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A novel in verse … and the writing thereof
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When I was Twelve

It was like this:

     Saturday afternoon. I’d helped all morning with the laundry.

After lunch, Andy turned the handle

     while I pushed the clothes through with a stick,

     the two big rollers squeezing out the water so

     we could hang the clothes to dry.

“You don’t need a stick,” he said,

     “except with the electric ones.”

But my fingertips had been nipped

too many times with him

     at the crank.

He kept

speeding up or slowing down,

     slowing down, humming, his

hand on the mangle barely moving,

till I said, “Andy. Andy! Come on!” and he did,

speeding up just as I shoved, so

the stick got caught,

and he kept turning, busily turning away,

(would he have stopped if those had been

my fingers stuck?)

while I yelled, “Wait, wait!”

and even when he said, “What?” face turned

blandly towards mine, he didn’t stop.

“Back up!”

“You said to hurry!”

“The stick’s caught. Back up!”

We did, until I pulled out the stick. The white shirt,

     where the peeled stick had been crushed against it, showed

     a pale yellow stain.

“Now look what you’ve done!” I wailed.

“What’re you looking at me for? You said

     to hurry up, and I did.”

When we were done—when I’d rewashed the shirt, and

     pushed it through the rollers myself, and hung the clothes,—

     I, an apple, and a book went up the tree, and when Mother

     banged out of the house looking for me,

               I stayed still.

“Belinda!” she called. “Belinda!” using my whole, hated name,

     so I knew she was really mad.

She dodged about the back porch,

looking first this way, then that,

one hand up to shade her eyes.

Twenty feet away and ten feet up,

               I never moved.

Behind her, the back door flashed, catching the sun.

     Andy came out.

Then, I knew, this refuge was gone.

How did he find me, zero in on that tree,

     that branch—

     he stood there, glancing around like a dog snuffing the air,

     collecting scents, checking out the day.

His face changed when he saw me, and

     he lifted his hand to wave.

I didn’t dare move; I just glared. If he did that again,

     and Mother saw—

     and suddenly I knew, that’s what he’d do.

     He’d wait ‘til she was looking,

               then he’d wave.

Spinning suddenly, she saw him behind her,

     just as he dropped his arm. He stood there,

     hands clasped behind him, as she

     wrinkled her brow at him.

“Do you know where Belinda is?” she snapped,

     that way she has, demanding information.

He shrugged. “In her room?”

She made a noise of exasperation—as if

     she wouldn’t have looked there

     already!—and marched into the house.

Andy stood there, squinting at the sky.

As he turned slowly away, his gaze

slid across mine, and he nodded once,

               then went inside.

I was stunned—so swept by

     love and shame I couldn’t move.

How dare he do that—just when

I’d gotten his number,

to switch the digits on me. Just when I’d

resigned myself,

girded myself to face the

Dreadful Truth—my brother was

out to get me,

not to be trusted—he pulled

               a fast one, an act of real kindness.

And I, taken off guard, defenseless,

     swung open the door of love

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