It was an inevitability, the crack of a hand across her face. It didn’t matter what she did or what she wore, it didn’t matter how good she had been that day, it would happen anyway. It would happen on the way home from school and in the hallways, it would happen when she was going to pick up her lunch. They said they were just telling the truth, truth being next to godliness, that’s what the preacher said at church. They would go up to anyone they saw fit and just lay in on them, throwing things at them as punishment for what was really just an inability to stand up for themselves or fit it. The Tellers, they called themselves The Tellers. They even had these bracelets made at some custom shop downtown and wore them like badges of honor. She had taken it from them before, a smack for wearing a yellow dress that was “pukey” a soda in her backpack because her hair was the color of sin.
She didn’t tell anyone about it, not at first. She would line the sides of her backpack with plastic bags just in case, and told her mother she didn’t want to wear her favorite yellow dress anymore. She sat as far back as possible in class, and begun to wear a hat on her head with very tight braids underneath so you could see as little as possible of her hair. Her mother would drop her off every morning at school and watch as her bright face became more sullen, her shoulder slouching as she walked in the door intent on bringing as little attention to herself as she could.
Heather Morry picked up her daughter every day from school at three thirty sharp. Kara would insist on this time, beg for it, calling her mother before last period to make sure that she would be there at exactly the time she said she would. School got out at three, and Kara was in the late program, finishing at three-thirty. Heather chalked her insistence up to not liking the way the school looked without anyone in it. That morning, for no reason in particular, Heather tip-toed into Kara’s room, laying out a special new present of red barrettes that matched her hair on her bedside table. She thought it would be just the trick, the little girl had been so down lately, but when she came downstairs she wasn’t wearing them.
“Aren’t you going to wear your new barrettes?”
She knew there was something more going on, she knew it when she looked at her daughters face, and it made her want to cry.
“No mommy I can’t”, she said as she hung her head, taking the barrettes out of her pockets and holding them out in front of her, “they’re so pretty, I can’t”.
She held them out in front of her, in her dark blue jeans and t-shirt, her hair tucked under the black hat. Heather walked over to her and hugged her, a slow rage creeping up in her chest as she took of that horrible black hat and began to remove the braids for Kara’s hair.
She had the most beautiful hair, long ringlets that were this fire engine color. She placed one of the heart barrettes on each side of her head, pulling them back slightly so you could see the freckles on the sides of her cheeks.
“Oh, look how pretty you are, look at this pretty girl.”
She turned Kara around and looked into the hall mirror. She wondered where the girl in the yellow dress and the blue tights had gone, and she missed her. She put on her jean jacket and waited outside with Kara for the bus, the little girl repeatedly feeling the clips in her hair, her feet tapping nervously on the ground.
That afternoon, Heather was late.
Not by much, probably only twenty minutes or maybe a little bit less, there had been an accident on the freeway and the roads were blocked from here to the interstate. She kept checking the dash, pulling back her identical red curls and hoping that Kara wasn’t waiting for her too long. She drove up to the school, slowing her car down when she saw Kara talking to a group of people. Good, she thought, not wanting to disturb them, she’s making some friends here. It’s been so hard since the move, its been so different. It was a few seconds before she realized they were yelling at her, a few more before she saw the first hand go across Karas face, and then another to her chest. She doubled over, a tall stringy looking blonde boy grabbing the heart barrette and ripping it out of her hair and crushing it under his foot. She didn’t move, she didn’t say anything; all she could feel was hot rage.
She didn’t cry, not once, and attempted to clean her six-year-old self up before coming into the car, a big fat red mark on her cheek and her hair disheveled.
“What happened Kara”.
Her hands gripped the wheel so hard they were white and hot, and felt like they were pulsating. She had never experienced anger like this before, and it was as if the entire world shrunk right down into this moment, right down into this second and all she could think about is finding those boys and ripping their throats out. Kara didn’t say anything, just looked down at her feet.
“I saw it Kara, so you talk to me right now, right now you tell me right now”.
She knew her voice was panicked and she tried to steady it, she had never been like this as a child. Heather had been the kind of kid who would go down fighting at any chance she got. She had been suspended for six days in the seventh grade for cutting off Lucky Pinnels braid after she had pantsed her in gym class.
