The Next Brendalee
First Prize, Fiction500 contest
Mama’d been after Daddy to paint over the letters on the house since we moved in, but he didn’t seem any more inclined to it now than he did three years ago. It didn’t bother him the way it did her, ‘cause he wasn’t around when strangers pulled into the driveway and rattled the door, wanting lunch. He wasn’t around much at all.
Inside was same as it was, too, only the napkin holders were out of napkins and the straw holders were out of straws. The four of us kids reckoned it made us special at first, like living inside a TV show, but the fun wore out ‘bout as quick as the fancy machines. There wasn’t any ice cream for milkshakes anyway.
The only thing that never broke were those red chairs. We’d spin each other ‘round and ‘round, and make us so dizzy we couldn’t hang on any more. Fly off those seats like mud off a tire. Jess sailed clear across the room once and split his head open on the corner of a booth. When Daddy came home he fetched him one on the other side of his head. “Now you’re evened-out,” he said. Next day, we were at it again.
Brendalee, being eleven and a girl, was keen to speculate about the California side of it. She dreamed up all manner of nonsense concerning the fellow Daddy bought it from, a fellow we never saw nor knew a sparrow’s fart about. Daddy, not being the curious sort, never thought to ask the man, but facts would’ve made no impression on Brendalee. Hear her tell it, a movie star fell in love with a good-lookin’ hick from Granger, with this establishment the result. She died carrying their lovechild. Beside himself, the hick took off for California so his memory of her wouldn’t fade the same as the posters of beaches and palms on the walls.
It was as good a story as any. And it got me wondering what people’d think of us, after we’d moved on ‘cause Daddy took his knife to the wrong man or drove his truck into a ditch and lost his job. We hadn’t changed the place so much as worn it out. Weather and time’d done much the same. There’d be nothin’ for the next Brendalee to work with, nothin’ that was us, ‘cept that bloodstain on the booth and another layer of grease in the kitchen.