Original writings by Adrienne Nater

A Bite of Bubblegum   (a transition to The Pie Lie)

She was back, sitting in her spot beneath the tree. She was exactly where she had been, nothing changed, not the sun, the trees, the sounds, the breeze. For the moment she was alert to the here and now. She couldnít suppress the smile.

_____________________________________________________________________

"I canít remember having a chew of Bubble Gum without thinking of the long walk back to the store, facing Uncle Sid, giving back the "extra" piece, apologizing, admitting that I was a liar and a thief. Everyone in the store seemed to be listening, laughing, even Uncle Sid was grinning at me. I was angry; I had been careless and stupid; I had been caught. My Bubble Gum fortune had warned me, I had not let the message sink in. But, I got even: Sure, I took that long walk back to the store; sure, I brought back the "extra" piece, but at 6th and Burnside I had unwrapped, bitten off half, rewrapped the remainder. I placed it back in the counter box, (being sure to move it to the bottom) just like I was told. They donít make Bubble Gum like that anymore.

_____________________________________________________________________

 

Her inner attention was more focused, now she was calmer, but still lost in thought, slipping back into her Grandpaís Blue Steamer Trunk reverie once again looking for fragments of memorable images in her precious photo album: Another page flipped over; she scrutinized the picture of her sixth grade class. Teacher, the stylishly corseted Miss Dutton proudly standing at the far left, back row:

She always and only wanted to be a teacher. Teachers had, well the good ones, and even the bad ones, been the focal point of her life. She loved to learn. She rather go to school than stay at home, even in dire circumstances, she went to school: with a terrible infection in her knee, with a devastating ear infection, with colds, flu, a severe urinary infection, even on the Jewish

Holidays: (Daddy said, "If she doesnít go to Temple then she goes to school)" She didnít go to Temple and neither did he. School was the only place she felt safe.

She could count on the stability of her day, on the conduct of the teachers. She had her favorites: Mrs. Jacobson, 2nd and 3rd grade. It was at Carthay Center School.

___________________________________________________________________

 

I remember that after leaving Select Academy. I went to a garden wedding of my mom to a stranger man. I spent the summer at Military camp. The Major was a client of the new dad. Then I was placed at Han cock Park Elementary School. A short walk from the 6440 5th Street house. We spent the classroom time building an Indian Village, then we studied the Railroad System, built miniature railroad cars, (I love to build, I was so good at this skill) but I wasnít learning to write my name, do my numbers, advance in reading. I remember that I was failing at playground, since I was too tiny to reach the bars, the rings, the ropes, the climbing poles.

The New Daddy was outraged at the Progressive Educational System and fought with the Board Of Education to allow a transfer to a real school. He won the battle and so I began the long walk to an out-of-district school, a long, long walk, to Carthay Center Elementary School. Iíll have to drive that route one-day, just to be accurate in the miles. Must have been about three miles, and Daddy never drove me there, even in the stinking rain. He even told the principal that if I was bad she had his permission to whip me into shape. But:

 

She was in Mrs. Jacobsonís class. Two years. That kind lady kept her under her wing, catching her up. Tutoring her at home. Ah, she flashed to the scene, her mother, holding a yardstick, smashing it across her face, blooding her nose, all over the multiplication tables, and the word "chalet" every evening at 5:00 dinner, which had better begin the first stroke of the clock, she was asked by her new daddy, this stranger, "What is the name of the houses that the

Swiss live in?" She knew it was coming, and could never remember the answer. Chalet. Dinnertime never joyous or tasty. Mrs. Jacobson never yelled. AndÖ

She remembered the big, full chested witch, albeit a well-corseted one, Miss Doss. Mean bitch. Not an ounce of kindness. That 4th grade report card was festooned with ds, fs and unsatisfactory marks. Bring it home, a nightmare. 5th grade was with Mrs. McGraw. Not a bad year, kinda neutral.

