Grandma gets cranky when I ask her about Dad, so I wrote deceased under his name on the family tree. I thought it was a stupid assignment anyway.
Sister Mary Agnes calls me in during lunch. I sit in the creepy chair next to her desk, the low one that makes you feel like a little kid.
“Bring the rest of your lunch,” she tells me, but I throw it away when I follow her inside.
She takes a bite of her peanut butter sandwich, sets it down on a paper towel then twists the cap off her thermos and pours water into it. After a sip, she asks if Dad has died.
“No, ma’am,” I say.
“He moved, didn’t he?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Grown-ups ask questions they already have answers for.
Dad left last week, just before Mom’s second round of chemo. Said something about more money and better opportunities in Phoenix. I didn’t pay much attention, and he and I both knew it was a lie.
“That must be, um. . .” she looks around the room like maybe the right word is hiding in the corner or under somebody’s desk. “Different?” she says. “Is it different?” She blinked three times between the two questions.
Sister Mary Agnes has a tic. Every forty seconds or so she stretches her neck up then blinks three times hard. She was our second-grade teacher four years ago, and she didn’t do it then. I wonder if she knows she’s doing it.
I worry about developing one, that nobody will tell me. I’ll be at the library, checking out books with my eyes blinking like the warning lights when a train is coming. Or doing something goofy with my hands, and I won’t know why I’ve dropped my quarter when I’m buying bread and milk and a candy bar at the grocery store.
I asked Mom if I have any tics or odd mannerisms. She laughed at me and said, “No, sweetie, you’re fine, except you worry too much.”
I had to explain what I was asking to Grandma. She thought I meant insects. I was demonstrating examples of tics and she said, “Shame on you for making fun of the less fortunate.” When she gets that tone, I just drop it.
“How’s your mom?” Sister asks.
“Kind of sick from chemo.”
I watch her stretch and blink, and decide to start a monthly self-evaluation. I’ll go home and stare at myself in the mirror for thirty minutes, and if I do something weird, hopefully I’ll spot it.
“Well, I don’t want to bother her. I know this is probably hard for you, too.”
She finishes the last of her sandwich and crumples the paper towel, tosses it into the trashcan, but misses. When she bends to pick it up, I slip the cap off one of her Sharpie pens and clip it onto the hem of my uniform skirt.
“We’re here to help,” she says.
The pen cap feels smooth and shiny. I wonder how long she’ll look for it.
“Thank you, Sister.”
Last year Grandma had a flat tire. The two of us sat in the locked car on the shoulder of the freeway listening to the whoosh of cars speeding by. We waited a long time before help showed up.