Christine and I played hopscotch on most mornings in the summer. She loved to draw pictures inside the squares of beautiful stylish girls. Carol, the dreaded cat killer and girl torturer lives down the street from us and Christine and I were ever watchful, knowing that some time during our play she would show up. I thought I knew how to handle Carol, but Christine didn’t. She wasn’t used to seeing the small white and gray rabbits my father shot and dissected in the basement of our apartment or the deer he hung to try on the tree in the back yard. I fished alongside him for years until one night I dreamt that the flounder we had caught had human eyes and cried as it thrashed against the metal sides of our boat.
This was third grade, the year my grandmother moved into our cramped two-bedroom apartment. She and I shared a double room and this was the first time I wasn’t afraid of the dark or the dreaded dolls I’d stuffed into the L-shaped closet in my room.
Every day at lunch I would sit with Christine and Louise. Louise’s father was an undertaker and we loved to play vampire in the coffins. I would buy a Hoodsie Ice Cream cup and would mix until it was a smooth brown color. I put the ice cream into my mouth and imagined that I was poisoning Miss Cherry, our teacher that year, my brother, and Carol the cat killer.
The chalk for hopscotch happened to be in Christine’s hand the day Carol came to taunt us. Earlier that summer Carol had pushed me off the garage roof where I was sunning and left a huge bump on my head. Weeks passed before I could remember who I was. I didn’t tell anyone what happened; the story was I tripped and fell. I’d learned early in life that no one is a squealer and no one sees anything. I saw how my father beat my brother because he was disappointed that my brother didn’t fight back when the Zulo brothers picked on him. I didn’t want my father to know that I hadn’t fought back when Carol pushed me.
I didn’t have time to say anything that hopscotch day. The evidence was flowing out of Christine’s face. I stood there watching or I might have closed my eyes.
On that day in the middle of summer Carol had walked up to us and asked if she could play with us. I shrugged, but Christine ignored her request. I watched as Carol walked up to a neighbor’s house. I really though she was just going to ring the bell and run off leaving us to be yelled at by Mrs. Bass. Instead she picked up the empty milk bottle from the stoop and walked towards us. I backed up, but I don’t think Christine saw her. I wanted to run but I couldn’t leave Christine there on the sidewalk. Carol broke the bottle on the curb and Christine turned. I yelled out, but it was too late. Blood began to flow out of Christine’s face as she fell to the ground and Carol pulled the bottle from her face. Red was covering the white chalk and the pretty girls. Then Carol was gone.
An older neighbor girl was standing next to me now. Christine’s mother seemed to come from nowhere and was screaming for help. I stood there, my head bobbing like an apple at Halloween. Soon the summer was over and Christine never returned to school. My mother said that after her hospital stay her family moved away. Carol still lived down the street, but after that took on a quieter form of torture in her back yard. I was hoping somebody would shoot her or send her to Danvers Mental Hospital where she could die like my grandfather, hands tied to a metal table.
A week after the incident, as my father called it, he took me into the back yard and told me to stay put by the fence. When he returned he had a rifle in one hand and a watermelon in the other. He put the watermelon in front of the hanging deer tree and walked back to where I was standing. He told me Christine’s face probably looked like a football, all sewed up and rubbery.
Slowly he put the rifle up against his shoulder and fired. I watched the enormous watermelon explode into pieces, its juices spilling onto the grass. “This is what happens when you play with guns. Never touch my guns. Do you understand? Think of that melon as someone’s head. Now you shoot.”
Linda Quinlan has been published in many journals, some of which include The North Carolina Literary Review, Fine Madness, Pudding, The New Orleans Review and Sinister Wisdom. She was Poet of the Year in Wisconsin. Presently she lives in Vermont.