Home > Eleanor & Park(11)

Eleanor & Park(11)
Author: Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor stood on the front steps after school.

She’d hoped to catch Park before he got on the bus, but she must have missed him.

She wasn’t sure what kind of car to watch for; her dad was always buying classic cars, then selling them when money got tight.

She was starting to worry that he wasn’t coming at all – he could’ve gone to the wrong high school or changed his mind – when he honked for her.

He pulled up in an old Karmann Ghia convertible. It looked like the car James Dean died in. Her dad’s arm was hanging over the door, holding a cigarette. ‘Eleanor!’ he shouted.

She walked to the car and got in. There weren’t any seat belts.

‘Is that all you brought?’ he asked, looking at her school bag.

‘It’s just one night.’ She shrugged.

‘All right,’ he said, backing out of the parking space too fast. She’d forgotten what a crappy driver he was. He did everything too fast and one-handed.

Eleanor braced herself on the dashboard. It was cold out, and once they were driving, it got colder. ‘Can we put the top up?’ she shouted.

‘Haven’t fixed it yet,’ her dad said, and laughed.

He still lived in the same duplex he’d lived in since her parents split up. It was solid and brick, and about a ten-minute drive from Eleanor’s school.

When they got inside, he took a better look at her.

‘Is that what all the cool kids are wearing these days?’ he asked. She looked down at her giant white shirt, her fat paisley tie and her half-dead purple corduroys.

‘Yup,’ she said flatly. ‘This is pretty much our uniform.’

Her dad’s girlfriend – fiancée – Donna, didn’t get off work until five, and after that she had to pick her kid up from daycare. In the meantime, Eleanor and her dad sat on the couch and watched ESPN.

He smoked cigarette after cigarette, and sipped Scotch out of a short glass. Every once in a while the phone would ring, and he’d have a long, laughy conversation with somebody about a car or a deal or a bet. You’d think that every single person who called was his best friend in the whole world. Her dad had baby blond hair and a round, boyish face. When he smiled, which was constantly, his whole face lit up like a bill-board. If Eleanor paid too much attention, she hated him.

His duplex had changed since the last time she’d been here, and it was more than just the box of Fisher Price toys in the living room and the makeup in the bathroom.

When they’d first started visiting him here –

after the divorce, but before Richie – their dad’s duplex had been a bare-bones bachelor pad. He didn’t even have enough bowls for them all to have soup. He’d served Eleanor clam chowder once in a highball glass. And he only had two towels. ‘One wet,’ he’d said, ‘one dry.’

Now Eleanor fixated on all the small luxuries strewn and tucked around the house. Packs of cigarettes, newspapers, magazines … Brand-name cereal and quilted toilet paper. His refrigerator was full of things you tossed into the cart without thinking about it just because they sounded good.

Custard-style yogurt. Grapefruit juice. Little round cheeses individually wrapped in red wax.

She couldn’t wait for her dad to leave so that she could start eating everything. There were stacks of Coca-Cola cans in the pantry. She was going to drink Coke like water all night, she might even wash her face with it. And she was going to order a pizza. Unless the pizza came out of her babysitting money. (That would be just like her dad. He’d take you to the cleaners with fine print.) Eleanor didn’t care if eating all his food pissed him off or if it freaked out Donna.

She might never see either of them again anyway.

Now she wished she had brought an overnight bag. She could have snuck home cans of Chef Boyardee and Campbell’s chicken noodle soup for the little kids. She would have felt like Santa Claus when she came home …

She didn’t want to think about the little kids right now. Or Christmas.

She tried to turn the station to MTV, but her dad frowned at her. He was on the phone again.

‘Can I listen to records?’ she whispered.

He nodded.

She had an old mix tape in her pocket, and she was going to dub over it to make a tape for Park. But there was a whole packet of empty Maxell tapes sitting on her dad’s stereo. Eleanor held a cassette up to her dad, and he nodded, flicking his cigarette into an ashtray shaped like a nak*d African woman.

Eleanor sat down in front of the crates full of record albums.

These used to be both of her parents’ records, not just his. Her mom must not have wanted any of them. Or maybe her dad just took them without asking.

Her mom had loved this Bonnie Raitt album.

