The Rest of that Story
October 7, 2005

All right, I started this story a few days ago and finished the first draft of it tonight. Even though there've been no comments on it, I'm still gonna post it. :)

Again, if you're not a reader of online fiction, don't click the "Continue Reading" link and just scroll down for a great picture of a koala bear hanging out in some Australian's driveway.

You've decided to give it a shot? All right then! If you've already started the story and just want to finish reading it, click here.

Untitled, a short story in progress
(c) 2005, all rights reserved


The playground grass was never green. Not in Texas. Not in September. Maybe in the spring, for a few weeks before the heat burned it all to a uniform, creamy tan again. We loved outside recess anyway, though. Except for kickball days � those were the worst. School was regimented enough as it was. We couldn't do anything but sit still and do our work and that barely took half the day. If I was lucky, I'd be allowed to go to the library and check out a book after proving that all my schoolwork was done already. But the librarian wouldn't let me check out anything from the big kid's section. Rules and regulations. Conditions and terms. Restriction.

So kickball days when we were herded onto the blacktop with the enticing basketball goals hanging out above us, their nets blowing free in the breeze, were particularly painful. It just wasn't fair to make us play an incredibly stupid and regimented game during recess. I wanted to be more like the net, blowing freely around the schoolyard.

I wasn't quite a year old when Neil walked on the moon, but the space bug bit me awfully early anyway, so of course, my favourite piece of equipment on the playground was a huge rocket ship made of steel bars. There was a slide coming out of the middle and ladders that took you all the way to the top. I would spend most of recess in that rocket ship (or trying to fly on the swings if they happened to be open). The rocket ship was the perfect metaphor for my childhood. Completely free and full of imagination. Completely trapped inside the bars and longing to be out.

***

"Michelle, can I talk to you for a moment?"

Michelle looked about in panic. She hadn't done anything wrong. She'd done all her schoolwork on time (early, actually ... and finished her homework already, too).

"It's okay, you're not in trouble," the teacher murmured quietly.

She gave one last longing look at the double doors to outside, freedom, recess and sighed. "Yes?"

They walked back into the classroom and Michelle sat back down at her desk, like she was supposed to. Miss Burciaga pulled out a small chair and sat down next to her. "Are you doing all right here?"

Michelle shrugged. What an odd question for an adult to ask. "Yeah. I mean, I'm doing all right in all our subjects and everything." Her shoulder twitched again. "It's easy."

"Well, I've just noticed that since you came back to Pillow from your other school, you seem ..." she trailed off. "It seems like you're by yourself a lot. Are the other kids teasing you?"

***

I loved that school, Pillow. I thought it was the best of the three elementary schools I attended. This library had better � and more � books than the one at the private school. And the classroom set-up was far better than what I would become lost in later on, in my last elementary school. We stayed with one teacher all day, every day. She was given any 30 kids, but then she divided us up into small groups for reading and math. Sometimes there'd only be two of us in my math group. Sometimes there'd be four. It just depended on how fast you got the concepts or if you had to stay home from school due to illness.

And in the third grade, we'd added some Spanish since our teacher was Latina. Every Friday we played bingo in Spanish. I loved school.

***

Some of the boys were climbing all over the rocket ship, forbidding the girls from getting to the slide. Michelle couldn't play on the rocket ship today, anyway. She was wearing a stupid dress that she hated.

Across the playground, away from the swings, the teeter-totter's ragged blue peeling paint, the caterpillar that wasn't really monkey bars and the regular slide were several concrete tubes. Probably meant to form a sewer system at the school, but leftover for whatever reason. It was cheaper to let the kids play in them than for the construction company to haul them away again. Michelle sat in the furthest one, back pressed tight against the curved wall, feet braced against the opposite curve. Looking out onto the schoolyard. Observing. Watching.

***

An athletic child, I rarely stopped moving. I was always up for a game of touch football or running races. Despite being a scrawny asthmatic (or maybe because of it), I was in constant motion, pausing only momentarily to use the nasty inhaler if I absolutely had to.

