Á La Carte: Safe

[creative nonfiction]

23½ Rose Street

I ran up the hill to get the mail for my mom. I opened the mailbox flap to see a green caterpillar. I screamed and stepped back. The teenage boy who lived upstairs ran over. What happened? I pointed to the caterpillar, its slow-moving legs leaving a trail of slime behind. He grabbed it with his fingers and tossed it into the yard. He’s more afraid of you, than you are of him. I put my hand to my chest. Heart beating fast? I nodded shyly. Can I feel? Before I answered, he put his whole hand over my chest. It sped up. His fingers massaged the budding breasts under my Care Bears t-shirt, as a smile spread across his face. I turned quickly and ran down the hill as fast as I could.

Caterpillars never scared me again.

*     *     *

786 Osage Street

My mom didn’t trust the guy next door. He was always stopping by to check on us. A single mom and her twelve-year-old. I thought he smelled funny. My mom bought a metal baseball bat. It sat by our door. One day, I walked home from school and my mother’s car wasn’t there. He was sitting on his porch. Cigarette in his mouth. No key around my neck. I walked fast to my house, sat on our stoop, and shuffled through homework. He strolled my way. Come on to my house if you want. I don’t bite. The old man across the street came out to check his mail. Everything okay? My mom’s car screeched around the corner.

Everything’s fine.

*     *     *

1520 Second Avenue Apt. B

The teenage girl upstairs was three years older than me, just old enough to know more about men, and things. She’d watch Wings and eat pretzels dipped in curry sauce every day after school. She would curl her hair and tell me about the boy at school. How he put his fingers inside her. Her mom yelled a lot. My mom went out at night. Keep an eye on her, will ya? One day she told me about her dad back in India. One day I didn’t know what dads could do to their little girls.

The next day I did.

*     *     *

Taxicab

My mom shoved me into the middle, next to the driver, between the steering column and her puffy winter coat. How old are you? He smiled down at me. She’s ten. He pulled the meter to life and headed for the grocery store. He slowed the car to a stop for a red light. My mother wrapped my scarf tighter around my neck. The stoplight was red for a long time. He kept the blinker on. Its rhythmic sound kept time with the arrow on the dashboard. He reached over my legs to turn the heater up, then slowly brought his hand back, hovering above my knees. The tattoos on his four knuckles shown towards my mother and me. The words spelled F E A R. I looked away quickly. My mother fingered the door handle.

We’ll walk from here.

*     *     *

Wollman’s Park

His hands wrapped tightly around my waist. You run, and I’ll chase you. I didn’t want to play with him anymore. He released his grip. If I catch you, you have to kiss me. I looked at his lips. Tight. Chapped. He licked them once with a bright red tongue. I took off fast. Girls can’t run! Chants from the swings. I could feel footsteps. I dodged trees and pinecones. Stumps and broken beer bottles. When he got tired of running, he lunged. Pulled my legs out from under me. I fell hard to the ground. Face to dirt. Hands to face. Hands on him. Get off! Arms pinned down. Kicking. Girls can’t run! Hands to chest. Hands to ground. Kiss me and I’ll stop!

He stopped.

*     *     *

The Laundromat

My mother stood in front of a row of dryers and spoke to a woman folding towels. It’s not like when we were kids. I walked around with a notebook looking for science project ideas. Dryer lint? Cardboard? Something to do with electricity? I scribbled. The old man in the corner coughed. Too much nicotine. He closed his eyes, moved his head against the wall. I walked closer to examine his fingernails, his face. Smoke gathers at corners of mouths. Scribbling. Scribbling. Scribbling. It wrinkles the skin. His eyes opened. I jumped back. He laughed. Do I scare you? I shook my head.

All men scare me.

Melissa lives in Atlanta, GA, with her husband and ten-year-old son. She earned her MA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and her BA in English from Missouri State University. Melissa was born and raised in Kansas and enjoys sharing stories of her Midwestern roots. When she isn’t writing flash fiction, creative nonfiction, or amusing her friends on her blog, Melissa is drinking coffee and talking politics with Sir Duke Barkington, her standard poodle. Visit her website at missygoodnight.com.