It was happy hour at Sonic and five cars back in the drive-through, I looked out my window and watched the vapor of heat rise off the pavement. Until recently, it seemed reflective of my life, burning off into the atmosphere, day by day, with not much to show for it.
I could hear my dad’s voice in my head loud and clear. “Come on, Maggie. Don’t be a ne’er do well. Photography is a hobby, not a career.”
It wasn’t true. I wasn’t a ne’er do well. I was a ne’er do well enough. At least, my dad thought so. I knew he was disappointed in me, because I’d always been a good kid and listened to his advice. I’d made good grades. I was popular. I’d said no to drugs.
So, I took a job as a nanny and paid my own way to college. Okay . . . it took me eight years to finish a four-year degree. Big deal.
“Do you really want to spend your life taking care of somebody’s snot nose kids? What’s wrong with you, Maggie? You used to be so sensible.” His voice boomed in my head.
Regardless of what he thought, it was the perfect job. Dr. Robert Starling, and his wife Jennifer, a lawyer, paid me well and furnished me a car, fully loaded right down to a personalized plate which read, NANE25. I also lived above their garage, rent free. I kept their kids during the day and went to school at night, and I was finally done. I was a bona-fide photographer with a degree to prove it.
As part of my final, I had to choose a subject and do a series of photos showcasing it. I chose hands. I took pictures of working hands, baby hands, elderly hands, caring hands. Every kind of hand I could think of. My professor was impressed. Especially with the one entitled “Five Generations.” It had the hands of a great-granddaughter, granddaughter, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, all presented slightly touching, back-dropped with black. The picture, along with one featuring twenty-six students, all displaying a letter of American sign Language, got me featured in Eye of the Camera magazine.
I inched forward in line. Even though I had a full crew, I tuned them out. It was a feat I’d mastered. Four girls and one boy, all blue-eyed and beautiful, ranging in age from three to nine, talking at the same time and I didn’t hear a word.
Shaking my dad’s voice from my brain, I came back to reality.
Seven-year-old Caleb was sputtering, grunting, and slapping out a rap beat on the back of three-year-old Katherine’s seat. “Stop Caleb, Stop!” she wailed, as she kicked the seat in front of her, where nine-year-old Elizabeth sat.
“You stop, Katherine. Stop kicking my seat,” Elizabeth snarled.
I pulled the whistle from around my neck, brought it to my lips and blew. A hush settled. It was one of my best nanny tricks. It worked much better than yelling.
“Please stop kicking the seat, Katherine. And Caleb, stop making those annoying sounds and stop kicking Katherine’s seat,” I said.
“Maggie, you know what? You know what, Maggie?” Katherine asked.
I had just picked her up from swim lessons. She was wrapped in a bright yellow terry cover-up, her big blues eyes peeking from beneath an orange duck bill.
“I want to tell you something.”
I turned to look at her. “What?”
“You know what?”
“At swimming, I could touch the ceiling on the bottom.”
Elizabeth laughed. “That’s silly. The ceiling is not on the bottom.”
“I did too touch the ceiling on the bottom. I did. With my foot,” Katherine snapped.
Pinching my lips tight, I shot Elizabeth a look. “That’s great, Katherine. I bet by the end of the week, you’re gonna be swimming like a fish.”
Five year old twins, Caroline and Clara were dressed in full princess regalia. Well, Caroline looked more like a hooker than a princess. She was wearing a red-sequin skirt left over from a devil costume, with a light blue top from a Cinderella ensemble, showing plenty of five-year-old midriff. She had finished off the outfit with a mismatched pair of high-heel play shoes, one pink and one red. Clara was wearing a lovely green and yellow frock from the Princess and the Frog and matching yellow shoes. Both girls had crowns and wands.
Caroline was the leader. Clara was the follower unless trouble arose; then she sprang into action and became the protector.
“Do you want to come to our Mermaid sacrifice?” Caroline wanted to know.
“You’re going to sacrifice a Mermaid? That doesn’t sound like it would be very nice,” I said.
“Oh, oh, oh,” Caroline stammered. “Yeah, yeah, well, we only sacrifice old Mermaids.”
I tried to keep from laughing. “I see. But, that still sounds like it would hurt. Exactly how do you sacrifice her?”
“Oh, well, we throw her into the volcano.”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “That sounds awful. I don’t think we should be throwing anyone into a volcano.”
Clara chimed in. “She doesn’t stay in there.”
“No, no. First we throw her in, then she rises back up and she’s young again and we have to bow down to her,” Caroline quickly added.
“So, it doesn’t hurt her?” I asked.
“Well, it just hurts a little,” Clara said.
