in the basement and you're bored. Andy and Molly are playing dive
bomb on the old couch. They stand on the arm and yell "dive bomb"
and let themselves fall face first into the cushions. It was your
favorite game last year, but now you're too tall. Your head brushes
the ceiling when you stand on the arm, and dive bomb isn't as much
fun when you have to squat. Andy's kind of too tall for it, too,
but he's pretending.
You tell Andy that he should try jumping
on your stomach, just to see what happens. You kind of know what's
going to happenit's going to hurt. But you have to find out
for sure. You just can't know unless you try.
So you lie on the floor next to the
couch, flat on your back. Andy leaps off the couch with both feet
together, like jumping into the deep end of a pool. There's a huge
pain right in your gut and you're crying. Andy and Molly run away
and later Mom discovers you on the ground. "Who did this to you?"
she asks. She has that a bite to her voice that means business.
"Andy," you say, and he gets sent to his room for it.
At dinner that night, he stares at
you with an amazed look on his face. It's like he doesn't know why
he did it, like you don't know why you asked. You don't tell Mom
what really happened.
It's Saturday and you're roller-skating
at school. It's got the best sidewalks for roller-skating. Andy
comes on his skateboard and Jodi from next door rides her bike.
You go in front of the Dock Door, which is where the fourth and
fifth graders line up in the mornings before the bell rings. You
love it here, because it's smooth and flat and kind of dangerous.
On one side of the loading dock is a five foot drop to the parking
lot. You see how close you can get to the edge, how fast you can
skate without falling off. You're so good at it that today it seems
kind of boring.
On the other side of the loading dock
is a railing and after that, a thirty foot drop down to the basketball
court. Sometimes, you throw trash and rocks over the side, just
to see how they splat and scrape up the brick wall. You only do
this on Saturdays because teachers always yell at you when they
catch you doing it before school. The railing side is very dangerous,
they say. A few feet past the railing is a windowsill, a narrow
little strip just one brick wide.
This is the best part about playing
at the Dock Door. On Saturdays when no one's here, you strip down
to your bare feet and climb onto the windowsill. When Andy did it
the first time, you thought for sure he was going to die. But then
you tried it once and it's not that hard. Molly and Jodi are the
only ones too scared to try. Today, you think, you'll try it on
your roller-skates. Even Andy hasn't done that before.
Andy and Jodi watch you carefully.
They stand close, but not too closeyou don't want to be crowded,
you say. The roller skates are heavy and they make climbing over
the railing harder than before. The wheels get stuck in the rungs
the first time you try. When you put your first foot down on the
windowsill, you roll a little, kind of unsteady. But by the time
you get your second foot down, you're fine. It's almost like being
in bare feet, easy as pie.
From here, you can see all the way
across the roof of the kindergarten building, all the way to the
trees at the edge of Mr. Hall's yard. Maybe you pretend that one
of the treetops beyond that is the one in your own front yard. Everything
is quiet except for the wind in your ears. You're pretty high up.
Then you turn your head and look into
the classroom behind you. Every time you come to the school, you
and Andy and Jodi test all the windows you can reach to see if they
are unlocked, and if they are, then sometimes you crawl inside.
Andy broke in through this window once.
The sun is bright and it takes a long
time for your eyes to adjust. A teacher is sitting at a desk, writing
something. She pauses, looks up, and then she sees you in the window.
The terrified look on her face breaks the spell. There's just enough
time to see her mouth "oh my god," and then she jumps up and runs
for the door.
You grab for the railing again, pulling
yourself over it as fast as you can. If she catches you, you're
going to be in big trouble, worse than anything before. Andy and
Jodi are already gone.
You make it over the railing and down
the stairs and then you're skating as fast as you can, pumping your
arms. Andy and Jodi wait for you around the corner at another window.
This one is only a foot off the ground, the one you always rest
at. There's a water spout next to it that you have been stuffing
with treasures like kite string and dandelions, trying to see how
long it takes to fill it up.
But today there's no time to check
it. You and Andy and Jodi inch back the way you came, slowly, until
you can just make out the back of that teacher's head. She's leaning
over the railing and looking down into the basketball court, looking
for a broken little girl in roller-skates. You try to skate the
rest of the way home like nothing happened, but your heart is pounding.
Jodi won't even look at you.
You're in stupid daycare for the summer.
You're old enough to take care of yourself, even Mom says so, but
not old enough to take care of Andy and Molly, too. So all three
of you are stuck in this stupid Project Kids Day Camp at the school.
It's like spending summer vacation at school only less fun. You're
the oldest kid there.
To pass the time, you and Andy read
The Black Cauldron books. They're good, so much better than
the Wrinkle in Time books the librarian tried to give you
last year. These ones make sense.
The counselors encourage you to do
crafts in the mornings. One day everyone makes tie-dye shirts. You
and Andy ask if you may sit in the corner and read instead of making
shirts you will never wear. Sometimes you ask if you may visit the
room where the younger kids are, so you can check on Molly, but
they always say no. "Molly is fine," they tell you. But you and
Andy are pretty sure that something sinister is going on.
Molly can be a real crybaby around
people she doesn't know or like very much. Sometimes you hope she
is ok and not crying. But during tie-dye shirt day, you hope she
is bawling her head off nonstop just to teach them all a lesson.
Andy is so good at checkers that he's
banned from playing by the other kids. This also happens with tic-tac-toe
and Uno. You try to play Monopoly with him one day, but most of
the pieces are missing. There are only two hotels and no five hundreds.
For lunch, you always have boring
food from home. You beg for drink boxes and pudding, but you always
get peanut butter sandwiches and apples. You look for Molly in the
lunch room, because her age group eats right before yours. One time
you see her, dawdling at the end of the hallway, trying to catch
your eye without drawing any attention to herself. Soon after that,
the counselors tell you about the new "buddy system" which means
that no one is allowed to walk through the halls without a buddy.
