Monday, April 25, 2011

LIEF: Eight

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   “Why is today a special day?” Dad asked.

    Lief leaned forward. “It’s my birthday,” she answered.
    Dad put his arm over the seat, turned around and smiled. “That’s true, honey,” he said. “It is your birthday. But why else is today special?”
    Norrin squirmed in the passenger seat. “Dad. Road.”
    Dad swung back around, and placed both his hands on the steering wheel. “Whoops.” He looked at Lief in the rearview mirror. “I could see where I was going,” he told her. He pointed to his eyes. “Peripheral vision.”
    Lief sat back. “Where’s Mommy?” she asked.
    “A rally,” Norrin answered.
    “For what?”
    Dad was again looking at her in the mirror. “You know your mother,” he said. “It’s a rally for a man named Mo Udall. He’s running for president.”
    Lief thought about that name, but before she could ask her next question, Dad started again.
    “So, why else is today special?”
    Norrin leaned his head against the car window.  “It’s Leap Day,” he answered.
    Dad shook his head. “Uh-uh. I want Leap to answer this one.”
    “It’s Leap Day,” Lief said. “The earth goes around the sun, and it takes 365 days and six hours. So every four years there’s an extra day.”
    “Five hours and forty-nine minutes,” Norrin corrected.
    “Five hours and forty-nine minutes,” Dad repeated, nodding. He slowed down the car. “I thought she said it was on the common,” he said to himself.
    Lief looked out the window. “I don’t see her.”
    “You sure she didn’t say center?” Norrin added.
    Dad pulled over. He left the car running and the directional on. Lief listened to it click.
    “Why does Mom have to do this stupid rally?” Norrin asked.
    Dad pulled off his cap and sighed. “The election’s on Tuesday,” he explained. “The primary, I mean.” He scratched his forehead with his thumbnail.
    “I don’t see her, Dad,” Norrin said.
    Lief looked out the window at the common. An older couple were walking their dog.
    “I don’t see her, Dad,” Lief repeated.
    She heard Dad sigh. “It’s going to be dark soon,” he said.
    “It’s only three-thirty.” Norrin pointed to the dashboard clock.
    “It gets darker quicker than you think,” Dad replied.
    Lief ran her fingers along the stitching on the backseat. It made a tiny little noise that she liked.
    “Alright,” Dad said. “Let’s check the center.”
    He switched directionals. Lief could hear him flip the lever, but when she listened to the clicking, it still sounded just like the other one.
    “I’m sorry, sweetie,” Dad said, turning back to Lief. “We’ll stop and get an ice cream cone or something.”
    “It’s okay,” she said. “We had cake and ice cream last night.”
    “You get two birthdays this year,” Dad told her.
    They pulled back out onto the street and drove away. Lief took another look at the common. The couple with the dog were gone.
    “Is Mo Udall going to be our next president?” Norrin asked.
    The lights were yellow but Dad kept driving through them anyway.
    “Probably not, Norm,” Dad explained.
    “Why not?” Norrin was picking at the molding on the door handle.
    “Because he’s a Mormon,” Dad answered.
    Lief sat forward. “Are Mormons bad?” she asked.
    Dad looked at her in the mirror again. “No, Leapfrog,” he told her. “Mormons are just a religion. But a lot of people don’t like it.”
    Lief scratched the back of the seat in front of her. “Are we Mormons?” she asked.
    “We’re nothing,” Dad answered.
    Norrin peeled a piece of the molding off the door handle. “Mom says we’re atheists.”
    “We’re nothing,” Dad repeated. He looked over at Norrin. “Stop picking at that.”
    Norrin dropped the little piece he was holding onto the floor.
    “Then why does Mom say we’re atheists?” he asked.
    Finally, there was a red light. Dad had no choice but to stop.
    “People sometimes like to have words for stuff,” he explained.
    There was a small crowd in the center of town. Dad pulled the car into the church parking lot.
    “You guys wait here,” he told them. “I’m going to find Mom.”
    He closed the door and scuttled across the street. Norrin picked Dad’s cap off the seat and put it on. The brim fell in front of his face.
    Norrin hopped on his knees and turned toward the backseat.
    “Do I look like Dad?” he asked.
    Lief examined him closely. “I don’t know,” she said. “I can’t see your eyes.”
    Norrin leaned his head back so his eyes were visible beneath the brim. “What about now?” he asked.
