Karate Chop

I flopped in the orthodontist chair and stared up at Dr. Randall’s nose. I hoped to be back at school in time for music class. It was our final practice for the 3rd grade concert. Dr. Randall switched on the light and blinded me.

“Let’s see how that smile is coming along, Maya,” he said.

I closed my eyes against the bright light and opened my mouth wide. Dr. Randall poked that little mirror thingy around in my mouth.

“Mmm hmm,” Dr. Randall muttered. “Uh huh, hmm.”

What did that mean? I peeked open my eyes.

“Have you been turning the key every day?” he asked my mom.

Every night before bed, my mom had to poke a metal stick in my mouth and turn it. It moved this contraption attached to my teeth called an “expander.” It hurt a little at first, but not anymore.

My mom nodded. “Every day, one turn, just like you said.”

“We still need to make more room in Maya’s mouth for her new teeth to come in. Let’s see if we can speed things up.”

And that rotten orthodontist, I will never forgive him for what he did next. He put that metal key in my mouth and cranked it FIVE times. My jaw was cracking and breaking. My teeth were about to explode out of my mouth.

“Aaaarrrghhh!” I yelled, but his hand was still in my mouth.

“Oh, did that hurt?” Dr. Randall asked.

Tears filled my eyes.

“Sorry about that.”

I squeezed my eyes shut. A tear dripped into my ear.

“I needed to make sure it was working,” he said. “You can take a break for a couple days. Then turn the key one notch, every day, for three more weeks.”

I couldn’t believe I had wanted braces before this. No one told me it would hurt. Except for my cousin, Jake, and I knew he was lying to make me scared.

“You want to hit me?” Dr. Randall asked.

I looked up at his nose again.

“Seriously. Hit me. It’ll make you feel better.” He nodded.

I glanced at my mom. Her eyes bulged like a frog’s. She knew something that Dr. Randall didn’t. I’d been taking karate lessons for the past year.

“Go ahead.” Dr. Randall smiled. “I deserve it.”

I sat up and swiped my tears. I took a deep breath.

“Hiy-yah!”

 

The Sandwich Game

“Take your places, everyone!” Our music teacher, Mrs. Feldman, clapped her hands.

I hadn’t been chosen for a solo, so I climbed to the third row and stood next to Mackenzie.

“This isn’t a good spot for me,” she grumbled. “No one can see my new shoes back here.” She held out her foot.

Mackenzie always had something new. Her shoes were covered in silver sparkles.

“And my headband matches,” she said, tilting her head down for me to see. “I thought you were getting braces?”

“I did. See.” I tilted my head back and opened my mouth.

“Eeeew, you spit on me. I don’t want that kind of braces. I’m getting the kind that goes on the front of your teeth.”

Then she’d have a silver sparkly mouth to match her outfits. My whole face hurt from being at the orthodontist. Remembering my karate chop made me feel better.

“Ahoy there, yer swashbuckling pirates!” Mrs. Feldman yelled out.

I grinned. The theme for our 3rd grade musical was pirates, much better than last year’s fairy tales. I had all the songs memorized, even the soloist parts.

I sang my heart out. Singing always felt good. And then Mackenzie elbowed me. I scowled at her, and she scowled back. I kept singing.

She elbowed me again and hissed, “You’re hurting my ears.”

I ignored her.

She hissed again. “You’re singing too loud.”

We were supposed to sing loud. We were performing on stage.

Just as the music stopped, she hissed again, “And you’re spitting!”

Her voice rang out in the silence. Then a bunch of kids laughed.

Mrs. Feldman glanced around. “Is there a problem?”

No one said anything. She clapped her hands again, and said, “Argh, no scallywags here. Onward!”

I sang the next song softer. I formed the words carefully so I didn’t spit. Which is not easy to do with a chunk of metal in your mouth. I couldn’t sing fast enough to keep up with the music.

As we were filing off the risers, my cousin Jake called out, “Hey, Mayo!”

Jake knows I don’t like that nickname. At the beginning of the year, our teacher pronounced my name wrong. She said it like the month of May. May –a. Then Jake turned it into Mayo like Mayonnaise. Which led to the sandwich game. You know, one kid pretends she’s the bread, another kid is a slice of cheese, someone else is a tomato, and so on. Being the mayonnaise, I was always squished in the middle. I’m so tired of that game.

