The morning was brightening into a beautiful day. My mother said yes when I asked if I could use the car to drive to school. After dropping her at the front door of the American Tobacco Company, I turned around to head back to the island of James. Looking to the left I saw nothing coming. Whipping the wheel clockwise I punched the gas and a faint squeal of rubber on pavement gave me a slight thrill as I straightened the wheel and hit the clutch for the gear’s move to second. Traffic going out of town was not as heavy as the stream moving toward town at a snail’s pace. I heard the whoosh whoosh on my left as I passed car after car. So long suckers, I thought, enjoy your day at work. It was a chance to skip school since I had transportation. The thought came and went. We had an important math test today and skipping was out of the question. My smile faded and I headed for my buddy’s house.
I pulled the old green Ford Falcon up to the bus stop and shouted through the passenger window, “Hey, G. hop in. I got the car for the day.”
He grabbed his books and got in.
“How’d you manage this?” he asked.
“I just asked. Cool huh?” I pulled the stick on the column into first and stomped the gas. The wheels spun kicking up a column of dirt and rocks. When the wheel hit the pavement a sound of wheel peel squeal delighted my ear. G. just looked at me.
“You know that sound is pathetic don’t you? Falcons don’t have enough power to produce a good peel out.”
“It’s the best I got,” I said shifting into second.
“You need a Chevy, primarily a Corvette, to produce a HiFi sound of true beauty, not to mention the time it remains in the air. I’ve heard one that lasted a full minute. It left a trail of rubber on the road half the length of a football field. Now that’s layin’ rubber.”
“Yeah, yeah, I hear ya. Lemme have my moment willya? Sheesh!”
G. just smiled. He liked to pop my bubble but it was ok, we were free to do whatever. Oh, no, not true. There was the math test.
‘OH, guess what,” I said.
“You’re going to make me ask aren’t you?”
“Well, it is the way it’s done.”
“Glad you asked,” said I. “My parents are going out of town for the weekend. They are leaving me alone all weekend. I got the house all to myself.”
G. slowly turned to face me. I was smiling. The sun was in its inevitable journey into the sky. The wind was flowing into the windows. The car was humming along as I turned down Stono River Road to pick up R. He was sitting on his books, head on his knees, arms extended to the pavement. I hit the horn. He jumped as I hit the brakes and skidded up to him.
“What the hell! You coulda killed me!” He shouted jumping up and away.
“Naah, I had complete control all the time. You were safe.” I leaned out the window. “Get your books, man. Climb in.”
When he slammed the door, I laid an inch of rubber on the road and did a three point to head in the right direction. As I speed-thrust the gear shift into second G. chuckled and shook his head.
“You gonna to pick up J.?”
“Ah, crap. Yeah, but we’re gonna have to hurry. The bus’ll be there soon.”
I hit the brake squealing to a stop at the octagonal sign. I flipped the wheel counter-clockwise and hit the gas. The sound was a little longer aided by the tilt of the car loosening the traction on the squeal wheel.
“How about that one?” I smirked.
“Remember that Corvette I told you about?”
“Yeah, so?” I slapped the gear shift into second hoping my luck would hold and produce a pop of rubber, but no dice.
“That length of rubber on the road?”
“From a dead stop.”
“Oh. Well, this one’s good enough for me. I like the sound I get.”
Up Stono Shores, across Maybank into the Terrace proper we sailed. We pulled up in front of J.’s house just as the bus was rounding the corner. It stopped and the kids began to file in. I beeped the horn. J. slipped out of line and ran in our direction.
“Hey, Rickey. Momma gave you the car?”
“Yup, pile in.”
He tossed his books through the window. He jumped in and I slammed him back into the seat as I tore out onto the road barely missing the bus as the driver began to move. It was I. He drove this bus for the county. It was an honor to drive a bus. How he got it was a mystery. I beeped and he beeped back.
G. turned in his seat and looked into the back.
“Guess what, guys?”
“What?” they asked without hesitation.
“Rickey’s parents are going out of town and leaving him alone for the entire weekend.”
