Our house was 221 11th Street – a yellow stucco finished house, two bedrooms, a tiny kitchen, a combined living room dining area and a bathroom. But we had a full sized unfinished basement which was cool in the summer, and we spent lots of time playing in it. We also had a big yard – with grass at the front and on one side, which was mowed by the people next door, who owned our house. There was a sidewalk with a bit of grass beyond it, called the boulevard. Along the side was a path as wide as a car, which led to the garage which kept our old car in it – which was never driven. The back was part lawn and lots of vegetables and flowers that Dad dealt with. Then in the very back there was a fenced area behind the spare garage of the neighbours that nobody used. We had that as our secret club area. It was just a square of nothing – but somehow because nobody could see you when you were there, we thought it was special.
There were lots of kids in our block, and the ones around it. Most of them we knew through
school, but some from other things.
Marlene lived in the apartments at 201 B 11th Street – 10 houses to the south. It was a real sink hole of a place, and the kids that had something wrong with them who were in my class lived in one of those apartments too. I've written about them before. They were the ones the teacher tied to the chairs and put tape over their mouths. . Maybe they were Marlene's sisters. I never asked. It never occurred to me. We never saw them outside, and after the second grade, I don't think they came
to our school anymore.
Marlene didn't go to our school. She went to a boarding school for mentally handicapped kids in Whapeton– about 200 miles away. But she was home for the summers, and liked spending time with us.
She was probably 15 or so, this summer I am writing about – and we were 8 and 9. Judy, my
sister was 15 months older than me, half a foot shorter, and with tons more confidence.
One Saturday afternoon after we'd been to the library, we went downstairs to read. There was
a knock on the back door. Judy went up to see who is was, and brought Marlene back down with her.
“You been to the library?”
“Yeah. We go every week. We like reading. Sometimes we go more than once a week.”
“Can I tell you something?”
“Sure,” said Judy.
“You won't shout?”
“Why would we do that?” I said.
“My mom always shouts at me. I told her and she said it served me right. It made me cry,”
and with that Marlene displayed to us her ability to cry.
“So tell us. We won't shout.”
“I've been banned from the library. I can't go there ever again. Never,” and her crying increased in intensity and drippiness.
“Why did they ban you, Marlene?” asked Judy. “What did you do?”
“I guess I hit one of them,” she replied. “I didn't mean to hurt her, but she wouldn't let me take out the books. I like books. She said I was too big for the kids library and had to go to the grown ups one. And when I said I didn't want to go, she tried to make me, so I hit her.”
“Did you knock her down?” I asked.
“Shut up, Jeanie.”
“You can read our books, Marlene,” said Judy. “We can get some that you might like, and we could pretend we were playing libraries here, and you could come and choose, and then we could put some paper in it and stamp it. Would you like to do that?”
“Can we do it now?”
“Sure. Go get some paper, Jeanie, and cut it into squares, and then get an eraser and we can pretend that is the stamp.”
“I want a real stamp,” said Marlene.
“We can cut a picture into the eraser and then put it in paint and it will make a mark just like a real stamp. Now here are our books, Marlene. I will put them out on the chairs like they were displayed on shelves, and you can come and look at them, and then you can choose which one you want
“I got some candy,” put in Marlene, and dragged some half melted sour balls in a bag out
of her dress pocket. “Want some?”
I was disgusted. She was so dirty and her hands were filthy. I don't know why Judy said she
could borrow our library books. I sure hoped she wouldn't choose mine. Anyway there was no way she could read proper books. She just wanted picture books, and we didn't have any of those. We didn't have many real books at all in our house – but the ones we owned were two of the Bobsie Twins, one called Jeanie, about a French girl that somebody gave me, and a couple of Nancy Drew mysteries. But even these books would be too hard for Marlene. I didn't want to lend her my books, and for sure she wouldn't want our library books with no pictures in them at all. I wondered if there was some way we could stop this game.
But now Marlene was on a different subject – and since I hadn't gone to get the paper and eraser yet, I was relieved.
She pulled a square package out of her pocket and gave it to Judy.
“Happy Birthday. You told me your birthday was soon.”
“Gosh, thanks Marlene. It's next week actually. You shouldn't have got me anything.”
“You're not to have it if you think I stole it.”
“No, I'm sure you didn't steal it,” she said, and opened the paper revealing a small handkerchief embroidered with flowers. “That's really nice. I can use that. Thank you.”
“Some boys gave me the candy,” she said, pleased she had it all to herself now that we had said we weren't hungry.
“They were at the park on 16th Street.”
“Why did they give you the candy?” asked Judy. “Did you ask them for it?”
“No,” said Marlene, all defensive again. “They just said they would give me some candy if I let them see down my panties,” and she giggled.
We were shocked to the core.
“You didn't?” said Judy, raising her voice in a panic.
“You said you wouldn't shout,” said Marlene. “I didn't let them do anything. I know I'm not suppose to let them put their fingers in.”
This noise had got the attention of our mother, who came to the top of the stairs.
“What's going on down there?” she shouted.
“Nothing,” said Judy. “We've got Marlene down here and we're playing libraries.”
“Well, I think it is time Marlene goes home now. I expect her mother will be wondering where she is. It's almost lunch time.”
“Can I have lunch with you? She won't mind,” asked Marlene.
“No, sorry Marlene, but you have to go home now.”
“Bye Marlene. We can play that another time,” said Judy.
“Bye Marlene,” I added. "See you soon."
“Thanks again for the present,” said Judy.
As soon as she was out the door, our mother came downstairs.
“I don't want you girls to ever have her in the house again, do you hear? She is not a suitable
person for you kids to play with. There is something wrong with her, and she is violent. I heard she hit one of the librarians, and she could do the same thing to you if she got mad at your for something “
“She doesn't have any friends. We're the only ones who will even talk to her,” said Judy.
“Well, I can't stop you talking to her, I guess, if you happen to come across her outside. But I won't have her in my house.”
“That is so unfair,” said Judy. “She even gave me a birthday present – see?” and showed the hanky.
“She was so sure we would have thought it was stolen.”
“I expect it was,” said our mother. “I'm sorry if I seem mean to you, but she could get you mixed up with all sorts of bad people, and she isn't your responsibility. I mean it, Judy, I don't want you to be friends with her. One day you will know what I'm talking about.”
Judy rushed off, but I couldn't help but be pleased about how things had turned out. “She offered us really dirty candy, but we said no,” I bragged to my mother.