By Amanda Pearson
The sexual exploits of a girl in second grade always revolve around her Barbies. My sister’s friend Anna, who lived next to us in our old neighborhood, was two years older, and she told me she knew what she was talking about.
“You have to be naked,” she said as we sat on her bed.
The air was dusty in the dark light that streaked through the blinds. She had Ken and I had the bleached-blonde Barbie. After we got the clothes off, Anna grabbed Barbie and started smacking the two tanned dolls together. Barbie was never actually naked, which Anna wasn’t happy about, but the painted-on swim suit was something we couldn’t remove. She showed me that you have to lie down with someone naked and kiss. She made kissing noises.
“Boys go on top,” she said. “I learned all about it in class today.” (She had actually seen it on a late night cable show.)
Her mom walked in to tell us lunch was ready. Anna stashed the naked dolls on a pillow—she called it their bed—and covered them with blankets.
Big Girl Lessons
Our street was empty. It was late afternoon and the snow had almost all melted. Small, brownish patches still littered our yard. Dead yellow grass squished under my foot as I walked across the yard to the road where my sister was waiting for me.
“Ok, if you want to be a big girl like me you need to practice. Clip this onto the back of your pants,” she said, handing me our longest dog leash.
I took it and clipped it to my back belt loop, turning away from her. I looked back over my shoulder to watch her mount the bike and say “Mush,” like we had done to my dog that winter. But unlike our dog, I started running. I pulled her a few feet before she squeezed the brake handle, making me jerk backward and fall on my ass. The ground was wet and so were my pants. The clip had pulled off the loop, giving my pants a big hole in the back.
“Look what you did,” she said. “Mom is going to be so mad at you.”
“But I didn’t do anything,” I said, looking up at her from the ground.
She turned her bike toward the house and pushed out the kickstand. Offering me a hand she said, “It’s ok. It will be our secret. We can just throw those pants away.”
“It’s an old lady bike,” my mom said, “Are you sure you want this one?”
She wasn’t happy that I had earned the money and actually saved it, instead of spending it on stupid knickknacks at the local roller rink like the rest of the kids my age did with their allowance money.
The bike was worth it. The smooth lines dipped down low like the bike my grandma used to own back in the sixties. It was the type of bike invented so girls could ride bikes while wearing skirts. The handle bars rounded and were too wide to fit through anything, another amazing feature that made me have to have it.
My dad had to lift it into the back of the truck. My mom stood on the chipped tailgate and pulled it in, strapping it down.
“There, are you happy now?” he asked as he held up a hand to help my mom get down.
He was smiling down at me as he said it, and was the only person in my house who actually liked my bike enough not to tease me about it.
“Got one,” I yelled as I held out my pudgy kid hand to show my sister the frog I held.
She turned away from the big mound of dirt that we were playing on to look at him. He was warty enough to cause a little “ew” to come out of her mouth.
“His room can be over here,” she said as she pointed to a recently added hole in the dirt. Long canals connected his room to the rest of the holes we dug in our dirt pile.
Our cousin Chris came out of our grandma’s house with a fat grin on his face and a box in his hands. “I got the baggies from the kitchen,” he said. He ripped a bag out to show us his idea. He opened it and placed it in one of our deepest holes, grabbing the pitcher of water we had filled. He started to pour water over the hole.
“You’re making it all muddy, Chris,” Alison said as she tried to stop him. She reached out to push him, which made him drop the plastic pitcher. The tunnels all started to cave in from the overflow of water. Mud filled all of the little rooms, and the plastic bag was lost under an avalanche of mud. Our frog escaped before we could even remember he was in one of the rooms.
“Poor little froggy. Didn’t even get to swim in his pool,” I said as we watched the holes fill up.
I always ran out to the barn whenever we went to my dad’s parents’ house. Grandpa would take us out to see the pigs and chickens, saving the cows for last.
Betsy was our cow. She was the only calf born there when we were around, and we visited her often. Her black- and white-blotched body blended in with the rest of the cows, but she was always smaller than the rest. She was still a calf for most of our visits.
“Ok, hold on tight now,” Grandpa said as he lifted me up onto the back of Betsy. Alison had already had her turn around the field, and now it was mine. Betsy’s two big shoulder blades stuck out, and what little hair there was on her back was hard to grab. It wasn’t like riding a horse where there was a saddle or a mane to hold on to. Riding a cow was harder.
“Stop rocking so much,” Grandpa would say as he walked close by my side. He would lend a hand when I tipped too far in one direction. I fell as soon as his attention was called to my sister, who stepped in a pile of cow poop. The drop wasn’t far but the hard ground was never welcoming.
After that winter, we went up to celebrate Easter with my grandparents. Betsy had been “sick” all winter and was shipped to a friend my grandpa knew so she could get better. When we went running out to the barn, my grandpa followed and slowed us down until we stopped. He knelt down between Alison and me.
“There was an accident,” he started. He took his time and explained that Betsy died in a collapsing barn. We often drove by the farm where it supposedly happened, and the crushed red barn always made the story real.
A few years ago I learned that she had never been shipped away because she was sick. She got sent to the butcher. My grandma cooked her and feed us Betsy hamburgers and Betsy lasagna.
Kitty flicked her tail back and forth as she watched Alison and me move boxes across the floor. We lined the concrete with corridors from cardboard boxes. Some boxes were empty, and some had holiday decorations in them. We laughed as we moved boxes, mixing them up between the two of us as we circled the floor, stepping lightly.
“I think it’s ready,” Alison said.
The two of us looked at each other before we turned our attention toward the cat. We slowly walked toward her, each taking sideways steps until we both faced her. I slowly reached out to grab her, pulling her close to my chest as she started to purr. She rubbed her face against mine and tried to climb up onto my shoulder where she liked to perch. I placed her on the ground between two boxes, the starting line.
We made her finish the obstacle course with cat treats and cheese. It took forever. After multiple times chasing after her on one of her escapes, we finally finished.
The rented white walls of my bedroom were shared with my sister. The walls felt like prison the night I slept there alone for the first time.
Our beds were pushed against two opposite walls, and our matching headboards sat parallel to each other. All of our stuffed animals were collected in one corner except for our favorites, who could be found on either bed.
Alison was at her first sleep over party and I was stuck at home watching Disney movies with my mom and dad. The Little Mermaid played in the background as I sat on the floor next to our dog, Darla, and contemplated sleeping alone in my dark room. The stuffed animals would offer little comfort in the face of the idea of not having my sister lying in the next bed.
The movie ended with Ariel walking out of the ocean in her sparkly dress, strutting toward Eric in the fading sun. My mom started to fold blankets as she said, “Time for bed.” Darla stood and started wagging her tail as she waited for her turn outside. I grabbed her and pulled her close while she tried to break free.
I was forced to slip my PJs on, brush my teeth, and brush my hair before my mom herded me toward my room. After the door was shut and the lights were off, I lay in bed, staring up at the knobby ceiling, thinking to myself how alone I was. The window next to my bed loomed over me as the moon crept across my floor.
After going into my parents’ bedroom one too many times, my mom got up and locked Darla in my room. After endless efforts of trying to get Darla to sleep on the bed, I fell asleep. The lights stayed on all night.
Amanda Pearson graduates from BSU this spring and plans to move closer to her dogs Lucy, Linus and Xander. She will continue writing and pursue a master’s degree in the Stonecoast low-residency program at the University of Southern Maine.