by Robert Eggleton
Cozy in Cardboard
Inside her first clubhouse, Lacy Dawn glanced over fifth grade spelling words for tomorrow’s quiz at school. She already knew all the words in the textbook and most others in any human language.
Nothing’s more important than an education.
The clubhouse was a cardboard box in the front yard that her grandmother's new refrigerator had occupied until an hour before. Her father brought it home for her to play in.
The nicest thing he's ever done.
Faith lay beside her with a hand over the words and split fingers to cheat as they were called off. She lived in the next house up the hollow. Every other Wednesday for the last two months, the supervised child psychologist came to their school, pulled her out of class, and evaluated suspected learning disabilities. Lacy Dawn underlined a word with a fingernail.
All she needs is a little motivation.
Before they had crawled in, Lacy Dawn tapped the upper corner of the box with a flashlight and proclaimed, "The place of all things possible — especially you passing the fifth grade so we'll be together in the sixth."
Please concentrate, Faith. Try this one.
"A, R, M … A … D, I, L, D, O," Faith demonstrated her intellect.
"That's weak. This is a bonus word so you’ll get extra points. Come on."
"It’s red …,” Faith said.
Lacy Dawn nodded and looked for a new word.
I’ll trick her by going out of order — a word she can't turn into another punch line.
“…and way bigger than my daddy’s pee pee. My oldest sister told me what it’s for, but I already knew from when I watched daddy do her. They didn’t know I was hid in the closet. It was scary.”
“Don’t talk about it and the image will go away.”
“One time, my mommy made so much noise that I woke up in the middle of the night. She’s louder than my sister. Then, all of a sudden she stopped. I guess the batteries went dead ‘cause she tiptoed into my room and took the ones out of my Walkman. They were dead too.”
“Let’s get back to studying,” Lacy Dawn said.
My mommy don't like sex. It's just her job and she told me so.
Faith turned her open spelling book over and rolled onto her side. Lacy Dawn did the same and snuggled her back against the paper wall. Face to face — a foot of smoothness between — they took a break. The outside was outside.
At their parents insistence each wore play clothing — unisex hand-me-downs that didn’t fit as well as school clothing. They’d been careful not to get muddy before crawling into the box. They’d not played in the creek and both were cleaner than the usual evening. The clubhouse floor remained an open invitation to anybody who had the opportunity to consider relief from daily stressors.
"How'd you get so smart, Lacy Dawn? Your parents are dumb asses just like mine."
"You ain't no dumb ass and you're going to pass the fifth grade."
"Big deal — I'm still fat and ugly," Faith said.
"I'm doing the best I can. I figure by the time I turn eleven I can fix that too. For now, just concentrate on passing and don't become special education. I need you. You're my best friend."