I ride my bike underneath the perpetually clouded backdrop. I stop in the wet oil of a black asphalt parking spot and look up at the dark leaves of plum trees hanging over. I climb to pick plums.
Wayland, the Arrowwood manager walks by and says, "Don't fall. You'll crack your head open and bloody the pavement."
I push my way through a row of shrubs and onto the back porch, a thin bearded man. He has dozens of colorful oil paintings lined up back to back in his apartment. From an old wooden chair I ask him questions. He dips his brush in turpentine, and I sit perfectly still while he paints a picture of me, my thick red hair ribbon red blouse with kittens and yarn balls puffy painted, on front.
In Falcon Ridge, the complex across the street, I fly down a steep bright grass wall beneath thundering clusters of plum and up the other side. I ride back, skim dense shrubbery, scratch my legs on pine needles, and land on the basketball court where everyone comes out of their condos to stand talk and play.
Girl runs up and yells "Hi, I'm Alaina."
I don't like how eager she is so I make a face and ride away, and I know that I am far too important for her. I am queen of the world and I am the one who approaches people. I am the one who runs up to strangers on the basketball court, whether old or young, pretty or ugly, and gets them to let me play with them. Even the men in big Nike shoes and t-shirts know they should best just toss me the ball without arguing, and I turn around backwards and throw it over my head. Everything I do will be loved and adored, even if I miss. I skip up front of the IMAX theatre, "Mt. Saint Helens" running late, do a routine I learned in ballet for a room packed full people laugh and smile at me.
Alaina stalks me until I smile at her. We ride our bikes behind back porches a narrow path a big circle of trees and forests and dangerous cliff-like drops that circle the whole place beyond. I stare at Alaina, thin pink and purple plastic streamers wisp from her handlebars. She is skinny, blue-eyed, freckle-faced and pale. Thick straight blonde hair puffs at the top then curves under politely mid-ear. Tiny cross necklace, shiny pink shoes with silver buckles on the sides, and white ruffle socks; pastel turtlenecks; a sweater embroidered with a fuzzy animal.
We sit on the warm metallic green square of radiator rooted in the earth and brush Alaina's Barbies' hair. I stop brushing to stare and think Alaina is so cute. I am so proud of her. She is my prize.
Sneers her lips and asks, "Do you have a staring problem?"
Alaina's favorite thing to wear is a pair of hot pink pants bright white elastic stirrups bend around the bottoms of her feet. Alaina's legs are so skinny the pants stretch down the air around without even touching her legs that much. Alaina and many other girls in first grade wear stirrup pants, and all of Alaina's friends look pretty much like her. Alaina and her friends running around the playground, stretching on the bars, never stopping.
I can't run very long. I lose my breath, start coughing, and have to sit on the wooden ledge of the sandbox and sift pebbles through my fingers. When I am ready to run, the girls are out of sight, and their voices echo from the distance.
I climb out of the bathtub to use the toilet.
Alaina peeks around the door, sees me wipe my butt says "Ew! You really wipe like that?"
Says really proud, "I never hold my butt open and stick my hand inside! I just wipe the toilet paper outside on top."
I stand on the plush peach toilet seat see my thighs in the mirror. They bulge and mold tightly to stretch pants my mother finally bought me, thick muscles and a butt blares out in upward curves I stick my hand in to wipe. I am a lumpy, sluggish rock. Unfit to run and play, I wobble like Jello. Half an hour tugging and pulling, picking up the hand mirror. I climb down, pull down the pants, and pull back up loose corduroy pants I've always worn.
It's not that big a loss because they aren't even the right stretch pants anyway. They are maroon and without stirrups. My mother never buys me the real thing. Just like how I have a Hugga Bunch doll, not a Cabbage Patch Kid. I grumble she's bought me something I don't want, and it doesn't matter if it is almost a Cabbage Patch Kid. Alaina has exactly a Cabbage Patch Kid, all of Alaina's friends have Cabbage Patch Kids, and they all play with them together at recess. I learn these complaints make me "ungrateful" and so I seethe in silence.
My mother asks, "Why aren't you wearing the stretch pants?"
"I don't like them," I pout.
She rolls her eyes. "You begged me for those pants! You always ask for something then you wear it once and you never wear it again. I'm not going to buy you clothes for a very long time!"
"But Alaina's are different."
She rolls her neck down into a slump. "Rachel. If Alaina jumped off a bridge, would you?"
"Yes!" I whine immediately.
She slumps down doubled over, completely deflated, head shaking.
Alaina and I venture out and toss the basketball. We circle the court yell insults to the boys we squash the ants with our Keds. Alaina huffs, "Your dad's mean!"
I stomp my foot down on chipped green cement look up from my kill. "Why?"
"Because he's black."
It's not true my father said he is three quarters black one quarter white. He has light brown skin. Gruff black beard, dark brown eyes and porous black-freckled cheeks. Very tight black curls puff up an inch above his head. Potbelly thick thighs and calves, just like mine, thicker than they should from hours of weekly running.
