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Ginga Crestman said that he’d give me fifty cents if I showed him my titties, so I did. It was really hot and I wanted to buy a cold drink from one of the machines outside the cafeteria, but I had no quarters. When Ginga gave me the money, I put the icy can right up against my forehead, but that is not why I got a paddling for breaking dress code. The reason is that I was wearing my papaw’s welding helmet in first period social studies. Welding helmets in class are against dress code. Mrs. Jenkins gave me the paddling, and Mr. Hardy was the witness. He teaches math in the classroom next door, and Mrs. Jenkins had to interrupt him and ask him to step outside into the hallway to watch while she gave me the three licks with a wooden paddle. Mr. Hardy stood with his arms folded across his chest, and his nose hairs wiggling every time he breathed in and out. The paddling gave me just a quick sting on the butt, but I got real hot and angry in my head. I thought if ever there was a day for a cold drink today was one, but I had no money in my pockets so I had to show Ginga Crestman my titties in order to get some quarters.
I used to like Mrs. Jenkins. She has pretty golden hair and chubby cheeks and when she taught a social studies unit on a drought in Africa, that whole week her brown eyes seemed to be saying, “What a shame, how sad, people across the whole wide world are dying of hunger and war and here we are with all our abundant gifts and comforts and there is nothing to do but to feel bad about it. What a shame.”
I could not tell her why I wore the helmet, and I do not like her anymore.
It’s hard to make money when you’re twelve, but I do have a job. I babysit a little boy named Chase who lives in the trailer behind our house. His daddy works at the chicken processing plant that Papaw is the boss for. Chase used to stay by himself everyday after school until Papaw told his daddy that it wasn’t very safe for a five year old to do stay by hisself, and that he had a grangirl who could watch after him until he got off work. I think that Papaw was worried that the kid would start a fire. His teeth are rotten, so I get a little bit sick when he smiles. He is also wild, so sometimes I have to yell at him because he will do things like stand on the chair and call me “shitty shit-eater.” I know that he is poor, but I do not want to be called shitty shit-eater so I yell at him and then I take away his cookies and then he starts to cry. He is only five. Lately, we’ve been watching Lady and the Tramp. If we start it at 3:30, it ends at 5:00, and then there’s only a few minutes before his daddy picks him up.
On Fridays, Chase’s daddy gives me ten dollars and I feel a little bad taking it, because he is usually still sweating and stinking but I do want the money and so I take it. Sometimes I imagine buying all the cold drinks that I want, but in real life I give the money to Papaw, because everybody needs to pull their own weight around here.
I think if I were ever alone with Ginga Crestman, I would tongue kiss him and also let him put his hand between my legs. I think that would feel good. Ginga Crestman is really good at Little League, even though he has to wear jeans instead of those stretchy pants that all the other boys wear, because his parents spend all their money at the Indian Casino. One day they are going to strike it rich, though, and Ginga will have all the stretch pants that he wants, and he will have so much money he can be my boyfriend and pay for everything, not just cold drinks. Then he wouldn’t have to be boyfriend to Kelly Mills. I think Ginga only is boyfriend to Kelly Mills because her daddy owns the pharmacy. Kelly has two expensive purses and a tiny little dog named Pugg. She brings silver-framed pictures of him in her expensive purse, and shows them around to everybody at school, and everyone squeals and says, “He is too cute!” I would like to squeal and say that too, but the pictures never come to me. If they did, I would know exactly how to hold the frames, with my fingers out so as not to smudge the glass.
Kelly Mills goes to First Baptist, but I go to the church close to where I live, which is small and the hymnals have yellow pages, but there is a swimming pool next to the graveyard out back. My favorite part of church is when we get to have the swim parties. I love to do back dives. I am working on a back flip. When you are underwater, you have no weight at all, and that is good, because I have been told that I am fat. Everything looks blue and clean, and I am so strong I can swim all the way to the bottom and get the ring. When I swim back to the surface, I hold the ring up like I have found the buried treasure, and everyone cheers. The people at church are nice. I wish people were like that at school.
