The girl sat alone on top the monkey bars. The boys bullied her from below.
“Wanna to know how to make Anne Greyhawk cry?”
Jeremy Wheeler dropped an empty half-pint milk carton, taken from school lunch. He stomped it into wood mulch below the monkey bars, then kicked it into the grass.
Most of the boys (“Wheeler’s Goons,” as Anne called them) around him didn’t get the joke, but they laughed anyway.
“Squaw! Squaw!” They shouted.
“I’m not an Indian.” It hurt each time they did this, but not as much as the first, which sent Anne in tears while the boys laughed. “Just get away from me!”
A slim and dark hardcover book rested in her lap. A strange illustration graced its cover: a fiery demonic idol with red gems for eyes. Two thieves in the picture were climbing on the statue, trying to pluck one of its eyes out.
A fancy leather book bag hung from a rung next to her.
“Leave me alone!”
“Lemme a-woahn!” Jeremy parroted her words, scrunched his face. He wore an AC/DC tee-shirt with holes in the armpits and a pair of jeans with stringy gaps in each knee.
Scott Hauser, from Anne’s own third grade class, stepped from the group and reached for the book bag. Anne pulled it to safety, then slipped the hardcover inside.
“It was gonna fall. Seriously.” Scott gave her a huh-what-me? look. “And so are these!”
He tried to grab her shoes. They were black, without laces, with gold-colored buckles etched with the designer label on the front. She almost lost her balance, while avoiding Scott’s grasp and shifting her legs and feet to sit cross-legged, tucking the hem of her long purple skirt beneath her, out of easy reach.
Jeremy pointed. “Look! She’s sitting ‘Indian-style!'”
The boys laughed, some harder than others.
“But I’m not an Indian!” It didn’t seem to matter, no matter how many times she said it. Not to them. Not during this recess. Nor last week. Nor three weeks ago when they surrounded her near the swing set and yelled “Squaw! Squaw!” until she started to cry and the bell rang. “I’m not!”
Her hair was long and dark, her eyes blue, her skin caucasian.
“But doesn’t your dad own the local casino?” It was Brian Farson, who Anne considered one of the nicer boys in third grade, until he got around Wheeler.
“Good one,” Jeremy said.
“My father’s a businessman.”
Exactly what business? Anne wasn’t sure. Something to do with houses and investments. Her father didn’t talk about it in front her. And once, when Anne asked her mother what her father did, she said, “He’s a businessman who’s taking good care of us.”
A week before school started her father announced they were moving to a new town. Two weeks into the fall semester Anne found herself taken out of her old school and placed into a new school.”A good public school in a small town,” her dad had called it. “You’ll meet new friends, I’m sure.”
A month later she still hadn’t met many new friends–just one, Sarah, who liked wearing tiaras and jewelry to school like Anne did.
Sarah was taller than Anne and would stand up to the boys, calling them names Anne dared not repeat in front her parents.
But Sarah wasn’t at school that day.
On a normal day her and Sarah would sit on top of the monkey bars and the boys would usually leave them alone. They would talk all recess while looking out at the nearby cornfields.
“How does Anne Greyhawk change a light bulb?” Jeremy said. “She can’t! She lives in a tepee!”
“At least a tepee’s better than the dumps you all live in.” Anne’s new house had two stories, a large backyard surrounded by a fence and a forest beyond. She didn’t like it. Her old house had three stories and a swimming pool. Her father had said, “We’ll have one by summer, I promise.”
Jeremy’s face reddened. “Oh yeah, how do you know Anne Greyhawk’s broke into your house?” Jeremy lived in the rundown trailer court near the old grain elevators. “Your money’s still there but the liquor’s gone!”
“I told you. I’m not an Indian. Just leave me alone!”
They called her Pocahontas, and Sacajawea, and “dumb rich bitch,” and even worse names.
Anne tried not to cry. Crying would only encourage them. But the words hurt, down in the stomach, and made her dizzy with spots before her eyes.
The recess after lunch, the long one where the children from all the grades in the elementary school played together, could last forever if you were being teased. The teachers at her old school didn’t come out for recess, they had special recess helpers instead. But they did here, and they always seemed to be breaking up fights or preventing fights from happening. More fights happened at this school than her old one.
“I’m gonna tell Miss Clay.” And the boys taunted her for that, because everybody knew Miss Clay wouldn’t do anything. And Miss Clay and another teacher had their hands full, anyway, breaking up a fight between Tony Townsend, the legendary terror of the fifth grade, and another older boy Anne didn’t know.
Anne covered her eyes and ears, and let her hair fall in front her face to hide her tears.
Brian picked up the crushed milk cartoon; its underside was covered in dirt and bits of grass. “Hey, Anne, here’s a present!”
It struck Anne on the chest, and stuck for a moment on her pink shirt. Then it fell away. The members of Anne’s favorite girl band, Funky Tummy, now had dirt on their glamorized and glittered faces. Some of the dirt had gotten into her hair.
She pressed her hands to hers ears even tighter, and even flexed the muscles in her inner ears, something she had always known how to do, to make a rumbling sound to drown out their words.
But her bullies would not be ignored. They threw wood chips at her. Scott kept trying to grab the hem of her skirt and shoes.
Then Jeremy began climbing the monkey bars at one end while Brian climbed the other.
The remaining boys watched, yelling, “Squaw! Squaw!” Later, when they were brought before the principal and teachers, they would say, “Well, we called her names but at least we didn’t climb up to get her.”
Children weren’t really supposed to be on top of the monkey bars anyway. And the gap between the last vertical rung and the first horizontal rung made it hard for those even with the strength to pull themselves up and over. Anne could do it, once Sarah had shown her a special trick with her legs and feet, but Jeremy and Scott were using their sheer muscle strength in their arms.
That gap gave her a moments. In a brief second she recalled how nice the boys her old school were. They could be rough-and-tumble, but they never made fun of girls (they would have gotten into a lot of trouble) and, for the most part, dressed in collared shirts.
In the next second she stopped crying, and quickly wiped her face and dried her hands on her skirt, then reached for the book in her bag.
And in the third second, Anne found her hands acting on their own accord. The rumbling sound in her ears intensified. The book had spells. Spells could use against her bullies.
She produced the book from her bag and opened it just as Jeremy pulled himself up and reached for her.
To be continued, Wednesday, September 14…