“What song is that?” Grace asks. Her irritation, previously held in check by exceptional manners, is beginning to bubble over. “I can hear it though the ceiling.”
“What song?” I ask absently. It’s a stupid question, like asking who George Washington was or where the Nile is located, but with Grace’s Canon Rebel in my hands, I’m fully absorbed. “I don’t hear anything.”
“That noise.” Grace points at my swirling ceiling fan, “It’s been blaring since we arrived. ”
Looking up, I try to remember the song’s name. If I could hear the words it would come to me quickly but heard though several inches of drywall and plaster, it is as distinct as distance thunder.
“It’s on the tip of my tongue.” I say, turning to Grace. She’s sprawled across my bed, butt up, nose already stuck back into Philip K. Dick: Four Novel of the 1960’s. It’s one of the two or three massive science fiction tomes she carries with her at all times. June’s on the floor beside us, plopped in my beanbag chair, having borrowed Deep Crossing by E. R. Mason. By the looks of things (her lips curled into a sneer, eyes narrowed to thin slits) she’s unimpressed with Grace’s taste in literature. Or maybe it’s the noise. She tried sticking paper in her ears but gave up after nearly puncturing an ear drum.
“It’s “Float On” by Minnie Mouse.” I say, holding the camera up. “Does it use SD cards? That’s what my point-and-shoot uses.”
Grace takes the camera and opens a small compartment on it’s side, pulling out a large square memory card. “It’s a CompactFlash. The new Rebels take SD though…” She goes into the details; shutter speed, ISO settings, saying with pride that it’s an SLR, “that’s means single lens reflex didn’t you know, the first step to becoming a pro.”
“He needs to turn that s*** off!” June, temper erupting, takes off one of her ragged once-white supermarket sneakers and throws it against the ceiling. It narrowly misses the fan and falls to the floor. The corn chip stink of her feet assaults my nose. “Off, now!”
But the noise continues, a distant, off key, indie rock rumble. Oliver’s been hiding in his attic retreat for the past two weeks, the science fair disappointment taking him down like a case of Spanish Influenza. He only kills the music, that one miserable tune set of repeat, when Mom or Dad pull into the driveway. At first Sunny would come over to see him, but after a few afternoons, even he’s stopped coming.
“I don’t think he heard you.” Grace says.
June’s shoulder slump in defeat. She tosses The Deep Crossing back to Grace. “This stuff is unbearable. It wouldn’t even make good toilet paper. Mierda”
Grace looks at me. Translation please?
“Crap.” I say, wishing I’d started her Spanish lessons with profanity and not subject verb agreement and verb conjunction. I doubt June will ever ask the time or comment on our last trip to the beach in her native tongue. Four letter words are all she needs to get her point across.
“It’s not crap.” Grace mumbles. As defensive as she is of them you’d thought she were related to every science fiction author alive, some distant cousin twice removed. “It’s just about perfect with its pacing and characterizations.”
Indifferent, June shifts her fat butt deeper into my tortured beanbag chair, squishing it into oblivion. It’s her first visit inside the Nolan home and she’s been jittery all afternoon. I remind her that my parents don’t get off work till after eight, that Oliver and I are the quintessential latchkey kids.
“I still don’t like being here.” She crosses her arms over her grimy Tasmanian Devil t-shirt, like a child trying to keep out the cold. “She doesn’t like me. Tornillo tu mamá.”
“She’s not that bad.” I say, ” Sunny comes over all the time.”
“Yeah, that may not be a good idea.” June chides. “I told you, he has a thing for your mom. He might end up in the laundry room, sniffing her panties or something.”
“Uhhh…” I almost puke at that one. Let June stew, there is no point arguing with her.
“Have anything else to read? Anything better?” God, the June is insatiable, bold as a starving dog! She eyes my bookshelf before turning back to Grace. “All Mable has is Stephen King garbage. Deus ex machina out the butt.”
“I’m almost finished with The Man in the High Castle if you want to read it.” She lowers her voice, as if passing a secret, “It’s like the third time I’ve read it. Its incredible.”
“That’s the one with the Nazis and Japanese winning World War Two?” June asks, ” Won the Hugo award a million years ago?”
“Yeah.” Grace smiles in surprise.
“Read it. It’s crap with a capital ‘C’. Nothing happens.”
A scowl comes over Graces face. “Everything happens. If you don’t see that then I don’t know what can do for you.” She’s only a few feet from us be we can see her disconnect, beaming her mind and soul someplace light-years away.
June exhales and turns to me with an I did this for you once too expression, then looks again at Grace. “Maybe. It’s been awhile since I read it. I do remember some good parts.” Her face contorts a little, and she bites her lip, forcing an awkward smile. For a girl who loves telling painful truths, lying hurts. “Like the ending. Very compelling.”
Grace’s face softens and she returns to her novel, removing a colorful Dr. Who book mark. She hasn’t learned how to deal with June as I have, to roll with the punches, to be water to her rock. But then, I’d be lost without that fat Mexican while Grace’s Sci Fi addiction seems to fill the void where a friend should be. We’ll have to work with her on this.
“I have some CD’s.” I tell June, pointing to a shoebox on the bottom self of my book case, “If you want to play one you can. Most of them are pretty old though.”
June stands, grunts her speculation and moves to the book case. Her face says everything as she shuffles through a dozen Kidz Bop albums, shifting from one CD to the next before reaching One Direction’s Up All Night and giving up.
“More crap.” June leaves the CD’s a mess and begins pacing. Against my pastel walls and Harry Potter posters the she looks hopelessly out of place, a Girl Scout in a mosque.
“I’ve got some Taylor Swift on my phone.” Grace says. She begins searching through her phone, a large black Nokia Lumina, chosen because it has the best freaking camera ever, her words. “It’s Blank Space.”
The song begins with a slow steady bass followed by the voice I’ve loved since fifth grade. Grace looks at me, and I smile my approval. Being Swifties is something June and I could never share.
June eyes Grace then me. “More pan blanco teenybopper crap.” She flops on the beanbag, popping a few of its seams. “It’s like I’m in a bakery.”
“Want me to turn it off?” Grace asks.
“No.” June sighs, “I’ll just remember to bring some Santana CD’s next time. I’ll show you white girls how to shake your a****.”
“I don’t want to shake my butt.” Grace says, as prudish as a spinster aunt. My admiration for her grows daily.
I turn the camera on and look through the view finder. Grace has returned to her book, her hair falling over her face like mouse brown curtains. I pan to June. Her eyes are up towards the ceiling fan, face sullen, worried, burdened, pick one ( or perhaps all) of the above.
“Can I take your picture?” I ask.