“Wait a min…,” I began.
“You know what that means!” His smile became more than mischievous.
My buddies in the back seat yelled in unison, “PAR-TEEEEE!!!!!”
“Whoa! Whoa! Wait a minute,” I said.
“Nope, it’s settled. Party at your house. An anything goes party.”
“Hey, that’s not going to happen,” I said. “No way, no how.”
G. leaned over the seat and the three of them began to whisper behind me.
“I said NO, guys!”
They continued their murmurings as I drove. The sun was shining brightly through the oak limbs that formed a tunnel of foliage. The shadow patterns dimpled along the way. I slowed for the left turn and made it with ease.
I pulled into the school yard and bounced over the puddle holes formed after the rains. I found a place and slipped into it. The guys had continued to mumble amongst themselves. I heard the word party often.
The evening was chilly for that time of year. It was a pleasant change for the heat of the past week. My folks were snapping the luggage closed as I walked back to their room to grab a bag.
“Are you sure you are going to be alright?” My mother was not ready to leave me on my own without someone to watch over me.
“Yes ma’am. I’ll be fine. I promise. I’m sixteen. Big enough to take care of myself.”
“He’ll be fine dear,” said my dad watching me closely. “You take care of the place while we are gone. You are in charge this weekend.”
“OK, dad. I’ll be fine. You don’t have to worry. You guys enjoy the mountains. I’ll catch up on some TV and I’ll get that book report done.”
Mom took my cheeks into her hands. I could see a tear brimming on her lower lids.
“You be good and don’t forget to feed Black Cat.” She wiped her left eye and sniffed.
“Oh, mom. I’m gonna be fine. It’s only two days. You’ll be back on Sunday.”
“I know,” she said,” but we’ve never left you alone before.”
Dad took her arm and hefted the largest bag.
“Come, dear. He’s a big boy. It will be fine. Grab that bag, Rickey. Help me get them to the car.”
I heaved it into the trunk. Dad tossed his in too. He pulled the key from the lock and slammed it shut. He turned to me putting his arm on my shoulder.
“I’m trusting you. Leaving you on your own like this. It’s a big responsibility and I know you will handle it well.”
He smiled as he turned to get into the car.
“Be good, son,” he said as he placed the key in the ignition. “We’ll be back around Sunday evening.”
The car came to life and he began to back out. I think I heard a loud sniff from the passenger side. I watched dad ease the car out of the drive and onto the road. He looked back at me and waved pulling away and up the road. When the car had disappeared from sight I turned to the front door and jumped into the air hollering “YAHOO!” at the top of my lungs.
Inside I settled at the table with a sandwich and coke. It was a totally new experience being alone in the house with no parents. I could do anything I wanted. That party idea was sounding pretty good about now, but dad’s stern eye and note of responsibility in his last words weighed on my. Nope, no party for this guy. I grabbed a bag of chips and headed for the TV room. I clicked on the set and fell into my chair with a loud sigh. Sea Hunt was being advertised after the local news had finished up. I threw my feet onto the hassock and settled back for underwater adventure.
Halfway into the show the phone rang. It was R. He wanted to know if he could come over. Company would be a good thing so I told him yes. Ten minutes later the doorbell rang.
I opened the door and there on the porch was G. and J. and I. and R. with his brother and some of his friends.
“Uh, what’s up guys?” I asked.
They pushed past me and walked in.
“We didn’t want you to be lonely, buddy.”
“Hey Count,” said R.’s brother. “Heard you were going to be all alone so we brought over a little refreshment.” He held up a quart of Canadian Club. “You got ice, right?”
“No. Never use it. I don’think…”
“No need to start now,” he said and shouted to one of his buddies. “No ice guys. Somebody hit the store for a bag.”
A couple of them turned to go.
“Pick up snacks, too. I don’t see any here. Don’t you guys eat chips and stuff, Count?” Being English he had christened me The Count, which was a generic term for royalty to him. It was all in fun he said. It was just a part of his nature to label people.
