Read High School 2 - Diversity - The Clash Online

Authors: Paul Swearingen

Tags: #relationships, #el dia de los muertos, #corvette, #day of the dead, #mexican american, #car chase, #hispanic, #mustang

High School 2 - Diversity - The Clash (4 page)

She didn’t need a mirror to know that the
expression on her face was something between simple shock and being
whacked with a two-by-four across the bridge of her nose.

“Wait. Just wait. Let me get something to
drink. You want something, too?”

“No. Nothing.”

She pulled a tumbler out of the cabinet and
poured it half full of RC Cola from the refrigerator and returned
to her chair.

“’K’. Now.” She took a short sip, plopped
both elbows on the table, and leaned her chin on her hands in her
best I’m-paying-attention pose.

“All right. You probably didn’t know that
your mother worked at KNTK for a short time. She was a secretary or
something; wrote commercials, maybe. I never did know exactly what
she did, but she was there for around three months. She worked only
when you were at school, so you probably didn’t know about it.”

Carla took a sip of RC and frowned. “I sort
of remember my teacher asking me about it one day, now that you
mention it.”

“I suppose your teacher liked country music;
the station played country music back then, too, so you and your
friends didn’t listen to it then, either.”

“Yeah, but the advertisers like it, and
guess who’s paying for my salary, Pop?”

He gave her a sharp look. “I told you we’d
talk about that. Okay … now …” He took a deep breath and leaned
back in his chair. “Carla, it’s true that your mother left me, and
we got a divorce. You’ve known that, right?”

She nodded. This was getting much more
intense than the interview with the station manager.

“Well. One day a traveling Tejano band
dropped by the station. You know, to promote their concert at
Fiesta Mexicana in Chanute. I guess your mother was the one who
wrote up the commercial for them, and she had to get information
from the band members, and …”

His eyes were on the edge of the table, and
his voice dropped to a level so low that she had to lean forward to
hear him. “I guess one thing led to another, pretty quickly.”

He buried his face in his hands, and Carla
thought she heard a soft sob. “Carla, your mother ran off with the
lead singer in the band, and I never saw her again.”

 

Chapter Six

“Oh.” Really brilliant, she thought. Pop is
in pain, and all you can come up with is a grunt.

“I … you’re right. I didn’t know. I’m …
sorry, Papi.” She hadn’t used that name for a long time,
either.

He straightened suddenly. “Yes. But it’s
over; it was over a long time ago. And when you came flouncing in
here with the wonderful news that you, too, were at that place, I
suddenly went back about ten years. I guess I should have told you
the whole story a long time ago.”

Carla leaned back in her chair and tried to
think about how she felt when her mother was no longer in the
house. She recalled being left alone on weekends, although Alaina,
who lived down the street, was often her babysitter after school.
She remembered the smell of cigarettes left to burn in ashtrays
more than anything else, along with her father snoring in the
living room and later in the night, after she had put herself to
bed, the sound of him stumbling along the hallway on the way to his
bedroom. And then the next day always an empty bottle on the coffee
table.

“What happened between you and … my mother?
I mean … what if …” She shook her head.

“What if what?”

“Okay, Pop. You know that you drank too much
back then. And you worked two jobs. Still do.” She barely saw him
weekdays; he was usually out the door at six in the morning to
spend the early shift on the line at the candy factory, and then
evenings from six until nine or so was for his jack-of-all trades
job at the grocery store, where he did everything from stocking
shelves to sacking groceries to occasional deliveries.

“Carla, when was the last time you saw me
take a drink?”

“I know, I know – I really don’t remember,
but I’m not talking about now, Pop. I’m talking about then. Maybe
she … just got tired of it all, you not being here, and out of it
when you were here.”

He slammed both hands on the table, and she
jumped but stayed in her chair.

“Now you sound just like … her. She was
always nagging at me to do this and not do that, always trying to
change me. Okay, maybe I worked too much and tried to relax the
wrong way, but …” He waved a hand over his head. “At least we’re
not living in a tent under a bridge.”

