Mom’s at the door again and I think about telling Dylan, but he’s busy making more. You always need to have backups is what he says. That way you never run out. I’m trying to learn because business is important, but sometimes I forget. Dylan used to call me dipshit, but Mom said he couldn’t anymore. I don’t tell him she’s there. I just stand out of his way and look at her face through the screen door. Her forehead and mouth look like upside down V’s. Verb, vanish, voluptuous. I’m not sure what that last one means because Mom didn’t tell me when I saw it on her magazine, but I heard Dylan laugh when I asked, so I’m going to find out. She sees me looking and smiles. I wave and Dylan kicks me and says, “Grab the sign, Toby. Here comes another one.”
I grab it and start swinging it above my head. “Slower, stupid. They need to be able to read it.” I slow the swinging, but add a little jump to make up for it. Swing, jump, swing. Swing, jump, swing. The man at the wheel smiles, but drives by. I wave the sign faster at the back of the car because maybe he’ll change his mind if he sees how excited I am. He keeps going and I stop swinging. I look at Dylan and he shakes his head. “Damn it, Toby. You blew another sale.”
“You can’t say damn it,” I say. “I’ll tell Mom.”
“Go ahead, dipshit. Like she’d even care.”
“She would too,” I say, but not as loudly. I look towards the door and she’s not there, just the empty screen. It looks dark in there and I wonder what she’s doing. Maybe walking the house in circles, seeing how many laps she can do before the next car shows up. I bet five. She can be really fast when she wants to. She can catch me no problem and I’m the fastest kid in the neighborhood, except for Joey, but he’s older. Some of the boys call him Fleetfoot, but I don’t know what that means, so I just say Joey. He smiles when I do, so I think it’s okay. Sometimes I wish he was my brother instead of Dylan. Dylan never smiles. I look at him and he’s stirring the lemonade. I can hear the spoon banging against the side of the pitcher. I didn’t know you had to stir it so hard. Maybe that’s how you make it sour. I think about asking him, but now he’s looking at me and I panic for some reason.
“You can put the sign down, dummy.”
I put it down and look at the door again. She’s still not there. I bet she’s on lap seven, maybe even eight. It doesn’t seem fair that she’s allowed to run in the house and I’m not, but she doesn’t like when I say stuff like that. Her face just gets all red and she says something like, “That’s because I’m in charge.” It must be fun to be in charge. I would run around all day and put so much Hershey’s on my ice cream that you couldn’t even see the white anymore. I’d still use a spoon I think, but it would be a big one. I wonder why Mom never does stuff like that. She’s probably not even running, just sitting at the table reading a magazine or something. Maybe it’s not as much fun when you’re allowed to do it. Dylan doesn’t seem to like it. He’s in charge whenever Mom goes out for the night, but it never seems to make him happy. I asked him how come once and he said something about Mom getting “all slutted up.” When I asked what that meant, he told me to shut up and go to bed, but I wanted to know so I said to tell me or I’d tell Mom he said it. But that was a bad idea because then he locked me in the closet and I had to sit there while he ate pizza and I could smell it the whole time. When Mom came home I thought about saying something, but there was some man dropping her off and they stayed out on the porch for so long that I fell asleep on the couch.
Dylan is making another pitcher. I walk back behind the stand and look up at the tree above us. There’s a bird chirping up there somewhere, but I don’t care. I just don’t want Dylan to see me peeking at the shelf. “There’s a bird chirping up there,” I say.
“Great,” he says without looking up. He’s stirring again. Clack, swish. Clack, swish. This is my chance, so I lean down and sneak a look at the shelf. There are three full pitchers sitting there already. Seems like a lot to me, but Dylan knows business better than me, so I don’t say anything. He helped Dad make the stand last year. They were out here all day, sawing and hammering. I was hanging out with Mom drawing, but I came out when they were adding the shelf. I heard Dad say it was for backups. I didn’t know what that meant, but now I do because Dylan’s been teaching me business. I think Dad would be proud, but I’m not sure. Mom says he would be and that’s pretty good. Dylan’s head snaps up and I think I’m in trouble, but then I hear a car coming.
“Get the sign,” he says and jumps to his feet. Some of the lemonade spills out and I can tell he’s annoyed, but he doesn’t say anything. I grab the sign and start swinging, but not too fast and I try to only jump a little, even though I’m excited. Dylan doesn’t say anything, so I think I’ve got it right. The car slows and I can see a lady looking out and I don’t know what to do. My face feels warm.
“Should I keep swinging?” I say.
“No, dipshit, it’s time to make the sale. Grab a cup.” I drop the sign and it bounces into my shin. It stings and things get tight in my chest, but there’s no crying in business, so I just blink my eyes and grab a cup. It’s blue and feels cool when Dylan pours the lemonade in, which I like. Some of it spills out and onto my hand and I hope it’s not my fault. The lady stops and her passenger side window goes down.