Most people would never guess that Jake is my cousin. He doesn’t look like me at all. Jake has red hair and freckles. I look like the Mexican half of our family. Jake is on the Irish side. Dad jokes that our family is a delicious combination like a chocolate/vanilla twist with a cherry on top from Custard’s Last Stand.

I turned to look back at Jake. He was blowing spit bubbles. Which is why I didn’t notice that Mackenzie had stopped in front of me. Which is why I accidently stepped on the back of her silver sparkly shoe. Which I tripped over. Which is why Kevin stumbled into me. Which is how we all ended up in a heap on the ground. Kind of like the sandwich game, with me as mayo, squished in the middle.

“Well, shiver me timbers!” Mrs. Feldman cried.

 

Winter White Wedding

“Everything looks okay in there.” My mom peered into my mouth with a flashlight.

“Mackenzie’s headband broke in half,” I said. “And a bunch of sparkles scraped off her shoe.”

Mom was trying not to laugh.

“It’s not funny,” I said.

“I know,” she said. “I’m sorry, but it’s kind of a funny picture in my head, as long as no one got hurt.”

“It’s all Jake’s fault. He distracted me!”

“You’ll be walking down the aisle with Jake on Saturday, so you better forgive him.”

My aunt Christina was getting married on Saturday. I was so excited to be a junior bridesmaid, except that Jake was a groomsman. Which was not a problem until Christina told me I had to walk down the aisle with him.

“I still can’t believe she’s getting married in February,” Mom said. “How nice it would have been to have a summer wedding outside. The weatherman is predicting snow this weekend.”

“Snow would be great!” I said. “A beautiful, winter white wedding.”

Instead of a flowery sundress, I was going to wear a red velvet gown. In my bedroom, I slipped it off the hanger and tried it on. I sang “Here Comes the Bride” and practiced my walk down the aisle. The long skirt swirled around my ankles, and I sang as loud as I could. And I didn’t even care if I spit.

 

Here Comes the Bride

Saturday morning, I hopped out of bed and yanked on my window shade. Snow! I ran downstairs and found my mom staring out the window.

“This is not good,” she said. “It’s still coming down. We’re supposed to get more than a foot of snow by this afternoon.”

The world had been painted white. Snow covered the tree branches and roofs like frosting on a cake.

“It’s perfect!” I said. “A winter white wedding.”

Mom didn’t think it was perfect. Neither did Christina. At the church, Christina paced in front of the window. Flamenco ruffles cascaded down the back of her gown and rippled as she walked. Her long black hair was covered with the lace mantilla veil handed down from my great-grandmother.

“I almost forgot. I have a gift for you, Maya.”

Christina held out a small white box tied with a red velvet ribbon. Inside was a necklace. At the end of the delicate gold chain was a butterfly with red wings.

“It’s beautiful. It matches my dress.”

“That’s exactly what I thought when I saw it at the store.” Christina clasped the necklace around my neck. “It’s for good luck. You know how people say you get butterflies when you’re nervous?”

I nodded.

“When you feel those butterflies, just picture this beautiful one around your neck. Imagine how strong and lovely she is, just like you.”

I grinned. “Do you have butterflies in your stomach?”

“Not yet. Right now I’m more worried about everyone driving here on the snowy roads . More guests should have arrived by now. The organist isn’t even here yet.”

“We made it,” I said. “Is Jorge here?”

She smiled and hugged me. “Yes, my groom is here.”

~

Too bad for me, Jake was there too. He wore a black tuxedo like the other groomsmen. I expected him to make a face or blow more spit bubbles, but he actually looked a little sick. His face was even whiter than usual. The freckles sprinkled across his cheeks jumped out at me.

“Are you okay?”

He didn’t answer. Jake had been given an extra job. The madrina de arras was one of the guests trapped in the snowstorm. She was supposed to carry the thirteen gold coins to the priest. It’s a Mexican tradition. The priest blesses the coins and gives them to the groom. Then the groom gives them to his bride to show his trust in her. The coins were in a small, black velvet pouch. Jake gripped the bag tightly and held it close to his chest.

In Mexican weddings, the madrina de ramo carries the flowers. That was my job. Christina had chosen a bouquet of red roses.