___________________________________________________________________

At last, I was in 6th grade with Miss Dutton. I just read her obituary; she lived to be ninety-nine, taught at Carthay Center until they forced her to retire at seventy-five. Thereís the wondrous report card pasted in the album "You remember donít you, the saga of this report card, donít you?" How did it begin? I donít know. Or do I? Let me get back to the classroom, to the smell of newspaper stuffed shoes drying under the radiator, to the desks with inkwells, to endless hours of penmanship. See, dip once and control the flow for an entire line of circles or lines. Thereís Sonya Cooper, the perfect student. Thereís Jimmy Welch, Jimmy Morehouse, Dennis, he wore shorts, Jane Chadwick, she had breasts, and it was time for the report cards:

____________________________________________________________________

There she is: looking with dismay at this sheet of grades. A disgraceful report; she did not want to go home, not with just Bís, Cís, only marks of Satisfactory, well one Outstanding in Perfect Attendance. Sonja had straight Aís all Outstandings. She left school that Friday for the long walk home. Walking alone, as usual, no one else lived so far away, she was blind with fear, deaf to the outside world, trying to think of something, anything that would excuse her poor marks. She came up with several scenarios like:

 

"The teacher made a mistake, this isnít my report card; it got mixed up with someone elseís" Then, she thought, "I will not say a word about Report Cards, keep my mouth shut do my chores, get to my homework. If they ask, I will say that I left it at school or lost it on the way home, or the teacher forgot, or Monday is the day orÖ Left it in my desk, thatís the best story for now"

So she selected the forty-eight hour stay of execution. She needed more time: time to get ready for the inevitable. And it was during this carefully structured time as she walked on, a plan developed: She would change the grades. And this is how it happened, how she did it:

 

The Pie Lie with a Bubble Gum Chaser
 

She was standing in front of 6440 West 5th Street, the house with the picket fence; her first house that she could call a home since Myra Street four years ago. She did not consider Select Academy a home.

She was a tiny nine year old, had a newborn sister, was going to a regular public school, had a new Daddy, stranger though he was, and today was special, she was sure she must be grown-up. She was going to the store, alone. Before she was to set out on this adult assignment, she looked around at her new surroundings: marveled at the flowers she had helped to plant, at the neat green lawn she tended, and at the aviary she had to clean, loved the birds, hated the do-do. And then she whirled around, set her shoulders square to the sidewalk, put her chin up and headed for the store.

She would go east on 5th Street to Crescent Heights, then south for six blocks to Wilshire, turn east again passing: Josephís Beauty Salon, she went there with her mother each Friday, then several vacant lots, a building or two, to the store on Fairfax. This was her destination. It would not be the first time, but it was the first time alone.

As she began her walk on that clear, warm Saturday afternoon, she was radiant with pride, thinking, "Iím finally being trusted, old enough, smart enough, go to the market. all by myself." She reached into her right pocket of her blue jeans to feel the coins that she had been given, counting them: one big fifty-cent piece, one quarter, two dimes, a nickel and five pennies. This was a special day: her mission, to buy and bring home a Lemon Meringue Pie from the bakery near Wilshire on Fairfax. She was responsible for providing her family, especially her new Daddy, with his favorite dessert.

She so wanted to be somebody needed in this new family. Today was a test. It was going to be a long walk; her bike had to say home, the basket was too narrow for the pie box; the box had to be kept level.

She could hear her mother saying: "Go straight to the bakery and return home directly, donít stop and play along the way, donít take the money out of your pocket, be very careful at the corners, look both ways before you cross the streets, donít get dirty, donít talk to strangers, the five pennies are yours, to buy five pieces of bubble gum, you may have one today, but only after dinner, I wonít have you spoiling your appetite, you will bring back change, and carry the pie with both hands, otherwise it may slip in the box and be ruined. You should be back in an about an hour, dinnerís at 5:00. You wonít be late." She could do all that.

