Saturday, October 30, 2004

Superstar

Her honeyed hair hung with abandon down her face, falling around a delicate face like spring rain. The jagged scar beneath her lower lip from the sledding accident she and I were in together a few winters ago was still visible and gave her the look something cracked.

“Daba! Let’s go!”

It was Saturday and I offered Casey the chance to help me do the food shopping. I always went alone, but Casey was of such an age and temperament that she was not to be denied today.

She was the leading forward on her soccer team, scoring more goals than anyone else and I understood why. The ball simply relented under her leaden will the way islands are subsumed by a tsunami. The ball gives up, capitulates and simply surrenders its volition, resigning itself to the safety of the back of the net with complete acquiescence, rather than face the sandpaper grit of her focus, heart and determination.

Casey brushed and ate breakfast quickly and began the review of my grocery list. “Too much fat!” she tsked, shaking her head .

“Yeah, well, I’m not a smoker so I have to even out the coronary statistics some way,” I shot back at her, then pulled the sheet from her grip, walking away to her protests. “Get in the car!” I yelled over my shoulder as she stopped to tie her sneaker, then ambled into the passenger seat.

We drove in the brisk, autumn-angled sunlight. She fiddled with the radio as I began to notice the gangly length of her arms and legs, her tiny face and long curly eyelashes. I recalled her as a premie 12 years ago, with the doll-sized cap and button face. She rarely slept, even then.

We pulled into the supermarket lot and she leaped out of the car, running to grab a shopping cart. I moved to grab one as well which prompted her to cry out, “No, Daba! I have this one. See? The wheels move better!”
Like the soccer ball, I gave in.(Gooooooooaaaaaaaallllll!)

Casey insisted – as she always did; she never suggested, or hinted, she always insisted – that she hold the coupons, the list and steer the cart.

“Peanut, let me at least steer the cart for you!”
“No, Daba, I know the tricks through the aisles. Sherri Rankowicz told me all about the best way to steer these carts. Her dad works in the meat section. I think he’s a butcher or something. So he knows about these carts.”
“Where did you come from?” I muttered just barely audible.

She skipped off unconcerned about traffic, assuming the cars would stop. We got into the store and we followed the list. The list was really a chart made out in the layout of the store. Casey’s mom always did that, to make it easier, she had always said. She had a different sheet for each store in the area.

Casey stopped at the bagels, placing the list, coupons, and money down to quickly pull on the plastic bags on the rollers.

“Now Jack likes plain bagels and I like salted.”

I went to pull out a bag, and she swiped it from my hands.

“Case…” I began to complain. (She sets up.)
“Daba!” she countered. (She shoots.)
“Let me!” and she stuffed the bagels into the bag, tied the bag off and placed it ceremoniously into the cart. (She scores!)

“Casey, where is the $150?” Casey panicked. For an instant she was a twelve year old again and I could see the weight of such an event as losing that much money was even too much for her. She quickly began back tracking. “Oh for the love of…” I was trying to be patient but I was losing any ability to show mercy given the circumstances.

Beneath the day old baked goods bin, I spied the money, with the list and the coupons. They must have fallen down in Casey’s haste to load the bagels.

“I just put them there for safe keeping,” said Casey, now looking clearly relieved. “You worry way too much, you know,” she told me as she headed off to the next item on the list.

“Well, hey, how about you control the money, the list and the coupons. Those are very important jobs and let me steer the cart, okay?”

The scare of almost losing that much money must have made Casey more pliable because she said yes right away.

We crawled up and down the aisles following the floor plan the way a general follows a battle plan. Each stop along the way contained a new challenge: I would inevitably attempt to sneak in an impulse buy and Casey would tilt her head and look at me as though I had just suggested eating dirt for dinner tonight. She thought I was deranged. She would then scamper off to return the errant items.

“Here Daba,” she said to me by the dairy section. “We need two gallons of skim milk, the store brand kind is on sale. Think you can do that?”
“Sale?” I mumbled, off to complete my assignment. Red milk, blue milk, yellow milk: it was, I imagine how a dyslexic must feel looking at the colors, price labels and shelf talkers like I was from another planet.

We stopped four or five times to rearrange the cart. “We can get more stuff in the cart if we put the fruit here and the vegetables there and stack all the canned goods like this.” As we progressed, the cart had such girth that I realized Casey was right. I simply would have used a second cart.

We lined up finally at the checkout counter: it took us an hour to shop – and on a crowded Saturday! I was impressed but I could see Casey didn’t even consider this time saving as anything special except as the result of a personality that saw everything with a square sense of purpose that she wore about her like clothing. I envied her.

Casey began to choreograph the checkout-line dance, loading the food onto the conveyer belt, in the order that she had organized the coupons. Moving to and fro, back and forth with a grace that belied her short twelve years on this plane of existence; slapping my hands whenever I would try to reach into the cart and toss something onto the conveyor. Casey was a great classical pianist, pressing keys and pedals to the rhythm and melody of the moment, completely oblivious to everything a twelve year old should be attuned to. The only exception was when I would throw an item out of order up onto the conveyor. Casey would reach without a wasted motion and toss it back to its proper place on the line of the foodstuffs on the checkout conveyor.

We finally drove off and as we did, I noticed that she was playing with her hair and looking out the window, daydreaming. She was the most capable human being I knew bar none – and she was only twelve years old. But she still had that shy smile whenever people she didn’t know talked to her. Being so able, it was easy to forget how young she really was, how she laughed so hard and full at the most inane things at dinner. She filled a space in my life at a time when the emptiness would have been permanently damaging.

I knew that the last few years had been hard on her, and maybe I didn’t consider what sort of toll they had taken. In a lot fewer years than I cared to consider, she would move off, and away, and decorate someone else’s life, the way she has decorated mine these lightning dozen years. Despite all we had been through, she was still my Peanut.

“Thanks for helping me today Peanut,” I said to her as I smiled.
“No, Daba, thank you for helping me.” She wasn’t rude or cocky, just certain. I laughed.
“Yeah, I suppose so. Same time next week then?”
“Oh, yeah. I have some ideas for next week.”

We turned into the driveway, the wind was pushing the fresh fall leaves all over the lawn. I saw a shadow pass over her youthful, able face, turning it flat, the way a cloud that passes in front of the sun on a windswept sunny day throws a gliding shadow over the valley.

“I miss mom,” Casey said starkly, simply, with no tone, no expectation. It was just a glimpse into her feelings.
“Yeah, Peanut, me too.”

She could even manage the hurt better than I could.

“Let’s go in and I’ll make us some Mac and cheese.”


MB 2004

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home