The Sitter

 

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The cigarette ash growing gray out of a small orange glow transfixed me.  10 years old watching it sit in the tray unattended by no one except me made the event even more remarkable. She was in the kitchen, on the phone. Multitasking, she set out pans for dinner.  Another new smell to me beside the smoke of her cigarette, I would later discover was teriyaki chicken.  It smelled wonderful and exotic, but I was young.  Eating something besides hamburgers and Mac and cheese was a new experience.  The ash was about to fall into the dirty tray, tipping slightly turning a darker grey.  The glow was fading and the whole thing might go out on my watch.  Even as a child, it felt as if it were my responsibility to prevent it's loss.

From my position in the den, I could see through the small kitchen to the backdoor that led to the car port. Beth walked in front of my view twirling the twisted phone cord as she moved around preparing dinner. She glanced over like she'd forgotten she was suppose to be watching me. Or maybe she remembered where she left her addiction.  

"Miss Beth?!" I said with a question and urgency sound in my voice. I wasn't sure why.

"Just a minute, she said, speaking into the phone, then to me, "whatcha need hon?"

"Your cigarette is about to fall and go out." I said.

Beth set the phone on the counter but the gnarled cord pulled it and it hit the floor with several loud smacks.  She looked back at it briefly, but focused more on walking towards me and the dying smoke.  

I watched her.  Fascinated. I could have been a child at a circus, unblinking while observing a flamethrower.  Beth picked it up, tapped briefly to shake off the wasted ash then pulled what's left of it to her feathered lips.  She had old lipstick on that was a little darker in the lines of her mouth.  It's possible she wore that shade for a long time because it looked permanently faded into the creases in her skin.  She took one long drag then stamped it out in frustration of remembering the phone call, dinner and finally...me.

She winked playfully said "thanks hon" and walked back in the kitchen.

With nothing more to hold my attention in the den, I wandered to the back door and listened to the slam of it banging shut.  I bet my dad could fix that spring thing in the door.  He did at our house anyway.  I made a right underneath the car port and hopped over a few cracks in the sidewalk.  I told myself that it was just for fun and not superstition.  I was heading to the back of the house where Miss Beth had a game room behind the car port.  Other than a pool table and a dart board, I don't remember any other games but I what I do know is that I would tell my friends that I hung out in a game room all weekend.  Alone and unsupervised were details I wouldn't mention.  I opened the door and reached for the light switch.  The room smelled as if rain had just landed on hot pavement.  It was airless and stale so I left the door open.  When the fluorescent light flickered, I waited.  The overhead behaved like a temporary strobe light .  It flicked on and off and I thought it was permanently damaged and wouldn't work.  Eventually, the hum of the balist was annoyingly strong and the artificial light covered the game room.  I stared at the ceiling as if I could will the noise to stop.  

I decided that if I made enough noise moving the balls around on the pool table or opening the box of darts the noise of the light would fade.  The door open to the outside helped too.  I passed in front of a decorative sign on the wood paneled wall.  I saw my reflection in a Bud Light beer advertisement.  My image wavered behind the artificial gold weathered look on the mirror's face.  Even in the 80s, I thought how 70s this looked.   My appearance wasn't remarkable at all but I studied myself in the reflection.  There was something so distorted about looking at my face with a Budweiser logo on it.  I had fair skin and a slight dusting of cinnamon colored freckles.  My hair had recently been cut.   Just the weekend before this one, I had two adorable and perfect Laura Ingle "Little House on the Prairie" braids and now I have what my mom calls a Dorothy Hamil ice skating bob.  She said it would be cooler, but I already missed my Dad tugging on my braids.