by Eric Poirier
Ineke walked across her lawn barefoot, feeling some coolness under her feet as the sun set on another July day. She enjoyed the grass between her toes as she made her way to the giant cedar on her property. Her arms crossed, she looked down at each step. She didn’t need to see where she was going. She had made this trek numerous times to fetch her stubborn boys to start their nightly routine of homework and going to bed.
At the base of the cedar she looked up at the tree house that she, her husband and his brothers built last summer. The tree’s foliage thickened above the house and provided a natural canopy. Ineke stared at a square opening cut out in the wood which acted as both window and entrance. There was no sound coming from above her. Birds stopped visiting after her boys inaugurated the tree house by staging loud Robin Hood productions supported by the sound effects of crashing wooden swords, fake cries of death and many ‘No I got you first!’ The night was still and nothing stirred. The boys were inside killing hordes of aliens on the Xbox.
‘Petra?’ she called out.
‘Petra, let down the ladder, please.’
‘No,’ a shrill voice cried back. ‘I hate you!’
Ineke let her head hang. She uncrossed her arms and placed a hand on the tree.
‘Please, Petra,’ she tried again, looking back up, ‘let me in.’
‘You’re a fat ogress,’ the young voice shot down. ‘I want to go home.’
‘You know why you live with us. You’re better here. And it’s not forever.’
Ineke stopped to listen again. She could hear Petra sniffling in between sobs.
‘I don’t know where else to go,’ the girl in the tree house said.
‘What do you mean, honey?’ Ineke asked.
‘I don’t know how to escape their eyes. Everyone was staring at me today.’
‘It was your first day at this school. Once you properly meet your classmates they’ll stop staring. They’re just curious. They know you’ve been in hospitals for a long time. They weren’t trying to be mean.’
Ineke paused for a response but didn’t get one. The sun had been gone for some time and the moon now illuminated the tree.
‘Petra?’ she said softly. ‘Did your hat fall off?’
‘One of the boys in my class ripped it off my head,’ Petra managed before she burst out crying.
‘Oh no,’ Ineke whispered to herself, letting her head drop again. She could see the scene in her mind. But her version was exaggerated by laughing, pointing children circling her niece. However way it happened, Ineke wagered that her selfish boys weren’t there to protect their cousin.
She simply stood and listened. Petra’s crying fell silent. Ineke looked up.
‘Petra, honey’ she resumed, ‘you don’t have to go there tomorrow if you don’t want to. I know how cornered you can feel when everyone looks at you differently. I’ve been there.’
Ocean pearl eyes peered out of the tree house and down at Ineke. Moonlight reflected off of the little girl’s cheeks and her smooth scalp. Ineke realized that if Petra had hair, it would be hanging down and covering the wonderful features of her face right now.
‘Hi Mrs. Woithe.’ Ineke spun around to see a young girl holding an orange bucket hat with a rose on the rim.
‘I’m Kirstin,’ the visitor announced. ‘I go to school with your boys. We met Petra today in our class. She left her hat in the schoolyard.’
‘Of course I know you, Kirstin,’ Ineke replied. ‘Thank you so much.’
The sound of the tree house ladder being let down made Ineke spin around again. She turned to see Petra climbing down. The little girl skipped the last few rungs, landed on the soft grass and jogged over to them. Kirstin handed Petra her hat.
‘Thank you,’ Petra said, putting it on.
‘The stars are bright tonight,’ Kirstin said, looking up. ‘You want to stay out to look at them?’
‘Can I?’ Petra asked Ineke.
Copyright Eric Poirier 2013