NATALIE GALANTINE IS ELEVEN
Jenny Wales Steele
9/14 - Saturday I am 11! Mom asked if I want a party and I said only babies have parties. She said do you want to do anything special? I said let’s go to the Macaroni Grill. She said okay who do you want to take? I said nobody. She said how about Gina? I said Gina is not my friend anymore. She said why? I said that is a private matter. I hope the people at the Macaroni Grill don’t sing Happy Birthday because that is embarrassing. Of course we have to take Travis because we can’t leave him at home because he is a boy and not responsible like me. Mrs. Cavy gave us a new assignment today. We have to interview 5 fascinating people and make a little booklet. I am going to start with Ellen the crossing guard lady. She has a limp and a funny accent. Mrs. Cavy is a strict teacher but I think she is a positive influence. She has good posture and vocabulary. I am trying to adjust to taking the bus to school but there is pushiness and that is unpleasant. Also it smells because maybe the children are not using soap.
9/15 - I am 11 in 3 days! Dad said this is momentous but that is what he said last year and it is actually sort of the same as 10 but now I am in 6th grade and the classes are more advanced and I have to take sex education and that is a total waste of time because I already know all about that. Gina’s mother told her about sex and Gina told me at summer camp. I think it is a bunch of malarkey. I am going to have a career. I am going to be a jazz musician and also a test pilot. Travis is playing a stupid video game in his room and I can’t hear myself think! Go jump in a lake, Travis! But I can’t yell go jump in a lake because it gets me in hot water. Mom says Travis is at an awkward age. I think he needs evaluation because he is gloomy gus one minute and then totally hyper. If he is not careful he will develop a violent personality. Maybe he can take pills and be normal.
9/16 - I am 11 in 2 days! I hope I am getting a new saxophone because my saxophone is extremely used. Mom said we had to buy used because you are only trying it out. But I am not trying it out anymore because I have determination. Also I am the #1 saxophone in the school band. The other saxophone is a boy named Damien. He is not talented like me and I have to help him figure out notes. He does not say thank you and that is not polite. He is going to remember me in the future when I am a famous jazz musician and also a famous test pilot. Also my diary will be published when I am famous so young girls can be inspired and learn how to be successful. Thinking ahead is important and that is my main advice. I am probably getting a new saxophone because we are upper middle class and we can buy things. That is our tax bracket Dad talks about all the time. Having a tax bracket is another important thing to plan for.
9/17 - I am 11 tomorrow! My life is an amazing journey. There are a lot of things to learn and experience but I am on track. I know all about drugs and sex and the tax bracket because I am very advanced for my age group. Mom took me to the Music Barn today and it was Heaven. A man showed us the alto saxophones but it was hard to concentrate because there was a teenage boy going honk honk honk on a trombone. I played 2 scales and part of Misty but I could not correctly judge the tone because of that rude trombone. Travis waited in the car and Mom told him no pouting but he pouted anyway. I am glad he did not come into the Music Barn because he ruins everything. He said only geeks play the saxophone and I said was John Coltrane a geek and he said who? He does not have music appreciation. We left the Music Barn but Mom probably went back later to buy that saxophone. I will act surprised tomorrow.
9/18 - I am 11 today. I am extremely happy. I got that new saxophone. The inside of the case is red velvet and this is very jazzy. Also it came with reeds and cork grease and a yellow cloth on a string so I can clean it. I said let’s donate my used saxophone to poor kids who are beginners. It is important to do charity. Then we ate at the Macaroni Grill and I had spaghetti and meatballs and also cheesecake. The people sang Happy Birthday but it was not too embarrassing. You have to go with the flow. Mom and Dad gave me a birthday card that says To A Sweet Girl and it has bunnies on it. It is extremely corny but parents can get that way. Dad gave me $10 and he winked and that means it is a secret. I put it with my mad money. Travis drew a picture of a jet for me with Natalie on the wings. He is sort of talented with drawing. Maybe he can have a career in drawing if he applies himself. Also he gave me a yellow lanyard he made at Boy Scouts. It is ugly but it is the thought that counts. I am not ungrateful like Gina. I am still mad at her but I am working out the emotions because I can’t be a person who holds a grudge especially against a person who talks about clothes and boys nonstop. I told Gina there is lots of time for clothes and boys but she sort of snorted at me. I can’t be serious with a person like that! Also she does not have goals and that is a shame. Clothes and boys are not a goal! But I am trying to forget we used to be best friends because I don’t care.