Eleanor wondered if her dad ever listened to it.

She felt seven years old, flipping through their records.

Before she was allowed to take the albums out of their sleeves, Eleanor used to lay them out on the floor and stare at the artwork. When she was old enough, her dad taught her how to dust the records with a wood-handled velvet brush.

She could remember her mother lighting in-cense and putting on her favorite records – Judee Sill and Judy Collins and Crosby, Stills and Nash

– while she cleaned the house.

She could remember her dad putting on records – Jimi Hendrix and Deep Purple and Jethro Tull – when his friends came over and stayed late into the night.

Eleanor could remember lying on her stomach on an old Persian rug, drinking grape juice out of a jelly jar, being extra quiet because her baby brother was asleep in the next room – and studying each record, one by one. Turning their names over and over in her mouth. Cream.

Vanilla Fudge. Canned Heat.

The records smelled exactly like they always had. Like her dad’s bedroom. Like Richie’s coat.

Like pot, Eleanor realized. Duh. She flipped through the records more matter-of-factly now, on a mission. Looking for Rubber Soul and Revolver.

Sometimes it seemed as if she would never be able to give Park anything like what he’d given her. It was like he dumped all this treasure on her every morning without even thinking about it, without any sense of what it was worth.

She couldn’t repay him. She couldn’t even appropriately thank him. How can you thank someone for The Cure? Or the X-Men? Sometimes it felt like she’d always be in his debt.

And then she realized that Park didn’t know about the Beatles.

Park

Park went to the playground to play basketball after school. Just to kill time. But he couldn’t focus on the game – he kept looking up at the back of Eleanor’s house.

When he got home, he called out to his mom.

‘Mom! I’m home!’

‘Park,’ she called. ‘Out here! In the garage.’

He grabbed a cherry Popsicle out of the freezer and headed out there. He could smell the permanent-wave solution as soon as he opened the door.

Park’s dad had converted their garage into a salon when Josh started kindergarten and their mom went to beauty school. She even had a little sign hanging by the side door. ‘Mindy’s Hair & Nails.’

‘Min-Dae,’ it said on her driver’s license.

Everyone in the neighborhood who could af-ford a hair stylist came to Park’s mom. On homecoming and prom weekends, she’d spend all day in the garage. Both Park and Josh were recruited from time to time to hold hot curling irons.

Today, his mom had Tina sitting in her chair.

Tina’s hair was wound tight in rollers, and Park’s mom was squeezing something onto them with a plastic bottle. The smell burned his eyes.

‘Hey, Mom,’ he said. ‘Hey, Tina.’

‘Hey, honey,’ his mom said. She pronounced it with two ‘n’s.

Tina smiled broadly at him. ‘Close eyes, Ti-na,’ his mom said. ‘Stay close.’

‘Hey, Mrs Sheridan,’ Tina said, holding a white washcloth over her eyes, ‘have you met Park’s girlfriend yet?’

His mom didn’t look up from Tina’s head.

‘Nooo,’ she said, clucking her tongue. ‘No girlfriend. Not Park.’

‘Uh-huh,’ Tina said. ‘Tell her, Park – her name is Eleanor, and she’s new this year. We can’t keep them apart on the bus.’

Park stared at Tina. Shocked that she’d sell him out like this. Startled by her rosy take on bus life. Surprised that she was even paying attention to him, and to Eleanor. His mom looked over at Park, but not for long; Tina’s hair was at a critic-all stage.

‘I don’t know about any girlfriend,’ his mom said.

‘I’ll bet you’ve seen her in the neighborhood,’ Tina said, assuring. ‘She has really pretty, red hair. Naturally curly.’

‘Is that right?’ his mom said.

‘No,’ Park said, anger and everything else curdling in his stomach.

‘You’re such a guy, Park,’ Tina said from behind the washcloth. ‘I’m sure it’s natural.’

‘No,’ he said, ‘she’s not my girlfriend. I don’t have a girlfriend,’ he said to his mom.

‘Okay, okay,’ she said. ‘Too much girl talk for you. Too much girl talk, Ti-na. You go check on dinner now,’ she said to Park.

