Brigid's New Uniform
Damn preschool band practice! Head down against the wind-swept rain, Rod made his final lunge across the street to the main entrance of his high school, and as usual guessed wrong. He had to try every one of the other thirteen double doors before he found the one solitary door that Hank, the custodian, had decided to unlock this morning. Hank was perverse, only unlocking one door, and always a different one.
Rod was a little late. He hated being late. He had overslept this Thursday morning. Still, 6:15 was too early to leave his nice warm bed and plunge into this mid-March storm. But the dedication of Mr. Watson ("Sarge", from his years leading an Army band) to the Tunemasters, the school's locally famous marching band, had rubbed off on Rod as it did on everyone else. So he tried to be on time to the extent his sleepy body would allow.
The halls were pretty deserted at this hour. Aside from the band, the auto mechanic students sometimes showed up early, and that was it. Bookbag over his shoulder, Rod walked as fast as he could down to the band room. He went to the Big Instrument Room, pulled out his trombone case, and tried to slip into rehearsal unnoticed.
Fortunately they hadn't started yet. He took his place with the other trombones in the back row, next to Jamal, and discreetly blew into his slide to warm it up. Then, as always, he searched the clarinet rows for his great unrequited love, the white girl who was this year's majorette, Brigid.
Yes, she was there -- between her friends Debra and Virginia as usual, arranging the music on their stand. Of course she was not in her skimpy majorette uniform. That uniform, along with the full-coverage uniforms of the rest of the band, was on the racks of hangers along the walls. The majorette uniform looked almost like an empty hanger, next to the floor-length bags containing the other uniforms.
Brigid was in her usual daily outfit of turtleneck shirt, denim jacket, and black jeans. Strands of her red hair straggled fetchingly over the back of her jacket. Rod tried to catch her eye. Fortunately he did, as she smiled quickly at him. Then got back to arranging the music. Debra and Virginia helped. Looked like they had misplaced something, then suddenly found it just in time.
Debra and Virginia were wearing those "Tunemasters earrings" that most of the girls in the band were wearing, those little silver "T's" that were given out after the Christmas parade. The earrings swung back and forth as their heads bobbed back into position. Brigid wasn't wearing earrings today. Usually she had a little something on her ears, like bits of coral or pearl-like thingies.
Sarge, on the podium with his baton up, started them on their usual warmup tune, "Captains and Kings". Rod flubbed the first two notes but after that caught up with his warmed-up buddies, Jamal and Lorenzo and Howard and Jaycee.
This Thursday, Friday and Saturday would be a busy three days. Today was an important practice; the Tunemasters were getting into their "concert band" mode for Friday night's all-district concert. On Saturday morning was the big St. Patrick's Day parade, marching the whole three miles into Dorchester, with twenty other bands, all on TV, an old Boston tradition. Followed that afternoon by the benefit football game for the local food bank. Tomorrow, the day before the parade, was the school's traditional "Uniform Day", when everyone came to school in their uniforms, whether you were in the Tunemasters or on the football team, or on some other team.
Fortunately the weather was supposed to clear up later today, and actually be nice by Saturday. Rod was grateful for that. It had been a miserable year for marching. The whole football season had been rainy and cold. Sleet actually fell during the last game in December. Then those special-invitation parades. . . The Tunemasters had gotten quite a reputation around New England, and were invited practically every Saturday to be in one event or another. And they all were cold. For Rod and the rest of the band in their full-coverage uniforms, with thermals on, it was bad enough. But so much more so for their poor majorette!
Brigid was so dedicated, so focused on her craft. She kept her majorette smile on but still was so serious, so mature, doing those complicated baton throws, prancing around in her goose-bumps and her itty bitty majorette uniform. Rod and the other trombones always marched in the front line (to have room to move their slides) and so were right behind Brigid. He often thought of trying to catch her eye, but didn't want to upset her concentration. That she was white, one of only a few dozen white kids in the school, only increased his curiosity. He was fascinated with the way her skin flushed, either red or pink or purple depending on the part of her body and how cold it was.
What would his parents think if he asked her out? His first date with a white girl. . .
