Narrated by Bob Eccles
Patty asked me did I want to use her skateboard. She’d been practicing.
“But that’s for boys,” I said. “Did you get it from your brother?”
“We can ride it girl-style,” she said. “Like a girl’s bicycle.”
“Patricia, that doesn’t make sense.” I put my hands on my hips in my best sensible way. “A person can get hurt.”
“You goof, this isn’t Hamlet,” she said, which was what she always said when she thought I was being timid.
I defended my timidity. “In the paper it said a boy was killed last week crossing the street. In our school a boy died of leukemia.” It was a dangerous world.
She kept chewing on her bubble gum. “I need to get out of the house.” She blinked at the brown bush and the chainlink fence in front of our yard. “I need suitcases and a bus ticket.”
I put my arm around her the way my mother hugged me. “Is it your mother’s boyfriend? Is he beating you?”
She nodded heavily, like a damaged old woman and not the weedy twelve-year-old she was. “He gets drunk and mad at Mom, and he hits me. Do you have luggage you could lend me?”
“Where would you go?”
“My grandma maybe, in Ohio? Or my dad and his new family.” Her face darkened. “No, I was dreaming. I’m just pretending. Things are okay really. I just need to stay out of his way when he’s drinking.” She massaged her arm.
“You should tell your mom.”
Patty stared ahead of her with stony eyes. “Ma says, ‘Suck it up. Life is like that.’ If I thought that was all of life . . . .”
My mother didn’t approve of Patty and her family. “Bunch of trailer trash, who’ve moved to our street. Look at their yard–needs raking. They’re not even married. He plays loud music. She hangs torn underwear on the clothesline. You told me that Patty was kept back a year in school.” Mother rubbed her forehead and sighed.
“It’s not her fault. She had pneumonia and missed school. She’s twelve and I’m eleven. So what?”
Mother knelt down in front of me and gently cupped my chin. “You’re my only chick. It’s you and me, dear. Nobody else.”
That was quite a burden to put on a child. But life had put a burden on her too. She was a young widow who would have liked to go dancing and traveling and dining in fancy restaurants instead of being a dispatcher at the city’s Spee-Dee Delivery Service. She wanted more for me–a trip to Europe, a college education, a husband, and a house.
I raised my chin out of her hand. “Mom, I like Patty. We have fun together. Can she come for a sleepover?”
“First, do your homework.” She pressed her fingers into her forehead. “Then you can play with Patty. We’ll see about the sleepover.”
“You never answer my questions.”
“I’m going to lie down. I’ve got a headache. It feels like a hook in my brain.” She walked to her bedroom and drew the curtains.
I slumped on the couch and opened my social studies book and memorized the capitals of France, Germany, and Hungary. I was hungry myself. I got an apple. I memorized the capitals of Latvia, Poland, Turkey. Outside the living room window, twilight drifted onto the roofs and fences and weeds. There was a tentative knock on the door.
Patty stepped in. She did not have a suitcase, but she carried a skateboard and a plastic bag filled with stuff. She put them down on the carpet. She rubbed her arm. “Can I stay here?”
“My mom is sleeping.” But Patty must have understood that was “no.”
She opened her fist and showed me a fishing hook resting on her palm, shiny, long, and barbed at the tip. “If he hits me again, I’ll stab him. I found his fishing rod in the basement.”
“It will just make it worse. You can’t do that.”
“Yes, I can.” She clamped her mouth shut.
“When Mom wakes up, I’ll ask her if you can sleep over.”
“That would be nice,” she said as if she were humoring me, as if it were champagne I had offered or a trip to Paris, France. “I brought Donnie’s skateboard. Want to practice?”
I shook my head. “You can get hurt, break your knees.”
“C’mon, it’ll be fun. I’m going to lie on my stomach or sit on the skateboard. You can’t fall off then.” She put the skateboard under her arm. “I can skate all over the country with this. When I learn how.”
We went out in front of the house and onto the sidewalk. The twilight softened us. The neighborhood lost its dinginess in the dark. Ribbons of purple and orange streaked the sky. The traffic on the highway was a distant hum. I felt a tingle in my head–we really could grow up and forget this neighborhood. She pointed at the sky and said sadly, “First star I’ve seen tonight–I’m making a wish.” Then she pushed the skateboard with one foot and laughed. “I’m flying!” The skateboard rattled on the pavement. She pushed faster and faster. She hit a stone and toppled on the grass. She laughed and dusted off her blue jeans. She walked the skateboard to the top of the small rise at the end of the street and sat on the skateboard. “Watch me fly.” I applauded her recklessness and joy. She put out her arms as if they were wings and clattered down the hill. In the grass I could hear the crickets. I could not catch my breath. Above us the stars pulsed in the dark.
BIO: Cezarija Abartis’ Nice Girls and Other Stories was published by New Rivers Press. Her stories have appeared in Brain Harvest, Underground Voices, Liquid Imagination, Story Quarterly, and New York Tyrant, among others. Recently she completed a novel, a thriller. She teaches at St. Cloud State University.