M.A. De Neve
School isn't a good
place for me. I don't like it. I don't even like recess.
see Trudie and Jeff 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.
Trudie likes to have
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.
walks away from her, and joins a group of boys. They
playfully punch at each other and laugh. Trudie watches the boys.
Jeff eats peanuts like
he always does. He stuffs his pockets with them. He leaves trails of peanut shells.
Back in the schoolroom,
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 miles from
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 west.
of the other kids 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.
Mama's still hung over
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.
make myself a peanut 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 comes
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 to school,
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.
trees are my 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.
I’m real still. I don’t
want anyone thinking I am weird. I hug a giant pine, but what’s weird about that?
Someone’s coming. It’s
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.
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
Jeff stands over
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.
Cheryl and Terry Johnson walk into the woods. They stop,
take out cigarettes, light them up and smoke.
After awhile, they
put 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 yet.
“What happened to her?”
“God, I don't know.”
“Is she dead?”
Other people come running. I
crawl through the bushes.
someone yells. 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.
“Your old man
beat the crap out of you?”
think I have a black eye. I can open the eye, but it
feels like there’s a big sack of pus covering it.
“I don’t have an old man.”
“You’re a skinny one.”
she observes. “What’s your name?”
“What did they catch
“I was hiding
in the bushes, and I saw Trudie Miller getting choked.”
“You choke her?”
A police officer opens
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.
“Am I being
answer. I 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
He gently takes my
arm 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 head.
“Do you know what
know I should tell 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,” he says.
nod. Think about what? I missed some of what he said.
My mother comes in
then. She isn’t calm like the jailer and the sheriff. “What have you done?” she
demands of me.
“Don’t you lie to me.
How did you get beat up like that?”
“I fell down.”
I guess the sheriff
knows I’m a liar now.
“You look like
shit,” Mama says.
like she was just at the wrong place at the wrong time,” the sheriff says.
“Story of her
life,” Mama smells like the inside of one of those bottles she drinks from. “Is
she under arrest?”
but I want to talk to her again. I’m pretty sure she saw the girl's murder.”
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.
There’s 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
The deputy says they’ll
have a police car stationed outside our house. He says the sheriff already issued a statement
saying I couldn’t have killed the girl.
“You sure of that?” Mama asks the
A puny thing like that couldn’t strangle a kitten.”
stronger than she looks, and she ain’t all there. Anyone can see that.”
The deputy turns
to me. “You all right with going home with your Mama?” I have nowhere else
next day Mama's 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 door.
sick,” I tell the lady.
neighbors tell me your Mama gets sick a lot.”
I don’t 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.
take a walk?”
won’t like it,” I say, “And I have chores to do.”
“I’ll buy you lunch.
How’s that? You can have anything you like. Cheeseburger. Fries. Ice cream. All of
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 this lady.
the sheriff’s sister,” she tells me.
“Is he going to arrest me?”
“No. 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 about
the swollen eye and the bruises from when Jeff tackled me?
look like someone carrying lots of pain,” she says.
I touch my eye. “It don't hurt much,”
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
do well in school,” I admit.
“I was the
same way when I was in school. I devoured information. I learned conversational French
and German before I was ten years old.”
“You must be
she tells me. “I was too just bored by school to get good grades. You remind me of
“Let’s have that
cheeseburger.” Her smile is real nice.
Large fires. Double
burger. Chocolate malt. She orders for me.
“So tell me
about your classmates,” she says.
do you want to know? I can tell you all their names.”
“What else do you know about your classmates?”
Not much, but I don't
want to admit it.
describe any of them as bullies?”
do you mean?”
“You know what
a bully is,” she tells me.
“Every school has its
share of bullies. Who are the bullies in your school?”
food arrives, and I take a big bite of the burger. I’m
real hungry. She eats her salad slowly and watches me.
Finally she says, “I used to get bullied
when I was in school. Thank heavens I had a big brother. He saved me from more than one
Her brother is the
sheriff, so I guessed that bullies had to leave her alone.
you do get bullied. Don't you?”
don’t want to talk about it.”
“That because you’re
hurt. You don’t have many friends and you think that’s your fault.”
“Who says I don't have any friends?”
“You don’t know
much about your classmates, so I guess you can't be good friends.”
“They're just kids,
“What was Trudie
Miller like? Did she have lots of friends?”
She dressed better than the other girls,”
I say. “She had a boyfriend.”
that have been?”
wouldn't be tattling 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.
I'm autistic 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
autistic people 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?”
start by you telling me who killed that girl.”
“He’s popular. The kids
don’t like me. They'll believe him, and they'll hate me for accusing him.”
“Do you think he should get away with murder?”
probably knows you saw him. He could come after you
and Bobby, that's my brother, can't justify having a cruiser follow you around forever.”
“He won't do anything.
It'll be my word against his. He'll say I'm lying.”
probably increase the bullying. Or arrange for you to have a bad accident. He already killed
doesn't think enough of me to kill me.” I finish
my chocolate malt and thank her.
don't want Jeff to 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
I think all that
food 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.
People watch me now.
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.
“You 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 skipping
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,”
“My name is
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.”
“And a snoop.
What were you doing watching Trudie and me? You some kind of a pervert stalker?”
“I catch you snooping 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 he'll
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, the
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 last
week's Sugarfoot episode. Sugarfoot hid in a tree and jumped on top of the bad
I'm not good at
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 running fast behind him, and knocking
What good would any
of that do?
He'd just beat me
up. I can't think of any way to stop Jeff or other bullies.
I'm real scared. When I go to bed, I don't sleep.
I think every noise is Jeff coming to get me.
I have to stand up to 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 really
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
is 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.
know I have to speak 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. “If you
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.
stands up. “Tell her to sit down, Mrs. Stallmaster,”
he tells the teacher. She likes him. She'll listen to him, but not to me.
“He…he, he,” I begin.
“What are you
a donkey or something?” Jeff asks me. The other kids giggle.
her,” I say. “Jeff killed Trudie.”
“She's lying,” Jeff says.
“I think 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 saying.
“She's lying.” and “She's making it up.”
Mrs. Stallman sends the others out to recess.
“Are you making up stories, Mandy?”
is such a good boy.”
“No. he isn't.”
call your mother, and have her take you home.”
“I can get home on my
own,” I say.
to Jeff tomorrow in class.”
I say. I say it louder than I intended. I walk out
Going home, I move
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.
check each room. 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 cry.
has been arrested 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