Sometimes I do not want to go to school and so I don’t. Papaw doesn’t care, says I might as well give the other kids a chance to catch up. It is one of his little jokes for me. If the principal calls, Papaw tells her to mind her own business, and I feel a little sorry for her, and I usually decide to go on in the next day. The principal is black, but everyone says that she is very smart and doesn’t talk black. She is not from here. Some people say that she went to Harvard, and that the government paid her extra to move here. That makes me feel sorry for, because our whole air stinks like dead chickens, even by the golf course where Kelly Mills lives, and I can imagine that it would be a pretty terrible smell if you are not used to it. I am used to it.
Sometimes I think that if Ginga touches me between the legs, I will feel different, everything will be different. I think that people will be able to tell that I have a secret, and they will want to get to know me better in order to find out what it is. Everybody wants to know a secret.
One of the things I like about Ginga is that he is already very strong. He wears tank tops to school sometimes, and nobody else in our whole grade has arm muscles like that. He lifts weights with his older brothers in their garage. He lives in town, that’s why he has a garage. We live in the country and just park in the driveway. That’s the way it goes. I think we will live in town if we get married. I think you have to have money to get married, because I saw on television that weddings cost tens of thousands of dollars, and that is one of the reasons I am always thinking about how to get more money. I would like to be married one day.
On the day before I got the paddling, I pretended to myself that I was Chase’s mother and Ginga was his father, but that Ginga was away at work making a lot of money for us to spend later. I gave Chase my old crayons and some notebook paper, thinking he should do something more wholesome than just watch tv. He drew an orange sunshine with a yellow smile in the center. He pointed to it, said in his gruff little voice, “That’s God.”
“What, the sun is God?” I said. Chase shook his little head, pointed at the upward tilting arc in the center, the smile. “There.”
Maybe he was trying to say good, but maybe he was saying that God was the smile inside the sun. I liked that. Then I got carried away and leaned over Chase and kissed his cheek saying, “Oh-my-sweet-lovie-face.”
Chase stood up in his chair and screamed “shitty shit eater.” Then I screamed at him to knock it off and I slapped him hard on his arm. I told him his daddy was going to beat the everliving you-know-what out of him when he gets home from work. Chase thought I meant his real daddy, but I secretly meant Ginga Crestman, because as I have already mentioned, I was pretending to myself that Ginga was Chase’s daddy. Either way, Chase got down from the chair real fast. There were red marks on his arm where I hit him and his eyes were as brown and as sad as Mrs. Jenkins’, except I think his were saying something more like, “Isn’t it so sad, all the things I don’t even know about are so very sad, and the one thing that I do know is that things will always be this sad even when I start to know about them.”
Then I gave Chase an extra cookie, and took one for myself, too, why not? People shouldn’t call people fat. Still, Chase must have told his daddy that I yelled at him or maybe he saw the red marks on his arm, because Papaw told me that today would be my last day to babysit. I guess Chase will be watching tv at his own house from now on.
Anyway, what I wanted to tell you is that I think it will feel nice if I let Ginga touch me between my legs, even though he is not my boyfriend. He does want to put his hand between my legs. I know because he told me when he gave me fifty cents for a Mountain Dew that he would give me a dollar for something more.
I think that this would be wrong, but it would also feel nice. I used to think that you would get angry if you knew all the wrong things about me, but ever since Chase drew that picture of you smiling, I have thought about you differently. I thought that maybe I could tell you things that I hadn’t told anyone before. I thought maybe you would understand. I wore Papaw’s welding helmet at school today so as not to burn my eyes while I looked for you out the window. I couldn’t tell Mrs. Jenkins about why, so I had to let her paddle me for the dress code. I knew she wouldn’t understand.
I did not see you at school, but I’m going to try again at home. I am in the driveway with Chase right now. It’s our last day together, I guess. We are taking turns with the helmet, looking. Chase wants to hold my hand while he has the helmet on because he is not used to the way the visor turns everything a spooky kind of green. His hand is little and sticky. I wish I hadn’t ever yelled at him or hit him and left red marks on his arm. I’m worried you won’t smile on us today because of me yelling at him and hitting him. But I hope you will. I hope that you will show us your secret.