In the schoolroom, that constant movement was sated somewhat if I had something to occupy my restless brain. It didn't matter if it was studying my spelling words, working on my math homework during work periods or finishing our reading text. So long as I was busy, I was quiet and behaved. Let me run out of work to do or books to read and I would devise my own amusements, and like most grade school children, those generally weren't school sanctioned activities.

***

"David," called Miss Burciaga. When he walked up to her desk, she handed him his report card. He didn't bother looking at it as he went outside to his bus. "Michelle." She didn't look at hers either, none of the children did. The little Ss and Es didn't much matter to them.

She ran outside to catch her bus and discovered Tim Balcezak bullying one of the younger kids, trying to get the kid to stand on one leg and recite the alphabet backwards. He couldn't have been more than a kindergartner and probably barely knew his alphabet as it was.

"Let's hear you recite the alphabet backwards, Tim," she called out loudly enough for the bigger kids to hear. The sly grins on their faces was all it took.

"Awww, you're just a baby, anyway." He started to shuffle off but the hand of the vice principal caught him gently on the shoulder.

"Guess I'm riding with you today," he announced to the schoolyard.

***

We lived way out in the country, on the far north side of Austin, beyond the quarries. It used to scare me a little, all of the signs that warned of blast zones, and the huge crack of the dynamite as we'd pass through doing 55 on the highway to get to our quiet little suburban neighborhood.

Where we lived wasn't quite a closed-gate community, but it wasn't far off, either. Stone walls flanked either side of the single entrance to the neighborhood, proudly proclaiming Balcones Woods � and they'd had to strip down a fair number of trees to make those stone walls readable from the highway.

Let me put it this way, it wasn't at all unusual for us to see deer, 'possums, raccoons, and all manner of wildlife wandering the streets. It was a beautiful place to grow up, the hill country of Austin. Everything a kid could ask for.

***

Michelle laughed at the look on Tim's face as the vice principal actually got on the bus with them and sat in the same seat as Tim.

"Tim," some clueless kid from the back of the bus called out, "how does that song go? That on top of old smoky thing?"

"Yeah, Tim, why don't you start that one for us."

Michelle snickered to herself and settled into her seat alone. Since coming back to Pillow, she hadn't really made any new friends. It was hard. She'd known every one of her classmates in first grade. In second she'd gone to a private school and made better friends with some of the teachers than with the students until almost the end of the school year. Now, back at Pillow for third grade, she was back to not knowing anyone and back to making friends with the teacher instead of the kids.

But she'd known Tim since before kindergarten. He lived around the corner from her. And it was good to see him get his comeuppance.

***

Despite all of the moving we'd done when I was younger, I was a very outgoing child, rarely alone. In fact, Mom used to tell a story about when we were looking for a new nursery school for me. She toured the school with one of the teachers and "lost" me. I had found the small stage in one of the main rooms and had a gaggle of preschoolers gathered around me as I sat on the edge of the stage, enthralling the kids with a story.

I adored large groups of people, and while I didn't have to be the center of attention, I loved being in the limelight.

***

Michelle hopped off the bus and knocked on her front door.

"How was school," her mom asked as she opened the door, cigarette smoke curling upward into the dim foyer.

"Fine. Can I go play?"

"Do you have any homework?"

"No." Miss Burciaga had assigned some, but Michelle had finished it long before classes were over for the day. She'd spent the rest of the day with a book about Kit Carson.

"Your sister's sick, so you can play in the garage, but you can't go outside. We might need to take her back to the doctor, so I don't want you wandering off."

Her shoulders slumped. She had plenty to do in the garage turned playroom, but she'd been hoping to go down the street to her friend's house.

***

Having just come from a two bedroom apartment, we all thought the three bedroom house with its front room, large den and kitchen was simply enormous. Soon, however, Mom tired of my sister's and my messy rooms and insisted that all of the toys be moved out into the garage, which was renovated to become our playroom. A huge home improvement project, we were ecstatic to have plenty of room to spread out all the Weebles we had.