“I know; I’m not trying to criticize you for
anything, Pop. What was, is over. She reached across the table and
touched his hand. “Pop, I’m not going to be like her. I’m not gonna
leave you. And I’ll even be helping out with my job, right?”

He sighed and picked up her hand and rubbed
it absent-mindedly between his hands. “Look, I know I made some
mistakes, and if I told you that you couldn’t take that job at the
station, there would probably be another one. So here’s the deal.
You work, but you keep your grades up. And you tell me when you’re
working and when you’re supposed to be home and if you have a
problem, I want to know about that, too. All right?”

“Deal, Pop!”

He nodded his head. “All right. First
problem. Why did you skip today?”

She opened her mouth to protest, but she
knew that her father would probably stay at least one step ahead of
her. The conversation between them after the last time she had
skipped, which had been over two years ago when she was in the
eighth grade, had lasted only a minute or so and resulted in her
being grounded for a month.

“Okay. Well, there’s these girls. One of
them thinks that I’ve been trying to steal her boyfriend, although
all I did was to let him give me a ride home after school when it
was so cold last week.”

“And …?”

“And she and I had a disagreement in the
cafeteria which Coach Greene sort of stopped, and that was that.
Except I’ve been avoiding her since, and I almost ran into her in
the parking lot alone this morning.” She tried to squeeze a tear
from one eye but failed. Probably she ended up looking as if she
had a nervous tic or something; undoubtedly a tear would have been
much more effective than a tic any day, but oh well …

“Okay, I get the picture. You don’t want to
get into a fight with this girl. Right?”

Carla looked down at her fists and imagined
the right one planted in the middle of Miranda’s face. “Sure.
That’s pretty much it, Pop. But I think I’ll be okay. I just need
to get to school maybe five minutes earlier, when everyone is still
around, and she’ll leave me alone.”

“You want me to call a counselor? Your
principal?”

Jeez, and give Miranda another reason to
pound on her? “No, Pop, I can handle this one. Me and my friends.”
She tried to give him a convincing grin, but somehow shooting the
same pearly-whites at her father wasn’t the same as at that
substitute teacher, who probably never had anyone smile at him
before in his short career.

“All right. Let’s get this straight. You get
into something you can’t handle – you tell ME first. All
right?”

She briefly considered her self-imposed
status as a loner and a survivor and then put it aside. “Pinky
swear.” They interlocked their little fingers.

“Oh, Pop? You know it would have been more
convenient for me to call you if I’d had a cell phone.”

He pretended to stare her down. “And you
could have called me a lot earlier on the phone at the station if
you had paid attention and had been more responsible, right?”

She nodded but didn’t answer. After a month
or so on the job she might be able to afford a cell phone. And
things went well with Pop, she might even be able to keep it.

“All right, Pop. Things will be different
around here from now on. I promise to be more responsible. Hey, I’m
a working girl now. I gotta watch myself now. Keep those grades up.
Right?”

He nodded. “As if you’ve ever let them slip.
That’s an easy one for you. But I tell you what; if you can afford
to buy your own cell phone, and you have at least a “B” average
when semester grades come out, you can get one. Deal?”

She stared at him. This was going better
than she had anticipated. “Deal, Pop.”

 

Chapter Seven

The weather had warmed slightly, and Carla
actually felt invigorated by the fresh air as she walked along the
sidewalk a few blocks from the school. She ran the memories of what
her father had pulled from his “memory” chest last night and had
shown her: a
rebozo
, or shawl, that had belonged to her
mother and had been overlooked by her relatives when they showed up
to collect her belongings after her sudden departure; an onyx ring,
which he solemnly placed in her palm with a sigh; a packet of love
letters tied up with a blue ribbon, which he didn’t remove and
replaced in the chest; a wedding photo of both of them which he
also replaced in the chest, and other artifacts from a terminated
relationship including a manila envelope which contained somewhat
faded representations of dancing skeletons.

