Monday, April 5, 2010
The Brantley Flock
By: Anna Turkett for her Senior Juries, Creative Writing, Alabama School of Fine Arts
I remember when Katie called me that night, her voice was soft over the phone. She told me to listen.
“What?” And I heard them – quiet peeps, the little high-pitched cries over and over.
“Ducklings!” She squeaked excitedly. She sent me a picture of the four yellow fluff balls; she’d already named them.
A part of me couldn’t help but be worried. It was right around Easter, and I’d heard all the horror stories of baby chicks, ducklings, and bunnies being kept for the holiday honeymoon then dumped at the pound. I was scared those cute duckies might fall to the same fate when they weren’t cute anymore. But looking back on it now, I can’t imagine why I thought that the friend I’d had for years would even do that. Katie and her family were special.
I met Katie when I was in the eighth grade. She’s one of those friends that has only a before and after – I can’t remember how we became close, just that we suddenly were. Back then I was still recuperating from being labeled a freak in middle school and was convinced a preppy blonde dancer would never talk to me. But she did, because Katie never saw me as weird or a freak, she saw me as someone to talk to. That’s the thing about Katie: she has an uncanny ability to understand people. She can sense personality, she knows you for two days and suddenly she can comprehend your inner workings almost better than you do.
Katie and I became attached at the hip, and it wasn’t long before I was invited to the house. My father and I drove what seemed like ages, almost missed the turn, and were greeted by a gate with a keypad. The house I pulled up to was muted in the dark, but still larger than any I’d ever been to. We pulled into the driveway and I met Katie’s mother – short blonde hair, white t shirt and a Styrofoam cup in one hand. She told my dad I was in good hands, and she and Katie led me into their home.
Katie’s house was gorgeous, almost beyond my comprehension. Hers was the sort of house I believed only existed in movies. When I imagine it now, I remember it in the mid-day sunlight, Katie giving me the full tour… We walk up the curved driveway, passing the three garages and stumble upon the glittering blue pool. Her mother’s office is the size of half my house, an exquisite spiral staircase and trophies along the walls. We walk inside and the air’s so clean I feel like I can breathe better. A quaint living room, sparkling kitchen with the island in the middle and pots clanking lightly in the afternoon breeze. The TV is on, real low, you can barely here it. We pass the pantry, sneak in like late night raccoons and grab a small snack. Leaning into the den, we see Katie’s mom taking a nap, and tiptoe past. I keep looking up at the high ceiling, the elk mounted above the television. Katie shows me her parent’s room – a bathroom out of a magazine, an entire room for a grand piano. Upstairs is our oasis; a doll room, spare bedroom, and Katie’s master suite of her own. Hurriedly she takes me downstairs, past the dance costumes framed on the wall. It’s like a whole other house – a tanning bed room, den, Michelle’s bedroom. She takes me back upstairs and we head outside.
This house fascinated me. The size, the meticulous detail, the richness of it all. I thought if I lived in it I would be blissful automatically – it had that sort of charm. It wasn’t that the house overshadowed my friendship with Katie. But being a middle class child, I was just in wonder of it.
Soon I met the family, one by one. The first time her mother offered to buy me food we’d gone out, Katie wanted barbecue, and I blushed furiously when she asked what I wanted. I didn’t want to take anything from them. But Katie’s mom just smiled, said it was just fine, pick something. Katie’s sister drove us, making jokes about Disney movies, griping about fellow cars. Her dad came in and out, sometimes dropping out of nowhere, always greeting us with a smile, a sweet pat on the back. I’d had friends whose families I’d known before, but never had I felt so taken in by a group of people. I remember the first day I opened Katie’s front door and came in to get her. She laughed, told me I was practically family. I felt that.
The Brantleys seemed like a fantasy at first. These rich-as-anything, smiling people who were willing to take me in. I thought they couldn’t be real. They were, but that didn’t mean they’d be that perfect forever.
It was early spring that morning and the air still felt like winter. Katie and I had taken a walk outside, the lunchroom too loud for our liking. We reached the middle of the field. I was facing the swing set. I noticed Katie was under duress and asked her what was wrong. She confessed.
