The Wrong Side of the River
Deny thy father and refuse thy name
Bethany told me her mother bought her some new outfits over the summer and that she wanted me to check them out for her. Since Mom became Fashion Editor for Beau Magazine, I was nominated as fashion expert at Jefferson. It was sort of true, but mostly I just wore the free samples Mom passed on to me. Still, it was part of my duty as best friend to keep Bethany from making a fashion disaster of herself. Except, she lied.
Instead of going straight to her house, we took a super-long route home past the site of the new park, Southside by the river.
Already neighborhood families had decorated the construction site fence with paper flowers and balloons. Several posters left over from Mayor Griffin’s campaign were taped to a massive construction sign with love-hearts drawn on them. Even I could see that was a step too far.
Bethany took hold of one of the posters and tore it down, tossed it onto the ground, and stamped on it. “Ha!”
“Okay, we’re getting out of here before you get us arrested.” I grabbed her arm and hurried away from the soon-to-be park.
“It’s just a stupid poster,” she muttered.
I didn’t wait for the Southsiders to prove her wrong. Eyelet lace tears too easily. “I bet she doesn’t think so.” I nodded my head in the direction of old Mrs. Gunderson, standing on her front lawn in her slippers, watching us with a horrified expression on her face. She wore a purple bathrobe with yellow ducks on it, and leaned on the most tricked-out walker I ever saw. It had ribbons wound around the bars for decoration, a bicycle horn, side mirrors, and one of those orange flags on a stick you get for bikes.
“How dare you?” she called after us. “You kids scram! You get away from here before I call the police!”
Bethany had the sense to look a bit worried then, and we ran for the bridge that led us to the safer side of the river. Panting and giggling, we stopped for breath when we reached official Northside territory. It was like a whole other town. The houses on the north side were the originals, there since the town was built. Some of them were tumble-down and leaned to one side or the other like they needed their neighbors to hold them up. The rest were grand old houses with tons of character and ivy creeping all over them.
Nothing south of the river was older than five years. Whether the houses had two stories and eight rooms or were small townhouses, they were all the same color and the same style. You could live in one house for years and still get lost on the way home.
“That—was—close.” Bethany pulled out her inhaler and took a long suck on it.
“I thought—she might chase us—with her walker,” I said.
We both cracked up at that, because really, if Mrs. Gunderson was Southside’s only defense, the war was already won for Northside.
At Bethany’s house, she modeled her new clothes for me. They were okay but didn’t make me want to run to the mall or anything. We didn’t mention the park once. It was a relief, because I knew when I got home, that would change.
My house was a battlefield on a good day. When Mom and Dad decided to split, they couldn’t afford to live in separate houses, or decide on what should happen to our current one. So, Mom carefully divided the house down the middle with masking tape lines on the floor. Dad even had his own little section of the kitchen where he could cook his meals in the microwave and just about reach the ice-maker on the refrigerator if he balanced on one leg and screwed up his nose.
Sage and I were not allowed to cross the line over to Dad’s side, except every other weekend when it was his turn to spend time with us. That weekend, and only that weekend, he wasn’t invisible anymore and we could act all surprised to find him in our living room. Until then, we had to pretend we couldn’t see him—which was hard because my father stood six foot tall with spidery-long arms and legs that waved about a lot. He was kind of hard to miss.
Every time he broke one of Mom’s “rules”, the taped lines moved over a little further. First, he lost the icemaker, then the microwave. Eventually, all he had left was the apartment over the garage. Since he worked for Mayor Griffin, he broke more rules than usual lately, and I was worried I’d come home to find him camping in a tent at the edge of the yard.
I was right to worry.
It was dinner time when I got home, puffing from running most of the way. Dad sat on a lawn chair beside the garage door wearing a baggy sweater and hunting cap with his dinner balanced on his knees.
He gave me a big smile and a wave as if it’s normal to find your father living like a homeless man. I could see Mom lit up in the dining room window, watching the kitchen TV in the distance while she ate with her back to me, so I waved back to him. He blew me a kiss, and I crossed my arms over my chest and blew him one back, just so he knew I still loved him, no matter what happened with that stupid park.
Dad paid Mom a big share of the grocery bill each week in exchange for her making his meals. I thought it was pretty brave of him to eat them, but considering he could barely operate the microwave, he didn’t have much choice.
When I finished my dinner at the polished oak dining table, Mom handed out the desserts.
“Take your father’s out to him, will you please, Sage?” she asked.
Sage threw her head back and let out a bratty whine. “I did it last night. And the night before!”
“Don’t worry,” I said, pushing my chair back. “I’ll do it.”
“Remember,” Mom said, “No chit-chat. You’re on my time until the weekend.”
Her time? I felt like a factory employee when she talked like that.
Dad took the dessert and grinned up at me. “How’s school been today, kiddo?”
“Oh, you know, park this, park that. Very little couture.”
“What is this town coming to, huh?” Dad chuckled and took a bite of his apple pie. “The Northsiders gloating, were they?”
I nodded. “Mayor Griffin’s in for a fight.”
Dad shrugged, and swallowed his mouthful. “Not much left to fight about. Unless your mother gets them organized into filing an injunction, it’s all done and dusted.” His spoon stopped halfway to his mouth. “Uh, Romy?”
“Yes, Dad?”
“That thing I just said, that legal sounding thing? Please don’t repeat that to anyone else, especially your mom, okay?” His skin went a couple shades paler, and his cheeks sucked in.
“Course not, Dad.”
And I really meant it.
That night, Dad was allowed inside for half-an-hour to shower, since the one in the garage only had cold water and even Mom wasn’t that heartless. Mom had gone upstairs to go through articles on her laptop, while Sage watched some cartoon movie on TV. I sat at the bottom of the stairs, hoping Dad would finish his shower before Mom came back down so I could give him a goodnight hug.
Then, I noticed Mom’s black leather paper carrying thing on the side table. If she realized she forgot it she would definitely be back down before Dad. I grabbed it, wrinkled my nose at the monogram “MM” for Mary-Rose Madison stamped on the front in gold letters, and raced upstairs.
“Oh, what’s this?” she asked when I handed it to her.
“Your paper case thing, duh,” I said.
And I really thought it was.

Keep Reading

Chapter 7

These sudden joys have sudden endings Julian

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