Back from our tricycle adventure, Dad, Molly’s mom, Molly and I went in the front door of Molly’s house. I loved the inside of her house. It had lots of furniture unlike mine. But what I really liked the most was that it had many more different places to go than mine, and every room was up or down from the other rooms, with stairs everywhere. Where our house was simple, Molly’s was “complicated”, a word I heard mom and dad use. Her house was like the pirate ship in the Treasure Island book dad had read me. The book had pictures of the top part and inside the ship.
Just inside the front door of Molly’s house was the first choice. You had to decide whether to go straight and up the stairs, or go right into the living room. I could remember right from left because mom had told me to pretend I was throwing a ball, that was left, and the other side was right. Unlike our living room which was pretty empty, Molly’s had this big thing called a “couch”, which was like a giant chair for more than one person. It was soft and puffy, and great for climbing on, sitting on, and playing around on. There were also two big chairs across from it that were soft and puffy like the couch. Then there was a fence in the middle of the living room on the edge of this top part of the room that kept you from falling into the bottom part of the room. You had to walk down six stairs from the top part to get to that bottom part, which had a big shiny wood table and shiny wood chairs around it where you ate food and did other stuff. Or you could look down into it from the fence. It was like the back part of the ship in Treasure Island.
Then once you went down to the bottom part you could go through a doorway into the kitchen. Like in our house, from the kitchen you could go down a couple steps and go one way out the door into the backyard, or the other way down more steps into the basement. But it wasn’t like our basement, it had a rug all over the floor and shiny wood on the walls and another couch with that television thing across from it. There was another door in the basement to the room with the washing machine and other stuff for cleaning clothes.
Back at the front door, if you didn’t go into the living room, you could go up the stairs and around a corner to a hallway with a door to the left to Molly’s mom and dad’s bedroom. The door to that room was always closed and I had never been inside it. Farther down the hallway on the left was the bathroom. It had a tub like mine, but also a thing that sprayed water from way up above into the tub. Molly called it a “shower”. She said you took your clothes off and stood in the tub, and then the water fell down on you like rain.
At the end of the hallway, across from the bathroom were even more stairs that went up to a small door. It was the door to Molly’s room, which was in the top part of the house just under the roof. Molly said it was an “attic”, but it wasn’t like the attic in my house. You could walk on the floor and it wasn’t all dark.
I liked all the parts of Molly’s house, but her bedroom was the best part. I felt like I was in some secret fort above the rest of the world, or inside a pirate ship. The room was really long and had a top part that was slanted like a roof. There were three windows along one side looking down on Molly’s front yard, our street, and my house across it. The windows were strange because they were closer to the floor than the windows in our house, so you could sit on the floor and still look down from them. Across from the windows were shelves in the wall filled with books and toys. Molly’s bed, with wood posts sticking up, was at the end of the room away from the door. There were also two big soft puffy chairs like the couch and chairs in her living room. They were great for pretending, either fun to sit in, or fun to hide behind so we couldn’t see each other.
So the four of us went into the house and followed Molly’s mom into the living room. She told the rest of us to “make yourselves comfortable”, which seemed to me a strange thing to be told to make, but that was grownups for you. Molly took off her shoes and jumped on the couch, so I took mine off as well and did the same. She lay her head on one side part, like it was a pillow, and stretched out her body along the couch and wiggled her feet. Her eyes told me to do the same, so I did on the other side, my feet going towards her and past her feet in the middle. Dad grinned seeing the two of us and sat in one of the big chairs across from the couch. Molly’s mom called them “easy” chairs, I guess because of how soft they were.
Molly’s mom came up the stairs from down below in the kitchen with a flat thing with four big cups that had strange patterns on them and steam coming out the top. She set the thing on the tiny table between the couch and the two chairs, and said the cocoa was still very hot and we had to wait before it was cool enough to drink. She sat down in the other “easy” chair and looked at the two of us lying on either side of the couch.
“Look at these two Eric”, she said laughing a little, “They look like they own the place.”
“Well Joan”, dad replied, squeezing his face with his hand as he thought, “They certainly own the future. We just need to make sure there’s a future for them to own.”
“I agree with you there”, she said, “And I have hopes that Khrushchev will be very different than Stalin, and we can end this insane nuclear arms race.”
“I wouldn’t hold your breath.” I wondered what he meant. It didn’t make any sense to me why Molly’s mom would want to hold her breath.
But it looked like it made sense to Molly’s mom, who pressed her lips together and said nothing. She looked at Molly and me and her face was serious and I could tell she was thinking about us and what to say next. I knew dad did not like that “Khrushchev” guy, but mom and Molly’s mom both were hoping he would do something good.
Sadness flashed in her eyes, but then they looked at the tray of cocoa on the table between the four of us.
