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Communal Writing

VerbSap's second communal story was completed over the course of two weeks by readers, Ella G. and Lisa S., who fastened on the prompt supplied by the editor and ran with it. We hope you enjoy reading it.

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Out of Sight

They found it when the snow melted. (Editor)

They found it when the snow melted, the cell phone Baby Eileen had shoved in the snowman's pocket. Tinker spotted it shining on the driveway like a new penny and held it up to the sun. When Eileen saw it she got a dreamy look, cocked her head and drawled "ooooh yeh," and we like to drown her right there in the pond. Daddy was fit to be tied when it went missing.

Baby Eileen, she ain't no baby. She's 150 pounds of monster-big teenager. She's none too bright neither, which I know, being her brother and the one who does her homework on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Tinker does it Mondays and Wednesdays. Fridays they don't give her any, which is a relief, let me tell you.

Baby Eileen is what Momma used to call her and it kind of stuck, unlike Momma who lit out shortly before the first snow fell. Daddy says we tired her out and she's probably sitting on a beach somewhere getting her breath back. It was a long cold winter so he might be right about that.
(Ella G., Springfield MA, March 3)

Tinker said "Well, finders keepers" and I shrugged. Daddy had himself a new phone now, small as an egg. Reminding him of the loss like to be more trouble than it was worth.

"Click it on," Baby Eileen said.

"We gonna make a call?" Tinker said, rolling his eyes. "It's been snowed on, Baby. It ain't gonna work."

"C'mon, we might get us a miracle," Baby Eileen said. She cupped her meaty hands over Tinker's and let her eyes go all dreamy. "Jesus, heal this phone," she said, her voice all husky, and we waited.

"You feel anything, Tink?" I asked.

"Weren't no lightening."

Baby Eileen smiled. "Hit that button, Tink."

Tinker kind of sighed, but he pressed the button marked "Power." Darned if that shiny little thing didn't light-up and chirp like a bird.

"What I told you," Baby Eileen said happily. "We gonna call Momma."
(Lisa S., NY, NY, March 6)

Tinker and I locked eyes thinking "fine idea if that beach had a phone and we knew the number." Right then, Daddy's truck turned into the top of the drive, spitting gravel, and Auntie Ford came to the back steps shouting for us to come inside and wash up.

Tinker looked around wild-like for a place to hide the phone from Daddy.

"Shoot. Swallow the dang thing," I told him and he growled. He stuffed it in the waistband of his jeans.

"We'll call your stomach," Baby Eileen chortled. "Ring, ring. Who's that? Tinker's tummy."

"Hush up, Baby," I said, pulling her along. "We're gonna be late for supper."

"Ring ring. Tinker's tummy calling y'all," Baby Eileen said, still giggling.

"What's that girl on about now?" Auntie Ford said, hands on hips.

"Ring ring."

"Nothing Auntie. She's just, you know, being silly," Tinker said.
(Ella G., Springfield MA, March 7)

We dove past her and up the stairs.

Auntie Ford's not really our Auntie, least ways, there's no blood between us. For a while after Momma left, us kids did the cooking. It was pb&j for breakfast, pb&j for lunch and toasted cheese sandwiches for dinner. Tinker and I were outside when Baby Eileen reached her limit and tried her hand at baking.

"It were a surprise," she said sadly as we emptied the watering can over the smoking pan. If you look real close you can still see the scorch marks on the wall.

Anyway, Daddy was losing weight, whether over Momma, our cooking or worry that Baby would burn down the house it wasn't clear. Auntie Ford showed up soon after, a small green suitcase in one hand and a bony old Tom cat in the other. She was a bantam hen of a woman, tiny and fierce, and her word was law. (Lisa S., NY, NY, March 7)

We were at the table when Daddy came in from the garage, paint-spattered and smelling of turps. We could hear him washing up noisily in the downstairs bathroom. He came into the kitchen wiping his hands.

