All right. My friend Debra Dockter requested a meeting with Nicky, so this is as good an introduction as I can give. It’s rough! And as you’ll see, it’s nothing like what you’re used to seeing from me. This is why it’s so hard for me to slip back into his voice; it’s so unique, and the language is very different. The sentence structure, the dialogue, the word choice — all so different from what I usually write!
Our first customer was the speakeasy east of Silverdale, down on Grouse Creek. It’s so well-known, they don’t even bother hiding what they are. It was January; really cold that year, with snow blowing and the creek freezing near solid. I drove Abby over to Simon’s and we loaded her up with the wooden crates. We’d taken out the rumble seat and put in some cotton padding in the back to give us more room there, and we’d shortened up the seat in the front some so’s I could reach the pedals easier and we could fit more bottles between the back of the seat and the back of the car.
“You be careful heading over there,” Simon said. “They play rough, or so I hear.”
“I will,” I said. I shivered in my coat; it was deuced cold out, and my sleeves were about two inches too short. My pant legs were abut two inches too short too, and my socks were close to threadbare. Simon looked at me and studied me a second.
“You got anything else to wear?”
I shook my head, stamping my feet. I was outgrowing my boots too – I’d tied ‘em up in cardboard and twine, but my toes were freezing through the cracks. But Eunice and Sam were growing too, and they had to have new coats for winter. Mama had made over one of my old ones for Sam, but Eunice had to have a new one, and it’d taken the last of my money to get the stuff for Mama to make it. Hadn’t been nothing left for me.
“You go find yourself something before you go over there,” Simon said. “It’s only gonna get colder. Mind you, you get yourself over there before ten, you hear? Else they’ll want their money back.”
I nodded. I didn’t have nothing else to wear.
“I mean it,” Simon said. “You go get yourself a blanket or something.”
I couldn’t go back home; I couldn’t let Mama see me. I couldn’t worry her. But maybe she’d be in the sitting room with the babies, helping ‘em with their homework. Maybe she’d have a blanket or something in her room I could sneak in the back and grab. Something in her closet.
I pulled the Model T around the back of the house and waited in the dark, but Mama didn’t ever come to the door, so I got out and let the door sit there, not daring to shut it. Then I snuck in the back door and listened; I could hear Mama and Sam in the sitting room, talking about math, so I crept down the hall towards Mama’s room. Seemed like she kept old quilts and stuff in her closet. I didn’t dare light the lantern, just let my eyes adjust to the full moon coming in the window and opened the closet door.
All of Daddy’s clothes was still there.
I couldn’t. She’d know.
But I could smell him – opening that closet was like opening a door to Daddy. Suddenly I was eight again, sitting next to him in the garage while he explained why spark plugs had to be cleaned regular, and how fuel lines could get clogged up with dirt and stuff . . . smelling the pipe tobacco he carried in his front shirt pocket, and the hair pomade he used on Sundays, or when he and Mama got dressed up on Friday nights sometimes and went to Ark City to go dancing. I grabbed a shirt and brought it to my face, breathing deep, and felt something twist up inside my chest and tears sting my eyes.
Why? I wanted to shout. Why’d you have to go and die and leave me here doing all this? Why’d you have to leave us and go to Europe and go fight? Why’d you have to take up with those damn Germans and get accused of treason anyway? Why’d you make me do what you were supposed to be here to do? Why’d you leave me? Why?
But I didn’t shout it. I just dug my fingers into the shirt real deep, like I was trying to reach him, and suddenly, I was pulling off my old coat and the ratty old shirt I’d been wearing for the past month ‘cause it was the only one I could still button up, and I was pulling on Daddy’s shirt. It was too big – I buttoned the sleeves and they slid over my hands, but I didn’t care. I smelled like him.
I had to grab one of Mama’s hat pins and put more holes in the suspenders to get ‘em short enough to keep his pants up around my waist, and roll up the cuffs several times, but the shoes, God love it, was a perfect fit. I pulled out his old overcoat – it was miles too long for me, coming past my knees, and I had to roll up the sleeves on it too, but it was so warm. Felt like I hadn’t been warm in years. I snuggled deep into it.
Daddy’s driving cap was hanging on a hook on the back of the door. Gray and tan houndstooth, like the coat; Mama always said he looked smart when he wore’ em together. He always said he’d buy her a coat to match, too, but he never did. The cap fell over my eyes, but I shoved it back off my face. The coat was so heavy it felt like I could barely move, but I wasn’t gonna leave it behind.
Mama had a clock on the table next to her bed – God alive! I had ten minutes to get to Sally’s. I ran out the back door so fast I didn’t even stop to latch it, threw myself into the Model T, and revved the engine. I thought I saw light spillin’ out of the house as I took off, but I didn’t bother to look back. I just shoved the cap further back on my face and shot her into third.