L I N D S A Y T I G U E
I remember the first mean child. She ran up the hill carrying a medicine ball. One of those weighted balls for toning biceps—too heavy for the games of four square I played as a kid, but blush-colored and lopsided, as if full of wet sand.
This girl was around seven and wore yellow shorts with a ratty gray sweatshirt, her brown hair pulled into a severe bun and ringed with a lime-colored, faux-fur scrunchie. She yelled “Macadamia!” at the sky while running, holding the ball in front of her like a wet baby. She stopped at the crest of the hill and threw the ball up once—popped it into the sky, nearly falling as the weight of it torpedoed back into her arms. She went up and down a few times tracing a snaky path in the grass. I’d been in the yard next door moving mulch around with a too-small rake. I am terrible at yards. At having them and at any sort of tending.
Being terrible at things was the reason for my last break-up; this whole one-floor house and patch of yard was now mine alone. I broke up with him because he wanted a wife. In a traditional sense I mean; I refused to schedule dentist appointments for a forty-year-old man. This is supposed to be rewarding, I would remind myself as if a role could be willed, as if an energy for what other people—women—do could be summoned. Others seem to fold and put away laundry without fanfare. No constant drumbeat, no building judgment? This could be fun? They do it, anyway. They research summer crafts for their children.
My ex never played four-square growing up, wouldn’t come out of the house that day I drew the chalk squares on the driveway. But I remember, as a child, wanting to play: the sun a hot push above me and the bigger kids always stealing, always taking the game.
I stood up and walked toward the end of the driveway as this girl peeled toward me, down and down the neighbor’s hill. She yelled it again, her chant of nut—this time louder—“Macadamia!” She hurled the pink medicine ball right into my stomach. I stood at the edge watching her coming and yet it staggered me all the same. I collapsed on the ground, curled myself on the cracked sidewalk like a creature not ready to be born.
There would be times in my life—I didn’t know it yet—when a mean child would say the perfect thing to hurt me, would deliver a wounding so exact that I’d wonder what conjuring it was that I’d done.
The girl stood above me for a full minute. She picked up her instrument of cruelty and attempted to pop it on her hip like a basketball, but it was too heavy and kept sliding down.
“You can’t do it,” she said.
I looked up at her tiny self above, her face haloed by midafternoon light. “What?” I asked her. “What can’t I do?”
She picked up the ball and held it in front of her face and pretended it was her dance partner; she stepped in a jaunty square around the mailbox. It was like she was part of some grade-school waltz troupe—a halting yet joyful procession. She then put the ball down on the sidewalk near my face and off she skipped. She keeps skipping and skipping away.
Lindsay Tigue is the author of System of Ghosts, which was the winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize. She is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing and English at Eastern New Mexico University.