August 8, 1974
the television was on all the time. Hearings and more hearings. Her father showed Kit how the Times had reprinted the transcripts from the tapes, the things the President had said, how certain words, words Daddy wouldn’t say, were blacked out. She had to look up the one word her father would use: redacted. It was funny; it felt a little like a swear word and Kit loved it, went around the house misusing it because it felt so ticklish on her tongue and the roof of her mouth: redacted.
Her mom was hypnotized by the TV; at least, that was Clare’s opinion, and Kit couldn’t really disagree. Clare was thirteen and had boobies and was secretly shaving her legs. Of course if her mother had just paid attention, she’d see that Clare had streaks of skin missing up both shins and a couple of deeper cuts she’d covered over with Band-Aids. But their parents were not paying attention. Daddy was in the den where his desk was, door closed. Kit often stood on the threshold, listening to the tick-tick-tick-whoosh of the rotary phone. Her father dialed and dialed, but never seemed to speak to anyone on the other end. Mother was in the kitchen, portable TV on the counter blaring the hearings while she kneaded bread and tested the yogurt in the Salton. It was gross. Kit wanted her family to behave like normal people. She was sick of powdered milk, sick of salads of cucumbers and peppers from their own yard. She wanted her mom to go to the big A&P in town like the other moms. She wanted her mom to buy Wonder Bread so Kit could butter it, sprinkle it with white sugar, fold it in half, and take it outside, the salty butter and sugar competing on her tongue while she lay in the grass and looked up at the clouds. She missed the sharp headache from too much sugar. She wanted an icy Coca-a-Cola, even if it gave her brain freeze, to wash it down. According to Dad, her mother was on a “health-food kick.” But every time Kit asked if they could get just one Twinkie or Hostess cupcake, Mom said, “We only have the money for nutritious food, we’re not buying extras.”
Today was Kit’s birthday and so far she had not seen any evidence of cake making, or presents and Kit had begun to worry that those things too might be considered “extras.” Worse, other than a “good morning, birthday girl!” from her mother and a hug from Daddy, there had been very little acknowledgement that Kit had finally become a double digit. Ten. Ten was a good age, she was going to be a fifth grader in the fall. One grade away from ruling elementary school. Two grades away from junior high. Any minute now her body was going to change like Clare’s had. She’d read Are You There, God, It’s Me, Margaret already, even though her mom said she needed to wait two more years. She knew what was going on.
Kit wandered into the kitchen. She hadn’t eaten. Past birthdays, there had been the surprise of breakfast in bed, and one gift to open before Daddy left for work. But here it was, ten o’clock and so far, zilch.
“Mmmm?” Her mother didn’t even turn her head. She had stopped kneading the dough and was leaning toward the TV set, the picture so small the people looked like ants in suits with black glasses and skinny black ties.
“Want me to get out the eggs?”
“I’m sorry, Kit, can you hold on a bit? I’m trying to see what happened here.”
“Are you going to make my cake?”
Kit’s mother looked up, “Of course I am. I just… hang on.” And she leaned forward to turn up the volume.
For spite, Kit left the door to the refrigerator open.
Upstairs Clare was still in bed, a book propped up on her knees. “Happy birthday, Squirt,” she said before sticking her leg out from the blankets and closing the door with a jab of her foot.
“Redacted,” Kit whispered to the door. She went to her own room which had been a sleeping porch before Kit was born and which her parents had enclosed with windows and wood paneling. It was freezing in the winter, and stifling in the summer, but Kit loved it anyway. The windows were tall as a man, the ceiling painted tin with patterns swirling beneath the paint that sometimes looked like a face. Kit grew up in tree-dappled sun and, at night, the shifting beams of headlights. In the dark she listened for the foghorn and ding of the buoys on the Long Island Sound. And all summer long she could hear the thunder of the wheels and collective scream from the people barreling down the biggest slope on the Dragon Coaster, the main attraction at the amusement park down the street from Kit’s very home.