But he was getting ahead of himself. He hadn't got anywhere near the nerve to ask her out. Yet they did have a bond -- when Sarge had picked the two of them to represent the Tunemasters on that local TV show. Waiting backstage, seeing that gay-looking guy powdering the majorette's almost totally naked body, watching her unbound breasts jiggle to and fro, then Rod and Brigid performing on the show while Sarge and Melba McIntyre watched, him playing a tune and Brigid doing some twirls, both flawlessly. That had been their one special time.
She didn't have a boyfriend. He was quite sure about that. Across the hubbub of this big school he noticed that she had her own circle of close friends, some of whom were guys. But he had never seen her holding hands with anyone or acting real close. So maybe there was hope.
And now at lunch he got a real lucky break. He emerged with Jamal from the burger line and saw that Brigid was two tables away from them, sitting between Lucia (a heavy Latina girl) and Debra (a cute black girl he had known since third grade). And the bench across from them was empty!
Jamal seemed to want to drift over to the football players' bench to hang out with Jaycee, but Rod subtly steered him to Brigid's table. As he was about to sit down he was distressed to see her get up. But no, it was only to get some napkins. As he sat down and said hi to Debra, he sneaked a peak back at Brigid, skipping over to the napkins. He loved her fashion sense, the jacket, the turtleneck shirt, the jeans. Yet she did change things from time to time. For the past couple of weeks, instead of her black Uggs, she had been wearing old sneakers with no socks. Cute ankles. Of course, everything about her was cute, her ankles, her chin, her ears, and on parade, the dimples over her butt cheeks. . . Rod was self-aware enough to know that he was gushing about her in his head. He was in love and obsessed. Well, nothing wrong with that!
When Brigid sat down again Rod looked at her dancing green eyes. After some bumbling attempts to start a conversation he finally hit upon a theme. "This looks like the Tunemasters table."
"Yes," Jamal said, "Time to walk the halls like a dork in my uniform tomorrow."
"You don't HAVE to wear it," Debra said. But of course it would be disrespectful to Sarge not to.
"It will be strange to wear my uniform without thermals underneath," Virginia said. "I haven't done that since October."
"Yes. And that's good. Mine scratch me in some weird places anyway," Jamal said.
"T.M.I.!" Brigid laughed. Too much information! Which made Rod laugh too. Though Jamal was right. Those special thermals that Sarge ordered were pretty coarse. You had to wear your regular underwear under them. Of course, the band's majorette didn't have the option of wearing thermals or even underwear so she wouldn't know.
"Hey, Fridge!" a guy said as he passed by with his tray. Brigid's eyes narrowed. Rod turned to see who this jerk was -- she knew Brigid hated that "Frigid Brigid" nickname -- but then he saw it was Sammy, the baritone saxophone player, who was a good guy. As he turned back Rod realized that Brigid had actually taken the nickname as good-natured kidding, at least from Sammy.
They were all eating burgers and fries, except Lucia, who was trying to watch her weight with a salad. Seconds passed uneasily. Rod thought: should I try to make conversation again? Or just let things come up? Does this silence show that Brigid and her friends are ill at ease with me and Jamal? Or is it just something that comfortable friends allow to pass? Am I worrying about this too much?
Fortunately the girls made conversation themselves. It was prompted by Brigid's trying to get something out of her bookbag, and dropping a key on the table, the key to the weight room.
"How's body conditioning working out?" Lucia said. She had thought of signing up herself, but was self-conscious about people seeing her in workout clothes.
"Great. It's just the ten of us, and Janowski is pretty cool. We do it three times a week, after school." If Rod had known she'd signed up, he would have too. . . Another opportunity missed!
"Sounds like a lot of work," Jamal said.
"It is. But it gives ya energy. And I'm gettin' results, after only four weeks. Feel this muscle!" She flexed her left arm and pushed her elbow out at Jamal, daring him to feel her bicep. Realizing her jacket was in the way, she said, "Wait -- " and got up to take the jacket off. Rod and Jamal were treated to the sight of her twisting and turning in her turtleneck shirt, long red hair flinging about, her shoulders jerking to and fro along with her breasts, which were encased in what looked like a sturdy bra. Brigid's breasts were a little big for her frame, and contrasted with her slim waist. Both guys imagined them bare, wobbling and jumping as she threw her baton, dressed in nothing except the little circlets over her nipples.