Daddy's a house-painter by trade. By trade was Momma's saying. Daddy was fixin' to be an architect when they met and Momma was studying music. Then Tinker and I popped out, not two minutes apart, and Daddy put his plans on hold. Momma always held out hope he'd go back to school.

"He's a painter by trade," she would say by way of introduction and Daddy would shake his head and lay a heavy hand on her fine shoulder.

"By trade's been putting food on our table a long time," he'd say. "By trade's been good to us." (Ella G., Springfield MA, March 8)

Daddy sat at the head of the table with us kids spread around him like baby birds. Auntie Ford fluttered, grabbing butter for Daddy's bread, filling cups, slapping Tinker's wrist when he ate his green beans with his fingers.

"Alight, for Christ's sake," Daddy would say and she'd glare at him for taking the Lord's name in vain. She'd settle for a moment or two, but there was always a pot that needed stirring or a pie to check on. "That woman's the most twitchiest woman I know," Daddy would say and I'd know he was thinking of Momma who had a quietness about her.

Daddy sat at the head of the table and Auntie Ford, when she did alight, sat across from Baby Eileen, in the chair closest to the stove so she could jump up easier. Momma's chair we left empty, staring like a vacant eye through the kitchen window and out over the yard. Time was we'd be out playing and we'd look up there and, if the light was right, we could see her sitting in that chair, drinking tea and toying with her hair. Momma had long hair.

We always ate fast but that night we fair inhaled our food thinking about that phone down the front of Tinker's pants. When we asked to be excused, Auntie Ford gave each and everyone of us the evil eye but held her peace. Daddy looked up from his plate, his hair stiff with paint like that Greek snake-head lady and his eyes tired. He waved his hand vaguely.

"Go on now," he said. (Lisa S., NY, NY, March 9)

So we pushed back our chairs and skedaddled, Tinker snagging the last of the dinner rolls and drawing a dark look from Auntie Ford.

"Those kids be up to something, Jason," Auntie Ford said, but Daddy just shook his head.

We sat on the bottom bunk, my bunk, with Baby Eileen smooshed in the corner and grinning like a gargoyle with a milk mustache. Tinker pulled the phone out of his pants and turned it on. We huddled around its tiny green light like it was a campfire and we was real cold.

"What we do now, Tink. How we gonna get Momma's number?" I asked.

"Grandma know for sure," Baby Eileen said. "Call her, Tink."

"If she knew she'd have said by now," he said.

"Call the operator then, or the police. They know for sure," Baby Eileen said, bouncing the mattress so hard I near flew off.

"We can't call the police. We ain't even supposed to have this phone and what we supposed to ask the operator. 'Hey lady, you know our Momma? Well put us on through.' Ha."

"She just tryin' to help, Tink," I said and he nodded.

"We just got to think is all," he said.

"You good at that, Tink. You the best," Baby Eileen said.

"Hush now," he said and threw a pillow at her, but I could tell he was pleased.

"Why'd we never think of this before, I wonder?" Baby Eileen said. "We could have been talkin' to Momma all along. Ain't she gonna be surprised though. 'Hey Momma. It's Baby Eileen callin' long distance.' She gonna flop over in a faint right there in the sand."

"What beach you think she's on, Tink?"

"Don't know. One that's warm. What you figure?"

I shrugged. "Gettin' warmer all over now. Maybe she's done there. Maybe she's looking for someplace cool."

"She gonna faint dead away," Baby Eileen said. "Just fall down in a big old heap." (Ella G., Springfield MA, March 10)

Tinker climbed into the top bunk and hung head down over the edge like a bat.

"What you doing, Tink?" I asked.

"Getting the big idea. All this blood in my head's gonna make me super smart," he said. His face was getting red, but he didn't look no smarter.

Baby Eileen was getting fed up with the delay. She never did have no patience.

"Look here. Give me that dang phone." She grabbed it out of bat-Tinker's sweaty hands and pried it open.

"What you doing, Baby?" Tink said.

"Puttin' this mess in God's hands where it belong," she said, pressing numbers deliberately.

