How long can a girl live on crackers?
Someone needs to talk about Marion. It’s not going to be me though. No way. Because everything I know about her is really something about me. And I know nothing about if she died or went somewhere nice or is still living in her Dad’s old cellar.
Except he was in jail for a few years, and the house was abandoned. So it couldn’t be true anymore that she was kept underground, like it used to maybe be true when we were all kids.
Unless he left a gigantic stockpile of shrink-wrapped ham and Ritz crackers.
She loved Ritz crackers.
If that mad bastard did lock her up in an underground dungeon – and I’m not saying he did – then he would have made sure she got lots of Ritz crackers. I went in her kitchen fairly often and whenever you pulled open the big cabinet it was a red flash of Ritz boxes. After her mam died anyway.
I mentioned it to her one time: the Ritz crackers. That was awful. She melted and she shook and I almost had to touch her.
It was weird. I knew it was weird. Everyone knew it was weird. Except maybe Marion. Even before we all got puberty, it was weird. We didn’t play two-ee-ball, or tigs or anything. We didn’t play. We watched the telly and ate and she ironed. Later she played me records, Tamla Motown compilations that crackled with pure time from the smell of the sleeves to the crackle of the needle to the music that obviously was something her mam would have liked and not her dad and her mam was drowned in time and made of time.
That was amazing music. Unexpectedly it came into our life. It was better than telly. We never talked about it. She would just go all quiet and walk over the superthick carpet and get a disk out of the deep drawer and put it on and we’d both sit back and love it and soar on some track like “Baby I Need Your Loving” but we wouldn’t talk about it and we wouldn’t look at each other.
So this is all weird right? This is like mam and dad when it maybe should have been doctor and nurse.
When she grew beautiful, I assumed it would all end. It didn’t. She did her boyfriend thing. I did my girlfriend thing, as best I could. There was still time to meet up in the time between 4pm and 6pm. I was getting into my art seriously by then. She thought it was a miracle the way I drew so she’d watch me do it. For her, when you drew you would draw a circle for the head and then other shapes around it and you’d draw a nose in the correct spot etc. And I liked that style. I still do. But for me it was all the chaos of the pencil on the paper, drawing from the center out, finding the best way for the scratches to share the paper and teasing people and trees and cars and geese etc. out of it. Every time she treated it like magic, so of course I kept going over.
She was lovely Irish. She was lovely freckles.
I should have drawn her. At least once.
But imagine asking her.
I was usually shuffled out before her dad came home but of course I knew about him because I lived across the street and back then everyone knew everything except the very filthiest details about each other back then. The VERY filthiest details. And a very high level of detail. That was what we didn’t know.
But when you came home from work drunk and you terrorized your lovely daughter like a big ugly bat in her face and you stayed up till midnight taking photos of the moon then we knew it like you had glass walls on your house.
If you had a big, bloody telescope and you didn’t just look through it but you also wrote things down about it – in a book! – then this we knew.
And if you started fights but never finished them. And if you dug a big hole in your back yard and over a period of months built yourself an enormous shed that looked like a bomb shelter then every sheet of corrugated steel and every foot of timber was noted.
And when it was done and you called it your observatory and you locked it up, then we hated you.
Not ‘me’, I was a daft kid. I just heard this all in other rooms, in big smoke bubbles with bad music going on. How bad? The best of it was “Bad Company”: that’s the high water mark.
“Don’t go to bed, stay up a bit. Have a laugh.”
How can a kid have a laugh with a bunch of grown ups? Really they wanted me to say soft things so they could teach me the language of insults that I would need to live my adult years here.
“He’s got a big head hasn’t he? Like a bloody caravan?”
Anyway, I learned things in the bubbles. They all thought he was mad and dirty and that he thought too highly of himself.
But that was my friend’s dad. I didn’t want him to be dirty and mad.
So one time I suddenly said to Marion, “I want to meet your dad.”
Not “I think you’re great” or “I’m still going to be thinking about you my whole life” or “I want to draw your picture.”
She said no, of course, but without conviction. I was surprised and I found a comfortable place to sit.
I found a comfortable place. Then I got worried.
“Is this your dad’s chair?”
“No, it’s our mam’s.”
I settled into it. Our chairs outlive us. I soaked that thought in as Marion fluffed up her hair which had recently been cut into a short wedge.
Then she suddenly laughed and smiled at me so hard that even if I think about it now, I break a little.
Then we heard her dad cough and we both practically crapped ourselves. The next bit of time drops away from my memory. Then I am half out of the little window in the kitchen pantry and kicking my legs and how can it be that she is not laughing at the two legged octopus she is trying to push out and how come I am not screaming as I look down at the concrete my head and hands are actually trying to plunge into?
Later that happens, I guess. We have a very good laugh next time we see each other. But we don’t say why, because at root…there is something not funny going on.
After that day, we grow apart. We still live only 100 feet apart but she becomes more like other girls and I become probably even less like other lads.
A year later, she runs away from home.
It’s totally plausible.
Presumably the police check the observatory. But maybe when they are in there, the telescopes distract them and they look up instead of down. Maybe she is underground. We talked about it a bit when we were kids but it was one cold day in Germany when I read the news about another one of those girls being dug out from under her father’s construction with rape babies clinging to her that I really thought that the stupid kids had been right and Marion had been in there in chains. It seemed so stupid then, like we had the last traces of Hansel and Gretel still in us and we were embarrassing the grown ups with our idiot talk. We had to be more reasonable like the police and the doctors.
It is plausible that she ran away. She grew wild in the year without me. First she stared smoking, which is no big deal but she did it forcefully and when she held the cigarette in front of her face it was the most intense theater I have ever seen, even to this day.
Then she went a little punk and she drank more than the other girls and she threw up without bending over.
Then she was gone.
I remember our last nod. I had expected that at some point we’d have a new friendship that would burrow out from the remains of the old one like a rash of flowers. The nod was maintenance, until we were both a bit older and more solid.
I remember the last nod and seeing that she had five rings in one ear now. I remember the sense that she was with a tall, boring lad.
And then years and years pass.
And people die.
And I don’t.
And now I am back in the old house, looking over at her old house.
Her dad is still in it. The stars still encircle it.
And one day, as sure as flowers will sprout from the earth, I will go to that house and I will find out the truth.
So tonight…I won’t.