She put on the “Devil Made me Do It” t-shirt her mother rarely let her wear, and found sneakers beneath her bed which she decided to wear without socks. And she went outside, without asking if she could or telling anyone where she was going.
Their house on Clifton Street was small by town standards. It had a little peaked roof over the entryway, a single staircase to the upper floor, and, originally, only two bedrooms. Kit’s parents had done a lot of work when they moved in, renovating the sleeping porch, replacing the moldy butcher-block counter in the kitchen with fresh linoleum, all fine, but then, this spring, right about the time her father lost his job, he decided to stain the cedar shakes midnight blue and paint all the wood trim white. It was so weird. It was ugly and made their house look haunted. Every time Kit went outside, she shuddered. All the other houses were either white or brown. No one else had a blue house. Nobody.
Clifton was a long, narrow street. Thirty houses lined up like the matryoshka dolls on her book case, the largest were around the bend, closer to the beach. Kit walked down the middle of the road, looking up at the spotted blue between the tree branches. Except for the cicadas that droned on and off as if someone were flipping a switch, it was quiet. Too hot for the birds even to sing. The back of Kit’s neck was so drenched, nearly all her hair was stuck to it – and now she wished she’d actually let her mother give her a summer cut; in fact she’d be happy to be bald just to have that heavy hair off her neck and shoulders. She sat on the curb and took off her sneakers, pulling one of the laces out to make a ponytail. The moment her shoes were off and her hair up, she felt better. Why should I put those shoes back on? She wiggled her toes, splaying them out as wide as they could go. Why wear shoes at all? These shoes are redacted.
Down the road, in one of the larger houses, Kit saw Lynnie Martin dangling upside down from a branch of the beechwood in her yard. Lynnie hadn’t been all that nice to her lately now that she was eleven and wearing a bra she didn’t really need, and Kit had decided to walk by her when Lynnie called out, “Hey!” And then Kit had to stop.
“Where’s Clare?” Lynnie said, not bothering to sit up or jump down from her branch.
“I dunno. Asleep.” Even though it wasn’t true.
The cicadas hushed. Kit looked up at Lynnie’s house. All the window blinds were drawn tight because Mrs. Martin had recently installed air conditioners in almost every room. Kit said, “Wanna go to the boardwalk?”
Lynnie did a neat flip off the branch, landing on her feet and adjusting her shirt all in one movement. “Sure.”
Kids under thirteen weren’t supposed to go to the boardwalk without a parent, and even if they were, there was the matter of the entrance fee. But last week Kit had followed Clare and Brian Covey and watched the two of them sneak through an opening in the chain-link fence. Everyone knew there was a way to get in; you just had to know how to do it.
Kit still had her shoes in her hands, and the pavement was really hot. She thought of that picture in the World Book Encyclopedia – a guy wearing a turban and something like a diaper dancing across a long bed of red coals. The guy had really big feet. She put on her shoes, letting them flap like flip-flops because she didn’t feel like taking the laces out of her hair. Lynnie walked beside her, and for a while, neither girl said anything. A couple of dogs barked greetings from inside their homes. Clifton ended at the parkway. Cars sped by, one, two, three, then there was a lull. Kit and Lynnie dashed to the median where they had to wait again.
Lynnie said, “I saw Clare with Frankie Scott at the movies.”
Kit turned to look at her. Lynnie’s cheeks were red and her ponytail was half in the band, half out. The front of her shirt was weirdly bunched because of the bra. Kit picked a small rock up out of the dust. It was flat and had a nice line of mica running through the middle of it. She shrugged in response. Lynnie had no idea what she was talking about. Clare liked Brian. She didn’t like Frankie at all.
“Your mom lets Clare go out with boys? My mom says girls shouldn’t date until they’re sixteen.”
“I dunno. I don’t think Clare’s allowed to go out.” Kit put the rock in her pocket. It made her shorts feel heavier on one side, kind of dragged them down to the right a bit, but she liked the way the smooth shape of the rock felt against her leg. She started to feel anxious. There were a lot of cars going by—one of her mother’s friends could easily drive by and see her. If someone called her mother, would her mother come after her? It was hard to know. Each new car speeding down the parkway sent a little shoosh of air and dust against Kit’s legs.
