It was summer in Michigan. Which meant my hair was massive with frizz. It was the 1980’s. Which meant that the frizz could work to my advantage.
The problem was that I was the only girl in a neighborhood of boys. And I was starting to develop.
If you know what I mean.
Just about the only thing to do in our neighborhood was hang out and play catch. We’d toss the baseball from mitt to mitt for hours everyday.
“20 Questions,” Mark said one day. “Who’s first?”
“Benji,” I said.
“Aw, come on. I’m always first,” Benji said.
“Just answer the questions, butt breath,” Alex said. “Question 1. Have you ever broken the law?”
“No.” Benji. “You know that! Ask questions you don’t know already.”
“Question 2,” I said. “Who do you want to marry.”
We barraged him with question after question until he got sick of answering questions about poop and girls. It was a most remarkably mature group.
“That’s it. I’m going home.” He dropped his mitt on the ground and kicked it in front of himself all the way out of the back yard.
“Oh, come on, Benji!” Alex. “Don’t be such a sissy!”
We followed him around Mark’s big, two story house. He picked up his mitt and ran across the street to his house.
“You’re being a girl,” I yelled.
We walked slowly toward Benji’s front porch. This was our daily routine. He’d eventually bring out popsicles and everything would be all better.
“Hey, you hear that?” Alex.
The splashing of water sounded from the house right next to Benji’s.
“They’re in the pool,” Mark said. “It’s so hot. I wish they’d let us swim.”
The Dingbats (or at least that’s what we called them) installed a pool four summers before. It was enormous. From end to end, side to side it filled the entire backyard. And it was “in ground”. We’d been sweating to get in that chlorine treated water for all those hot days. But every time we asked for a dip in the pool they’d reject us.
“Can’t let you kids in there. Chemicals are too strong today.” Or, “I just cleaned it. You’d get it dirty.” Or, “Stop coming over here!”
“Let’s go in the tree house,” Mark said.
Benji’s big brothers built that tree house years and years ago. It looked directly over the Dingbat’s pool.
We climbed up the flimsy wooden ladder and peaked out the space in the slats of wood.
“He’s just skimming the leaves out,” I said, watching Mr. Dingbat.
“There aren’t any leaves in there,” Alex.
Benji climbed into the tree, a bag of chips and four cans of cola. “What you guys doing?”
“Thanks for the snacks,” I said.
“Man, sometimes when I watch that jerk cleaning that pool, it makes me so mad. I just want to blow it up.” Mark couldn’t take his eyes off the sparkling water.
“Let’s do it.” Benji shoved a handful of chips into his mouth. “Let’s blow it up. My brother left some old fireworks in his room.”
“Yeah.” Mark. “Let’s do it.”
We concocted an elaborate plan. We’d all wear black, even painting our faces. Our parents wouldn’t even know we were gone after we snuck out our bedroom windows. We’d be back home in our beds before the explosion even happened. We hadn’t considered how to deal with the black make-up we would be wearing.
Not all plans made by 15 year olds are that well thought out.
Benji’s knowledge of explosives startled me. He knew the amount we would need and where they would best be placed. He even had plans for an ignition switch placed in the field behind the Dingbat’s fence. He swore that nothing would be linked to us.
Alex walked me home. He lived a few houses down from me.
“Benji’s not really doing this, is he?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I think he’s just goofing.” Alex.
“But what if he isn’t?”
“Then I guess the Dingbats are going to get it.”
“Are you really showing up there tonight?”
“Yeah. I just wanna see what happens.”
“Me, too.” I smiled. “But I’m not wearing black paint on my face.”
At 1:38 am I climbed out my window, wearing all black.
Alex met me on the sidewalk and we scampered to Benji’s backyard. Mark was there, spreading charcoal on his face.
“Where’s Benji?” I whispered.
“I don’t know. Hasn’t come out yet,” Mark said. “Want some war paint?”
“We aren’t really doing this, are we?” Alex asked.
“Of course we are,” Mark.
“This is so stupid. Somebody’s gonna find out.” I pulled up the hood of my jacket. “We’re gonna go to juvey.”
“Nah,” Mark said. “Benji has all that covered.
