Chapter 8

 

Peachblow

 

 

 “Goofus!  Do I have to swat you?”

 

“Well,” he told Tricia, “ya don’t hafta.

 

“Vicki!  Get out here and put Goof back to bed.”

 

“Hey, you’re supposed to be the babysitter.”

 

“I—am—on—the—phone.”

 

“There’s a big surprise,” Vicki murmured to Hayley, who was up in 3W while both sets of parents were at Reulbach’s Open House.  The girls, studying for tomorrow’s spelling test, had their workbooks conscientiously open and Tricia’s radio coincidentally on.  If they tried to harmonize when “Aquarius” or “Sugar, Sugar” played, that didn’t mean they weren’t focused on words with short-U vowels.

 

“Truck.  T-R-U-C-K.  With a C, like ‘trick’ and ‘track’—”

 

“Vicki woke me up,” declared Goofus in the front room.  “She was singing.  Oh so loud!  ‘LETTTT THE SUNNNNSHIIIINE...’”

 

“Christopher, you’re such a little snitch!”

 

“Vicki, do I have to swat you?” Tricia inquired.  “Come—get—him—now.”

 

“Oh, I’ll do it,” said Hayley.  “I’ll tuck him in so snug he’ll fall asleep right away.”

 

“I’ll conk him on the head if that doesn’t work,” Vicki grumbled.

 

In the front room she made a face at Tricia, who didn’t glance up from her “What did he say then?... what did she say he said?... she did not say he said that!” conversation.  Some babysitter.  Meanwhile Goofus, who couldn’t even ask for a drink of water like a normal kid, was demanding a full glass of Fresca.

 

“Just a mouthful,” Hayley cooed at him, carefully pouring it into a tablespoon.  Goofus schlurped this as grossly as possible before consenting to be beddy-byed, giving Vicki a repellent gloat as Hayl led him away.

 

“Gotta go, Patty, the Establishment’s back,” Tricia told the phone, hanging up as the knob turned and the door opened and in walked the Volesters.  Each of whom gave their daughters a decidedly quizzical look.

 

Hayley, tiptoeing out of Goof’s room, got one as well.

 

“Your folks are waiting downstairs, Hayl,” Felicia said drily.

 

“Uh—okay,” said Hayley, fetching her workbook and tablet and favorite pencil.  “See you tomorrow—I hope,” she whispered to Vicki.

 

Ozzie closed the door after her.  “Princess, let’s you ‘n’ me have a chat,” he told his eldest.

 

What?” went Tricia, following him into the master bedroom.  “What’d Mrs. Lundgren say about me?  Daddy, that woman overreacts, she does it all the time...”

 

“Is Tricia in trouble?” Vicki asked her mother, trying not to sound pleased.

 

“Not yet.  She just thinks she’s a teenager a couple years too soon...  Let’s have a little chat of our own, Brownie.”

 

“Am I in trouble?”

 

Steady maternal gaze.  “Should you be?”

 

“I don’t think so.”

 

“Well then—no, you’re not either.  I was right, though: your teacher is the same Mrs. Kling that Aunt Fritzi and I had for second grade, back in Adrian Square.  She recognized me right away, too, before she even read my name tag.  BUT—she didn’t quite seem to know who you were, Vicki, and you’ve been her pupil for a month now.  Any guesses why that might be?”

 

“Mom, she’s so old.  I bet she was old when you had her.”

 

“Hmmm.  Well, she didn’t seem young then, and that was—never mind how long ago.”  (Rueful sigh.)  “I was in her class when Pearl Harbor was attacked.”

 

“The black lady on TV?”

 

“Um, no, that’s Pearl Bailey—”

 

“But somebody hurt her??”

 

Felicia offered brief reassurance as to Pearlie Mae’s well-being and praise for Vicki’s racial empathy before returning to the point.  “Do you raise your hand when Mrs. Kling asks questions?  I hope you’re not still playing Shrinking Violet.”

 

(That was Vicki’s role in last spring’s dance recital.  Kris had portrayed a Jazzy Marigold and Hayley, with touching pathos, a Begonia who wanted to be a Forget-Me-Not.)

 

“Now I know you always do your homework like a good girl, and study hard before your tests—you did tonight, right?”

 

“Yes, Mom!”

 

“Okay.  But do you speak up whenever your teacher calls on you?”