“Are you okay, honey?” she says. Things get tight again, but I nod and say, “Uh huh.” She smiles and I think about telling her that Dylan called me dipshit and said damn, but I don’t.
“So how much?” she says. My face gets warm again and Dylan frowns at me.
“Seventy-five cents,” he says. “Per cup.”
“Seventy-five, huh?” she says. “Not a bad deal. I’ll take two.”
Dylan nudges me and I hand her the cup through the window. She’s leaning over the passenger seat, but I still have to stand on my toes to reach her hand. Dylan passes me another full cup and I give her that one too. She puts them down somewhere and then starts looking through her purse.
“It’s a dollar fifty,” Dylan says, stepping up next to me. He handles the money because money is the heart of business. I’m not sure what that means, but I guess that’s why I don’t get to handle it. I ripped a dollar in half once and thought maybe it would bleed or something, but it just ripped like paper. It was Dylan’s dollar, but I didn’t tell him because he’d probably hit me, so I threw it in the garbage and put a tissue on top of it.
The lady hands Dylan the money and he smiles. I smile, too. She says, “Well thanks, boys. This looks delicious.”
“We stirred it extra,” I say and Dylan frowns again.
“Oh good,” she says and then looks at Dylan. “Tell your mom Marge says hi.”
Dylan says okay and she drives away. We turn around and I wonder how she will drink both cups and drive at the same time.
Dylan puts the money in a cup that he keeps on the shelf and I ask him if there are backup cups in business, too.
“Are there backup cups?”
“Yeah, stupid. There’s a whole stack right there.”
He smiles and his lips look like a U, but I don’t even care because I think he’s going to laugh at me, which I HATE. My eyes get little and I can’t help but wonder what letters are on my face. But business is business and I’m trying to learn, so I just say, “NO, I mean backup money cups. Are there more money cups like there are pitchers?”
Dylan rolls his eyes and says, “Yeah, Toby, there’s a hundred, but you can only see one at a time because you’re not the boss.”
“Oh. Are they on the shelf, too?”
He laughs. “Yeah, Toby. They’re on the shelf.”
Dad always said that if you’re mad you should count to ten, but I don’t feel like counting so I walk over to the swings instead. Mom is back in the door and I don’t even care how many laps she did or even if she was running at all. She has a drink in her hand and I wonder if she’s making lemonade, too. She waves, but I just get on the swing.
I’m a really good swinger. Dad taught me that the key to swinging is to point your toes. You point your toes out straight when you lean back and point your toes up when you lean forward. I’m getting up pretty high now and I can hear the wood creaking and it mixes with the wind as it whooshes in my ears and I close my eyes and think about jumping off. It feels like two clouds are pushing me back and forth, trying to get me to the ground, but can’t because they don’t know how swings work. I hear someone talking and open my eyes and stop pointing my toes so that I can hear better. Mom is sticking her head out the door and saying something to Dylan, but all I can hear is “brother.” I’ve had enough of swinging so I let my feet drag when I swing by the ground. I only need to do it twice before I’m stopped. I think that’s because I’m growing up.
The screen door closes again and I see Dylan throw a cup on the ground and start kicking it towards me.
“Hi,” he says and stops the cup with his foot. It crinkles and pops as he slowly crunches it into the ground. The grass is kind of brown, but the cup is very blue.
“Are you coming back to the stand?”
“Can I have a lemonade?”
“Damn it, To… yes. Yes, you can have a lemonade.”
We head back to the stand and a car drives by. Dylan doesn’t say anything, but he whips his head around and stares at Mom’s V’s. She shrugs and they almost turn into U’s, but then she takes another sip of her lemonade. There’s a stick on the ground and I pick it up. It’s pretty thick. Too big for a wand, but it will make a good staff. I give it a few thrusts and drive it into the ground a few times to make sure, though. Dylan catches me and I say, “You shall not pass!” He shakes his head and turns back to the stand. I bet Joey would have liked it. I lean the staff against the stand and sit down next to it. I like sitting Indian style because it makes my legs look like a pretzel. Dylan hands me my lemonade and I take a sip. The sourness makes me shiver for a second, but it’s cold and I like it.
The grass feels good on my feet and legs even though it’s brown. I wonder when we’ll set up the sprinkler again. When I stayed with Aunt Jody last winter after the accident she told me that sprinklers are good for two things: keeping the grass green and your face wet. I asked her why her grass was so brown then and she said, “Because it’s winter.” And I said, “So you need more sprinklers?” She laughed and said, “Well, I’ll just have to ask Uncle Dave about that.” We had meatloaf and Aunt Jody said I could put as much ketchup on as I wanted.
