She was nine. Maybe ten. I could never keep it straight.
Cynthia would’ve known. But she’s not here anymore.
She was barefoot. I’m not sure why I remember that. It seems unimportant now, but it struck me then. I’m not sure how she got out of the house that way. Her folks tend to be the hovering type. But, however, she wasn’t wearing any shoes when she came skipping around that corner.
She was wearing a white dress. The sort that would look at home as easy at a picnic as it would in a church pew. It skipped with her. I think she might’ve been singing. Not a song like you’d hear on the radio, but one of those chants that kids do while they’re playing games. I suppose that might be what she was doing along the sidewalk that morning—finishing up the world’s longest hopscotch.
Cynthia and I never had kids ourselves. My sisters got a couple each. Her brother had a few. They all got kids of their own now. I just got me.
And I was never much for hopscotch. Not at any age. Feet too big. Not to mention, I got about as much coordination as a cow on stilts. And that ain’t much.
Not her though. No, even then, you could see she had a way about her. A way of moving. A way of slipping herself through the air. Like she could float if she really wanted. If she didn’t love this place so much. If she didn’t have such love for those in it. She could’ve just floated. Up above all our heads. That’s how she skipped.
When I brought Cynthia home from the hospital that last time, she and her mom brought cookies. Everyone else brought a casserole. She brought cookies. Her mom said she’d made them herself too. They were loaded with sprinkles.
I put them away in the kitchen, and when I came back, she was holding Cynthia’s hand and whispering in her ear. Don’t know what she said, but the old girl smiled in spite of all. I cried when they left. Cynthia didn’t notice. Couldn’t.
I thought about popping my head out the door and saying “Hi”, but I didn’t think she would’ve heard me. She was lost in a world I couldn’t see. Probably one that floats up above the rest of us tethered down here. I wished I could’ve joined her. Taken off skipping over air. But, as I said, I never had the grace for it. So I just watched her, and she was a beautiful thing.
Oh, not beautiful like a woman is beautiful. Or a man, if that’s your thing. But beautiful like how the grass glistens in the morning. Or how a breeze will cool your neck on a hot day. Beautiful like all the things we take for granted. Like how the stars twinkle even when we can’t see them.
The rest of the street was pretty quiet. Except for Sir Baskerville. Sir Hugo Baskerville. That’s old Miss Petty’s mutt. She used to teach English. Guess that’s where she got the name. Most in the neighborhood took to calling him Hugo for short, but I never saw why a dog so large should warrant such a shortening. So I always called him by title and family. I figured it couldn’t hurt to be in good standing with him on the off chance he ever happened by while I was holding a steak in my hand.
Cynthia called him Rosey. Because of the way he tore into her bushes once. And only once. She gave that mutt such a hiding he never would come into our yard again. Miss Petty didn’t talk to us for a whole week. Not even a wave while picking the paper up off the driveway. Cynthia smoothed it over by taking her a casserole.
In truth, Sir Baskerville was always a bit of a teddy bear. Loud. But mostly harmless. I say mostly simply cause he had no understanding of how big or strong he was, and that sometimes led to him accidentally hurting some kid that made the mistake of thinking he’d be fun to play with. They usually learned their lesson after just one time too.
I’d seen her with him before though. It’s probably no surprise by now, but she had a way with him. He calmed for her. Showed her his belly. I guess that was the first thing that got me worried. Him barking at her like that.
Without knowing I did it, I’d grabbed the doorknob in my hand and turned it. Then, since the hardest part was already done, I went the rest of the way and walked out on the porch. Like I figured, she didn’t notice me. Neither did Sir Baskerville.
It was about that time old Miss Petty came out. She was still in her nightgown. It was a Saturday after all. Most folks were still sleeping. Except for me and Miss Petty.
She was heading straight for the mutt and didn’t seem to hear at all how it barked at her. Looked mad, he did. I had a fleeting thought that must be it. Rabies. But he wasn’t advancing on her. Just barking. Barking like he was on fire and the sounds from his mouth were water.
Just as she passed that fire extinguisher over there, I happened to look over to the stop sign at Underhill. Underhill. Must’ve been someone’s last name. If it’d been named for geographical reasonings, Downhill would’ve been more apt. Not that it would’ve mattered that day.
Jimmy Potter used to work for me a long time ago. Back when I worked. Back when the plant was still open. I don’t know where he was working then. I’d lost track of the jobs he’d held. He never held them for long. Cynthia had been good friends with his wife. She’s in Oregon or somewhere now. Not here. They divorced back ten years or so. After the plant closed and Jimmy started spending most of his free hours down at the Dock.
It’s not an actual dock. It’s just what we call Shelly’s Pub.
I imagine Jimmy had spent his free hours there that Friday night as well. And he seemed to have a lot of free hours.
His Buick never had a chance taking that turn, and Jimmy never so much as looked at those two red octagons the city put up after we complained that one wasn’t doing the trick. That beast of a machine he drove wasn’t long for the street, and the only thing between it and the Patterson’s house was her.
I was running before she even looked up to see how Sir Baskerville was talking to her. I don’t know if she ever saw Jimmy and his Buick.
The Pattersons moved down from Wisconsin three years ago. Right after Cynthia first got sick. By the time I reached the corner of their porch, where Jimmy’s Buick had finally found something it couldn’t run thru, that little green and yellow garden gnome that stood lineman in front of their petunias was busted into a thousand pieces. When I got round the car, it looked like she’d been busted into more.
Sir Baskerville wasn’t barking anymore. I remember that clearly. It was only silence and gasping engine as I knelt down beside her body. I couldn’t even look at her at first. I just wept. Then I grabbed one of her hands. It was the only part of her that seemed unbroken. Everything else.…
Jimmy got out of his Buick. I heard him fall. “Oh God,” he yelled. “Oh God.”
I wanted to kill him.
“Did I do that? Is she…?” It’s always the worst of us that live, it seems. Jimmy had his chances. Plenty of them. And he screwed up every one. But he’s still here.
“Oh, thank God,” he said. “Thank God.”
That was it. I was gonna kill him. I really was. I was gonna break him like a garden gnome. And I was hopeful Rosey would join me.
“Wow, that’s neat, Mr. Early.”
That’s what she said.
I know, you’re wondering how that could be. I was wondering too. Didn’t seem real. But I looked up and there she was, clear as air and beautiful as ever. Not a bone out of place. I couldn’t believe it. It didn’t make any sense.
“How are you doing that?” she asked.
That’s when I looked down at my hands.
They were still holding onto hers. And they were glowing.
Copyright 2015 Peter Hood Story