 

Decidedly quizzical look from Vicki.  “She doesn’t call on me much.”

 

*

 

Nor did she—at least not by name.

 

Fifth week of second grade, and Mrs. Kling’s students could not agree whether she was seventy or a hundred and seventy; whether she was due to retire or had in fact died years ago; and, if so, whether it was her ghost or zombie quavering by the blackboard.

 

“Mud,” she (or it) said.  “Rain turns the earth into mud.

 

M-U-D.  They had two spelling tests every week: a so-called easy one on Wednesday and a no-kidding harder one on Friday.  Even “easy” words could cause trouble, as happened during Monday’s drill when Tall Mark insisted that But had two T’s.

 

“That’s how I spell mine, anyway.”

 

“You take yourself down to Mr. Overland’s office, young man!” Mrs. Kling had shuddered.  “You, young lady, see that he goes there right this minute.”

 

“It’ll be my pleasure!”

 

The actual phrase out of Melissa Chiese’s actual mouth.  And if she was fibbing, you couldn’t have told by the expression on her frighteningly pretty face.

 

“But—” Tall Mark had protested; “Enough!” Mrs. Kling had said; and away Melissa had marched Tall Mark’s two T’s to be locked up in the Tower.  Or so everyone figured, since he had never come back.

 

“Rug.  We covered the floor with a rug.

 

R-U-G.  So far so good; not a single surprise.  If you couldn’t be a teacher’s pet like Sarah-Jill Shapiro (or a teacher’s hatchet man like Melissa Chiese) you could still ace every word on a test.

 

“Dumb,” intoned Mrs. Kling.  “Helen Keller was blind, deaf, and dumb.  Silence, if you please!” as an indignant ripple rose and fell.  That was a Friday word and this was a Wednesday!

 

Vicki was appalled that a teacher would call anybody dumb, right out loud.  Particularly some poor girl who couldn’t see or hear!  How could Helen help but be dumb?  How could she go to school?  And if she went, what kind of terrible pranks would be pulled on her?

 

“Bunch.  Bananas come in a bunch—I told you children to be silent!  Must you all be punished?  Very well: pass your papers to the front, and then everyone put his-or-her head down on his-or-her desk!”

 

Louder, longer ripple.

 

Hastily scribbling D-U-M-M and B-U-N-T-C-H, Vicki passed her paper up to Stephanie Lipperman (who rudely peeked at it with an uncalled-for snortle) and lowered her head onto folded arms.  Though not before seeing Melissa pass not just her test to April Tober but also a note, on bragged-about robin’s-egg-blue monogrammed stationery.  The sort of act that would land anyone else in trouble.

 

But She, of course, only made trouble for others.

 

Vicki imagined April resolving not to read the note.  Then being unable to resist.  Then finding it contained more “helpful advice” regarding her new front teeth.  April’s permanents had come in with a prominent overbite, sealing her fate as a chipmunkette.  For which Melissa heaped her plate with supersympathetic nods and charitable suggestions:

 

“Press your lips together when you smile.  I mean, you can try.

 

Said with a bright cold display of perfectly straight Chiese choppers.

 

To which April dared not retaliate.  Ditto Stephanie, except with occasional petty snipes; while Eileen Agnew lapped up everything She dished out and clamored for more.

 

Just last week at the drinking fountain, Vicki’d found Eileen standing behind her.  Being egged on from a distance:

 

“Go on.  Ask her,” said a bright cold voice.

 

“—mmmmWhat church do you go to, Vicki?”

 

(Sigh and mouth-wipe.)  “I don’t go to any.”

 

From a distance: “See?  I told you.”

 

“OmmmMMMM,” went Eileen as she backed away, unwilling to schlurp from the same spigot as an unabashed heathen.

 

That evening Vicki asked her mother, “Why don’t we go to church?”

 

“Time enough for you to deal with that when you grow up.  I only ask, darling, that you’ll think for yourself with an open mind and heart.”

 

Which made hardly any sense.  Tricia, when appealed to, explained that “the Volesters are Catholic, the Schmelzes are Jewish, Mom thinks they’re both silly, Daddy goes along with Mom, you and I like to sleep late on Sundays, and Goofus would worship the Devil if we let him.”

 

“So why did Eileen go ‘OmmmMMMM’ at me?”

 

“Probably she’s Buddhist, they go OM all the time.  Now quit asking questions, I’m busy.”

