I was licking salt from the rim of my glass when Asli told me that elderly pelicans are often blind. She claimed that the force generated from smacking the water during a dive (and the fact that... [+]
Jennie rubbed the sandpaper rhythmically along the curved edge of the skateboard deck. On the sixth pass, the gritty paper caught the end of her finger.
"Ow!" Several tiny blood droplets came to the surface of her skin. Grandpa pulled a rag from his back pocket.
"Need a bandage?"
"I don't know." Jennie pushed the rag against the bloody spot. It didn't really hurt much, but the sight of her own blood surprised her.
"Guess we should clean it up," Grandpa said.
In the house, Grandma supervised the application of the band-aid. She asked how things were going.
"Mine is almost ready for varnish," Jennie said. "I need to do a little more sanding."
"And mine will be cut out before the day is done," Grandpa added.
Grandma grimaced. "Honestly, George, I can't imagine why you need a skateboard."
"Isn't he too old to ride a skateboard, Jennie?"
What a question, Jennie thought. Grandma would like one answer and Grandpa another. She decided to stick with the truth. "I think Grandpa will make a great skater. I can't wait to ride with him."
"That's my girl," Grandpa said as he turned toward the door. "Let's get at it."
Grandma only muttered something under her breath.
Jennie loved the workshop: the pegboard wall hung with screwdrivers, hammers, chisels, awls, and tools that Jennie didn't know the names of. She loved the big pieces of equipment that growled to life with the flick of a switch. Most of all, she loved the scent of the wood as the saw ran through it, and the powdery feel of sawdust between her fingers.
Grandpa grabbed the six-layered wood veneer that he and Jennie had glued and clamped together. He'd already traced around the template, leaving the shape of a skateboard deck on the wooden surface.
"With a table saw," Grandpa said, "you always want to make sure that the height of the blade is just a bit higher than what you are cutting through. Watch. We'll cut off the excess here and then use the band saw to get the proper shape."
He reached for a pair of earmuffs which he slipped over Jennie's head, then pulled another pair over his own ears.
"STAND BACK BY THE GARBAGE BIN," he shouted.
The neighbor's cat padded through the open door. Grandpa flicked the switch.
"Archie!" Jennie yelled.
The saw screamed, the cat flew straight upward in terror, and Grandpa jumped and yelled as the saw sliced through the wood. Something fell from the saw table at the same time.
"CRAZY CAT!" Grandpa shouted. He snapped the switch off. Jennie gasped. There on the ground, in a pile of sawdust, lay a thumb. She looked up to see Grandpa pulling a rag from his back pocket. He pressed it hard against his hand. Jennie watched his reddish face turn white and the white rag in his hand turn a dark, horrible red.
"Better clean this up," Grandpa said in a wavery voice. "Let's go talk to Grandma."
Jennie ran ahead on legs that felt like chewed gum.
"George, what have you done now?" Grandma scrunched her eyebrows together.
Grandpa lifted the rag and Grandma screamed. "Where's your thumb?"
"In a pile of sawdust on the garage floor. I'd like some aspirin."
"Not aspirin," Grandma barked. "You'll bleed more." She ran off down the hallway to the medicine cabinet.
Grandpa stumbled and landed on a kitchen chair. "I put earmuffs on myself, I put earmuffs on the girl, but I couldn't put earmuffs on that darn cat."
Grandma was back. "George, you're not making sense." Pills spilled onto the floor as she twisted the cap open.
"It was the cat," Jennie said. "The cat made him slip, Grandma."
"The thumb!" Grandma snapped. "We need the thumb. For the doctors to sew back on. Jennie, run and get it."
Get the thumb? Jennie felt heavy as a mountain.
"Can you do that for Grandpa?" Grandma asked, in a gentler voice.
Jennie ran. The screen door banged behind her.
The workshop was different now. Not so pleasing. The thought of sifting through the sawdust made her stomach flip. She'd be picking up Grandpa's thumb! Jennie took a deep breath then forced herself to look beneath the saw just as Archie darted past her ankles.
The startled cat looked up, Grandpa's thumb in its mouth!
"Bad cat!" Jennie bellowed. "Drop that!"
He didn't. Instead, he skittered through the sawdust and flew out the door.
"NOOO!" Jennie took off after him.
The cat bolted through rows of carrots and leapt to the top of the fence.
When Jennie got one leg over, Archie was already darting off down the alley.
"Archie!" Jennie scraped her shin as she dropped to the asphalt below. "Ow," she muttered. More blood. She ignored it. Archie had settled behind a large black garbage bin, three houses down. He looked at her with glinting eyes, Grandpa's thumb in his mouth like a pink cigar.
Just then a gray squirrel dropped from a willow branch and landed on the fence. It scurried in Jennie's direction. Suddenly, a plan! Jennie leapt into action, banging her knuckles against the fence boards. The squirrel spun and darted in the direction of the cat. Perfect! She rapped harder on the fence, hoping the cat had seen the squirrel.
There was a flash of black as Archie sprang from coiled muscles, dropping the thumb in mid-flight. Jennie raced for it, hearing his claws scrabbling for a hold on the wooden boards. Cat and squirrel disappeared over the fence!
Jennie snatched up the thumb, so relieved to have it that she forgot to feel sick.
As she dashed back to the house, she heard the garage door creaking open. In Jennie ducked, running smack into Grandma.
"Jennie, where have you been?"
"The cat," she gasped, aching for breath. "He ran off with Grandpa's thumb."
"Oh, heaven help us!"
"But I have it, Grandma, I have it!"
She unclenched her fist. Grandma looked at the dirty tattered thumb and squeezed Jennie tight.
"Jump in the car, honey," Grandma said, but she kept on squeezing.
Jennie wriggled free and climbed into the backseat behind Grandpa.
"I look like a boxer." Grandpa lifted his arm and Jennie saw a mess of rags tied around his hand. "I'll be boxing that cat when I get a chance."
Grandma slipped into the driver's seat. "Hand me the thumb, Jen." She gingerly lifted it from Jennie's palm, wrapped it in a white rag, and then a plastic zippered bag, rolling the bag to squeeze out the air. She nestled the wrapped thumb into a bed of crushed ice in a cottage cheese container, snapped the lid into place and passed the whole thing back to Jennie. "Take care of it."
Grandma vroomed the car backward out of the garage.
***Two days later they brought Grandpa home from the hospital with a sewed-on thumb. This time Grandpa sat in the backseat, Jennie scrunched beside him. Grandpa had his arm with the sewn-on thumb around her shoulders.
"Does it hurt, Grandpa?"
"Not bad. Maybe feels a bit like when you sanded your finger."
Jennie let out her breath. He'd be okay.
"Maybe we should hang a NO CATS ALLOWED sign," Jennie said.
"That dang cat can't read."
"Do you still want to skateboard, Grandpa?"
"I can't WAIT to skateboard," Grandpa said.
Grandma let out a sigh and shook her head but when Jennie's eyes met Grandma's in the rear-view mirror, Grandma smiled.
Jennie grinned. Soon she and Grandpa would be back in the workshop. Soon they would be skateboarding!