The stage is empty. A guitar plays over the crackly speakers and eight girls walk out wearing long white robes. They stand in a line facing the audience, snapping their fingers.
“When I die and they lay me to rest, gonna go to the place that’s the best…” The girls do a quarter turn, throwing their right hips outward and raising their arms up. They keep their eyes on one another as they flutter their large sleeves down.
“Going up to the spirit in the sky, that’s where I’m gonna go when I die…” Their hands are above their heads, and they clap 1-2, 1-2, 1-2.
The girls walk toward the front of the stage, bending at the waist and shaking their shoulders. Caroline is farthest to the right, and she windmills her arms around, turning her back to the audience. Ava is next to her and she does the same. The other six girls join in, until all of them are facing the back of the stage. They look up toward the ceiling clapping their hands up high.
“Did you see Scott?” Ava whispers.
“Totally!” Caroline answers. The girls join hands and dance around, forming a circle. Caroline, Ava, Jackie, Faith and Sandy stay in that circle, but raise their arms, and spread out. Shoshana, Tatyana, and Beth go inside their circle, turn sideways and raise their arms shoulder high. The outer girls now lower their arms, revealing a human peace sign. The audience claps. Ava looks at Caroline and smiles. ‘These robes are perfect!’ She whispers.
“Prepare yourself you know it’s a must, gotta have a friend in Jesus…” The girls skip around clapping, and then exit the stage.
Scott confidently walks on stage after their exit, wearing a white silk shirt and white dress pants, carrying an electric guitar. The audience bursts into applause. He starts jamming on his guitar, and Caroline peeks out of the curtain. “The audience loves him!” she says, giving Sandy a high five.
“Quickly everyone,” Ava yells above the guitar. The girls unzip their robes and fling them on the large painted tree in the corner. They line up, arms around each other’s waist, waiting for Scott to finish his solo.
“Never been a sinner, never sinned, I’ve got a friend in Jesus…” The girls walk out wearing bell-bottom jean’s, white shirts tied up around their bras, and high platform shoes. Each of them was responsible for sewing the white fringe on their shirts before the performance.
They surround Scott, clapping, and dancing.
Beth then walks toward the audience and sits down, posing her legs over the edge of the stage. Tatyana sits down to her left and Faith is to her right. Their legs are bent up, their shoes resting on the wood.
Ava, Caroline, Shoshana, Jackie, and Sandy skip to the side of the stage and kick their chunky shoes off. They slowly cartwheel across the stage toward Scott. Ava turns, runs, and completes a back flip. Shoshana walks on her hands, landing in the splits.
Sandy cartwheels, rounds off and finishes with an open back flip. Caroline and Jackie do four front walkovers in unison. The three girls at the front of the stage lie on their backs, and push up into back walkovers, pausing for a moment with their legs split.
All eight girls skip over to Scott, wriggling their fingers flirtingly at him. They then line up behind him and wave goodbye to the audience, Ava blows kisses, and Caroline puts her hand up to shade her eyes, but the lights are so bright she can’t see anyone.
After the show they walk two block’s from the high school to Caroline’s house for her birthday slumber party
“I can’t believe we won!” Ava says, sticking her stomach out. “Am I fat?”
“Only a twig would ask that question!” Faith answers
“Everyone, leave your stuff by the front door, we can bring it upstairs later!” Caroline yells. “But give me your robes now so I don’t forget. And while you are in your bags, you might as well hand over my presents.” The girls take the robes and presents out of their bags and place them in her out-stretched arms. “Ava, can you put the robes over there, in that bag? Joetta needs them for the service on Sunday, and I don’t want her getting mad at us!”
“Sure thing!” Ava says carefully putting the robes in a garment bag.
“Don’t want a shiny blade of voodoo hanging over us today.” She says zipping it closed.
The girls run down the set of stone stairs that lead to the teahouse, except Caroline, who walks carefully while balancing her brightly colored gifts.
Faith hops up on the railing, batting a Chinese lantern out of the way. “What is in the silver urn?”
“Joetta made us some of her special coffee,” Caroline says. She then points to a large pitcher next to it, “and there’s lemonade too!” On the other side of the table are three different kinds of pizza.