“My mom says that girls who go out with boys before they are sixteen are girls who are going to get a reputation.” Lynnie had her hands on her hips, and Kit suddenly, inexplicably, felt embarrassed. “I don’t think Clare is allowed,” she said, carefully. Clare hardly ever spoke to Kit any more, hardly even looked at her. And Kit had no idea what her mother allowed Clare to do or not do.
There was a break in the cars – Kit and Lynnie ran across. Now they just had to walk down the sidewalk to the part of the park where the fence was broken.
The heat felt less pressing on the sidewalk under the trees. Kit picked up a stick and started peeling the bark off it in strips, dropping them behind her when she walked. The cicadas were particularly loud. She could smell popcorn and frying hamburgers from the food stands along the boardwalk. They were almost there.
Lynnie took a watermelon lip gloss in out of her pocket and smeared it all over her lips. “So,” she said, “What’s your favorite band? I like the Allman Brothers.”
Now, all Kit could smell was fake watermelon. Again she felt anxious. She didn’t have a favorite band.
“I like the Almond Brothers too.”
“It’s the Allman Brothers, stupid. You don’t even know who they are.”
“I do know who they are.”
“Oh yeah? What’s your favorite song?” Lynnie had stopped walking. She had her hands on her hips again, looking flatly at Kit, one eyebrow raised.
Instantly tears formed in Kit’s eyes. She wiped them away, pretending they were sweat. Redacted, redacted, redacted. The word banged around her brain. She turned her head and looked toward the Parkers’ huge house on the corner. A cat was in the window, flicking its tail like a snake.
“I knew it,” Lynnie said. “You don’t know who they are.” She began to walk again; Kit followed.
The break in the fence was just past the main gate, behind bushes about ten yards down. Kit kept guard, kicking at dirt, picking her nails while Lynnie, who was bigger and therefore stronger, pulled the branches away from the opening, then pulled the chain link fence aside. Lynnie dashed through and then acted as lookout. It was a Thursday, after the lunch rush, so the boardwalk and beach were mostly empty; however, both girls had heard stories about being nabbed by over-zealous lifeguards, or some old lady do-gooder. Kit removed her shoes, and so did Lynnie and they each drew the bottom of their t-shirts up through the neck, making bikini tops so their stomachs could get some sun. A pile of seagulls fought noisily over fallen fries. The water was quiet, the tide was low, the air smelled of salt and rotting seaweed. Several very little children splashed in the water, orange floaties attached to their waists by little belts.
It was weird to be here without her dad. What should she do? Put her feet in the water? A group of high schoolers walked by, two girls with waist-length hair, a couple of boys sauntering, hands in pockets. One girl held a Tab can. Kit remembered she had five dollars in her pocket from taking care of the Whittiers’ dog. She could buy something: a soda, French fries, maybe an ice cream sandwich from George who worked the best snack stand. Kit liked him because he always gave her extra whipped cream when she came to the boardwalk with her father. Last week George showed her a Polaroid he’d taken of the car he was saving to buy in September when he turned sixteen. A Mustang for sale at the used car place on the Post Road. He’d already put a down payment on it.
“I’ve got money,” she said, taking the wadded bill out of her pocket and holding it up for Lynnie to see.
Suddenly they were surrounded. Four girls had come up so quickly, that at first Kit thought there were many more.
“Whatcha got there?” the largest said. She was chewing gum off to the side of her mouth; it clacked between her teeth. Kit tried to put her money behind her back, but she was too late; the girl snatched it from her hand.
“Hey!” Kit shouted, but she didn’t move forward, she didn’t try to take the money back. She recognized the girl. Janet, an eighth-grader. Huge the way eighth grade girls could suddenly become. Janet lived on the street behind theirs and she was mean.
Lynnie knew her too, but she still said, “Give it back,” though not very loud.
“You’re Clare’s little sister, right?” Janet had moved in front of the sun, so that now her face was black, and all Kit could see was the thick, blond hair surrounding it, the way the sun shone through.