"I don't know if this is a good idea, Baby," I said.

"What I hit now? Ain't got no dial tone like a regular phone."

I looked at Tink and he shrugged pretty good for someone hanging upside down. "That button there," I said and she hit send.

We held our breath.

"It's ringing," she said happily. "It's ringing good now." (Lisa S., NY, NY, March 11)

Tinker covered his upside-down eyes.

"Hello? Hello?" Baby held a hand over the mouthpiece. "It's a lady," she said in a loud whisper. "Hello? This is Baby Eileen. Who this be?" She tilted her head. "Oh I ain't selling anything," she said. "She thinks I'm selling something," she said, rolling her eyes.

"Baby Eileen," Tinker said. "Get to it. That battery ain't gonna last for ever."

"Hello? We was wondering, my brothers and I was wondering, if you knew our Momma. She's gone missing. Marie Robicheaux. R-O-B-I-C-H...I know, it be a mouthful." She shook her head. "You did? Uh, huh. Well, I don't know." She set aside the phone. "She went to school with a Mark Robicheaux. Momma got a cousin Mark?"

I shrugged.

Tinker said, "Robicheaux be Daddy's name. Momma was a Statler."

Baby slapped her forehead. She said into the phone, "Momma be a Statler before she met Daddy. From around Torrington way. Uh huh. Uh huh. O.K." She handed me the phone. "Say 'hi' now. I need to get some paper."

I looked at Tinker. "Hello?" I said cautiously. "Yes ma'am. One of the twins. Uh huh. 'Bout three months now." Baby handed me a notebook and stubby pencil. "Uh, I have something to write with. Yes." I wrote down a name and a number. Well, thank you for your help, ma'am. Yes ma'am." I closed the phone.

Tinker rolled onto his stomach, right-side-up and purple-faced. "What?" he said. "Don't tell me she knew Momma. That ain't possible. There's a million people in this world."

"Who this be, Baby?" I said, waving the notebook.

"That's that lady's doctor's receptionist. She's got a daughter who married a boy named Statler. They was just talking about the wedding when the lady was in the doctor's office getting checked up. She's got the diabetes something fierce and lumbago. Tink, what's lumbago?"

"Heck, I don't know, Baby."

"We gonna call, Tink?" I asked.

Tinker put a pillow over his head. He was quiet a moment. "Can't hurt none, I suppose."

We heard Auntie Ford's footsteps on the stairs. Baby Eileen grabbed the phone from me, looked around wildly and sat on top of it as Auntie Ford showed up in the doorway.

"Bedtime," Auntie Ford said. "And brush your teeth, you hear. They all gonna fall out and then where will you be?" She glared at us. "Hop to it."

Baby shot me a worried look, what with that phone under her butt and all.

"Can we just finish this one game, Auntie? It's a number game. We teaching Baby Eileen some mathematics," I said, showing her the page with the phone number on it.

"That there's a prime number," Tinker said.

Auntie Ford squinted some like she was skeptical, but she didn't argue. "Well, hurry it up then."

"Dang, Eileen," I said when Auntie was gone. "I hope you didn't squish that thing." (Ella G., Springfield MA, March 12)

Baby Eileen retrieved the phone, shook it like a rattle and pressed the power button. "I didn't squish nothing," she said. "Who's next?"

"Give it here," Tinker said.

While Tinker phoned the receptionist, Baby Eileen and I got a jump on teeth brushing, face-washing and pajama-getting-into. Baby Eileen wore a nightgown shaped like a pup-tent. It had lace at the neck and sleeves and she liked to twirl when she wore it.

She spun over to Tinker like a drunken pink tornado. "Look at me I'm Cinderella," she shouted and knocked over a desk lamp.

Tinker hushed her. "Thank you, Mister," he said and clicked off the phone. "Well, that Statler man doesn't know Momma, but he has a cousin who married a lady whose brother is a librarian in Torrington."

"My turn," I said and I phoned the nephew's cousin's wife's brother, while Baby Eileen spun in circles squealing.