I heard a car roar into life outside. He backed out of the drive and laid rubber down the road.
“Where are the glasses?” G. and J. found the cupboards and pulled out all the glasses. They tossed them one by one to R. while I cringed.
“Don’t worry, Rickey. Football, remember. I play football. These glasses are safe in my hands… Oops.” The crash of breaking glass hit me and my heart dropped to my toes. “Sorry. Got a broom?”
“Come on, guys. Be careful, will ya?” I got the broom and swept up the glass shards.
“Sweep it on here,” said R. holding a piece of paper flush to the floor. I followed his directions. Meanwhile his brother was cracking the seal on the bottle. The snap of the tax seal popped loudly in the kitchen. We poured the glass pieces into the trash as the Canadian Club was sloshed into the glasses newly placed on the table.
“Where are those guys with the ice,” asked C., R.’s brother. “They should have been back by now.”
Several glasses were emptied while he was staring at the door. J. made a face. R. was breathing like his mouth was on fire. G. tilted the bottle to splash more into his glass. It seemed everyone was making themselves at home. The warm booze was beginning to have the wanted defect on everyone but me. I was still in the state of shock that these guys had come right in to party.
Outside came the screech of tires.
“There they are,” said C.
But it wasn’t it was a couple of more fellows who had heard about a party.
“Come on in,” everyone yelled. “Bring a bottle?”
“Right here,” was the answer. Clyde came through the door holding a bottle of Calverts. At least it was family, I thought.
“What are you doing here unk?” I hadn’t said a thing to him.
“I had to find out from C. that you were having a party.” I was familiar with that smile so I turned to see if any glasses were full. Luckily there was one. I tossed it down and waited for the burn which was immediate.
“Let’s get this party rolling,” Clyde said.
Everyone cheered. At the same time the door opened and in came three strangers with a bag of ice. C.’s friends had run into another fellow who was up to a party.
When they cut the bag and spilled the ice into a bowl I grabbed a handful dropping it into my glass.
“Over here, Croucher,” said J. who leaned forward to pour into my glass. “Need some coke to go with that?” Without waiting he filled the glass. I stirred with my finger.
Too late now, I thought. Might as well join in. I drained the mixed drink and turned to the table.
As I turned to offer my glass for another a warm glow surrounded me. A mellow sense of fun swept over me and I looked up to see C. swinging Black Cat by his tail in a circle over his head. He was laughing as he turned my cat into a propeller. It took a second for what was happening to sink in. C. was yelling “I hate cats!” while everyone was laughing at his antic.
When it got through to my dull brain, I yelled for him to stop. Clyde stepped over to him and said the same thing. Me, he ignored. Clyde, he listened to and tossed Black Cat onto the couch.
I ran over to see if he was alright. His eyes narrowed when I approached. He accused me hissing. He was off the couch and careening around the corner when I noticed his tail bent to a ninety degree angle two inches below the tip.
“What the hell’s wrong with you? Why would you torture a cat like that?” I shouted at him.
“Told ya. I hate cats,” he said without feeling.
“Calm down, nef. He’ll be alright.” Clyde’s words of comfort would never straighten Black Cat’s tail. It remained like that for the rest of his life as did his opinion of me.
On the other side of the room I saw a stream of shaving cream flying in the direction of G. He ducked and ran to the bathroom finding his own can which he brandished with alacrity. As the thick foam flew from one ducking individual to another I turned back to the table. I grabbed the Calverts pouring a healthy portion which I covered with Coke and a jagged piece of ice. I drank it quickly and turned back to the rushing of bodies and crashing of bric-a-brac.
Laughter shot out of the two chasing each other with cans of Gillette Foamy. The clotted remnants of lather were everywhere. The two spraying each other were covered from crown to loafer. Their laughter was near maniacal as they dipped and ran escaping new globs of foam shooting in all directions. When the cans lost their compressed contents the combatants fell and rolled on the floor crying with shouts and laughter at how hilarious that had been. As I surveyed their battlefield I wondered who was going to clean that up. After another drink it dawned, it would be me, that’s who. Crap!
