A Girl Named Zippy

A Girl Named Zippy


I couldn't always go to Julie's farm, and so I also had a best friend in town called Rose. There were a number of benefits to Julie's silence, and one of them was that we never exchanged a cross word. Rose, though. She spoke her own mind, and she didn't want to be a farmer or ride in a rodeo. Rose was going to be an artist. She was left-handed, which was very rare in Mooreland. She was also a Catholic; her family were the only Catholics in town. I believe it is safe to say that she was surely the only left-handed Catholic any of us had ever seen, so it made sense she would be artistic.

Her specialty was a long, skinny flower with a stem that curved in a left-handed way. It was unusual. She decided to branch out into portraits, and asked me to sit for her. We were in her bedroom in chairs that faced each other. They were excellent strong chairs: just that week Rose and her younger sister Maggie had hung upside down from them, as Bob and Betty Bat, as I, Preacher Bat, had joined them in holy matrimony. When it was time for them to kiss I had to quick slip a piece of paper between their mouths.

I sat very still. Rose looked up at me, then down at her sketch pad, where she made little scritchy sounds. She looked up at me again; down; scritch. I realized I had absolutely no idea what my face was doing. I could have been drooling for all I knew. The room was completely silent except for Rose's pencil, as if we were wrapped in gauze. I could no longer control my face because something amazing was happening to my body. lt started with a kind of tickle at the back of my neck which spread like heat to my limbs. I was so thoroughly relaxed I might have actually been asleep, except my mind was perfectly clear. This whole thing, the process of being drawn, was so pleasurable it had to be wrong.

After that first day I wanted Rose to draw me all the time. I didn't care about the portraits--they were all kind of left-handed. I sat for her a few more times, and then one afternoon she announced she had decided to collect boxes instead. I asked her how many boxes she had and she said four. She had the little white box Tone soap came in, a box that had held a tube of lipstick, a smallish but entirely standard cardboard box, and her prize, a very small, square jewelry box her mother had brought home from Acapulco. Her parents were very worldly, and here was the evidence: the box was not only lined with red velvet, the outside was entirely covered with little shells. They poked up a bit sharply, which some might consider a design flaw, but the overall effect was captivating. I tried to figure out how to steal it. I tried to effect a trade--I told her about all the fabulous boxes just Iying around at my house--but she said she couldn't trade it because it was a souvenir. I told her if she was a real friend she'd trade it. She said if I was a real friend I wouldn't ask, which made me spitting mad, so I had to go home.

As I was walking down the stairs I turned back and looked at her sadly. "And I thought you were an artist."

At that time Maggie also knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. She was going to be a disc jockey, and toward that end she spent many hours saying, "Solid Gold. WLBC, 104 FM. Solid Gold. WLBC, 104 FM. Solid Gold. WLBC, 104 FM." She was very convincing, and I found myself in awe of her prematurely deep voice.

One afternoon I took my little blue tape recorder with me to their house. My dad had gotten it for my sister, who competed in speech contests, so she could record her speeches and listen to them later. I had quietly and extra sneakily made it my own. Besides my bicycle and PeeDink, there was nothing in the world I loved more. It had only one knob, which you moved around like a gearshift (left to rewind, right for fast forward, up to play, down to record), and a detachable microphone. Hiding behind the couch in the den I had recorded whole conversations between my parents, without them ever knowing. I had yet to discover all of its uses.

"Now look, Maggie. Just say your piece right here into this little microphone and I'll tape it, then you can hear what you sound like."

Maggie wasn't the least bit shy. She tried it with the microphone far away, and with the microphone right up against her mouth. She must have said Solid Gold for ten solid minutes. When I played it back for her she looked absolutely pleased. Recording only confirmed her vocation for her. We both felt so festive that we invited Rose to join us in singing "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" into the microphone. We were all great singers.

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I was going to be when I grew up. There were just so many things I was good at. For instance, I could run across the living room and dive into a headstand on the couch, with my legs slapping the wall behind it. Sometimes I would make my parents sit and watch me do this fifteen times in a row.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, it's another perfect ten for Zippy!" Dad would shout, while my mother clapped politely. I tended to do it until my neck got twisted, which would make me incredibly mad. Sometimes I had to stomp out of the house saying I hated that sport and would never do it again.

I was also very good at Interview. What follows is an actual transcript from a tape I made with my mother:

Me: "Mom. Mom. Mom. Hey. Let's do Interview."

Mom: "Not now, sweetheart. Let me just finish this arm [Note: She was knitting a sweater.]

We hear the "Me" character snort unhappily into the microphone, and then something that sounds remarkably like cat fur. The recorder is shut off abruptly, and then comes back on.

Me: "Hey, Mom. Mom. Mamamamamam. Let's do Interview now."

Mom: "We will. I'm almost done with this."

There is generalized stomping and fury. The recorder is shut off, and then comes back on.

Me: "Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so. Lootle ones to heem belonga. They are weak but he is stronga. Mom. Mom. It is time for Interview?~'

Mom: "If you don't stop pestering me I'll never finish this sleeve and then we'll never play Interview."

A little primal throaty sound. The recorder is shut off. Comes back on.

Mom: "Good evening, and welcome to Interview. Let's just go straight to our guest and have her tell us her name. Can you tell us your name, miss?"

Me: "No."

Mom: [surprised] "Don't you know your name?"

Me: "No."

Mom: "Okay, then, is there something else you'd like to tell our audience?"

Me: "Not today."

Mom: "Well, then. I guess we'll just sign off. Would you like to say good-bye?"

Me: "No."

Tape is shut off.

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Excerpted from A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel. Copyright © 2001 by Haven Kimmel. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.