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Apathy Girl and Other Tales

Musings of the Overly Naive Cynic

An unfinished piece from my spring 2010 writing session.

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 Mother always said it was the little things that made living here special. Everybody had green grass on their lawns. Two and three quarters inches. Everybody had kids. Three point two. Everybody could walk to school. Four and one half blocks. It was the half-block that always got me. It was on the other side of the cross-walk, guarded by Mr. Strope. Five foot, six inches. His skin was pale and waxy, a fine crust of spittle stained by tobacco juice surrounded his mouth. Six cans per week. He did not chew on Sunday. I know this because one day he told me so.

“Hey! Y’know that on Sunday you s’posed to rest? Whatcha daddy do on Sunday, Nigger, he out robbin’ lil’ old women? Course he is…sin makes yo’ skin that black, y’know? Thats why I ain’t usin’ no chew on Sunday. I ain’t gonna do the littlest bit o’ work.” He spat on the ground at my feet, leaned over and picked up his stop sign. Seven days in a week.

I lived for the weekends, like any kid did. I would wake up early on Saturday and pour milk over my cereal. Two percent. Then I would race back upstairs to clean and organize my room. 15 stairs, two at a time. I would put away all of the fresh laundry Mother had deposited, and then straighten the papers, pencils, and etceteras on my desk. Ninety degrees. I moved through my homework, my pencil running over the pages, history, english, spanish, and the best: math. Numero uno. When I went through the extra math workbooks Mother brought home for me, the world divided itself into smaller and smaller pieces until all that was left were the numbers on the page. 17 problems per page, 25 pages per book. I could not notice the phone ringing in the kitchen, my brother calling from the city, the world of the fast life or Mother ignoring it with loud and inappropriate epitaphs. Four-letter words. I paid no attention to the freckle-faced neighborhood boys walking in packs down the street, going to play football in the perfectly manicured park, not stopping to invite me. Seven boys, 14 high tops. I did math, and the weekend found its sum too quickly.

Mother stopped me at the door on my way out, handed me my lunch, kissed me on my cheek, and said her standard line: “I love you, make me proud, be good, and promise to cross at the cross-walk.” I ran down the front stairs, out into the sunlight. Two at a time. On the street I met the closest thing to a black person in Evensville. His name was Josh, he was Jewish. 14600 days in the desert. The other kids didn’t invite him to play football on the weekends, or kickball after lunch. We would sit underneath the tree in the corner of the schoolyard, playing marbles. Our white Pearls hitting the dark Indies out of our perfectly formed circle. We would lean close to the ground, fannies in the air at forty-five degree angles, finding the trajectory through squinted eyes, always mindful of the other boys, lest we get kicked and lose our shot. 6, 2, 3, 1, 5, 8, 7, 9, 4. We never did keepsies, but it was still great to win, to have someone to play with. The city had been filled with kids, the streets had been full of them, and someone was always up for a game. Evensville was filled with kids, but they didn’t add up the same way, I guess. I was always left over. Remainder one. I subtracted the days of the weeks from my calender, I moved to the left to avoid Mr. Strope’s stream of foul smelling tobacco. At school I was a good student, I stayed under the linear gaze of my teachers, did exactly what they said, and caused no trouble. I stayed in a perfect line. I obeyed my mother, kept my desk neat, I ignored the ringing of the phone. 50 decibels. Mother kept reminding me how lucky we were to live here. How good the schools were, how neat the yards were. There was no crime. No one was ever shot and killed in Evensville. Three bullets, fourteen hundred and fifty feet per second.

It was Friday. I hesitated for a second on the top stair, promising Mother I would be good, follow the rules, cross the street at the cross-walk. Three houses down I met Josh, his Mother waved kindly at me from her front porch. We observed the other neighborhood boys traversing ahead of us, so we modify our steps. Two steps forward, one step back. We do not speak. As we come to the last half-block, our pace slows. Silently we savor the last few moments of undivided peace before Mr. Strope caught site of us. Two beady eyes.

“Well all be damned, the kike and the nigger, aren’t you little faggots just thick as thieves, I’m surprised the good people of Evensville hadn’t ran you outta town yet.”

We barely broke our stride, just kept our heads down, our eyes down, “no sir.” And went on to school. Mother always said it was better to ignore, to be quiet, to not make a scene. If you just keep to yourself, no one can do anything to you, if you just follow the rules. So I wasn’t looking up, at doors of the school. I was watching my shoes, concentrating on not hearing. One step, two step.

“David!”

The simple sound of my name in this setting, something I did not hear very often was enough to startle me. The fact that it was a voice I knew, a deep, steady voice from the not too distant past, that was enough to set my heart pounding. One hundred and ten beats per minute. I looked up, noticing the fourteen long windows on either side of the door The four large maple trees in the yard.

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