Melissa L. White Screenwriter, Filmmaker, Author
Melissa L. White Screenwriter, Filmmaker, Author

In The Mood

 

 

            It was a steamy summer night in Texas, mid-May, just after dark. Miranda and her father took off their shoes and went into the entry hall of their fine suburban home where the cool tile floor tickled their toes through their socks. They turned up The Glenn Miller Orchestra on the stereo and began to dance. At ten years old, Miranda was glad for any excuse to stay up past her bedtime and hold her father in her arms. Dancing was a new found pleasure, and learning to jitterbug was her favorite.

            As “In the Mood” serenaded them through the living room stereo speakers, Miranda held her father’s hand and twirled out for a double spin, then held on tight as he passed her behind his back from his left hand to his right, and twirled her out for another double spin. Miranda laughed and tried to keep up. She adored her father.

            It was 1972. Nixon had just begun pulling the troops out of Vietnam. Pong had just been introduced, marking the beginning of the video game craze. The world was preparing for the Munich summer Olympics where Mark Spitz would shatter swimming records winning seven gold medals, and terrorists would attack and kill eleven Israeli athletes and coaches while the world watched in horror. Miranda giggled and shut her eyes tight as her father picked her up and hugged her, then kissed her on the forehead. She could smell his cool Aqua-Velva after shave.

            “String of Pearls” came on next. Miranda loved this tune, especially the trumpet solo. It was a slower number, and her father began teaching her a new dance. He called it “The Push.”

            “This dance was also called ‘The Cat Dance,’ because all the cool cats were doing it.”  He held her hands and patiently showed her the steps. “It’s a resistance step,” he pointed out. “Push on my hands then resist as I push on yours.”

Miranda tried it. He laughed.

            “That’s right, you got it.” They worked on this step for half an hour, until her father looked at his watch and said, “Gosh it’s way past your bedtime. We’ll try it again tomorrow.”

            “Okay, cool cat,” Miranda said. Her father leaned down and kissed her good night.

             “Don’t forget to brush your teeth.”

            “Yes sir,” she said and headed upstairs to bed.

            The next day when they got home from school, Miranda and her sister, Jewel, sat down at the kitchen table and drank their milk while they ate Oreo cookies. Their younger brother Walton was still at Little League baseball practice after school. Jewel took her report card out of her book satchel and set it on the placemat at the head of the table, their father’s place.

            “Where’s yours?” asked Jewel.

            Miranda shrugged, scraping the creamy middle of the Oreo off of the chocolate cookie with her teeth.

            “You better show it to Daddy. He’ll want to see it when he gets home.”

            “I’ll show him,” said Miranda. “Mind your own beeswax.”

            Jewel sipped her milk, unaware of the liquid mustache dotting her upper lip. Miranda sipped her milk then wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.

            Just then their mother walked into the kitchen carrying a shoebox. “Look what I have,” she said, setting the shoebox on the table in front of her daughters. Miranda picked it up, took off the lid and peeked inside. It was empty.

            “What’s this for?”

            “To decorate,” said their mother, sitting down at the other end of the table. She took an Oreo from the cookie jar then put it back without eating it. “For the father-daughter banquet. We can use this to cover it.” She placed several sheets of wrapping paper on the table beside the shoebox.

            “Not your good paper that Granny gave you!” cried Jewel.

            “Why not?” said their mother, unfolding the wrapping paper and spreading it out in front of her girls.

            “But Granny brought you that from England,” said Jewel. “It’s special.”

            “All the more reason to use it for this special occasion. Besides, if I wrap a birthday present in it, it’ll just get torn off, wadded up and thrown in the trash. But if we decorate the banquet box with it, it’ll be around for a long time. We can all enjoy it.”

            Her mother handed her a piece of wrapping paper. It was antique paper, covered with Victorian images of flowers, birds, butterflies, and lace fans. Miranda loved this paper. It was indeed special.

            “Cut out your favorite designs and we’ll glue them on in a collage,” said her mother.