I see a car coming and it’s a big one, green with shiny tires and I make a joke in my head about sprinklers and growing cars. Dylan starts to yell about the sign, but I’m already up and grabbing it. Music is playing and I hear thump da chi, thump da chi as the car gets close. It slows down and I see older boys and then one sticks his middle finger up at me and they speed away. My eyes get a little heavy and I notice my hand wiping at my nose. There’s no crying in business. There’s no crying in business.
I turn around and Dylan’s eyes are shining and he’s yelling down the street.
“You shits! You fucking shits!”
I look at the screen door and Mom is leaning into it with her body and I want to say twist it, but I don’t think I should. Her hand is over her face and I wonder how long she’ll ground Dylan for this time. He’s still yelling down the street even though the car is gone and finally Mom opens the door and says, “Dylan Francis, you stop that this instant!” She puts her glass on the porch railing and I can see that it’s red, not yellow.
“No!” Dylan says, but he stops anyway. His shoulders are hanging now, like Dad’s old coat in the hallway. His face is streaked with bits of brown like the grass.
Mom walks up and says, “What the hell was that, Dylan? You can’t scream at people just because they don’t want your lemonade.”
“I didn’t. That’s not what happened.” His voice is low, but I can feel his eyes. They’re hard, I just know it.
“Well then what happened, Dylan? Because I was standing right there and then all of a sudden you’re screaming profanities down the street.” Dylan starts breathing faster and I notice his fingers are shaking a little. They’re only standing about five feet away, but it feels like further, like I’m swinging over in the sunlight and they’re standing in the dark.
“They gave Toby the finger, all right?”
“They did?” She looks at me.
“Well….” She sighs and her hand goes over her face and when she talks again it sounds quieter, like how she used to tell stories, but more tired. “We’ve talked about this, Dylan. I know you were standing up for your brother, but you can’t just go screaming at people. I mean, what do you think the neighbors will say?”
“Nothing worse than they already do.” Dylan is speaking low now too and I wonder if it’s because I’m getting closer to the swings or because it’s just quieter in the dark.
“What did you say?” Her hand is down now and she has her bad voice on.
“Nothing. We need more lemonade mix.” I feel my toes curl into the grass, little pieces of green pulling between them.
“Dylan, if you ever…” but then she takes a breath and glances back towards the porch. We’re all outside so I wonder who she thinks will be at the screen door. She looks back at Dylan and says, “What do you mean you need more? I gave you a brand new thing of it.”
“Well, it’s empty.”
Mom steps over and looks at the shelf. “Jesus Christ, Dylan. You have six pitchers under here. That’s enough lemonade to last a week.”
“They’re backups,” I say, but I’m not sure anyone hears me. Dylan’s hands are shaking and I think it’s spreading.
“Why do you have so many?”
“Because it’s important!” Dylan screams and kicks the stand. It wobbles and my staff falls onto the ground with the cups. I think about grabbing it to maybe try a spell, but Dylan gets to it first and starts bashing the stand with it. It’s shaking as much as he is now and I don’t know what to do. Mom isn’t even yelling anymore. She’s just standing there and I want to crawl over and climb into her arms like I used to, but she won’t look at me. I hear a crack and the wood next to the shelf pops a little. Dylan is yelling with each hit and I think he’s crying, too, but I’m not sure. The side comes off with a pop-screech and I see what Dylan is going to do. Something is in my throat and I drop my lemonade and take a step back, but Mom just stands there.
The first pitcher explodes and the lemonade splashes across the back of the stand, making a big stain. The second one breaks in half and a chunk of plastic or ice almost hits me, but falls in the grass instead. He hits the third one and I think it’s raining for a second, but I’m just being stupid because it’s lemonade and it’s sticky. Dylan really winds up for the fourth and it smashes against the back of the stand and comes flying out. A piece hits Mom and I say, “Uh oh.” I want to tell her to come with me, to come this way, but her shoulders start shaking and I don’t know what to do.
A car drives by, slowing down as it passes. Dylan looks up and stops and then yells again and raises the staff to hit the next one, but all of a sudden Mom is grabbing him. Dylan starts wiggling and I think they’re going to wrestle for a second, but then he drops the staff and Mom smacks him.
Dylan’s eyes go wide and he takes a step back. Mom covers her mouth with her hand so I can’t see any letters.
“Dylan,” she says, but he turns his back to her and starts picking up the pitcher pieces.
She stands for a minute looking at him and puts her other hand on her mouth, too. She takes them down and then looks at me.
“Help your brother, Toby,” she says and walks back towards the porch.
I want to get up, but my body feels heavy. Dylan doesn’t say anything, so I just keep sitting there. The sun is getting lower and it feels cold. A car goes by with an old lady in it. Dylan told me old people are real primo customers, but he doesn’t even look up. He just keeps picking up those pieces of plastic. I lick my fingers where the lemonade spilled, but they taste like dirt