Mrs. Cook, the neighbor next door and her first friend since she moved in after her three months in Military Camp, waved to her from her position behind her paint easel on the shaded front porch of her tall white house with its wavy red roof. "Hi, Mrs. Cook, Iím off to the store all by myself." "Have an exciting adventure, keep track of all you see, tell me about it tomorrow. You will come over and spend some time with me while I complete one of my redwood oils?" "Iíll be there after my chores. See you." And off she went, skipping down the pavement, bouncing along, like a tetherball that arched higher and higher after each push. Each stride she took was longer, higher, faster, more joyful then the last.

Up 5th, across La Jolla Street, to and around the corner at Crescent Heights Boulevard, down Crescent Heights she traveled. She stopped as her eyes came to rest a tree that was shedding these layers of paper-thin stuff. She crossed the yard and began to pick and peel. "Get out of my yard!" She scooted ― No more distractions, she made this promise to herself as she neared the next corner at 6th Street.

The surface of the street was being repaired with hot tar. If you took a stick and stuck it into the cauldron of hot tar, pulled it out, let it cool, dipped it again, cooled it again, dipped it, cooled it, repeating until the black material developed into an all day chewable sucker. "Hereís a stick girlie, Iíll start one for you, donít burn yourself." He was a giant man. In tar streaked overalls, black boots, caked with filthy street repair materials. His huge gloved hands were encased in tar like his boots.

She was so tempted to make herself a treat, but it would take time and she had no time for tar. "No thanks, I am on an important errand, Iíll stay next time." And she would have bubblegum later, so off she went, past Burnside Avenue to Wilshire Boulevard.

The grass was high in the vacant lots along the boulevard; all of the neighborhood kids loved to play mud-toss war. First you hid in the tall grass, gathered a handful of long grass stems with mud clods attached. Then by stealth you crept to a strategic firing location and on a predetermined signal pelted one another with mud. There was only one vacant lot on her street; she had to tell her new buddies about this grass bonanza.

There was the building with the beauty shop. She waved a greeting to the manicurist sitting at her table at the front window. She wanted her long curly hair cut; she pleaded each time they were at the shop. But no, her mother liked to keep it long. She should be at the other end of the comb and brush, just once. It was a painful ritual, but having it braided meant that it was only a weekly hour of torture.

She passed a new building, above the entranceway a giant sign. It was vertical. She could read horizontal and translated it to "BLIND VETERANS CENTER," She had no idea what this was all about. Cars passed her going east, she saw, an older boy coming down the sidewalk right in her pathway, he zipped past on his big bike, almost knocking her down, she glared at him, she continued her walk.

She could see her objective now. There was the sign Weinerís Grocery Store and Bakery right ahead. She ran the last fifty feet. In she went, ignored the other customers: marched back to the bakery counter, passing rows of canned goods stacked high and deep on the shelves on either side of her, reached up, as high as she could on her tip toes, to the edge of the counter, took the top number from the stack. She had been in this store many times with her mother; she knew what to do, she knew the owner, Uncle Sid, his son, Abe, Solomon the Green Grocer, and the grandmother, Oma, she had funny red colored hair.

As she waited for her turn, bouncing from one foot to the other, she looked at all of the baked goodies in the glass case, most she could not name nor had she ever tasted. But there were her favorite cup cakes with thick chocolate frosting, big sugar cookies like the ones the Helmís truck baker would give to her at Myra Street, bear claw coffee cakes, all for five cents each. Should she? Well, she had her five pennies. Then she heard "Number fife." She was brought back from her thoughts of temptation.

She was number 5. Again, "fife, ver is nomber fife?" "Iím fife, five" she called out. "Oh, dere you are, Oh, youíre Jerryís daughter, I couldnít see you, youíre so tiny. You here for the pie your mother ordered?" "Yes, my mother reserved a Lemon Meringue Pie." "I gotts its for yous. Such a little girl doing such a grownup job. Look, Thelma, at our little customer, cute, yes? Sheís Stuartís new stepdaughter. " Whispered, "Goya."