***

Michelle changed out of the hated dress and into the Health-Tex shorts and matching shirt that were laid out on her bed. They weren't allowed to wear school clothes into the playroom because it was still too dirty out there. She pulled out the Playskool McDonald's, motel, the national park and started setting them all up around the big cabinet that divided their play area from her dad's workbench.

As she played with the toys that wobbled and fell over constantly, unlike the Weebles she'd really wanted, she never turned her back on the door to the house or to the workbench, but she also was very careful to never look directly at them, either, except in quick, carefully guarded glances.

***

My sister and I had every Weebles playset ever made, I think. The Mickey Mouse clubhouse, the haunted house, the circus, the Pooh bear treehouse � we had them all and I loved the little roly-poly guys. The Lopezes down the street, where I played nearly every day, had the Playskool sets with the squared people made of cheap plastic. The national park set was intriguing, but those were never as interesting as my beloved Weebles.

We would spend days setting up elaborate towns of Weeble sets, using TinkerToys and blocks to build an extra ranch, roadways, everything we needed to make a completely different world.

***

Leaning against the cheap trailer-park paneling that had "renovated" the garage into the playroom, Michelle wiggled just to feel the panel move beneath her. As the door to the house opened, though, she froze. Square people in each hand hovered in mid-air.

Had anyone been paying attention, the sequence would have looked more like a video after the pause button had been hit. First, the playing, wiggling child and the slightly vibrating wall behind her, then ... pause. Still. Even her chest seemed not to move.

"Dinner'll be ready in ten minutes. You need to come in the house now and wash up."

"But, Mom, I'm busy right now." The little people landed inside the McDonald's, seated at their little table. Michelle stood up and carefully stepped over her little village. Her mom had already gone back inside the house, the usual dance completed without either of them paying any attention to it.

***

After dinner was always a time for Meggie and I to play board games together. We'd set up Sorry! or Park 'n' Shop or even Clue and play until it was time for bed. Since my sister was sickly and five years younger, I tried to let her win about half of the time. Of course, this was an easier task to accomplish if we played while my beloved Hardy Boys were on. Or Battlestar Galactica, or The Man From Atlantis, or ... well, any of my favourite shows.

The funniest thing, though, was that during the mid seventies, public service announcements were as common as regular commercials (or so it seemed to me). There was the commercial with the native American crying at all the trash on the side of the road � every child knew that commercial. Drinking and driving commercials were just starting to air, but the most controversial one of all was for the child abuse hotline. It was funny to me because every time it came on, Meggie got this all-too familiar, stubborn jut to her jaw and determination in her eyes and then refuse to do the next thing Mom asked her to do.

She'd get that three-year-old's intensity in her face, shout, "NO!" at the top of her quite well-developed lungs and then proceed to browbeat our poor mom with her threat to call the child abuse number.

The first time this happened, Mom laughed at her and said something about Meggie's not being able to remember that long number.

And then Meggie recited it for her, furious as only a child who thinks she's been oh-so-hideously wronged can be.

***

"One Eight Zero Zero Five Five Five Three Three Four Two."

Michelle's mom stood in shock at this recitation and stared at her youngest daughter. Even Michelle, who knew that Meggie was smarter than Mom gave her credit for blinked at her sister.

"That number says you can't make me go to bed an' I'm not gonna," she proclaimed, arms crossed against her chest.

Michelle poked her little sister in the ribs. "You're gonna get if you don't stop," she whispered.

"Am not. Am not gonna get in trouble. Mommy's going to get in trouble because she can't make me go to bed. It's child abuse."

Michelle almost snickered, and then, as their mom started laughing, she did, too. "That's not what that number is for, baby."

"I'm not a baby! And I will call them. I will too." And the little girl in her footie pajamas moved to the kitchen, grabbed a chair from the dining room table and proceeded to drag it to the wall phone.

Still chuckling, their mom intercepted Meggie as she climbed on to the chair, lifted her up and hauled her, kicking and screaming as usual, back to her bedroom. "Come on, then," she said. "I'll lay down with you for a while."

