From Chapter Three
Momma and Eddie said goodbye to Magnolia and me in the driveway at the home of the Beasleys. I’m going to call them the Beasleys, like my daddy did, because they didn’t really seem like regular grandparents to me. I thought mom and Eddie would maybe at least stay for lunch, but they didn’t. He kept whining about having to get back to Chicago and I don’t think he liked the way old man Beasley was looking him over and being judgmental. I think deep down Eddie was a bit of a coward himself, but he just acted like he knew everything. I was glad to see him go but wished my mom would have just decided to stay and forget about him. But she didn’t. I wondered as they drove off if I’d ever see her again. I just got that feeling, that feeling of a forever goodbye, but unfortunately, it wasn’t.
Living at the home of the Beasleys was kind of like living at military camp. At least that’s how it felt to me even though I’d never been to military camp. Old man Beasley was especially picky about his library, that’s what he called it. The room kind of formed a corner of the house on the front and doors with little squares of glass opened into it from the den. It had a big wooden desk in there covered with papers and books and there were lots of shelves with more books and plants and framed pictures.
Up on one of the walls he displayed the front page of the newspaper when it was announced that he would be the new editor of the Blue Shore Gazette. I looked at it under the protective glass of a boastful frame and the article included a picture of old man Beasley smiling like I had never seen him smile and he was shaking another man’s hand. In the background of the photo, they had gathered the staff to be in the picture as well and they all looked sad and scared. I guess I could understand that.
He also had some pretty nice maps up on the wall all about the Great Lakes that I liked looking at. I could only look at them when he was around though, otherwise I wasn’t allowed to go in there. That kind of made me sad because it was a nice room with big windows that looked out onto the front yard and then the street. It was a quiet street in a quiet neighborhood almost in the country on the edge of town and I kind of liked that. There weren’t ever many cars that came by. People walked their dogs occasionally. I saw kids once in a while, too, but I don’t know where they came from. The houses were kind of far apart, but not like miles apart.
I would have liked to sit in that room by myself, behind the big desk, and just think about things because that’s one of my favorite things to do. But old man Beasley wouldn’t let me sit at the desk and think about things. He was always good at stifling a wandering imagination. There was a smaller chair against one of the walls and that’s where we had to sit, mostly when he was giving me or my sister a talking to about something we did wrong. It was like a boss towering over a shoddy employee.
He did let me spin the big globe of the Earth he had in there, but never too fast. I’d set it in motion and then I’d stop it with my finger and wherever it landed that’s where I was going to live someday. A lot of times it turned out I was destined to end up in the middle of the ocean. “Well, what did you expect?” he would say. “Don’t you know that 70 percent of the Earth is covered by oceans?” Then he’d wag a big finger at me and say, “You’re wasting your time with such foolish dreams.”
When we first moved in, old man Beasley gave me and Nola a tour of the house which was kind of stupid because we’d been there before. It was more of instructions on what we could do and what we couldn’t do and what we could touch and what we couldn’t touch. As you can probably guess, there was a lot more couldn’t than could.
When we got to his library, he bragged about how it was a momentous collection of his life’s work and all his accomplishments and that he did a lot of important thinking in that room that impacted a lot of people’s lives. It’s also where he kept his books and magazines about gardening because now that he was retired, he was really into studying about growing his own vegetables and flowers in the back yard. He said a man should never become idle and lazy even when he retires, and he looked straight at me and made a gesture with his bushy white eyebrows as if he was saying: “Don’t be like your daddy was.”
I guess I had it better than Magnolia as far as rooms went because I got put in the basement all by myself. It wasn’t a horrible basement like some could be. With the way the Beasleys were, everything was neat and tidy, and it was mostly like a regular part of the house, maybe just a little darker since there weren’t a lot of windows down there and they were small. Mine was a room that they had set up for guests that rarely ever came. It had a decent bed and some furniture and a desk with a lamp where I could sit and write things down in my notebooks like I do. I did a lot of reading too.
There was a bathroom right across the hall and a room to do the laundry right next to that. There was another room lady Beasley used as sort of a pantry for extra canned goods and food and storing things. The main part of the downstairs was one big room lady Beasley used as her art studio and for sewing and crafts she sometimes did. There were a lot of paintings lying around, mostly of people and flowers and bowls of fruit, and countless tubes of paint and brushes and rags and sketches on paper tacked to the walls. One time I asked her if I could try painting because I thought it might be something I’d be interested in doing because I’m creative. She looked at me like I was stupid and just said, “I’ll think about it,” but I don’t think she ever did because she never let me paint anything.
The best part of being in the basement was that I could go up the steps and then there was a door right there at the top that went out into the back yard. I started slipping out at night after the Beasleys went to bed which was usually before 10. I just had to be quiet. I found a little can of household oil in the garage and oiled up all the hinges on the doors I used because they would whine horribly. More often than not, I’d steal one or two of lady Beasley’s cigarettes and some matches from where she kept them by her sitting chair in the den or from the cabinet by the dining room table. I don’t think she ever noticed because she smoked a lot and probably didn’t really keep close track. She bought them by the carton. I’d walk down into the back yard to the edge of the woods and smoke them while I looked up at the stars and try to communicate with the universe. I worried about what the Beasleys would have done to me if they ever caught me. I was always looking back over my shoulder imagining Grandpa Roman trudging toward me with a flashlight in his hand and yelling. That took some of the enjoyment out of it.
I was also worried lady Beasley might smell it on my clothes when she did the laundry but then I figured she was probably so soaked in it herself she wouldn’t even notice. If she ever did say something about it to me, I planned to just answer back, “No grandma, not me. Can’t you tell the whole house smells that way?” And it did which was kind of funny to me since she was so fussy about everything. She kept windows open a lot when it wasn’t too cold. Old man Beasley didn’t care nothing about it because he puffed a tobacco pipe, and it made him look like Popeye covered in snow because of his white hair.
Magnolia was confined on the main floor of the house where the bedrooms were clustered together in a hallway on one end. Her room was in the corner, next to the old man’s and right across from lady Beasley. The Beasleys didn’t sleep together in the same room anymore because lady Beasley had the shaky legs. I heard once through the family grapevine that old man Beasley threatened to crack her legs in two if she didn’t quit all that jittering around. I believe it. I can see him cracking somebody’s legs in two, clear as day. Honestly, I think it was more than just lady Beasley’s shaky legs. I think they just didn’t like each other anymore. I never once saw them act like they were in love. Never. They snapped at each other a lot though. I also noticed they spent a lot of time just off by themselves. Seems the only time they were together was at the supper table or when they were sitting in the den watching the TV or reading, and even then, they didn’t really talk much.
So, poor Magnolia was stuck between them two and she said she was scared half-to-death about breathing too loud or if she had to get up and go to the bathroom. One time she couldn’t hold it anymore and she did get up and she snuck down the hall to where the bathroom was and went inside and closed the door real slow because it made a noise. Well, after she was done and flushed and washed her hands, she opened the door and there was old man Beasley standing there with his big arms crossed in front of his big chest, and he beamed down at her and wanted to know why she was disturbing the whole house in the middle of the night.
She told him she had to go to the bathroom, and he told her that she was supposed to make sure she used the bathroom right before bed so she wouldn’t have to get up in the middle of the night and wake everyone else up. Magnolia told me she said she was sorry to him, but he grabbed her by the arm and kind of dragged her down the hall to her room and flung her inside. He told her to stay in bed and go to sleep, then he went away. It scared her bad she told me. A kid shouldn’t be scared about having to go to the bathroom.