Ricardo knew it was one of those days when having a television might be useful if it could possibly attract and hold Marianna’s attention just long enough for him to deal with her latest mess while she was busy creating the next. He was unhappily aware that he was currently at least three mess steps behind his daughter. There was no help coming from her older brother, Jose, who just shook his head refusing his father’s request for at least an attempt on his part to engage her in some sort of game playing. Even the usually resourceful and patient Julianna gave him a definite no way glare when he tried to enlist her aid. Rosa was currently tolerating Marianna’s decidedly less than helpful presence in the kitchen while Ricardo cleaned her toothpaste drawings off the cold windows in the front room. He was painfully aware of the fact that the electric hand drill that he’d been fixing remained in pieces on the newspaper covered card table by the window at the other end of the second floor. It was the reason Rosa had drawn Marianna into her cooking domain at first sight of her standing on the empty folding chair taking a very intrigued look at the pieces of metal, plastic and the little screws and tools laid out so enticingly, apparently just for her entertainment. So it was clear Marianna thought judging from the delight on her pretty little face at the time that Rosa caught sight of her.
It was with no small relief, and no lack of surprise, to Ricardo when he went to relieve Rosa of Marianna and found Sarge in the kitchen, having deposited four loaves of cinnamon bread on the counter, currently conducting a calm conversation with his daughter regarding the pros and cons of adding dish-washing liquid to the large pan of refried beans on the stove while gently, yet effectively, removing the plastic bottle from her two-handed grasp. Meanwhile, Rosa, making tortillas at the table, was watching Sarge contend with her niece’s latest unwelcome creative effort. Catching sight of her brother, Rosa shrugged and pointed with a tortilla at the ongoing exchange between the man and child. Nearly at the end of his own considerable patience, Ricardo was stunned into grateful silence when Sarge turned to Rosa and himself and said, “Is it okay if she comes downstairs to help me make some cookies? Lily is busy working on ‘sunrise’ projects with Esther and I wouldn’t mind some company.”
Thinking even a five-minute reprieve from Marianna would do his nerves a world of good, Ricardo vigorously nodded his assent. Rosa smirked and laughed darkly. “You want her help. You got it, Sarge. Deal best way you can.”
Sarge smiled and plucked Marianna off the folding chair she was standing on peering into the pot of beans. Setting her on her feet, he looked down at her while she stared up at him. “Are you up for mixing some cookie dough or not? If you are, then let’s make tracks, little Missy.” Without waiting for Marianna’s reply, Sarge walked away and proceeded directly out of the second floor home. Marianna looked at Rosa and then at her father before turning on her toes and running off to follow Sarge down the stairs to Lily’s apartment.
Only after mixing and baking several batches of oatmeal, sugar and snicker-doodle cookies; noisily slurping down two cups of chicken soup for a snack; taking a spontaneous brief nap on the velvet couch; getting a peek inside Lily’s little transistor radio; having some milk and warm straight out of the oven cookies; completing a thorough practical investigation of the workings of Sarge’s boot-lacings; making from memory a very detailed pencil drawing of Karen’s still MIA cat on the inside of an empty paper flour bag: listening intently to two readings of The Stinky Cheese Man, and her very first lessons learning a simple waltz box step did Marianna reappear on the second floor. After reluctantly following Lily up the stairs, with Sarge bringing up the rear to insure her compliance with upward motion, she demurely followed Ricardo around the table of dinner foods as he filled a plate for her. While still not quite her usual pleasantly friendly self with the other children, she did join their ranks on her own rust colored carpet sample to eat her dinner. After dinner she laid siege to a corner of the lilac wall with a pencil and a few crayons.
About an hour later, Marianna tossed her crayons and pencil into their designated boxes. She stood watching the various activities of the rest of the children for a few minutes then turned around and made tracks to where the adults were talking quietly and sipping small cups of strong coffee at the little card table. She patted her father’s hand until Ricardo slipped an arm around her for a hug and she deposited a quick peck on his check. Then she surprised everyone, especially Sarge, by silently demanding to sit in his lap under pretense of needing to yet again investigate the contents of his shirt pockets. Finding nothing of interest in either pocket, she simply sprawled out across his chest and promptly fell asleep.
As this was something none of his nephews or nieces had ever done with him, Sarge sat stock still at a complete loss regarding this novel experience. Looking at Ricardo for help, he found the older man trying not to laugh as he whispered, “Go with the flow, hombre. Don’t wake her. Por favor, whatever you do, do not wake her up.”
Seeing that Rosa and Lily were in agreement with Ricardo, Sarge slid a little further down on his chair in order to decrease the angle of his chest being used as a bed and to keep Marianna’s slight form from slipping off of him. There she stayed for nearly ten minutes until Ricardo was satisfied that she was indeed sleeping soundly enough that Sarge could get up without waking her and carry her to the small room she shared with Julianna. After Sarge carefully laid her down on the twin bed, he stood aside watching Ricardo remove her soft soled indoors shoes and socks, cover her first with a cotton thermal blanket then a thicker comforter.
Upon returning to the card table with a very relieved Ricardo, Sarge caught Lily looking at him in a manner he had no way to interpret since no woman had ever looked at him in such a way before. Nor could he recall seeing his mother or his sisters-in-laws ever sending such a look towards his father or brothers. Unsure of how to even question her about it, he simply sent her a silent ‘what’ look of his own, in case he’d done a boundary crossing without any clue of there even being a boundary to cross. He relaxed when she responded with a slight shake of her head and one of her winking eye smiles. Taking this as an indication that he’d not committed some indiscretion that she’d inform him about later, he settled back into his prior conversation with Rosa about spices.
Later that night when they stood together at her apartment windows watching the moonlight flickering among the falling snowflakes, needing some reassurance, Sarge could not help but ask Lily if he’d done something out-of-order by letting little Marianna basically do as she pleased when she’d decided to use him as her mattress. Lily responded with a soft laugh. “No, you didn’t do anything wrong, Funny Man. You did just right. Marianna can be hard to handle on such days. You helped Ricardo and Rosa out a lot by giving her the kind of attention she needed today.”
Reading the compliment via her tone and words, Sarge barely managed a very quiet reply. “Any time. She’s a lot more fun than any of my brothers’ kids. She’s way smarter too. That’s probably why she acts up like she does.”
“Probably.” Lily watched the snowflakes piling on top of one another. “Hey, are you up for a little soft shoe or some swing before we both hit the books again?”
“Definitely. It’s your turn to pick the music.” Sarge watched her reflection in the windows as she went to the record player on the table along the red velvet couch.
Lily picked a record from the cardboard box, put it on the player then held up the album cover and caught his reflection watching hers. Grinning, she waved her fingers. “You ready for some Stomp time, Funny Man?”
Unexpected Dance from Fanfan, Alexandre Jardin, 1993
Breakfast Special #1 https://47whitebuffalo.wordpress.com/2013/04/25/breakfast-special/
Breakfast Special #33 https://47whitebuffalo.wordpress.com/2013/11/26/breakfast-special-33-ma-bell-intel/