It’s Friday, and that means a short story based on a writing prompt by ViewFromTheSide’s Blog. This week’s them is “Down The Rabbit Hole.” To see more entries click HERE and visit ViewFromTheSide.
Rabbit Hole Island
or How I Learned to Read French
by: Rita Baker-Schmidt
Where in the worlds are we? Ah that’s a great puzzle.
I don’t know if I like this place. Momma says I’ll love it — she loved it as a child, so why wouldn’t I — but I’m not so sure.
I am still in a sulk over not being consulted. So I chew on my braid and give her my angry / pouty look.
She and Alex Maxwell — one of the sons from Maxwell and Sons Air Boat Taxi Service — drag two suitcases and 6 boxes of supplies out of the storage area of ht air boat and onto the dock.
I keep my sullen watch with the cushion of my orange life preserver pressed against second pier post on the right.
There is a strange fuzziness about me that I haven’t been able to shake. It is slightly better than it was when I work up at Marlene’s Cafe in Naples, Florida, where we waited for Maxwell and Sons Air Boat Taxi Service to open.
I have been trying to figure out how we got here from New York with me being asleep the whole time.
I’m not a baby. I don’t take naps anymore. How come I took a nap when I got home from school yesterday? And why didn’t I wake up until this morning? Why was it Momma there waiting for me to get off the bus and not my baby sitter Emiline? And why had Momma made cookies on a regular school day for no reason at all?
Alex Maxwell pulls my bear, Mr. Foxstachio, out of the cargo section of the air boat and hands him over to me. “You better hold onto him tight, Sugar Pop.” He speaks with a funny accent and a warm smile and I think maybe I would like him if I wasn’t feeling so weird and in such a weird place. “We got swamp gators that love ‘em some bear.”
I hold Mr. Foxstacio with my arms crossed around him. I hug him to my chest.
“It’s all right Mr. Foxstachio,” I whisper into his fuzzy left ear, “I will protect you.” But even as I say it I know that a more accurate statement would be “I will protect you as long as I can.”
When the last box is on the deck Alex Maxwell asks “Mizz McGrudo, you need any help getting this inside?”
Its odd but here my mother’s name is her old name — the one she had before daddy, when she was a maid. I know because it is listed on my school forms. “Mother’s Maiden Name: Allison McGrudo.” But my mother gave up that name when she gave up being a maid and married my daddy and became Allison Dodgson. So why doesn’t she correct any one?
Momma gives Alex Maxwell a sugary sweet smile — the kind of smile that would have made my daddy angry at her for flirting with another man (a YOUNGER man) – “Oh, that’s all right, honey, I got it from here.” She has lost her ability to speak correctly and has slipped into this swamp slang that makes her almost as impossible to understand as the natives.
“You want me to get your generator going for you, then?” Alex Maxwell volunteers.
“Aren’t your sweet?” She says. The SMILE is still firmly in place. “But I’ve been coming here since before you were born, I may be a city girl now, but I know how to handle a generator.”
I rock my bear, glad SHE knows what to do with a generator, since I couldn’t even tell you want one looked like.
“Well…” says Alex Maxwell, he has his hands on his hips and he gives the dock and the cabin a worrisome look, “isn’t there somethin’ I can do for you?”
I get the feeling that he doesn’t want to leave.
“I recon I’ve got it all under control.”
Alex Maxwell shakes his head. “I don’t feel right just leaving you and little Sugar Lumps out here on your own. What if something goes wrong. What if a hurricane comes through, or – or if some buddy breaks a limb –”
Momma cuts him off “I’m sure we’ll be fine.” There’s a soothing tone in her voice, but it is firm too. I recognize the dual qualities well. Alex Maxell has lost his argument, even if he doesn’t know it yet.
He holds out his hand to my mother, “Gimme your phone.”
She raises an eyebrow — something I could tell him means ‘you are on thin ice, mister’ — and says “Why?”
“I wanna plug in my number, and the emergency number at the shop incase you need anything. ANYTHING.” He looks at her in that funny way that adults look at each other that kids are not supposed to notice, and says knowingly “You just give me a call and I’ll come around here as quick as I can.” His smile slides back to to its normal friendly smile and he pulls back from flirting and adulthood, “We get real good coverage out here, you’d be surprised.”
Momma lets her eyebrow moved down to its normal position and she pulls out her phone. She checks the reception and gives a little shrug. “Three bars.” She hands Alex Maxwell her phone and he puts in his digits.
I am not allowed to have a phone. There are three girls in my class who have smart phones. They happen to be the most popular girls in the class. As for me I, know how to USE a cell phone, but it is strictly for emergency purposes. I know they are not toys.
Satisfied that he is not leaving us helpless on a tiny island in the middle of the Everglades Alex Maxwell prepares to leave.
Momma pays him in cash (she has not used her credit cards since I woke up in Florida.)
“Alrighty then.” He says as he pushes away from the dock. “See you later Sugar Pie.” He winks at me as he straps himself into his seat.
I wonder why he couldn’t decide what kind of sugar treat I was supposed to be.
Momma moves next to me at the end the dock and waves to him as he starts up the noisy motor and engages the enormous fan.
