Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Perfection

She could hear the rhythmic clacking of Robert's clock as she stomped up the stairs. The second stair from the top creaked as 15-year-old Dusty stepped lightly on it. She liked the sound it made. Robert, her math and engineering genius brother, always skipped over the second stair from the top. He said it sounded creepy and even threatened to tear it apart to see why it made that "awful" sound.

Robert wanted everything to be perfect, consistent, rhythmic like his silver ball clock. But Dusty liked things a little out of whack. At the top of the stairs she paused and then went back down two and came back up again. Two extra creaks.

"Stop makin' all that noise!" her brother yelled from the bedroom at the end of the hall. "Can't you see I'm tryin' to study in here?"

"No, I can't see you at all," she called tersely. “And it’s just fine with me if I never see you ever again.”

For Dusty, it had been a particularly horrid day at school. Mrs. Johnson gave back the English essays. Dusty had gotten a D-. In addition to the typos and grammatical errors, her essay was only two paragraphs long and it was supposed to be at least three pages. “Oh well,” Dusty’s friend KT had said, “at least it’s not an F.”

Then, there was the pop quiz in algebra. This time it was an F. Dusty told KT, “What gives with that quiz? I don’t even think Robert could have passed this one.”

In biology, she got stuck with Almo Trendale as a lab partner. His breath smelled. His clothes wreaked of sweat and his hands were dirty. “The frog smelled better than he did,” she told KT.

After biology was lunch and she just couldn’t stomach anything after frog guts. That afternoon, was her childcare practicum. “I got stuck changing poopy baby diapers for three hours,” she told KT. “Now, I get to go home and listen to my perfect older brother brag about his perfect college freshman day. I don’t think I can take it.” And so she had seethed all the way home on the bus and devised ways to take out her wrath on her brother, just because nothing bad ever seemed to happen to him.

She thudded the five steps it took to reach her bedroom door, threw it open and listened to it bang against the wall, and, then, slammed the door shut again, pausing only briefly to touch the button that brought the blaring stereo monster to life. Grabbing her 15-year old teddy bear, she danced around her room making as much noise as possible.

"Man," Robert exclaimed as he burst through her door. "What's a guy got to do to get some peace and quiet around here?"

"Get outta' my room, you Bum," she yelled. "You never let me come in your room, but you're in here every two minutes. Who died and left you in charge anyway?" She took off a red high-top tennis shoe and threw it in his direction.

Shielding his face with his arms, he backed toward the door. Dusty plopped in a well-used bright blue beanbag chair that was slumped in the corner amidst last week's socks and yesterday's underwear. Robert was always so neat. His room was always clean. His clothes always looked like they were freshly ironed even his jeans, when he wore jeans which was seldom, looked pressed. She never could figure it out. Didn't the same mother wash and iron both of their clothes? Why did hers always look like she slept in them? Her mother couldn't figure it out either.

She had said things about her all the time, like lat week when she said, "Why can't you be more like your brother, Helen Ann?" Helen Ann was her given name and her mother preferred to use it, even though Dusty abhorred it. Then at Thanksgiving she’s said to Aunt Judy, "I don't know what I'd do without that boy. He's been such a help to me since his father left us. He's really my mainstay." Dusty didn't actually hear her mother say it, but she knew she was thinking ". . . and then there's Helen Ann. She'll be the death of me yet."

"What's the deal? Slammin' doors and stompin' up the stairs. It's like you got it in for me or something," Robert demanded, jolting her back to the present.

"Couldn't you just mess up once in awhile?" she shot back.

She watched as he leaned against the door frame with that older and wiser big brother look on his face. He crossed his arms. He was wearing his brown striped button-down shirt and tan slacks. As usual, there wasn't a wrinkle in sight. She looked down at her torn red Harvard sweatshirt with a smear of chocolate ice cream across the front and her frayed levis. It made her even angrier.

Right then all she wanted to do was hurt anyone and everyone she could. The whole world seemed to be against her and she wanted to fight back. Robert was a good place to start. He was close, accessible and she knew exactly how to drive him crazy.

She expected him to try to figure out what was the matter with her. After he pried a little bit, she'd shut the door in his face and turn the stereo up a notch just to really gall him. Driving him crazy was her specialty and a marvelous pastime. Maybe he'd fail that calculus quiz he was studying for, she thought smiling.

"Hey, you want to be alone? I know when I'm not wanted. I was a kid once, too.”

“Right, like you’re so much older and so much more the big deal. You’re only 18, three years older. Who says you’re really not a kid?

“What is this? Some woman thing or something?”

“Oh, now I’m a woman and not a kid. How’d that happen so fast?” she yelled over the heavy metal music blaring from her speakers.

“OK, I know when I’m not wanted. You don’t have to draw me a picture. But, could you at least use the headphones for that thing? I'm trying to study, you know."

"I'm always having to give in to you," she retorted throwing a math book in his direction. "Why don't you just leave or something if you've got such a big deal to study for? Just get OUT of my life."

She looked up and to her amazement, he was gone. A few minutes later she heard the engine of his truck roar to life. She turned off the stereo. She didn’t really like music that loud, it’s just that she knew Robert hated it and so when he was around she played it as loud as possible.

The house was quiet except for the clacking of Robert's clock. It was his pride and joy. Uncle Sam and Aunt Judy had given it to him for his high school graduation. It was one of those that had silver balls and moveable parts. On the hour, all the silver balls moved at once. Since the front and sides were glass, all the movements could be watched and marveled at. When the balls weren’t moving, the clock didn’t really tick, it clacked in rhythm. She hated that sound, partly because she never could figure out how the clock worked. She said it made her head hurt to try. Robert, of course, always said he loved the clock. It was a perfect gift he had told them when he opened it. Aunt Judy beamed and Uncle Sam gave Robert a hug.

Everyone knew what to get Robert for a present. Everything he got was just right for him. Dusty got shirts that were always too little and usually last year's style. She hated Robert for that.

She listened again. Quiet. Clack. Clack. Quiet. Clack. Clack. With stealth-like motions she rose. Down the hall, she opened the forbidden door to Robert's sanctuary. He was gone, of course. She couldn’t take out her anger on him or could she?

It was on his bookshelf. She stared at it for several moments. It was almost 7:00 and soon, all the silver balls would roll down the tracks at once causing the next hour of the day to begin exactly on time in sequence. It was the sort of technical perfection that Robert loved, but Dusty hated.

She knew what she had to do. In a second, the clock lay smashed on the floor. She didn't even hear the sound of shattering glass and metal. She looked down at the broken pile on the floor and smiled.

Robert's room was too clean anyway.

©2003, Teresa Parker

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