Common Cause

Dictionary of Texisms:

Conniptions – a fit; getting upset

One day I came back to the classroom early from recess. Jackie McLanahan was alone in the room, supposedly doing her makeup homework. Only she wasn’t. She was reading a book I recognized. “Oh,” I said, “you’re reading Sherlock Holmes?”

She looked up, eyes blazing and jaw set, on the verge of having conniptions. “Yeah? What of it?”

“Nothing,” I said, hoping to defuse the tension. “They’re my favorite books.”

She stared at me for a second, as if she thought maybe I was toying with her. I guess being a favorite of Mrs. Kleiner made me suspect.

“Are you pulling my leg?” she said.

“I’m not. I swear.”

“Okay, so…”

“I think you have good taste,” I said.

“I was thinking the same thing,” she said. “About you, I mean.”

“Which ones have you read?”

Jackie ticked off a half dozen Sherlock Holmes stories, some of which I hadn’t heard of. I was impressed. “Have you read The Hound of the Baskervilles?” she asked me. I shook my head. “It’s the best!” she said, and at that moment she let down her guard. Her face was animated, eyes bright, and I glimpsed a different side of her. This budding delinquent was a girl who loved to read – maybe as much as I did. “There’s this old legend about a killer hound that lives on the moors and when somebody dies, the word gets out that the hound killed him. Only it’s not a hound at all.”

“Don’t tell me the rest,” I said quickly. “I want to read it.”

“I’ve got a copy at home if you want.”

“Really? You’d let me borrow it?” Considering that we’d never spoken before this moment, it struck me as a generous gesture.

“Sure,” she said. “Why not? I’ll bring it tomorrow.”

“Thanks.” 

It also seemed polite to return the gesture. “Do you like science fiction?” I asked.

“Some of it,” Jackie said. “I like Asimov and Heinlein and Bradbury. But a lot of the rest of them are dull. Boys with toys in space.”

“I’m partial to Heinlein,” I said.  Have you read Starship Troopers?”

“No.”

“Then I could trade you. A Heinlein for a Holmes.”

She grinned. “Okay. You’re on.”

When I got home that afternoon, I found Starship Troopers and pulled it from the bookcase. I carefully printed my name in ink – so it couldn’t be erased – on the inside front cover.  I had never done that with a book before – but then, I had never let anyone else borrow one of my books before. It seemed like a reasonable precaution to mark it, just in case someone forgot to return it.

At school the next day, I spotted Jackie on the playground before class started and approached her with book in hand. “Oh good,” she said, “you remembered!”  She took the paperback from my hands and stared at the cover. “Fantastic!” she said. “I brought something for you too.”  She reached into her knapsack and pulled out a thick paperback. On the cover were the unmistakable images of Holmes and Watson.  I opened it. Pasted to the inside front cover was a bookplate that read, “From the Library of,” and in its center, printed by hand in ink, was “Jackie McLanahan.”

She noticed me looking at the bookplate. “Just in case,” she said, sounding apologetic.

“I see we think a lot alike,” I said, and I pointed to my name on the inside cover of my book. “Just in case.”

The bell rang at that moment, so we ended our conversation and filed into the building.

It was several days later before we spoke again. “How are you liking Starship Troopers?” I asked her.

“It’s good,” she said. “I would have finished already but my mother made me practice piano.  Is it okay to keep it until Thursday?”

“Sure,” I said. “Take as long as you need. I should be finished with the Sherlock Holmes by then.”

“Are you having any nightmares about giant hounds?” she asked.

“Not yet,” I said. “Did you?”

“No, of course not. I just wondered.”

True to her word, on Thursday before the opening bell, she returned my book. “What did you think?” I said. The bell rang.

“Let’s talk about it at recess,” she said.

I brought Starship Troopers with me when I went outside for recess, but I didn’t see Jackie. I thought perhaps she was in detention again, and my stomach churned with a  mix of feelings – disappointment at being left alone, anger if I was being stood up, and sadness that she was being punished again for whatever reason. These thoughts were swirling around in my head  as I walked slowly toward the ball field, where a game of kickball was starting up, when I felt a tap on my shoulder.

“Did you forget?” said Jackie.

“Hey! No, I thought maybe you were stuck in detention.”

“Ha! Lucky me, I had a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card today.”

“And you used it for me? I am touched.”

“Maybe. Maybe a little touched in the head.” She winked.

“I think I might be in good company, then.”

“May be.” She grinned, and I couldn’t help grinning back.

We sat cross-legged underneath a tree where we could watch for any runaway kickballs without getting drawn into the game. We shared our thoughts about the book, and Robert Heinlein, and science fiction, and anywhere else the conversation wandered. Jackie was excellent company. She had some strong opinions, but she had good reasons to back them up.  She was also interested in what I thought.

It’s mysterious, really. I’ve had friends before, but never what you might call a best friend. Yet with Jackie, something just clicked. And I could see it was mutual. It was like we had always known each other, always liked each other, and always would like each other. It felt nice.

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