Marion de Booy Wentzien
Christina, the daughter of a milkman, sat on the bottom step of two concrete stairs that led to the weed-strewn lump of a yard. It was the last day of September, hot, dry. A slow torture.
Across the slatted wood fence she could hear splashing in the neighbor’s pool. An old liquid amber tree leaned across the six-foot fence--the bottom half on their side, part of the top half overlooked the Beans’ yard.
Her father and Joseph Bean, the neighbor, fought about the tree. Joseph didn’t want the damn thing hanging over his yard, shading the pool during the summer and dropping endless leaves in the fall. He hacked at two limbs, until her father came out and threatened to sue. Joseph Bean had said go ahead, and kept sawing. Finally her father swore he’d climb the fence and shit in the pool every night if Joseph didn’t leave his tree alone. That threat worked. The tree stood--partially amputated, but alive.
Christina’s father got up at 1:00 a.m. daily to deliver milk. He returned home around noon, grabbed a Seagram’s 7 and drank straight from the bottle until he fell asleep.
Joseph Bean worked construction all day and sometimes into the evening. Christina could hear the ragged sound of the old convertible he drove coming down the street. Both men’s wives had fled years ago.
“Hey!” The voice was thin and male.
Christina flinched and pulled the hem of her blue dress down to cover her legs.
Joseph Bean’s son, Danny, perched on the fence, his hand resting on a naked half-branch of the liquid amber. His green and yellow plaid shorts were wet and his skinny chest dripped water. She and Danny were in the 9th grade together but they never spoke. The only class they shared was Geography.
“Aren’t you hot? No one’s home. You wanna come swimming?”
Christina jumped up and ran into the kitchen. The screen door slammed. She stood still, terrified that she’d woken her father. Her heart stopped racing once she heard snores coming from his bedroom. Safe; no rage.
Slowly she began their supper, peeling new potatoes, cutting up green beans, frying hamburgers. The heat in the windowless kitchen was hell.
The next day the sun sat squarely in the sky like the opening to a giant oven. Danny appeared again. This time straddling a different branch of the tree, a leafy one that hung over on her side of the fence. “Come swimming. If you don’t have a suit--wear your undies.”
Danny was standing in her yard under the shade of a lower branch when she came out the following day. “I know you can talk,” he said, grinning. “I’ve heard your Dad shouting. I’ve heard you answer.”
Christina stared at him, frowned.
“You’re the only one in class who knows where Madagascar is.”
She hunted for words but found none. She liked maps of exotic places, loved imagining a world beyond this one.
“These houses are made like cardboard—like crap.” Danny waved behind him to the roof of his house and then pointed at the roof of hers. “When I can leave this place, I’m going to live where it rains all the time. My house will be made of bricks with a thick roof that never needs repairing.”
“I’m going to be a magician. You want to see a trick?” Danny folded his left thumb into his palm and covered it with his other hand and pretended to be drawing out a very, very long thumb.
As he came closer, she studied his curly brown hair and dark brown eyes. “You’re so pale.” He reached out and touched her cheek. She drew back a little. “Are you really Snow White?”
“Maybe.” Christina felt her heart open. She imagined Danny holding her. She imagined learning how to swim. She imagined a brick house in a country where it rained all the time. And, when she sat in the front row at all his magic shows, she’d be the first to clap.
Marion de Booy won The New Letters Literary Award and The Pen Syndicated Fiction Award (twice). One of her stories was performed recently in the Stories On Stage in Chicago. Her work has appeared in Seventeen, The San Francisco Chronicle, Sonora Review, Blue Penny Quarterly, Prime Number, The Stone Hobo, The Quotable, Citron Review, Future Cycle and other literary journals.
She lives with her husband and some rescued animals in Saratoga, CA.