place for me. I don't like it. I don't even like recess.
I see Trudie
talking. He's given her a ring. This seems to add to the popularity of both,
though we are sixth graders and most likely their parents and our teachers don't
know about the budding romance.
things other girls don't have, like a boyfriend. She's a bit of a show-off,
wearing pretty dresses and practicing to be a cheer leader. The boys notice
her. I've seen Jeff take this snakelike thing out of his pants and show it to
her in class. Being half hidden behind the desk, he thinks no one else noticed.
her, and joins a group of boys. They playfully punch at each other and laugh.
Trudie watches the boys.
Jeff eats peanuts
he always does. He stuffs his pockets with them. He leaves trails of peanut
Back in the
I glance at the calendar. There're pictures of all the presidents right up to
President Eisenhower. I do like Ike. I wouldn't mind if he could run again in
1960. Some of the boys make fun of the old-time presidents' hair styles. I Wonder
if someone will one day look at our
hairstyles and giggle. I've read books about some of those presidents, and they
had lots of smarts under all that long hair.
I live 1.5
the school, so I have to walk home after school. I can take a short cut through
the woods, but I've been bushwhacked. Jeff and his older brother have knocked
me down, kicked me. This happened a few times. I've learned to avoid the paths
and found my own openings in the pines. It's hard to get lost in the trees.
They're bordered by a busy highway on the east and a railroad track on the
Few of the
live down this way, but they do come into the woods. They smoke in here. Boys
and girls come here. They lay down together, and I don't want to describe what
they do. Maybe I'm lucky I don't have friends.
from last night. The guy she's living with now is even meaner than Jeff. Mama
says I gotta stay out of his way. He doesn't hang around too much, anyway.
I make myself
butter and mayonnaise sandwich. I open my math book and try to concentrate.
It's too boring. I open a Zane Grey book instead. I got this one from the
library. I love Zane Grey. He writes westerns.
At 6 p.m. Bronco
on and then Wyatt Earp. Tomorrow it's my favorite, “Wagon Train.” I daydream
about my favorite cowboy heroes showing up at school and making the other kids
stop bullying me. Boy, would the other kids be jealous if Hugh O'Brien, the
actor who plays Wyatt Earp, was my friend.
When I walk
I stay close enough to the path to notice a trail of peanuts. Jeff's been here.
I move further away from the path. I don't want to run into him.
The trees are
friends. I spend some time with them each morning before I go to school. I
stand in a clump of trees and take deep breaths. I imagine them as giant
protectors, warriors who will save me from the bullies.
still. I don’t
want anyone thinking I am weird. I hug a giant pine, but what’s weird about
Trudie. I don’t want her to see me. Trudie thinks she's better than everyone
else, but especially better than me. When she talks to me, she looks at my
shoes like that's where I am.
I crawl deeper into the trees. I don’t make a
sound. It’s Jeff. She smiles at him. Then their voices get loud. They are
having an argument, but I can’t make out the words. They rush over me like
violent ocean currents. Then they stop talking. I look up. He’s tightening her
scarf. She’s leaning against him and starting to fall. He’s still tightening
the scarf. I see all this, and it's like I'm watching an old silent movie.
Trudie. She's on the ground. He's breathing really hard. He takes a handful of
peanuts from his bag and eats them. Then he turns away.
I am too scared to move. I silently recite the
names of songs in my record collection in alphabetical order. I have lots of
records. I am as far as “Don't Forbid Me” by Pat Boone.
Johnson walk into the woods. They stop, take out cigarettes, light them up and
out their cigarettes. Linda trips over Trudie's body and screams. Soon the
woods are filled with people running here and there. They haven't noticed me
happened to her?”
I don't know.”
Other people come running. I crawl through the
I've been spotted. I get up and run. Someone grabs me by the ankles and tackles
me the way Green Bay Packers tackle the other team's players on television. I
go down like a cow roped and wrestled. Someone is pounding me. I smell hair
grease and peanuts. Shells cascade around me. Jeff pins me down and pummels my
shoulders and head. He's holding a rock or something hard.
When I wake
up, I’m in
a jail cell. There’s a girl there with me. She’s older, but not very old.
old man beat the
crap out of you?”
I think I have
eye. I can open the eye, but it feels like there’s a big sack of pus covering
have an old
a skinny one.”
she observes. “What’s your name?”
did they catch
hiding in the
bushes, and I saw Trudie Miller getting choked.”
A police officer
the cell and motions for me to come out. He waits for me to stand outside, and
then locks the cell door. I expect to be handcuffed. But he just nods toward a
door to my right.
walk like a condemned convict toward the door that leads away from the cells. Beyond
that, there’s a hallway with office doors, all of them closed. The officer
points the way. I imagine an electric chair waiting. That’s the kind of
imagination I have.
He gently takes
to stop me and to settle me. He opens one of the doors. I walk inside a room. I
keep my eyes on the floor. I don’t make eye contact.
you tell us what
happened?” the man behind the desk asks. I look up at him or rather I look as
far as a uniform and a badge. I think he’s the sheriff.