The drive home was quiet, neither of them saying anything, the air in the car hot and heavy. Heather pulled up into the driveway, Kara’s little face obscured by her hair, but Heather could hear the silent heaves of her crying.
“Do you want them to stop Kar?”
“Come inside then, I want to show you something”.
Kara’s father had come home to a great noise in the house, coming from his daughter’s room. He didn’t really inquire as to what it was about, instead parking it in front of the TV with a cold beer, and listening to the sound of something hard making impact with the floor. The news anchor was repeating this story that had been circling all week, some man in the neighborhood had killed his wife with a lock shoved in a pair of old pantyhose.
Kara’s mother drove her to school the next morning wearing a new set of heart barrettes, this time with big rhinestones on them and her favorite yellow dress and blue tights. Her father had told her at breakfast that she looked like a rainbow, and her little face lit right up. The two of them pulled up to the school, sitting quietly in the car for a moment.
“You remember everything?”
“You want me to go over it again?”
“I’ll be here the whole time ok, even if you can’t see me, I’m here, if it gets bad, I’m here.”
“She felt the front pocket of her backpack.”
“Okay”, she said before opening the door and making her way into the school.
Her mother said she should give them six chances. She repeated this in her head as she went through her day. Six chances, count them out one-two-three-four-five-six. She counted, over and over again through each period, looking over her shoulder to see if they were coming. The nerves were getting to her, but being six years old stress was still an elusive concept, and if you were to ask her she would have just said she felt like jumping up and down all day.
She went to the back entrance at three-thirty pm. The after school program had just let out, and she was holding a paper heart she had made, the Elmers glue still drying, her hands full of chunky glitter. They always came out at three thirty seven, after basketball practice. Her outfit was bright today, and she felt like she was wearing a moving target, like her entire body was lit up in bright lights.
The minutes ticked by and she put down her red backpack and sat on the curb, removing her saved snack from the front pocket, preparing herself for what was to occur. When they burst through the green school doors, she could smell the sweat on them,. She put her hand on her bag, making sure she was ready.
“Wow Kara”, Teddy Fink said as he sauntered over, walking widely and waving his arms and legs around. “Should you really be eating that”.
“Leave me alone Teddy” she said without turning her head.
He paused, looking back toward his friends for some sort of validation. They all burst out into unanimous laughter.
She wouldn’t cry, she never did in front of him, not today.
She kept her mouth shut as they told her that her hair was the color of rusted blood, the freckles on her face a smattering of shit stains. They circled her, the four boys egging each other on, their bodies becoming a blur as she fixed her eyes on the tree in front of her.
Three. Four. Five.
Heather Morry watched, she watched and she waited, counting the chances.
Kara said nothing, her hand remaining on the front pocket of her backpack, her eyes darting back and forth.
Fink came right up to her then, and pulled her to a standing position by her hair before hurling her backward as hard as he could.
The whole thing happened very quickly, the laughs replaced by a loud cracking sound and then howling shrieks of pain. She swung the thing hard, spinning around in circles, making sure to hit the body.
“Don’t hit the worst parts, the parts that break. Don’t hit the face, remember that, honey ok?”.
She swung again and hit Teddy fink in the side of the ribs, craaackkk
She reeled again and hit fat Johnny Tronhill right in the gut, the other two backing away in horror before turning on their heels and running.
Her mothers voice echoed in her head “just enough ok honey and you tell them never to touch you again, never to talk to you again”.
Kara came up to Fink, writhing on the ground from what was probably a broken rib or two.
The thing was still dangling in her hand, and old toolbox lock stuffed in a pair of black stockings, it swung back and forth in front of his eyes, back and forth.
“Don’t you ever talk to me again Tommy Fink” she hissed the words, tears beginning to well up in her throat, “don’t you EVER talk to me again”.
The boy covered his head on the ground weeping as the thing hung in front of him, not saying a word.
A green van pulled up to the front then, the passenger door opening to reveal a woman with the same rust colored hair looking right at Tommy, her eyes angry, and her jaw stern.
Kara got in the car quietly.
“Did it work?” Her mother asked her.
“I think so.”