Art by Bob Dornborg
I was waiting with Ben Erickson and Shana Krush. We stood by the columns of crosswalk lines that spotted Stearns Avenue. Shifting in circles, yellow leaves crunched under my high tops.
As usual, I watched for something to happen.
Mrs. Erickson was late again.
All the banana buses had gone. Even number seven. The parking lot was empty, and no walkers lingered, either.
We were the only ones around.
Ben was digging up rocks from bald patches in the crab grass. He launched them into traffic. A neighborhood kitty cat darted across the pavement, springing away from danger. Collapsing with laughter, Ben snorted, clucked.
Like always, I was giggling beside him.
"Thought I woulda hit her," he said.
"Almost. Right in the head," I replied.
"Wish I did."
Ben's hands were soiled with black earth. He wiped them on his jeans, rubbing smears into the denim.
"Shit," he said.
Shana was leaning against a giant maple. She flipped through her math workbook, glancing at the digits, the colored x's. Adjusting her "Atlantic City" cap, Shana's head bobbed low.
Ben cast a devilish grin, stepping over to her.
I knew what was going to happen.
He ripped the workbook from her grasp. Page seven tore free, circling to the ground.
"Give it back," she whined.
Scrimmaging away, he scoured through the assignments.
"Eight wrong! Eleven wrong! Nine wrong!"
Almost moaning, Shana clawed at his chest. "Give it. You A-hole. Give it... please!"
Ben shot out his palms. Rocking backwards, Shana smashed to the sidewalk. She landed on a carpet of wet, lemon foliage. The hat tumbled off of her crown and a dark curtain of curls escaped.
"Don't put your fucking hands on me," he said.
Ben tossed the workbook into the atmosphere. It crashed beside her.
"Here comes your mom," I said.
Mrs. Erickson swerved to the curb, beeping her tiny horn.
"Let's go," she urged through the window.
We buckled ourselves to the baby blue seats.
It was close to three. Only a few minutes to go. I should've already been home.
Mrs. Erickson was fishing through her leather purse. Cosmetics and loose change rattled about, colliding into each other.
"Sugar. My matches are hiding again. I always lose 'em."
Putrid perming solution wafted off of her head. The highlighted curls sprang up, stretching into the air. Her new coils were shiny, stiff.
"Bout time," she said.
Mrs. Erickson shoved a Basic One-Twenty between her lips and lit up. Sucking hard, she coasted through a yellow light.
"That means go faster," she grinned.
Ben was ogling his mother. He tugged on the shoulder strap and rolled his shimmering eyes. The window beside him began to slide down, and gusts of wind swept inside.
"Don't," Mrs. Erickson said.
"I'll get a chill. Summer was over a few weeks ago, Ben."
"I can't breathe."
"My window's open. Roll yours up," she said, her voice climbing.
"It is. It's cracked. A sliver."
"Now!" she commanded.
Ben did as he was told. Smoke began to engulf the van. White swirls and circles swayed in the October rays.
Mrs. Erickson glanced to the back. "So, Shana... heard you're going to Can-Cun next week. Another trip."
"That should be fun for you."
"Not really," Ben sneered, "She doesn't go. Just her Mom and Dad. Shana gets left behind. They bring her back all those stupid hats and t-shirts, though."
"Cut it!" his mother barked.
Shana's face ignited with shame. She scratched at the edge of a leftover chicken pox scab. Picking and pulling, she tried to lift the sore. Puss began to seep from her broken wound.
Screeching onto my road, Mrs. Erickson turned left.
I was always the first to be dropped off. I was closest.
"Here ya go, Noah."
She came to a stop by my driveway. Sighing, Mrs. Erickson examined herself in the side mirror. She patted her tresses, fiddling with the curls.
I yanked open the sliding door and jumped down to the concrete. Smoke crawled out, vanishing in the autumn orbit.
"Thanks," I said.
"Remind your ma that it's her turn to drive next week."
"Tell her I say 'hello.' Jesus, does she ever leave that beautiful house of hers?"
"See ya tomorrow," Ben yelled across the seat.
The Erickson's van vroomed away.
I was standing at the tip of my yard, watching Ben's shadow. He was waving to me out the back window.
Then I thought about the time. Racing to the door, I knew I was going to miss the beginning.
I walked into the house quiet and quick. A front of lemon cleaner rushed over my face.
It was ten of three. Not as late as I had thought. There was just enough time.