 

Another big surprise.  Also relief that Goofus couldn’t spit fire or carry a pitchfork, like Hot Stuff in the comic books.

 

“Come come,” said Mrs. Kling.  “Sit up straight now, we mustn’t waste any more time.”

 

Everyone sat up straight and found their teacher looking vaguely lost.

 

“Er... what was it we were doing last, children?”

 

Jimmy Maxwell raised a respectful hand.  “You were gonna tell us more about Helen Keller.  Could she play a mean game of pinball?”

 

*

 

Lacking arcade devices, the girls of Reulbach spent recess playing hopscotch or foursquare or freeze tag or jumping double dutch.  All these activities were scorned by the newest girl in class, who was also the tallest and widest and oldest.  (Beating Stephanie to the latter honor by a few days, thus earning a bushel of spite.)  New Girl wasn’t the fattest—Hayley remained the leading contender for that title, no matter how many desserts she attempted to skip.  But certainly New Girl carried the heaviest chip on her shoulder.

 

Her name was Brenda Pomerantz.  From her back-corner desk she’d glower truculently with eyes that could snap and crackle and even pop with belligerence.  As they did the day that Melissa brought a leather-bound photo album to school, its contents devoted to a Pomeranian puppy called Foxyface.

 

Everyone gathered round to ooh and ahh at the puppy-pictures, marveling that Melissa could own anything so innocuous.  Even Brenda deigned to take a gander, and when she did Melissa said: “Pomerantz—that’s a name like Pomeranian, isn’t it?  Too bad some dogs can’t ever be cute.”

 

Everyone’s head pivoted from Melissa to Brenda.

 

Who let it be known that such gab was all well and good inside a classroom, but things would be very different out on the playground.  Away from adult supervision.  Where they could talk.

 

“Fine,” said Melissa.

 

“Fine,” said Brenda.

 

Snap-crackle glower met radiant frostbite with an audible clang.

 

By after-lunch recess, news of the impending confrontation had reached every ear in second grade.  Nancy Knopf and Gretchen Digresso came over from Miss Moran’s class to see the fight, as did rambunctious-as-ever Short Mark.  Dumb Mark didn’t (presumably he was off playing pinball) but Mrs. Kling’s boys were there in force, eager for girl-on-girl mayhem.

 

Jimmy Maxwell and Billy Goldfarb each bet a dime that Melissa would prevail.  Not so Keith Vespa, who’d allowed Brenda to take part in dodgeball games and could testify she didn’t throw anything like a girl.  (Unlike, say, Wernie Ball, who despite his name had no affinity for spherical objects.)

 

“See this bruise on my leg?” said Keith.  “Brenda socked me here three days ago.  I bet Melissa won’t even show!”

 

She did, though, backed up by the terrified nail-gnawing Eileen, plus Stephanie with her bushel of spite, and April demonstrating pressed-lips solidarity.

 

They gathered by the Julyan Avenue fence, not far from April’s Classical Georgian home.  (“Get ready to call your dad for an ambulance,” Jimmy suggested.)  No adult was in sight: Mrs. Kling’s nerves, as usual, were being steadied by a cigarette in the teachers’s lounge, while Miss Moran was trying to prevent Brainwashed Larry from mangling himself on the jungle gym.

 

The adversaries faced each other: Melissa in a splendid Day-Glo outfit (sapphire predominant) and Brenda in a plain beige shift, rubbing one palm with the other hand’s knuckles.

 

“So,” said Melissa.  “Here we are.  Out on the playground.”

 

“Yeah,” growled Brenda.  “Got anything else you wanna say about me?”

 

“Sure do.  You call that a dress?

 

(Gasp from half the girls; snortle from the rest.)

 

Brenda took two steps forward.  “My mother made me this dress.  What about it?”

 

Melissa didn’t budge.  “Just this.  What gunny sack did she make it out of?”

 

Two more steps: “You better watch yer yap, Muhhhh-lissa!”

 

Standing firm: “Why?  You wouldn’t hit a girl, would you?”

 

Brenda closed the gap, grabbing a clump of glossy bouncy hair with one fist and drawing back the other, poised for action.  “I might hafta yank one a little!”

 

(Gasp throughout the crowd.  Anguished mmmm from Eileen.)