“I am soo hungry,” Ava says while grabbing a plate and loading it up.
“Me too!” Beth says with a mouth full of pizza already. Balloons are tied around the yard, some still floating while others bob sadly along the ground. As the evening settles in, the candles floating in the koi-pond twinkle.
Later that night the girls are on the third floor sitting in a big circle in the middle of the room. Ava is lying with her head in Caroline’s lap “What else are we going to do?” Faith asks, “I’m sooo wired from that amazing coffee!”
“Yeah I drank three cups of it and I don’t even like coffee,” Faith says.
“I feel great!” Shoshana says very loudly.
“Is Joetta going to be mad that we ‘decorated?” Beth asks looking around.
“Naw,” Caroline says pushing Ava upright. “We’ll have it cleaned up before she even sees it,” she says standing and stretching. She walks over to the window, looking out.
The lanterns still glow softly in the teahouse, and the strings of lights still illuminate the pathways.
“Looks pretty quiet down there,” she says walking back.
“Not me!” Jackie says, secretly yawning.
Caroline pulls Ava close to her and whispers in her ear. “Are you serious?” Ava responds.
Ava leans over and whispers in Jackie’s ear.
She turns and whispers in Faith’s ear.
“What if we get caught?” Faith asks.
“I don’t think it’s illegal, is it?” Ava responds.
“Actually, I think it is!” Caroline says, laughing.
After everyone has been let in on the “Secret,” the girls descend the two flights of stairs, whispering, pushing, and giggling. Caroline turns the knob to the back door cautiously, and then holds the door open as they all exit her house.
“Down to absolutely nothing?” Ava asks.
“Yes!” Caroline says, unsnapping her bra and moving her hair around to cover her chest. She lays her white eyelet dress on a branch and hangs her pink underwear and bra daintily on the pine- cone above it.
Ava is wearing a pretty knit dress that is light blue. She pulls it over her head and stretches it across a branch.
Jackie flings her dress on the pine tree inside out. She then covers herself carefully with her long, strawberry blonde hair before removing her underwear.
“I can’t believe I cut my hair right before this party!” Faith whines.
She sneaks behind the tree to undress.
Beth unzips her white shorts, unbuttons the white fringy shirt from the talent show, and walks over to the tree laying the clothes in the branches. She looks around before stepping out of her turquoise underwear.
The bottom part of Tatyana’s skirt has sequins, and it sparkles when she flings it toward the tree. Her halter- top hooks low on her back. It is crème colored accented with a pink ribbon that ties in a big bow around her neck. Even though she borrowed it from Caroline, it fits her perfectly. She unties and unsnaps it pulling it off. She then snaps it and ties it back together, and hangs it on a branch by its bow.
“Can someone unzip me?” Sandy asks.
“I will, I love your pretty little party dress!” Jackie says.
“Thanks, it’s my sister’s.” Sandy responds stepping out of it. She pulls her light blue lacy camisole off next, shaking it out.
“Caroline darling, don’t run fast!” Ava says bending over and stretching,
“ I don’t want to pitch my cake!”
“Ava darling, next time warn us you are bending over please,” Caroline says politely looking away.
The girls line up single file, waiting.
“Can you feel the heat of the spent day warming the soles of your feet?”
Caroline asks, “this makes me so happy!”
She starts jogging down Chicago Avenue slowly.
Her friends run behind her, giggling.
When they hear the sounds of a car starting, they scatter, heading toward the trees for cover. The car passes and they dance around quietly, waiting for the headlights to fade in the distance. Faith bends down and gathers a hand full of leaves. She hands some to each girl.
“This summer night doth a fine job of keeping our bodies warm!” Ava says tucking the leaves behind her ears.
‘And that maketh the soft breeze that caresses our back sides that much sweeter.”
“Our back- sides?” Shoshana says taking Ava’s hand.
“Shakespeare?” Caroline asks grasping Ava’s other hand.
“Yes,” Ava responds.
“I just love him,” Beth says taking Faith’s hand.
All the girls hold hands and skip to a row of trees, weaving in and out. They then jog across the street to the sidewalk.