I shake my
I know I should
him. Maybe I have to tell him. I don’t know what to do. It's like a dust storm rages
in my head. I get confused like this sometimes. I get angry and frustrated.
talking, but I am
not paying much attention. I am too scared. “I want you to think about this,”
I nod. Think
what? I missed some of what he said.
My mother comes
then. She isn’t calm like the jailer and the sheriff. “What have you done?” she
demands of me.
you lie to me.
How did you get beat up like that?”
I guess the
knows I’m a liar now.
look like shit,”
like she was
just at the wrong place at the wrong time,” the sheriff says.
of her life,”
Mama smells like the inside of one of those bottles she drinks from. “Is she
but I want to talk
to her again. I’m pretty sure she saw the girl's murder.”
“Can’t stay out of trouble,” she says looking
at me like I'm a useless knick-knack she meant to toss out, but that instead
got busted into a mess that's too much work to clean up.
a mob outside
the jail house. They aren’t yelling, just murmuring. I hear some if their
words. “Crazy girl,” and “It was only a matter of time before she did something
have a police car stationed outside our house. He says the sheriff already
issued a statement saying I couldn’t have killed the girl.
sure of that?”
Mama asks the officer.
ma-am. A puny
thing like that couldn’t strangle a kitten.”
she looks, and she ain’t all there. Anyone can see that.”
turns to me.
“You all right with going home with your Mama?” I have nowhere else to go.
The next day
sleeping and not feeling well. I hear a knock on the door. I'm afraid to answer
it. Some people still think I killed Trudie, but I look out the window. There’s
a pretty lady there. She’s wearing a nice dress and pearls. She has a patent
leather purse. She is tall and pretty like a Sears Catalog model. I answer the
sick,” I tell
neighbors tell me
your Mama gets sick a lot.”
see how that’s
any of her business, so I don’t say anything. I just hope she doesn't notice
the empty whiskey bottle on the counter.
wanna take a
won’t like it,” I
say, “And I have chores to do.”
buy you lunch.
How’s that? You can have anything you like. Cheeseburger. Fries. Ice cream. All
of the above.”
not hungry,” I
lie. There isn’t any food in the house, and I was wondering how I could get
some money so I could buy some, but I don’t like strangers, and I don’t know
sister,” she tells me.
going to arrest
He’s issued a
statement that you definitely did not kill that girl, and he’s got a cruiser
right down there, to make sure no one hurts you.” She pauses. “You’ve been hurt
Is she talking
the swollen eye and the bruises from when Jeff tackled me?
look like someone
carrying lots of pain,” she says.
I touch my
don't hurt much,” I lie.
teachers call you
Little Professor. They say you read books all the time, and you know about the
lives of historical characters like General Lafayette and Wild Bill Hickok and
lots of other people.”
do well in
school,” I admit.
the same way
when I was in school. I devoured information. I learned conversational French
and German before I was ten years old.”
must be a genius.”
she tells me. “I
was too just bored by school to get good grades. You remind me of me.”
cheeseburger.” Her smile is real nice.
burger. Chocolate malt. She orders for me.
me about your
classmates,” she says.
do you want to
know? I can tell you all their names.”
else do you know
about your classmates?”
Not much, but
want to admit it.
you describe any
of them as bullies?”
do you mean?”
know what a bully
is,” she tells me.
school has its
share of bullies. Who are the bullies in your school?”
The food arrives,
take a big bite of the burger. I’m real hungry. She eats her salad slowly and
used to get bullied when I was in school. Thank heavens I had a big brother. He
saved me from more than one beating.”
sheriff, so I guessed that bullies had to leave her alone.
you do get
bullied. Don't you?”
want to talk
hurt. You don’t have many friends and you think that’s your fault.”
says I don't have
“You don’t know much about your classmates, so
I guess you can't be good friends.”
was Trudie Miller
like? Did she have lots of friends?”
the other girls,” I say. “She had a boyfriend.”
would that have
if I told her Trudie liked Jeff, would it? I keep eating for a while. I know
she wants me to say something. She's waiting for me to say something.
and I think you are too. Like I told you, I was just like you when I was a kid.
We’re not weird. Or maybe we are. We're different. We’re people who don’t make
eye contact naturally. Is that so bad? If we find something boring, we find a
way not to do it. But we’re smart and very focused. Sometimes we get blamed for
things other people do. We’re often loners, so that makes us easy targets of
bullies. You and me, Mandy, we’re both autistic. You’d have to be evaluated,
and I can arrange that, but the sheriff noticed it right away. You reminded him
of me, his autistic baby sister.”
unable to function?”
Some of us are high-functioning.”
said we were
weird. I thought maybe I could grow up to be rich and famous, but if I'm always
going to be weird.... I don't know. How do we get people to like us?”
telling me who killed that girl.”
popular. The kids
don’t like me. They'll believe him, and they'll hate me for accusing him.”
think he should
get away with murder?”
saw him. He could come after you and Bobby, that's my brother, can't justify
having a cruiser follow you around forever.”
It'll be my word against his. He'll say I'm lying.”
the bullying. Or arrange for you to have a bad accident. He already killed one
enough of me to kill me.” I finish my chocolate malt and thank her.
