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ralph robert moore
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Copyright © 2002 by Ralph Robert Moore. All rights reserved.
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arnie maddox: date supplies
august 31, 2002
I poked my head in the living room, where Cindy was sitting on the sofa, hands in her lap, legs pulled up in front of her on the cushion, like a fourteen year-old female Buddha.
"I'm going out for a little while. Do you need anything?"
She tore her eyes away from the TV. A weekly series called Angel was on, which I believe is about a good vampire. "Where are you going?"
I shrugged, rubbing the top of my head. "Just out. Nowhere in particular."
She lowered her brown eyebrows, solemn little thoughts marching by. "Are you going to a drugstore?"
I jerked my head up. "What made you say that?"
"I don't know. You are?"
"Well, yeah. Do you want me to get you something?"
She hesitated, shook her head. Aimed at the TV and clicked it dark. "I'll come with you."
I coughed. "You're going to miss your show. Just tell me what you want, and I'll buy it for you."
Her head popped out of the neckhole of her sweater, eyes looking nervous. "No, no-- I don't mind."
"Well, what is it you're getting?"
She looked everywhere but at me. "I don't know." Before I could pry further, she shifted her hips. "What are you getting?"
It caught me off guard. I shrugged a couple of times, trying to think of what to say, then told her her sneakerlace was loose. Which it was. "And don't wear that sweater, Cindy. It's too chilly out. Wear your orange one."
"Nobody wears orange."
"They used to, a lot."
She looked at it. "If I have to wear orange, you have to wear that red wool cap I made for you."
Instead of going to the drugstore I normally do, I drove a few extra miles to this huge Eckerd's, the type that sells milk and oscillating fans. "Once we get inside, to save time, why don't you go off by yourself and buy whatever it is you're buying, and I'll go get what I'm getting."
Relief flooded her face, instantly replaced with nonchalance. "Hmmm? Oh, okay."
We parted just inside the front glass doors, me headed towards the right, Cindy towards the left.
We both turned round at the same time, both startled at the synchronization. Waved.
After I bought what I wanted over in the pharmacy from a male clerk, I started walking around, staring up at those huge, saucer-shaped mirrors hung from the ceilings to detect shoplifters, looking in their fish eye overview of the aisles for someone in orange.
I found the orange over in a corner of the store, surrounded by much taller pinks and greens and yellows.
Standing up on tiptoe one aisle away, and removing some boxes of dryer fluffs on the top shelf, I watched as she clutched something to her, looked furtively around in every direction but where I was, then hurried over to the cash register, to a female clerk.
Her face was beet red when she turned around, clutching her little bag in front of her.
As arranged, we met outside the store's front doors.
She didn't have the bag with her.
I looked sympathetic. "Could you not find anything?"
She bounced herself on tip-toe, whistling, looking around at all the expensive dark cars in the parking lot. "No. No, not really. Not really."
"Well, maybe next time."
"Yeah. What did you get?"
I spread my hands apart. "I didn't find anything. Not really."
She scrunched her face up at me. "Really?"
"That's weird, because when I first went in I was just wandering around, you know? And I thought I saw this man with a red wool cap in one of those shoplifting mirrors? You know? And…it looked like he bought something. He had a little white bag in his hand."
"I'll just have one slice, please."
I slid the knife down through the Bugs Bunny meatloaf, passing a slice over to her held-out plate. "Are you feeling okay?" Bugs Bunny meatloaf is one of Cindy's favorite meals (she loves cooked carrots).
"Yeah, I'm fine."
"Usually you eat three slices."
"Yeah, well you too, but you only got one slice on your plate."
I patted my stomach. "Well, I just thought maybe I'd try losing a little weight. Just for health reasons."
She pointed her fork at her plated slice. "Me too. It's good to be healthy."
I stopped after my one slice, pushing my plate away, feeling a little proud of my willpower. "Are you and Margaret doing anything this Friday?"
She blushed. "This Friday?"
"Yeah." There was actually quite a bit of the meatloaf left. I could wrap some Saran Wrap around it, and save it for sandwiches later, while we watched TV.
It came out in kind of a strangled voice, her little hands clutching the wooden seat of her chair on either side of her body, head back. "Well, actually, you know, I was going to go out with some kids this Friday, to the movies."
"Oh?" Cindy usually only hung out with her close friend Margaret, although she did have a good time at a dance a while back. "And see what?"
"The Grinch movie."
"Oh. Who's going?"
"It'll be me and Abby, this girl in Junior Geologists, and this guyandoneother Abby's older sister saw the Grinch and she said it's hilarious! It has Jim Carrey in it, but this time he's green. He plays the Grinch. I read something in a magazine that said Jim Carrey had to audition for the part of the Grinch with the widow of Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss' first wife committed suicide. But the widow really liked all the faces he could make. If I do my Saturday chores Thursday, could I be paid my allowance Friday morning, so I'll have money for some popcorn?"
"Who are the two guys?"
"In the movie?"
"The two guys you mentioned you were going to the movies with."
She looked tense, as if there were a big NO! leaning in towards her, sniffing her forehead. "Scott. Scott and Drake."
"Drake, Margaret's older brother?"
"Yeah." Drake's sixteen, a nice kid. Scott I've heard of, but never met. He was Cindy's "date" at that dance a while back. I asked Margaret's father about him before the dance, and he said he was an okay kid.
