Copyright (c) 2018 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
At first her heart had been pounding. Now Christine Louise Brown stood with her back to the cinder-block wall trying to act casual. She was embarrassed. Her best friends: Nancy, Beth and Susan had all been asked to dance by seventh-grade boys standing nervously at the visiting-team side of the gymnasium. As the minutes dragged on and science teacher Mr. Duff played Beach Boys and Beatles on his portable 45 RPM record-player, all three returned breathless only to be asked to dance again by different boys. Christy slowly felt the happiness draining out of her life. Last year in sixth grade she had been very popular with other girls because her mother designed and sewed custom made attire for her collection of Barbie Dolls … now all anyone wanted to talk about was boys. Christy looked anxiously toward the group of young men. There must be someone who wanted to dance with her!
Hadn’t her grandfather always told her she was the cutest little bug he had ever seen as he swung her from his arms in the backyard by the tree-house? Hadn’t her real father called her an angel as he brought her presents for her tenth, eleventh and twelfth birthdays? What was wrong with the pink polka-dot dress she was wearing? Her mother had promised that she looked adorable in it … even with her mask of red freckles. The laughter from the girls on the dance floor was beginning to hurt her ears. She hadn’t started wearing makeup yet but neither had Nancy and Susan. Only Beth did and she painted her lips with a transparent pink that looked almost as if she were wearing ChapStick.
Mr. Duff started playing old-stuff, a five year old ballad by Mark Dinning. With tears stinging her eyes, Christy walked alone toward the mirror in the girl’s bathroom. A shadow skittered across her path but she was in too much pain to care. It was cold. For a teenager, the worst injuries are not physical but social. The cuts don’t bleed but the scars are deep and last forever. A shadow moved just beyond her line of sight. Her foot tripped on something and she almost fell. When she looked around … the floor, up and down the empty hallway, there was nothing there. What just happened?
The blanched-red face that stared back from the large mirror hung over a row of six sinks was not hers. How could it be? She’d never been this unhappy in her life. She crinkled her nose and tried to look ugly. There was not a great change. Someone came in behind her and she pretended to wash her hands … over and over again. She didn’t look up to see who it was. Would they ever leave? Finally the door opened and then closed again. She was alone … but somehow this was worse.
There was nothing to do but go back to the gym. When she returned to her lonely place by the wall, Teen Angel was just ending. She’d only been gone three minutes.
As the year progressed things only got worse. Things were always going wrong like it was a curse. Her stepfather, David Monroe, lost his job at the Cloverdale Five and Dime. Her mother didn’t give a reason, she just took a swing-shift job at a local cannery, six nights a week, to make ends meet. Filling tin-cans with chunks of chicken and sodium water and running them through a machine that cut her fingers and sometimes sealed them against lids for a dollar twenty-five an hour. That meant her mother was never in the house when Christy walked home from school. Midas, the golden retriever her real father had given her for her ninth-birthday died suddenly without cause. The Vet said sometimes these things just happened.
Christy overheard the neighbor Mrs. Green gossiping to the postman as she was raking leaves near the backyard fence. Thelma Green told Bob Anderson that David, her step-father had been caught embezzling. Christy wasn’t entirely sure what the word meant but she was almost certain it mean stealing.
Dave began drinking shortly after his lay-off. At first just one or two Coors a night … then six … and finally ramped it up to twelve. Now there were at least seven empty bottles of Blue Goose vodka in the trash plus empty beer-cans, each time she rolled it out to the curb for Thursday pickup.
The fights usually began when her mother returned from work each night at twelve-thirty and often went on most of the night. The yelling was loud and three times the police had been called to quiet things down. Early mornings were filled with sobbing and promises … always promises … that this was the last time.
There was no one to talk to at school about her troubles. School had its own set of tortures. The group of girl-friends she’d had for years suddenly broke up and scattered each time she approached their circle. She became isolated … a loner. What she wore no longer mattered. Her dresses were often wrinkled and dirty. It was as if she had some invisible disease that everyone but her could see. Christy began to fail every test. Half of her assignments were not even turned in. She thought more and more about finding a quick way out of her endless misery … whatever it took.
She remembered the first day he walked through the school … everyone did. It was the fall of sixty-eight, the beginning of her junior year. He was bursting with self-confidence. Every girl’s eye followed as he strolled past. You could feel euphoria radiating outward like some kind of nuclear fusion. Light brown hair and eyes the color of summer skies hung over a smile that made your legs weak. He was every girl’s dream date. You wanted to reach out and touch him … feel the energy and the magic … and a few of the bolder cheerleaders did. He had an electrical magnetism that attracted people. He had the best seat with the most popular students in the cafeteria. If there wasn’t a place for him … they made one. He tried out for the varsity football team even though the other players had been practicing for a month and was easily selected first-string Quarterback and team Captain.
Christy remembered Johnny Lang’s first week at Cloverdale High School very well. He was certain to become someone’s dream … but would never in a zillion years be hers. That was the week she decided to end it all … but how?
Mom was home for once when she walked in the door from school. It was Friday. Her stepfather was in the living room drinking vodka and orange juice and watching Star Trek re-runs on TV. Mother reached in her pocket as she took off her work apron and handed Christy a quarter. “Why don’t you go to the drugstore and get yourself a fountain drink,” she whispered.
Christy took the money from her mother’s scalded-red hands and slowly walked outside. Mom wanted her out of the house for some reason … another fight coming? It was too early for that. She walked slowly toward Townsend Avenue. Perhaps an Iron-port and Cherry, the large size for fifteen cents would help her decide the best way to end things. It had to look like an accident … anything else would break her mother’s heart. The rest of the money could go for candy. Why should she care about pimples?
