3 (rough draft)
Brigantine Grant had four older brothers, never treated like a girl, even by her parents. The family was not poor. They were frugal. Brigantine’s clothing came down from her brothers. Her father was a religious man, what religion no one knew. He demanded respect and his right to sit at the head of the table simply because he was a man.
He liked having four sons, a reflection of his own face looking back at him, proof of his immortality and divinity. He tolerated his daughter.
Brigantine didn’t dislike being a girl, secret private moments in the dark of night in her imagination. She liked the power a man could wield in the world of people. She embraced the hand-me-downs and projected her role. Living in a house with five men and a scared woman, Brigantine didn’t actually know how to be a girl.
Until her world expanded into kindergarten. Children being children, many asked why she worn boy’s clothes.
“These are my clothes,” she answered.
Some children would laugh or giggle at Brigantine’s clothes. Then, when they learned her name, they couldn’t contain themselves.
“That’s a town, not a girl!” Sally Gunther said with wide eyes, leaning forward, her yellow-white hair dancing around her perfect face, the kids gathering around as if to see what would happen next.
Tan hair, the color of light brown sugar with golden highlights, floated effortless around the other children, flesh like raw sugar cookie dough, eyes the color of her hair, glistening, found her way to Brigantine, offering a hand, her back to Sally.
“October Ferguson, my friends call me Ockie. I want you to call me Ockie.”
“Brigantine Grant,” she answered, taking October’s hand.
“Brigantine is a wonderful name.”
“So’s October. I bet you get made fun of, huh?”
Her small soft shoulders shrugged. “I’d not know.”
“I want to warn you,” October’s mother said in the kitchen, placing cheese product slices on white bread for October’s lunch. “You’re going to meet a lot of children.”
October nodded, aware of the concept of school and what the day held in store.
“Many of the children are going to be mean. That’s the way children are.”
October nodded again.
“I know you’re scared, but you don’t need be. The kids can’t really hurt you.”
October bit her lip, puzzling over the words. Even at five years old, October knew her mother was talking about something much different from kids in school.
Like Santa Claus.
Carol Ferguson produced a number two pencil, yellow, with a jewel-eyed troll with orange hair where the eraser should be. “This is magic. When you get really, really scared, hold it to your ear and it will speak to you, and keep you calm and from being scared.
Definitely like Santa Claus, October thought, wondering what scared her mother.
October accepted the magic pencil, slipping it into her Disney Princesses backpack along with her cheese sandwich.
Halfway through the morning, soon after October’s encounter with Brigantine, the teacher announced recess, a break to be outside on the playground. The children fascinated October, October shocked into silence at the variety, the differences and the sameness. A girl caught her attention, slim, white dress breaking at her waist, blue sash, ribbon to match the sash in prefect ripe-banana-yellow hair. Beautiful.
And, there was Sally Gunther, yanking the other’s hair, freeing the ribbon, sending the cherub to the grass.
October went to the fallen child, wondering whether Sally Gunther was the many mean children all in one. Kneeling, October took the child’s face in her palms, forehead to forehead watching her crystal blue eyes, the most beautiful eyes she’d ever seen. “You’re okay.”
The child in her hands sniffed, pointing. “She pulled –”
“Yeah, she did, but that doesn’t matter. You’re okay.”
She nodded. “Yeah, I’m okay.”
The two girls struggled to their feet, October picking a brown leaf from sun-yellow hair. “October Ferguson. I’m a better person for meeting you. My friends call me Ockie. That’s what I’d like you to call me.”
“Candice Abbott. I like to be called Abby.”
“Abby.” October repeated.
Brigantine watched from a distance.
Near the end of the school day, October put the troll to her right ear, smiling. She didn’t believe the troll would speak to her. She was happy her mother would wish to be thought of, close, if October would need her near. October closed her eyes, thinking of the fear just behind her mother’s eyes, fear like a visitor knocking on the door on a winter’s day.
Sally Gunther appeared, grabbing October’s troll hand. “Mine.” She pulled.
October, surprised, hung on. “No!”
