I tried hard to impress him that first week. I showed him that I could read Wynken, Blynken, and Nod. I had it memorized and ran my fingers along the words like I was reading. I could do fifth grade math and I showed him the fraction work I did in the book. I corrected him when he said that 100 times 100 was 1000. And I showed him that I could write the “Ms” in my name in cursive.
“That’s okay,” he said, “but how much mouthwash can you drink?”
I had never tried to drink mouthwash. “Umm, lots!” I said.
“I don’t believe you, show me.”
So we went to the bathroom and locked the door. I didn’t use mouthwash because it burned my mouth. Micki had a bottle of Cepacol in there. He filled the cap and handed it to me.
“You first,” I said.
“Oh, I already drank lots of it this morning. That’s why there’s so much gone.”
I looked at the bottle and there was, indeed, almost half missing. “Go on,” he said.
I smelled the mouthwash and squinted my eyes.
I brought the cap to my lips.
Jamie moved closer to make sure I didn’t cheat.
I decided to pretend it was milk. I tossed my head back, got half a swallow down and gagged. I spit the rest all over Jamie.
He laughed his high-pitched laugh. I fell to my knees and coughed. We heard the bathroom door rattle. “Jamie, what are you doing in there?” his mom screamed.
His laughing slowed. “Um, we’re just plugging the sink and making the water run high.” He turned the water on.
“Open the door!”
“Stand up,” Jamie whispered. I stood up and put the cap back on the mouthwash. Jamie wiped his face and opened the door. Micki looked at him and then me.
“Why’s your face so red?”
“We were having hold your breath contests in the sink,” I said. It was the first time I remember lying and I knew it was a good one. It explained everything: the choking, the laughing, the red face. Micki looked down at me and my face got redder. I choked a couple of more times to show that I had just stopped holding my breath.
I was about to tell her the truth when she said, “don’t lock the door, Jamie” and left.
I exhaled. Jamie laughed some more and turned the water off. “I can’t drink it either,” he said, “let’s go play in the backyard.”
Jamie walked to the silverware drawer and took a spoon. “To build,” he said. I grabbed a spoon too and we went outside.
He turned the hose on to muddy a spot and squirt Puddles a little. When the ground was nice and soft, we walked right into the mud puddle and sat down to dig. We found worms and rolly-pollies and chased Jean with them if she tried to see what we were doing. “What’s school like?” I asked. The start of school was only a few days away.
“Oh, it’s okay. Even though I’m only going into first grade, this will be my third school. Sometimes the teachers get mad and sometimes you get in fights, but it’s okay. Because it starts so soon, we’ll probably need haircuts and some new clothes.” I looked down at my muddy socks and shorts.
“I don’t like getting haircuts,” I said. “My nose itches and I can’t scratch it.”
“If I gave you a haircut, I’d let you scratch your nose.” My eyes lit up.
I got up and ran to the door. I took off my shoes and socks, opened the sliding glass door, and came back with the scissors I used for arts and crafts. “Here,” I said and handed him the scissors.
“Oh, I need a comb, too,” he said. I didn’t have a comb that was mine. “Jean,” I yelled. Even though I couldn’t see her, I knew she was within hearing distance, probably watching us from somewhere. She came running over. “Jean, you know that brush you have for your hair, could you bring it here?”
She ran inside. She came back a minute later and handed me the brush. I handed it to Jamie.
“Ok,” he said, “but if I cut yours, you have to cut mine.”
“Deal!” We spit on our palms and shook hands.
“First, we have to get your hair wet.” We went over to the hose. He turned it on and I stuck my head under it. He began to comb my hair, first to one side, then to the other. Then he combed it straight back.
“The thing is,” he said, “I’ve never really cut anyone’s hair before. I don’t want to mess yours up before the first day of school.”
“I haven’t cut anyone’s hair either. We should probably practice before we cut each other’s.” We both looked at Puddles.
“You pet her and hold her still, while I cut her hair.” She was in the shade under one of the orange trees. I pet her head while Jamie began cutting the hair on her back. He poked her every now and again with the scissors, but got a lot of her hair off.
“This isn’t so hard,” he said. Puddles looked a little splotchy. “Do you want to try?”
I grabbed the scissors and took off more of Puddles hair. After about five minutes, we stood up and looked at her. She was bald in some spots and bushy in others.
“That doesn’t look so good, but it would probably be easier on a person because they can tell you how they want it cut.”
“I want mine cut like they cut it at the barber shop. I just want to be able to scratch my nose.”
“Yeah, let’s get it wet again.” I stood under the hose again. Jamie combed my hair again. Just as he was about to cut my hair, he said, “I just don’t want to mess it up for the first day of school, maybe we could try Tippy first.”
Tippy was our cat. We lured her outside with food, but every time we picked her up to cut her hair, she clawed at us. We gave up on her after a couple of minutes.
“This isn’t working, we really need more practice. Someone who could tell us what they want, but doesn’t have to go to school.” We looked at each other and smiled.
“Jean,” we both screamed at once. She came running again.
“Jean,” I said, “Did you know that Jamie and I are barbers? We can cut your hair and make you look beautiful!” At the time, Jean had shoulder length, silky blond hair. Plenty of hair to practice on. Her eyes got big and she smiled. She nodded her head and said, “Yes!”
“Well, we’re not going to do it for free, of course,” I said. “But if you give us two dollar from your birthday money, we’ll to it.” She ran back inside and was out of breath when she returned with the two dollars. We each took one.
“Ok,” Jamie said, “sit here.” Jean sat in the grass. I turned on the hose and we squirted her. Jamie combed her hair straight down and started cutting. And cutting. I looked at the grass and saw how much of her hair was coming off. I looked up at Jean and saw she was bald in some spots. I backed away, slowly at first.
“This is easier than Puddles,” Jamie said. “Turn your head a little, Jean.” Jean turned her head. She had no hair left on the side that Jamie had just finished.
I told Jamie, “I have to go in for something. Umm, I’ll be back.” I ran inside, Micki was feeding Jake.
“Jimmy,” she said, “why wasn’t your face wet when you were having the hold your breath contest?”
“Umm…,” at first, I didn’t know what she was talking about. Then I remembered the hold your breath contest. I began to panic.
“Jimmy, were you fibbing?” Her eyes got big and I knew I was in for a spanking. “Jimmy, go to your room.” I ran down the hall and started crying.
I was in my room for about five minutes when I heard Micki scream. “What happened to your hair?” I pictured Jean smiling and pointing at Jamie. I heard the slap of her hand on his buns and him wailing.
I waited in my room for what seemed like hours. Dad came home from work early. Jean and I rushed to him as we always did. Jean was bald and excited to show dad her new haircut. Dad told her, “it wasn’t very pretty,” and she cried like I’d never heard her cry before.
He looked at me in my muddy clothes and told me to get changed. “You’ve got school on Tuesday, it’s time to get you a haircut.”
I tipped the barber Jean’s dollar.