Turned out he didn't know Momma either, but he did have a friend who was a real estate agent Momma's age. Tink called him while Baby Eileen lay flat on her back going "wooee, the room be spinning," and that lady went to the same high school as Momma. She remembered seeing Momma hang out with this girl Mary Therese who had moved to Tucson, Arizona, with a no-good husband and ran an art gallery. They have cactus as tall as Daddy in Tucson, true story.

When the room stopped spinning Baby Eileen called Mary Therese who wasn't home so she left a message.

"She's gonna know where Momma be, that's for sure," Baby Eileen said. I tucked her in and said "sleep tight, don't let the bed-bugs bite," like Momma would have and she sighed and fell asleep like she had an off switch.

(Lisa S., NY, NY, March 14)

Tinker and I had to give Baby Eileen half the apple pie in our lunch bags to get her to leave the phone home from school. Auntie Ford might be strict, but she sure makes a sweet, flaky, fine pie.

School dragged even more than usual and when the bus dropped us off we fair flew down the driveway and up to the room. Tinker had wedged the phone into a hidey-hole under the carpet and spent the whole morning worrying that Auntie Ford would take it into her mind to vacuum. When he pried it out it was making tiny chirping noises.

"There's a message," he said and chewed his lip trying to figure out how to play it back. "I got it, I got it," he said finally. His eyeballs drifted up and to the right while he listened.

"It's that Mary Therese, ain't it Tink?" Baby Eileen said, hopping like she had to pee.

Tink shook his head in wonderment. "It wasn't her, it were a reporter," he said. "He says we're human interest or something and he wants to write about us."

"We're gonna be famous," Baby Eileen said. She smoothed her hair and her dungarees. "How do I look?"

"You beautiful, Baby Eileen," I said. She had on a green and white striped shirt that must have been washed with something bright red that bled. It matched the pink bows in her hair. "You calling him back, Tink?"

"Later maybe. I got homework to do and chores. You too."

So Tinker and I did homework while Baby Eileen combed her hair and practiced curtsying in front of the mirror behind the door. "How do you? How DO you do?"

"Eileen, what you doin'?" Tinker said.

"This here's my practice for being famous," she said. "Practice makes perfect, you know. How do you do? How do YOU do?"

(Ella G., Springfield MA, March 15)

While Tinker and I did chores - taking out the garbage, putting wood on the woodpile - Baby Eileen took it into her head to contact the reporter on her own.

Tinker paled when he heard. "Oh Baby, what'd you say to him?"

"I just told him how we was lookin' for Momma and found this here phone and called all these nice people. Did I do wrong?"

"No Baby," I said. "You told the truth. Right, Tinker?"

"Uh huh," he said, closing his eyes. "And what'd that reporter say?"

"He went on and on about the temperature."

"The temperature? What you talkin' about Baby?"

"Degrees. He kept talkin' about degrees. Degrees of something or other. Stupper, super, zipper...sepsis. That be it. Six degrees of sepsis," Baby Eileen said proudly. "Must be cold where he is."

"Six degrees of sepsis?" I said. "You must have got that wrong, Baby."

"That's what he said: six degrees of sepsis."

"Separation," Tinker said. "Six degrees of separation."

"What's that mean, Tink?" I said.

"It means that reporter man thinks we might find Momma after all. Give me that there phone, Baby Eileen." (Lisa S., NY, NY, March 16)

Next morning we were famous, also in a heap of trouble. Auntie Ford shook us awake and dragged us down the stairs sputtering mad.

Daddy was standing by the picture window in the living room, holding a mug of coffee and rubbing his eyes."Is there something you want to be telling me?" he said with suspicious mildness. "There a little something maybe you all want to share?"

We peered outside. The wide green lawn in front of our house had sprouted trucks overnight, trucks and people with cameras and poofy microphones on long sticks. There were ladies in high heels sinking into the soft green spring turf and men with ties, and all of them were pointing at us kids in our pajamas, Daddy in his robe and a glowering Auntie Ford with her hair in curlers.

