barnes_glass_500He was a smart-mouthed, cocky little boy, that fall they entered the fourth grade. She was shy, awkward, with the early beginnings of adolescent acne and a jumble of overlapping teeth still three years from braces. She had never liked a boy before. Her mother, a third grade teacher, called the boy a hood. You stay away from him, she said. He’s not our kind. But the girl’s heart raced when the boy passed her desk on his frequent trips to the principal’s office, snapping his fingers as he slouched up the aisle. If he was embarrassed by his patched pants, by the sad gap of white skin between their hems and the tops of his sagging, dishwater-gray socks, he never let on.

She felt him behind her as she unlocked her bike after school. She turned, and there he was, staring at her with his one blue eye and one brown, hands shoved deep in his pockets, shoulders hunched into last year’s threadbare denim jacket against the chill wind of autumn. The low clouds above threatened snow any day now. His wrists were chapped and raw beneath the cuffs of his sleeves, and every few minutes he pulled a hand out of a pocket to blow on it, warming it with his breath. He wiped his nose on a sleeve as he shuffled from foot to foot. He looked anywhere but at the girl, but he stayed put, standing close to her. She could smell him, a musky scent like a wild animal running from the cold, all feral and fierce. She turned back to her bike, red-faced.

Finally, “Walk ya home,” he said, jutting his chin in the general direction of the girl’s neighborhood. “Larry said you like me.”

“I’ll get in trouble,” the girl said, her face hot. “Besides, I have my bike. And I never told Larry that. I don’t know why he would of said that.”

The boy ignored the girl’s rebuke. “I’ll walk alongside ‘til you see your house,” he said, “then I’ll leave.” If there was one thing the boy knew, it was how to get around the rules.

He took her books from her. She rode slowly as he walked beside her, kicking a rock with the toe of his sneaker.

“There’s my house,” the girl said. “You stay back.”

He put her books in her handlebar basket, stuffed his hands back in the pockets of his jacket. He wasn’t carrying any books. The girl stood on the pedals and bore down, leaving him behind without a word. Now she was flying, and she knew he was watching. She felt her braids fly out behind her; the wind made her eyes sting. The bright tassels on the ends of her handlebars floated straight out beside her. She liked the way she must look, to this odd boy with the mismatched eyes and the smell of wildness. She liked the forbidden thrill of him. She leaned hard and low now into the turn, swooping up the driveway like a motorcycle rider.

When her tire hit gravel she put a foot out, but it was too late. The hard soles of her patent leather shoes had no traction, and she went down hard, palms, elbows, and knees slicing through grit, books cartwheeling across the pavement. She lay face down on the driveway, blinking back tears. The boy didn’t move, didn’t make a sound. The girl gathered up her books, picked up her bike and walked slowly to her house. She didn’t look back.

Inside the front door, she let loose the tears she had held back outside, howling in pain and humiliation. Her mother came running. The girl sobbed as her mother patched up her bloody wounds and picked bits of gravel from her knees and elbows.

The next day, bruised and bandaged, she looked away as the boy passed her desk. On the playground at recess, she stood alone beside the swing set, running a finger across the feathery frost on the cold metal post. Larry came up beside her, slipped her a note: He likes you.


Margo Barnes survived a long and lucrative corporate career before she fled to write full time. Her personal essays and short memoirs have appeared in several literary magazines, including University of  Arizona’s Horizon Magazine; Fish Publishing’s Anthology of Poetry, Fiction and Nonfiction; Goddard College’s Clockhouse, and University of Wyoming’s Owen Wister Review. 

Photography by Laura Frantz