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.
I really do.
*This concludes the Clover series. Thank you so much for reading.
Originally published in Hinged Press via Medium.
Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, and Part VII