"Feel here," Brigid said again. (With her white-girl-Boston accent, it was more like, "Heah.") She pointed her elbow at Jamal and then Rod, who felt her bicep. Rod's heart (and his dick) jumped as he felt the firm lump under her long shirt sleeve. "Wow, Grade A!" Jamal said. Rod nodded.
"I bet you could throw a baton at the moon now," he said. As Brigid put her jacket back on she smiled at this weak joke. He was going to say, "I bet you could hit McPherson from a hundred feet with your baton," referring to Ms. McPherson, the principal, but decided it would sound mean. Though it would have been funnier. Rod bit his lip. He was always twisting himself in knots, thinking of what to say around this girl.
"I wrote something in music theory that I'd like to try out," he said impulsively. "Why don't we give it a go tomorrow after lunch?"
He was looking at Brigid, who for a second looked puzzled, an odd expression for her. "What?"
He hadn't called her name but had been looking right at her. "Um. . . A piece I wrote that I need a woodwind for. I'll play the trombone part, you can do the clarinet."
Brigid smiled, her bright green eyes making his heart jump again. "Sure. . . Let's try it out."
Rod exhaled and thought: What did I just do? What just popped out of my mouth? I didn't write no "piece"! I'm in music theory class but I'm terrible at it! Yet Brigid had said yes. I'd better write something tonight and it better be good!
"You were almost late to band this morning," Debra observed.
Glad to be talking about something else, Rod said, "I couldn't figure out Hank's system for unlocking doors."
"Thursdays, it's always the last one on the right," Brigid said.
"Except last Thursday," Debra said. This was some kind of joke between the girls and all three laughed.
Rod saw Debra's T-earrings jiggle as she laughed and then noticed that Brigid was wearing something on her ear after all. Just a little green thready-type earring on one ear, about an inch long. So small he hadn't noticed it in band practice. What was that? It looked like just a supporting thread for something that had fallen off.
"So you're wearing your uniform tomorrow?" Jamal said to Brigid. The majorette's uniform, of course, did not comply with the school dress code, but that issue was settled long ago. In the big Tunemasters glass case in the lobby, amid all the trophies and photos of bands from years gone by, there was a yellowed newspaper article from 1977 or so about that year's majorette being cited as in violation because she wore her uniform on Uniform Day. The article had a photo of the majorette, Vondera Richardson, in her majorette's leotard and short skirt. Due to the publicity the school backed down and never made a fuss again -- as the years went by and the majorette's uniform got skimpier and skimpier.
Brigid sipped her soda, then glanced sideways at her friends and smiled. "I'm wearin' my uniform now!"
Jamal and Rod looked at each other and then at Brigid. Their eyes darted a quick moment down to her chest, though the jacket and shirt would have easily hidden her circlets. Plus she had a bra on. Jamal said, "What, you're wearing your uniform under your clothes?"
"That's dedication," Rod observed.
"No," Brigid laughed. She turned her head and touched the thready green thing on her ear. "This is it. My new uniform."
Rod narrowed his eyes to focus on the tiny thread. "What part?"
"This is the whole thing," Brigid said, keeping her head turned, nibbling on french fries, talking between bites. "Ms. Kleinfelter cut it down some. . . Easier to twirl in. . . You'll see me in it tomorrow. It's very pretty."
* * *
Rod pedaled harder, feeling like he was in sixth grade again, but what the hell . . . he carefully crossed busy Washington Street, then down Standish Street where Brigid lived. . .
Fortunately the weather was better now. The rain had stopped that morning, right after preschool band, and it had gotten warmer. The streets had dried out, just an occasional puddle. Rod's driver ed classes were going pretty good, but for now, getting around Roxbury was still a bicycle thing.
He'd go by Brigid's house several times a week, hoping to "accidentally" see her. He kept telling himself it was a childish thing to do, but he couldn't help it. So far it had worked only twice, once when he saw her walking to the store with her little brother, again when she was hanging out on her front stoop with her friend Millie. That second time, he should have stopped to talk!
