Kim and I met outside on the sidewalk.
“Wanna ride bikes or roller skate?”
“Ride bikes,” I answer and we each run in opposite directions to grab our bikes, yell to our Moms through the screen door, and make sure we have a quarter for the Good Humor Man. As we ride through the neighborhood we take notice of our neighbors.
We stop to watch Mr. Major move his sprinkler. This sounds boring, but we know that If he moves it close enough, we will be able to ride past his house and cool off as the water arcs over the sidewalk. He doesn’t walk over and pick up the sprinkler, but pulls on the hose instead. We watch as the sprinkler moves through the grass and then get stuck on something deep in the lawn. Mr. Major grows red in the face as he pulls and tugs, trying to free up the sprinkler. We look at each other, and start to giggle as he grunts and curses.
“Get on out of here!” Mr. Major yells in our direction. “Go about your business and leave me be.”
“It’s a free country,” we answer, but not loud enough for him to hear. We don’t need the neighbors squealing to our folks that we’ve been rude to an adult.
“Mr. Magoo is crazy,” Kim yells back over her shoulder once we are safely out of range. “Mr. Magoo?”
“Doesn’t he look like Mr. Magoo the cartoon guy?” Kim is giggling again. Now that I think about it, they do bear a resemblance. “Mr. Magoo got his sprinkler caught in doggie doo!” I shout, and Kim laughs so hard she almost runs into the chain link fence on the corner.
As we ride around the block, we talk about last evening. My parents went to the movies and Norma was our babysitter. I don’t like Norma. She’s fifteen with bad skin, a unibrow, and glasses. She’s not mean, but she’s not fun. My sisters and I preferred Bonnie, a perky cheerleader with the bouncy ponytail who lives a few doors down. She once did a handstand in our kitchen, and she shows us cheers. She also let us stay up fifteen minutes past our bedtime so we felt like we were getting away with something. Ho hum Norma brings boring, thick books to read, and makes us brush our teeth and go to bed on time. When I get old enough to babysit, I will bring treats for the kids, read them ghost stories, and let them stay up as late as they want. When we reach the top of the hill, we pause.
“Let’s wait here, I hear the ice cream man on the next block,” Kim drops her bike, and I do the same. The day is muggy so I’m happy to sit under the silver maple and cool off, as we gossip. This was not kid gossip. It was summer and there was little going on in our world. No, this was real gossip, the kind the mothers dished up over the back fence after they hung the wash on the line, or overheard on the party line. Kim had a party line, and often knew who was pregnant, who had a new job, and which teens were going to the military academy to get “straightened out.”
“She’s flipped out again,” Kim was saying.
“Mrs. Dunbarton, that’s who! Pay attention, this is good stuff.” Kim hated when her audience was inattentive. “Oh, never mind. Here comes the truck.”
Before I could answer, the chiming bells of the Good Humor Man came closer. We were first in line, with only little kids behind us. That meant we would take our time and flirt with Johnny, our Good Humor Man. Every summer, a new,fresh faced college boy would take the job of driving around selling popsicles and frozen treats to neighborhood kids. Some years we got a dud like the Mystery Date game. Other years, we were thrilled to see a dreamy guy. Johnny was no dud. He had sun-streaked hair (Kim is convinced he used Sun-In to get those perfect streaks.) His eyes were a friendly blue, and his crisp white shirt and pants set off his tan. We had watched Bonnie and her friends flirt with Johnny and Kim and I were determined to act as sophisticated as the high school girls, even though we were only eleven.
“Hi ya, Johnny,” Kim drawled with one hand on her hip. I saw Johnny’s amused look, and I was suddenly embarrassed for Kim.
“Hi gorgeous, what can I get for your fine ladies today?” Johnny called all the girls gorgeous or sweetie. He smiled directly at me, and I smiled back, then blushed and looked down at my Keds.
“Oh, gosh, I don’t know. What would you suggest?” Kim asked arching her brows and batting her lashes. I was mortified by Kim’s ridiculous behavior. Johnny caught my eye as he turned to open one of the freezers and winked. Suddenly I felt older, more mature than Kim. It made me feel warm inside to share something with Johnny, but I felt disloyal to Kim. Growing up was so damn complicated.
Johnny handed Kim a Strawberry Shortcake with a flourish, and told her she looked like a Shortcake kind of gal. Kim smiled but looked a bit confused. She could not tell if Johnny was teasing or flirting.
“Ooo, my favorite,” she cooed. She batted her eyes again as she handed over her quarter.
Johnny placed the quarter in the shiny change holder on his belt and looked up.
“Well, my fair lassie, what wee treat would you be to your likin’ on this scorching day?”
Johnny said my red hair brought out the brogue of his ancestors.
I smiled shyly, and told him I would have my usual, a Toasted Almond.
The little ones behind us grew loudly impatient, so we moved aside to let them hand over their sticky dimes to Johnny and grab their bright colored popsicles. We made our way to our bikes and sat next to them enjoying the cold ice cream on our tongues.
Johnny was gone with a jaunty wave, and the kids had all gone back to their houses.
Kim ate her ice cream in quick bites, and remarked, “Johnny isn’t so good looking, and he’s sounds stupid doing that brogue thing.”
I turned away pretending to study a caterpillar inching along the tree trunk, and smiled to myself. Kim hated when she was not the center of attention.
“So what happened with Mrs. Dunbarton?” I knew that would brighten Kim up in a flash. She loved to knowing all the neighborhood gossip.
“Well, it seems she was was walking around the shed last night.” Mrs. Philpot saw a light shining in the shed, and was going to call the police, but Mr. Philpot went over and convinced Mrs. Dunbarton to leave the shed and go back into the house. It was close to midnight!”
“Why is she walking around the shed? That’s just creepy,” I answered as I rubbed the edge of the popsicle stick on the sidewalk. I liked to sharpen it into points.
“‘Cause she’s looking for his ghost,” Kim answered, and I looked up to see if she was kidding.
Kim was leaning closer to me, “Mrs. Myers says that Mr. Dunbarton is haunting that place, and that she gets a cold chill every time she walks by that house. She says she feels an icy finger go up her spine!”
“Do you think that’s true?” I asked. This whole conversation was beginning to creep me out.
“I don’t know, but I know how we can find out.” Uh, oh. Kim was about to hatch one of her hair -brained schemes that always ended with us in trouble.
“What do you want to do? Go ask Mrs. Dunbarton if we can met her ghost?”
“No, dummy. We ride by the house and see if we feel the icy finger crawl up our spines.”
“Oh.” Not as crazy as I feared, and frankly I liked the idea of feeling shivery scared, though I would never go near that house after dark.
“Ok, let’s go.” I hopped on my bike and began my descent down the hill. Instead of giving the house at the end of the street a wide berth, I turn right and head to the front gate. Kim soon caught up and we stared at the shed, partially hidden by an oak tree on the side of the house.
“There it is,” Kim whispered. “There’s where he did it.”
We stared at the shed until I thought I saw something move in the window of the shed’s door. I could feel the icy finger of fear crawl up my spine. I shrieked and turned my bike towards the corner pedaling as fast as I could go.
I could hear Kim breathing hard behind me. We didn’t stop until we got to my front lawn where I jumped off my bike and let it clatter onto the lawn. We lay in the grass on our backs panting.
“Did you see it?” Kim nodded, still too winded to speak.
“I saw him. He was still spinning around and around on the rope, just like he was when they found him.”