The Smiths lived in a double-decker bus along the swamps of Okefenokee. In their house on wheels, they had everything they needed: a tiny kitchen to fix up supper, a cozy bedroom for Daddy Joe and Mommy Dee, a loft for Jane, and a ten-gallon aquarium for her rainbow fish. They pared down everything they owned, even their names.
Jane, however, wasn’t always happy with her name. She sat in her reading nook and thumbed through her 5th grade yearbook. She peeked up from the mosaic cover and said, “Daddy Joe, why didn’t you name me something fancy, like Portia or Victoria or Nancy? I had an Isabella in my class. Her name means beautiful island.”
Jane turned to her aquarium and fed her pair of rainbow fish. “How are you doing, Bob-Betsy and Bob-Bella?” She capped the flakes then went on, “I first met Peter on the swing during recess. His gums had a great big abscess. I met Annabelle after P.E. when I needed to pee. We raced to the bathroom. She can run much faster than me.”
She turned a few pages. “In class, I sat next to a boy named Rahil. His desk is by the window sill. He plays the piano. He’s already been to Katmandu and Timbuktu. And then there’s me. I’ve been to the mall and maybe the zoo.”
Jane closed her yearbook. “There’s a boy, Ezequio. He has the coolest name of all. He also has a habit of stealing my lunch money. Not because he needs it, but because he likes to tear it in two. ‘One for me and one for you,’ he would say.”
“Maybe it’s his way of sharing,” said Mommy Dee.
“He is so annoying.” Jane slid down the firemen’s pole, plunked herself on the sofa and scowled. “And then there’s you, Daddy Joe. Are you okay with being an average Joe with a simple name?”
“You might say I live a low-key kind of life,” Daddy Joe said. He liked to keep to himself, working away in his shed, making a bookshelf or a bed in his A-frame wood shop on wheels.
Jane unfolded up her hemlock craft table, dropped the legs, and snapped a few latches into place. Then she folded down a hurdy-gurdy from a recess in the wall. “Jane Doe Smith. You can find me on any paper form. I am the unnamed witness of every crime. She gave the crank arm on her musical instrument a constant turn and massaged the keys.
I am super incognito,
a bowl of mashed potatoes
served up everyday
They never ask me where I come from
think my road in life’s a humdrum
each and every way
It’s just me, Bob-Betsy and Bob-Bella
I don’t know who’s the fella
I love them come what may
Please don’t spare me the paprika
I’d really like to meet ya
and listen to what you say
We can turn the hurdy-gurdy
If you’re feelin’ kinda nerdy
We can talk until we’re flirty
If you’re feelin’ kinda wordy
But until you get to know me,
I’ll be your mashed potatoes
each and everyday.
…Tell me, Daddy Joe. Should I donate my body to science? I have the perfect name for a cadaver.”
“Over my dead body,” said Mommy Dee. She grabbed an oven mitt, took the banana bread out of the oven, and placed it on a crockery to rest.
“Sounds like a two for one special,” said Daddy Joe. He took off his ranger hat and tried to explain, “You see. Your Mommy Dee and me…we were wishy-washy. We couldn’t make up our minds. Chancing upon your name made us plum-loco. So when you woke, we called you Jane.” With those words, he grabbed the Sunday paper and took his spot at the helm.
“I wish my name wasn’t so plain,” Jane said.
“Don’t we all,” said Mommy Dee. “Do you want to change it?”
“No. Don’t bother. I’m just being silly.”
“Tell me more about this Ezequio. What else did he do?”
“He likes to pick on me and mostly me. He can be such a meanie. Besides half my lunch money, he also steals half my homework, tears out the answers he doesn’t even need.”
“How polite,” said Mommy Dee.
“He will call me names and do it with a grin. And I’m not as clumsy as you might think. Whenever you saw dirt on my shirt or an obnoxious shade of ink, it was Ezequio, I think you should know. And when I nearly won the 5th grade spelling bee, he poured chocolate milk all over me.”
“What was the winning word?”
“Schadenfreude.” Jane let out an exasperated sigh. “Finding joy in the misfortune of others. I made the mistake of asking for an example, and he was happy to oblige.”
“Why haven’t you told me any of these things before?”
“You never asked. Do you want to know more?”
“That’s quite enough.”
Mommy Dee asked Jane to follow into her room. She looked out the window and saw the strato-marshmallow clouds. “There will come soft rain. Tomorrow is the first day of school, and I want you looking prim. I think you have grown enough to fit your grandma’s dress.”
Jane imagined a formaldehyde leeching trunk filled with mothballs. Her mother must have kept it in secret for the longest time so that she could reveal this family heirloom in all its glory.
Mommy Dee instead pulled out a drawer from under the bed. There was no need for mothballs. She kept the dress in a vacuum-sealed bag to save space. The bag hissed and filled with air as she broke the seal. There was no need to fret for Jane’s grandmother had impeccable taste. It was inexplicably modern and chic. The dress fit Jane perfectly without any mending. She walked around the house and gave herself a twirl. “If it were shorter, and had some ruffles, I’d look like a Harajuku girl,” Jane said. She changed out of the dress and placed it at her bedside. It was far too nice to wear around the house.
Wishy-Wishy broke out morsels of banana bread and stuffed her cheeks until they could chub no more. Then she added some sweet butter that she had made with her homemade, hand-cranked butter churn. It gave her palms some callouses but was well worth the effort.
Living in a double-decker bus was not all glamour. Her chores included checking the air pressure and hosing the windows with a pressure washer. It wasn’t their first tiny house. The previous one had no wheels and was half the current size. Back then Daddy Joe was learning the trade. But there was nothing he couldn’t figure out with imagination and sweat equity, and by the time Jane turned 12, he had created a masterpiece and christened it with a bottle of bubbly apple cider. For a tiny home, The Commodore, as Jane affectionately called it, was ample in every way. Reddish brown on top, blue on the bottom, it looked as if it was ready to sail the high seas.