This and That

I used to have trouble understanding what secrets were. What the term meant. Why people felt the need to keep things locked away from one another. What was the purpose of hushed voices, or solemn head shakes from my mother, signifying that this was not the place to discuss things like that? It seemed that there were many things that I didn’t understand.

It was June of ’87. I was twelve. The stifling heat of summer had successfully infiltrated our Arizona home, meaning the small popsicles we kept in the freezer had to be replenished at least weekly and Bon Jovi played continually on 97.5, his voice filling every nook of the house. I had happily replaced my plaid skirts and heavy, collared shirts with cargo shorts and brightly colored tank tops. I remember feeling euphoric. Each day was open, summer seeming to stretch to infinity. The sunshine seeped into our pores and wove itself into our souls.

When the moving van parked at the house across the street, I was singing ‘Living on a Prayer’ with my blue-stained tongue. The kitchen table was dusted with crumbs. I absently brushed them onto the floor, silently hoping our dog would come along and lick them away before my mother noticed their sudden appearance on the tile.

I watched as a couple stepped out of the house to meet the van driver. There was something strangely robotic about the way they intertwined their hands and strode, pressed shoulder to shoulder. They looked to be in their early twenties, noticeably young to own a two-story home in the Tucson suburbs.

The woman was small and dainty, dressed inexplicably in a red turtleneck despite the dry heat. Her dark jeans fell at her hips, showing off an hourglass figure. She was all curves and gentleness. Even at that unaware age, I was conscious of the fact that she was beautiful. Her dainty fingers raked absentmindedly through her long, dark hair, rings of both silver and gold glinting on her fingers and knuckles. The man was her opposite, all edges and roughness. He had stubble dotting his chin and neck, with a mustache protruding above his big lips. That’s it – he projected largeness. Commanding fingers, a beer belly, and wide shoulders.

As often as I recollect this specific moment, I still can’t explain what drew me to the two figures on the opposite side of the street. There was something strangely untouchable about them, and it pulled me in.

I left the kitchen, grabbing my hot pink volleyball from the garage and stepping onto the pavement of our driveway. In my rush to get closer I had forgotten shoes, and the cement burned the bottom of my feet. I did a little dance, trying to find cooler ground to no avail. The sunshine was momentarily blocked from my eyes by a shadow. I looked up to find the woman standing over me, holding out a pair of black socks, bunched into a ball.

“Here, sister.” She said, a southern accent peaking through the folds of her words. “Where are your shoes?”
I smiled, accepting the socks, “I forgot to wear any.”
She matched my smile, slanted her eyes, nodded knowingly and walked away. Such was my first interaction with Isabelle Dean.

I learned in the following months that she liked being called ‘Belle.’ “Like the princess,” She’d say. She was from Georgia. Grew up riding horses, despised Arizona, and didn’t believe in God. She considered herself a woman of science. She liked it when her husband, Jeremy (whom she called ‘J’) was out of the house. Oranges were her favorite fruit. The afternoons I spent in her home while Jeremy was out were my favorite ones. I’d wake up in the morning praying the doorbell would ring. When it did, I’d rush downstairs and jump into TURN PAGE >>