Betty Jane Hegerat
I wanted to go to the park. I wanted to sit on a bench in the sun and watch children fly to the moon on the swings and give each other “bumps” on the teeter-totter. That was the finish I wanted to this spring day.
Amy wanted a playmate. “The park’s no fun if Megan can’t come.”
“Megan’s not your only friend. Maybe someone else will be there.”
I held Amy’s running shoes out, but she crossed her arms and scrunched her narrow shoulders up around her ears. She looked like a sad little sparrow that had fledged too soon. “Phone Loretta again,” she said.
I would not call again. There had been something in Loretta’s, “Megan isn’t home.” Not quite apologetic, but short on details.
“Daddy’s going to be home soon with pizza. Let’s go quickly, just you and me. Moms need exercise, you know.” And a blessed change of scenery.
Motherhood. I’d imagined busy days full of noise and toys that ended with two sleepy children tucked into their beds to make way for adult time. Not so naïve as to buy into the television version of the perfect family, but not expecting to raise an only child. Shouldn’t it be easier, just one child?
I dropped Amy’s shoes in front of the door and pointed at them. She shook her head. When Megan outgrew the shoes and Loretta handed them down to us, Amy loved them. Because they’d been Megan’s. Now they were scuffed and worn. We’d just bought a pair of pink and white striped runners a half size too big. They would fit perfectly by fall. New school shoes in September.
All the other girls in Amy’s class wore shoes two sizes larger that hers. Most of the girls were a head taller than Amy. Given the awesome cognitive levels Amy had achieved, the neo-natal gurus had assured us that before long she would catch up in size as well. Meanwhile, we had a tiny bright little girl who didn’t feel small. She considered every child she knew to be a friend.
“But I want to play with Megan,” she said. I knelt down, put my hands on her shoulders and looked into those dark blue eyes. They were going to spill. At this time of day, Amy’s eyes couldn’t blink fast enough to hold back tears.
I stood up, reached into the closet for the shoe box, lifted the new shoes out of the crinkly tissue and dangled them in front of her. “Want to try these out, just once for play?” The day was sunny, the ground was dry, and maybe, just maybe, pretty shoes could set it right.
“Yes!” She took the shoes from my hand, sat down on the floor and slid her feet into them. She pulled the Velcro tab across, pressed it down, then up —zip! — then across again and up and zip. I thought it was as much the sound as the colour of those shoes that thrilled her. Velcro. Marvellous invention. But how were we meant to teach our children to tie?
The play lot was deserted; swings hanging dead straight, one tiny striped sock stuffed through a link in the fence. Amy ran up the aluminium slope of the slide, the new shoes giving her super-power traction. At the top, she spread her arms and grinned at me, then turned in a tight circle to look at the fence that enclosed Megan’s back yard.
Oh, be careful, be careful. I still caught myself holding my breath when Amy looked as though she was trying to balance on the head of a pin. She was agile, the fall was short, and the sand was deep. Relax, relax, relax.
I looked away from the slide toward the sound of someone approaching, toward Loretta pushing the stroller in the direction of home. Her boy was asleep, head lolling on his shoulder. “Have time to sit for a few minutes?” I called.
“Love to, but I’m not taking a chance on this little dude waking up.” Loretta waved and kept on walking.
“Hey!” Amy called after them. “I could come to your house and wait for Megan to get home.”
Loretta turned. “Not today, honey. Too close to suppertime.”
Amy came down the slide on her belly and dangled off the end, her fingers trailing circles in the sand.
“Do you want me to spin you on the merry-go-round?” She shook her head. “How about under-pushes on the swings. Really big ones!” No again.
“I want to go home now.” She kicked at the sand with her new shoes. “These are good. We don’t need to try them out any more.”
Amy chose the shortcut home, out into the alley and down the walkway that took us to our corner. Loretta was at the street, peering down the length of the block. The stroller was parked on the lawn, baby still sleeping.
Amy tugged at my hand. If we were going home, we were going home. She wanted Megan, not Loretta. I pulled back, my eyes on a car that had turned the corner and was headed toward us. The station wagon cruised to a stop. All the windows were down; little girls packed into the car sputtering and giggling and sucking on candy sticks. Seven little girls. Six of them watching Amy, but the one beside the driver concentrating on the green stick of candy in her hand.
Amy, the eighth little girl in the grade one class, standing on the sidewalk in her pretty new shoes. She blinked and blinked and held tight to my hand.
Megan bounced out of the car. “Thanks! Mini-golf was so fun!” The paper bag in her hand was covered in red crayoned hearts. The goodie bag. Party swag. Loot: shiny baubles, Happy Birthday pencils, stickers, candy in cellophane bags tied up with pink ribbons.
When the car pulled away, Amy waved.
Megan held up the loot bag. “Look! Gummy bears and a Barbie necklace!”
Loretta grabbed Megan’s arm. “We have to go in and make supper. Say goodbye to Amy.”
Megan stared at her mom’s red face, then at Amy’s face and mine, then down at her feet. “Oh. Yeah. Hi, Amy.” A crooked little smile, then “Bye, Amy.”
On the short walk home, Amy skipped across the breaks in the sidewalk. Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.
“Let’s sit out here for a minute.” I pulled her close to me on the front step.” Did you know it was Brianna’s birthday?”
“She gave out the party cards at school. She told me she couldn’t invite me because her mom said she could only have six girls. Because she’s turning seven you know? And with six girls and her that makes seven? Is that a birthday rule?”
“No. That is not a birthday rule. We would never leave out a friend, would we?” She shook her head.
When Jack arrived with the pizza a half hour later, Amy was in her room, rummaging in the box of junk in the corner, and then into the pantry and back to her room. I knew so well what his reaction would be that I almost didn’t tell him about this time, this one more instance of being left outside the circle.
“Who? Brianna or her Mom?”
“Both of them. I don’t want that kid in this house ever again.”
I didn’t remind him that Amy’s birthday was coming up in July. We had no rule of six plus the birthday girl makes seven.
When I called Amy to the table she danced out of her room with a brown paper bag.
“It’s loot, Daddy!” She emptied the bag onto her plate: a juice box, a ring with a purple stone from the dentist’s office, a tiny plastic unicorn, a serving size box of Froot Loops, and a scrap of pink cloth. Barbie’s scarf.
Loretta would make sure that Megan phoned tomorrow.
We would go to the park.
What else could I do?
Betty Jane Hegerat, Calgary author, and social worker in her earlier life, writes from an obsession with famliies: the marvelous messiness of relationships, and the secrets and lies. Her books include Running Toward Home, A Crack in the Wall, Delivery, The Boy, and Odd One Out. She cherishes the support of the Calgary writing community and the Writers Guild of Alberta. Betty Jane was honoured to be the 2015 recipient of the WGA Golden Pen Award.