They are on Linden Avenue, heading for Caroline’s home.
They run single file now, with Ava leading the pack.
“Hey look,” Beth says pointing up, “it’s a full moon!”
She starts howling, “aruuu!”
“aaaruuuu!” Ava responds.
“Hohohoruuu!” Caroline yells.
Sandy is the last one in line, behind Jackie, and she accidently bumps into her.
“Arruu,” Jackie sings. “Wooo must be cold, arruuu?”
“Sorry,” Sandy says playfully swinging Jackie’s hair. “I can’t believe we did this,” she whispers. Jackie turns around smiling, but her look changes instantly.
A black Volkswagen beetle is coming down the street. It pulls up alongside them, and Sandy and the driver make eye contact. He screeches to a stop and rolls down his window. “What’s going on?” he asks. All the girls veer to the left, heading into a neighbor’s yard, except for Sandy who waves to the young man.
“Sandy!” Jackie yells.
“Sorry, I have to go!” Sandy says running to catch up with the other girls in the yard.
“Did he see you?” Caroline asks.
“What should we do?” Jackie asks.
“Wait until that car is gone.” Caroline says nervously.
The volkswagon pulls around the corner slowly, “He’s heading the other way,” Caroline says. “We better go now!” The girls sprint across the grass, back to Caroline’s house. The full moon shines brightly, silhouetting the light colored clothes against the dark branches of the pine tree. The girls are about to grab their outfits when they hear a car door slam. They scatter around the yard, trying to find places to hide. Caroline, Ava, Faith and Shoshanaa run behind the pine tree. Beth and Sandy duck behind the pool, and Jackie and Tatyana run into the oversized doghouse, shooing the families very large German Sheppard out.
“Hey it doesn’t smell too bad in here!” Jackie says, relieved.
Tatyana looks around, “yuck!” she mutters, “dog hair!” She tries to wipe it off her hands.
‘Ava, look over the wall and see if anyone is there,’ Caroline signs.
‘You look over the wall…’ Ava signs.
‘It’s my birthday, remember?’
‘Oh fine, you are going to play “the birthday card!” Ava says dramatically with her hands, adding a few extra motions. She carefully places herself up against the red brick wall, and grabs the slate at the top. She slowly pulls herself up, trying not to slide along the rough surface. She peeks over the top. A dark haired guy is standing by his car.
“Hey, where’d you guys go?” he says, looking around. “Sandy, I think I love you!”
Ava lowers herself slowly back down the wall, and points in his direction. ‘There is a guy standing right outside the wall,’ she signs, ‘and he loves Sandy!’
Caroline shrinks behind the tree. ‘Did he see us come in here?’ she asks Ava with her hands.
‘I don’t think so, he’s looking the other direction.’
Caroline’s dog, Shulamith walks down the driveway yawning. She stops and stretches, looking around. She is confused by all the nighttime activity, and from getting kicked out of her residence. She has one good ear that sticks up, but her other ear has flopped down since she was a pup. This does not make her particularly scary looking, but her bark can be loud and intimidating. She smells the stranger before she sees him, charging down the driveway in attack mode.
The guy jumps in his car and drives off. Caroline slides out from behind the pine tree carefully. She grabs her dress, pulls it on, and then runs to the dog. “Hey girl, thanks so much for getting us out of that jam!” She squats down and wraps her arms around Shulamith’s neck, “I am going to give you a treat tomorrow, I promise!” The girls snatch their clothes and try to get dressed as they stumble back into the house.
It is now four o’clock in the morning, and they drag their sleeping bags and pillows to the middle of the “ballroom” floor
“Ohh, I have talcum powder, does any one want some?” Beth asks digging around her bag.
They pass it around the circle, sprinkling it on them selves.
One by one, Jackie, Beth, Shoshana, Tatyana, Sandy, and Faith climb inside their bags and close their eyes.
Caroline and Ava look at each other, “let’s stay up all night!” Ava signs.
“Duh!” Caroline signs back.
“What should we do?” Ava whispers. “Drink more coffee?”
