The Race

By Brian da Rosas

In between sessions at the piano, my sister watched over me, her so-called "baby doll." She worried about my well-being, no idle concern given that our brother had once taken apart her Chatty Cathy. Using a pair of our father's pliers, he cracked open the doll and yanked out her voice box. After that, his mechanical acumen failed him: he was unable to repair the doll to its original state, leaving Karen in tears and my brother in hot water.

If Karen believed that Steven might take me apart with a pair of pliers, her precautions about life were multi-fold. I can still hear many of them:

Don't play with matches.
Don't run by the pool.
Don't stand behind cars.
Don't sit too close to the television.
Don't eat mushrooms - they might be poisonous.

I extended this last bit of advice to canned mushrooms, so powerful were my sister's words. She was the oldest child, our Wendy Darling, our Marcia Brady, our Mother Superior.

It was also Karen who served as starter for the famous go-cart race. For over a week Steven had tinkered with his design, a pair of Big Wheels for the front, bicycle tires for the rear. The steering device was really just a piece of rope attached to a black handle, a mechanism of particular interest to me. Our neighbor, Michael Talley, had challenged Steven to the race, and since Michael's younger brother and I were the same age and size, we had been selected to steer the carts. This way nobody could claim the advantage: we were jockeys of equal weight.

On the day of the race, held fittingly enough at sundown, my brother and Michael Talley wheeled their inventions to the center of the Grenada Way. I thought the Talley go-cart an impressive-looking machine, not quite as makeshift as my brother's, given that their four wheels matched. On the other hand, Steven was clearly the faster of the two boys, and unless I did something wrong while steering, we could make up our time that way. "Just keep her straight," my brother said, his last words to me before Karen brought down the flag.

We rocketed off the starting line, a full go-cart length lead even before we passed the lamppost, the halfway point. The hard plastic of the two Big Wheels was generating heat, and I could hear my brother's sneakers pounding on the pavement. Then to my right, the Talley's go-cart came into view. John Talley was hunkered down, a gunner in the turret. Steven was determined to hold the lead, and he accelerated, finding the extra gear that would serve him so well during his football career. This pushed us ahead, but I couldn't hold on. The steering mechanism was too flimsy for this kind of speed. Later Steven would accuse me of jerking the rope, and that may have been true, too. All I know is the cart took a sharp turn to the left. The plywood body flipped and slammed down on my back - and then bounced away. Had it not, the contraption might well have caused more damage. As it stood, I rolled five or six times on the pavement, actually coming to rest on the edge of our lawn. I had no helmet - nobody wore helmets in those days - and not expecting to crash I was in shorts and short sleeves. I rose to see Michael Talley pumping his fist triumphantly in the air, and began to realize I was fairly well bloodied.

"Ah, Jesus," Steven groaned.

Karen reached me first, clutching me as I imagine she might have held her broken Chatty Cathy. She was crying, her worst fears realized. "He's all right," Steven insisted.

"I'm okay," I said.

But Karen wasn't taking any chances. She walked us into house and down the hallway. Inside the bathroom, with its pink countertop and floral wallpaper, she went to work. She proved to be a capable nurse, careful not to clean my wounds with too much force. She applied some kind of yellow antiseptic all over my legs and arms, and opened the medicine cabinet.

"Oh nuts," she said.

By then, my mother had figured out something important was happening, and she came into the bathroom. She took in my wounded body, and Karen told her, "We're out of Band-Aids."

My mother always possessed a can-do spirit. Sometimes this did not serve her well. If a recipe called for eggs and we had none, she would make do with vegetable oil or Crisco. "Oh we have plenty of gas," she claimed on the day we ran out, still a good twenty miles from home. Other times her Emersonian instincts saved the day. "All right - we'll just make some Band-Aids," she announced. "Go get me the Scotch tape and some napkins and scissors."

As Karen went in search of the supplies, I looked out the window. The rose bushes were trimmed, and I could see my brother passing through the backyard. In the summer dusk, with the smell of meatloaf filling our house, I watched as he dragged the remnants of his creation, the wheel held beneath his arm like a severed head.