There was something funny about the way she showed up. Grown-ups think that all kids are morons, but I can always tell if a grown-up means something or is pretending. So I saw when Belle showed up that it wasn't an accident. She and Uncle Terry had a plan.
Terry takes us to the beach every couple of weeks, and Aunt Frieda doesn't like to go, because she has fair skin and burns easily and anyway, she feels sick a lot. Sometimes when we go, we arrange to meet other people there, and what's wrong with that? So if Uncle Terry wanted to meet Belle and her nephew John at the beach, why wouldn't they just say so instead of putting on an act?
So the whole thing felt funny, and I just looked at her and thought: liar lady. But she didn't notice anything. Sometimes its the grown-ups who don't know what's going on, even though they think they're the ones who know everything.
Its not my job to take care of Uncle Terry, and as my mom says, I can take Aunt Frieda or let her alone. I would never say anything to her, nor would mom, but I've heard her say: Frieda better watch Terry or he'll just wander away.
If you put me in a room with happy and sad people, I'lll go stand with the happy people. That's the way I am. If I'm with some kids and some of them are miserable and some are having fun, I'll go have fun with those ones. If you take me to the beach and there are some people in the shadows and there's also some sun, you're gonna find me in the sun. That's me.
So at the beach I saw Uncle Terry looking at the liar lady, and I saw her acting like she didn't notice his eyebrows coming off his head, and I said to myself, forget about it. I'm gonna get some sun on me and go in the water and play with this kid John. Who I never met before, though I saw him around school. I used to say to my girlfriends, who's the handsome kid? The way he dresses, he must be rich too. Everybody said, that's John Chalfin. His dad's a rich businessman , and his uncle Charlie is in politics. We didn't really know what that meant, to be in politics, but once the school had Charlie Chalfin come in and speak to the kids in the auditorium, about democracy and all. I watched him tell us about the roots of democracy, being in our school and our neighborhood, and I thought, liar, liar, pants on fire. He was there an hour and not once was there a word out of his mouth that he meant. He said everything in the way a grown-up does who is saying "Maybe" or "we'll see" when they mean "no." If Belle likes men like that, no wonder.
But her nephew, John, is not like that. He's a heart-throb, with a little face like Paul McCartney's. You could just kiss him up. He's a little too serious, though, more like George Harrison. I saw him and said, what's the best way I could be happy today? And I said, I'm just gonna mix him up. That's what the doctor ordered, if I just get him totally mixed up, so he doesn't know if he's coming and going. My whole life, I knew how to do that, even when I was four. You stand close to a boy and look in his eye and act like you're hanging on every word, and maybe give him a little kiss on the cheek when he's least expecting it. Pretty soon he's turning around and around.
Today the problem is Samantha, the banana slug. If you don't understand me: a slug is a little slimy thing you find if you go in the crack between our garage and the Hansen's next door. They're usually about two inches long, but you find the monster slugs that are three times their size. They look like big snails without shells. Most of the girls are afraid to pick them up, but not me. I've never seen a banana slug except in pictures, but they're twice again the size of the monster slugs behind the garage and on top of that, they're yellow. That's Samantha.
I would have loved having a little girl cousin if it was anyone else. I wouldn't have cared if she was pretty, or ugly or anything. But Samantha is corroded. She's a brain, and she's smarter than me, and she knows it. If people are smarter than you, they shouldn't make a big deal about it. Samantha always has to brag. She's not even five years old, but she thinks she knows everything. Of course, its all useless information. We were talking about comets and I said, I don't understand why people wait around years to see them when they burn up in the sky in a second. And Samantha the genius had to let me know, I mixed up a comet and a shooting star. Big deal.
And then she's got this ugly straight black hair and this great big forehead, like a mutant in a movie. Like her brain is just gonna jump out of her head. She wants you to know that she's better than you are, but to like her at the same time. She follows you everywhere and she cries if you don't talk to her. She's like a slug you just want to shake off your shoe.
So she gets right in there ahead of me and attaches herself to John. That makes me crazy, like she's four, what does she need him for? She just thinks the whole world goes around her. She has to butt in when I'm trying to talk to a boy I have my eye on, a cool sixth grader. I always want the most popular boys to like me. I could just imagine the eyes on Diane Peculato and Betty Levine if they saw John Chalfin coming over in the yard to talk to me. But for an hour I can't even get a word in because little Samantha the slug has John Chalfin playing with her in the water! Pretending to be a shark and attacking a toy dinosaur! I thought I knew how to make a boy into an idiot, but I never thought of that one!
Finally, I get some time with him, but we still have the banana slug attached to us, so I can't do everything I want. Because I forgot to mention she's also a tattletale! I can't do the kiss on the cheek thing I try when I really want to settle their hash because she'd go screaming to her dad or my mom that Lina kissed John Chalfin! I'm leading John practically by the nose up and down the entire beach and the slug is tagging along, and I think, if I could only trip her and she'd fall in and drown, who would miss her? Not even Uncle Terry, who talks to me the whole time whenever the three of us are together.
When we go back up the beach, the liar lady is asleep on her blanket and Uncle Terry is eating her up with his eyes. All men are animals, Betty Levine says. Her mother, the only divorced mom we know, told her. I could definitely believe it. Terry looks like he wants the pretty liar for a snack. He's definitely been making goo-goo eyes at her the whole day, but who cares? Its not my problem.
In the car going home, the slug can't stop talking about Martians. At first I'm thinking, you should know, because you are one. When we leave the beach, she's in the front and I'm in the back, but after we stop at Howard Johnson's for dinner, she gets in the back seat with me and she lies down and puts her head on my knee. I pet her hair and for a moment, I can't hate her. Samantha is looking at water towers and streetlamps and saying they're like the Martians in the movie War of the Worlds, which we saw on TV last week at her house. She's right, they kind of are, though I wouldn't have thought of it myself. Uncle Terry is ignoring her and I feel sorry for her and think: I'd rather be me than you, girl, that's for sure. No matter how smart you are.
Lina in 1981