I draped my jacket over the spangled banister. Glancing from the parlor to the hallway, I knew what had happened. Ma did it again.
Carefully, I stepped across fresh Dirt Devil tracks lining the rug. Astericks of sunlight beamed off of the polished end tables. Each family photo stood in its spot, sparkling, smiling.
Chow-Chow was sauntering around.
"Mew!" she called.
Her slick, gray body brushed against the love seat leg. Stretching long, she winked up at me.
"Good kitty," I whispered.
"Noah? Noah? You here?" Ma shouted out.
"Did you wipe your feet before coming in?"
"Yeah," I said, heading to the kitchen.
Ma was squatting in the middle of the floor. A big bucket of water steamed between her legs. Vigorously, she scrubbed at scuff marks with a brush. Soapy suds bubbled with each scrape.
"How was school?" she asked.
"It was school."
"Well, you better get used to it. Got quite a few years left."
I crept around, peeking inside the cabinets, the lazy susan.
Rising from the floor, Ma sighed loudly. She pushed up her cuffed sleeves.
"Why don't you have an apple?"
I grimaced, rolling my eyes like Ben would. "Apples are yucky."
Ma stumbled over to the sink and twisted the screeching faucets. Steam climbed upwards as she held her hands under the flow. Lathering up, Ma scrubbed between each finger, around the nails.
"I gotta do the bathrooms."
"You did 'em already. A few days ago."
"They're dirty," she said.
"Yes. And watch it when you go, Noah. There's always pee on the seat and on the rim. Yellow spots."
"I don't mean it. I don't mean to make a mess."
"Well, you do."
Ma shook her hands off in the basin and grabbed a dishtowel.
"Oh... and Noah?"
"Yeah?" I said, grabbing a can of cola.
"Did you take one of my razors again?"
My eyes dropped away from hers. "No."
I glanced at Ma's hands. Fresh blood was erupting from the cracks. Her skin was pink, beet. She was raw.
"My show's on," I said.
I stretched across my bed, fingering a ratty hole in the comforter. Purring at my side, Chow-Chow was lost in sleep.
As always, my little t.v. blared on the bureau. It was on. My show, "As The World Turns."
I watched, guessing what would come next.
This time, Lucinda went to jail for Mark's murder. Margo had dinner with Peter, and they finally made up. Jenna went to the hospital, too.
And of course, there was Lily and Caleb. My favorites. They had another fight. Something about Dylan. Caleb became angry, furious. Lily wept, but he just turned away.
The ending credits started to run off the screen. With a buzz, the picture jumped and static snowed across the tube.
It was over. They always stopped at the best parts.
I eased up, slowly, trying not to stir Chow-Chow. Quietly, I dragged my bookcase across the scratched floorboards. It was packed with encyclopedias and Judy Blume novels. As the books trembled, I secured my shelves in front of the door. Are You There, God, It's Me Margaret fell from its spot, tumbling down.
No one could get in now. Not even Ma.
I peeled off my brown slacks and T-shirt. Tugging at the thick waistband of my Hanes, I ripped them down. They dropped to my fat kneecaps.
Gazing at myself in the mirror, I looked at all the different parts.
Little coils of hair freckled my belly, my dink. They sprouted up and out, over my vanilla skin. There seemed to me more than last time, but too many to count. I scratched at the itchy creatures.
Pressing the blade down, I pulled. First, to the side, then to the other side. Up and down too. Black strands of hair began sprinkling to the floor.
With a huge yawn, Chow Chow awoke. Glancing over at my naked body, she shook her head.
I kept going, though. I shaved until they were gone. Until nothing was left, but my clean, magenta skin.
I took my usual spot on the metallic bleachers. Lukewarm shafts of sun beat down, bouncing off of the silver slabs.
Children spotted the pavement in front of me. Fourth graders and fifth graders. The girls were jumping across hopscotch lines. The boys were zipping through games of tag.
Ms. Mott, the outside aide, roamed around. She was eyeing all the students as her vest flapped in the wind.
I watched and waited for something to happen. Staring out onto the playground, I could see everyone at play.
I could see Ben. He was speeding around, trying to dodge whoever was "it." Sweat sparkled on his forehead. No one could catch him.
I could see Shana. She was waiting in line for a turn. Gazing up at the sky, she watched its wispy clouds. Two older girls cut in front of her.
Suddenly, Ben tore across the concrete.