"Drake." She stared at me, motionless except for her upper teeth on her lower lip.
I thought back to my own first date. So long ago. And here she is, with all those 'firsts' still ahead of her, first real date, first hand-holding, probably scaring the life out of her. It's funny how something so wonderful that makes us feel so alive can be so scary at that age, or become scary again if you haven't for a while.
I sighed. "If you come home and tell me Drake's car was broadsided, I'll ask right away if all you kids are all right, and give them all a ride home. If you come home and tell me Scott bought you a box of popcorn and you broke your tooth on a kernel, I'll make an appointment at the dentist for you. If you come home with alcohol on your breath, or on the breath of Abby, Drake or Scott, that's the last date you're going on for the next twelve months, and I'm calling all three parents that same night. Understood?"
I rubbed the top of her head. "Scott, huh?"
She blushed, shrugging.
"I'll have to meet him sometime."
"Are you going to wait up for me?"
I looked down at my lap. "Actually, I'm going over to Helen's Friday." Helen's our next door neighbor.
I could feel her eyes on me. "Another dinner?"
"Yeah. She's a good cook." Helen and I have been having dinner over each other's house on a regular basis.
"What time will you be home?"
"Hmmm? I may be home around eight. Like always. Or I may be home a couple of hours later, this time."
I smiled tensely at my image in the bathroom mirror, checking my brushed teeth, folding over two of the foil packets, slipping them into my jacket pocket, feeling foolish.
Cindy was downstairs, wearing the new blouse and slacks outfit Helen helped me pick out for her, as a surprise gift for tonight.
Outside, a car honked.
She spun around to face me, eyes terrified and unbelievably happy.
"Have fun, sweetheart."
Her voice was two registers higher. "You too!"
She ran to the door, yanked it open, shut it behind her, then stopped at the edge of the porch, behind our red-tipped photinia, where the only way she could be seen is if someone is standing in the front sitting room, leaning over the settee, slightly pulling the drape to one side. She reached into her purse, pulled out a small bag, retrieving from it, as if it were the rarest treasure, a shiny cylinder. While I watched, she brought it up to her lips, rolling it there, eyes blinking nervously, until her lips were red. Shoulders straight, head up, eyes nervous, she walked around the photinia, off the porch, out of my sight, into the early evening.
I went around the back way to Helen's house. She had the door open before I could lift my hand to knock. "Look at you! Don't you look handsome tonight!"
She had a little black dress on, her hair done. She exercises a lot. Although nothing had been said, in words, she looked as nervous as me. Another person's nervousness can be a great help.
I let myself back into my house around eleven, quietly whistling as I tip-toed around downstairs to see where Cindy was.
I found her in the breakfast alcove, Rudo in her lap, looking out over the back lawn, the yellow moon above it. I spoke quietly to the back of her head. "I'm home, sweetheart." Before she turned around, I dropped the two empty wrappers into the waste basket. "How was your date?"
She let out a long, happy sigh, still staring out over the lawn. "I'm always going to remember this night for the rest of my life."
I smiled, sitting down next to her. "I'm glad. The movie was that good?"
She gave me a startled sideways glance, then laughed when she realized I was joking. She still laughs like a little girl.
"Thanks? Thanks for what?"
"I don't know. Just thanks."
I squeezed her shoulder. "Don't take this the wrong way, sweetheart, but your lipstick's smeared."
I thought that would get a blush out of her, but mysteriously, it didn't. She pointed at me, head tilting to one side. "Don't take what I'm going to say the wrong way? But you have lipstick on the top of your head."
Effective July 27, I'm taking six weeks off from writing Lately, to work on other projects.
While I'm gone, there'll be a guest columnist here, Arnie Maddox.
Some of you may remember I used to maintain a second website in addition to SENTENCE, called Jump Down the Hole. The site was dedicated to writing fiction in forms specific to the Web. For example, I had an informational site there on Antarctica, but an Antarctica re-imagined as a nation that has existed for forty thousand years (which I'm currently revising for SENTENCE), and an e-serial novel (which later evolved into my fourth novel, As Dead As Me).
Another feature on the site was The Maddox Family Home Page, in which I told the story of a fictional family through the conventions of a typical "We're the Smiths!" homepage, complete with family news, recipes, a guestbook (which I loaded with fictional entries), poetic efforts by the father, etc. The site linked to other family sites on the Internet, some of them real sites, some of them fake sites created by me, to further blur the distinction between reality and fiction.
The feature was popular. In fact, I'd get e-mails from people who'd write to Arnie thinking he was a real person, instead of me in stomach padding with a digitally receded hairline.
I dropped Jump Down the Hole in 2000 simply because it was too much work to maintain both sites. However, I still sometimes receive requests from people who want to know where they can read the Musings columns Arnie would write on his day-to-day life. Each Musing was meant to be a self-contained story which also advanced the larger story of Arnie and his fourteen year old daughter, Cindy. I structured each entry along the lines of a TV sitcom episode, a problem introduced at the beginning, which is sometimes mirrored by a subordinate story, then resolved at the end.
Think of the six entries reprinted here, one a week, as an e-serial.
I myself will be back with a new Lately column September 7.
Of all the characters I've created over the years, Arnie is probably the most decent, albeit sometimes a bit slow on the uptake. I hope you enjoy his adventures.