…Our house had two bedrooms; Momma gave one to Billy and one to me, while she slept on a daybed in the dining room. As an adult, now I realize what a sacrifice Momma made so that Billy and I could each have our privacy. She didn’t have much of her own with her bed in the dining room and the two of us constantly dashing in and out.
Billy and I made up a game we called Get Across. We had a long, wide living room. In the game, my base was a built-in bookcase and Billy’s base was the front door directly across from it. When it was my turn, I was supposed to crawl across the rug (which smelled like Beany) and touch Billy’s base.
“You’re first,” Billy shouted. “On your mark, get set, go!”
I crawled as fast as I could to what I knew was Billy’s base. He tackled me. He sat on my chest and pinned my arms to the floor. His breath smelled like a Hershey bar.
“Momma, tell Billy to get off me.” I yelled.
Momma was smoking a cigarette and reading David Copperfield. “Settle it yourselves,” she said in a calm voice.
I offered Billy a Mickey Mantle baseball card and a piece of flat pink bubble gum. Billy said that suited him fine, and he let me go.
To this day, I find it amazing that my mother did nothing to intervene. Here sat my older, sighted brother on top of his younger, blind sister. Yet I am very grateful to my mother for allowing me to be an equal to my brother.
“Now let’s go play Imaginary Man,” my brother said.
“Okay,” I said.
I walked over to Momma’s bed in the dining room and coughed on cigarette smoke. “Hello, darling,” Momma said, “Look out for the floor lamp I pulled over here. It is usually beside the piano. Don’t trip on the cord.”
I tried to avoid the cord but stepped on Beany’s tail. She growled.
“I’m sorry, Peggy, I’m sorry, Beany,” Momma said.
“Come on,” Billy yelled from the back door.
“Give me a kiss and then run along and play,” Momma said.
I could smell the smoke but Momma always moved the cigarette out of the way of kisses. I heard Beany head toward the back door. “Sooey, piggy, piggy,” Billy called from the back door.
“Good-bye Momma,” I said.
“I love you, peachcake,” Momma said.
Billy slammed the back door, which must mean Beany had gone outside. But where?
I pushed open the back screen door and ran down the four steps. I didn’t take time to pet Wicky, the cat, who was always sitting on the stairwell. At the bottom of the steps I called, “Where’s Beany?”
“She ran down the alley toward the park. She’ll be gone for a while.”
I found the pecan tree we used as home base. Billy put a kickball in my hands. It smelled like rubber. I put it on the ground in front of me to kick. I kicked the ball and headed for the oil drum that was first base. “I have the ball,” Billy yelled. “But I will let you touch first. Leave an imaginary man there and go back home.”
As I headed for home, I said the poem “Jenny” to myself:
Jenny made her mind up at seventy-five,
That she would live to be the oldest woman alive
But Gin and Rum and destiny played their tricks
And Jenny kicked the bucket at seventy-six.
I tripped over the ball. “The ball is right in front of you,” Billy said.
“Duh, now,” I said.
I put out my hand and touched the pecan tree. I found the ball with my foot and kicked it forward. I headed back to first while my imaginary man headed to second. Second was a crape myrtle tree. “I’ll let you make it to first again,” Billy said. “Then you will have an imaginary man on first and an imaginary man on second. And you can kick again.”
So I went back to home base and kicked again. Billy immediately tapped my arm with the ball. “You’re out!” We played for just one out.
I walked to the pecan tree in the middle of the yard that was where the pitcher stood. “Roll the ball here, here, here,” Billy called from home base.
I rolled the ball and I heard his shoe connect with it. I heard the whoosh of the ball in the air and the sound as it landed in the neighbor’s yard.
“Home run!” Billy shouted.
“I’m going inside to talk to Momma.”
Playing Get Across taught me resourcefulness. But what did Imaginary Man teach me other than that most of the time I would lose? Still, I had Billy on quite a pedestal, because he was so smart. He called me “Piglet” and “Idiot Head Retardo,” but he also exclaimed “bad chair!” when I ran into one, and he threatened to beat up kids who made fun of my eyes.
I found Momma still reading in bed. “Don’t take it too seriously,” Momma said.
Sometimes I hated my mother. “Momma,” I burst out, “What happened to me?”