We moved here after the divorce so Mom could start college again. I like it ok. Every apartment has a kid and a mom or dad in school. The buildings look like the hotels in Monopoly and we have giant back yards full of us kids, all of us with long hair, even the boys. We don’t have a car anymore so we walk to the co-op for groceries and Mom rides her bike to school.
I was sitting at the little kitchen table, Mom making me write my new last name over and over. I hate my new name. It’s hard to spell and longer than my old name and every time I wrote it my eyes got hotter and the letters blurred and I was mad and sad all together. At last the paper was covered with smeared pencil and my stupid new name and she let me stop.
I grabbed a hunk of cheese from the fridge and folded a slice of bread around it but I was too mad to eat it. I stuffed it in the bib pocket of my overalls, said I was running away and walked out the open back door. As I crossed the patchy grass I was sure I’d never come back.
Mom never said anything.
The high school track butted up against the apartments, and I went there because it was the only place I could think of where no parents ever went. Scrambling up into the covered bleachers, I looked for change and unopened peanuts under the long benches. I found a whole cigarette and held it, pretending to smoke like my grandma did. I ate the six peanuts I’d found and watched a man jog slowly around the track. Bored, I left the shaded bleachers and headed for a metal shed in the middle of the track.
I’d been in this shed before, with my friends Heather and Duffy. We’re all in second grade and walk to school together. Heather lives in the building that faces ours and her parents have a car they painted purple. Duffy lives next door and his mom and mine are friends.
We’d pulled the shed door open and squeezed in past a stack of hurdles. The inside was packed almost to the ceiling with the big black pads that pole vaulters land on, but we were small enough that there was room for us after we climbed to the top. We sat and talked about kids we knew and who we liked and who were liars. Then we played Truth or Dare. Everyone always picks Dare because choosing Truth means you’re a chicken. Heather dared Duffy to kiss me, and even though it was the most disgusting thing ever we touched lips as quick as we could and wiped our mouths with our hands. Duffy dared me to take off my shirt and I did, because I hated wearing one anyway.
When I asked Heather “Truth or Dare?” she surprised me and answered “Truth.”
I asked, “Are you going to tell anyone?”
She looked at me and Duffy. “Maybe.”
We left the shed and walked back to the apartments and played tag in the back yard with the littler kids until it got dark.
Today the shed was sweltering inside, and the black mats were warm and slippery as I climbed up to the top. My t-shirt stuck to my skin so I undid my overalls and took it off and laid flat on my back looking up at the metal roof. An empty mud nest crumbled on a rafter, and I wondered about the bird that made it and why it didn’t live there any more. I thought about my little sister, how one day she found a kitten and played with it until it was time to go inside. She’d tied the kitten to a tree in our tiny front yard with a piece of yarn where it meowed in the darkness. Dana crawled out our bedroom window over and over, but the kitten started crying again when she climbed back into our room. Suddenly the porch light came on and Mom followed the sound and found the kitten.
“Goddammit,” we heard her say through our open window, “fucking kids.”
I remembered wishing as hard as I could that somehow she would be a nice mom and bring it inside, but knowing she wouldn’t. She untied it and shushed it away.
When she opened our bedroom door we pretended to be asleep, but I could see the shine of tears on my sister’s face.
Before I closed the shed door I left the bread and cheese on top of the mats, just in case the bird came back. Then I headed home.
Collin McFadyen is a Queer writer living in North Portland with their wife, two sons, and a wicked cute terrier. They have been published at Subjectiv, Tealight Press, and Kissing Dynamite. Follow them on twitter @crayonsdontrun