“Yeah, yeah, kinda like getting a shot or your ears peered,” Caroline declared.
“Oh well then, maybe I could take part in the sacrifice, I guess. What do we have to do?”
“First we have to do a Mermaid dance. We need music for that. Find a song on the radio,” Caroline instructed.
While I started to scan the channels and Caroline and Clara talked about choreographing the dance, Elizabeth looked over at me and asked. “What’s a whore?”
Elizabeth was a fashion plate. She wore denim shorts, a bright pink top and flip-flops to match. She had bracelets on each wrist, two necklaces and earrings. Her blonde hair was in a side pony-tail.
“What do you think it is?” I asked calmly.
Nanny rule number one, don’t answer a question, especially that kind of question, until you find out what they know. I learned that the hard way. When Caleb was five, he asked me what sperm was. By-passing the mechanics, I had given him a rather long, awkward definition, finishing with “Why do you ask?”
To which he replied, “My teacher said tomorrow we’re having a program about Sperm Whales and I wanted to know what that was.”
Ah-oh. Lesson learned.
“I don’t know what it is, that’s why I’m asking you,” Elizabeth said.
“Okay. Can you use it in a sentence?”
“Shirley Miles is a whore. That’s what it said on the bathroom wall,” she said.
“Well, a whore is a woman who dates a lot of men at the same time.”
“Oh,” she said.
From the back seat, Caleb yelled. “What’s a tampon?”
“It’s something for women,” I replied, hoping it would be enough. No such luck.
“I know that,” he said. “What’s it for?”
I took a deep breath. “You know what a suppository is?”
“Well, it’s like that.”
“Oh,” he said.
“That one! That one!” Caroline yelled as the radio found a station playing a lively song, in Spanish.
“Okay, everybody dance,” Clara said.
She and Caroline started moving their arms up and down in a swimming motion.
Elizabeth and I joined in. I really got into it. I swam to the right. I swam to the left. I held my nose with thumb and fore finger and waved my free hand in the air as if I were going under. We were all grooving to the beat, which turned out to be a religious song. But hey, we were sacrificing an old Mermaid, so a hymn seemed appropriate.
We moved forward two cars and the Jeep in front of me got my attention. The guy was adjusting the rear-view mirror on his door in order to get a better look at our sacrifice dance. He was laughing his ass off. His hand was nice, tanned with no ring line. I felt my face start to burn, but managed to smile at him.
He leaned his head and both hands out, looked into the mirror and applauded. He had really nice hands.
I focused on the back of his Jeep. I smiled, realizing I could tell a lot about him just from reading the five bumper stickers he had plastered across his tailgate. Texas needs Perry for Governor. Hidden Hills Club member. NRA member. Texas Tech Alumni Association. Sunset Baptist Church. He was a Red Raider, gun-toting, Christian Republican golfer…with really nice hands.
“Okay, everybody, what do y’all want?” I asked.
One by one, I got their choices. Elizabeth wanted a cherry slush. Caleb, a root beer. Katherine wanted a small lemon-lime drink. Caroline wanted sweet tea and Clara wanted her regular order, a cherry lime-aid.
As the Jeep disappeared around the corner to the pick-up window, I placed our order. When I got to Clara’s, she started to shout, “Tell them don’t trick my cherry!”
Yesterday, on our daily happy-hour run, they failed to put the cherry in Clara’s cherry lime-aid and she wasn’t gonna let that happen again.
“Tell them Maggie. Tell them, don’t trick my cherry. Tell them. Tell them!” she screamed.
“Okay, okay. I need a medium cherry slush, a medium root beer, a small lemon-lime, a small sweet tea and a small cherry lime-aid.” I ordered.
Clara started to scream hysterically. “Tell her! Say it! Say, don’t trick my cherry!”
I leaned into the speaker. “Oh, and don’t trick my cherry,” I said.
“What?” the confused order taker asked.
From the backseat, Clara was still screaming over and over. “Don’t trick my cherry. Tell her, Maggie. Tell her!”
“Please don’t leave the cherry out of the lime-aid,” I explained.
I could hear laughter from more than just the order taker. I pulled around to see the Jeep still at the window. Again, he was laughing his ass off. I gave a-palms-up shrug.
He pulled away, and I took his spot and offered my money to the girl in the window.
“You don’t owe anything,” she said. “The guy ahead of you paid. He said to give you this.” She handed me his card.
I looked down at it. Joel Brandt, Detective, Tyler Police Department. He had written his personal phone number on it and the words, I hope you’ll call.
I smiled. I didn’t have a picture of a policeman’s hands.
TALKIN’ TWANG: Texas wisdom-Never slap a man who’s chewin’ tobacco.