He backed out of the garage, still wanting to argue, feeling more denial twitching in his throat.

He slammed the door, then went into the kitchen and slammed as much as he could in there. The oven. The cabinets. The trash.

‘What the hell is wrong with you?’ his dad said, walking into the kitchen.

Park froze. He could not get into trouble tonight.

‘Nothing,’ he said. ‘Sorry. I’m sorry.’

‘Jesus, Park, take it out on the bag …’ There was an old-school punching bag in the garage, hanging way out of Park’s reach.

‘Mindy!’ his dad shouted.

‘Out here!’

Eleanor didn’t call during dinner, which was good. That got on his dad’s nerves.

But she didn’t call after dinner either. Park walked around the house, picking things up randomly, then setting them down. Even though it didn’t make sense, he worried that Eleanor wasn’t calling because he’d betrayed her. That she knew somehow, that she’d sensed a disturb-ance in the Force.

The phone rang at 7:15, and his mom answered it. He could tell right away that it was his grandma.

Park tapped his fingers on a bookshelf. Why didn’t his parents want call waiting? Everyone had call waiting. His grandparents had call waiting. And why couldn’t his grandma just come over, if she wanted to talk? They lived right next door.

‘No, I don’t think so,’ his mother said. ‘ Sixty Minutes always on Sunday … Maybe you think of Twenty-Twenty? No? … John Stos-sel? No?

… Geraldo Rivera? Di-anne Sawyer?’

Park gently banged his head against the living room wall.

‘God damn it, Park,’ his dad snapped, ‘ what is wrong with you?’

His dad and Josh were trying to watch The A-Team.

‘Nothing,’ Park said, ‘nothing. I’m sorry. I’m just waiting for a phone call.’

‘Is your girlfriend calling?’ Josh asked.

‘Park’s dating Big Red.’

‘She’s not—’ Park caught himself shouting and clenched his fists. ‘If I ever hear you call her that again, I’ll kill you. I’ll literally kill you. I’ll go to jail for the rest of my life, and it’ll break Mom’s heart, but I will. Kill. You.’

His dad looked at Park like he always did, like he was trying to figure out what the f**k was wrong with him.

‘Park has a girlfriend?’ he asked Josh. ‘Why do they call her Big Red?’

‘I think it’s because she has red hair and giant tits,’ Josh said.

‘No way, dirty mouth,’ their mother said. She held her hand over the phone. ‘You’ – she pointed at Josh – ‘in your room. Now.’

‘But, Mom, The A-Team is on.’

‘You heard your mother,’ their dad said.

‘You don’t get to talk like that in this house.’

‘You talk like that,’ Josh said, dragging himself off the couch.

‘I’m thirty-nine years old,’ their dad said,

‘and a decorated veteran. I’ll say whatever the hell I want.’

Their mother jabbed a long fingernail at his dad and covered the phone again. ‘I’ll send you to your room, too.’

‘Honey, I wish you would,’ their dad said, throwing a throw pillow at her.

‘Hugh Downs?’ Park’s mom said into the phone. The pillow fell on the floor and she picked it up. ‘No? … Okay, I’ll keep thinking.

Okay. Love you. Okay, bye-bye.’

As soon as she hung up, the phone rang. Park sprung away from the wall. His dad grinned at him. His mom answered the phone.

‘Hello?’ she said. ‘Yes, one moment please.’

She looked at Park. ‘Telephone.’

‘Can I take it in my room?’

His mom nodded. His dad mouthed, ‘Big Red.’

Park ran into his room, then stopped to catch his breath before he picked up the phone. He couldn’t. He picked it up anyway.

‘I got it, Mom, thanks.’

He waited for the click. ‘Hello?’

‘Hi,’ Eleanor said. He felt all of the tension rush out of him. Without it, he could hardly stand up.

‘Hi,’ he breathed.

She giggled.

‘What?’ he said.

‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘Hi.’

‘I didn’t think you were going to call.’

‘It’s not even 7:30.’

‘Yeah, well … is your brother asleep?’

‘He’s not my brother,’ she said. ‘I mean, not yet. I guess my dad’s engaged to his mom. But, no, he’s not asleep. He’s watching Fraggle Rock.’

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