Alaina and I take all ingredients from my cupboards and mix them together. We cook an hour it smells like black licorice—gourmet brown liquid. We shift our attention from our food, and discover that the kitchen has exploded all of its contents onto the counters and floors.
My dad comes home. "What in the world is this? Clean this up right now!" He takes Alaina by the arm and walks her to her condo, three buildings down. Unleashes her to her father, chubby man in a white t-shirt who waits under the carport.
The man gives her a spanking I watch it makes me happy.
My father and I go inside. "Just clean the kitchen," he says.
With Alaina I suggest we play doctor. One of us pretends to listen to the other's back, and I suggest we pull up each other's shirts and touch each other's backs, because you're supposed to. I lean on the comforter and listen. My leg gets pressed against hers.
"Get your sweaty leg off me!" she says, and squirms away.
We play hide and go seek. Her house is messier than mine, there are more places to hide. I panic and hide around the corner of the hallway wall.
She discovers me instantly and says, "Let me look in your ears."
She peers through her black plastic ear scope and says "Ew!"
"You have all these little gross black dots in your ear!"
I am hurt. "No I don't. You're just making that up."
She calls her sister Kate over, take a look. Kate is a sixth-grader.
"Oh, yeah, there's something weird in there," Kate says and walks away.
Alaina crosses her arms and smiles and raises her eyebrows. "See?"
I look down mad but not having anything to say.
Alaina and her friend Jessica we know from tap ballet class at Northwest Aerials, they come to my door. Their hair is crimped, mine is not. Jessica's mother is driving they take Alaina's walkman headphones put one in Alaina's ear one in Jessica's they listen to "Tonight" from New Kids on the Block. They talk about how much they love Joey McIntyre. I have no clue what they are talking about, I am determined to find out.
Jessica's mother says "You girls!" like they are so charming talking like this, I want her to think the same about me.
I sit on grey stone steps and wait for the three of them to go shopping. I feel left out, I want to cry but I don't want to go in there and do it in front of them. I see the window Alaina and her friend flipping through clothing racks laughing. Jessica's mom buys them both bags with light pink leotards and tights.
Near dusk, we sit on a bench outside, bare winter tree strung white Christmas lights the three of them are planning something. They are excited, and I am silent. I don't know why I can't think of anything to say. I wish I would just smile and figure a way to remind Alaina to invite me. We ride the Ferris wheel, I feel the same. I am not really here. Wheel flying way above the city people screaming laughing and I should be looking at the lights, the sky, the Space Needle across the courtyard people buying cotton candy below, I can't.
I want a sister. The closest thing I have is Sara Crewe from the movie, A Little Princess. I don't care about the book I'd rather stare at Sara's face, clothes and room decorations. Rain pouring down the windows I make a blanket fort, fix hot chocolate with marshmallows, sit back down with my cat Sparkle and watch the movie on repeat.
Azteca Mexican restaurant my head on mom's lap I cry because I have asked my parents to give me a sister, they won't.
"We want you to be well-provided for," my dad says. "We've already started your college fund and we don't want to dip into it. And plus, we want to give you all of our attention."
They don't care what I want. I stiffen if either of them tries to hug me, and they learn not to bother trying.
"I just don't understand this aversion you have to touching!" mom says.
I have hurt her feelings and should feel guilty. I give a quick hug, and say "there."
"I love you," she says.
I say nothing.
She looks for my response.
I give her none.
"Rachel! I said 'I love you!'" she repeats.
I look up annoyed, snap "I love you."
My mother says my room is a mess. She doesn't know where I get it, she is always vacuuming and sweeping and has been all my life. I sit around doing nothing.
I wait for the ice cream truck with my clear bag of hundreds of pennies my aunt Millie gave me. All year she saves extra pennies in a big jar, her trailer in Bothell, comes over and gives them to me for my birthday. I lace up my high tops and take pennies to the sidewalk across the street, Falcon Ridge and wait, I hear "Do your ears hang low, do they wobble to and fro" in the distance.
I scheme for my dad to buy the New Kids poster I saw rolled up at Fred Meyer, and a few days later I have it over my bed, telling mom Joe is my favorite. When the ice cream man winds around nearby complexes, arrives at the curb, I count out a hundred pennies he smiles and I talk to him.
Alaina knocks on my door and I kick her in the shin.
"Rachel! Apologize to Alaina!" my mother says.
I roll my eyes. "Sorry."
Alaina runs away.
Mother leans on the wall opposite, arms crossed head shaking. "I don't understand why you would do such a thing. That's just malicious!"
My eyes water, I stomp to my bedroom.
At recess that morning I see Alaina linking arms with two of her friends they circle around me whispering words I can't hear disappearing in a blur of stretch.
Sarah E. Scott has an MFA in Writing from California Institute of the Arts. Her animated memoir was screened at Outfest Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. She is currently seeking representation for her novel. In her spare time, she likes to reconstruct sweaters for her Etsy shop at destroymysweater.etsy.com.