I knew what was going to happen. It always did.
He flew up behind Shana, a massive smile dressing his face. Ben latched onto the sleeve of her "Bermuda" sweatshirt.
"No!" she yelped.
He began to spin her in circles. Each revolution grew quicker, faster.
Cackling above the recess roar, Ben pulled her to the ground. He crashed down on top of Shana, mashing her face into the asphalt.
"Stop!" she cried.
Ms. Mott's whistle screamed and all the pupils gathered around.
"Move!" she yelled.
Ms. Mott yanked Ben up by his shirt collar, stretching the white fabric.
"Hey! What if somebody hurt you? Go! Take a seat on the bleachers. You can come with me after recess."
Shana hobbled to her feet. Blood was dribbling from her swelled lip.
"Someone bring her to the nurse," Ms. Mott said.
Snickering, Ben began to make his way across the field. He slowly strode towards me.
"Yeah," I said.
He rolled his eyes and sat down beside me.
"Shana's a bitch. She should just kill herself."
"Ignore it. She'll go away."
"Ya can't ignore everything, ya know."
Ben whisked strands of hair from his brow.
"You love getting in trouble, don't you?" I said.
He smiled, "I'm just trying to have fun and play."
Ben reached over and tugged on the zipper of my school jacket. Pulling on the golden tongue, a few metal teeth unhinged. He caressed the tiny letters on the tab.
"Y.K.K." he said.
"Y.K.K." he repeated.
I glanced down at the zipper.
"Oh yeah," I said.
"You Killed Kennedy."
"That book report is due soon," he said.
"I know. I have to pick a book."
"Yeah. Me too. Hey, ever been down to Juniper Street?"
"I don't think so. Isn't it by Shana's?" I asked.
"Yeah, well, there's some neat stuff down by there."
"Just some stuff. I could take you there. This week. After school."
"Can't after school. Got stuff to do."
"Come on. I wanna show you," Ben said.
I missed it. My show had already started without me. The beginning was over. The first part done.
Mrs. Erickson was late again. This time by forty-five minutes, almost an hour.
Stomping up the golden stairs, I skipped every other step.
Ma was switching on the Dirt Devil. It roared across the hallway, back and forth. Specks of dirt popped, sucking up into the machine. Pushing from side to side, Ma snaked the cord around, out of her way.
I sped toward my room, hoping to get by.
The machine died. "Noah?"
I froze. "Yeah?"
"What are you rushing around for?"
"Ma... my show."
She rested her chapped hands on her hips.
"Listen. I'm gonna wash all the jackets tonight. Remember to put yours in the laundry. It'll be clean for you tomorrow."
I pushed through my door, and Ma's Dirt Devil thundered to life.
Scurrying over to the t.v., I turned it on. Slowly, the picture faded to black and white. Its speaker crackled with sound.
Chow-Chow was waiting for me on the bed. When I settled down beside her, the mattress moaned.
Caleb and Lily were on. They talked, whispered. Tears leaked from her eyes as she tried to explain. Caleb just stood, gazing at her. He reached out his husky arms, and Lily rushed to him.
"I love you, and I know that I always will," he said.
My eyes began to swell. The screen blurred.
I knew I was going to miss everything the next day. First time in a long time. I'd be able to catch up, though.
Ben was going to bring me down to Juniper Street. He was going to show me something neat.
Mrs. Erickson veered through a busy intersection. Stabbing out her cigarette, she scowled at the local drivers. A chorus of horns faded behind us.
"Mom?" Ben asked.
"You can just drop us all at Shana's."
"What?" Mrs. Erickson said.
Shana jolted up, a tiny grin erupting over her face.
"All of us?" she asked.
Turning, Ben winked at her. His cashew-colored lashes twinkled up and down.
"Yes, Shana," I said.
"We're going to go and do some stuff for school. Homework." Ben said.
"Shana? Is your mom going to be there?"
"Yeah." Ben said.
Shana smiled. "Yes."
"I wish you'd tell me about these things ahead of time, Ben."
Mrs. Erickson beached the van in front of Shana's house. We climbed out, leaping down to the sidewalk. Bright chalk scribbles colored the pavement.
"Bye," Ben said.
"Call me if you need a ride."
Mrs. Erickson coasted down the road and out of sight.
We stood there among Shana's drawings. There were pink cats, white clouds and orange stick boys. Milling over blue cars and yellow flowers, I waited.
We were the only ones around.