 

Melissa refused to flinch.  “Just try it, POOCHIE,” she said in a voice of arctic venom.  “Try it and SEE what’ll happen to you.”

 

Infinitely fraught moment.

 

Then the bell rang.  Onlookers let whoosh a mass exhalation and rushed back to class.  Brenda unclenched both hands, shoved Melissa aside and strode away.  Eileen produced a hairbrush and tried to fuss over Melissa, who shrugged her off and strolled schoolward at a leisurely pace.  Keith Vespa, claiming the fight had ended in a draw, ignored Billy and Jimmy’s pay-up demands.

 

And Vicki’s trio, simultaneously shaken and frustrated, did their best to keep out of Her eyeshot for the rest of that day.  Nor did anyone risk a back-corner glimpse of Brenda Pomerantz.

 

The trio had arranged to spend the afternoon at the Walrock greystone, but took their time leaving school so as to avoid exposure to further fallout.  They went so far as to depart via the east doors instead of their regular western exit.  Kris, as the bravest of the three, went out first to verify the coast was clear.

 

“You guys,” she hissed, “come look.”

 

They found Brenda skulking alone in the parking lot.  Acting exactly like Ness did when her doggy feelings were hurt.

 

“I’m gonna talk to her,” Kris announced.  “Um—you guys better come too.  Just in case.”

 

Halfway over, Brenda raised her head to glower at them and Kris threw up her hands.  “Don’t be mad at us!  We hate Her too!”

 

“Don’t say ‘hate,’” Hayley chided.  “Are you okay?”

 

Brenda ducked her head again, giving the asphalt a listless kick.  “Can I say ‘hate’?”

 

“Um—I guess.”

 

“Okay then: I hate this school.  I wish we never moved here.”

 

“It’s not such a bad school,” Vicki said timidly.  “Just has bad people in it...  Um—where’d you live before?”

 

Another sluggish kick.  “Adrian Square.”

 

“Hey, that’s where my mom and aunt grew up!”

 

“Yeah?” went Brenda.  “Anywhere near Constantine Avenue?”

 

“Um... maybe.”

 

“Man, I wish I was back there.”

 

“Whyja move to Pfiester Park?” asked Kris.

 

“Leashes,” said Brenda.  “Our bakery lost its leash and we hadda get a new one.”

 

“Bakery?” went Hayley, before Vicki could ask why such a place would need a leash.  “You have your own bakery, Brenda?”

 

“Yeah.”  One more asphalt-tap.  “Uh... you guys wanna come see?  Just a couple blocks away.”

 

En route there Hayley said, “I think that’s a nice dress.  Does your mom make all your clothes?”

 

“Aw, she bought me this thing—I just wasn’t gonna tell Her that.  I think it’s so dumb we always gotta wear dresses.”

 

“Well, I wouldn’t wanna wear boy’s clothes,” said Vicki.

 

“They make pants for girls!  C'mon: when it’s cold out, do you like the wind blowing up inside your skirt?”

 

(Titters from the trio.)

 

“I bet Melissa likes it,” Kris quipped.

 

Brenda slowly shook her head.  “I’ll say this for that skag—she’s got guts.  Lousy ones maybe, but guts.

 

“I still wish you’d yanked her hair out,” said Kris.

 

“Yeah.  Me too.  This is it—we live upstairs.”

 

A small storefront on Brunt Street.  Kalács Bakery read the sign in the window.

 

“Kuh-lacks?”

 

Kaw-lahtch,” Brenda enunciated as they headed on in.  “Hey Ma.  Hey Eva.”

 

“Didn’t I tell you?” demanded a large woman in a large apron, coming around a large glass display counter.  “Didn’t I say you’d make new friends?  And here you are bringing three home at once.”

 

“For the luvva Mike, Ma!  They’re just some kids from school.”

 

Who were inhaling deep ecstatic breaths.

 

“You look like you enjoy good pastry, my dear,” Mrs. Pomerantz told Hayley.

 

“Oh, I do!”

 

“So do we!” chorused Kris and Vicki.

 

“Well then, how about—but wait: do your mothers know where you are?”

 

“...um...”

 

“Do you all know your telephone numbers?  Good!  You shall call your mothers and tell them you will be home in time for dinner, with your appetites unspoiled.”

 

(Three faces fell.)