After that encounter at lunch today, finding about Brigid wearing that tiny strand of thread, Rod's mind had been spinning furiously. So had Jamal's, probably. That was going to be her whole uniform?? Rod tried to figure it out. . . a fraction of what her uniform used to be, microscopic as that was. . .
He had never been very good at math but lately he had been calculating ceaselessly, since that science class when Ms. Shaw told them that the average human body had 3000 square inches of skin. And 120 of them were the face and neck. Rod thought: that's all that's exposed when the Tunemasters march. They had the "shako" hats, jackets with long sleeves, cummerbund, gloves, long wool trousers, those marching boots. Not counting the things underneath, the shirt, underwear, socks, and thermals when it was cold. One percent of 3000 is 30, times four is 120. . . So when the Tunemasters marched they had 96 percent of their bodies covered.
All the Tunemasters, of course, with one exception. Rod pedaled harder as he went through the calculations methodically for the hundredth time. Each of Brigid's circlets (the new, smaller version) were, he guessed, about two square inches, so four total. The tiny "T" tiara didn't count; it just rested on her hair and didn't cover any skin. Her uniform bottom, the little strip that covered her pussy lips -- again, the newer version, so narrow that it kind of pressed in between them -- he guessed at maybe one and a half square inches. The strings that held it on, that went across her hips, met at her butt crack, then went down between her butt cheeks, past her butthole, then up to meet it again -- they were about as thick as shoelaces. And how long? She had a real narrow waist, maybe 22 inches. Her hips would be a little wider, maybe -- 30? Another six or so for between her butt cheeks. 36 inches of string? Maybe a total of 7 square inches. Call it 7 and a half, to make it an even 9 with the bottom strip included.
Then there were the stringy, sparkly flip-flops. The strings there were narrower than the laces everyone else had on their boots. A total of one square inch coverage for each foot?
Rod concluded the calculations in his head yet again. Circlets plus bottom plus shoes, four plus 9 plus two. Brigid had 15 square inches of her body covered, half of which was the strings for her bottom. If 30 is one percent of 3000, then 15 would be one-half of one percent. So:
Body coverage for Tunemasters: -- everybody else: 96% -- the majorette: 0.5%
Put another way, Percent of body exposed: -- everybody else: 4% -- the majorette: 99.5%
Sheesh. . . I'm turning into a math nerd, Rod told himself. But he could not have been the only one. ALL the guys thought about the Tunemasters majorette. How could they not, unless they were gay? Jamal had even counted the freckles on Brigid's white, Irish skin: 83, including one on her left butt cheek. Of course he had the time to do it. As trombone players he and Rod had close-up views of the majorette during all the parades and halftime shows, and a lot of that time was just standing in formation waiting to march. That she was white made Brigid even more fascinating to him. The different shades of her skin in different weathers, and the fact that she got reddish after a long time spinning and throwing that baton.
Rod's mind woke up to the here and now as the sun broke through the clouds, getting in his eyes, and now he turned the corner and approached Brigid's house!
It was in a row of connected houses, with tiny front yards. Brigid's was the tan one, number 207, the mailbox saying "O'Dierna", with stars and stripes on it which looked like they had been painted by one of Brigid's little brothers or sisters, or maybe all of them. Rod slowed down, thinking of his pretext, where he'd say he was going if he "accidentally" ran into Brigid. The road was cracked here. . .he had to be careful.
The long red hair, smoothed back by the white hand, freckled face, the jeans, sitting on the stoop, talking on her cell phone --
"Oh hi Brigid -- " -- oops --
The bike tripped up on one of the cracks and Rod fell to his left. His body turned over and hit the cracked sidewalk, and in breaking his fall his hand got scraped . . .
He felt like an absolute idiot, lying face up at the blue sky, blinking to get his senses back, and now Brigid's face hovered over him, once again smoothing her hair back, her green eyes looking with concern. "You okay, Rod?"
He took her hand and she pulled him up gently, though with her strength it was not a heavy task for her. He half-remembered a dream where he had slipped and hit his head just before a parade and she looked down at him, in her majorette uniform, and helped him up . . .
When he staggered to his feet she said, "That was a spill. Your hand's bleeding. Come on in, we'll clean it and patch it."
