'Boy, it is heavy today...what does he put in here? Oh, there's Meredith- better walk straight so that I look like I do this all the time...chin high- yuppers, just like that. Boy, o boy, does she look jealous! I should take up trombone...'
She was fully aware of how ridiculous it looked, still it was just another attempt to earn some short-lived respect. The other children pushed their tiny bodies around her, weaving here and there from the right side of the path. Strings of dark, sticky hair swept over her crystal eyes as she kept her gaze directed at his backpack. Bike season was long past...these colder days brought only the promise of a 3 mile march to the house at the end of Harmony Way. That little house with panelled walls and blue carpeted rooms was always the final, sweet destination. She tried to imagine it as if the scene engulfed her bundled figure on the street lined with dozens of moving sticky heads. She could smell first the thick pomegranite juice saturating lawns of blue, then the welcoming roast simmering over her mama's stove. She could see the shape of a tetherball pole in the back yard through a paw-stained window, the lonely stump there in the corner, the chickens huddled close behind wire mesh walls. All of these things she sensed while her size 5 feet trekked on the paved sidewalk behind her brother.
He was a fifth-grader, and as if that didn't make him king of the school already, he had a clarinet- in a shiny, black case of plastic with a perfectly rounded handle hinged to the top. It was her only hope that at the end of the day she would be permitted to carry this case with the fancy musical object inside. It was not a light load to haul for those 3 miles, but boy did she look cool as she knocked it recklessly against the sides of her Belle princess sweatpants. The other school children watched enviously from across the street, unsure of whether or not they should laugh or join the band themselves. Anyone who was someone was in the school band. Surely all the kids knew that.
This other fifth-grader, a blazing blonde with legs as long as a giraffe, always stole the brother's attention. Okay, so she was pretty... if one was attracted to awkward, freckled zoo animals with high-pitched shrieks that passed as giggles. Whenever she was in eagle's view on that march home, it was useless begging to be the case-carrier. He wanted to show off to the giraffe, so he carried it proudly and walked a minimal of 6 feet ahead of his sticky head sister. And thus is went for the entire school year- always a battle of who needed to look good for someone else, thus earning the privilege of carrying that black clarinet case.
Of course none of this mattered as soon as the young girl's feet planted their muddy tracks in the front entryway waiting humbly at the end of Harmony Way. From then on the evening consisted of talking to little John hunched over the fence, spying on the next door neighbors while they slurped up their supper noodles, writing pretend road signs in chalk on the long stretch of fence with Emily, and swinging the ol' tetherball back and forth to Chase, that young, energetic mutt whom she loved so much. If either one of her older brothers allowed themselves to play a game of Match or share their legos with her, she felt a refreshing kind of dignity. Older brothers were the definition of cool- that is, when they weren't being stupid.
Years passed, and that sticky face narrowed into a teenager's new glowing beauty- cautious of the world but eager to take part in every one of it's thrills. Hours upon hours she stood outside her oldest brother's bedroom as he recorded his guitar over his bass, then his voice over the guitar. Such sounds amazed her imagination and left her ears exposed to a new kind of pitch. Meanwhile, the other brother (clarinet boy), banged on his set of used drums. The vibrations went through the floor and walls of a bigger house, on a foreign side of the country. Together their sound was...just like a symphony. A bit rough and unmatched, but still so perfectly in tune to her ever changing scenes. It was her soundtrack to every day during those few years with both of them around. They never knew the impact of their expressive minds, edgy rhythm, and amateur lyrics on a sister listening silently from the other side of the door.
And she still listens.