Her father said that the skeletons had been
used during a past
El Día de los Muertos
, the Day of the
Dead, celebration, and her mother had strung them around the house;
in fact, it had been almost exactly twelve years ago to the week,
he said. Carla dimly remembered the decorations and wasn’t
frightened by them; they were all grinning and seemed happy to be
skeletons. She didn’t really associate them with death when she was
a pre-schooler, and now they were merely part of her past: faded
paper nostalgia. She had stared for them for a few minutes and then
had carefully laid them inside her history book, and now they were
in her backpack on the way to school to be taped to her locker
door.

When her mother had left, her dual
association with two cultures had diminished, and for years she had
resented the fact that her mother had abandoned her. She never had
known much about her mother’s family nor their Hispanic culture –
no, Mexican culture – and now that her father had filled in some
blanks for her, maybe it was high time that she got more in touch
with her Hispanic heritage. November 1, which was the traditional
Día de los Muertos
, was just a few days away, and she knew
Snooty Sandra and Frank were trying to raise money for something
dealing with the holiday, although she didn’t know exactly
what.

Carla was careful to mingle with a group of
students as they trooped noisily through the front door of the
building, and she moved down the hallway and stood in front of her
bare locker door. She took her history book and a tape dispenser
out of her backpack, slipped the skeletons out of the book, and
removed several pieces of tape, curled them into cylinders, and
applied them carefully to the backs of the dancing skeletons and
pressed them against the door. She stepped back, surveyed the door,
stepped forward and detached one skeleton and moved it an inch
lower. That would work.

* * *

She didn’t even notice the call slip being
brought in, and she jumped a little when Mr. Brady dropped it onto
her desk. She refocused her eyes: she was being summoned to the
principal’s office. √ Immediately.

She wasn’t even able to sit in the chair in
front of the main office counter, as the secretary told her to walk
right into the principal’s office. On top of the papers and forms
that covered his desk were the dancing skeletons that she had
pasted onto her locker.

“Miss Cross, please sit down.” He motioned
to an unpadded wooden chair in front of his desk, and he held up
the paper skeletons and then dropped them onto the top of the pile
on his desk.

She sat. He glared at her and then the paper
skeletons.

“Just what does this mean, Miss Cross?”

“You mean those …?”

“Skeletons. Are you trying to make fun of
someone or somebody? You know we had a freshman who died from
leukemia just after school started, didn’t you?”

Carla leaned back in her chair. “I think so,
but those don’t have anything to do with any person.”

“Explain.”

She took a deep breath. “Okay. You know how
Hispanic Club is trying to raise money? And the day after Halloween
is
El Día de los Muertos
?”

He shook his head. “I gave approval for the
fundraiser for Hispanic Club, but I didn’t give my explicit
approval for anyone to put up these … figures. You know the rules
for Halloween – no costumes with masks, nothing that would scare
smaller children when the grade schoolers parade through the halls
on Halloween.”

“Oh. Well, those skeletons are used in
Mexico during the Day of the Dead …”

“The … what?”


El Día de los Muertos.
Day of the
Dead. Same thing. They celebrate their ancestors. Who are dead, of
course.” This wasn’t going very well. She realized that she didn’t
know much of anything about the celebration other than the
skeletons and skulls and other decorations used during the
celebration. In fact, no one had ever really asked her much, if
anything, about her Mexican heritage; she could not ever recall
having to defend who she was.

“Let me get this straight. You put up these
paper skeletons, which would definitely scare the little ones?”

Carla looked at the slightly-rumpled paper
figures on his desk. They didn’t look at all scary to her. She
nodded. “Anyone who’s Mexican or even … well, part Mexican knows
about it. The kids in Mexico expect it. It’s a big deal down there,
and they’d be really disappointed if they lost it. It’s almost as
big as Christmas in some areas.” Some of the facts she remembered
from a film, but she also remembered now her mother talking about
El Día de los Muertos
when she was little.

The principal rubbed his jaws. “All right. I
know nothing of this Mexican celebration, but until someone is able
to tell me more, and ask for approval to celebrate it and hang
things like these around, I think you’d better forget about the
whole thing. Now – take them home. I don’t want to see them again.
Understood?”

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