The Girl in the Brown Frock
Posted by Jessablue, Feb 17, 2009. 1958 views. ID = 2361
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She wasn't beautiful, but the way she smiled she couldn't possibly know. He had taken to watching her from behind the yellowed paper that he'd found in the shrubbery outside of the shop. She spotted him once in a while, a scabby elbow poking the ribs of her giggly friends. They were always giggling, those girls. He liked the sound and he liked how he could always hear hers above the rest.
Sometimes she'd bat her eyelashes and his cheeks would flush and he'd shove his nose into the newsprint. He liked when she could see him, but he hated when she noticed him. She was an angel and he was a sinner who sinned with her face in mind.
Once in a while she would skip into the shop. The door would burst open and the little gray bells would jingle and she'd prance in singing a tune. She'd crouch down in front of the ice cream counter and he could hear her little pink toes squeak on the linoleum tiles. She never bought anything, but he knew her favorite flavor was cherry. Twice while cleaning the counter he found a smudge of lip gloss in front of the cherry. He pressed his lips on the glass and felt her rosy mouth and sun burnt nose.
She lived in one of the tenements across from the shop. On summer afternoons, when the streets were too hot to play on, she would dangle her thin, unshaven legs out of a window, wiggling her toes. She was frisky, always getting into trouble, especially with that loud, heavy chested woman. He hated that woman, that slob who laid her hands on his light. She wasn't the mother, he was sure of that. The way her thick, red face would flush purple when she yelled; how she'd gasp for air trying to swat the child, and the way her gut heaved and rolled when she walked. No, the girl was a treasure. He liked to imagine that she was born from the sky, captured by the piggish matron and forced to have her wings pinned so that she wouldn't fly away.
One Thursday, when the Sacred Boys of Christ let out, the boy pocketed his tram fair and headed towards Fifty-Third Street. It was a long walk and by the time he reached Forty-Sixth, the afternoon sun was just barely hanging above the buildings. His mother would be angry that he'd missed supper, but he'd tell her that he missed the tram, which wasn't a true lie. Anyway she'd believe him once he showed her the coin.
The weather was unusually drafty for September. The wind began to pick up, blowing leaves and trash around his ankles. A crinkled toffee wrapper stuck to the bottom of his shoe. He pulled it off and found a sticky half circle of cherry on the leather. He scraped his shoe but the candy wouldn't come off and he'd only managed to scuff his new loafers.
A few automobiles drove by slowly, but he was careful not to look at the drivers. At Fiftieth and Northport, he hurried along the fence surrounding Digby Park. The carny booths were boarded shut and grass grew in tall clusters through the cracked cement walkways. One of the carousel horses had been stolen and the rest were gray and peeling. The top of the Ferris wheel was carpeted with salt from the wind that blew in from the harbor. Several gulls flew in and out of a rusted gondola that lay tangled in the spokes. The entire place reeked of decay and the boy was keen to leave it behind.
At Fifty-First and Northport he came to Mallory Plaza. A pair of gray percherons stood listlessly on the street as their coachy slept with his tipped over his eyes. An empty bottle of gin lay beneath a carriage wheel. The faint melody of Madame Butterfly drifted away from the brightly lit hall. Large palladian windows exposed mustachioed men with bow ties and stately women wearing white gloves. The women covered their painted lips as they laughed. The boy looked down at his cherry coated loafers and trotted on.
At half past eight he rounded the corner of Fifty-Second. He knew of an alley behind a new housing complex where he thought he'd have a good view of her street. He jogged past a row of neglected townhouses, but stopped short when he heard a familiar giggle. He was taken off guard to see the girl standing a few yards away. She had on a patched brown frock with two large pockets at the waist. The hem ended abruptly a few inches above her scrawny knees and the sleeves had been precariously ripped away, revealing pointy shoulders. Thin strands of auburn hair spilled down her neck and across her collarbone. Instead of her usual unshod feet, she wore a pair of yellow slippers that might have once been gold. She stood in front of a dilapidated porch with a roof that threatened to collapse. A gray sign was posted on a peeling iron railing, stating that the house was scheduled for demolition.
The boy dived for cover behind a crumbling garden wall as the street lamps flickered twice and turned on. The light shone onto the porch, and illuminated a man leaning against the front door. The boy recognized him at once, he was one of the workers from the Northport shipyard. A loud and grubby group of men, the workers had a habit of pelting stones from behind the yard wall at schoolboys ill-fated enough to misplace their tram fair.
The man on the porch wore a discolored white undershirt that was lose around his shoulders and tight across his belly. His beard was scraggly and ran halfway down his throat. An eight panel hat hung haphazardly over his left ear. His bushy mouth turned up at the corners, giving him a permanent smirk. One of the corners was presently occupied by a fat cigar.
The man spoke to the girl, but the boy was out of earshot. He craned his neck to hear more, but dared not move for fear that he be noticed. He watched the scene before him in earnest, feeling his hands begin to sweat.
The girl let loose a string of endless giggles that were joined by a brassy cackle from her companion. Her hands were resting on her hips, two thumbs twirling the fabric of her frock. She flounced up the porch steps and ambled closer to the man, who flicked his cigar in her direction. A few of the gray ashes wafted gently onto her open shoulders. She shrieked and hopped around, frantically brushing the cinders off of her skin, still giggling, always giggling. The man stuck a paw out and grabbed the fragile shoulder. He pulled the tiny body close and the boy saw her shoulder blades and there were no wings.
The boy felt the sickness in his belly and he felt it rise to his mouth. He wanted to turn away and run home and he wanted to jump out and grab her and shake her until she made him forgive her. He wanted to put his hands around that thick, hairy neck and squeeze it until it the thing beneath it stopped moving and never touched her again.
But the sickness reached his head and he stood behind the crumbling wall and did nothing.
He watched her kiss and he watched her take the money and he saw nothing because he was blind. He heard the sounds they made and he heard the dollars fold and crinkle but he didn't care because he was deaf. He felt nothing when she walked out of the lamp light and into the house and he didn't even care whether or not she shut the door.
And when she was gone he took the coin from his pocket and dropped it in the gutter. And he cursed himself because it was late and his supper would be cold. Copyright 2009 Jessablue. All rights reserved. FifteenMinutesOfFiction.com has been granted non-exclusive rights to display this work. For permission to reprint this item, please contact the author.
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