Suchen und Finden
Afternoon — Houston
The meeting with the superintendent only lasted twenty minutes, but he also introduced Bonnie and Sarah to a few officials in the Community Partnerships and Media Relations departments, so they would be aware of Bonnie’s programs. By the time those meetings were over it was nearly noon.
“Let’s eat out today,” Bonnie said. “I’m buying.”
“Great. Where are we going?”
“To the XSX.”
The XSX was a sports bar in the Galleria area, not far from the HISD Admin Building. Bonnie loved coming here because it was one of the few eating places that still displayed Houston Comets memorabilia, even though the team was now in its fifth year without a championship win. On regular work days, she often wore her Comets t-shirt that announced the Comets’ dominance of the WNBA from 1997 to 2000.
“I love my team, and I’m going to have a Cooper Comet Shake with my Swoopes Salad,” Bonnie said as they pulled into the parking lot.
Sarah ordered an iced tea and a Federer Fajita. The food was delicious, but the music was cranked up so loud it was impossible to carry on a conversation. Bonnie seemed happy, though, two of the restaurant’s twenty TV’s were playing a rerun of the Comets’ 1997 championship final. Sarah wanted to talk some more about Bonnie’s impending move, but they just ate, trying to ignore the cacophonous din blasting from the restaurant’s speakers.
* * *
Back at Rice, before Sarah could get her office door open, Jill called to her from across the hall.
“I have something for you.” She was grinning broadly, holding out a note.
“What is it?”
“Dr. Rodriguez wants to talk to you.”
Bonnie poked her head in, “John Rodriguez? The history professor?”
“The same,” Jill said.
“Oooh. He’s cute.”
Sarah laughed. “Don’t let Marcus hear you say that. What does he want?”
“Something about web pages. He said Stu sent him. You should call him right away. Or I’ll be glad to take him a message. In person.”
“I’ll talk to Stu and see what’s up. I don’t know what he could want with me.”
Bonnie said, “Don’t sell yourself short. On second thought, maybe I should talk to him. What if he’s trying to hire you away from me?”
“Don’t worry. That’s not going to happen. I’ll ask Stu what’s going on.”
Bonnie called a quick meeting to let the rest of the staff know about her move to Corpus Christi. Jill assured her that she could handle the day-to-day operations, especially since Bonnie would still be there part of the time. George and Linda, the other staff members, felt the same, but before they all went back to their offices they spent some time discussing possible ways they could make the transition work for everyone.
Sarah meant to call Stu right away, but started thinking about Bonnie’s news and forgot to. She didn’t feel deserted by Bonnie, but she hoped they would all be able to function without her physical presence. She tried to work on the plan for the summer program, but her mind kept wandering.
Some additional thunderstorms fired up in the afternoon warmth. As she watched the rain pound on the windowpane, she worried about getting home. Summer rains in Houston often generated overflowing bayous and high water on surface streets. She stepped to the window and looked down at the rain seeking an exit from a roadway that was trying to turn into a creek. Gazing at the water surging along the asphalt she thought back to something that had happened nearly thirty years ago.
* * *
The first five years of Sarah’s life had been unremarkable. Her father, Rusty, had returned from Vietnam a year before she was born. Russell was his given name. Rusty was, of course, a nickname for the fiery-red hair he had passed on to both Sarah and her older brother, William. Shortly after Sarah was born, the family moved from their apartment in Chicago to Sarah’s grandparents’ farm in Deep Springs, Texas.
Rusty, like many Vietnam vets, found it difficult to hold onto a job. Noises spooked him easily, and his attention wandered. He would sometimes stand still and stare off into space, humming tunes only he could recognize. Loud noises had been known to spark a shout of “Incoming!” and cause him to dive for the floor. Or the grass. Or the concrete. There weren’t many businesses equipped to deal with that sort of reaction.
Sarah’s mother, Barbara, was worried for him, so she called her father one night and asked if they could all come down to Texas to stay. Her father, Lawrence (or PaPaw Larry, as William and Sarah called him) had served at Anzio during World War II and understood. He said to come right away.
The farm was a small place, one of those family businesses that was beginning to be supplanted by larger conglomerates. Years earlier, shortly after Barbara graduated from Deep Springs High School, her father sold about half of the farm, over six hundred acres, keeping enough to grow a few crops and raise some chickens and cows. He did manage to keep some acreage on the east side of the farm, leading to the creek. He told Grandma Martha, who was always called Grandma Martha (never MaMaw or MeeMaw) that he kept it because it would be good for Barbara’s kids to have a place to play when they visited in the summers.
“Once she gets married and pops a few out of the oven,” he had said.
Martha knew it was actually so he could have an excuse to get away from her to put in some quality fishing time. Once they were all living there together, PaPaw Larry did try his best to sneak off with the kids whenever possible, but Grandma Martha was wise to him, and would steer him toward the chickens he hadn’t fed, or the other chores he was trying to leave undone.
One overly-warm June Saturday, a month before Sarah’s sixth birthday, the two kids decided to go swimming. Grandma Martha, called from the kitchen window as they passed by, Sarah dogging her brother’s footsteps.
“Don’t you kids swim in the creek. Swim in the tank. There’s snakes in that creek.”
“Yes, Grandma Martha,” William said. Sarah echoed him.
PaPaw Larry appeared in the window next to Martha, and suggested he go with them to keep an eye on them. That was met with her reminder that the vegetable garden needed tending, and quickly followed by, “Now, mind you, William Brown, take care of your sister. The tank’s not too deep, but she’s still a little ‘un.”
“Okay, Grandma. I promise,” he shouted, their freckled faces swiveling back toward her, their towels flapping in the breeze.
When they got to the tank, William kept walking. Sarah asked why.
“Because we’re going to the creek.”
Sarah responded, in her whiny five-year-old way, “But you promised. You promised Grandma Martha.”
“I know, but the tank’s no fun, and there’s a swing at the creek. Papaw Larry rigged it for me on that big oak tree that hangs over the water. I can swing out over the creek and plop right in. It’s lots of fun. Besides, there’s no shade at the tank.”
Sarah pouted and stopped where she was. She didn’t want to defy Grandma and get in trouble.
Seeing her reluctance, William pulled out the ultimate argument, “Besides, cows pee and crap in the tank.” What self-respecting almost-six-year-old girl would what to swim in cow poo?
On to the creek they marched, and swam and splashed in the cool water. Sarah stayed in the shallow parts and kept a close eye out for Grandma’s snakes, but didn’t see any. Everything went well until William tried to get her to swing out on the rope and drop in the creek with him.
No matter how easy he said it was, Sarah was afraid to swing on the rope. For one thing, she could barely swim. She had been learning, and could manage a sort of dog paddle, but someone had always held her up in the water before, so she wasn’t comfortable with the idea of independent in-the-water locomotion, but William prevailed. In the eyes of a not-quite-six-year-old, a ten-year-old brother’s wisdom often had the upper hand. He coaxed and cajoled, and eventually convinced her. He said he would hit the water first, and would grab her before she could sink.
“You’ll barely even get wet,” he promised. “You’ll be just fine, no problem.”
So, bit by bit, after watching William plop into the creek so easily, time after time, she decided it would be okay. Facing him, wrapping her arms tight around his neck, and her legs around his waist, she closed her eyes and waited for the splash.
Maybe it was the extra weight that did it.
William had perfected his technique, knowing how to swing out over the water and let go at precisely the right time. Sarah wasn’t heavy, but she wasn’t tiny either, so maybe carrying that extra forty pounds on his chest threw off his center of gravity, or allowed him to miscalculate. At any rate, he slipped a few...