“Your sister stole my boyfriend.”
“Did.” Janet’s face was now very close. Her breath smelled like tuna. Kit was scared. The world rushed around her. The boardwalk, the beach, the little kids, the seagulls were obscured by the teenage bodies, their hips, their stomachs, their stupid boobs. Kit wasn’t tall enough to look any of them in the eye—she and Lynnie were outnumbered. Kit stepped back against the girl behind her, put her arms up, hands in fists, and punched hard at the chest in front of her.
“You are redacted!” she shouted.
Janet stumbled backward, but the other girls closed in like water from a bucket. They pushed Kit and Lynnie against each other. Janet stepped forward and grabbed the front of Lynnie’s shirt, twisted. “What’s the bra for, baby? Babies don’t wear bras!” and then she pushed her so that Lynnie and Kit knocked heads, hard, and then they were both on the ground and Kit cried.
“Babies!” The girls stood back laughing.
But suddenly there was George, yelling, sweeping at Janet and the other girls with a broom. They scattered.
Kit lay on her back. Her money was gone. She’d worked a week for that money! This birthday was horrible, everyone was mean, and now her head hurt and her stomach hurt and all she wanted to do was lie on the ground and kick and scream like the baby she definitely was.
Except Lynnie and George were pulling at her.
“Come on! Lifeguards!” And when Kit looked over, she saw two lifeguards running up the boardwalk toward them. George pulled her up and shooed them behind the snack bar and all Kit could think now was, I am in so much trouble, they’re gonna call my dad. But there was George, still pulling her and now pushing her through the gate he used to load and unload snacks from his dad’s truck, and once they were on the other side of the fence, Lynnie yelled, “Run!” and they ran across the parkway without really looking, down the nearest street, Bedford, through the Parkers’ back yard, and then wildly down Clifton, straight up Lynnie’s driveway, into the garage, up the stairs to the small room where Lynnie’s dad kept his hunting trophies and his fishing tackle, and lay down on the floor, panting, waiting for the lifeguards or the police to come find them. After a while, during which both girls could not do much more than breathe, Kit stealthily looked out the window and said, “The coast is clear.”
Kit had lost her shoes. Lynnie had a bloody nose that had mixed with tears and coursed down her chin. The front of her shirt was stained. Their parents were going to kill them.
“I have to get your mom,” Kit said, while Lynnie tried to stop the bleeding by pinching her nose and raising her face to the ceiling. She shook her head and coughed. Both girls looked at the ceiling for a while. The cicadas took up their buzz. Kit’s throat burned from the heat of the air around her.
“I could tell her you fell out of the tree or something.” Beside her, Lynnie breathed heavily. A robin landed on a branch outside the window and just as quickly took off. Kit looked toward the house. The shades were still drawn. “I bet your mom didn’t even know we were gone.”
That night Dad went out to pick up Chinese food, chicken fried rice and egg rolls, Kit’s favorite. They hadn’t had Chinese food in a really long time because it was so expensive, but as Mom said, sometimes you have to buck up for a special occasion. Kit and Clare sat on the floor of Clare’s room while Clare painted Kit’s nails. She could hear their mother downstairs, banging around the kitchen and dining room. The house, finally, smelled like cake.
“Stretch your other hand out,” Clare said. Kit did as she was told. Her hands looked smaller with the tips painted Scarlet Sin. She wasn’t sure she liked it, but it didn’t matter because it felt good to have Clare hold her hand and talk to her. While their nails dried, Clare read Kit a story about David Cassidy and Susan Day out of Tiger Beat. Kit leaned her head on her sister’s shoulder to look at the pictures and Clare let her. Mostly Clare smelled like lemony Jean Nate, but she also smelled warm, a little like fresh bread, and it was comforting. The rug scratched the back of Kit’s legs, and the rotary fan ruffled the pages intermittently, but otherwise it was really nice sitting with her sister.