We lined up with the other bridesmaids and groomsmen. When the music started, it would be time to walk down the aisle. Christina stayed hidden behind us.

We waited and waited, but the music didn’t start.

“The organist still hasn’t shown up,” Christina moaned.  “I don’t think we can wait any longer.”

“A wedding without music. What a shame. We’ll have to do without,” said one of the other bridesmaids. “Go ahead Maya.”

My eyes traveled down the long aisle up to the front of the church where Jorge waited. I glanced at Jake again. He looked green.

“Are you sick?” I whispered.

He didn’t answer. Was he nervous? I touched the butterfly around my neck for good luck, then linked my arm around Jake’s elbow like we were told.

We took one step, two steps, three steps, but it felt all wrong. How could I do my graceful bridesmaid walk without music?

Jake wasn’t any help. He looked like he was going to throw up.

Softly, I began to hum the wedding march. “Da, da, ta-da. Da, da, ta-da.”

I stepped to the rhythm, my red velvet skirt swishing around my ankles. I smiled and held my head high like a professional dancer on stage. I glanced to the side and spied my parents. They grinned and joined my humming, their voices a little louder. Other voices joined the chorus. Louder and louder, the notes rose up and around the church. “Da,da, ta-da. Da, da, ta-da.”

I heard a jingling sound. Jake was shaking the bag of coins. It sounded like maracas! He still wasn’t smiling, but he looked a little less green. I hummed and fluttered down the aisle straight toward the groom. Jorge smiled at me and held up one finger. Then two and three, ready, set, go. I opened my mouth wide and sang with him. “Here comes the bride, all dressed in white…”

The other bridesmaids had followed us down the aisle. Everyone was singing now. They turned to watch Christina’s entrance.

Christina laughed and floated down the aisle. I knew it would be a beautiful, winter white wedding.

 

The Power of Butterflies

Our school music concert was about to begin. The butterflies in my stomach were beating their wings madly. I had gone to the bathroom, but now I had to pee again. Too late now. I touched the butterfly on my necklace and asked her to calm down her wild friends in my tummy.

Mrs. Feldman had moved me to the front row next to the soloists. Not because I had a solo, but because of the “incident” with Mackenzie.

The auditorium lights were blindingly bright, but I squinted into the audience. Parents waved at their kids, but I couldn’t find mine. I knew they were out there somewhere.

Mrs. Feldman played the opening notes on the piano, and we sang. I knew all the words, but I sang softly and carefully. I didn’t want anyone to nudge me or hush me. But then I heard a sound that was most definitely not singing. Someone was coughing. No. Someone was retching.

Jake stumbled off the risers, his face green like the day of the wedding. His hands were over his mouth, and oh no… yes… he was puking.

Our class kept singing. Some of the kids didn’t even know what was happening. They couldn’t see from the other end of the bleachers. But I could see. Vomit hit the stage. It even splattered on one of the soloists in the front row. Emily stood frozen, a horrified look on her face. She held out her puke-covered arm.

Mrs. Feldman stopped playing the piano but gestured for us to keep singing. She guided Jake and Emily off the stage. Another teacher leaped up to help, and Mrs. Feldman returned to her piano.

Kids shuffled around on the bleachers trying to avoid the mess. Mackenzie pinched her nose. I tried not to breathe too deeply. But the show went on. The soloists stepped up to the microphone one at a time for their parts.

And then there was a pause. Mrs. Feldman continued to play the piano, but no one sang.

It was time for Emily’s solo, but she hadn’t returned to the stage. Everyone looked around. I hummed the solo quietly to myself. I pictured Jorge smiling at the wedding. He held up one finger, then two and three, ready, set, go. I touched the butterfly around my neck and stepped forward. Mrs. Feldman nodded at me.

I stood in front of the microphone and took a deep breath. Mrs. Feldman started the song from the beginning. The words rose up from my throat, softly at first. Then they grew from deep in my belly, through my lungs, loud and clear. My voice was full of all the energy those butterflies had created with their wild flutters.

The applause was like thunder. I spotted my parents as they stood up in the audience, clapping. My dad put two fingers in his mouth and whistled. I curtsied, holding out my skirt, imagining my butterfly wings.