“Since when do we trust Benji?” Alex asked.
We heard a window slide up from the house. Then a thud and a crash. Then curse words. Lights turned on.
“Boy, what the hell’re you doin’?” It was Benji’s father.
“Nothing, dad,” Benji said. His voice was high pitched. “Just opening a window.”
“Don’t you lie to me, boy. What you doin’ with them fire crackers?”
“I don’t know.”
We heard the hand smack Benji’s face.
“Wanna change your answer?”
There was another hit.
“What should we do?” I asked.
“Hide. Get in the tree house,” Alex said.
We climbed quietly. All the while we could hear our friend being beaten and yelled at. And the noise of it kept getting louder and louder. So did Benji’s cries for help.
A light flipped on next door. Mr. Dingbat walked out his back door. He looked over the fence, trying to see what the commotion was.
“Hey, psst!” I called to him.
He looked up.
“Up here. You gotta call the cops.”
He nodded his head and went back inside.
When the police arrived and carted Benji’s dad away, we climbed out of the tree. We were questioned. What did we see? Hear? Why were we there?
We were each escorted home by a police officer. My parents were livid. I was grounded for two weeks.
The next week Benji was gone. Like so many people from my childhood, he just went away. There were no cell phones or social networks. There wasn’t even email. We made up our own assumptions. Mark thought he’d moved in with one of his TNT loving big brothers. Alex was convinced that Benji was institutionalized. I just thought his mom needed a new place, to start over.
Mr. Dingbat drained the pool, had it filled in with cement. We never knew why. I think that somehow we realized that we had no right to know.
‘So, did Benji finally get in the pool?’ was what I was thinking. Eerie, like Ballad of Billy Joe and a little H.H. Munro. Keep it up! Love you! Dad
I was in a strange mood when I wrote this one. Kind of a mish mash of memories from Mel Ave. Just think…who had an underground pool on our street? 🙂
Thanks for reading it, Dad! Love you, too!
Hello, Susie. You’re brave, putting your creative writing out there in the middle of everything (anything?) and everyone (anyone?). Braver than I am. You wouldn’t know this from Texas Schmexas, but I, too, am a creative writer. I feel vulnerable just sharing my writing in a monthly writing group. Go you!
I think this story has a lot of potential! I like particularly that it heads in a direction I didn’t expect. And when any story has an unexpected element (whether that be plot or something else), I tend to gravitate towards it. So again, go you!
My main suggestion to you, though of course you haven’t really asked for suggestions, is to spend more time thinking about the narrative voice as you work on revision (I assume you’re one of those people who is always revising–maybe you’re not). What I mean is, from what point in the main character’s later life is the narrative voice speaking? Chronologically, I mean. Though there is quirkiness and personality in the opening lines, they suggest it is an older narrator. But there isn’t much meditation on the moment or regret or adult awareness of childhood events during or after the story. The “we never knew why” might be true, but adults are usually able to perceive meaning as they become distant from childhood events, don’t they? Or we at least view the past through an interpretive lens that gives it meaning. I personally find it hard to tell a childhood story honestly through adult eyes without that lens operating somehow.
Once the plot gets more involved as the story progresses, I wonder if there are moments of disconnect between lines that seem like a child’s voice or awareness in the narration and moments that are the adult narrator trying to remember a childhood event. I might be reading into things though. I’m not sure!
All of that to say, would the story be more powerful if you told it as it were a child narrator the entire time? Maybe so, maybe not. Just a thought you might want to consider.
Thanks for giving me a peek!
Hey, thanks for stopping by, Elizabeth! And for the great suggestions!
I have to admit, I wasn’t all that happy with this story. I was in the weirdest of moods while writing it and didn’t feel “in the grove” (I’m sure you know that feeling). Even as I revised I felt something was far off. I’ll look through it again with your ideas in mind. Thank you!
I’d encourage you to take a look through a few of my other stories (unless you already have). This one was atypical of my writing.
Oh, and I don’t know that I’d call what I’m doing “brave”. It’s more of an experiment. I’d love to see what happens along the way! But thanks for the “atta-girl”! Encouragement is always welcome!