There was a game of musical-bathrooms when we got home. Mother went straight for the one in the master suite, and I raced up the stairs, but Robbie got there first. I was virtually hovering around the door, waiting in line.
"You know," said my father in that inane self-satisfied tone he always uses when regaling us with his pointless histories or technological anecdotes, "Tycho Brahe actually died from a burst bladder. He was playing cards with the king of Sweden, and you don't get up while the king is sitting; he just sat there and suffered."
"Thanks Daddy," I howled, hopping from foot to foot.
I could hear the phone ring in the hallway.
"I'll get it," came Gina's muffled voice from the other room; then a moment later, "Dani, telephone."
"I'm waiting for the bathroom," I yelled. "Who is it?"
Was she watching our house? We hadn't been home two minutes, and already she was calling. I wondered what she wanted; I wanted to talk to her but not bad enough to wet myself.
"Tell her I'll call her back in five minutes."
"Dere go a hunk."
"Not interested," I replied, without even bothering to look.
"How do you know," Tammy asked, doing that full-body oscillation you sometimes see black women doing. She timed her words to coincide with her gyrations.
"Same reason you know you're not attracted to me."
"What's that supposed to mean," she asked pointedly and picked up her soda. She sucked down the last dregs, making that sound I so loathe to hear.
"Why did you wanna come to the mall, if'n you didn't wanna hang out?"
"Shopping," I countered and held up a circular for J.C. Penney. It was Saturday and the mall was thronged with shoppers.
They were everywhere, walking in brisk streams in the main thoroughfares, clotting into clusters here and there.
Every now and then a few people would get lost, or stop suddenly, and the traffic would divert around them, forming little eddies in the pulse of high-speed suburban life.
It was depressing, but I didn't come to the mall to watch the crowd, either.
"What are we looking for?"
"A costume." Halloween was barely a week away and I didn't have a clue what I wanted to go as.
Most people got bored of it by the time they were my age, but I have a sweet tooth and saw no reason not to beg for free candy from strangers.
"A Halloween costume," she asked doubtfully, "girl, I know you crazy now. You like sixteen...why you wanna do that all kid's stuff.
"It's fun," I pointed out, raising my index finger. "And I can get by with it."
She sighed and took another abortive attempt on her drink.
"You right there," she said simply. "What kind of costume?"
"I don't know." I flipped through the flyer looking at the kid's costumes for ideas. I spent all year trying to find clothes that didn't have Disney characters on them, and Halloween was my one chance to take advantage of my size. "But I'm making it, or having Gina do it; she can sew like nobody's business."
J.C. Penney's didn't have anything I wanted, and neither did Dillard's, so we ended up going to a funky boutique called 'Have Nots.' It was trendy, pretending to a vulgarity that it did not, in fact, possess.
But it did have some pretty cool stuff and I got lost for half an hour looking through the dresses.
I've always liked dresses—not because I was girly, but because they are practical. You may scoff, but it's true. Dresses, when not worn over inordinate amounts of foundation garments, are cooler, less restrictive, and easier to use the potty in.
But little girls' dresses are sometimes just hideous. Who would wear a pink and white ginham sun dress or a yellow calico pullover with big cornflower blue polka-dots? Not me.
But I found a dirndl. It was medium blue with a delicate white floral pattern, and it would fit. Well, almost; I didn't have the bust for it, even in the petite junior miss size.
"You gonna buy that ugly thing?"
Tammy shook her head and gave the dress a long critical look. Apparently it didn't pass her standards.
"Yes," I said, reaching for my wallet. "Damn!"
"I don't have any money with me. Tammy, can you loan me some until we get to my place?"
"Nuh-uh," she said and reached into her pocket. She had some change and a zinc lozenge. "I got thirty-eight cent."
"How about a dime," I asked and snatched one before she could answer. I rushed out of the store, stopping to leave the dirndl with the clerk to hold for me.
"Where you goin'," Tammy asked, trailing after me.
Universal fact: Just when you get used to something being immutable, it changes; I hadn't gotten used to new phones yet, thought in my defense, they only hit the market last year.
For some reason I didn't understand, a bunch of companies, including AT&T, decided to change the telephone system to sixteen numbers, not digits, the new system still used an area-code and exchange plus four.
Nobody could explain why, though Daddy had tried, they used letters to mean numbers—that was fine in algebra class, but had no use on the telephone as far as I could see.
But all this year, payphones had been changed and by July, Ma Bell had replaced the perfectly serviceable rotary and touch-tone phones with a bigger one with twenty buttons. I had no idea what the new letter-numbers were used for; Daddy said it had something to do with DARPA Net and calling people in space.
The only good thing about it was that no existing telephone numbers changed.
This was an upscale mall, so the booths had textiphones, another brilliant idea from Bell that I didn't understand at all and had even less use for. But they could also make regular calls.
I slipped the dime into the slot and heard it chunk inside.
"You have three minutes," a pleasant contralto voice said without inflection. "Please dial you number now."
I dialed home and Mother answered.
"Good Mother, you're home; this is Dani." She often worked weekends and strange hours, though not very many anymore.
"I'm home for lunch. Is everything all right dear?"
"Yes. Well, no. Tammy and I are at the mall, and I left my wallet in my room. Could you get it for me and bring it here before you go back to work? I want to buy this great dress I found."
"Yes, Dani. Give me a minute."
"Wait," I called out before she could go. "Also, can you ask Gina if she could so some alterations? I need her to take up the bust."
Or should I just stuff it?
"Sure." She paused. "Oh, where in your room?"
"On the night stand." I thought about it but couldn't see it in my mind. "Or in the top drawer of my dresser...or maybe in the jeans in my hamper."
"Okay, dear." She sounded dubious. "I'll go look."
She set the handset down with a clunk and there was silence for a long while.
I got bored and started looking around. The cord on this phone was long; it could stretch to the railing of the mezzanine, and I could look over into the crowd below.
I watched them a while, trying to understand them. People rarely revealed their ulterior motives, if they were even aware enough to know they had them.
How was I supposed to understand them if they didn't even know themselves? It must be hard enough from the inside, but I had to negotiate a vast dessert wasteland with no map.
And there were minefields.
People were so complicated.
"Honey," my mother spoke into the phone. There was something wrong, I could hear it in her voice, even over the telephone.
"What is it Mom? Is something wrong?" Maybe she couldn't find my wallet, but it sounded more serious than that.
"I'm coming to pick you up. Meet me at the west-end door, by the TG&Y."
"What's the matter, Mother?"
"Will you just listen for once?" Her voice was shrill and sounded hollow over the phone. She must be pissed about something.
I hoped it was not at me.
"Okay. I'll be there. But what's wrong Mother, please tell me."
"I...I found something dear. In your room. I need to talk to you right away."
"What? Mother, why? What did you find?"
"You just be outside waiting, Danielle. I'll be right there."