Whispered in hushed tones were tales that Glen Gizzi tied stray cats onto the railroad tracks—a few boys even claimed to have seen the remains—and Halloween was ripe with rumors of Mother Gizzi placing razor blades in apples and Mr. Gizzi dumping pots of ice water on your head if you dared ring their doorbell. All I knew was Glen was consistently mean to me as if my mere existence incensed him, and actually, I understood. I hunched down to make my too tall frame less noticeable, but all that did was give me a nickname. I slept on my stomach to stunt my breasts, yet in the mirror they grinned like two sunny-side up eggs, and if I didn’t stoop, they led like a compass pointing forward.
The latest fashion was go-go boots and I pleaded desperately until Mommy relented when they went on sale mid-winter. Glorious in their contrast of angel white and witch toes, they could make me anew.
It was my turn to help Miss Butler hang the bulletin board after school. We signed up for this honor back in September and it took until February for my turn, but here it was. Miss Butler gave me the letters, Around the World, along with our reports, letting me choose the arrangement. I put the letters in a half circle at the top. Miss Butler said clever, it looked like the top of a globe, though I hadn’t thought of that. We’d written paragraphs on a country and illustrated their products. Mine was Products of Spain. I chose Spain because leather was one and I could draw my go-go boots. Guitars were another cool one. Wine was one but thinking I shouldn’t use that, I chose lemons and drew yellow rays coming out of a lemon to suggest that tangy smell. Valerie Davies said it looked more like a sun than a lemon, but it wouldn’t erase.
Should I put mine next to Valerie, the most popular girl, or Ann Claymont, the smartest? Did I want mine first or in the middle? Maybe not next to Ann’s because hers was way better. Maybe next to Big Barnaby, the slowest boy in class who’d been left back twice. Mine would look great comparatively—a mean thought—and I felt sad thinking Barnaby and I were alike, only he was luckier because he didn’t seem to recognize when he was being mocked, he’d just smile.
I decided to make a trail through the world. I’d start in Australia, move to Asia, next Europe, (mine in the middle!) Africa, South America and North America, which I knew almost linked to Asia at the top. This would show I was smart for knowing my countries and continents. Unfortunately this meant that Glen’s Italy was next to Spain, so I made the space between ours bigger which put him closer to Chip Olsen, which didn’t seem fair so I moved his further away too. Miss Butler didn’t notice the empty spaces and was pleased with my design. She leaned forward squeezing my arm, smelling like the lemons of Spain.
Walking home, I daydreamed about how I’d go around the world to see all the countries. I pretended I was Heidi walking on snowshoes in Swiss Alps, next I was Pippi skiing down a mountain in Sweden and then I was Hans gliding across the canals of Holland. Oh, the places I’d go with my go-go boots!
Glen appeared suddenly out of a side street. I tried hurrying, but now realized Mommy was right, my boots were terrible in snow and ice, slip-sliding away. Glen closed in on me, shouting, “Hey, Hunchback Girl!” He pelted me with snowballs until catching up. “Oh, sorry, it’s not Hunchback anymore is it? You’re a real go-go girl aren’t you?”
He grabbed my arm, unnecessary, as I stood frozen in place. He paused in contemplation of his power, then opened his coat and unzipped his pants. He was pulling it out, that ugly purple, pink squishy thing, kind of like of the dead embryo bird I’d found on our doorstep last spring. I turned my head while he calmly pissed onto on my tights aiming into one boot and then the other. Finished, he zipped up, released my arm and walked away as if he’d already forgotten me.
Continuing homeward, my feet sloshing in the boots, I turned on our street, cold and soaking, and felt an urgent need. Close as I was, home was too far. A steady dribble crept down the inside of my thigh, pooling into one boot. I could have shifted and landed it on the ground, but I didn’t.
I left my boots at the door the way we always did, went into my room and stuffed my clothes in the hamper. The next morning Mommy asked why my boots smelled like urine. I wouldn’t reveal my part, or Glen’s. Our pee was mixed together—did this make us married? She grew angry at my silence, but still, I’d never tell, knowing the shame I felt would be magnified tenfold.
Mommy took the boots outside, muttering: filthy, filthy, hopeless… and laid them on top of the garbage can in a crown of snow. Nestled in, camouflaged, their points jauntily faced the sky, and I knew Glen was right: those boots could never be mine. I’d been an imposter and wouldn’t miss them.
I walked to school in my childish red rubber boots, with my toes pinched and achy as my feet had grown. How could they have? Miss Butler had taught us all about plants—how the lemons of Spain needed sunlight and water, how all living things needed certain conditions to grow, people needed food, care and love. I thought of how Big Barnaby’s shoulders were wider than a football player’s now, and how Glen kept growing and so did I, and I knew it wasn’t true. People just grow without anything.
In spite of being a high school dropout, Melissa Connelly earned a BS in nursing, MA in Special Education, and MFA in Creative Writing. She’s worked with children in schools, hospitals, and psychiatric clinics. Currently she’s director of a preschool in Brooklyn, New York where she lives. All the while, she’s been writing.
Publications include American Heritage Magazine and the anthology, It’s All About Shoes. In 2019 she was a finalist for the Montana Prize. She’s completed a novel, Once a Rag Doll, and is at work on a second.
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