While the trees closed in on her, Renny smiled; a dead body! That was quite an adventure. The story had even made the local news, and one of the San Francisco papers sent someone up to interview Renny and Harry, and to take pictures of them in the tall, wavy grass of the Forever Fields. Renny remembered how excited she had been; telling the reporter the man had died because it took so long to cross the meadow. Turned out, though, it was merely a coronary; a hobo with a bad heart. That was back in the when, in the days before you called them homeless. They were bums and hoboes who roamed the highways and rode the rails, having adventures, living outdoors, and falling down dead of a heart attack in a grassy grassland by the sea; not as thrilling as Renny’s tomboy imagination.
Still, Renny and her brother had quite a time together. He would come into her room after school and listen to her records while she looked at his sketches; she even hung one of his drawings on her wall. Harry fixed her bike whenever the tire went flat, and she let him tag along when she went to Fort Bragg with her girlfriends.
Most importantly, however, he helped Renny with Mother. Harry was a kind of demilitarized zone between mother and daughter. Many was the time Mother had come to the foot of the stairs and shrieked at Renny to turn down the music, and Harry would poke his head through the door, saying quietly, “Sorry, Mother.” If Renny had to stay home until she finished the laundry, Harry would do it for her. When Renny and Barbara would argue, Harry would plead with them to stop; he would do whatever he could to keep the peace.
Renny never thanked him for those times.
Then there was the night he helped her after ‘The Party.’ The one she had thrown when Mother and Daddy stayed at the hospital in Eureka when Jimmy had that bad flu. It was supposed be a few friends, but then some sophomores came by; seniors, too. A group of kids in Ukiah heard about the party and drove across the mountains to the Seaton place. She wanted the party to be a quiet one, friends only, but there were strangers all over the house; every light was on, from kitchen to attic, and radios blared on both porches. The television in Mother’s parlor was on to a Giant-Dodger game and a keg of beer, in a trash can full of ice, had been dragged into the room and set right on top of the rug.
People were drinking Hamms out of Grandmother’s antique crystal; every clink was shattering Renny’s nerves. Some of the kids were smoking pot in the bathrooms, or dancing on the stairs; one couple was making out on Jimmy’s bed. A few guys from the basketball team were having a pissing contest out of a second floor window, and someone had thrown up on the back of the couch and tried to cover it up with a lace doily.
Through it all Harry stayed in his room, behind the locked door. He warned Renny not to have the party. “Mother will find out, Ren. She always does.” But she only smirked at him, an older sister look that said he would never understand, and called him a baby. So Harry remained in his room until well after her friends left for the Denny’s in Fort Bragg, leaving Renny alone to clean up.
It was while she was in the front parlor, scrubbing vomit from the sofa, holding her nose and trying not to gag, that she first heard him in the kitchen. Water was running in the sink and she listened to the glasses banging together delicately as he washed them, dried them, and put them away. Silently he helped her carry the keg outside, far from the house, and dump the ice over the cliffs. He ran the vacuum while she dusted, picked up beer cans and bottles as she put the records away. He wiped fingerprints off the tables; she washed the sheets and made Jimmy’s bed.
It took them most of the night to put the house back in order and Harry never said a word. Not one ‘I told you so’; no awkward glances; only silence as he cleaned and mopped and scrubbed right alongside her. Mother had never found out about the party, though she did comment on how clean Harry and Renny kept the house. Then she poured herself a glass of bourbon to recover from the long trip and disappeared into her bathroom.
Renny never thanked him for that time either.
Once, when Renny was a mascot for the basketball team, she conned Harry into donning the costume for one of the home games. Renny and her friend Patty were Clyde and Claudia—the Albion High Cougars—but Patty was going to San Francisco with her boyfriend and Renny was stranded without a partner. None of her friends wanted to be Clyde—the uniform was heavy, hairy and itchy—so Renny convinced Harry to do it. He was only ten or so, but tall enough to wear the cougar suit. He wasn’t the greatest Clyde. At first he hardly moved, but by the time the second half came around Harry was running back and forth in front of the stands, doing cartwheels across the parquet floor.
It seemed there was nothing Harry wouldn’t do for his sister. So many escapades they had shared; the things he had done for her. Then she ran off and left him without so much as a goodbye. She and Harry had been so close, but Renny ended their adventure.