I'm 8.

I've got scruffy notebook pages in my hands, and I'm hounding my mother in the kitchen.

 "But what was your favorite part?” I whined.

"I can’t think of it right now, doll.”

Can't think of it? The damn story isn't even two pages long. Pitiful. I could no longer ignore my need for a bigger, better audience. People outside of this family. People outside of this house. People in different houses. There were tons of houses in our subdivision, a vast potential readership I could reach on foot. 

But you can't walk up to people’s houses uninvited, knock on the door and say 'hey, read this.' Although... I remember slyly, we do go door to door selling Girl Scout cookies. Maybe you can only knock on doors if you have something to sell. Only under the auspices of commerce could I expose my work to the world.

All right then, let's put a price tag on 'er. Not based on worth, because that's impossible to calculate. These ratty spiral notebook sheets may be the future early papers of a great woman of American letters, potentially worth millions of museum dollars.  But for now, my story is twenty-five cents, so no one has the excuse that it's too expensive. 

The story of the day is some light, family fare entitled, The Halloween Trick But No Treat.  The story of a wily older brother thwarting the trick-or-treating of his younger sister.  A Halloween-themed “Home Alone,” with hi-jinks and booby traps, but set in our subdivision. 

I headed towards Janet Smalley’s house. Janet Smalley is perfect: she says hey to  my mom during adult swim at the neighborhood pool but they don't hang outside of the water. Janet Smalley is an almost stranger, the closest thing I can get to the general public which would be my personal audience preference. 

She opened her door and smiled her smile - a quick, wincy smile- then this thing she does with her neck that looks like she’s trying to escape a too-tight men’s necktie without using her hands. Mother told me it was a ‘tick,’ that she does it and can’t help it. I wonder if it means she’s nervous. My story will make her less so. My story will heal that tick right up. 

She scanned the story in her doorway, my eyes laser focused on her neck flexing sporadically. Is that good, is that bad, is she excited, is she breathless with wonder at the prodigious child author who lives right down the street, etc etc.

But after not nearly enough time looking at my story, she asked me the strangest question:

 “So, what's the money for?”

This is what this woman asks me? It's a Halloween-y Home Alone set in your own backyard, JANET. You should be saying something more like ‘wow, what a ride.’ What’s the money for? It's a quarter, JANET.  I'll use it as a Barbie plate, how's that? I thought you worked as a library helper, JANET, I didn't realize you were moonlighting with the IRS. 

I don't want to talk about something so crass and numbers-related as money. I want to move on to the story and how much she liked it.

“It’s because my dad is in the hospital." 

 “There’s something wrong with Phil?”

She knows dad? He's never been to the pool once.

“Oh, he’s not dying anymore now.  It’s just the bills.”

She picked up the receiver of a mustard yellow wall phone nearby. She dialed.  I heard the familiar melody of our phone number.

No, no, no lady! 

 “Alice is here, and she told me Phil is sick?”

Oh great job, JANET. You’ve made a fool of me, when all I only wanted was for you to read the story and love it and go berserk over it, then for us to spend the rest of the evening quoting funny lines from it and laughing hysterically.

 She hung up her wall phone.

She flashed her smile, flexed her neck, and her eyes shimmered with something I’ve seen in the eyes of adults before: she is going to laugh when I leave - instead of laughing when she should have been laughing, which is when she was reading my story!

 “She said to come on home and set the table.”

 “Yep!” I jet before she has time to hand me back my story.

Jogging back to our house, I imagine Janet picking up my story again, if only to tidy up. But without the pressure of the author sitting right there, she’ll have the space to truly focus on it, and Janet Smalley will fall in love. She’ll call me to talk about it from her mustard yellow wall phone. I know she will.

March 30, 2022