Author’s note

I’m serializing the first 10% of Smokin’ & Cryin’ here on my blog. It’s the story of a young American rock band set in the early 1970s. Please feel free to share this with your friends.

Overture is the first installment. This post is #4 in the series.


Chapter 2 – Sweet Pea (part 1)

Lisa woke me up in the juniper bushes in front of our house, squatting next to me in a sunsuit printed with ducklings. “Robin hurt the boo-boo?” She touched my ear with one finger.

I flinched and put my hands to my swollen face. I found a gash on my cheek, my scalp bald, and worst of all, my mother’s earrings missing. My double-pierced earlobe dripped blood.

“Owies,” Lisa said.

“I’m fine, toots. No big deal.”

She stuck out her chin and wiggled it back and forth, the same expression Arthur made when he didn’t believe something. Lisa still bought into the Easter Bunny, but she saw right through me faking like it didn’t hurt.

What had happened after I’d got home from Deuce’s was hazy. Lisa had wandered into the hall in the middle of the night, begging for a glass of water. I overheard her tattling on me to Bev, chirping about riding my handlebars to “Shit Man’s house.” She didn’t under­stand the apartment was Deuce Fitch’s, or that Arthur was crashing there because Vern wouldn’t let him stay at home, or that his name wasn’t Shit Man, he just said it a lot.

Never trust a kid who dips American cheese sandwiches into her Nesquik.

Moments later, Dad barged into my room with a straight razor. I couldn’t let him shave my head without a fight. Spotting my earrings, he pounced. He put me in a headlock, tore them out, and wrestled me to the floor. I refused to cry while he pinned my shoulders with his knees and shaved me bald.

Bev finally pulled him off me and I jumped from my bedroom window. The junipers broke my fall, and I thudded into the dirt behind them. Shaken, confused, with nowhere to go, I’d crouched there and rubbed my tender shoulders. Dad yelled at Bev and stormed around the house, then the yard, too blinded by rage to find me. At some point, he went back inside.

What hurt most was Lisa quavering my name between sobs.

Exhausted, I’d conked out.

I sat up, dusted off the dry juniper needles and asked Lisa what her mommy was doing.

“Watching Price is Right,” she said, with w’s where her r’s should be. “Come on down!” She handed me one of her Liddle Kiddle dolls. “Pea-Pea. I give you.”

Two inches tall, Sweet Pea had pinkish hair, green eyes, and a hat made of an overturned sweet pea blossom. Her head was double the size of her body. A vague scent of cheap, flowery perfume clung to her.

“No, no, toots. This is your toy.”

She pointed out of the bushes to the lawn scattered with pieces of wood. With a sick, sinking sensation I realized it was Arthur’s acoustic guitar, the one he’d asked me to keep safe while he was in Vietnam. The familiar old instrument I’d learned on. I’d given Dad the perfect excuse to smash it. Defeated, I flopped back onto the ground.

“Daddy is sorry,” Lisa said. In her own small way, she gave me her favorite Kiddle to make it up to me, repeating the words she’d heard Bev say in the predictable lulls that followed our father’s ram­pages. Daddy is sorry had been Lisa’s first complete sentence, sometime before her second birthday.

I stuffed the doll into my pocket. “I promise I’ll take good care of her. Hey, can you go up to my room and grab my shoes?”

After a few minutes she returned, stumbling in my red Pro-Keds, her fist pressed against her chest. She stepped solemnly out of the shoes.

“Thanks, toots. What you got there? Another Kiddle?”

She uncurled her fingers. My mother’s smoky topaz earrings spar­kled in her palm.

My baby sister was aces.


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