“Ha!” Caroline says, “Everyone will wake up tomorrow and find us hanging from the chandeliers! Shhhh did you hear that?” She hisses.
The nanny climbs the stairs slowly. When gets to the top floor, she looks around.
The “ballroom” where they are sleeping is an opulent room with dark mahogany floors and elaborate woodwork. The long benches that line the wall are cushioned in red velvet that is both plush and original. The two crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling give the room an elegant glow. Back in the day, the sole purpose of this whole third floor was for entertaining. When the grooms-men heard the sound of hooves clattering up the cobblestone driveway, they knew the guests were arriving. They snapped to attention, rushing outside to gather trusty steeds and bring those horses safely to the coach-house. The rest of the staff ran to their posts, looking tip-top. As the guests were guided up the main staircase, they were relieved of their coats and asked pertinent questions. The spiral staircase and dumbwaiter tucked in the back of the third floor allowed the “help” to come and go discreetly with tasty treats on silver trays, and alcoholic beverages in crystal stem- ware. There was fancy attire, regal stances, coy- glances, and the most formal of introductions.
Currently however, there is brightly colored ribbon and wrapping paper strewn everywhere. A slip hangs precariously from one of the crystal chandeliers and a pair of underwear is taped to a window. A bra is strapped to the head of a rocking horse, and someone has drawn big red lips on the horses face with lipstick. Another bra is wrapped around a lampshade, and a plate with cake still on it is stuck upside down on the head of an eighteenth century ceramic lion. The words ‘fall asleep if you dare,’ are scribbled on a pre-civil war mirror, and a sock covering a light bulb appears to be smoking.
The 1870’s have been formally ushered into the 1970’s tonight as “the sleepover,” the most modern of teenage activities takes place. The old home and the current residents are at some groovy vortex, happily coexisting.
Joetta walks over the lamp and pulls the sock off, “now who was thinking this was a good idea?” She asks loudly. Caroline starts giggling first, and then Ava. Both girls succumb to uninhibited giddy laughter.
Caroline sits up, “sorry Jo,” she says between breaths “we’ll clean this up, I promise.”
Ava sits up, leaning against her friend, “We’ve been up all night,” she says proudly.
“You’ve been up all night now?” Joetta asks
“Yep!” They both answer.
“Now why would you be doing that?” Joetta asks sitting down on the bench
“It was fun!” Caroline answers.
“That don’t sound like fun to me,” Joetta says leaning back.
“Ohh but it was,” Ava says stretching.
“Aren’t those the clothes you had on yesterday now?” Joetta asks.
“It’s okay, we didn’t get them dirty because….” Caroline stops mid sentence, Ava is staring at her.
“What have you been doing this whole time then?” Joetta asks.
Caroline looks away, “talking….”
“You been talking this whole time now?”
“Yep!” Ava answers.
Joetta shakes her head, “don’t you two have a track meet today?”
“Yep!” They answer in unison.
“Well, no use going to sleep now!”
The nanny stands up and gestures for them to follow her. Ava and Caroline get up quietly and sneak downstairs for the second time that night. The nanny is outside waiting for them by the pool. She points to the moon, “people say when there is a full moon you can hear things better.”
“Yeah?” Ava asks yawning.
As they walk around the above ground structure, Caroline runs her hand through the water. ‘Perfect!’ She thinks. Her father filled the pool yesterday and it sparkles. The back yard smells of chlorine, grass, and fresh pine.
“Mind if we sit down?” Ava asks.
“Yes, down, that’s good.” Joetta responds.
The three of them sit down on the grass, forming a small circle.
“Asante,” Joetta says reaching her hands to the sky.
“Asante,” The girls respond in unison.
She lowers her hands, bringing them together and bowing.