Her family was filing for bankruptcy, her father had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, and the economy was about to tank. I didn’t believe the third but two years later and she definitely got that one right. I couldn’t believe it – the plastic-perfect family sounded like it would crumble. I was scared for her; ready to help her though unsure of what I could do. Katie was the strong one out of us – smarter in math than I was; an encyclopedia of knowledge and dates, an emotional lean to. But now it was time for me to buck up.
The changes happened over time and they blend when I try to remember when they happened. Katie began to recant tales of her father forgetting things, she told me about how her mother had begun to eBay things, and soon, she tearfully told me they were moving. The house, that gorgeous fantasy of a house, would be lost. Inside I was crying for her. So many changes I could barely keep up with. Together we dealt with school, we studied, we wrote notes back and forth, ate lunch side by side, and I was the one holding her around the shoulders when she felt like things were just too much. I did all I could as a best friend. As an observer, out of touch with the inner workings, I wondered how the family was holding up.
The first time I went to Katie’s new house, I got inexplicably lost. She’d try to describe the place to me but her homebuilder language went over my head. Once I got there, I sort of fell in love with the quaint sand-colored home, exposed brick on the sides, plants already growing everywhere. She let me in and again gave me a tour.
The house was smaller of course. Her mom called it the ‘go-down house’. But it still had that Brantley charm to it – roosters in the kitchen, knick-knacks afoot, still that clean, clean air. We walked into her mother’s new office; huge computer screens showing eBay, boxes on the floor. Katie’s mom was as happy as ever, smiling up a storm as she waved her hands around, asking me if I didn’t just love the new house. I did, I told her, and she laughed with delight. Katie and I retreated to her new bedroom, still decorated with relics of the old one.
In the weeks following I spent a lot of time at the new house, helping with decorating, taking rides around the pond, exploring the half-empty neighborhood. When we’d get back to the house, tired out from the day, and make dinner with her family, I was amazed. Suddenly it was like we were back in that mansion, eating fast food on a marble island. I knew then what I’ve learned now: the money didn’t change the Brantleys.
Being homebuilders, the Brantleys had to take risks, and the economy dealt them a bad hand when it decided to take a swan dive. I expected losing the house, some of the sparkling expensive possessions, would change them. That the family that had taken me in and comforted me wouldn’t be the same. But that was just what they were – the same loving family I’d gotten to know before. I should’ve known: though my best friend was going through some hard times, she’d stayed the wonderful person I’d met, she’d just gotten even stronger. Even with Katie’s father losing more memory, they took care of him – sad for what had happened but always looking forward, thinking of what could be done, and how much they loved him.
So that Easter when Katie called me about ducklings, I should’ve learned from my mistake. This was the Brantleys who had these ducks, not just some normal mucks off the street. This was the strong head of household Rhonda Brantley holding a duckling, the caregiver Michelle giving them food, my best buddy preparing them a new place to live.
Before I knew it the Brantleys became a duck family, along with the movie/knickknack/eBay/good food/party/loving family they already were. The ducks were sometimes fretted over but always given the best of care. They were lavished over, taken on first swims in the tub, carefully watched over all the time. When they first went in the pond, Katie, her mom, and her sister nearly cried. Heck, I nearly cried. It was like watching a little kid’s first day of school. I got to watch the Brantleys raise another family, and I was privileged enough to help. When Katie’s favorite duck Peep had to be put down, it was a family tragedy. And now that the ducks are laying their own eggs, it’s a celebration.
“We have an egg!” Katie shouted at me. And within a week, there were eighteen and counting. Now in a homemade incubator there’s a second generation. The Brantley duck brood is growing and the family’s abuzz with excitement.
When I sit watching TV, eating spaghettio’s on the couch next to Katie, I remember playing ‘guitar wii’ in the old house sometimes. When I take a shower I remember the blinding white bathroom of luxury she once had. But then I remember who I’m sitting with, who I’m surrounded by. A juggernaut of a family that nothing can bring down, bursting with love and care for those who show the same to them. I’m with the Brantley flock, staying close to my best friend, following Mama duck to rest safely at the pond.
Posted by RB at 7:46 PM