 

“Unspoiled perhaps,” Mrs. Pomerantz continued, “but!  A taste of something helps to whet the appetite.  Eva!  Some samples of poppyseed roll—”

 

The trio thought this meant a bun like at Biff’s up the street, into which a beef frank and mustard and onion and peppers and tomato wedges and pickle spears and celery salt (but never, never ketchup) got crammed.  Instead they were given bites of sweet bread filled with a black goo so delicious it seemed like a dream come true.  Hayley savored hers so visibly she was awarded a taste of chocolate buttercream dobostorta, and then a tissue to blot her blissful tears.

 

“Oh Brenda, you’re so lucky!  I’m so glad you moved here!  I hope you never lose your leash again!”

 

“Hey, watch the leash talk,” said Brenda.  “No ‘Poochies’ allowed.”

 

*

 

The trio took home flyers for The Kalács Bakery / “A Little Slice of Old Budapest” / Now Open at 7010 N. Brunt, and contrived to drop by as often as possible.  They got to know Brenda’s cousin Eva, whose eyes popped (without snap or crackle) and stared as though they’d never seen so many second-graders before.  They met Brenda’s older brother Jumpin’ Jack, on whom Kris developed a throbbin’ crush despite his inclination toward classmate Tricia Volester (she airily dismissing him as That Thug).  They were introduced to Mr. Pomerantz, a taciturn colossus who drove the bakery’s delivery van; and the men who worked the ovens, Gergely and Fulop, known to the younger Pomerantzes as Gurgles and Flophouse.

 

Brenda in turn visited the Walrock greystone, and at the Rawberrys’s exhibited quick mastery of trampoline and croqminton mallet.  She even consented to jump double dutch, showing off Constantine Avenue variations the trio hadn’t seen before; and Ness the bulldog acknowledged her as a kindred spirit.

 

Despite all this, Brenda acted furiously embarrassed one day in November when she thrust three envelopes at the trio.  “Here,” she mumbled, “my mother’s inviting you to a birthday party.”

 

“Whose?”

 

“Mine!”

 

“Oh cool,” said Kris.  “Will Jack be there?”

 

“I dunno.  Prob’ly.”

 

“OH MY GOSH,” went Hayley.  “I bet you’ll have the greatest cake ever!!”

 

That Saturday, Kate Rawberry’s eighth-grade circle went to a football game at Lakeside Central University.  The trio commissioned Kate to buy them a Yellow Jackets shirt, cap, and mug, squabbling as to who should present Brenda with what, and ultimately amalgamating the gifts into a group effort.

 

The party was scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. on Sunday the 9th.  Hayley arrived early, and found Mrs. Pomerantz having a conniption.  By the time Kris and Vicki got there, the conniption was advancing to a fit.  Eva hadn’t shown up with the hidden gifts and party gear; Jumpin’ Jack and Mr. Pomerantz had cleared out, ostensibly to find Eva or more paraphernalia; Brenda’s mother was slamming things in the family kitchen (“She’s gonna make the cake fall,” Hayley fretted); while Brenda and her guests sat stiffly around a small table, empty except for five Yellow Submarine party hats.

 

The trio, each in a neat acrylic A-line dress, strove not to laugh at Brenda’s frilly confection of appliqué ruffles.  Or at Brenda seething at having to wear it.  Not least because Sarah-Jill Shapiro was there in the very same (though much smaller-sized) frock.

 

“Are you two friends?” Vicki managed to ask with a straight face.

 

“I’ve been helping Brenda with her subtraction,” replied Sarah-Jill.

 

“Sheesh!  Tell everybody, why dontcha?”

 

Tongue-tied silence for awhile.

 

Kris cleared her throat.  “Um—happy birthday.”

 

“Yeah, thanks...  So, uh, I s’pose you guys all come here from church, hunh?”

 

Oh no thought Vicki, scrunching down in her chair.

 

“Yeah,” said Kris, “we go to the Methodist church on Dewinter.”

 

“Us too,” said Hayley.  “I mean we go to the Baptist one on the same street.  My mom sings in the choir.”

 

“My family attends the Unitarian church,” Sarah-Jill offered.  “Today in Sunday school we heard all about Hindus.”

 

“Hunh,” went Brenda.  “Next year I gotta start Sunday school, to learn Hebrew.  Is that the same thing?”

 

“I don’t think so.  Hindus are Indians.”

