Caroline continued to keep to herself; she hardly talked to other people, even at the dinner table when we had lively conversations. Most of the conversation in our household was Emily begging mom to buy expensive clothes, usually ending with my mom chastising her for being too spendthrift. Caroline didn’t seem to need any new clothes, she got by on the hand-me-downs from Emily. Mom saved them hoping one day to reuse the clothes on me (though honestly, I don’t look good in a skin-tight red shirt with a midriff and equally tight, low-cut jeans and a strapless bra).
Note to the reader: The protagonist of this novel (the same person narrating the story) is male.
Generally speaking, Emily’s clothes were too big for Caroline, but due to our ultraslow budget such things as comfort and fit had to fall by the wayside. Caroline looked rather strange with oversized clothes, one of Emily’s old T-shirt reached all the way down to her knee, she could tie a belt around her waist and wear that shirt as a dress. But mom wouldn’t allow Caroline to use her clothes in such a fashion. The only piece of clothing that fit Caroline well as a yellow dress that Emily outgrew when she was three years old.
(Emily was a large person from birth, the doctors even told my mother that she needed a Caesarean. But through her iron will and what must have been a very wide vagina she gave birth to Emily the traditional way, with a lot of pain and heavy breathing.) It was the only piece of Emily’s baby clothes to have survived; she threw most of them away long ago when I outgrew them. She used to dress me in clothes Emily had outgrown even though they were rather girly. She once received a complaint from daycare when I showed up in a pink dress with matching pink princess Jasmine socks. Despite this she continued putting me in dresses at home until I outgrew them at the age of 7. To her, the price of me being embarrassed in public wasn’t worth the cost of buying new clothes. Fortunately there are no photographs of me dressed as a girl; mom was too cheap to buy a camera.
I felt sorry Caroline did not get any new clothes. We were poor, but not dirt poor since we were able to afford to buy a house, and I’m sure there was some money left over from paying the down payment to use as a slush fund to do with whatever we wished. The real reason Caroline did not get any new clothes was my mom’s stinginess, which has a legendary status in the annals of humanity. She once ate a sausage that was clearly marked “NOT FIT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION” because it was two cents per pound cheaper than another brand of sausage. Spam was a cut of meat too expensive to be served very often, and Manwich was like filet mignon. For most of my childhood I ate parts of animals that people wouldn’t even feed to their dogs, but I never asked mom what was in our lunch for fear of loosing my appetite.
As for buying clothes, she even considers Goodwill too fancy a store to shop at regularly, opting to pick up clothes, along with clothe-hangers, that neighbors and friends threw out. Our wardrobe consists mostly of clothes that other people have grown out of or gone out of fashion, so there were lots of baby clothes, psychedelic T-shirts and disco suits. Interestingly, I’ve only gotten positive responses when I dressed like John Travolta at school, so my mother’s parsimony was not necessarily bad. In any case I still believe that Caroline would look prettier if mom coughed up the money to buy her new clothes.
Nonetheless Caroline still look graceful in whichever dress available to her, and since she opened up a little I enjoyed looking at her whenever she walked past me. I was a little sneaky, I glanced at her when I thought she was not paying any attention to me, then glanced away when she started looking at me. I knew that she knew I did this, it bothered her a little as I will discover later on, but she at least understands that I was too embarrass to share with her my feelings.
Throughout the next few weeks Caroline started opening up just a little bit, like a young bud preparing to burst open in the heat of the morning sun. It might have been my imagination but when she looked at me she doesn’t appear hostile anymore, she was obviously not elated but at least I know it didn’t look as though she was ready to punch me.
She was starting to talk, just a little, such as during dinner when she opened her mouth and said in a very brazen manner, “Three bean salad?! But this only contains pinto beans!”
“Actually it’s soybeans; I can’t afford pinto beans,” my mother said in the spirit of an unusually good mood.
I would like to believe that I played a role in opening up Caroline. It would have been a great boost to my ego if I had the ability to help a person to overcome her life of tragedy and become a well-adjusted individual. But probably the shock of her parent’s death was wearing off and she was beginning to acclimate to living with a new family, making her less reclusive and more open. One thing was clear though, she talked more friendly in front of me than any other person she was acquainted with. It might be due to the fact we were both ten-years-old and therefore had an intimate understanding of one another’s thought at this stage of psychological development. Perhaps I was the only one besides Caroline who spent most of my days hanging around in the house (during the day mom was at work and Emily spent her time near Oaks Theater with her friends) and was in contact with her for longer periods of time and able to develop a deeper relationship than with anyone else she knows. But I would like to believe that Caroline was attracted to me because of my magnetic personality and god-like attributes.