They’re fighting again. Their voices muffled, distorted like a Charlie Brown special. She can’t make out any specific words or threats; it doesn’t matter. She knows exactly what they’re saying. So do the neighbors. As do the police, who will undoubtedly be called. She looks at the small clock on her apple-crate desk and smirks. One thirty. Early today. Must be really important this time. Young as she is, she knows sarcasm well. Part of her DNA. Maybe the best part.
She glances at the clock again and closes her eyes in frustration. Never look at the clock twice. You know better. But, it’s too late. It’s story time now. I bet it’s a fairy tale. Miss Matthews loves fairy tales and happy endings. I wish I could still g-
She slams her open hands on the warped, uneven wood floor, stands up, walks to the single window. She leans her forehead against the cool glass, closes her eyes. No more thoughts like that. School’s gone. And it’s my fault.
The memory comes up strong, grabbing her like a riptide. Her first and last parent conference. Miss Mathews explaining her concern about “unusual” classroom behavior.
The mother’s eyes narrow with suspicion, wondering if the girl has said anything, but not really worried. She’s been warned too many times.
“She’s been playing with dolls a lot, a boy doll and a girl doll. And, um-”
The young teacher stops, tries to remember something, anything, from her recent classes that might help her through this, instead feels sweat drip from her armpit and down her side.
The mother, puzzled, irritated, waits, simmers.
“Did she hit someone with them? Or damage them?”
“No, no, no. She was playing ‘house’, and she was holding one in each hand, and the dolls were having a conversation and, um, she was, uh, growling.”
The teacher nods, knows she sounds like an idiot, plasters on a smile, continues.
“Yes. She would make, uh, muffled-like noises, with the girl doll and then growl with the boy doll. Like this, um, mmpphh-mppphh-mmmpphh, then, grrrrrrrrrr, grrr, grrrrrr, rowr, grrr-”
The teacher’s face is red and hot. She wipes some spittle off her lips, holds her breath. The mother is stunned, then recovers. This is why I was woken up and dragged down here? My girl may be nuts, but this “teacher” is a-
“I guess I don’t understand what the-“
“I know, I’m sorry. This is, um, I asked why the dolls were making those noises, instead of using words. ‘They’re fighting,’ she said.”
The mother is silent at first, unsure of where this is going.
“I guess I don’t-“
Miss Mathews holds up her hand. “She said, ‘That’s what Mommy and Craig sound like when I’m under my bed.’”
Miss Mathews straightens her spine, glares at the mother.
“Do you have any idea what your constant fighting is doing to your daughter?”
Things disintegrate from there. Voices rise, threats spill out, little hands cover tiny ears, the conference ends. After arriving home, the mother promptly moves her daughter to the attic.
“I hope you enjoyed your time at school, sweetie, cause you’re done. I’m not getting called down there every time my nutso daughter starts growling, or whatever.”
She doesn’t let them know, but she loves the attic. She can barely hear a thing. Usually. Plus, it’s higher, puts her that much closer to where she wants to be.
A high-pitched scream, almost like a warrior cry, followed by a crash, makes her jump just a little, and forces thoughts of school from her tiny head. Grunting, she pushes open her window, waits. With a half-smile, she counts with her fingers. One, two, three, NOW. Sure enough, he storms out the front door. Halfway through the unkempt yard, he turns back, his face a dark red. Simultaneously she turns from her window, a large, matching, fake frown on her face. They each point an index finger, shake them with every threat, then follow with language no seven-year-old should be hearing, let alone mimicking. She turns, tossing her blonde curls, skips back to the window, not wanting to miss her favorite part.
His long strides, coupled with the heavy material of his coveralls, send Dandelion wisps tilting, then floating across the yard, rising higher and higher. She smiles and picks one. With wide, bottle-green eyes she tracks it, wondering where it will take her this time.
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