This is an excerpt from Brandy’s monologue. It’s gone through a few edits and it’s still a little green around the gills. Brandy is thirteen, the named character in Missing Brandy, a work in progress.
Me? I’m an everyday kind of teen with curls so tight on damp days they stick to my scalp and I can feel them winding up. They move like baby snakes, all slithery, while I reach for my alarm clock. That’s why I don’t always pay attention in History—my kinks and my zits are driving me wild to say nothing of the braces. I’ve had them on for a year and will probably need them for most all of high school, that’s what Dad said before he decided to die.
You’d have loved him. He took me to ballgames. We’d walk to Borough Hall and take the subway to 161st Street and when we got to the stadium we’d hold hands, swinging our arms high and fast. It was like taking a ride on a high flying machine, that’s what Granny called it. Dad bought me hot dogs and soda and talked about winning and losing and when winning’s important and when it’s not. When I was seven, I could name all the Yankee pitchers, but now I’ve lost touch.
First Dad died, then Aunt Caroline moved to London. The wrong ones went away and left me and now I’m alone with Mom. Except for Granny Liam, of course, but she goes in and out.
Mom never thinks of me. She never listens to me, but Mrs. Coltran says that’s not true. She knows my mother loves me. I wish I could believe her. My mother’s so out of it. Come to think of it, I can’t even tell you what she looks like, except, when I close my eyes tight, all I see are bags under her eyes caused by the tinted glasses she wears.
Like here’s one. Frankie, that’s one of my friends—a girl, would you believe. Anyway, when Frankie got her nose piercing, a turquoise little nob of a job with a touch of gold around it, fits real nice on her right nostril. Well, I thought I might try it but they all said, “Better ask Pah-tricia, you know how she is.”
I refuse to call my mom Trisha by the way. I like the name Trisha too much. I told her I’d call her Patricia but not Trisha like she wants to be called instead of Mom so when I started calling her Patricia with the accent on the “Pah,” like this, “Pah (hold it for two beats)-tricia,” she said to stick with Mom.
Anyway, why did I bother asking her about the piercing? Clara had one, I told her. I just made that up because I knew she’d never see Clara because Clara doesn’t come to the house and Pah-tricia doesn’t come to the school. But I told her about Frankie’s pierce and how she got it and what it looked like and where she got it—on Seventh Avenue in South Slope, real close—and I was wasn’t even finished talking, see, and she just interrupted and said No. Slammed right in and stopped me. Didn’t look up from her papers she’s always reading or anything. Matter of fact, she didn’t look at me the whole time I was talking.
Sometimes I do this thing where I don’t stop, just keep up the talk like a machine gun, cover one thing and then another like you’re spooning different foods onto your plate without stopping. I do it to see how long she can go without looking at me and I timed it and you want to know something, she can go almost ten minutes without lifting her eyes while I’m pumping away with the words. That’s how she is.
Heather wouldn’t want a piercing, I know that. But Heather loves her Mom which has its goods and its bads because the way I figure it, Heather doesn’t know how brain-washed she is.
Heather says my mother’s afraid. Whatever. I try to be nice and all, but Pah-tricia doesn’t care what I’m thinking. She never tries to talk to me. I start up with this or that but I can tell she’s not listening. Like tonight, I tried to tell her how boring gym is and could she write me an excuse because of the cramps but she doesn’t get it. Know what she said? She told me there’d be lots of things I wouldn’t like doing and lots of cramp days, I’d get them once a month so I’d better get used to them and I should just buck up, her words. Now what the hey? What does ‘buck up’ mean? You’ll be happy you took gym when you’re older, she says. But, Mom … I begin and watch her wince because she wants to be called Trisha and I can’t do it because there’s a Trisha in my class and I like her. She’s not in our group or anything only because she’s too busy and anyhow she lives in Flatbush which is way far away. I’m not quite sure why she lives there or why anybody lives there, to tell you the truth. Or how she made to to our school, but she’s nice and all, only she studies all the time and never hangs out with us. Polly said she’s on scholarship. Polly knows everything.
Getting back to Mom. Pah-tricia, I mean … But mighty woman has spoken and now she’s disappearing into her tent, I can see it in her eyes beyond those yuck-tinted glasses she wears. Excuse me while I barf. Whatever. So you know what I do? I stand still except for my feet which rock onto their sides.
“Don’t do that. You’ll ruin your shoes, and I just spent $89 for them.”
I’m barely moving and Pah-tricia’s not looking up but she knows I’m rocking onto my sides without looking? Like I’m not worth $89? Like, Don’t kill my vibe, that’s what she’s doing. Heather’s mom made her a tee shirt that says, Witch Don’t Kill My Vibe, but I like my poster better. See, when Heather told me about it, I had to have one and went online and bought it. The real thing from the rap, “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe.” That’s one good thing about Pah-tricia, she let’s me use her card if it’s going to be below $25. Anyway, Heather’s tee is black and has a witch’s hat over the words. Heather had it framed. Too cute, Polly said. Polly hangs with us. Polly’s rich and likes both her parents but can’t stand her older brother because he smokes in his room and the smoke travels under his door and down the hall and seeps into to her room and chokes her. Polly’s a Catholic, a practicing one. So are we but we don’t practice. Practicing means Polly goes to mass every week or at least sit in a church a lot. Polly showed us how to genuflect and make the sign. It’s a special thing you do with your hands she told me to ward off devils. Gives me the creeps. But the only devils I have are the ones in my head, that’s what Granny Liam told me one day when her head was on straight.
The other person I know who smokes is Aunt Caroline, my dad’s sister, the only one left on his side of the family. Mom hates her. Says she has no discipline. Aunt Caroline’s this author and every time she writes something, it makes it onto the New York Times Bestseller List because she puts weird stuff in them so now she thinks that whatever she says is cute. Mom’s words. But I like Aunt Caroline. She invited me to see a play once. I forget what it was called. I hated it, but pretended I loved it, some grown-up thing. But Aunt Caroline had this black limo pick me up at my house and I remember Dad standing in front of the windows in his study looking out at me and waving as the driver helped me into the car. I might not make it without him.
Photo: Refurbished old-law tenements on Orchard Street, Lower East Side.