 

“Oh, you mean like the Happy Hunting Ground, that sorta stuff?  Hunh.  What about you?” to Vicki, who scrunched down even further.

 

“She isn’t anything,” Hayl explained.

 

“Hey!”

 

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Hayley added, reaching over to squeeze Vicki’s hand.  “But, y’know, you aren’t—when it comes to church.”

 

“I know,” said Vicki in a still small voice.

 

“So what does your family do on Sunday mornings?” Sarah-Jill asked.

 

“...eat breakfast.”

 

“Sounds good to me,” said Brenda.  “HEY MA!  You need help bringing in the food?  Anything’ll do, we’re starving here!”

 

“Nonsense!” slammed Mrs. Pomerantz.  “You sit, you’re the birthday girl!”

 

“Well, pretty soon I’m gonna start eating this birthday dress!”

 

“We could put on these hats,” said Kris.  “Who wants which?”

 

She selected the Flying Glove, Hayley chose Old Fred, Brenda took the Beatles (with John making a funny hand gesture) and Vicki ended up with the Boob.  Not catching anyone’s eye, she watched Sarah-Jill don the Chief Blue Meanie.

 

“Hey, you guys...” Vicki remarked, “ does that remind you of Melissa Chiese?”

 

Broad smiles broke out around the table, alarming Sarah-Jill, who snatched off her hat and looked at it.  And emitted a shrill giggle.

 

“It does look like her!”

 

“In that stew-pid new blue maxi coat—”

 

“—and that stew-pid stocking cap with the twin tassels—”

 

“—just what she is, too: a Blue Meanie—”

 

“—what they all are; they’re all Blue Meanies—”

 

“—the perfect name for Them: the Blue Meanies!—

 

“—tomorrow we gotta start calling Them that!”

 

Which they did.  And were promptly counterlabeled, one and all, as Pooches.

 

*

 

Tuesday afternoon after school, the five held a council of this-means-war.

 

It was supposed to take place at Hayley’s apartment, but her mother had to accompany Mrs. LoCascio to an unplanned orthotic fitting, and left a note telling the girls to go up to 3W.  Where they barricaded themselves in Vicki’s bedroom and took turns guarding the door against Goofus, whose diabolic obnoxiousness knew no bounds.

 

“Mommy says ya gotta lemme in!”

 

“She just now told you to leave us alone!  We all heard her say it!”

 

“Well, robbers grabbed her an’ ya gotta lemme in, or they’re gonna murder her!”

 

“MOM!  Goofus is being horrible!”

 

“—Christopher Blaine—”

 

Momentary quiet.

 

“What we need,” Brenda resumed, “is a name of our own.  Like a team has.”

 

“How ‘bout the Yellow Jackets?” Kris suggested.  “Kate could get us more shirts and caps.  Or we could all wear, y’know, a yellow jacket.”

 

“Oh, I don’t like wearing yellow—it makes me look sick,” sighed Hayley.

 

“Besides, people’d just think we’re Lakeside Central fans.  We need a name that means us.

 

Namely, the good guys pitted against the Blue Meanies.  Meaning they belonged in Pepperland (Sarah-Jill reasoned) so how about the Five Little Peppers?

 

“Aw, no one’ll take us serious if we say we’re ‘Little.’”

 

“Well some of us are little, Brenda.”

 

“What’s that s’posed to mean??”

 

“Why not just the Five Peppers?” Kris intervened.

 

“Um, it’s awful close to ‘Poopers,’” Vicki pointed out.  “Even worse than Pooches.”

 

Hayley thought the Bang-Shang-a-Lang Gang had a nice ring to it, but the others said that sounded more like a musical group than a heroic resistance movement.

 

THUMP on the door.

 

“Go away, Goofus!”

 

“My—name’s—not—Goofus.  Would you mind opening this immediately?”

 

Vicki fell over her friends to do so.  Emerald glare flooded the bedroom.

 

“What,” said Tricia, “is going on in here?”

 

“We’re trying to think up a good name for our team.  The mean girls are calling us” (whisper) “‘Pooches.’”

 

“Simple.  Call yourself ‘Peaches,’” said Tricia.  “And go do it somewhere else; I’ve got to change.”

 

Like that was ever going to happen.  But what a great name!  The freshly-dubbed Peaches went out on the landing to exult in it.  Peach, according to Sarah-Jill, was the complete opposite of blue on the color wheel, and Hayley said that wearing peach clothes would make them look healthy.  Kris came up with the brilliant idea that everyone should bring a peach to school and, at a signal, throw them at the Blue Meanies.

