Excerpt: A Pirate’s Life for Me

“Where on earth did you get this, Dana?” April pulled a crumpled tee shirt out of Dana’s laundry basket, wrinkling her nose slightly.

Dana’s laundry basket was filled to overflowing with wadded up socks, sports bras, gym shorts, stained button down shirts and the hated plaid must-be-one-inch-below-the-knee school uniform skirt.

April and Dana both went to a private school and the required uniform was a sore point for both of them. However, it gave them something to gripe about, when there was nothing else.

According to both their families, high school students were expected to gripe, and the uniforms guaranteed an easy target – hopefully diverting their attention from other potentially gripeable items — such as no make-up until their junior year, no jeans worn to school ever, even on snowy and cold, freezing days, and the stupid flat loafers they had to wear with the uniform.

Dana sighed with a long-suffering perplexity, as she shook out the shirt and squinted at it. She had misplaced her glasses and was quite near-sighted. She also had braces and a face covered with liberal splotches of acne. Her hair was her best feature, she thought. Long, glossy, perfectly straight and a perfect golden color.  If the rest of her would just catch up, she thought morosely.

“Here,” April rummaged around on Dana’s desk, which was a frightening mish-mash of school books, half-completed assignments, crumpled papers and dirty dishes, and handed Dana a pair of glasses which were slightly warped from being caught between the heavy history of the saints book and the geography text.

Dana breathed on the glasses and smudged them further as she wiped them on her pajamas — which had streaks of syrup from the pancake breakfast the girls had just eaten — down the front of them. She sighed again, and put the sticky, bent glasses on her nose and arranged the ear pieces behind her ears, tugging wisps if hair free. The tee shirt came into focus and she grinned.

“Oh, that one!” she looked up at her best friend, April.

She and April had been friends ever since their first day of kindergarten when they joined forces to keep a very obnoxious and persistent third-grader from teasing them. Justin had been a beast, twice the size of the girls, and thought it quite clever to chase them until they were breathless and then corner them and try to put snakes or ants down their shirts.

Justin didn’t realize that both girls came from large families and were the little sisters with many older brothers and sisters. The look on his face when they attacked him together, leaving him muddy and with a bloody nose was quite memorable.

The scene in the principal’s office later was not so memorable, as  everyone’s parent’s had been called into the office for a stern scolding and punishment. Justin received the paddle, and his howls of outrage had followed them down the halls as they went to their punishment.

The girls washed all the blackboards in every classroom, and then had to take the erasers outdoors and beat them clean. Justin stayed studiously away from them after that, however.

“The tee shirt?” April repeated. She was used to Dana’s reveries, and was patiently waiting for an answer to her question.

“Oh!” Dana said. “From my aunt – you know . . . Aunt Patty . . .”

Aunt Patty was the black sheep of Dana’s mother’s family – a  characterization that Dana was never sure she quite understood since she thought Aunt Patty was really cool.

Aunt Patty had stayed single, and took part in “liberal” political events that made both her parent’s eyes widen in dismay whenever Aunt Patty came over for family get-togethers. She wore the most fascinating clothes, and bangles and beads liberally adorned her arms and neck.

She had the most interesting friends, too. She had even been in jail for “war protests” which Dana had only a fuzzy grasp on what that meant, as her family either sent her from the room or turned the TV off when war footage from Viet Nam was played on the evening news. They said they were concerned that the violent images would give her nightmares.

As she still had bad dreams from the time she and April snuck into the theater to see “Eye of the Cat” a year-and-a-half ago, she supposed they might be right.

The tee shirt was a birthday present from Aunt Patty. Dana had just turned fourteen year’s old last month. Each person’s birthday was celebrated joyously in her family, with all the relatives close and distant invited for day-long functions replete with potluck items, games, gifts and cake and ice cream.

The tee shirt had a picture of a girl with a baseball cap on backwards, a baseball bat in her hands, and she was covered in bruises and dirt. She was tossing a ball in the air and the caption read, “I am a women’s libber.” Dana’s parents hated the tee shirt. Not that they said that in so many words, but Dana could tell by the look on their faces. Consequently, she wore it, but did not put it in the laundry for fear it would mysteriously disappear.

“It smells,” April pointed out. April was about six inches shorter than Dana’s five feet six inches, and despaired of ever growing taller. She was convinced that if she could only grow another foot, the current chunkiness of her body would magically disappear.

