short stories ~ literary fiction ~ social commentary
copyright © 1999 - 2013
Sally Summers stood in the landscape of my childhood. We pawed the same sandbox, yet were never close like others. Martha, we called her Marty, was a fireplug with no neck, short hair and a square head.
Mom gave me a gift for the first day of kindergarten, a tan soft plastic troll with glass-jewel eyes and green hair, fitting neatly on the end of my pencil.
“Put it to your ear. I’ll whisper to you.”
Even that young, I understood what a talisman was.
Toward the end of the first day with the teacher’s back turned, Sally grabbed the troll and pushed me hard in the chest. The pencil snapped and I went down, sitting up with my legs spread, mouth wide open in a silent bawl.
For the first time of many, Martha stepped up on my behalf. She grabbed Sally’s troll-clutching fist.
Across the room, the teacher turned.
“Mine!” Sally glared at Martha.
My soundless cry became audible, tears wetting my cheeks.
“No.” Martha clocked Sally, dislodging Sally from the troll and her feet. Martha dropped to her knee between my legs, presenting the troll.
I felt stupid, embarrassed. I am not prone to crying and never was. I was blindsided. OK, maybe a little prone to tears, but certainly not often.
Martha cursed broken pencils, pressed the troll in my hand and wiped my face with her lace handkerchief before the teacher dragged her off to the principal’s office.
Young children don’t make good witnesses. The teacher could only go by what she saw. Martha was punished for what the teacher thought.
First impressions fade, never vanishing.
By the end of the week, Sally had eight trolls, taking each in turn, her arm stretched out, her new troll bobbling in my face while she did the nah nah dance. I didn’t get I was supposed to be jealous.
I felt sad for her. She never once held a troll to her ear.
As the years moved under our feet, we became tentative friends. I didn’t care much for Sally, not like I loved Martha, Justine, Beth and even the heartbreaker Barbara. Sally had her way and I was willing to accept her for how she was. Besides, with Sally’s habit of doing the nah nah dance, presenting her possessions, she didn’t have many friends.
She wasn’t studious, the rest of my crowd got stars on stars on top of A’s. From third grade on, I was assigned to be Sally’s schoolmate, which amounted to peer tutoring, involuntary servitude. That’s why we became friends, if friend is the correct word.
Richard Potts was an older man. As puberty distorted our bodies and attitudes, we became aware that men, mostly young men, trolled around us. Richard stood tall and lanky with earthen-brown hair close-cropped, his round head looking like a dirty tennis ball from a distance. His eyes, the color of new autumn leaves not sure if they’re green or brown, softly drank me in, hanging with a terrible sadness, which called me to hug him.
We were, that is to say my crowd, wise, Justine having gone on before us with devastating results. I did not hug Richard Potts. Once stuck on a rainy day, I did accept a ride to the mall. With the nervousness of reading a report in front of the class, he asked me out. I was naturally beside myself, me fifteen and him nineteen. A thing like that’ll turn any girl’s head. I didn’t have to think twice or ask advice from anyone.
I said no.
We don’t have to make our own mistakes. We just want to.
I watched Sally’s swollen eye, blotched purple cascading down her pale ocher cheek.
“You gotta promise not to tell.”
I nodded, holding Sally’s hands.
Her pallid oaken eyes, one behind the swelling, danced from one eye to the other, her voice then a whisper. “He raped me.”
I thought to hold her, but she didn’t want to be held. I suggested all the right things, the police and the hospital, all refused.
“You can’t tell anyone.”
The black eye couldn’t be hidden with makeup. The detective asked to speak with me alone, Mom and Dad declined in a single voice. We sat around the dining room table. I told all I knew, which wasn’t much.
“You didn’t bring this to us?” Concern dripped from Mom’s face.
I bit my lip. “Not an easy choice, you know. Sally made me promise. You always say we gotta deal with stuff in our own way.”
“You know this boy?” Dad cocked an eyebrow.
I shrugged, understanding why the detective wanted me alone. “Well yeah, he asked me out once, but after that thing with Justine.” I pulled on a fingernail. “He seems nice enough, polite.” I shrugged again.
The detective leaned on an elbow. “The disparity in your ages makes a relationship illegal.”
“Romantic relationship.” I offered a caveat.
No arrest came. Richard Potts denied the accusations, gossip saying he could account for his whereabouts backed up with a dozen credible witnesses. Many girls my age were interviewed, all attesting to Richard’s friendliness and over attentiveness. I was surprised how many girls he’d asked out.
“A good fisherman knows to have many lines in the water.” Dad laughed, I think at me.
I didn’t feel so special.
As if to dance a troll doll in everyone’s face, Sally hammered the story at anyone who’d listen, hitting her age and his. Her following swelled. Once the cry of pedophile was misapplied, rumor spread like food poisoning from a house salad contaminated with E-coli.
“Did you hear?” Sally dropped on the chair across from me.
I dipped a fry in spicy mustard, looking up.
“Richard Potts got mugged. Going to be in the hospital for weeks!” With her elbows on the table and her chin high, she smiled. “He should have bought me that sweater I wanted.”