9/19 - I am an extremely passionate person. Is this a crime? I went out to the backyard this morning with my new saxophone and I played Moonglow almost all the way to the end but a neighbor leaned out of his upstairs window and shouted shut that god damn thing up! God damn is swearing and that is not polite but I have to put exactly what he said for posterity. I went back inside because I am very dignified. When I am a famous jazz musician people will interview the neighbor and he will say oh I remember Natalie Galantine and he will have lots of regret. He will see me on the TV playing jazz and he will tear his hair out! But you have to forgive people if they don’t understand your talents. That is an important lesson.
9/20 - I interviewed Ellen the crossing guard lady today. She grew up in Georgia and that is why she has a funny accent. She has a limp because she was in a train wreck when she was a child. In my interview booklet I will put a map of Georgia and a picture of a train and a stop sign on a pole like she carries. We had dinner at the Red Lobster tonight and I got a necklace with a lobster on it. We are not a chatty family and that is not normal so I tried to make conversation. I said my teacher Mrs. Cavy sort of flirts with Mr. Cane the principal and this is sort of creepy and it is sort of a bad example for the children and Mom yelled at me stop saying sort of! A thing is or it is not! It is never sort of! She yelled right there in the Red Lobster! It was extremely unpleasant. She was acting weird today. She is going on a trip tomorrow for her job and I think she is nervous but that is silly because nervous is not a good attitude. Also I think she is wrong about the sort of. Sometimes things are sort of and not always totally one way.
9/21 - I asked Dad today if he knows any fascinating people. He said Natalie Galantine. I said flattery will get you nowhere. Dad said he only knows people who are dull like him and who can’t keep things spicy. Weird! Dad took Mom to the airport tonight. I told Mom to send me a postcard but not the White House because that was the one she sent in July. I said the Lincoln Memorial but surprise me. She said okay but if I forget don’t get mad. Then Dad came home and he was extremely irritated. Travis and I were supposed to decide pizza toppings when he was at the airport but Travis was in his room playing stupid video games and he had his door locked. I told Dad you try dealing with that. Dad pounded on his door and yelled we will get mushrooms if you don’t come out here! Travis hates mushrooms so he came out. We always eat pizza if Mom is on a trip. It is not a healthy diet but it is better than Dad trying to cook.
9/22 - I got interview #2 today. It is Clancy the school janitor. He was mopping the cafeteria. The mop and wheelie bucket smelled like vomit but I ignored it. Clancy told me he was a soldier in Vietnam and he was going to be an architect but then he wasn’t. I asked him if he has hobbies. He said he goes to the race track to bet on horses. The hobby idea is smart so I asked Ellen the crossing guard lady if she has hobbies. It was a follow up. She said she helps with barbecues for the homeless at her church. That is a nice detail! I will put a picture of a barbecue grill in my interview booklet. For Clancy I will put a gun and a horse and a mop in a wheelie bucket and also a fancy house in a cloud because that was a dream and not reality. I will get an A+++ and Gina will say oh big whoop but that is because she is jealous of me.
9/23 - Mom called tonight and I said hello how are you and she said fine please put your father on. He said I’ll take it in the bedroom. So he went in the bedroom and picked up the phone but I heard what he said accidentally because I did not hang up the kitchen phone right away. He said I know where you are Maria and I know you’re with him. Then I hung up. Maybe they are fighting but if I ask they will say mind your own beeswax. It is weird when Mom is on a trip because Dad starts breaking all the rules he invented about not driving us to school. He drove us to school this morning and he let me pick the radio station so I picked the jazz station. Dad enjoyed that and he tapped his fingertips on the steering wheel. Then he missed the turn because he was absorbed in the music. Jazz does that to people. So he made a U-turn even though there was a sign saying no U-turn. I was very early at school. It is creepy when there are no children there. I went into the music room and played my saxophone. Mr. Milch was in his music office and he poked his head out and said groovy. Groovy is a hippie word Dad told me. Then Mr. Milch said girl you have got the chops. Chops is jazz vocabulary. Chops is a compliment so I said thank you.