“You watch him go down the river, Claudie,” She tells me, “let me know when he is well out of sight, O.K.?”
“O.K.” She disappears into the cabin and I watch as Alex Maxwell fades into the green and glare of the Everglades.
When there the boat is out of sight and the buzzing of the motor and fan have completely melted into the buzzing of insects I go into the cabin.
Momma was looking at a nautical map on the wall and comparing it to several maps she has spread out on the desk in front of it. She looks up and smiles at me.
“Good. We don’t need anybody’s help with our little adventure, do we? Least of all a man.”
I thinking about all the boxes on the deck and wonder if it would have really hurt to have had Alex Maxwell carry them in here.
“Do you really know how to start a generator?”
“Yes, I really do.” She walks over to me gives me a big hug. “But we aren’t going to need it.” She leeds me to the maps. “Not where were going.”
The maps are a jumble of symbols and squiggles and a few dozen squares with hand written labels. There are fingers of land and blotches of lakes and snakes of rivers and smears of swamps and poka dots of islands. It is an impossible maze of watery paths.
She points to one square. “This is where we are.” It is labeled McGrudo’s Place.
“That’s your old name.” I say, impressed that she has an island named after her.
“Yep. This is where we came ever summer when I was a child growing up in Fort Myers.” She moves her hand several inches to the left. “And this is where we are going.” She points to another tiny square, this one labels Rabbit Hole. “During Prohibition my Great Granddaddy used to run moonshine through there. And no body outside the family ever found out about it.”
This didn’t make any sense to me, as everyone knew that the moon was shiny at night. But before I could ask she looked at her watch and said “1:30” in a manner that indicated that we needed to get a move on.
“Now, my darling,” she nodded toward a bookshelf I want you to pick out some books that you’d like to read or you’d like me to read this summer. I think 10-15 will do.”
“I need to go get the boat.”
Another boat. I feel my heart sinking. I don’t want to get in another boat. “Mr. Foxstachio doesn’t like boats, Momma, can’t we just stay here.”
A look akin to temper crosses my mother’s eyes and I know I have stepped up to some line. Maybe I haven’t crossed it yet, but suddenly it is here, waiting for me to trip. I know I am on thin ice.
“Well,” she says carefully taming the temper in her voice, “Mr. Foxstachio has a choice. He can either get IN THE BOAT or he can stay here all alone.” She is at the back door and as she opens it she finishes her threat, “he has until I get back to decide.”
I don’t think my mother will really leave me in this cabin by myself, but our little adventure in wonderland has taken a dangerous turn.
I busy myself selecting the books and try not to worry. Most are far beyond my reading level. I’m a decent reader for first grade, but I like my books with lots of pictures, these books have few if any illustrations. They are full of long descriptive passages — something my teacher says is good for your imagination. But what good is a book with out pictures and conversation when you are six? I think I will be using my imagination a lot this summer.
Soon a little put-put-put sound comes up to the dock, Momma pulls up in a shallow canoe with a small outboard motor. She ties it to the dock and begins to pack it carefully with our supplies. I begin to rethink my book selection.
15 seems too many. I can’t even drag the box to the door, surely it will sink our little boat. I narrow it to 5, but the only one I really want to bring is one whose title I can’t even read, Les Aventures d’Alice au pays des merveilles. I think it is in a foreign language. It is very old. There is blue leather on the outside and pink silk on the inside of the cover. There are a few illustrations. One is of a smiling cat. I like cats.
I go out on the dock. “I picked the book.” I tell her.
“Good job, Claudie.” Her hair is falling out of her slick pony tail and her cotton t-shirt has circles of sweat under the arms and across the back. There is a line of sweat along her lip.
“Yes, sweetie.” I can tell she is tired of my constant questions.
“Why didn’t we let Mr. Maxwell help us pack the canoe?”
She stands and stretches out her back. She considers how much to tell me. “Because, honey, he would have wanted to know where we are going. And I didn’t want to tell him.”
She feels inside the pocket of her shorts and pulls out her cell phone. “Because I don’t need another man in my life.” She punched at the key pad “Good bye Alex Maxell.”
So, that was why he didn’t just take us to Rabbit Hole Island in the first place. She didn’t want him to know where we are going.
She stares at the phone for a minute then says a curse word that is very, very bad followed by the word “it” and throws the phone in a long, low arch into the middle of the swamp. Then she makes a noise that is between a cry and a laugh and claps her hands to her head.
Momma stays that way for a long time then turns to me and smiles. “Lets go get your books.”
I’m quick to obey. I pick up Les Aventures d’Alice au pays des merveilles and Mr. Foxstachio. My mother grabs the charts and maps on the desk, but leaves the map on the wall.
“You ready for our big adventure, kiddo?”
I don’t have much of a choice. “Yes.”
We get into the canoe and put-put-put our way West. As we pull away from the dock it looks the same as it did when we arrived with Alex Maxwell… abandoned and alone.
No one would know that we had even been there.
“Momma,” I say cautiously, “Does daddy know we’re going to Rabbit Hole Island?
Her eyes are on the horizon, the water, the trees. Her hand is on the tiller. Her mind is both far away and right here. “Don’t worry about Daddy, Claudie.”