I don't want
get away with this, but what can I do? The other kids hate me enough as it is. No
one will believe me. They never believe me.
I think all
upset my stomach and then I realize, it isn't the food. I'm scared.
The cruiser has left. Mama says it scares her
friends away. Her friends are guys she picks up in bars. The latest boyfriend moved
out. I think all that attention scared him. He might be wanted by the cops.
Mama said he had a police record.
They think I am even more of a freak, than they thought I was before. Someone
spray painted “FREAK” across the front of our house. They spray painted KILLER
on the sidewalk.
can't stay out of
trouble, can you, girl?” Mama said when she noticed the writings. She's pretty
upset about the boyfriend moving out.
I think about
school and going to the library to read, but someone will tattle on me. I walk
around the woods. The trees and the paths scare me after what happened to
Trudie. Suddenly Jeff is walking beside me. He gives me a shove that almost
knocks me down. “Hey Fleabag,” he says.
name is dirtbag.”
He shoves me again. “Don't talk back to me. You're a dirtbag. You got that? Say
it. I'm a dirtbag.”
a snoop. What were
you doing watching Trudie and me? You some kind of a pervert stalker?”
again, I'll ring that ugly neck of yours. You understand?”
I tell him. He
gives me a good shove and walks away.
I don't think
kill me. I'm not worth the bother. But if I'm not worth the bother of killing,
then why am I worth the bother of bullying? He knows no one will believe me.
But if I do tell, he'll at least be suspected. I am a danger to him.
The nice lady,
sheriff's sister, said Jeff might arrange for me to have a bad accident.
I think about
television. What would Wyatt Earp or Cheyenne do? Wyatt Earp locks up bullies
and Cheyenne punches them until they stay down. I don't have those options.
I think about
week's Sugarfoot episode. Sugarfoot hid in a tree and jumped on top of the bad
I'm not good
climbing. But I could do it. At least I'll be safe up in the tree tops. No, I
won't be safe there either. Jeff can climb better than I can.
I think about
fast behind him, and knocking him down.
What good would
He'd just beat
me up. I
can't think of any way to stop Jeff or other bullies.
I'm real scared.
go to bed, I don't sleep. I think every noise is Jeff coming to get me.
I have to stand
him. I must do it where there are witnesses. I can't let him kill me or anyone
else. He killed Trudie. She was mean to me. They all are, but I can't let him
kill anyone else.
In class, I'm
scared. I hate to speak up because the other kids make fun of me if I have the
wrong answer. Even if I have the right answer, they make fun of me. They don't
talking about the Revolutionary War. Those Boston Sons of Liberty had little
chance of winning a war against Britain, the most powerful nation on earth. I
wonder if Paul Revere and Dr. Warren were scared.
I know I have
up. I swallow and feel the lump in my throat. I have to go to the bathroom.
It's almost recess time.
I stand up.
have something to say Mandy, raise your hand,” Mrs. Stallmaster tells me.
I stare at
her. I am
not sure my voice will come out.
her to sit down, Mrs. Stallmaster,” he tells the teacher. She likes him. She'll
listen to him, but not to me.
he,” I begin.
are you a donkey
or something?” Jeff asks me. The other kids giggle.
her,” I say.
“Jeff killed Trudie.”
you should sit
down, Mandy.” Mrs. Stallmaster says.
bet they found peanut
shells under the body,” I say. “He's always eating peanuts. He was eating
peanuts when he killed her.”
Jeff gives me a hard push. I fall right over
my desk and I hit the floor hard. He runs out the door.
The kids are
“She's lying.” and “She's making it up.”
others out to recess. “Are you making up stories, Mandy?”
is such a good
call your mother,
and have her take you home.”
get home on my
own,” I say.
Jeff tomorrow in class.”
I say. I say it
louder than I intended. I walk out the door.
slowly, Jeff could be hiding in trees. He could come out of nowhere and kill
me. There's no one else around. I'm still scared. Just as scared as I was in
I think, he
could be waiting
for me. He could be in my house.
I check each
Mama's asleep in her room, but no one else is in the house. Then I call the
sheriff's office. I tell the sheriff what happened. Then I sit on the couch and
Jeff has been
for Trudie's murder, and he's headed for reform school and maybe prison after
that. The nice lady, the sheriff's sister, says he'll discover a whole new
level of bullying there. The coroner had wondered about peanut shells on and
around the body. Mystery solved. The other kids still don't like me much, but
they know I told the truth. And sometimes I see expressions of respect on their
M. A. De Neve holds a
master’s degree in English and taught college-level writing for over twenty
years. M. A. wrote two novels, both available on Amazon, and has published
articles in many newspapers and magazines, including Over My Dead Body
and Mysterical-E. M. A. volunteers with an animal rescue
group in Michigan.
the world in words and images. Her latest photography portfolio is 20/20:
KJ Hannah Greenberg Eye on Israel.
Her most recent poetry collection is Mothers Ought to Utter Only Niceties (Unbound CONTENT, 2017). Her most recent
fiction collection is the omnibus, Concatenation (Bards & Sages Publishing, 2018).