9/24 - There is a new girl at school named Keesha. She is a black girl. She has lost a whole month of school so I said I can help you catch up. She did not say thank you but I knew she was thinking thank you. I sat next to her at lunch and asked her questions. This is interview #3 but I didn’t tell her. I said do you play an instrument so you can be in the school band? She said no. I said do you have hobbies? She said she has a telescope. I said what do your parents do? She said her Dad is in the Air Force and that is why they moved to Tucson. Also they lived in California and Florida. I said what an adventure and she looked at me funny but that is okay because she is probably feeling shy. I am ignoring Gina and Gina is ignoring me. She was so rude at summer camp! I am not gross no matter what she says. She thinks she is special because she has a training bra. She said oh Natalie you’re a baby. I said sticks and stones and also it is important to enjoy your childhood. She said oh you’re dumb. But she is the one who is dumb. She does not listen to Mrs. Cavy because she is passing love notes to boys! We had pizza again tonight and that is boring even if we get pineapple on it.
9/25 - Not all days are good days. Some days you have to sort of be careful because there’s hurt in the atmosphere that you can’t explain. I stayed in my room practicing my saxophone because Dad was moody, but I spied on him later when he was sitting on the couch, extremely quiet. His eyes were all red and his face was almost falling apart and he had one fist up against his mouth. I don’t understand adults a lot of times.
9/26 - I don’t have 5 interviews yet but I have to start making the interview booklet. I am cutting pictures out of Time and People that Mom buys but never reads but I didn’t find a stop sign on a pole or a mop in a wheelie bucket. I knocked on Travis’s door even though it says keep out and do not disturb. He said come in. His room smells like socks and cheese. I said can you draw me a picture of a stop sign on a pole and also a mop in a wheelie bucket? He said okay and then the conversation was done so I went back to my room. Also we had pizza again tonight. Mom will be home tomorrow and we can have normal meals again like rack of ribs and twice baked potatoes.
9/27 - Keesha is finally warming up to me. Other children are acting sort of careful around her maybe because she is the only black girl in our class. It is no big deal to me because I was excellent in black history month and I did a report about John Coltrane. Keesha and I had lunch together and I told her who’s who. I said avoid Gina because Gina is a negative person. It is not nice to badmouth people but Gina deserves it. I asked Keesha are you going to have a career? She said maybe astronomy. Maybe I can go to her house and she can show me planets with her telescope. Also I can ask her father about being in the Air Force because I am going to be a test pilot. I didn’t tell Keesha about being a test pilot because it is not polite to blurt out everything all at once. Travis came into my room a minute ago and gave me a drawing of a stop sign on a pole and also a mop in a wheelie bucket. They are truly fantastic! I said thank you and I hugged him. Maybe he will turn out okay. Pizza again tonight. The pizza boy’s name is Nathan. Maybe I can interview him.
9/28 - Life is weird now and then but you have to accept that. Dad said we had to go with him to pick up Mom at the airport. I was in the middle of math and I really could not be bothered so I said why? He said you and your brother will remind her. I said remind her of what? He said never mind of what. So Travis and Dad and I got in our Cherokee and we drove to the airport. We waited in the waiting area and Mom walked down a ramp towards us. She looked happy and unhappy at the same time. We got her suitcase at the round metal thing and we went out to the Cherokee. Nobody was saying anything. Why is the conversation always left up to me? That is not fair so I decided not to try at all. Then we got stuck in a traffic jam. There was an ambulance and a fire truck blocking the road. We were all extremely quiet and also no radio. I think there is a problem with Mom and Dad. There was a lot of tension! I put my hand in Travis’s hand and he didn’t jerk it away immediately but he squeezed my hand and we held on for a little while. We got home and Dad said please go to your rooms and that was fine because I had to finish math. But also I spied on Mom and Dad outside on the patio. They were drinking beer and not saying anything.
About the author:
Jenny Wales Steele's fiction has been published in Sou'wester, Cleaver Magazine, Jet Fuel Review, OneThrone, The Ampersand Review, Quay, Harpur Palate, Compose, Juked, Salt Hill, among many others, and she's been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize. A native Arizonan, she now lives in Tucson. Visit her website.