Part VIII: I think we’re going to be all right.
I close the door to Daddy’s truck. It lands with a loud thud. The hallway monitor stands by our lane and eyes me with a look that could slice sin. I wave goodbye to Daddy and begin my day. After landing a spot on the dance squad for Soulful Legs Dance Studio this past weekend, nothing can pull me down from the clouds.
Just before I enter the front doors of our school, I spot Selena. Her older brother is driving her to school today. He has on a weird mask — something like a cross between a monster and a rabbit. She waves goodbye to him and rushes over to me. I get goose skin.
“Hey, Clover! Little birdies all around town tell me someone made the squad! That’s great!”
It’s not like I’m not grateful. I have manners. I know when to say, “thank you,” but I can’t get the image of the monster-rabbit mask out of my head, and I make this known.
“Um . . . thank you. That was your brother driving, right? What did he have on his face?”
“Oh, the mask? He works for Sloppy Carl’s. It’s a sloppy joe restaurant/playground for kids. The getup he wears is the spot’s mascot, Carl the Rabbit. I hate that thing, but he needs the money since he’s trying to go to college out of state in two years.”
I hear her, and I don’t hear her. Her lips are moving. I see them flap about her face. I still have goose skin. Why would her brother drive around in that mascot uniform? An even better question I ask myself is, Who thought this type of thing would be welcoming to little kids?! I know one thing, I’m not going to Sloppy Carl’s.
“Oh. So, he wears it before going to work and not change when he gets there?”
I am still so bothered by this — my focus cannot go anywhere else. I feel my legs moving. I know we’re entering the school. I know we’re walking down the hall. I know we’re turning onto our wings for class, but I just . . . I am stuck on that freaky mask. Please don’t tell Mama I said the word freaky. She’ll have my hind-end for sure.
“Yeah. Sometimes when he’s running late, he just puts it on and takes a set of clothes with him for later. I don’t like it. It scares some of my friends, but I can’t do nothing about it.”
She shrugs it off and turns down the path leading up to her wing. We say our goodbyes and that’s that.
I am anxious and the day couldn’t end fast enough. Although Daddy drops me off in the mornings, sometimes I take the bus home in the afternoons. Today’s one of those days I take the school bus. It’s quiet. Our bus driver’s name is Ms. Chelsea. She’s sweet. She has hair that smells like peppermint and penny-colored eyes. She kinda reminds me of Mama. I nod hello to her as I step onto the bus.
She is what Daddy calls “no-nonsense.” On her bus, you will follow her rules. I sit in a seat near the back of the bus. There’s a group I’ve gotten used to seeing — three girls and four boys. A couple of fourth, fifth, and sixth graders. I sit close enough to hear them but far away to not get involved.
My stop comes and I bolt from the bus fast enough to shoot lightning from my feet. Mama’s home. She’s snapping beans for dinner. She asks about my day — if I enjoyed it.
“Selena’s older brother dropped her off this morning. He had on his work uniform — it’s a scary monster-rabbit mascot type thing. It scared the bejesus outta me, Mama.”
Mama looks at me, stops snapping beans, and stares at me square in the eyes. I feel like I’m on fire. My heart races and my skin gets all sweaty.
“Don’t you take the Lord’s name in vain, Clover. Now, what’s got you all in a hissy about this getup that child had on?”
I know Daddy will understand. Mama’s not the best person to talk to about this type of thing. She loves horror movies — goes insane for them, really. Halloween is her favorite holiday, and she gets a great kick out of dressing up and handing candy out to the neighborhood kids. This year will be different, though. There aren’t any other children around for miles.
“I just . . . it was creepy, Mama. I can’t describe it. It was like looking at something both alive and dead at the same time. Something that shouldn’t be what it is. And he works at a children’s restaurant and play space! If it scared me, I know it scares others.”
Mama smiles sweetly at me, pats my leg, and simply says, “Do you know there is someone under that getup, Clover?”
I pause before speaking. I know what she’s trying to do. I do. But like I said, it’s hard talking to Mama about this kinda stuff.
“I do. But that doesn’t make it any less scary.”
She snaps a few more beans, wipes her hands on her apron, and begins humming softly to herself. And now I’m thinking about how I know someone was behind that mask — in that uniform, and well . . . I feel a little better.
Daddy is home. He asks about my day and Mama cuts him short. “Clover had a bit of a fright today, Paulie, and we don’t need to get back into it right now. Let’s enjoy dinner. Will you say grace, please?”
At this very moment, I am truly thankful for Mama — for knowing what to do. I really don’t want to think about that freaky monster-rabbit mask again.
Daddy says grace and I shove a forkful of beans into my mouth. I think we’re going to be all right here in Hopeulikit.