Rod lurched over to get his bike off the road and steer it into the O'Dierna front lawn. Then he followed Brigid up the little concrete path and up the stoop. He noticed her clothes -- more casual than what she wore to school. Sweatshirt, jeans with holes in them, cuffed up to mid-thigh. And she was barefoot, which was a little strange.
The O'Dierna living room was tiny, like the house, but well-kept. Rod got sat on the couch while Brigid padded into the kitchen just behind them. He heard her get out her cell phone. "Oh Dad, that was my friend Rod from school, he was passin' on his bike and fell. No, he's all right, just a scraped hand. See you soon. No, Mom's not back yet."
Some fumbling around the kitchen and Brigid was back. "Damn, I thought the bandaids were in the cupboard. Come to the bathroom, they've got to be there."
In a moment Rod was standing helplessly in the O'Dierna bathroom while Brigid, forbidding him to move, rinsed his hand and applied the stinging antiseptic spray. Brigid was the responsible type, that's for sure. He knew she was the oldest of five kids, and the others were pretty young. Oldest kids tend to be responsible. Rod was the middle of three, and his older sister, Sabrina, was like that. His younger sister Myeka was a much different story.
Rod looked down at Brigid's bare feet next to his sneakers, then her cuffed jeans. He glanced quickly for signs of breast mounds under her sweatshirt, then at her white hand holding his -- she was holding his hand! -- and then glanced around the bathroom, hopefully not in a snoopy way. Toothbrushes -- which one was hers? -- toothpaste, shampoo. An enema bottle, yuck. Someone in the house must be sick. Combs, brushes, and suntan oil, quite out of season. A drying bra hanging from the shower curtain. Hers or her mother's? He tried to make out the size but couldn't.
His hand meticulously bandaged, Brigid now said, "Why don't you hang out a bit? I'll get you a soda."
They were sitting on the couch with their sodas when Rod finally found something to say. "Well --"
"Bridge! Math! I can't do this!" a young voice called from upstairs.
Brigid closed her eyes in exasperation. "Sorry Rod, I'll only be a moment. Here's the remote, hang out."
As she went upstairs, her feet slapping against the tile steps, Rod watched her tight jean-clad butt disappear and then contemplated the remote in his hand and the old tube TV in front of him. Instead his attention was drawn to the photos on the wall. Quite a lot of them, both parents and what looked like grandparents and of course Brigid's little brothers and sisters. A photo of Brigid herself in maybe second grade.
And then there was a part of the wall with Brigid's majorette stuff. A couple of award certificates, and three photos. The first was from band camp last August, when all the Tunemasters went to U-Mass out in Amherst for a week. The majorettes had their own subsection, and there on the sunny lawn, squinting in the hot summer sun, were Brigid and two majorettes from other schools, all in their uniforms, posing with their batons. The other majorettes were in sparkly, skimpy outfits, with bare arms and midriffs, lots of leg showing over their marching boots -- but next to Brigid they looked positively fully clothed.
The second photo was from a newspaper article, showing Brigid, at a football game, and a baton way, way over her head, with people on the sidelines looking up as if at the moon. Brigid was waiting and in position to catch it, which she surely had. The stop-action of the camera had caught one breast on the rebound up, the circlet looking up a little, as if waiting for the baton too.
The third photo made him cringe. It was a black-and-white of Brigid leading that White Mountain Winter Parade up in New Hampshire last month. The coldest parade they'd ever marched in, well below freezing with a stiff wind, the one time Sarge told them not to even try to play because their lips might get frozen to their instruments! Only the drummers played, a steady cadence beat while the band marched holding their instruments in front of them. And there was Brigid, the nearly naked majorette, passing the bundled-up locals in their heavy boots and ski caps, with her arms stretched out and chest thrust out as she twirled. He remembered getting ready to march, hanging out with Brigid in her earmuffs and warm-up coat and Uggs, only her bare legs showing. She bit her lip and said, "Heah goes nothin'!", and shook off the coat and earmuffs and boots, and slipped into her sparkly flip-flops. She shut her eyes, feeling the frigid wind on her body, and said, "Eeeeeee!!!", to everyone's general amusement. Then she shook her whole body, breasts jiggling, and put her "majorette face" on and took her place in front of the band. Of course she had performed perfectly, once again being "Frigid Brigid" -- a nickname she always hated but it was just too obvious for the wise guys in the school to resist.
