Don’t Waste the Catsup!

“Let’s play like we’re dead,” I say to my little sister. “Like somebody broke into the house and murdered us.”

We both open our eyes wide and our mouths wide and suck in air, all at the same time, to demonstrate that this is a good idea. She is game.

“We’ll give Mama and Dad a real bad scare.”

Our mother has gone to get our dad from work. It is six o’clock and dark outside, and she has left us alone for the fifteen minutes it takes her to drive downtown to the shop on North Street, pick up our father, then drive back up Court Street and First Avenue to Deering. They have to make do with one car because that’s all we have — one car and one car salesman. Bennie.

Every four years Bennie drives a new Ford to the barbershop and sidles up to our dad and tells him it’s about time for him to trade the old clunker in on a new one. The old one is a 1956 flesh-and-white Ford Fairlane that we have named Elizabeth. Bennie hands our dad the keys to a brand spanking new one — a 1960 Ford Fairlane 500 that is green with long sleek fins. I think it is a good thing our family has Bennie to keep us updated. I am ten and old enough to care that we drive a new car so everybody will think we are rich.

Mama drives Dad to work every morning about six-thirty and then drives seventeen miles to Drew where she teaches first grade. In the evening when she goes back to get him, my sister and I find things to get into that we would never think of doing while she is home. Most of the time it involves trying to make fudge that we end up getting fussed at about and eating out of the pan with a spoon. Now, though, we are upping the ante and will create a crime scene.

I take the bottle of catsup out of the refrigerator.

“Hold out your arms.”

“What for?”

“Just do it.” I shake out thick red goop on her forearm and spread it around and pat a little on her cheeks and forehead. She is stunned and silent. “It looks like blood. You know, like we have been murdered.” I do the same to myself. “Let’s pretend somebody broke in the back bedroom window and beat us up, maybe with an ax.”

“And Mama and Dad will be sad because their little girls are dead.”

“Yeah, they’ll be sorry they ever left us alone.”

We lie down on the floor in the living room in a death position, careful not to get the catsup, uh, blood, on the rug. We twist our legs and arms into awful positions so it will look like we have struggled and suffered. We close our eyes and open our mouths and wait for Mama and Dad to drive up in the carport.

“Whassat noise?” my sister asks.

My eyes open wide. “What noise?”

“I heard something. In the back bedroom.”

“What’d it sound like?”

“A creak.”

“Somebody opening the window? And coming in?”

The living room is dark and she keeps telling me she is scared and I’m thinking our plan could be coming true. “Let’s get outta this house before we get killed!”

We tiptoe out the kitchen door, through the carport, and hide in the front of the house behind a big bush. The front lawn is gently lighted by the streetlight in the Richardson’s yard. We squat and tell each other to shh.

The new Ford’s headlights approach slowly, Mama and Dad pull into the gravel driveway, and we slink out of the bush. With catsup all over us showing up like reddish-brown streaks in the dim light. Like Indian war paint. We stand there and look vulnerable.

“What are y’all doing outside?” Mama shuts the car door.

“We’re scared,” we say. “Somebody was breaking in and they were going to get us.”

“Nobody was breaking in and if they did, they wouldn’t take you, and if they did, they’d bring you back,” she says.

“It’s cold out here and y’all don’t even have coats on. You’re going to get sick. Get in the house,” our dad says.

We all walk into the light of the kitchen together. Mama is getting her supper out of the oven and putting forks and knives on the table and fixing Dad a glass of tea. She doesn’t even look at us. He is washing his hands in the kitchen sink which nobody is supposed to do and doesn’t look at us either. We are covered in blood.

“Hey. Can y’all not see that we are hurt and bloody?” I do a sideways ta-da! hop in their line of vision, and my sister copies it. “For all you know, somebody did break into the house and attacked us and tried to kill us. Just look at us, just look at the blood.” I spread my arms. My sister spreads her arms, too, and says yeah.

“Mm hm,” our mama says, spooning a pile of mashed potatoes on my sister’s plate and mashing a hole on top with the back of the spoon so she can pour gravy in it.

“Y’all shouldn’t be wasting the catsup like that,” our dad says.

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3 Comments on “Don’t Waste the Catsup!”

  1. inktarsia says:

    I fully plan to quote your mother in the near future: “Nobody was breaking in and if they did, they wouldn’t take you, and if they did, they’d bring you back,” she says.

    What a fun piece. All that blood and gore, wasted. I wonder if they had a good laugh later after you went to bed.

  2. NeilO says:

    Ahh, childhood mischief. Getting into it and having the plan fail . . . is the common story of young years. What started out as the grand scheme to scare parents and “show them,” turned out to be a big waste of catsup. Funny story.

  3. sarahemc2 says:

    I love this line: “Nobody was breaking in and if they did, they wouldn’t take you, and if they did, they’d bring you back,” she says.

    I see Sherry does, too.

    That’s such a classic “mom” line. This captures that sort of childhood moment perfectly. Although, at my house, something like this actually worked. My brother John had gotten a special effects make-up kit for his birthday one summer, and he made my younger brother Robert look like he’d been shot through the head. Robert laid down on the porch and waited for Mom to come home. Mom screamed and was half-way in the door to call 911 before Robert could catch up to her and say, “it’s a joke!”

    Everybody got grounded, even me, and I wasn’t even home.


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