“Yeah?” Clare put the magazine down. “What’s going on, Squirt?” This time the way Clare said Squirt made her feel kind of protected. She wanted to tell her about the boardwalk, and losing her money. But then, she didn’t. She hadn’t told her parents either. She stuck with the story that Lynnie’d fallen out of a tree. So, instead Kit said, “Do you have a boyfriend?”
Clare sighed, stretched her legs, pointed her toes, and shifted so that Kit had to sit up.
“I don’t know,” Clare said. “Maybe.”
After dinner Mom let Kit cut the strawberry cake with chocolate frosting and scoop whipped cream onto the side of each plate. Dad gave her The Kid’s Book of Jokes and Other Riddles, and her mother gave her a necklace – one small pearl on a chain of silver that felt cool and smooth on her neck, reminding Kit of the stone that was still in her pocket. Even Clare gave her something, a Wacky Pack of bubblegum that she’d wrapped in a sock and tied with a hair ribbon. It had an ad for Vomit!, which made them laugh.
A breeze came in from the open window, shifted the sheer summer curtains. From where she sat at the table, Kit could see that a lot of the kids from the block were outside, shouting, trying to outdo each other climbing the mailbox, climbing the trees, running up and down the street spraying each other with water guns, squealing, yelling in the evening.
“Kit! Kit!” It was Lynnie, calling to her through the open window. Kit stood, looked out. There were a bunch of kids on the lawn. Lynnie looked okay, cleaned up, new shirt. That kid, Kyle, from down the street stood behind her, as well as Helen and Nina. All held water guns.
“Kit?” her mother said. “You may be excused, if you want to go outside.”
Kit wanted to be out there as much as she wanted to be inside at the table eating cake, cracking jokes with her family. This was her favorite time of day to be outside. The sun was still strong, but low in the sky, making long shadows from the trees. The air warm, but not at all hot, and everyone she knew was out there, all the kids from her block. All the kids she’d ever known. The crickets and peepers had just started twirping their night songs.
She felt separated; in two places at once: the dining room, but also on the other side of the walls, outside in the yard, looking through the window at her parents, her sister, her self. Kit leaned against the window screen, let the mesh score her forehead.
“No,” she said. “It’s okay.”
“Good call, sugar,” her dad said.
He came over and picked her up and flung her dizzyingly over his shoulder the way he used to when she was little while Kit screamed, “Dad! Put me down!” Everyone, even Clare, laughed. And then her mother got up to clear the table and Dad put her down, gave her head a kiss; went into his office for a bit to wait until the President made his speech. Kit helped her mother do the dishes. She took the garbage outside. It had finally started to get dark and it was quiet. Lightning bugs glowed intermittently, silently.
When she came back, her father was in the living room; the TV was on. Mr. Nixon was about to make his speech. Dad said the President was going to resign.
“Kit, you should watch this,” her mom said taking her apron off then sitting on the couch next to Dad. “This is history.”
Clare had already gone upstairs. Kit picked her presents up off the dining table. She thought she might read a few jokes from her new book, but Dad had the sound turned up so loudly, she couldn’t help but hear that Walter Cronkite guy. So she stood behind her parents. For the first time, Kit noticed her mother had tiny strands of gray in her hair and that her father had a bald spot, the size of a quarter.
“Mommy?” Kit said.
“In a minute,” Dad said, reaching up, patting Kit’s hand. “He’s about to come on.”
The President sat at a shiny brown desk. There were dark blue curtains behind him, and even though his hair was black, his face looked old. “Good evening,” he began. Like one person, Kit’s parents leaned forward. Mr. Nixon had sad eyes. His nose looked like a cartoon nose. What were the bad words he’d said? Kit still wanted to know. Would he say one now? He didn’t. Still, at the end, when Mr. Nixon said, “May God’s grace be with you, in all the days ahead,” Kit’s parents sat back, turned to each other, and laughed.
Katherine Hubbard grew up in New York down the street from an amusement park. She has been published in Sanskrit, Dos Passos Review, Melusine: 21st Century Woman, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Gallatin Review and Seventeen Magazine. She blogs about family and food at kath-whatsfordinnertonight.blogspot.com.