Sally tugged, pushing October in the chest. The pencil broke, Sally taking the troll half, October left with a pencil point, dropping hard to the floor, spread-legged, tears pushing out her eyes.
With her left hand, Brigantine grabbed Sally’s fist.
“Mine!” Sally screamed, trying to pull away.
From the other side of the room, the teacher asked what was going on.
“Ockie’s,” Brigantine said flatly, delivering two powerful punches to Sally’s face, freeing the troll, sending Sally bleeding to the floor. She spun, dropped to a knee and put the troll into October’s hand.
Returning to her feet, Sally stamped a foot, screaming red-faced. “Ockie took my doll!” Her face then distorted in a silent scream.
Brigantine moved back, October rose, smoothing her dress, stepping to Sally, offering the troll forward.
With a squeal, Sally snatched her prize.
Five and six-year-olds do not make good witnesses. Acting on what the teacher saw, Brigantine was sent to sit in the office until the end of the school day, banned from school until a parent’s conference could be set up.
“Mrs. Grant won’t be joining us?” Principal Eisenhower asked.
“No,” Henry Grant answered curtly. “I spoke with Brigantine on this issue. Brigantine has four older brothers, so roughhousing is normal for her. She’ll get used to the frailty of girls. If this were a boy involved, we’d not even be sitting here.” He backhanded the air. “All a misunderstanding.”
“We have a zero tolerance toward violence of any kind.”
“Must make dodge ball difficult. The children still play dodge ball, don’t they?”
“That’s a game.”
“Brigantine tells me one girl took a toy from another. Brigantine said she simply returned the toy to the owner.”
Eisenhower offered his palms turned toward the ceiling across the desk. “Your child punched the other child in the face, twice.”
“You think this funny?”
Grant offered his own open palms. “I do not condone violence; however, in many situations, properly applied force is the simplest method to solve a problem.”
“You really believe that?”
“With eighty percent of America’s discretionary annual budget allocated to the military, I’d say I’m not the only one that truly believes that.”
Eisenhower blinked twice.
“We all talk about peace and understanding, but we do it with a wink and a nod.” Grant offered a stop palm. “I talked to Brigantine, explaining that some children are just brats with bad parenting, and she must learn to allow brats to be brats, else she’ll come home everyday with her arms tired and her knuckles bleeding.”
“That not what we really –”
“You don’t want Brigantine pounding the piss out of anyone. Problem solved. Does it really matter how she understands it?”
“We know Sally can be a willful child,” Mrs. Gunther told Principal Eisenhower. Mrs. Gunther, slender, tall, sitting forward on the chair, knees together, ankle one over the other, looking down her nose with her head tilted back. “We encourage Sally to pursue her curiosity.”
Mr. Gunther, draped in an Armani dark grey suit, a suit ill fitting, nodded enthusiastically.
Eisenhower bit his bottom lip. “Sally seems to have boundary issues.”
“I said she was willful, free to explore.” Mrs. Gunther narrowed her eyes. “This is all about the girl that dresses like a boy. The one that hit her.”
“You’re lucky we don’t have a mind to sue you and have that poor child arrested.” She looked to the ceiling. “Obviously white trash, too poor to buy their unfortunate child proper clothes. No wonder the child acts out.”
Eisenhower let out a slow breath, relieved. “I had a long meeting with Brigantine’s father –”
“The child, the girl. Her name is Brigantine.”
“We met, and have, to my satisfaction, solved the problem.”
“I’m sure, then, Sally can expect an apology.”
Eisenhower swallowed hard. “I’m sure.”
Rain, not rain, more like a mist filled the air, three children in a circle under the awning, backpacks dangling, waiting for school to start, just a little early. Brigantine watched October carefully. “It was yours.”
October shrugged. “Mom gave it to me. It’s magic.”
Candice’s eyes went wide. “Magic?”
“Well, Mom said it was. It’s just a thing.”
“Now it’s Sally’s.” October bit her lip. “Mom said there’d be kids to be scared of.”
Brigantine matched her father’s smirk. “That would be me.”
Candice gave the wide eyes again, her mouth wide open.