 

Oma Weiner bent over and reached into the glass case, (she had not only funny red hair but also it was grey at the bottom, like two toned) she removed the pie, put it into a box, wrote $.85 on the top, tied it with a string and brought it around to the front to hand it to the messenger. "You take dis box to the front counter to mine son, Sid, he vill take your money." Up to the front she went, customers moved aside as she squeezed ahead. She placed the box on the counter, went back to her correct place, stood in line until her turn to pay.

Uncle Sid was wearing his usual dirty white apron, doubled over, and tied at the waist. His shirt was white, showing tuffs of black hair from the opening at his neck. He has lots of thick black hair, hair on the back of his hands, hair all over his arms, stubble that did not hide the holes in his face and a big friendly toothy grim.

He was smiling down on her as he asked for $.85. She dug into her pocket and took out all of the coins, the five pennies included. She slid the silver coins toward the middle of the counter, the best she could do since the counter was a bit high for her reach.

The box of bubble gum was there on the edge of the counter. She counted out five pieces; one piece went into her pocket for later. She pushed her five pennies across the counter. Uncle Sid took the fifty-cent piece, one quarter and a dime for the pie. He moved to the cash register and pushed the buttons. Up shot the $.85 in the window at the top. A drawer shot open, she heard the sound of coins colliding, the drawer closed. He took out a little brown bag from beneath the counter,

"Hey, little shopper, you only have four pieces here, you have five pennies," and he took another piece from the box and dropped it into her sack. Oh boy, what to do? She lowered her eyes, said nothing, did nothing but to manage a weak smile; gathered up the two coins that were left on the counter, took the little brown bag, stuffed it into her left hand pocket, took the box off of the counter, with both hands, of course, walked to the front of the

store, hesitated, looked back at Uncle Sid, he waved, "Be careful with the box, donít let the pie slip." She stepped out into the late afternoon sun, turned right to begin her homeward journey.

Down Wilshire she went holding the box with both hands positioned in front of her steady body. She passed the new building with the funny sign, an on and on. She was passing the first of the green vacant lots when she had a new thought. "I have six pieces of bubble gum. I could chew one on the way home; Iíll spit it out before I get home. Only I would know" She slowed down her walk, looked for a place to sit and moments later found a rock, big enough to accommodate her tush, placed her box next to the rock, reached into her pocket, took out the loose piece of gum from the bottom of her pocket, sat down and methodically untwisted each end of the outer wrapper.

She unfolded the inner paper, the one with the comics, placed the gum in her mouth, salivated from the stimulation of the sugar and then she read the comics and the fortune printed at the bottom. In four frames Buck Rogers shot into space, landed on a strange planet, ray gunned a mean creature and planted a victory flag. She read her fortune, "You are creative and clever but avoid senseless choices." She was dancing on cloud nine as she chewed away, for a moment forgetting everything.

She felt a sensation, something was pushing at her foot, and "You Ok little girl?" There was this man, a stranger, looking down at her. He had a little dog on a leash; it was the dog that was nudging at her foot. She could not talk to strangers so she smiled and nodded. She followed his retreating figure as he and the dog walked on down the street.

She had been jolted back from her bubble gum chewing trance. Up she rose, up came the box, she put the wrapper from her 6th piece of gum into the little brown bag (she liked to save the comics), put the bag back into her pocket along side the left over coins, and off she went.

She chewed and walked, walked and chewed, turning the corner at Crescent Heights. She was so happy; she began to sing one of the summer camp songs as she marched along to the rhythm:

"One hundred bottles of beer on the wall, one hundred bottles of beer.

If one of the bottles of beer should fall, ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall.

Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, ninety bottles of beerÖ"

Her entire body began to get into tempo, mouth chewing, head bobbing, singing along, swinging along, arms askance, box undulating at the end of her fingers. As she began the chorus 85, she caught a glimpse of the box, which was at the end of the upward swing and headed down behind her back. She stopped cold, cradled the box in her arms. "Oh, no, no, no, ― ď She turned pale, she was shaking so much that she had to place her self and the box on the curb. With great difficulty she untied the string and peeked under the lid.

