We both take showers and put on fresh shorts and tee shirts and sit at the small table eating our macaroni and cheese as the sun starts to fade behind the tattered, vinyl curtains embroidered with tumbleweeds, bulls and rodeo clowns. Inside the trailer, it’s about thirty degrees hotter than outside and I can feel the sweat pouring down the back of my shirt. After we finish eating, I make some koolaid and pour us each a glass. Then we walk outside and I fall into one of the lawn chairs, watching the lights from the traveling carnival begin to come to life as they build it in the parking lot of the J.C. Penny’s just past the trailer park.
“Can we go?” Dolly asks, pointing to the carnival.
“We ain’t got no money.” I say, sucking on an ice cube. “But maybe we can just walk around later if you want. It don’t get started until tomorrow.” I say, looking into the glass of koolaid while Dolly stands, her hand shading the sun from her eyes as she looks past the edge of the park onto the growing melody of lights and smells from the parking lot. I swear I can smell corn dogs and cotton candy, but it’s probably just some memory from the past.
One year, Sally Jane was being really nice because she had “found the Lord” and had stopped dancing for awhile. For about a month that summer, she took us to church every Sunday and afterwards we’d always go and eat somewhere nice. Once after church we went to the county fair in Stapelton and I had a corn dog, a lemon shake up, an elephant ear and Dolly and I shared cotton candy. But that was the one and only time. I don’t really remember what happened but one day some lady from the church came to the trailer and asked Sally Jane not to come back. The strange thing was during that month she even let us call her Mama.
But that was several years ago when Dolly was about three or four and I wasn’t even in middle school yet.
Across the small, dirt alley, Mrs. Shoemaker walks out of her trailer, the screen door slamming behind her as she waddles down the steps, picks up a hose and starts watering her flowers. “Hey girls!” She yells, a smile spreading across her face as she waves to the two of us, water streaming across the dirt making a little river from her side of the street to ours.
“Hey Mrs. Shoemaker.” I say, waving back. Dolly runs across the street towards her and I get up from the chair and start walking across the street.
“Sure is hot.” She says, “even for the fourth of July.” She wipes the sweat from across her forehead with the back of her hand, still holding the hose, spraying us both. She starts laughing as she looks at us, drenched, and starts squirting us with the hose. Dolly and I run around her yard while she sprays us until we’re almost, completely soaked. Mrs. Shoemaker stands there, hose in her hand, laughing so hard I think she might faint on the spot. “I haven’t had that much fun in a coon’s age.” She says, bending down to turn off the hose.
“I think my geraniums might just die in all this heat.” she says, looking down at the withered, pink buds at her feet. Dropping the hose, she waddles back up the stairs, wiping her hands on the side of her sunflower apron, and comes out two seconds later with two cans of beer. She pops the lid and pours them onto the flowers. “My mama’s secret geranium trick. Feed ‘em beer. Works miracles.” She throws the empty cans into her trash can and wipes her hands on her apron again. “Too bad it didn’t work with my first or second husbands.” She stops for a second, staring off down the dusty road towards the setting sun. She looks lost somewhere for a moment, but I’m not sure where. The same thing happens to me when I look down that road, as if it’s going somewhere none of us has ever been before.
“You two want some ice cream sandwiches?” She asks, walking back into her trailer and coming right back out with three ice cream sandwiches, handing one to Dolly and I and keeping one to herself.
We all sit down at her picnic table, covered with a sunflower tablecloth that matches her apron. I peel back the paper from the ice cream. The first taste is always the best with the combination of the cracker and vanilla ice cream, melting in your mouth together at the same time. By the end, I always just want another and another.
We finish them quickly and all sit around listening to Mrs. Shoemaker tell us a story about her daughter Ginger, who moved to Florida and became a realtor. “She’s real fancy now.” She says. “She wears these matching suits with silk shirts underneath them and high heal shoes. She talks proper and she got married to this real nice fellow, even though he’s about twenty years older than her. Dennis is his name.” She wrinkles her nose and whispers, “he’s bald and walks all funny and all he does is talk about golfing and fishing.”
“How come we don’t ever see Ginger Mrs. Shoemaker.” Dolly asks, licking the last remnants of her sandwich from her fingers.
I slap her knee, telling her it’s not nice to ask such questions.
“Oh it’s alright Ruby. Let her ask what she wants.” She looks down at Dolly and smiles. “You see honey, Ginger’s embarrassed and ashamed of her old mama because I live here in this small town, in this here old trailer.” She straightened her head a little bit. “But it’s ok. Because I know she’s happy and she’s made something of herself, and that’s all a real mother wants for her kids.” And then she looked down that road again. “But just don’t ever be ashamed of your mama, no matter what, because we just do the best we can, you know.”
After a few minutes of silence, Mrs. Shoemaker just stands up and walks into her trailer , the old, rusty door clanging after her. For a few minutes I can see her moving around inside, but then she moves to the back of her double wide and the place goes dark and I can’t see her anymore. I turn, looking down that road for a long time, wondering what ghosts she saw walking in the dust which forced her back inside.