You ask if you and Andy can be buddies, but they say only girls
can be buddies with girls, boys with boys. The counselors give you
a reason for this, but you suspect they're trying to keep you separated
on purpose. You never see Molly in the hall again.
After lunch you spend Siesta Time
reading. Across the hall, the little kids get to watch movies in
the air-conditioned library. Sometimes you sit near the door and
Molly sits near the library window and you can see the back of her
head. They get to watch Bambi.
Some days, instead of Siesta, you
and the other kids in your class have to walk two miles to Vista
View Elementary where there's another Project Kids. When the Vista
View kids come to your school, they ride in a bus, but you always
have to walk. You walk right past your own house on the way. It
would be so easy to climb the maple tree in the backyard, just to
get away. You know where the spare key is on top of the back door.
You could hide in the basement until Mom came home.
You say something to Andy at lunch
one day, which is the only time the counselors won't overhear. He's
worried about Molly. We can't leave her behind, he says. She'll
be all alone.
So you'll just have to ditch them
both. You plot exactly when you'll make a run for itright
when you pass the pine trees in the front yard. You'll hide there
until the group is past your driveway, then run around to the back.
But somehow it's like they know something's
up. Jimbo, the only counselor who treats you like a normal person,
the only one who doesn't laugh at you for reading all the time,
he walks right next to you the whole way to Vista View. He keeps
between you and the pine trees. You try hard to keep your mind clear,
ready for flightyou are faster than Jimbo, you can outrun
himbut you end up seeing Andy in front of you and that brings
back poor Molly, stuck with all the little kids in the library.
Maybe she is crying. So you don't do anything, you just keep walking.
At Vista View, you watch a movie called
Hardware Wars about a flying toaster and a magic flashlight.
You watch and don't watch at the same time, let your eyes slowly
die until you are looking and not seeing. You can hold this pose
forever, you think.
You're finally in sixth grade. You're
in charge of the school! Finally, people treat you like you know
what you're doing. You get to walk down the hall to band practice
alone. No one asks you where you're going.
But when you get to band practice,
you realize with a sinking stomach that you forgot something. The
flutes won a contest for practicing the most hours and today there's
the pizza party for a prize. Mrs. Tarabeck's ordering the pizza
right now. All you had to bring was a can of pop and you forgot.
You excuse yourself to go to the bathroom
and say you'll be right back. In the hallway, you walk past the
bathrooms and keep going until you reach the Stairway Door where
the third and sixth graders line up every morning.
It's only a few yards of green grass
to get to the trees around Mr. Hall's yard. And beyond that, it's
only two more backyards and one street to cross to reach your house.
If you run, you think, you can go home and get a pop and be back
before anyone knows you are gone.
Of course, if you get caught, it'll
be the worst trouble ever. You don't know what the punishment is
for skipping school, but it's probably pretty bad. But you're in
sixth grade now and you're not supposed to be afraid of these things
anymore. So you run as fast as you can and hope no one's looking
out any of the windows.
The real world outside school is quiet.
No one's home in any of the houses you pass. All the dogs are locked
up inside. No one drives down the street. It's kind of scary. You
expect to meet someone from school, like a teacher or Mr. Hall,
who is the principal at the high school.
And then you're running up to your
own back porch. You stand on a bench to reach the hidden key and
then you're inside. Mom only buys Diet Coke, which is the worst
kind of pop, but maybe the other flute girls will think are you
on a diet. That's always cool.
You run back, pumping your legs as
hard as you can. You stop for a moment on the edge of Mr. Hall's
trees, looking for signs of danger. Nothing. You run back inside
and calmly walk down the hall. It's so easy that you wonder why
you haven't done it before. You could do it every day.
And then you're back in the band room,
where everyone's still waiting for the pizza to arrive. Jaimie Reiner's
the only one who notices when you come in because you act so cool.
You just went down the hall to wash your hands, no big deal. Then
she notices that you're out of breath, and you think, Uh-oh,
she knows. But the look on her face is the best, the way her
eyes get wide for second and then real small and squinty. Then she
smiles like you have a secret. She wants to know how you did it.
You get into a fight with Andy while
Mom's at work. She's only just started letting you stay home without
a babysitter because you begged and promised to be good. But today
you run inside and lock Andy out. You even lock the screen door
which doesn't have a key. His friends are on the front lawn and
you think, Good, now he'll be embarrassed. You run around
to all the windows and lock them tight. Good thing Mom had them
replaced a few months ago, because Andy could pry open the old ones.
When Andy climbs onto the roof, you
run upstairs and lock all the upstairs windows, too. You look at
him through the glass and that's when you know you've gone too far.
He's not allowed on the roof, and you should open the front door
and say you're sorry. But that would be giving him the upper hand
and you just can't do it.
And then you see it, Mom's car coming
around the corner. Andy turns when he sees the look on your face
and that's when he falls. He goes right off the edge, through the
lilac bush, into the landscaping rocks. You don't see it, but you
can hear a nasty crunch when he lands. His friends disappear from
the front yard. Mom pulls into the driveway. You go around to all
the windows and unlock them. You even crack a few of them open the
way Mom left them, so it looks like Andy was goofing off on the
roof for no reason.
Later, you go downstairs and see them
in the kitchen. Mom's in a chair and Andy's kneeling in front of
her. She has a bag of ice and a bloody towel pressed to his head.
He's crying that it's all your fault and Mom doesn't believe him
for a second. You walk through the kitchen like nothing's wrong,
sneak down into the basement and turn the TV up loud enough so that
you don't hear him crying anymore. He has a scar under his hair
for the rest of his life.
You do, too, kind of, when you let yourself
think about it.