    “Now I can see up your nose,” she told him.
    They both turned toward the town center. Dad was wandering among the people. He was the only one without a sign.
    “I don’t think she’s there,” Lief said.
    Norrin took the cap off and laid it down between the seats. They watched their father mill about the rally for a few more minuets, but then Lief felt bad about it. She turned to look at the church. Each stained glass window seemed to tell a story.
    “Who are all those people?” Lief asked. “In the windows?”
    Norrin turned and examined the church. “I don’t know,” he finally admitted. “I think a lot of them are Jesus.”
    “What’s he doing?” she asked.
    Norrin shrugged. “You’ll have to read the Bible to find out.”
    Dad was back. He opened the car door and surprised them.
    “I don’t know where she is,” Dad said, getting in. He closed the car door. “Leapfrog, honey, why don’t you sit up front with us boys?” he said.
    “Is there a seatbelt for me?” she asked.
    Dad smiled. “I’ll drive careful,” he told her.
    Lief climbed over the seat and slid down between her brother and father.
    “I saw your underwear,” Norrin said.
    Dad started the car. “We’ll go get you guys some ice cream,” he said. “Then maybe we’ll go to the movies or something.”
    As they pulled out of the church parking lot, Lief listened to the directional clicking.
    “Why does Mommy like Mo Udall?” she asked her father.
    He reached out and touched her knee lightly with his knuckles.
    “I don’t know,” Dad said. “Mom just likes people with silly names, I guess.”
    “I don’t know anyone else named Lief,” she told him.
    “I don’t know anyone else named Norrin,” her brother added.
    Dad smiled. “Yeah, but you guys don’t know that many people.”
    “You’re named after a superhero,” Lief said.
    Norrin balked. “Silver Surfer’s not a superhero,” he said. “Mom should have named me Conan.”
    Lief made her face serious. “I don’t like Conan,” she told him.
    Dad looked around for his cap.
    “I think I’m sitting on it,” Lief told him.
    He scratched his forehead. “Mom just wanted you to have unique names,” he explained. “Special, one-of-a-kind names.”
    Lief looked up at her father. “Why?” she asked.
    Dad smiled. “I was just teasing,” he said. “Mommy like Udall for lots of reasons. I was just kidding around.”
    She could feel his cap underneath her. It was bunched up weird and uncomfortable.
    “You didn’t answer my question,” she said.
    The woman at the ice cream stand was surprised to see them. “It’s so cold out,” she said.
    Dad smiled at her. “They’re going to eat it in the car,” he explained.
    “Make sure to take extra napkins,” the woman called to them.
    They climbed back in the car.
    “Why did she say that?” Norrin asked. His cone was Rocky Road.
    “Say what?” Dad replied. He didn’t have a cone.
    “Does she think we’re messy?” Norrin said. “She told us we needed extra napkins.”
    Lief’s cone was strawberry. She looked at it; she liked the color.
    “She was just being nice,” Dad told him. “Her kids probably drip ice cream all over the inside of her car.”
    Norrin looked at his cone for a second before biting into it. “We’re not messy kids,” he protested.
    Dad was looking at the car window. “You guys stay right here,” he told them. He got out of the car, closing the door behind him. Lief watched him cross the parking lot.
    “Where’s Mom?” Lief asked.
    Norrin had a chocolate ring around his mouth. “You know Mom,” he replied.
    Lief licked her strawberry cone. “I don’t know where she goes,” she said. “Dad doesn’t know where she is.”
    Norrin started biting into the waffle cone, tiny pieces falling from his mouth. “She’s probably already home.”
    Strawberry ice cream started dribbling down her fingers. She licked them quickly. “I’m not sure,” she told her brother.
    The ice cream was melting fast. Dad had left the heat running. She shouldn’t have spent so much time looking at it. Dad was across the street on the payphone. Lief watched him slump against the pole, watched his shoulders fall. He’d be back soon. She tried to finish as fast as she could.
    “I think that lady’s watching us,” Norrin said.
    “Here comes Dad,” she replied.
    He got back in without saying too much.
    “Thanks for the ice cream, Daddy,” Lief said.
    Dad smiled. “Where’s my hat?” he asked.
    Lief lifted herself off the seat, reached underneath, and pulled the hat out.
    “I smooshed it,” she confessed.
