GATSBY DELANEY - 7TH GRADE IMPRESSARIO
by Mary Vettel
Seventh graders Gatsby Delaney and Mugsy Tremaine hurried from their last period through the crowded corridor of the Tuckahoe Middle School and out of the brown brick building. They stood off to the side waiting for Gatsby’s eight-year-old sister Zelda who was forever late.
The last of the snow had melted, leaving the ground soggy, as spring elbowed its way through the remnants of winter. Mugsy leaned back a little and gave her friend a quick once-over. “Dude,” she said quietly. “I’m not even kidding, you look like a scarecrow.”
“Gee, thanks.” Self-conscious, Gatsby looked down at his high-water jeans and long-sleeved Green Lantern shirt that no longer reached his wrists. His ears red, he pushed the sleeves up to his elbows and attempted to shimmy his jeans down a bit, but they were too snug to budge. He sighed. “It’s no use.”
“Wow, remember how you used to be shorter than me?” Mugsy raised her hand to the top of her head, and then moved it upward to Gatsby’s forehead. “You’re mad taller than me now. Gats, your parents have to buy you some new clothes,” she insisted.
Gatsby shook his head, miserably. “No way. We did the back-to-school clothes shopping in September. That’s it for the year.”
“Well, this is not a good look,” Mugsy assured him, frowning. She scratched her head and appeared to be giving Gatsby’s dilemma some thought. He must have shot up at least three inches since the start of the school year eight months ago in September. “Listen, they're the ones who named you after some rich dude in some dumb old book. If they wanted you to look like a hobo they should've named you after some Dickens character. No offense."
“This is beyond embarrassing,” Gatsby mumbled and hung his head, his sandy hair falling down into his face. He took his lucky quarter from his pocket and began walking it across his knuckles.
Mugsy snapped her fingers and her hazel eyes brightened. “I know, we could go bottle hunting.” Then she frowned again. “But that won’t even get us enough money for socks.” They both looked down at Gatsby’s bare big toe peeking from his worn sneaker.
“Miss Tremaine!” Principal Landry’s thunderous rumble made it across the front lawn. Catching Mugsy’s eye, he gestured for her to approach him at the curb.
"What’s his deal?" Mugsy mumbled. Pushing herself off the wall, she smoothed her green corduroy skirt and, carefully avoided the muddy patches in her imitation pink Uggs, crossed to where Mr. Landry stood watching the smaller children board the school buses.
Despite the loud hissing of the school bus hydraulics, and the chatter and squeals of children released from the confines of a classroom, Gatsby overheard the entire conversation because of Principal Landry’s booming tone.
“Mamie, your homeroom teacher tells me you have not returned your report card.”
Gatsby watched Mugsy’s back straighten. He knew she hated being called Mamie and much preferred the nickname her parents had given her even before she was born. They didn’t know if she was going to be a boy or a girl, and so just referred to her mother’s growing tummy as Mugsy.
He saw her hand shoot up to her messy ponytail and tug free the purple hair elastic. With one quick shake, her dark brown hair tumbled down to her shoulders. She nervously twisted the elastic tie behind her back, stretching it to its limits.
“Ms. Beckett said your grades were better than average, so you should have no reason not to show it to your parents.”
“It’s just my dad,” Mugsy said, chin out, staring through the principal’s gaze. Gatsby cringed for his friend, knowing Mugsy didn’t like being reminded she had no mother.
“Fine. Your dad then. Did you show him your report card?”
Mugsy nodded. “He’s very busy.”
Principal Landry gave a short burst of laughter. “We’re all busy, Mamie, but a simple thing like signing a report card shouldn’t take up much of his valuable time.”
Mugsy straightened, squaring her shoulders. Her father managed the local lumber and supply warehouse and sometimes worked a double shift if one of his employees failed to show up and Gatsby knew it.
“I want that report card on my desk tomorrow morning, young lady. Signed. By your father. Home safe,” he said and flicked his fingers, dismissing her.
Mugsy pivoted back toward Gatsby, eyes wide and glaring. Gatsby felt her pain. He’d been where she had just been once before, and he didn’t like it either.
“Gats! Gats!” Zelda shouted running down the concrete steps waving a piece of paper over her head, a look of delight on her face. Her book bag bumped her leg with each hurried step. She jumped the last one and collided with Mugsy. “Sorry,” Zelda said breathlessly and shoved the paper up at her brother’s face. “Look! Look!”
“OK, wow, back it up, Z.” He pocketed his quarter, took the paper and studied it. “A seventy on your math test. Hmmm…”
“That’s per cent. Seventy per cent! Only twenty more and it’d be a hundred!” Zelda danced, flopping her book bag around.
“Z, thirty more points. Seventy plus thirty equals a hundred.”
The news did not squelch Zelda’s happy mood or her dancing. “This one’s going up on the refrigerator,” she said to no one in particular.
It was only when the three of them had reached the crosswalk and successfully avoided passing near Principal Landry that Gatsby turned to Mugsy. “So, what did he say?” he asked, not wanting her to know he’d overheard everything.
Mugsy growled. “I really want to hate him, you know? But I don’t want bad karma. He was all sarcastic about my dad not signing my report card.”
“Hold up, Z!” Zelda had approached the next corner and Gatsby didn’t want her crossing without them. “So, he didn’t sign it?”
Mugsy shrugged. “I left it out for him, with a note. I haven’t seen it since.”
“OK.” Gatsby mused, thinking it was no big deal. “You can call him when we get to my house.”
“I’m not supposed to bother him at work.”
“Mugsy, it’s school-related; not like you’re calling to ask him his favorite character on SpongeBob Square Pants.”
