by Elizabeth Trundle
Elizabeth Trundle’s writing has appeared in The Georgia Review, Prairie Schooner, The Brooklyn Rail, The Nervous Breakdown, Local Knowledge, and other publications. She tells stories live, and has won The Moth StorySLAM in New York City. As Boo Trundle, she performed and recorded original music, which was released through an imprint of Caroline Records. She gathers her thoughts and other curiosities at ItchyBanquet.com.
- Go Away Little Girl, Donny Osmond, 1971
Katchie Burns spent hours and hours on her neighbor Millicent’s living room floor. The two girls sat and built enormous houses, estates really, out of playing cards. For Katchie, the houses were fun enough once all the rooms were installed, but building them was a chore and a bore and a kind of torture, as a house was just as likely to collapse as endure. But she pretended it was her favorite activity in the world, because she wanted to please Millicent, who was six years old to Katchie’s five, lived right next door, and was her only friend. Once, when Katchie refused to keep building, Millicent bit her arm like a drumstick, right through her sweater and shirt. Two layers, and Katchie still bled.
Millicent Grand had two older sisters who took little interest in Katchie, but Katchie continued to hang around their house whenever she could slip away from her own. One day, a prank caller dialed the Grands’ number. Yvonne, the middle sister, answered the phone. The prank caller said, “How old are you?”
Yvonne answered, “Nine-and-a-half.”
The caller said, “I want to lick between your legs.”
Yvonne hung up and reported what happened to her sisters and to Katchie, who was standing around in their kitchen. It was all very solemn and grim. No giggling or hilarity. The girls knew something bad had happened to Yvonne and since she told them right away, it had happened to them as well. Their mother was out at the store. It was a man, of course, on the phone.
Not long after, the Grands’ dog got hit by a car, and his tail was broken. He could no longer lift it when he went to the bathroom. Millicent asked Katchie to help her pick clumps of dried-up poop out of the scraggly hair on the dog’s broken tail. He was a collie and his hair was long. It was Millicent’s job; her mom gave it to her. When Millicent asked Katchie to help, Katchie should have told her no. But she said yes. Eventually it was just Katchie in the Grands’ garage fumbling with his shitty tail all by herself. Even the dog started to look down on her.
The Grands had an inflatable raft, a little boat, barely seaworthy. One summer day they dropped it over the side of the bulkhead at low tide into the lake and the girls all got in and pushed off. The side of the bulkhead was covered with barnacles, which are really just tiny aquatic razorblades. Katchie was barefoot.
At some point Katchie decided to get out of the boat. It was something cruel that Yvonne had said. Crying from hurt feelings, Katchie scrambled up the barnacle-covered wall, then ran home on shredded feet. She needed stitches, lots of them, to pull everything back together. And that was back when stitches didn’t dissolve into your skin. The doctor had to remove them.
- Stuck in the Middle With You, Stealers Wheel, 1973
Katchie did have one other friend, Anne, but Anne didn’t really count. Her family lived in a white, pointy house with wings like a bird, which stood directly across the lake from Katchie’s. Anne’s mother was a famous failure, a pariah, because she took drugs in the late sixties and slept with a Hare Krishna. There was only one Hare Krishna in town, and he wasn’t very attractive. Hare Krishnas seldom are. Anne’s mother had sex with the Hare Krishna anyway, and she eventually left Anne’s dad and moved into the Hare Krishna’s apartment.
Anne’s father was Bud Burroway. He was rich. His ancestors had once owned the entire peninsula and plenty of slaves; they went way, way back. He was a well–respected attorney. Anne’s problems weren’t his fault. No, they were due to his wife’s choices, all bad ones. At least that was the story that got traction in church and at the country club and on the telephone lines where Katchie’s mother lived.
And what were Anne’s problems? Well, her words came out funny and thick, as if her tongue were numbed. She had stringy blonde hair in an outdated pageboy, coke-bottle glasses, and an overbite. When she was ten, she was shipped off to a special school. What did she think, her parents would keep her?
Her mom was willing to take full custody but Lennie, the Hare Krishna, made a bad impression on the judge. Lennie liked to walk around the apartment naked, huffing on marijuana cigarettes. The judge knew all about this; maybe he had talked to Anne. Katchie knew almost as much as the judge; she was often a guest in Lennie’s apartment. Her mother had thrown her to the Burroways as a consolation prize. After the whole Hare Krishna thing, Katchie’s mom could no longer speak to them. She would lose face with the ladies of the Garden Club and the Junior League.
But everyone agreed it was okay, and even the Christian thing, for Anne and Katchie to continue having playdates. They had been playing together since they were in diapers. Of course when they were babies no one could tell there was something wrong with Anne.
Katchie didn’t refuse. She liked Anne, and Anne always had the best toys, though she didn’t know how to play with them. The toddler kitchenette, the teeter-totter, the pogo stick, the swingset, the trampoline. Katchie went from one to the other while Anne watched.
Anne went to Katchie’s elementary school for a little while, but she couldn’t keep up, and worse than that, the “normal” kids were cruel to her. On the bus, the boys took her lunch and spat on her sandwich and then put the pieces of bread back together. They handed the bag to Katchie to give to Anne.
Katchie sat there on the bus and held the brown paper bag. It was raining, and the bag was wet and starting to tear. The boys were watching to see what Katchie would do. She just sat there and stared out the school bus window. She looked in the bag; there was also a banana in there, all brown and rotten. The smell of it on the bus with the raincoats and the wet sneakers made Katchie feel sick. She gave the bag back to Anne without a warning.
She had to.
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Categories: First Issue