"Where are we going?" Shana asked.
Ben smirked. "Noah and me are going down to the old factories."
"Am I going?"
"No. Hell no."
He grabbed my arm, leading me away from her.
"I've been down there before," she said.
"Sure you have."
I was close behind him. Almost running, Ben led me down a crooked trail. Thick pricker bushes crowded around us. As we stepped over small boulders, twigs snapped under our sneakers.
He shoved his pointer ahead of us.
"It's this way."
"Here?" I asked.
A massive clearing stretched before our eyes. In the middle stood one of the old factories. The Gerald Building. Standing tall, it towered above the pines. Wild ivy crawled over the stacks of crumbling brick.
Ben was shuffling forward. He basted his lips, peering up.
"Is this it?" I asked.
"Kind of," Ben replied.
All the windows were smashed and jagged. Birds screamed inside. Fluttering from beam to beam, they glided among the rafters. There must have been hundreds.
"Didn't they used to make sunglasses and pens here?" I asked.
"Hey, start that report?" he asked.
"No. Haven't read the book yet."
Ben scratched at his tummy.
"You know, Noah, I hate our class. Shana Krush. Everybody."
"Bunch of assholes."
"I like you, though."
My cheeks blazed with redness. Grinning, I looked away.
"Can't wait for sixth grade. Everyone says that's the best year. The most fun," he said.
"We'll be the kings of elementary."
"I wonder if we'll be in the same class," I said.
Inching closer, Ben dropped his book bag.
"I hope so, Noah."
We stood face to face. Ben's eyes were bright, huge. Peanut butter skipped off his breath.
Clenching my fists, I waited. I had no idea what was going to happen.
And then, our lips met, mashing together. With slurps and spit, we moved slow. Opening up, Ben pushed his tongue inside.
He pulled me to the ground.
"It's okay. This'll be fun for you."
Ben unhooked my corduroys and pulled them off. Gazing at my underwear, he smiled. Spots of blood freckled the front flap. He yanked them down and caressed my smooth skin.
"Neat," he said, removing his sweatpants.
Ben was grinding himself into my leg. He grunted, moaned. Humping faster, Ben wailed with more power. Pain shot through my body and tears began to fill up my eyes.
"Noah," he muttered.
Ben shot upwards and gasped. A stream of white juice shot from his body. It spurted out, onto my stomach, my school jacket. The liquid was hot, dripping off me.
"I have to go," I said, pushing on his shoulders.
"I gotta' go."
Scrambling up, I pulled on my clothes.
Ben rose from the ground. His dink was standing up against his belly button.
"Hey! Noah! Get back here!"
"Gotta do my book report."
I didn't want to be with Ben anymore. It wasn't like I thought it would be. It wasn't like "As The World Turns" or Lily and Caleb. It wasn't like anything I had ever seen.
I ran back the way we came. Pushing through the tall grasses, I tried to brush off my jacket. Ben's white liquid smeared, staining across the sleeve, the collar.
"Having fun?" a voice asked.
I skidded to a stop, glancing around the forest.
It was Shana. She sat on a rock, gazing over at me. A tiny bouquet of wild flowers drooped in her hand. She was crying quietly.
"What? What did you say?" I asked.
"Did you have a good time, Noah?"
"What are you doing?"
"He wanted me to see you two. He wanted me to watch."
Shana wiped her nose with the sleeve of her "Tampa" sweatshirt.
"I have to go home," I said.
"It's not that bad."
"At least he didn't do it on your face. That's how he does it to me."
I zoomed into my house. Skating across the floor, I slid past Chow-Chow. She hollered up at me and hurled away.
Gripping a yellow sponge, Ma rushed out of the parlor.
"What?" I said, leaping for the stairs.
"Where you been?"
"You should've told me."
"Sorry," I said, climbing a few steps.
"I cleaned the floors, so be careful."
She squinted at me. "What's that?"
Ma barreled towards me. Snatching onto my jacket, she examined Ben's stain.
She scratched and flicked, trying to rub it off. Her rough fingers squealed across the nylon.
"What is it?"
I was thinking of excuses. I didn't know what to say, and I didn't know what was going to happen.
"What is it?" she repeated louder.
"I don't know."
"Maybe it's milkshake. We had some. I had one."
"Jesus! Noah! God!" Ma yelled.
"I can't believe you. I washed it yesterday. Why are you so messy? Why are you so dirty?"