Why would Brigid have that picture up? Why would she want to be reminded of that bone-chilling day? Then he contemplated the photo next to it, of that high throw, and realized it was another difficult majorette trick that she was proud of: being able to stand the cold and perform in it. He thought of something from the Tunemasters guidebook, the section on majorettes: "Remember: Football season is during COLD months and the uniform does not have much to keep you warm. If you can't handle being a little cold, there is always a place for you in a fully covered uniform marching with a horn." Sounded like a dare!
Brigid was back down from helping her brother. "Fractions," she explained.
"That was a fun band camp," Rod said, pointing the remote at that photo.
"Oh yes. That's Tilda and Marj. Their schools are near Leominster, I think." Pronounced "Lemminster" by natives. "They taught me some good throws."
Brigid's foot was up over her other knee and Rod looked at it. "Cold for barefoot, isn't it?"
"No, I'm gettin' used to it. Training for the new uniform."
Rod's mouth went a little dry and he cleared his throat. "The whole uniform was hanging from your ear today?"
"What happened to the sandals?"
"Gone," Brigid said. "The new uniform doesn't have them. Those old flip-flops were a-gettin' in the way anyway. Hahd to hold on, sometimes."
Interesting, Rod mused. Whenever changes were made to the regular band uniforms, it was always in the direction of adding something -- the plumes to the shako hats, the cummerbunds, the gloves. While changes to the majorette uniform were always in the direction of shrinking something, or taking it away entirely -- like with shoes. They could have easily made the sandals more secure by replacing that ankle strap, like in Grenicia's uniform from last year, but no. He thought of the old photos in the glass case, the boots of the 1940's majorettes, shrunk over the years to wellies, slippers, sandals, flip-flops. Those stringy things Brigid had been wearing were the last vestige of footwear. Now that vestige was gone.
"But marching barefoot . . . isn't it. . . won't you step on something?"
Brigid was unperturbed and even enthusiastic. "Ms. Kleinfelter showed me photos of a parade in Thailand, the traditional dancers with the gold crowns, they perform in bare feet. But you have to get 'em tough." She scampered back to the kitchen and then came back with those old sneakers she'd been wearing. "See?"
Rod looked. Inside these sneakers Brigid had glued rough sandpaper. "Ouch!"
"It kind of hurt at first, but it's been three weeks and now I can walk on anything. Here, feel 'em."
She moved her foot a little toward Rod. "Go ahead!" she said again, flexing her pretty toes. It seemed a little weird but Rod extended his hand gingerly.
"Wow . . . Brigid, your sole is like a rock!"
"That's right," she said proudly. "And I can do more now. Come in back, I'll show you."
Rod followed the barefoot girl through the kitchen and now they were out in the back yard. It was very small, fenced in, bordering equally small yards to each side and behind, straddled by a line of telephone poles. Wires criss-crossed overhead.
Brigid had a baton lying against one of the lawn chairs. She twirled it over her head, tied part of her sweatshirt against her waist, and said, "Watch."
She did a high throw and then another. Being Brigid, there was no danger of the baton drifting out of the tiny yard, or hitting the wires. And now she did a third throw, spun around, and as the baton came down she twisted her leg around and hit the baton with the upturned sole of her foot. The baton bounced up and into her hand. Another throw, and she bounced it up with her other foot. And now she threw the baton behind her, and kicked it back up to her hand, first with one foot and then the other!
She caught her breath. "Can't do that with those flip-flops on."
Rod laughed. "Brigid, you are incredible!"
She blushed, a shy white-girl blush, her face turning red around the cheeks and forehead. And then she said what she said at lunch. "Wait till you see my new uniform. It's very pretty."
And so it was, the next morning, Uniform Day, nice weather, no preschool band, and Rod got to school almost shaking with anticipation, wearing his Tunemasters uniform, seeing the other kids pass by in football and basketball uniforms, and of course the occasional Tunemaster . . . and he got to the main lobby, past the auditorium doors, and saw a bunch of kids and teachers, crowding around someone, under a bright light . . .
End of Part 1