Dede's mother walks towards the bedroom to squeeze into a too tight dress for their dinner out, her chunky white nurse shoes squeaking across the floor. Red hair, piled on top of her head like a beehive, quivers as she screams at Dede's looney-tune little sister, Babs, and the younger brother, Dickie, who's even meaner. The father, a bespectacled bald doctor in a gray suit, doesn't say much, but her mother does, though she ignores me, as does their fat old babysitter, Bess, who makes us bologna sandwiches on white bread for dinner. She's cranky about me being there, one more mouth to feed I guess. Everyone is always mad at Dede's, but she's one of my best friends and they have a swimming pool. Besides, things aren't much better at my house.
bring on the night
It's way past bedtime. Kooky Babs, who usually dogs our every move, is quiet for once. Maybe she's asleep. And old Bess is watching tv in the other wing of the house. Dede and I light some tiny candles in her bedroom. Then she puts a white sheet over one of the twin beds and a tray on the nightstand, which we cover with a white towel. We go into her parents' bathroom for doctor supplies: band-aids, mercurochrome, Q-tips, cotton balls, white washcloths for bandages, a pencil to use for a shot, and one of her father's old stethoscopes. Before we even push open the door to Dede's bedroom, we hear snickering. Babs lies on our makeshift hospital bed with her eyes closed, trembling with pent-up laughter, stark naked, candlelight flickering across her flat chest.
on a doll's head
the hint of thunder
I give Dede a look of disgust. Well at least make her get dressed, I say. Babs yells, No, no, I'll tell. A crazy look in her eyes, she chants louder and louder. I clamp my hand over her mouth, but she bites down hard on my fingers. As I grab her thrashing legs, the door bursts open. Old Bess pauses only a moment before she grabs me by the arm and jerks me away from the bed. You, you devil, you! she shouts, her hairy chin shaking. Babs starts wailing in a falsetto voice, Dede crumples into silence. I didn't do anything, really, I say. Bess shakes me again hard. You nasty, dirty girl. I knew you were trouble the minute I laid eyes on you. Twisting my ear, she drags me down the narrow hall. At the far end, she opens a door, shoves me inside a dark room, and slams the door shut. Keys clank as she locks it from the outside, her footsteps echoing down the hall.
a dog's bark
fills the night
I turn on a lamp in the tiny den, curl up on a leather sofa, cool against my hot cheeks. For what seems like forever, I wait for someone to come hear my side of the story. But no one comes. I cry myself into confusion, start to wonder if I did do something wrong. A sick feeling fills me up inside until I think I might drown. Old Bess' swollen face looms like a red mountain, spittle flying off her pinched lips, her voice ringing in my ears through the long night. I sleep fitfully, wake to the sound of keys jangling. Pale light slips through a crack in the blinds to glint on the door knob.
strange light colors
the sky red
Dede's mother stands there, hands on hips, not saying a word. She doesn't seem mad, not exactly. Come on, get your things, the Doctor's taking you home. In the driveway, Dede tearfully waves. I get into the back of their big fancy car, my overnight case on the seat beside me. Babs dances on the lawn like a goon, laughing and pointing at me. Get back in the house Babs, her father says, not raising his voice. On the short drive home, he says nothing to me, but he doesn't seem angry, just drops me off at my house at the curb. When I go in the front door, my mother, sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee, looks surprised. What are you doing home so early? she says. I don't answer, just trudge upstairs to my dark room, close the door, and throw myself across the bed.
in the abandoned bird nest