I was nine and Richie had just turned ten--an older man, but safe as an unloaded gun. He must have talked about me with his mother. Who else would have instructed him to extend his hand as we approached the trail that led from the playground, and say “Evelyn, may I walk you home?”
Perhaps she thought it possible I would be kind to her pleasant-faced, sweet son. Women change when they have boy children. Their hearts soften and vision blurs and they forget the primordial laws of the jungle.
I was skinny and blond then. School pictures of that year show me an elfin creature with a serious mouth and overlarge eyes. My hair had been cut short, close to my scalp; some weeks earlier my habitual long braids had dipped into the last campfire of the summer, terrifying my mother into pushing me head first into the lake. One small red oval on my neck where a cinder had rested too long was the only resulting mark on my skin. A trim would have taken care of the singed portion of my braids but the odor of burnt hair had so offended my mother that the next morning she marched us into the Bobette Salon, shoved me into Inga's chair and glared as Inga snipped and snipped. I could see the other hairdressers smirking behind me, in the mirror.
Inga dismissed them with a dangerous wave of her manicured nails and declared me a pixie. Cute, she said and the others slunk away like beaten dogs. I was somehow better as a pixie girl. New clothes appeared in my closet- tiny replicas of Carnaby Street florals and dizzy geometric prints, stiff low-heeled boots made of white imitation leather. I felt hurtled toward some kind of transformation and began to dream that little lick of campfire had been a roar of flaming teeth and tongue. I often woke aching, in twisted bed sheets. Ikept my fevers to myself.
I took Richie's hand and felt nothing until another boy threw rocks at us from behind a battle-scarred maple. The boy cawed and gave my free arm a nasty pull as he ran past.
Where the trail opened out onto the road, I disengaged my hand and shook my head when Richard invited me over. He didn't throw anything at my back, where I was beginning to grow wings.