            Miranda finished her milk then began cutting out a bouquet of roses. Jewel took her scissors and began cutting out a butterfly. They worked meticulously, cutting out the images. When they’d cut up two sheets of wrapping paper their mother started gluing the images onto the box. Jewel glued a pretty red breasted robin onto the shoebox lid. Miranda stood up and took a tissue from the desk to wipe away the excess glue. The three of them worked quietly together until the shoebox was completely covered. Their mother picked up the box and placed the lid on top. “I think we’ll make fried chicken with potato salad, coleslaw and biscuits. And brownies for desert. How does that sound?”

            The girls nodded.

            Just then the back door opened and their father stepped inside.

            “I’m home,” he said.

            The girls got up and ran to greet him. He stood in the hallway loosening his tie and hanging his coat on the hook by the door. “Hello little dumplings,” he said. “How was your day?”

            “Fantastic,” said Jewel, hugging her dad around the waist. “I got all A’s on my report card.”

            “Superb!” He turned to Miranda. “How did you do, Sugar Pie?”

            Miranda shoved her hands in her pockets. “Okay.”

            “She didn’t bring hers home from school,” replied Jewel.

            “I did so! It’s upstairs.”

            “Well let’s see it then,” he said. He pulled off his necktie and folded it in half and tucked it into his jacket pocket.

            Miranda turned and headed slowly upstairs to get her report card. She entered her bedroom without turning on the light. She went to her desk, opened her red plaid book satchel and retrieved her report card. The big red “D” for math stared her in the face. She sighed, put the card on her desk and went into her closet where she proceeded to put on every single pair of underpants she owned, one on top of the other. She stopped when she was wearing fifteen pairs of panties. It was a trick Walton had taught her and it helped lessen the blow from the occasional spankings her father doled out whenever he deemed it appropriate.

            Without turning on the light, Miranda sat down at her desk and laid her head on her school books and cried.

            Half an hour later, her father knocked on her bedroom door.

            “Hey, princess,” he said, opening the door. “Supper’s ready.” He hesitated then said, “What are you doing here in the dark?”

            Miranda stood up slowly; she could feel a big crease from the spine of her book slashed across the side of her face. She reached down and grabbed her report card then held it out to her father. He stepped up to her and took it then turned on the light.

            He opened it, reading it slowly to himself. Miranda folded her arms behind her back and waited.

            “What’s this? A “D” in math?”  He closed the report card and put his hands on his hips. “Miranda this isn’t like you. What happened?”

            “It’s the ‘New Math.’  And multiplication tables. I don’t know. I’m sorry.”

            He tucked the report card into his shirt pocket and put his arm around her shoulder. “Would flashcards help?”

            She looked up at him. “Flashcards?”

            “Yes. I can write out each multiplication table on a separate card with the answer on the back and we can go over and over it until you memorize them. All you need is a little practice. We can do it tonight after dinner.”

            “But tonight you promised to teach me The Swing.”

            “Well this is more important. No more dance lessons until you learn those multiplication tables.”

            Miranda’s shoulders sagged. She frowned.

            “Sorry, pumpkin, but that’s the way it is. Let’s go eat.”

            That evening after dinner, Miranda sat at the kitchen table beside her father as he printed all of the multiplication tables on index cards up through the 12’s. He showed her a trick for remembering the 9’s and the 11’s and she felt better, even though she still couldn’t remember them all. It was a little overwhelming.

            While they were working on the flashcards, Walton went into the living room, turned on the stereo and put on his favorite album, Brother Dave Gardner’s “Kick Thy Own Self.” He listened to the entire album until it came to his favorite segment, a story called, “Are You Gonna Be Here When John Gets Here?” and he proceeded to speak each line along with the record, as he had completely memorized it. When it was finished he played it again. Miranda got up and closed the living room door so she could concentrate on her math tables. She was on the 4’s and struggling.

 

            The next night after dinner, the entire family went to the ball park behind Westwood Elementary School, to watch Walton’s baseball game. 

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© Melissa White