Sunday, August 2, 2015
1st 5 Pages August Workshop - Hartley
Name: Erin Foster Hartley
Genre: YA Contemporary
Title: Skylar’s Kids
Portia’s pudgy five-year-old belly heaves under her t-shirt as she sizes me up. “I’m not supposed to talk to strangers,” she says.
“I’m not a stranger. I live next door.” I point to my yard like that’ll help make my case. The grass needs mowing, which I’m sure my dad will ride my ass about when he gets home.
“Why do you have those things in your ears?” she asks.
“Because they’re cool.” I just went up a gauge on my plugs this morning, and they hurt like hell. I nod to the stuffed animal in her lap. “I like your unicorn.”
She frowns and picks at the tag hanging off its shabby gray leg. “You go to the big kids’ school.”
“That’s right. But even big kids can like unicorns.”
She doesn’t seem to question this. “I have better ones,” she says. “I’m not allowed to bring them outside. Aunt Peggy got me one with wings for my birthday.”
“That’s a Pegasus,” I tell her. “Do you know what the plural of Pegasus is?”
Her blond curls sway as she shakes her head.
She giggles at this. “Do you want to come in and play?”
I glance over my shoulder. Except for a cat walking down the sidewalk across the street, the block is empty. “Yeah, sure.”
The screen door creaks as she opens it, and it slaps shut behind us. “Portia?” a voice calls from the other side of the house. “Is that you?”
“Yeah, Mommy,” Portia shouts. “I’m going to play in my room with a friend now.”
I follow her up the stairs. The toes of her socks hang off her feet, and I watch as they flop and twist against the thick carpet. I imagine her tripping, me wiping blood from her lip, drying her tears.
Her room is painted Pepto-Bismol pink. Toys and books are scattered everywhere. I nearly trip over a pile of crayons on the floor, grinding burnt sienna into the rug with the heel of my combat boot. A white wicker dresser stands under the room’s single window. Portia plops down next to a pile of stuffed animals in the corner and grabs the winged horse. “Her name is Penelope.”
I sit cross-legged next to her. “Can I see her?”
Portia hands Penelope over along with a tiny plastic comb. I brush the toy’s tail as she selects a tiger from the pile. “Grrr…” She pushes the tiger’s face up to Penelope. “I’m gonna eat you.”
“No, no!” I say in a silly falsetto. Then, in my regular voice, “Wait — what kind of sound does a Pegasus make?”
Portia whinnies with delight and jumps to her feet. She makes the tiger run along the edge of the dresser and jump to her bed. I get up and follow her.
“Your dad left early this morning,” I say as they circle the room, our animals trotting across every bare surface of furniture.
Portia stops suddenly and reverses course. “He works in an office.”
“I know that.” I kidnap Barbie from her Dreamhouse and make her ride Penelope across the windowsill. I notice the window is unlocked. “Is he coming home early, too?”
She shrugs and makes the tiger nip at Barbie’s bare leg. I decide not to press the issue and continue playing with Portia in silence until there’s a knock on the door.
“Would you girls — oh!” Mrs. Davidson’s face spasms with shock before spreading into a smile. “Edgar, I didn’t expect to see you here. How are you?”
“Fine, Mrs. Davidson. Portia was just showing me her Pegasus.”
“I see.” If this seems odd to her, she doesn’t show it. “How are your parents? I’ve been meaning to invite you all for dinner again, but I’ve been so busy with this deadline.”
We’ve had dinner with the Davidsons a grand total of one time, and that was a year and a half ago. My parents and them don’t exactly run in the same social circles, so I figure gestures like that are more about good-neighbor-karma points than wanting to be friends. Mrs. Davidson is some sort of writer, younger than my mother by at least ten years. Her long blond hair is twisted in a messy knot at the top of her head, and it occurs to me now that she’s kind of hot.
“They’re fine,” I say, glancing down at the toys in my hands. I must look ridiculous. I put Barbie and Penelope on the bed.
“That’s good.” Her eyes go distant for a second before refocusing. “I made some sandwiches if you want to come downstairs. They’re just jelly, since Portia’s allergic to peanuts.”
We all go down to the kitchen. Portia and I sit at the huge center island with the marble top my mom wouldn’t shut up about the first time she saw it. Copper pots and pans hang from a metal rack overhead, and they clang together like chimes as Mrs. Davidson brings over our plates. The crusts have been cut off the bread, the sandwiches cut into neat little triangles. They’re almost too perfect to eat.
“How’s school going?” she asks, pouring us some soy milk. My glass is tiny — more like a double shot glass — with a drawing of a ladybug on it. “Are you in ninth grade this year?”
“Tenth.” I realize I’m staring at her cleavage and look away. “Mind if I use your restroom?”
“Of course,” she says, too wrapped up in recapping the milk to notice my perviness. “You remember where it is, don’t you? Just down the hall, first door on your left.”
A chemical flower scent hits me as I pass the bathroom, but I don’t go in. At the second door, I flip the light switch, and my eyes go immediately to the big wooden cabinet in the corner.
There they are. Just like before, when Mr. Davidson showed them off to my dad. The 12-gauge Winchester 1200 pump-action military shotgun. The 9mm Browning. And the star of the collection: the 9mm Uzi semiautomatic. My dad—a bleeding-heart liberal with a giant anti-NRA stick up his ass—was not impressed, but I was. I sucked up every detail and specification he rattled off like a sponge. The Uzi was the same kind of gun used by the Israeli Military. He’d had the hammer of the Browning altered so it wouldn’t pinch the web of skin between your thumb and forefinger (a design flaw that I bet hurts like a son-of-a-bitch). You could even attach a bayonet to the end of the Winchester for close combat. I could hardly believe it when he offered to take me out to the range someday to try them out. Of course, Dad shot that offer down and that was the end of it.
God, they’re beautiful.
The cabinet’s locked, no doubt. But where the keys are stashed is a mystery for another day.