    Dad punched the inside of the hat to give it back its shape. “It’s fine, Leapfrog,” he told her. He whipped it through the air a few times before putting it back on his head.
    “That lady was looking at us,” Norrin complained.
    “Norm,” Dad said. “Enough. She’s just concerned, is all.”
    Dad put both hands on the steering wheel. “I’ve gotta get to work,” he told them. “I’m gonna drop you guys at the movies. Aunt Cheryl will pick you up when it’s over.”
    Norrin wiped his mouth against the back of his arm. “The Megaplex?” he asked.
    “Eastside’s closer,” Dad explained. “Plus, you know Mr. Jordan, so he won’t mind you guys being there alone.”
    Norrin folded his arms. “Eastside sucks eggs,” he whispered.
    “I’m sorry,” Dad said.
    He put the car in first, and pulled out of the parking lot.
    “See, Dad?” Lief said. “We didn’t make a mess.”
    The rug in the Eastside lobby was not like their rugs at home. Lief traced in it with the tip of her shoe and what she drew stayed there for a few seconds after.
    Dad was at the box office. “Thanks, Bob,” he said.
    Dad bent down and handed Norrin the tickets.
    “We’ve already seen ‘Witch Mountain’,” Norrin whined.
    “You probably missed parts of it,” Dad replied.
    “We saw every part,” Lief explained.
    Dad took his cap off.
    “I know, sweetie,” he said. “Do it for me.”
    Norrin rubbed his elbow. “Okay.”
    “Okay,” Lief repeated.
    Dad put his hand on Norrin’s shoulder.
    “Norm, buddy,” he said. “You’ve got to promise me--you will not leave your sister.”
    Norrin nodded.
    “Just say it for me,” Dad said.
    Norrin looked at Lief.
    “I promise I will never leave her,” he replied. Lief smiled.
    Dad smiled, too. He kissed them both, put his cap on, and walked through the lobby.
    They took their seats. The theater was empty.
    “Where is everybody?” Lief asked.
    Norrin put his feet up on the chair in front of them.
    “Everybody saw this movie last year,” he explained.
    Mr. Jordan came in and brought them popcorn.
    “We can talk if we want to,” Lief told Norrin. “Nobody else is here.”
    Norrin munched on some popcorn.
    “We could play if we wanted to,” Lief said.
    “I don’t remember this part,” Norrin told her pointing to the screen.
    They were quiet for a few minutes.
    “We could play ‘Witch Mountain’,” Lief explained. “We could play Tony and Tia. They’re brother and sister, too.”
    Norrin had a kernel stuck between his teeth. He picked at it with his finger.
    “They have stupid powers,” he told her.
    The popcorn bucket was between them, but Lief didn’t want any.
    “We could change their powers,” Lief replied.
    Norrin nodded. “I could shoot laser beams from my hands,” he told her. He made laser noises.
    Lief thought for a minute. “What would I do?” she asked.
    Norrin shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. “What would you want to do?”
    Lief put her hand on the popcorn bucket. “Time travel,” she said finally.
    Norrin shook his head. “Time travel’s cheating,” he said. “You could time travel and come back so fast no one would know you were gone.”
    Lief sunk in her seat.
    “What if I could time travel, but I couldn’t come back?” she asked.
    Norrin looked baffled. “Why would anyone time travel if they couldn’t come back?”
    Lief made her serious face again. “It was an emergency,” she explained.
    She woke up alone in the theater. She didn’t remember falling asleep. The movie was over, and the lights were on. Something felt cold and heavy in her stomach. Where was Norrin? He promised he would never leave her.
    “Hey,” Norrin said, pushing through the theater door. “Aunt Cheryl’s not here yet.”
    Lief breathed out heavily. “What are we going to do?” she said.
    Norrin reached into the popcorn bucket and sat back down.
    “Watch the movie again, I guess,” he explained. “Mr. Jordan says he’ll come get us when she’s here.”
    The lights went down. The preview reel began.
    “I thought you left,” Lief said.
    Norrin shook his head. “I wouldn’t leave you.”
    Lief sat back.
    He was silent.
    “Norrin?” she repeated. “I don’t get it. Where’s Mom?”
    Norrin shrugged again. “You know Mom,” he said.
    The theater was pitch black in the few seconds before the movie begun again.
    “Why do people keep saying that?” Lief asked.

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