“I think the cocoa is good now”, she said. She took a cup off the tray and put it by the corner of the table closest to me, then one by Molly, one by dad, and finally took the fourth in her hands, smelling it carefully.
“Here’s to the future!” she said, holding her cup up, though she didn’t look or sound sure about what she was saying as she took a sip.
“To the future!” dad repeated, picking up his cup and holding it the same way in the air before taking a sip himself. He seemed more sure when he said it.
Molly slid her body off the couch and flopped onto the soft rug that covered the floor, folding her legs together under the little table which came up to her chest. I did the same. She sipped her cocoa and said “mmm”. I sipped mine quietly, uncomfortable with the energy between the two grownups across from us.
I could see Molly’s mom relax again as she drank her cocoa and even smiled and looked at dad.
“So Eric, when will you be able to start on your dissertation?” she asked.
All the other grownups that were dad’s friends were always asking him about his “dissertation”. It was something he had to write, or make on the typewriter. All the other grownups thought that things would be so much better once he did it.
Dad looked up in the air, thinking. He took a deep breath, puffed out his cheeks, and blew air out between his almost closed lips. I could tell he was thinking though he didn’t say anything yet.
“I hope to get started pretty soon”, he said, “But everything seems to take longer than I’d like.”
Molly’s mom nodded her head and put on a big smile. “Well, you got to keep at it, I guess.”
Dad nodded. He did not talk about how he felt about things.
“I’m jealous, Eric” she said, “I wish I could go for my PhD, but when is there time?”
Dad nodded again but didn’t answer her question. Usually dad liked to have answers to questions about how to do things, but not this time. I wondered why not.
Molly and I watched the two of them talk to each other about it while drinking our warm sweet cocoa. We both finished quickly, and I felt new energy in my body. I could tell that Molly did too because her knees were bouncing under the table.
She looked at me. “Coob, you want to come up to my room and play?”
I nodded, and Molly stood up.
Molly’s mom wrinkled her nose. “Molly, when we are with company we always ask to be excused!”
Molly, already standing up, said, “Excuse me!”
Molly’s mom chuckled then told her how she should say it. “Say, ‘May I be excused’.”
“May I be excused” Molly said. I could tell she was just saying the words because her mom told her to.
“Yes of course”, Molly’s mom said. She turned to dad. “Eric, you are welcome to stay for a while. I could use some adult company.”
Dad nodded and grinned.
Molly ran to the stairs by the front door and then ran up them, just like I liked to do. I followed her up. I could hear Molly’s mom behind me, laughing a little and quietly talking to dad.
“Molly is such a tomboy”, I heard her say, “I’m glad she has Jonathan as a friend. He appreciates her for who she is. He doesn’t expect her to behave like a regular girl.”
“Molly is SUCH a bright kid.” I could just hear dad say that to her as I followed Molly down the upstairs hallway to the last stairs up to her bedroom door. Mom and dad were always talking about kids who were “bright”.
I followed Molly up into her room and she closed the door. The room was full of soft light from the outside coming in the windows. Drops of rain tapped on the windows and I could hear the wind blowing outside. I liked being inside during a storm, and Molly’s room was the best inside place to be, because it was so high up.
I sat down on the floor by the first of the three windows and looked down at the street and my house getting wet on the other side. My house looked so different from up here. Small and lonely. Molly sat next to me and looked out too, pressing her nose against the glass. I had an idea on what to pretend.
“Let’s pretend we’re in a fort guarding the bay”, I said, “If a car comes we have to shoot at it before it shoots at us.”
“Okay”, she said.
I looked out at the streets I could see in the distance on the edges of the park. There were no cars.
“All clear”, I said. I had heard older boys say that in the park when they were playing that they were soldiers looking for badguys.
“All clear”, she repeated.
Finally a car did appear on the street on the edge of the park over by the trees where the swings were.
“Uh oh”, Molly said. Not excited, but steady like we were soldiers.
“I see it”, I said, “Aim the cannon and get ready to shoot.”
Her hands moved a pretend cannon to point at the car far off in the distance but headed towards us. The car did not turn onto the street that would have taken it along the edge of the park by our street, and instead disappeared behind houses.
“Whew, we’re safe”, I said, “Close call. But stay ready.”
“Staying ready.” Molly’s voice was as steady as she could make it.
We waited but we were still ready.
A car zoomed by on the street along the edge of the park.
“Oh my god”, she said, “We got to fire before it gets away!”
Molly made a cannon shooting noise with her mouth.
“You hit it!” I said, “Good shot!”
Molly nodded with her soldier face, not happy or mad or sad, just ready. The car didn’t turn on our street but continued out of sight.
“We can’t let any cars come down our street or they’ll get us!” I said.
