It has been far too long to remember just what I was doing out in the yard amongst the bees and the dandelions, but it was a glorious spring day. I looked up at a rattle of bicycle fenders to see one of my brother’s chums hop from his bike, leaving its wheel spinning in the grass. “Hey Cricket!” he called, trotting straight up to my brother.
“Hey, what’s up, Ronnie?” I hollered.
They weren’t about to notice a six year old girl. After all, they were all of nine or ten. The screen door to the kitchen clacked shut behind them. I was on my feet at once to find out what they were up to.
“Yea?” said Mom, planting her ball of dough on the bread board as I stepped inside. “And Ronnie’s welcome to stay here and play all afternoon if he wants.”
“But how can he show me his new puppy? His puppy’s at his house. That’s why he came to get me.”
“Take your sister if she wants to go…”
“Or stay here.”
“She ruins everything,” he said, throwing down his cap. “Can’t she go to Kay’s or something?”
“They’re gone for a week, kiddo,” she said, rolling out her dough this way and that. “So how about it Carol? Want to go with Greg and Ronnie to see a new puppy?”
“Sure,” I said, in spite of Greg’s smoldering look as they tramped out the door.
“You need shoes.”
“Can I wear my brand-new red tennis shoes?”
“Oh…try to keep them clean.”
“Goodie!” I cried as I dashed over to their cardboard box on the closet floor to sniff at their new rubber before tying them mercilessly tight, since they were a full size too large. I watched my two feet walk as I stepped outside.
“I’m ready,” I said as I caught up with Greg and Ronnie at the end of the lane.
They kept their backs to me and set out, trading mumbles.
“Hey!” I cried, clopping to keep up. “This isn’t the way to Ronnie’s house. Mom’s going to…
Suddenly Greg wheeled about, giving me a shove that nearly knocked me off balance. “No she isn’t, or I’ll fix you up a whole lot worse.”
“Why would she ever find out?” I said, knowing in my bones that I was still going to pay for this.
“Good! Just stay far enough behind us not to be nosy and keep your mouth shut.” And with that, he and Ronnie resumed their saunter down the buckled sidewalk, past the catbirds and the daffodils, and past the privet and the picket fence which was at last replaced by parking meters and paving brick. They walked into a dime store and bought some candy.
“Could I have some?” I said. “I didn’t bring any money.”
Greg took a big bite of his candy bar. “Then you don’t get any,” he said, thrusting his chewing mouth into my face.
They looked at boy’s toys for some time and then went to the park to spend the afternoon, playing baseball. No one was about to let a girl play. I looked all about for clover in the grass to make bracelets, but there was none. I might have gone home, but Greg would get into trouble and take it out on me.
Presently it was past time to go and Ronnie was convinced that it was at least an hour late. “We’ll take a shortcut,” said Greg with a wave, as he set out at a brisk jog.
I ran along after them until we wallowed through some daylilies and clambered up a bank to the tracks with my side aching. A green heron called, somewhere beyond the chorus of cricket frogs. I could scarcely keep up. I watched the white toes of my red tennis shoes come down upon tie after tie. Once in a while, I’d slip off a tie and stumble. I was falling behind. Just as I heard a train whistle, my toe slipped off the back of a tie into a deep hole, catching me hopelessly fast by the heel and setting me down hard. There was the whistle again. I couldn’t begin to reach my laces. Greg and Ronnie were getting too far away to hear. White hot terror flooded me as I yanked and yanked on my leg.
Suddenly they were running for me, wide eyed and waving their arms. “The train’s behind you!” screamed Greg as he grabbed below my knee and pulled with everything he had. “You idiot sister!” he sobbed as Ronnie heaved from under my arms. Without warning, we were on our sides in the nodding weeds of the steep bank as the train raced by.
“My shoe!” I wailed.
Greg shot to his feet. “I’ll get your damned shoe after the train’s past,” he said, furious that I’d brought tears to his eyes.
Mom met us at the screen door. “Just in time for supper,” she said. “Did you have fun?”
“Yea,” said Greg. “The uh, puppy’s real cute and stuff.”
“Can we get one sometime, Mom?” I caught Greg’s eye. I could see that he was ’way more than merely glad that we got home. He might have had his awful moments, but he would certainly do for a brother.