four o’clock and eveyrthing (draft excerpt)

“Hanging In & Out” FOUR O’CLOCK AND EVERYTHING (draft excerpt 3)

Thudding, thumping, tap-tap-tap on the roof prompted me to sit up in bed and rub my achy eyes. I pushed the quilt off, padded over to the window of the drafty bedroom, and looked out the frosty glass. There was a giant plastic Santa, faded from years of baking in the December and January sun, hanging upside down by a green cord from above the house.

I stepped out on the porch in my pajamas and baggy sweater. Cindy and Porter were standing at the edge of the porch arguing over voltage, or something. There were boxes of old strings of lights, outdated, cheesy cardboard and plastic figures, and garbage bags of cheap red and silver garlands scattered all over the yard. The stereo was on. The same Dolly Parton song was playing on loop. Christmas Time’s a Comin’. It wasn’t even a CD. It was an old cassette with the same song recorded over and over.

“Good. Yer up,” Cindy said, smacking my butt and motioning me toward the ladder propped up against the house. “Get on up there and don’t mess it up.”

I hesitated and for good reason.

“I’m not getting up there,” I said. “First of all, I’m not dressed. Second of all, I don’t trust the two of you not to kick the ladder and make me fall. Nope. Not going to do it.”

Somehow, I ended up on the top step, clutching the edge of the rain gutter for dear life. Cindy hurled a giant, inflatable snowman at me. It bounced off my head and dropped to the ground.

“Hello?” she yelled, making a megaphone out of her dirty hands. “Catch it.” Then she started grumbling. “She used to stink up a storm at baseball. Remember?”

“How are we supposed to keep this thing from falling off the roof?” I yelled down, the grass and rocks looking slightly fuzzy from my point of view.

Half the neighborhood was outside for the show. They were sipping coffee at their fences, sitting on porch swings with their cordless phones on their laps, and stopped on the sidewalk, gaping up at me, waiting for disaster to strike. The next time Cindy hurled the snowman up, I caught it with two fingers. Eight feet tall. He was holding a show shovel in his hands. He was so heavy, the second his full weight set in, I leaned backwards and lost my balance. When I landed on the ground, Cindy bent over more concerned about the tacky decoration than she was me.

“If we would have used the one with the fan in it, this wouldn’t have happened,” Porter told Cindy. “Besides, blow this thing up and it’ll be outta air in a week.”

I rolled over, growled against my arm, and sat up. Cindy picked Frosty up and raised him up like Mufasa lifting Simba to Heaven, even though the snowman was twice her size.

“Don’t worry. I’m fine,” I grumbled. “Frosty broke my fall.”

“New plan,” Cindy said. “We bungee tie him to the chimney.”

“But doesn’t the chimney get hot?” I asked.

“What’s yer point?” Cindy squinted.

“Nothing,” I said, throwing my arms up. “Forget I said anything.”

By lunchtime, there were lights hanging from every surface on the house. We had spinning, rotating figurines, flashing lights, fake snow on the grass, and giant plastic ornaments hanging from the tree branches. Olive and Mable were dancing on the sidewalk, eating candy canes. I plopped down on the steps, still in my pajamas. Patty Pugh wandered over, a kitchen broom in her hand. Olive waved. Patty forced a smile.

“Good knight alive,” she muttered, looking our mess over. “What a mess.”

“I’m sorry,” I mouthed.

She shook her head side to side.

“You better not be plugin’ this up to my breaker box,” she said to Cindy.

Cindy kicked at the bushes behind her and folded her arms, then pointed her head up ward and started whistling the theme to Andy Griffith.

At an hour before supper, I was on Grandma Kate’s couch. Mable was in front of the TV watching a Winnie the Pooh Christmas movie on VHS. Ginger stood behind us, fabrics and sewing supplies scattered around the room.

“Hold still now,” she hummed at Olive.

Ginger had Olive pinned against the buffet table. Olive was wearing a gold pipe cleaner halo and what was left of an old white bed sheet. Ginger had been making alterations to the angel gown for an hour. It was the first and only time I had ever seen her working a needle and thread. Grandma Kate appeared in front of me. She was holding a giant wood spoon with chocolate goop dripping off. She poked it at Mable. Mable licked. She poked it at me. I took a bite.

“Needs more Tabasco,” Mable said.

“It’s fudge,” Grandma Kate grunted.

“Oh,” Mable said, not blinking.

“It’s good,” I said.

Grandma Kate took a lick.

“Something ain’t right,” she said before stumbling back toward the kitchen.

“Vanilla?” I asked.

“No,” she yelled back.

“Too much cocoa?” I tried again.

“Measured it to the letter,” she yelled back.

And Grandma Kate hardly ever measured anything.

“A proper lady never lifts her skirt in mixed company,” Ginger told Olive.

“Huh?” Olive asked.

She’d been quoting Amy Vanderbilt for days.

“Peppermint!” Grandma Kate yelled, in a eureka sort of way.

I got up, completely uninterested in anything going on around me, and walked over to the door. The sky was gray and gloomy. Smoke billowed above the housetops, up, up, up…and it met the grayness in a blurry haze. I walked home in silence. No cars traveling up or down the street. No people outside. Twinkling lights and ravens circling.

“This stuff is so old,” Porter said from the edge of the steps. “Where did you get it?”

“The dumpster out behind the post office,” Cindy answered.

She was eating a corndog.

“Looks pretty good,” Porter said, stepping back to take-in the tacky mess the exterior of my house had become. “I still think you should have made the Santa on the mailbox play Dixie.”

Cindy took a big bite. I stopped to watch her watching him. They were getting along?

“Where’d you get that?” Porter asked.

“Freezer,” Cindy answered.

“You’re eating my corndog?” he gaped.

“It ain’t had your name wrote on it,” Cindy said.

Oh well.

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