“Danny, what’s wrong with you? Did something happen?” he asked, with a glare in Teresa’s direction. She responded by picking up the remote control, turning on the TV and changing channels until she came to a movie, I Want to Live, with Susan Hayward on the witness stand, crying to the courtroom, “Have you ever been desperate? Do you know what it’s like?”
I studied the green reel on my fishing pole.
“Danny, what’s wrong?” Michael repeated.
“Frances,” I said through runny nose and salty lips.
“Frances? For cryin’ out loud, it’s always something with her.” He shook his head. “What’d she do this time?”
I didn’t know what else to do. It was better if he heard it from me and not from Frances or, God forbid, Linda. My stomach had gotten closer up to my throat.
“It’s my diary,” I whispered, gripping my fishing pole and its red wrapping paper.
“My diary. It’s my diary.”
“You have a diary?” He smiled and shook his head. “Goofy.”
“She took it.”
“Whadyu mean? She’s so freaking stupid.”
“Watch the way you talk about your sister,” chimed in Teresa, as if she had some high respect for Frances that nobody knew about. “And what do you mean you’re keeping a diary. What do you have in there?”
“Nothing for you to worry about,” I said.
“You watch your mouth,” she said and turned back to Susan Hayward.
“She took it to Linda’s,” I told Michael.
He shook his head again. “What’d she do that for?” he said.
“To show Linda.”
“Show Linda your diary? What for?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Probably because it says things in there that she thinks are funny.”
“Oh yeah?” he said, watching the TV.
“Yes,” I said.
“So, who cares? What kind of things?”
“I don’t know. About you,” I said.
“I wrote about you in my diary.”
“Geez, Danny, you’re such a goofball.” He half-laughed, still watching the movie.
“Oh, he’s worse than that,” said Teresa, her eyes still on the television.
“I wasn’t talkin’ to you,” Michael told her.
“You watch it, Mister,” she said, flicking ashes, ignoring that she’d missed the ashtray.
Michael turned back to me.
“I guess she wants Linda to hate me more than she already does,” I said.
“Linda doesn’t hate you,” he said. “She just gets weird sometimes. But why would she care about what you write in your diary, anyway?”
“I don’t know. I guess I just said stuff about how much I, you know, like, wish we could live together and stuff like that.”
“Like I said, You’re a real goofball. So, where’s the big deal?” He shook his head. He seemed to have become more interested in Susan Hayward.
“I don’t know.” That’s not the only entry in my diary Frances will enjoy showing Linda, I thought with a cringe, remembering some of the things I’d written about Al.
“Besides, we already live together,” Michael was saying, his eyes still on the television.
“I know, but I mean like, you know, like later, like whenever we get to leave this place.” Teresa shot me a look just as my stomach arrived in my mouth. I ran into the bathroom, slammed the door, smashed down the latch, and raced to the toilet, leaning over it while my insides came up and out. I hadn’t realized it, but I was still gripping my fishing pole inside its box which had become a part of my body. Then there was banging on the door.
“Danny, what are you doing?” Michael was yelling. “Have you gone crazy or something? Danny, open the door, will ya?”
I held on to the toilet, wishing it would end.
I stayed in the bathroom a long time, sitting on the closed toilet cover now, holding my fishing pole, rocking back and forth, keeping a rhythm. One-two on the forward bend, three-four on the backward. One-two, three-four. One-two, three-four.
Michael finally gave up and stopped banging. The hexagon-shaped white floor tiles moved in and out as I rocked. The tears were dry on my face and tingled. I opened my mouth wide to relieve the itchy tightness of my cheeks. Then I heard voices, coming from the living room. Michael’s, then Linda’s, then Frances’s fat mouth. I didn’t want to hear what they were saying. Holding the fishing pole against my body with my elbow, I slapped my hands up to my ears and moved them in and out to block the voices but then jumped at the new loud banging on the door.
“Hey, Danny! Are you in there?”
“Come out here, right now, you little queer!” She cackled. “Don’t you want your little diary back, honey, or should I bring it to your little dream girl?” And that laugh again.
Could I ever hate anyone more? I didn’t want to leave the safe bathroom, pulsating tiles notwithstanding, but I had to get that diary, even though it was already too late. Michael knew about it by now. And Linda. Oh, no. But I had to go out there.
More banging, and the sing-song voice, “Better get out here if you want your precious diary.”
I slid off the top of the toilet. The hexagon tiles swayed with me, as I moved toward the door. I struggled with the latch, then forced it up. The door flew open, and The Thing gripped the knob then filled the doorway, my black and white diary in her puffy hand.
“If you want it, come and get it!” She ran back through the living room and into the kitchen, cackling.
I followed after her cautiously, still clutching my fishing pole. I heard Michael and Linda’s voices in the kitchen. I didn’t want to know what they were saying, I just wanted my diary back, though it didn’t seem to matter anymore. The couch was empty, Teresa back in bed, no doubt. The room still reeked of cigarettes; the television was off. I made my way into the kitchen.
Michael was sitting at the kitchen table, smoking a cigarette, looking more serious than usual, with Linda next to him. Her long, blonde hair flowed past her shoulders. She wore a pink miniskirt and large, gold hoop earrings. It always surprised me how beautiful she was, in sharp contrast to Frances, her so-called best friend. Linda looked at me, shaking her head, lips pursed, eyes squinting. I looked away. Frances stood by the sink, swaying like an idiot.
“Well, aren’t you going to come and get it, Danny?” she sang.
“Frances, give him the book already, will you?” Michael said.
“I’ll give it to him when he comes and gets it,” she said. “Here, little Danny. Here’s your precious diary.”
“Frances! Give it to him right now!” Michael stood up to make his point.
She flung the notebook at me. It hit me in the stomach and dropped to the floor.
“There’s your precious diary,” she said.
I bent down and grabbed it. Then, her voice switched to mean.
“Now, go write some more about how you’re in love with your big brother or is it your little smart girlfriend, you sick little weirdo!” She stuck out her puckered mouth and made loud kissing noises. The queen of ugly.
“Okay, Danny, get rid of that freaking book now, will you please?” said Michael. “Go put it away somewhere or burn it or something. Geez.” He shook his head while Linda glared at me.
With my diary and fishing pole box, I headed for the bedroom. I sat on the bed and opened the notebook to see what The Thing had done to it but found nothing except my own words—one small bit of relief, though little consolation. I closed the notebook and shoved it in deep, back into the tight space between the mattress and box-spring where I kept it. I’d need a new hiding place. Not that it mattered now. But I couldn’t think. I had to get out of there.
I slid open the closet door, stood my fishing pole still in its box into the back corner, and threw an old blanket over it, praying The Thing wouldn’t get her fat hands on it.
The thought of going back into the kitchen brought my stomach back up my throat. I would have to pass all three of them to get out the door. Still a little dizzy, I pushed myself through the living room and past Michael and Linda at the kitchen table. Frances was still at the counter. I didn’t look at Linda again but sensed her staring. Her presence embarrassed me. The words from my diary screamed in my head. I moved straight for the door and turned the latch.
“Where you goin’, Danny?” asked Michael.
“To Al’s,” I said.
“Okay,” he said. “Be careful.”
“Yeah, be careful,” said The Thing. “You never know what you could pick up from your little girlfriend.”
I wanted to hit her. “Drop dead!” I yelled and stormed out to the staircase.
As I slammed the door behind me, I heard Michael say, “Frances, what is your problem?”
END OF CHAPTER 4.
The Archangel of Hamilton Beach