October giggled. “Mom said when I’m scared, to hold the troll to my ear, that it would help me not be afraid.”
Brigantine shook her head. “And, you give it to Sally?”
Candice smiled. “She needs it more than you?”
Candice pulled the red ribbon free of her hair. “I think I’ll ribbon Sally’s hair for her.”
October smiled back at Candice.
Brigantine stiffened, facing the street thirty feet away. “Check it out.”
Candice’s face went blank, October nodded, knowingly.
As if dressed reflecting the weather, a woman stood just outside a 1980 rusted out black Fiat Spider. The woman towered a full five-foot, four inches, long sleeve A-line dress, black, dropping just to her thighs, black stocking and garter, black four-inch heeled boots with chrome detailing.
She was white, like an albino, her flesh pulled whiter by harsh black eye shadow applied with a heavy hand. Apple red puffy lips floated on the white. Her raven black hair flowed over her shoulders, dropping almost to the concrete as she bent to pull a child from the car.
The child was a compact version of her mother, wearing a black princess dress breaking at her waist, more like a tutu. Black knee socks dropping into black Mary Jane’s with silver buckle. She held her mother’s arm, twisting behind the woman as if to hide.
“I think she needs a troll,” October said, leaving her friends under the entryway awning, floating across the damp concrete, taking in the moist air.
“Hi,” October said to the head peeking out from behind her mother. Glancing back, she added, “It’s not as scary as it looks.”
Dark eyes, sad eyes, eyes black like a moonless night watched from the pallid face, black hair draping down like Spanish moss.
October offered a hand.
“Go on,” the mother encouraged. “Her name’s Amaretto.”
October’s soft smile pushed back the damp and the dimness, captivating the child, a hand coming forward, taking October’s. October pulled her from the protective cover of her mother, taking her other hand, leaning close, almost nose-to-nose. “October Ferguson. My friends call me Ockie. That’s what I want you to call me.”
“Apple. They call me Apple.”
So taken with her new friend, Amaretto forgot about her mother standing in the rain, her mother smiling just a little as she watched her daughter greet two new friends, Brigantine and Candice, the four girls, as a single unit, turning, climbing the steps the school.
Sally sat, incidentally or by design, in the geological center of the room at one of the many long tables, other children peppered around the room, waiting for class to begin with milk drinking. Like the conductor of a symphonic orchestra, Sally danced her new number two pencil crowned with the troll in the air.
Brigantine presented herself, Sally offering a coy smile, obviously aware her mother had threatened Brigantine. With a glance toward October, Brigantine said: “I’m sorry I hit you yesterday.”
Candice gathered a lock of Sally’s hair, trying the ribbon. “Red,” she said.
Sally looked over the left shoulder at October, then right to glance Candice and Brigantine. Puffing up in her chair, bloated with hubris, Sally was deflated as the girls melted away, finding chairs together on the other side of the room with the weird new girl, the four girls getting lost in their secret world.
The next year, the day before Thanksgiving, October, Candice, Brigantine and Amaretto lingered by the street, unwilling to move off the moment, the moment that would begin their long parting for the holiday. “I hear Mom’s car,” Amaretto said.
“I think it’s cool,” Brigantine said, narrowing her eyes at the school, a crowd gathering at the bottom of the steps.
October glanced over her shoulder. “What?”
Brigantine pursed her lips. “Don’t know. Something’s not right.”
The four girls looked just as the crowd facing the school cheered, “Frankenstein!”
October, Candice and Amaretto froze, stunned, unable to understand what they saw. Brigantine jumped between her friends and the school, turning back to October, her arms spread just as a boy hurried by, the crowd in sloppy pursuit, pushing Brigantine, Brigantine staggering, holding, protecting her friends from the mindless beast, October placing her small hands on Brigantine’s chest, buttressing.
A 2013 Escalade skidded to a stop adjacent the children, the driver busy on her cell phone, missing Candice by inches.
“Damn,” Amaretto said, pushing October’s back, pulling Candice back on the curb.
“You girls okay?” Maynard Abbott shouted, pointing, slowing his run.
