When the knock came, Nora had nothing left to do. She’d already played in the front yard under the tree, already sprayed water into the oscillating fan, and she’d finished her book. Her friends next door, Peggy and Lisa were at their grandma’s for the weekend.
‘Do you want to come over and play?’ Chrissy stood with her foot on the threshold, poised to step into the house. ‘We can go swimming. My mom said you could spend the night.’
‘I have to ask my mom.’ Nora closed the door part way. ‘Mom!’ She hoped her mom wouldn’t answer. Swimming, though. Could be fun.
Nora turned back in relief, ready to shrug and say she guessed her mom wasn’t home.
Then her mom called from the back of the house. ‘What honey?’ Her steps light as she came to the door. ‘Oh, hi Chrissy.’
‘Can Nora spend the night? We’re going to swim.’ Nora knew there was no getting out of it now.
Nora’s mom smiled. ‘Sure. Sounds fun.’
Nora bit down on her misgiving. Chrissy’s dad often frowned when he looked at Nora, and Chrissy could be mean, calling her ‘butterball’ sometimes.
Her mom nudged Nora’s shoulder.
‘I’ll go get my stuff.’
The two girls walked down the sidewalk, flip flops singing *smack*, *smack*, *smack*. Nora’s dark blue sleeping bag was tucked under her arm. The hum of grasshoppers floated in the hot, dry air.
‘My mom is making spaghetti tonight,’ Chrissy said.
Nora nodded. “Ok.”
The pool was clear and blue. She and Chrissy cannonballed, they dove to the drain at the bottom, they raced from one end to the other. They sat on towels, warming themselves in the sun. Chrissy’s dog, a dark eared German Shepherd named Pepper, sprawled in the shade under the mulberry tree. Nora wondered if she was hot. Usually Pepper looked fierce, sometimes barking at her, but not today.
‘Does Pepper ever go in the pool?’ Nora thought it would be fun to see Pepper paddling side to side. Her own dog, Ferber, liked rolling in puddles.
Chrissy shook her head, her dark hair plastered to the side of her face.
‘No, my dad says her hair clogs the filter. He’ll be home soon and we can ask him if we can watch a movie tonight.’
‘Can’t we just ask your mom?’
‘No, my dad has to make sure it’s a good family movie.’
Nora wanted to ask why her mom couldn’t decide about the movie, but she dreaded the answer.
The spaghetti was runny and bland.
Once, a friend of her parents had come for dinner. She had marveled at Nora’s review of
‘One can hope,’ her dad had smiled with pride.
Nora ate more bread. After dinner, she and Chrissy helped clear the table and Chrissy’s dad went to his office.
Chrissy’s mom, Mona, said, ‘Go play. I’ll finish here,’ a sheen of perspiration on her brow.
Mona was Swiss and Nora wondered if she missed the Alps, the jagged snowy peaks.
The girls went into Chrissy’s room where Chrissy had an impressive collection of plastic model horses. Nora had three herself, but Chrissy’s collection was pristine. These horses were never tossed high into the branches of a silver maple, or galloped across the lawn, chipping their black hooves.
‘Do you still want to watch a movie?’ Nora sighed as Chrissy sealed the lonely plastic horses in their cases.
‘Okay. Let’s go ask my dad.’
Mr. Parr’s office was at the end of the hall. The door was open, but Chrissy stayed in the hallway. ‘Daddy?’ Chrissy leaned in.
Mr. Parr sat at his desk looking over papers, his dark framed glasses perched on his nose. He was mostly bald, only a fringe remained, but he had combed threads of hair over the top of his white, freckled scalp.
‘Chrissss…’ He issued a low warning.
Chrissy’s bare toes had crossed the seam of the hall carpet and the linoleum in his office. She inched back.
‘Can we watch a movie? Lady and the Tramp? It’s on at 7:00.’ Chrissy kept her voice just above a whisper.
Nora wanted to pinch Chrissy, make her shout.
Mr. Parr lowered the papers and sighed. ‘Alright, tell your mom I said it was ok.’
Nora usually liked watching the movie at home with her little brother Jimmy. He had a deep, round belly laugh. But Chrissy didn’t laugh, didn’t talk.
Getting ready for bed, Nora asked if Pepper would come in at night. She loved the feeling of her dog sleeping at her feet. A pang of home sickness hit her.
‘No, Pepper doesn’t come in at night,’ Chrissy replied. ‘She has her dog house.’
Nora fell asleep wishing she could make pancakes with her dad in the morning.
She woke to the sharp sound of a dog barking, then yelping. Chrissy was still asleep in her bed. Nora was on the floor, her sleeping bag rumpled. She sat up. There it was again, yelping. Nora walked to the empty kitchen. The drapes on the back sliding door were open and the morning sun streamed in.
Mr. Parr bent over Pepper, his dark green bathrobe open, sides flapping like two wings. He raised a piece of garden hose and brought it down on Pepper’s haunch. Nora hit the glass door with her open palm. But Mr. Parr didn’t turn, he didn’t stop. He raised the hose again, threads of hair flopping against his ear.
Nora imagined ripping the hose away, but she ran to Chrissy’s room and scooped up her belongings. Chrissy sat up, blinking.
Nora wanted her mom. She wanted her mom to rage, to march down the street and rescue Pepper, to tell Mr. Parr where he could go. Most of all, Nora wanted to be brave, but her fury caught in her throat. Instead, she ran home, her feet light and swift over the morning cooled pavement.
About the author
Beth Ghiorso runs, writes and reads in Northern California. She lives by the river with her husband and two dogs and enjoys visiting her grown children. Her writing has been published Spillwords.com
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