April was fastidious, and never had a hair out of place, or a wrinkle in her shirts, or a sock that sagged. She brushed and flossed her teeth three times each and every day without fail, and washed her face twice each day with a special acne prevention formula. Consequently, she had sparkling, naturally straight teeth, and very clear skin. She did not need to wear glasses, and her jet-black hair was cut in an appealing bob that curled under and brushed her jawbone.

April was trying to look like her favorite ice skater, Dorothy Hamill, currently in Sapporo, Japan competing in an International Sports Week event. April tentatively skated, with a  great many attendant falls and bruises, but privately dreamed of being as glamorous as this public figure her age whom she had never met.

Dana ignored the comment and tossed the shirt back into the laundry basket. “Aunt Patty said to tell you hi,” Dana offered. April was a bit uncomfortable around April’s Aunt Patty – not because she did not like her, but because she always felt like Aunt Patty was secretly judging her and finding her lacking when it came to Aunt Patty’s idea of what made up the modern day girl, self-assured and confident. April shrugged and half-smiled, “Tell her hi back when you see her again.”

“Tell her yourself. She is coming over this afternoon to introduce mom and dad to her new friend.”

April fidgeted uncomfortably and said, “What time is she coming over? I have to get my homework and chores done.”

Dana looked askance at her friend who was blushing a delicate pink and studying her fingernails.

“Aunt Patty does like you, you know,” Dana said. “She just isn’t sure if you really like you. I am pretty sure neither mom or dad will like her new friend, at all. They could not wait to get them both out of the house the last time Aunt Patty brought a boyfriend home to meet them.”

Dana grinned thinking about the day Aunt Patty showed up with a man whose hair was shoulder-length and as dirty as Dana had ever seen hair outside of a Gunsmoke show. He smelled horribly, but had a great laugh and perfectly straight teeth, Dana remembered. She could not wait to get the braces off her teeth, but that was years into her future.

“What did he do?” April wondered. She was used to hearing about Aunt Patty’s antics, but her numerous boyfriends were never mentioned.

“You mean apart from being greasy and smelling?” Dana grinned conspiratorially. April nodded her head.

Dana shrugged and went on, “First he rolled a cigarette after dinner which turned out to be . . . well, you know, not a cigarette . . . and then he started talking about this LoveFest he had attended and how he was going to take Aunty Patty to the next one. He was really describing it, in a lot of great detail. Our required “biology” class on women’s growth and development might be a bit more interesting if they let him come and talk to us,” Dana laughed, and then sighed, “I was sent from the room. I never got to hear the last of it. But this is the first boyfriend allowed to visit with her in over a year. Should be fun. You’d better stick around. Who knows what we’ll hear.”

Dana’s older siblings were all boys, so she had no misconceptions about what boys were like or interested in when it came to girls. April had only the one brother who was in college by the time she was born. Her other siblings were all girls, and she was consequently not as comfortable as Dana with life of growing boys and young men.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said hastily, “I expect my mom has some stuff she needs help with, too . . . “

“Oh, April,” Dana said, “c’mon. Stick around. Besides, you promised to help me clean my room so I can go to the football game with you tonight.”

An awkward silence descended momentarily on the room, as April contemplated the relative merits of potential embarrassment weighed against the certain responsibility of helping her friend, as promised.

Dana leaned over the pile of clothes and extracted her cassette player from underneath the mess. It was the newest thing, and she had begged for one.

All her brothers and sisters had records that were scratched and the turn table was always being fought over. Her parents had stood firm against her entreaties since she first saw one but when she pointed out to her parents that the cassette player could stay in her room where only she would hear the music she wanted to play, especially if the cassette player came with headphones, they gave her one for her birthday, plus headphones.

Dana owned exactly two cassette tapes, currently buried beneath a pile somewhere in her room, which she and April would hopefully unearth, but the jewel of a birthday present also had radio reception. She turned on the radio, and the Osmonds entered the room. “One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch girl  . . . “

“Alright,” April sighed. “Where’s the garbage sack?” She smiled impishly. “That might be easiest,” she continued, surveying the room with fond dismay.

Monthly seemed to be the routine for digging out of Dana’s haphazard care of her room and belongings. Sometimes, it was sort of fun, like a treasure hunt. Other times, it could be a frightening proposition. Last summer, they had pulled a dirty dish from under Dana’s bed that actually had maggots. April had run screaming from the room, while Dana calmly took the plate to the kitchen.

That had prompted Dana’s mother to run screaming for Dana’s father and one of her brothers to haul the mattress out of the room, and the whole house was enlisted in cleaning out the room, and scrubbing down the floors and walls.