She stopped to pet a friendly dog that jumped on her playfully. A shadow moved just beyond her line of sight. A dog tag or something clinked on the cement. Mrs. Dern came out on her porch and called her pet inside. Her scowl said now the dog would need a bath … Christy had touched it.
The sun was just in the right position to glint off from the city water tower. A ball of welded steel big as a house supported by six, ninety-foot tall girder-beam legs made the Cloverdale public works structure look like one of the monster-sized alien machines from the War of The Worlds movie. Someone had climbed the dizzying ladder, probably the night before, and had written Class of 70 with red spray paint in letters above the walkway railing that had to be seven foot tall. Christy shook her head, scaling that tower was about the most dangerous and scary thing she could think of doing … then she looked again.
Douglas Bond was working behind the counter when Christy walked into the drug store. He was bent over talking to Nancy and Susan. They were all laughing. None of them looked up as she sat on one of the revolving stools at the far end. The laughter stopped and Doug was walking toward her wiping his hands on a white-cloth towel. Her voice sounded mousey even to her own ears. “I’ll have an Iron-port and Cherr…” Christy reached inside her coat pocket … and the quarter was gone. She tried the other pocket … then she searched her after-school jeans. Nothing! Embarrassment was spreading across her face like a grass fire on a windy day.
“I’m sorry,” she stammered “I don’t know where my money went.”
She got up slowly from the stool, determined not to run. Her eyes scanned the rows of penny-candy placed opposite the long counter; afraid to look at the faces she used to know. Just as she opened the door she heard the sounds of contained laughter bursting like party balloons. Her feet flew down the sidewalk and across Townsend Avenue without looking … hoping to hear a screech of tires and that final thump from a speeding car or large-truck anything with the power to kill. A shadow moved just beyond her line of sight. The normally busy street was empty … her bad luck!
The house was empty too when she got home. Just as well! Christy didn’t think she could stand listening to another fight from her parents. She looked at a photograph of her real father which she kept on her dresser top. He was wearing hip-waders and holding a pole in one hand and a string of trout caught from the Cottonmouth River in the other. The smile on his face made Christy cry. It had been two years since she had heard from him. South America she thought … working for an oil company. Just as well. He wouldn’t recognize her now … she had become a stranger … even to herself.
She set the alarm for three AM. Cloverdale’s only on–duty police officer would be snoozing by that time in the used car lot next to the VFW building. His idling patrol car would be hidden among those for sale, waiting to catch that one illusive, legendary and ever convenient for napping - midnight speeder.
Christy didn’t need the alarm. She lay awake until it was time … praying. Not for a change in circumstances, God always drove past her wretched life on the way to a better one, but for the strength to end it all.
At one minute to three she shut off the alarm so it wouldn’t buzz and grabbed her coat. Mom and Dave still were not home? Where could they have gone? It didn’t matter. Nothing did anymore. There was a can of yellow spray paint in the garage … half full. It would be … enough she only had to write a few letters. Let people know she was there … that she had once lived.
The ladder began about fifteen feet off the ground but someone, a city-worker obviously, had parked a garbage truck directly beneath it. By standing on top of the cab Christy was able to reach the bottom rung.
The first ten feet were the worst. Several times she stopped and almost started down. Her hands were bone white and numb from gripping the rungs so tightly. Only the memory of the door in the drugstore opening and the burst of laughter behind her made her go on. Those girls had been her closest friends once. Where did everything go? Was she really changed? What about her real father? He hadn’t even been around. How did he know to avoid her even from thousands of miles away? Each breath was a cry that no one could hear. Soon everything would be over. The can of spray-paint in her coat pocket banged against her leg. It felt lighter. A leak? No, everything was getting lighter. This had to look like an accident a mistake in judgment. She climbed.
Another twenty feet and strangely she began to feel better. Domed rays from streetlights streaming downward made her think of dandelions gone to seed … in a dark and mysterious garden. Distant car lights … fireflies dancing above leafy bushes. She cried … and she climbed.
The stars were somehow closer, rivets on an infinitely large, celestial-net spread wide and ready to catch her and sweep her all the way up to heaven if she should … when she fell. The last twenty feet she was racing up the metal ladder becoming a child once more … laughing … climbing an apple tree to get a kite caught in the branches during her fifth birthday party. This was right … this was the way her world unfolded!
The walkway wrapped around the center of the huge metal ball … a giant’s belt with railings that came almost to her waist. Don’t look down! A spinning sickness worse than the flu. The wind rippled her red-hair out behind her … a flag in a storm.
Christine shook the can of spray paint. She would have to move to the rear side to escape the wind. A shadow moved just beyond her line of sight. Else it would foul the letters. Anyway that’s where Class of 70 was written.
She’d laid awake thinking of what to write … something that let everyone know she was here even though they’d shut her out of their world. Christine finally decided an and me in tiny yellow letters next to the large red ones would suffice. A person would have to look closely from the street to even see them. It somehow fit and was appropriate. No person had looked close enough to see her … not for years!
She thought her hands would be shaking … but they didn’t. The letters were carefully constructed and seemed to become part of the Class of 70 logo … like well-made graffiti. Christine was oddly proud … it had been years since she’d done anything right. She dropped the can on the metal floor and kicked it toward the edge. It might appear to an investigator that she was reaching for it and lost her balance … went over the low railing.
She put one foot on the railing and then quick without thinking the other. Vertigo! Her arms wind-milled for a moment as she caught her balance. Her heart was pounding like at the seventh grade dance. Christine closed her eyes and lifted one foot … she was a child again … smiling …there were presents to be opened … singing … friends … and she jumped.
TO BE CONTINUED … ???