“What’s going on?” Candice asked her brother.
“I’ll take that as a yes.” He trotted off.
October, her head on Brigantine’s chest, tried to push away, but Brigantine held on, Amaretto’s right hand still in the small of her back.
“What was that?” Candice asked.
“That, Abby, was a beast. That, Abby, is what Mom warned me about last year.” October freed herself, taking three steps in the direction the mob went, watching events some sixty feet away.
“Nard is something special. You tell him I said that.”
“You kids shouldn’t play so close to the street,” the Escalade driver said, walking by.
“No, we shouldn’t,” Brigantine said.
“There’s my ride,” Amaretto said, sadly, hugging Brigantine, Candice and finally October, a soul-embracing hug that slid by much too quickly in a forever moment.
“I’m really glad you’re able to make friends here,” Morgan Stayman told her daughter, Amaretto dropping on the passenger seat of the Spider, her backpack on her lap.
Amaretto sniffed, wiping a tear. “Yeah, they’re pretty cool.”
“They’re not like us.” Morgan worked the steering wheel, her lighter, the gearshift and a joint, wrestling to get the joint lit.
“No one’s so different, Morgan.” She waited, then took the joint, drawing deep.
“Not so much. We’re pretty much all the same. Ockie says so.”
“Just because –”
“It’s not just her saying it. She is it. I see it.”
Morgan snapped her fingers, Amaretto returned the joint. “I didn’t have many friends growing up. At your age, I had none.”
“That’s just the way people are.”
That’s the way you are. “You’ve said.”
Pot pushed Amaretto’s pain back, enabling Amaretto not to fight with her mother at every turn. Pot and October. Watching October, Amaretto learned not everything was a fight, not everything was an argument. Surrender to win.
Pot pushed Amaretto’s fear back. Amaretto lived under a dark blanket of fear, undefined, ever-present. Pot and October. Standing near October, being in the same room with October, Amaretto knew she had nothing to fear. Amaretto knew the crowd, the beast that chased Frankenstein. She saw the beast in the eyes of other children, waiting for their opportunity. She knew, with October in the room, their opportunity would never come.
With pot, she simply didn’t care what others did or didn’t do. October was better than pot for pushing back the pain and the fear, but then, pot was less addictive.
“I’m really going to do it this year,” Morgan claimed. The three motorcycles in the driveway said differently. “Get your homework done, we’ll go to the supermarket and get everything we need.”
A real family Thanksgiving dinner would be hard to prepare when you’re passed out on the floor by noon. Amaretto would have said it if not for the pot and the smell of October’s hair lingering. “Sure, Morgan.”
“It’ll be great. You’ll see!”
The house, though early afternoon, was strangled in darkness, inhabited by people lounging everywhere, the radio off-station blasting 80’s rock and roll. The stink of cigarettes and pot hung in the air. Morgan greeted people by name, words lost to the radio, but her smile and nod conveyed her feelings.
Amaretto wanted to hide behind her mother, but instead slinked to her room under the cover of darkness, heavy curtains covering all the windows, protection from curious people peeking in. The dwelling was a single story bungalow on a small property, a rental, Morgan a single parent, a hairstylist.
As the door clicked behind her, her back to the door, she became aware she was not alone, two bodies wrestling, grunting moaning on the bed.
“Hey, baby girl,” a male voice came from the darkness, the wrestling continuing.
“Hey, Uncle Jack.”
“Excited about Thanksgiving?”
She shrugged, unseen, fishing in her underwear drawer for her prize, then stooping to relieve a pair of jeans of the cell phone, opening her window, dropping to the patio.
After rolling and smoking half the joint, she poked at the stolen cell phone. “Hey, Mrs. Ferguson. Apple.”
Amaretto waited, not long, two tokes.
“Hey, Apple! What’s up?”
“Is everything okay?”
“Sure. Morgan’s got friends over. You know how I get.”
Silence moved the moment.
“I do. I wish I was there with you.”
“Thanks. That’s all I needed.”
“I’ll see you Monday?”
“Yes.” And, that’s what got Amaretto through the long weekend.