the incredible true story of the Morton's Salt girl
When I was a little girl I enjoyed mixing concoctions. My friend Daniel and I thought we had mystical powers; a primitive variety. These genetic gifts of magic could be nurtured by drinking cordials of tap water, food coloring, and confectioner's sugar. "This", I would say, "Is my witches' broth. And it can turn anyone who drinks it into a third grader, old enough to play on the big kid's playground, with the three-story jungle gym."
Fifteen years later I look at the big kid's playground and see dehydrated scrubby grass with a swing set plunked onto it, as if dropped like an anvil from the sky. I see it as a place where I was once harrassed by the City of Lompoc Police for having no shoes on while perched on the swings (it's not illegal, you bastards). Also, upon recollection, the jungle gym is not nearly three stories. It is, in fact, just tall enough for the impact of a fall from it to put you in an L-shaped cast for a couple months. An L-shaped cast that makes ones skin itch so badly that forks are often lost in it, recovered when the cast is cut open with a saw and a scrawny and flaky mouldering arm revealed.
What a joke the big kid's playground was. And yet to Allison, aged five, it was Mecca. I could play kickball or go look for gophers, those most adorable rodents! I could try to track down my leprechaun, whom I had lost the week before behind the 'B' building. I once tasted native California ant sitting on the grass at elementary school. (Spicy, like pepper, but not unpleasant.)
Most days after school Daniel and I would walk back to his house, which stood in a cul-de-sac of houses all stuccoed deplorable shades of mustard and drab fatigue green. The blue houses were not blue like the sky, I noted, or blue like the color of my Roger Rabbit doll's eyes (my favorite shade at the time). They were the blue one would expect a sadistic dentist's scrubs to be.
I always looked forward to going to Daniel's house. He had the most marvelous Zoo Books, for one, and he also had a host of amusing toys. He had lizards and snakes made of plastic so hard one could be concussed by them. He even had a little slot machine that would spit quarters at you in a mesmerizing deluge of wealth. Generally, though, we preferred to play outdoors, for Daniel's backyard was a world of great wonder.
There was an old camping trailer full of rubbish and haphazardly constructed bongs that his father had made from plastic water bottles. There was his panther-like cat, Chang, who was unreliable in terms of personality but sleek and majestic, holding court with the opossums that lurked beneath the house. Chang was a pure Siamese, and his meow resembled the cry an old woman might make while being maced. It had a sort of rolling "r", a MRRRRR-OOO-WL. It was a shocking sound and it frequently pierced our little ears because we frequently tried to employ him in activities he did not wish to be involved in. Daniel and his older brother, Michael, would never have allowed Chang to be dressed, but were not unwilling to throw him in the dilapidated hot tub every once in a while to see if he might swim.
Daniel and I were the same age, five, when we met in kindergarten. Our mothers were somehow friends, although they had little in common besides two children aged eight and five. So it was that Daniel and I kept one another company after school every day, and my sister Hillary whiled away the afternoon hours playing Battleship with Michael, his brother.
Daniel aspired to be an expert on reptiles, knowledgeable of every iguana, monitor lizard, and water snake. He also liked sleek furry animals, like weasels, and greyhounds. He had a keen sense of what was most majestic in the animal world, and it was, he thought, the animals most adept at stealing birds' eggs and running quickly on tracks in large loops. I always thought greyhounds were sort of ugly and sad looking and preferred our labrador-springer spaniel hybrid, Molly. Daniel wanted a dog and Michael sometimes expressed the same sentiment. It never occurred to me that they might be jealous of us for having a dog, although Molly was certainly a pet worth coveting. She was energetic as a young boy on caffeine pills might be, she would run around the backyard in endless circles, leaving chalky dust stirring in her wake, and she could have cleared the five-foot fence in the backyard, had she ever tried to jump over it.
Instead Daniel had his mangy cat whom we all so admired, and myriad random reptiles. He would sometimes have an aquarium full of alligator lizards, their tales long and whip-like. Sometimes these tails would disconnect from the lizard if you picked it up by its' tail and perhaps accidentally swung it around a bit too much. The tail would then wiggle, quite sinister, at the bottom of the aquarium for a few moments before lying lifeless. And the lizard would walk around with a stump for some time.
When there were not lizards or snakes in the house, there were still frogs and toads in the backyard, hopping on the grass, croaking fat-bellied beneath trees, and lounging in the dissolving, mossy interior of the hot tub. The water in there would be anywhere between four and 24 inches deep, I suppose, but always with a layer of bubbling scum and frothy something. It was full of water weeds and green rugs of moss. The frogs were in frog heaven. The toads would soak in the tub like fat old men in a bathhouse.
We would sometimes pick the fat toads up and transport them to the bathtub inside by hand. Then we would set them afloat on chunks of Styrofoam. Daniel and Michael's mother never minded. No animal was too scaly or slimy to bring inside. Sometimes her husband was home during the day as well, fixing himself a snack, scratching his beard, and making funny coarse jokes. Sometimes when I would come home, my mother would make a remark about how he was a lazy conniver, that sat on his ass all day, but I quite enjoyed his presence. He let his sons stay up until ten by the time they were seven, to watch Nash Bridges, which made me believe that self-employed, unwashed fathers were clearly where it was all at.
Occasionally I would make concoctions in the privacy of my own home, from the contents of our spice cabinet, which also contained bouillon cubes and little bottles of food coloring. One day I made a thrillingly green cocktail:
"This," I told my favorite stuffed animals, a turtle and a giraffe, "is my latest refreshment. When I drink this I will tumble through space into a different land, where the swimming pools are filled with orange soda and which is populated by Carebears." My friend Aly and I had visited this land a few times while we were on the swings at school and had found it to be superior to this one by far. I drank a sip of the green water and it tasted divine, with tiny grains of sugar resting in a layer on the bottom of the glass that could not be stirred away.
As I sipped my creation I surveyed the contents of the cupboard a final time. There were the shiny foil cubes of beef bouillon, the bottle of vanilla extract, the baking powder, the cylindrical container of Morton's salt with the little girl on it and the saying, "When it rains it pours".
I had never noticed the Morton's Salt girl before but I noticed her quite clearly now and I could not decide how I felt about her. Wishy-washy, I then concluded. At best.
Is that supposed to be salt falling from the sky? I wondered. Salt doesn't fall from the sky like rain. And who is this girl? She looks like some sort of Red Riding Hood knockoff, but yellow, and with an umbrella.
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