Horror gripped her. There was pie all over the inside, on the lid, the sides, on the bottom. She could not bear to look any longer. She closed the box, retied the string and thought about running away. What could she do? She had to get home for dinner, if she would get any, she had to bring home the dessert, if she dared, she couldnít go back to get another pie, no time and no money. She had to figure out a plan, a story, preferably, a good one, not one in which she had done the deed herself.

She got up. She dragged herself along, carrying the box with her right hand fingers under the string. Careful didnít matter any more. Thinking, thinking. She was about to turn her last corner at 5th Street; she saw a group of the neighbor boys riding their bikes. They were playing tag, their arms, feet flailing out at one another. Yelling, pushing, hitting and shoving. And, that boy who passed her earlier. In a flash of vision, as if by a miraculous intervention; the perfect story formed in her head.

She turned around and hurried back down the street to the corner, turned around, took a deep breath and then began to run up the street, back around the corner she streaked, caught sight of the picket fence, ran by Mrs. Cookís house and up her own driveway. By this time, she knew she would be gasping for breath. She crashed into the house, screaming, allowing tears to flow, sobbing: "Mommy, mommy, the pie is smashed, the pie is smashed, he smashed the pie. Look, look, itís all over the inside of the box."

Mother rushed out from the back. She was holding baby sister. "What happened, who is he, what do you mean the pie is smashed/? I told you to be careful ― donít you ever listen? How did you manage to ruin the pie?Ē ďI didnít do it, I was being so careful, holding it out so it wouldnít spill to the side and," she sobbed. "So you were told to be careful" her mother yelled in interruption, "and then, and then, I didnít see him coming, this big boy on his bike came past me socked the box out of my hands, I tried to catch it but..."

Tears coursed down her sweaty face, dripped off of her chin, staining the front of her blouse. She let the tears; the sobs come out in deep moans and groans overwhelming her body. The baby, Joanie, went into the bassinette. "Give it to me", she grabbed the box, "do you know him?" "No, I never saw him before but heís big and, and his bike is blue and white." "Stop your crying, itís not your fault." "Look mommy, I brought back the change and I only got the five pieces of bubble gum just like you told me.

I did everything you told me to do." "It is a mess, Iíll think of something. Daddy wonít be happy about this." Her mom dashed around the kitchen, her anger was palpable but that was okay, it was directed out at a stranger.

She heard her new Dadís car rolling down the driveway to the garage. She pulled her precious tiny brown bag from one pocket, the $.15 of change from the other, put both on the kitchen table, pulled out a chair, sat down, lowered her head, staring through her fingers at the brown and gold patterned linoleum .She thought, heís a lawyer. Mother calls him Mr. District Attorney whenever he questions or doubts a person or event. He entered through the kitchen door and even before he could get it closed, mother was recounting the horrible incident that had befallen his new daughter and his special dessert.

"Can you believe that a boy could be so mean as to do this? That this could happen and in this neighborhood? She was so good, she followed my instructions perfectly, she brought back the exact change, spent her five pennies on her treat of five pieces of bubblegum, got home in good time," Daddy looked intently at the crumpled, pitiful figure. She peeked out cautiously. He stared back suspiciously, placed his briefcase on the table.

It was time, she let out a few more sobs, squeezed out a few more tears; her nose was running by now, her eyes were red and puffy. Daddy scrutinized her in a curious manner; Daddy gazed at the coins that were on the table, his hand rested on the tabletop. He picked up her little brown bag, "Whatís in this?" "My five pieces of bubblegum," He was opening the top and reaching inÖ "One, two, three, four, five, hum, and now explain the one you are chewing."

The blood drained from her brain, the ringing in her ears, the kitchen turned around her falling body, the world was unbearable, well almost.