It’s really cold today. You know it’s cold when Tammy’s hair freezes.
Tammy, the prettiest girl in the trailer park, is in the habit of washing her hair every morning before school, the better to emphasize the gleaming blue-black drape that hangs well below her waist. Because she is too cool to wear a hat, her hair has frozen solid in the six-block walk to the bus stop.
Next to Tammy is Rita Bayer. There is a wary, uneasy space between the two of them.
I know four of the Bayer kids. Their trailer is never empty of teenagers. Their driveway never has less than three cars in it - four if you include the Mustang on blocks back next to the shed.
All the Bayers are boys. Even the girls are boys. They are sturdy and box-shaped.
The Bayers aren’t built for speed; they are built to crush.
I had met Rita three months earlier at the bus stop on our first day in the new court.
“Hi,” I said.
“What’s your name?” she countered.
“Pearl,” I said. “What’s yours?”
“What?” I said.
“Guess.” A demand.
“Um. Sharon,” I said.
“Pssssss, “ she said, hissing between her teeth. Clearly, she was dealing with an idiot.
“You gotta be kiddin’ me,” she jeered. “Guess again.”
Guess again? No, thank you. “Um. I give up,” I said.
“Rita!” she shouted, triumphantly.
Rita? I was supposed to have guessed “Rita”? Yikes! Welcome to the first day of seventh grade.
Rita and I never became friends. Rita said things like “yank me” and, even worse, the horrifying “lick my butt”. I never knew where to look when she said that.
Tammy scowls at her in the thin pre-dawn light. The two of them are oil and water; and if Tammy had a brother, I’m sure she would’ve had him attempt to beat Rita up by now.
“Your hair is frozen,” Rita observes.
“No shit, Sherlock,” Tammy says.
“Howdja like me to break it off at the roots?” Rita asks, pleasantly. She could just as easily be asking “howdja like a three-day weekend” or “howdja like half a pizza”.
Tammy steps behind me, uses me as a shield. “Go ahead,” she says, holding my shoulders. “Try it, Lard-O.”
Lard-O is a misnomer. Rita isn’t fat. As solid as a tree trunk, and moving just slightly faster than one, she grabs the front of my coat with one hand and takes a swing for Tammy’s head with the other. She misses Tammy’s head but manages to grab her coat.
“Hey!” I shout, angrily.
“Stand still,” Rita advises.
“LINDSEY!” Tammy is screaming for her older sister. Lindsey, however, is a good block away. She sees what is going on and continues her slow walk to the bus stop.
Rita lets go of me and I duck away. Holding Tammy’s coat at the throat with her right hand, she casually licks her left thumb and smears it across Tammy’s forehead, then shoves her, hard, backwards.
Tammy falls heavily to the street. She jumps up, twisting to see the butt of her white painter’s pants. They are ruined.
“I’m gonna get you! I’m gonna get you!” she screams.
Tammy runs home, crying.
Rita looks at me. “Washing your hair in the morning is stupid,” she challenges.
“You’re right about that,” I say.