Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 5 of my novel that takes place on Mardi Gras day in Mickey’s neighborhood. Uncle Biggy is parading in the neighborhood marching club, Mickey and her friends are watching the parade from the playground.
The music rounding the corner warned us the parade was coming. The big tuba made me forget all about falling down and the steady, marching drum made me jump to my feet and get in step with the rhythm. The whole band swung into a shuffling beat that got us all dancing around. Two steps up and one step back, swaying side to side with each step. Buster snapped his fingers right in time, loud and clear. Charlie's legs shook like rubber and bent so low his behind dragged on the ground until he tripped over his cowboy holster hanging down. My soggy tutu sprayed waterdrops everywhere as I shook my hips in time with the trumpet leading the second line of marchers down the street.
Tommy had already scrambled to the top of the chain link fence, waving and yelling at the marchers to throw him something. We all climbed the fence to grab some beads; this time I swung my leg over the top of the fence and sat there with both hands free so I could catch as many beads as possible.
Sal, the grocery man, was out front strutting like a king; his purple and gold satin suit shimmered straight and tall while his gold painted shoes tapped down the street. His feet kept up with every beat, but his stiff torso seemed to keep the music inside him.
I caught Mr. Sal's eye, he winked, and tossed me a bunch of colored beads that Charlie tried to snatch away, but I yanked them free. Mr. Sal laughed and threw another bunch right at me. It was raining down beads all around us. I even heard some of them clinking on the swing poles in back of us. A glittering gold necklace went sailing over my head, way out of reach, and twisted around the crossbar of the swings.
Some of the marchers were already drunk, stumbling in sloppy circles, their sequined capes swirling in a blur of color. Uncle Biggy was behind the band; I could see him bringing up the rear with the rest of the stragglers who were walking instead of dancing. I hoped he'd saved me some good beads.
"Uncle Biggy, Uncle Biggy," I yelled. "Over here. Throw me something."
Finally he heard me and reached into his shiny, satin bag and scooped out a tangle of colored beads too heavy to throw so he ran to the fence and handed it all up to me. His face was red from laughing so much.
"Hey, Mickey. You sure got the best spot to watch the parade," he chuckled. Then he plucked a yellow paper rose from the bunch wrapped around his cane and tossed it up to me---oh man, only big girls got crepe paper flowers.
"Thanks, Uncle Biggy." I smiled as I stuck the rose into my pile of beads. Maybe he was being nice for yelling at me so much. He had to run to catch up with the parade that was starting to break up as the marchers reached the crowds of family and friends waiting outside the bar. From my perch I could see some of the marchers grabbing women and older girls from the crowd and dancing in the street with them. It seemed very special to get chosen like that in front of everybody.
"Hey Mickey, how are you going to get down with all those beads?" Charlie yelled from the ground. "Toss 'em down to me. I'll hold ‘em for you."
"No, sirree," I shouted back. "You're not getting any of my beads."
I stuck the yellow rose between my teeth and stuffed the whole armful of beads down the front of my leotard which easily stretched to carry the load as I climbed down the fence. On the ground I started to pull out my beads so we could see who caught the most stuff, but I'd forgotten the toilet paper wads stuck in the front of my costume. One of them slipped out in a tangle of beads and fell to the ground like a crumpled white flower.
Buster spied it before I could mash it with my shoe. "Hey, what's that?" he asked, because he really didn't know.
Charlie had older sisters, though, and he knew. "Man, look at this. Mickey's got paper tits."
Even Buster started laughing when he caught on. "Paper tits,” they all chanted.
I was too mad to cry and wanted to yell at them but something deep inside kept me still. Somehow I knew the best way to make them stop was to be quiet.
“Lopsided,” Charlie taunted. “Mickey’s got lopsided tits.”
Tommy laughed so hard he fell down and pulled Charlie with him. “Goddamn paper tits,” Tommy gasped as they rolled around with laughter. Buster jumped on top of them shouting, too.
I stayed silent until they quit laughing and then I just walked away as slow as I could even though my cheeks were trembling. I was half way across the baseball field before I heard Buster say,
“Aw, c’mon back, Mickey. It was just a joke."
But I kept on walking away, with that stillness inside me.