“I want to tell you a story about my village. When I walked there, I felt the earth beneath my feet. And if you are truly divine, you see angels in the tree branches. The people are quite beautiful. They dance around as they do their work, lifting their feet high. Swinging their hips, using their hands gracefully for emphasis. It’s like the music is right inside their very souls. The sounds carry high and strong, a mix from the beginning of time….clicks, whooo’s, tannaneees. But my people are very poor. My father works hard, but that doesn’t get him very far. One day he cannot take it any more, and he walks right out of our village. He walks all afternoon and all the night. When the sun finally rises, it dawns on him what he has done. No food, no water, abandoning his village and family. ‘Lord,’ he says, “I have had a moment of weakness. I feel the wind blowing when there is no wind. I feel the heat when there is no sun. I have left the people I love, can you please help me?” When he looks up, he sees a bus. He blinks his eyes and its still there! For some reason, he loves that bus so. He walks over and pushes the door, and it opens! He climbs in and looks around. There is a cooler with so much food and drink he doesn’t figure anyone will notice just a bit missing. He takes two sandwiches and a coke and heads to the back of the bus. After eating, he lies down ‘I prayed,’ he thinks, ‘and I was heard.’ He is so tired he falls asleep, and when he wakes, the bus is moving. He is about to get up and explain himself when he hears the men talking. It doesn’t take long for him to realize these are bad men. They talking about guns they stole, money they took. They talk about people they are going to kill and harm. He is in a bad situation and he knows it. When they pull the bus over to get some gas, he watches them fill the tank. He then runs to the front when they go in the store. When he sees the keys in the ignition, he knows this is the only way he will escape alive. The bad men are running, yelling, dropping things, but he very calmly locks the door, starts the bus and drives back to the village.
The first sign of trouble, he said was instead of seeing angels in the branches he saw bones, white bones. He is tired he thinks, so he shakes it off. He explains to us, his people what has happened, and we decide to hide the money and guns and drive the bus into the forest. It takes us all night to cover it with leafy vines and such, but we had food and drink form that cooler, and we got it done! We now had money for our village and guns for protection. We knew this was bad money but it had dropped right in our laps. Eventually though some of the village people started questioning what had happened, saying when my father prayed, he prayed looking down not up, and…and to question God is to sell your sole. They also say, “when he sold his soul, he sold their world.” Everyone fought, cried, and was angry. They were riots in the village, but when they uncovered that bus and set it on fire, we were truly afraid.
After that, our people stopped talking to us, we were shunned. We had to leave. He took some of the money and bought us plane tickets and we came here. When we arrived, we realized how different the rest of the world was, and how it was still the same.
Years later I heard our village was thriving. They had bought seeds to plant, grew food, sold what they didn’t need.
My father was never bitter or ashamed about what had happened. However, he died without experiencing forgiveness of any kind.”
The sun is just starting to rise, and it glows softly behind Joetta.
It is very quiet, and there is a bird chirping in the distance.
“I am sorry you had to leave your home….” Caroline finally says.
“Thank you Cara.
“Maybe when they all get to heaven, your dad can explain things better,” Ava says.
“Did you ever see angel’s in the trees?” Caroline asks.
“I would like to see that.” Caroline says.
“Me to! Do you think we are divine enough?” Ava questions.
“Yes, I think you both divine enough.” Joetta says smiling.
“What does it look like?” Caroline asks.
“It’s so beautiful it takes your breath away.” Joetta says standing up and straightening her dress. “We best be getting some food and coffee started.”
“I want to squeeze the orange juice,” Caroline says.
“I want to scramble the eggs!” Ava says happily.
“Smells like your sister Laura is baking some bread, doesn’t it?” Joetta asks pulling a lacy blue camisole out of her pocket. “Do either of you know who this belongs to?”
Caroline and Ava look away.
“No?” She questions.
Both girls shake their heads.
“I figured as much.” Joetta says pulling a bra out of her other pocket, “how about this?”
“Ohhh that’s Mary’s” Caroline answers quickly standing up.
Caroline extends her hand to Ava, pulling her up. They both run to the house whispering and laughing. The kitchen is warmly lit, and the other girls are filtering in gathering around the large butcher- block table. The curtain blows in the window and strains of Joni Mitchell’s “both sides now,” can be heard on the radio.
Copyright © 2014 Melissa River-Clark
Melissa River-Clark graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received a traveling fellowship award. She also received a Golden Key award for photography. She has worked as a wardrobe/costume designer for film, photography, and commercials. She is also passionate about film—She hopes someday to develop some of her short stories into screenplays.