Everyone was laughing.
I heard someone yell, “Where are the girls?”
“Girls? What do you mean girls?” I yelled above the din.
“What’s a party without girls?” yelled one of the unwelcome guests.
CRASH! BAM! The entire room went silent.
“Damn!” It came from the end of the hall.
G. came up front.
“Uh, Rickey, I think maybe you should come back here.”
“What’s happened, G?” I trailed behind him.
“J.’s girl is out with another guy and he just found out about it.”
“How’d he find out? I asked.
“He used your phone in the back to call her. She wasn’t there. He made her sister tell him where she was.”
“Yeah. You know J. A slammed door. And in this case…”
He pointed at the wall by the door at the end of the hall. Everyone was crowding around behind me. There, in the wall, was a hole the size of J.’s fist. The sheetrock panel was splintered around that dark opening.
“Oh, no no no no no… What am I going to tell my folks?” While I was falling to my knees in prayer the crowd behind me diminished. I stared at that gaping hole while muttering no over and over again. Standing I reached into the space. The surrounding edge crumbled as I grasped it. J. stood beside me apologizing.
“Wish I could say it was ok but I don’t know what to do about it. There’s no way I can hide this, J.”
“I’ve got a friend who can fix it, Rickey. He just can’t do it before your folks get home. Tell them it was my fault and I’m going to have it fixed.”
“How do I explain its being here to begin with?”
“Heck, Rickey. I don’t know. You’re the one who threw the party. You gotta be ready for accidents.”
I looked at him. I shook my head. “It wasn’t my idea to have a party, J.”
“Well, I don’t know… I’m sorry.”
I turned to go up front. It had gotten very quiet.
“Where did everybody go?” I asked looking at an empty room. It appeared a hurricane had passed through.
I turned but J. had somehow slipped past me and out the door too. Clyde hadn’t even stayed behind. Cars peeled off outside. I sat on the sofa. I jumped up. I had sat in a three inch deep covering of Gillette Foamy. It was just a reminder of the mess I was responsible for.
Dad’s words came back to me, “It’s a big responsibility and I know you will handle it well.” This was just another big disappointment for my dad.
Clyde poked his head from behind the front door.
“Hey, nef. You OK? Need some help with this mess?”
I looked at the walls, floors and furniture covered in shaving cream. I saw glasses, empty and half full, upright and overturned with puddles from the contents. I saw the kitchen with ice everywhere, glasses and plates broken and chipped. Potato chips and Dorito chips were scattered all over. Black fur was here and there but no Black Cat to be seen. I heard the faucet running. I heard the toilet running. I heard the heater running. The overhead light was out since it was cracked.
There were frozen foods stacked on the counter. They were melting.
“Who would have done this?’ I asked aloud. Picking up one of the items I opened the freezer compartment. I screamed!
Black Cat Jumped straight for my face, teeth bared and claws outstretched. I swear his roar was as startling as the MGM Lion. I believe I fainted which probably saved my face from being ripped and chewed on the spot. Clyde picked me up. Black Cat was gone to the back. I was shaking.
“A parting gift from C.,” said Clyde. “One day we’ll return the favor.”
“Man I hope so,” I blurted out.
We cleaned until the sun was at high noon the next day. J. called to say his friend could take care of the hole in the wall but it would be next Friday before he could.
I told him thank you. Clyde wiped his last glass dry and put it on the shelf.
“Well, nef. I would think twice next time. It’ll take a long time for your dad to trust you again.’ He shook his head and tossed the dish towel on the counter. “I gotta go. My girl’s expecting me this afternoon. I have to pick up a bottle. Good luck with your dad.”
He was right. That sense of trust, so fragile, took many years to be regained. I don’t believe it was total trust ever again. Just a feeling.
Oh, and Black Cat? He paid me back in the not too distant future with a solid pile of cat poo on my chest while I slept. The odor woke me. He meowed, smiled and slowly walked away tail high in the air.