"Holy, holy," Tinker said.

Baby Eileen squealed. "See I told you. I told you," she said. "I got's to go change for the press conference."

"The press what?" Daddy said.

"The press con-fer-ence, Daddy," Baby Eileen said. "It's a party you have when you famous. Ain't that right, Tink?"

We all looked at Tinker who swallowed loudly.

"I didn't say nothing about no press conference. The man said 'I'd like a photo of you son, where you live?' and it just tumbled out, Daddy, honest."

Daddy was looking a little green an he was still scary quiet. He sat on the sofa and looked at the mug of coffee like he didn't recognize it.

"You better start at the beginning, boy," Auntie Ford said. "'Cause you ain't made one word of sense yet."

So Tinker and I and Baby Eileen explained while Daddy rubbed one big thumb against the rim of that mug and Auntie Ford sniffed and rolled her eyes and shot evil looks at the media trampling the pachysandra. When we were done, Daddy just stared at the floor and Auntie Ford said "I never in all my years" a few dozen times. Then she disappeared into the kitchen and banged all the pots together fixing breakfast.

Daddy rose.

"What you gonna do, Daddy?" I asked.

"Take a shower. Maybe the longest shower in the history of the world. Then I'm gonna have a cup coffee." He looked down at the mug. "Another cup of coffee. Then we'll see." And that's plum what he did. (Ella G., Springfield MA, March 17)

While Daddy meditated in the bathroom, Baby Eileen dressed in her finest, Tinker and I ate French toast and Auntie Ford answered the telephone 12 times before pulling the plug out of the wall and tossing the handset in an old soup pot. She slammed the lid on with satisfaction, like she was beaning a reporter standing on the shrubbery.

Tinker asked to be excused and she sniffed.

"I suppose," Auntie Ford said, "some people are too good to do the dishes. I suppose, them that are front-page news don't have to lift a finger."

Tinker and I took the hint and cleaned up while Auntie Ford mumbled on about movie stars and T.V. personalities and their life of ease. When we were done we left quietly while she swiped at invisible damp spots on the table.

The whole day was like that, topsy-turvy. Daddy went from the shower to the basement, locked the door and didn't come out for lunch. We couldn't go outside because of the reporters on the lawn so Tinker and I had to watch Baby Eileen put on a fashion parade and help her write a letter to the Queen.

"We famous, she famous. We practically family now," Baby said.

We were just about out of our minds by the time dinner came around.

We were all at the table waiting when Daddy came up from the basement. His hair was standing up the way it does when he thinks hard and tugs on it. Momma would have smoothed it down and kissed his forehead while we made clown jokes. Baby Eileen snorted when she saw him but Tinker kicked her under the table and she kept her peace.

That was the most silent meal ever eaten in our house. We looked at our plates and when our plates were empty we looked at Daddy. He finally set his knife and fork down on the edge of his plate, wiped his mouth and looked at each of us long and hard. Then he opened his mouth to speak.

The doorbell rang.

"Jehosaphat," Daddy shouted. "Can't a man eat dinner in peace?"

Auntie Ford scurried to answer it, with a glint in her eye that said she was ready for battle. We heard the front door open, muffled voices and then nothing for the longest time. When Auntie Ford came back in the kitchen she was pale as paper and fanning herself with a dishtowel. She sat at the table and waved the cloth about wordlessly.

"Auntie Ford, you look like you seen a ghost," Baby Eileen said and shook her napkin at Auntie Ford too.

"They's someone at the door," she said vaguely.

"Who it be, Auntie?" Tinker asked.

"Marie," Daddy said, pale as Auntie Ford and staring at the kitchen doorway.

And it was. It was Momma, plain as day, thinner than I remembered but Momma for sure. (Lisa S., NY, NY, March 19)

"You called?" she said. (Ella G., Springfield MA, March 17)

Photo courtesy of Freeimages.co.uk.

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