy, clean, and fresh from the milking, boys in lederhosen with their schnitzel dogs, pig-tailed girls herding geese, chickadees mid-tweet and half-timber houses. Beyond the foyer was the living room; beige walls, beige carpet and beige furniture, nothing out of place. Children and husbands were not allowed in the Betsy LeBon’s living room. It had to be kept immaculate for her various women’s club meetings.
“Susan!” Mrs. LeBon called, “Riley Anne is here.”
“I’m not going to school!” Susan screamed from her bedroom on the upper level. “Riley hates me. Everybody hates me!”
Mrs. LeBon shook her head but her curls stayed obediently in place. “Tell Susan you don’t hate her, Riley Anne.’
“I don’t hate you.”
“I DON’T HATE YOU!”
“Yes she does. “She’s only saying that because you’re making her.”
“We’ve been all through this before, Susan Louise … come down at once!”
“I can’t wait. We’re going to be late.”
“Stay right where you are Riley Anne O’Tannen!”
Pause … rewind … rinse and curl
Despite having been dragged back to her house by my very sober father, Mrs. Muselik believed Bella’s version of events at Grandma Sauer’s wake. Innocent children, plied with demon liquor, had been allowed to play with instruments of the Devil as mourners grieved the passing of a beloved one. Henceforth Bella would be walking to school with two sisters who were members of their church and I was not invited. It stung but then Fi pointed out, “one day that girl will go too far.” “Besides,” my mother added, “I promised Betsy that you’d walk to school with Susan.”
Before I could mount a protest, Little Lizzie sprang to my defense. “Bone killed a kitten with her bare hands!”
“Crap, will you stop listening to Riley’s wild stories. Susan is just shy. Susan needs friends.” Blah, blah, blah. She wasn’t fooling me. I was the sacrificial lamb. My blood for a seat on the Facility Wives Club or League of Women Voters or any one of a number of organizations which owed undying allegiance to Betsy LeBon. Try as I might to plead my case, a promise had been made and mother wasn’t about to listen to my CRAP … my never ending CRAP
But I wasn’t going to stand there and let that woman tell me what to do.
“Are you going to explain to my parents why I got another demerit?”
Mrs. LeBon’s right brow arched steeply over a speckled eye. “Such impudence. I’ve seen a shocking change in your deportment since that beatnik moved in. I’m not sure she’s at all a good influence. I’ve been meaning to mention it to your mother and now young lady, I think I will. ”
Deportment. What the hell did that mean? Deportment. I wanted to tell her she should just shut up and quit listening to neighborhood gossips, but instead I mumbled some lame apology. Our exchange drew Susan to the top of the staircase like a barbecue draws wasps. She wore a plaid Scottish kilt ripped at the seams and an oversized grey sweatshirt streaked with black paint and frayed at the cuffs. She’d plucked out all her eyebrows and cut her bangs almost to the scalp. The rest of her ink-black hair hung alongside a face devoid of blood.
“Oh, Susan, what have you done to yourself? You can’t go to school like that!”
“I cut my bangs so they aren’t always hanging in my eyes and hiding my pretty face. Isn’t that what you’re always telling me? ‘Your bangs are always hanging in your eyes and hiding your pretty face.’ She said, mocking her mother’s southern drawl. “Well, you can see my pretty face now, can’t you Mother? Oh and I plucked out my eyebrows so people won’t think I’m a Neanderthal. ‘Oh where did you get those eyebrows, Susan Louise? Not from my side of the family! Oh no, we never had such eyebrows. They must be from your father’s side!‘ Now I don’t have any eyebrows, Mother, so what do you think of that, huh?”
“Oh Susan! How could the apple have fallen so far from the tree? Now, go up and at least change.”
“We’re already late.” I reminded the two of them.
“I can’t let Susan go to school in that outfit! Get changed Susan and I’ll drive you two.”
“Why not Mother? Now everyone can see what a pretty, pretty daughter you have! Betsy LeBon’s pretty, pretty daughter!” she said, pushing past the two of us and running down the hill.