***

I always did have to take care of Meggie. For one, her mouth got her into more trouble than practically anyone else I've ever met. And she ran her mouth more than anyone I've ever known my entire life. She pulled that child abuse phone number out all the time after that. I couldn't begin to count the number of times she threatened Mom with that number � and always for the stupidest stuff.

If anyone actually needed that number, though, it was the poor little girl who lived next door to us for a short while. Angela was a year or so older than me and since her family only lived next door for one summer, I don't know if she'd have gone on the bus with me to public school or if she would have gone away to private school. Oh, I know she would say she was going to a private school, she was just that kind of kid.

For example, one day I was walking over to the Lopezes house as usual. We didn't have sidewalks out here in the boonies (even if it was the suburbs), but I had always walked roughly where the sidewalk would be if we'd had one. This particular day, Angela comes running out of her house like it was on fire, screaming at me to get off her property. The more we talked, the more adamant she became that I not only get off her property, but that, in fact, she owned the street as well. If I wanted to get to the Lopezes house from now on I had to cross the middle of the street before coming into their yard. Of course, I disagreed.

***

Michelle lay in her bed and stared at the dark ceiling. The little pebblies on the ceiling made nice patterns, mountains and valleys. She imagined taking her Playskool people up into those upside down mountains. It was a new national park.

She heard her mom and Meggie giggling quietly in the next room. Despite her protestations that Meggie was a big girl and should be made to sleep alone in her big girl bed, their mom bought Meggie a full size bed and moved the extra twin bed into Michelle's room.

"It's just easier. Your sister is very high strung."

Michelle heard a car door and peeked out her window. It was a huge window, the edge coming right to the edge of her bed and it gave her a great view of the front door to the house.

Sure enough, her dad was loping up to the door, black suit all neat and tidy as always. Now that Daddy was home safe she could sleep. And she closed her eyes with a smile.

***

The fight between Angela and I continued to get heated, until Angela leaned over into the grass and pulled up a stick. Not having any idea at all what was coming, I simply watched as Angela carved a backwards letter J into my stomach with that stick.

Too shocked to do much of anything, I certainly wasn't going to give her the satisfaction of seeing me cry. I stepped around her and continued on to the Lopezes.

They weren't there.

I crossed the street carefully, praying my mom wasn't looking out the window and then crossed back into our driveway. After a few minutes of trying to pretend that Angela really hadn't scratched my stomach, I finally went to mom to show her. Horrified, Mom and I walked over to Angela's house to let her parents know exactly what had just happened.

***

Crying, Michelle raised her shirt up to show her mother.

"What happened, Michelle?"

"Angela said I couldn't walk across their yard to get to Debbie's house," she said as her mom sprayed Bactine all over the cut.

"Well, you should stay out of her yard, then."

"But she wanted me to cross the street, 'cuz she said that side of the street is her yard, too."

Her mother laughed. "Now, now, don't exaggerate. I'm sure she just doesn't want you walking on her grass."

"No, Mom, she told me that her dad paid for that house and the yard and they owned the street all the way out to the middle."

"Well, if you think she really said that." Her mother smoothed her shirt down over the cut. "There you go, all better."

"But she's gonna do it again. She said. Every time I try to go to Debbie's house."

Her mother laughed. "Well, if you think it's going to be a problem, you should go talk to her parents."

Her dad stood in the doorway, now that the "surgery" was over. "I think you need to go do that right now," he said. "You can't let her get away with that."

"By myself?" Michelle squeaked.

Her parents exchanged a look. "You need to learn to do these things yourself."

And so she went next door alone.

***

Her mother answered the door. Angela was peeking around a corner, shooting me daggers as I tried not to hide behind my mom. Our moms spoke for a few minutes, I "showed off" the scratch Angela had made and then the door closed. But before we could walk away, we heard Angela's mom yelling for the dad and then the both of them yelling at her. At first I was glad she was getting in trouble, but when I heard the slap and the scream and the repeated smacking noises, I got scared. Mom's lips thinned into a line and we hurried home and away from the violence.

***

Angela's father answered the door and barked out a gruff, "Yeah?"