She nodded, still with her soldier face.
Another car came down the street across the park.
“Ready to fire”, she said, her voice was cold and steady.
“Fire!” I said.
Molly made another cannon noise. “Got it!” she said.
This time the car did not disappear behind the houses, but turned on the street next to ours, still heading towards us.
“Oh no! Get ready to shoot again!” My voice was excited. My pretend captain wasn’t cold and steady like Molly’s cannon shooter.
“Getting ready”, she said, her hands moving fast. The car came up to our street.
“Fire! I said.
Molly made a third connon noise. The car turned on our street and drove between Molly’s house and mine.
“Oh no!” she said, “They’re firing!”
She made a big explosion noise and threw herself backward from where she was sitting to the floor behind her. I did the same.
“We’re wounded”, she said, “But we have to keep shooting!”
The pretend game continued with each car that we saw. With each wound we got we needed even more courage to keep shooting our cannon. We even tried to fix each other’s wounds, but it was never enough. Finally the end came.
“I can’t… do it anymore… sorry captain!” She closed her eyes and let her head fall to the side and she was dead.
“You tried your best!” I said, like I was so wounded I could barely talk anymore, and I closed my eyes and I was dead too, lying right next to her. Though I was dead I could still smell her hair, which smelled like plants. We lay there next to each other, dead. No one else knew what we had tried to do to stop the badguys, but we were still heroes.
Molly finally got up, and sat in one of the big puffy chairs.
“Let’s pretend we’re grownups!” she said. I got up and sat in the chair across from her.
“Okay”, I nodded. We hadn’t pretended that before, and she could tell in my eyes that I wasn’t sure how to do that, even though I had done a lot of watching and listening to mom and dad, her mom and dad, and other grownups.
She kind of held her shoulders stiff and pushed her lips together like she was sucking on a straw.
“I must tell you Coob”, she said, putting her chin on her open hand and looking into my eyes, “That was such a storm at the stadium! Don’t you think so?”
I just nodded, still trying to figure out what I could do to act like a grownup.
Molly looked at me like I wasn’t trying hard enough. I didn’t want her to think that about me.
“Oh my god, yes it was!” I said, rolling my head around, “All those lightnings!”
“Oh yes”, she said, nodding slowly more like a grownup would, and then in a different deeper voice like my dad or hers, “Scared crap out of me!”
Seeing the look in her eyes and remembering her scream, I got pulled into the pretend.
“Oh Molly!” I tried to put a lot of feelings in it, like I remembered mom saying to dad when he told her about something bad that had happened to him.
I could see Molly was also pulled into this part of the pretending. “Oh Coob! Oh Coob!” She said it a little different, like she wanted something that she couldn’t get.
“Oh Molly! Oh Molly!” I said it like I had heard mom and dad say it to each other in their bedroom one night when I couldn’t sleep. I looked at her eyes and she looked back at mine.
As I kept looking deeper into her eyes, I could see she was doing the same to me. As we kept our eyes that way for a long time, the room around her began to turn fuzzy and gray like it wasn’t really there anymore. There were only her eyes. I remembered being on the merry-go-round with her when something like this happened before. She put her thumb between her teeth and I could tell she had to say something.
“Did you see that too?” she asked, “The room went away.”
I nodded. “I didn’t see it anymore. Just your eyes.”
“I know”, she said, “Let’s do it again, even harder!”
I wasn’t sure how I could look at her harder, but I nodded and figured I would try to do whatever she was doing.
Her eyes met mine with a fierce look this time, like I had seen in some dogs’ eyes when they growled at me, or in a picture of a real tiger in one of dad’s books. She was so fierce it was almost scary, but I knew it was her behind the look, so I wasn’t really scared. My eyes still looking at hers, I tried to look back in a fierce way myself. I tried to pretend I was really angry. I could see her see my angry look and she tried to look angry back at me.
It looked like she was trying so hard to look angry, she really was looking more silly, and I couldn’t stop myself from starting to laugh a little. My laugh made her laugh, really hard, so much so that she let her body roll off the side of the chair onto the floor as she did. Falling off the chair made her laugh harder. I loved the way she liked to throw her body around, and the joy in her laugh as she lay there on the floor, arms and legs spread.
I tried to do something silly. I put my hands on either side of my face, looked up, and slowly shook my head back and forth, like I’d seen dad do when he was looking at the typewriter with a piece of paper in it but not knowing what to type. It worked. Molly laughed at my funny face and that made me feel good like a clown. I let my own body tumble off the side of my chair like she had done. Even when we both stopped laughing we continued to lay there on the floor. Neither of us said anything. There didn’t need to be anything that was next. It felt good just being there together, in Molly’s secret attic pirate fort, above the world of the grownups, where they usually looked down at us.