“Squidward!” Zelda shouted, imitating Patrick, SpongeBob’s best friend, and jumped up and down.
“Shhh!” Gatsby held a finger to his lips, trying to stop Zelda’s incessant prattling.
“It’s a free country. I’m just talking to myself,” she said. “You can’t make me shut up.” She skipped ahead.
Once across the street, and past the white clapboard church, Zelda ran to the green wood-framed house dead-center in the middle of their block. She made screeching tire sounds as she rounded the sidewalk to their concrete front walk, leaped over the strip of early spring mottled brown and green grass that constituted their front yard, and up onto their porch. Somewhat short of breath, she dropped her book bag, leaned against the front door, crossed her arms and ankles in a casual stance and said coolly, “What took you guys?”
“You’re such a gerbil,” Gatsby said as he approached with his key in hand.
“Yeah, well, you’re a weenie head,” Zelda replied.
“Hey,” Gatsby said sternly as he unlocked the door. “Go wash your hands and get started on your homework.” He rolled his eyes and gave Mugsy an apologetic look as he locked the front door behind them.
“Gotta hang up my math test first!” Zelda shouted back at him. Gatsby watched his sister scurrying around the kitchen yanking open drawers and tossing things around noisily from the junk drawer. “Ack!” Zelda shrieked. “Where are the fridge magnets?”
“Z!” Gatsby shouted to be heard above her yelps and frenzied banging. “I just have to check in with my parents at the bookshop,” he addressed Mugsy, “then you can call your dad.” He lifted the receiver and cleared his throat. “Good afternoon,” he said, doing his best impression of Alfred Hitchcock. “I’m interested in acquiring a very limited edition of Edgar Allen Poe’s limericks. The slim volume,” he added, haughtily.
Gatsby waved a hand for Mugsy to press an ear against the receiver too. When she did, she could hear Gatsby’s mother reply, “I’m sorry, sir, but Mr. Poe did not write limericks.” She chuckled. “Everything OK?”
“Yep. Z’s starting her homework and Mugsy and I are going to start on our top secret project for the science fair. ”
“Mommy!” Zelda shrieked from the kitchen. Racing into the living room, she whispered at them hoarsely, “Don’t tell her about the seventy per cent. I want it to be a surprise.”
“Good. Have a snack and get some laundry done, OK?” Mrs. Delaney said.
“We will.” In the background he could hear the bell above the bookshop door jingle-jangle as it always did when it announced someone had entered the bookshop. Gatsby knew his mother would have to attend to a customer.
“Got to go. Love you.” She made a kissing sound and hung up. He handed the receiver to Mugsy. “Call your dad.” In the kitchen he grabbed a plate and set about preparing a healthy snack of carrots, celery, and sliced red, yellow and green peppers and a small bowl of sun-dried tomato hummus.
“Ooh! Traffic light crude-duh-tays,” Zelda sang loudly as she ran around the kitchen table.
With the phone to her ear, Mugsy shook her head in disbelief as she watched Zelda, who stopped occasionally to swing her hips in hyper-drive action. “I don’t even want to know what she’d be like if you gave her sugar.”
“Z, calm down. Sit. Start your homework.”
“I’m gonna need help,” she warned and dragged a red pepper wedge through the hummus.
When Gatsby returned ten minutes later with a hamper full of fluffy clean towels, Mugsy got his attention by waving a green rectangular card in the air. He recognized it as the missing report card and smiled. He set the hamper on the coffee table and began to fold.
Mugsy beamed. “My father had signed it right away and slipped it into my backpack… with a note.” She held it up as evidence, and then held it against her chest. She pressed her lips together and closed her eyes.
She looked, to Gatsby, as if she was about to cry. “What’s the matter?”
“I can’t,” she whispered. Her eyes glistened with newly formed tears.
Gatsby shook his head. Girls, he thought. So weird. “Is that a corny note from your dad? ‘Keep up the good work, sweetie’, he said, trying to imitate Mr. Tremaine’s voice.
Mugsy slipped the note into her backpack. “Sometimes you can be such a …” she shook her head and let it go. She reached for a towel. “Want some help?”
“No thanks. Last time I had to redo everything ‘cause you fold weird.”
“I fold weird? Maybe I should just take my weird self home.” She grabbed the strap of her backpack and scooted to the edge of the couch.
“Whoa, take it easy, Mugs. I was pretty much kidding.”
“Hey, hold it down in there you two, I’m trying to concentrate,” Zelda called from the kitchen. “Doing fractions in here.”
Mugsy leaned forward and whispered. “You going to talk to your parents about getting you some new clothes this evening?”
Gatsby shrugged. “I guess.”
“Dude, there’s no guessing involved. It’s a fact. And the school dance is right around the corner.” Mugsy grinned at him.
Gatsby furrowed his brow. “So?”
“All the more reason for your parents to buy you new clothes.”
“Mugs, that kind of thinking might work on your dad; not mine. Besides, I didn’t say I’m going to the school dance.”
“Oh, but you have to.” Mugsy giggled, and then sang, “A certain young lady would be very disappointed if you didn’t.” She wrapped her arms around her knees and rocked back and forth on the couch.
Gatsby cocked his head. He studied her and it seemed to him that Mugsy was changing right before his eyes, acting all girlish. Where was the tom-boy he’d known since kindergarten? “You?” His voice cracked when he asked it.
“What?” Mugsy howled with laughter and flopped back on the couch.
Red patches of embarrassment blossomed on Gatsby’s cheeks.
“How do you expect me to find the common denominator if she won’t be quiet?” Zelda called from the kitchen.