"I, umm, Angela was telling me that I can't walk even in the street by your house."

Angela's dad just stared at Michelle.

"And, umm, when I said I wouldn't cross the street, she took a stick and carved in me." Michelle blinked rapidly a few times and then reluctantly pulled her shirt up a bit and showed the gouge mark in her stomach.

Angela's dad grunted, turned and shut the door. "ANGELA!" he hollered.

Michelle just stood and stared at the door for a second until she realized that Angela's dad was hitting her and Angela was crying and then screaming.

***

The funny thing about all of this � not that anything about Angela was actually funny � but Dad had to ask Meggie what the number was for the child abuse hotline. As soon as we walked in the door, Mom pulled Dad aside and told him what happened. She wanted him to go next door and have a talk with the man, but Dad had far too much sense for that and insisted that we call the child abuse hotline and the cops, both.

It's one of the most vivid memories I have of my childhood. Hearing Angela screaming as her father beat her. Then seeing the flashing lights of the cop cars, sirens screaming, in the dusk out in the woods of our neighborhood. I wasn't surprised that they moved away soon after that.

***

Screaming in the night. Open mouth, no sound. No lights. No noise. Overbearing weight. Thud of the headboard.

***

Meggie, of course, didn't understand why no one found her threat of calling the child abuse number amusing any more. Like most three, not quite four year olds, she simply thought she always got her way and nothing short of that was fair.

None of the kids in the neighborhood said anything about that night. No one asked about the police, no one said a word when the Mayflower truck pulled up and took everything Angela's family had away. But no one played outside until after the Mayflower truck was gone.

***

Snapped to the breaking point. Aching, not crying. Wrists sore but no marks. Overwhelming. Alone. No bruises that show.

Sneaking out to the living room. They're all asleep now. Crickets chirping. Barely breathing. Reaching for the phone and the directory. Fumbling with the rotary dial.

***

Once school started again, Debbie and I sat in the top of the rocket ship on the playground and talked about it just once. She said the cops had come over to our house, not Angela's, but her window didn't have a very good angle and I'm sure with as many cops as there were, that it might have looked like the whole street was blanketed with police. But I can still remember sitting in the rocket ship, legs dangling out freely as other kids charged up the ladder and then down the slide and describing for Debbie the whole scene all over again. Everything from the argument and the stick in the stomach to Dad's phone call. Debbie just gave me an odd look.

(Fumbling with the rotary dial.)

We didn't get to talk about it again as we moved to another town just two months into the school year.

***

Huddled in bed. Lights flashing outside. Voiceless. No sirens. No noise at all. Silence.

***

I may have only been a third-grader, but I was furious when I found out we were moving again. I loved my school and my teachers and I was tired of changing schools. And Angela was gone, so the neighborhood was safe again. Above all, I couldn't imagine leaving my rocket ship.

***

The front door shook in the frame from the pounding. Still silence. Not even a cricket chirp. Just the whirl of lights.

Activity. Lights pop on, flooding the house. In the distance, on the highway, the wail of a far distant siren.

Voices in the hallway. Whispers. Talking. Crickets chirping.

Even washed out by the hall lights, still the blues and reds spray across the wall.

Blue uniform, sitting on the desk chair. Questions.

There are no words. Crying from the other room. Yelling. Female yelling. Hushing noises. Blue uniform leans over and then leaves.

There are no words.

***

Of course, to this day, when I hear a siren, I think of poor Angela. Given that they moved away and how bad the children protective services were at that time, I wonder if her parents escaped the system and if she ever found her way out of the family trap she was in. And I think of my sister threatening our parents with the child abuse number and I just have to think, dumb kid. She didn't know how good she had it.

***

There's a lot of walking back and forth. Every light in the house is on. Female wailing in the den. Child crying in the next room. Blue uniform talking, calm. Questioning. Nice.

I have no idea why they would be here. I have no words.

Posted by Red Monkey at October 7, 2005 12:21 AM | Storytelling: She was, of course, supposed to be sleeping. | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |

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