 

“Ripe peaches—no, rotten ones!” said Brenda.

 

“Oog!” went Vicki.  “’Member, we don’t want to get us in trouble—just Them.  Or at least Her!”

 

“We will, too!”

 

“With Peach Power!”

 

And there on that spot, the five girls piled their hands atop each other’s like regular teammates.

 

“We could have a secret handshake.”

 

“And a secret salute!  Like pledging to a Peach flag!”

 

“That gives me another idea,” said Kris.  “Didja see what those black guys did at the Olympics last year?...”

 

*

 

Friday, November 14th: a day that would go down in history.  A moon rocket got launched and struck by lightning—yet that was just an hors d’oeuvre.

 

Flurries might be falling on Pfiester Park, but Mrs. Kling believed in children getting “plenty of fresh air,” so recess was still held outdoors.  Where (as Brenda’d forecast) a refrigerated wind blew off the Lake and up all the girls’s skirts. 

 

They compensated as best they could with overcoats of various lengths and thicknesses; none so lengthy or thickly as Melissa Chiese’s new blue maxi.  In it she moseyed through the snowflakes with Eileen Agnew tagging along in a subdued twill.  Following a few steps behind were April Tober in a hooded pile coat, and Stuffy Lipperman in a hideous plaid rag with a lamb collar dyed to look like raccoon.  Even so, that was more acceptable than the pea jackets and benchwarmers and—what was that, some sort of rain slicker?—worn by the pitiful quintet marching toward them.

 

“Look who’s come to see us!” said Melissa, giving her stocking cap’s tassels a toss.  “Why, it’s the Froot Loops!”

 

(Snortles from her adherents.  But, from the quintet:)

 

  No more of your Blue Meanie speeches!  
  We only listen to us Peaches!  

 

Five clenched fists, thrust straight forward: “WE ALL PUNCH—

 

Five sets of index and pinky fingers extended: “WITH A PEACHY—

 

Five pairs of admonitory horns, waggled side-to-side: “NEC-TA-RINE!!”

 

“Peachy nectarine!  Peachy nectarine!  We all PUNCH

 

“Oh.  That’s.  It,” barked Melissa.  “I’m telling!”

 

And off she loped to the classroom, to drum enraged heels as she waited for Mrs. Kling to finish getting plenty of fresh air (filtered through burning tobacco).  Finally the teacher tottered in and beheld her prized executioner honing an intangible hatchet.

 

“Mrs. Kling, Mrs. Kling!  Those girls were making the sign of the Evil Eye at me!  My grandma told me all about that sign and how vulgar it is!  Also they were chanting, Mrs. Kling, chanting like witches!  They’re acting like a bunch of witches, and Halloween was over two weeks ago!”

 

Now Brenda and Kris were on their feet, objecting noisily, with Vicki and Hayley adding vigorous nods of support.

 

“Girls!  Girls!  Stop this, do you hear me?” exclaimed Mrs. Kling.  “We must all of us behave like young ladies!”

 

CRASH of Jimmy Maxwell falling off his chair.  “‘Scuse me,” he gargled.  “Dropped something.”

 

“They were all doing it, those five there,” Melissa asserted.  “Even Sarah-Jill Shapiro!”

 

(Startled reaction from the whole class, including Jimmy on the floor.)

 

“Get up and take your seat, sir,” Mrs. Kling told him.  To Sarah-Jill: “Is this true, young lady?”

 

Sarah-Jill raised brows over glinting glasses.  “Partly,” she said.

 

“Explain yourself, please.”

 

“My friends and I did point at Melissa.”

 

“What?  Knowing it’s bad manners to point, you did this?”

 

“Yes we did, Mrs. Kling.”

 

“And why, may I ask?”

 

“Because Melissa said she was going to tell you we were ‘acting like witches.’”

 

“I NEVER said that!!” Melissa exploded.

 

“Excuse me, but you did just now,” Mrs. Kling retorted.  “Enough!  Everyone take his-or-her seat, if you please.  I don’t want to hear another word about pointing or calling each other foolish names.”

 

Dumbfounded for the first time in anyone’s memory, Melissa goggled popeyed at the Peaches like Eva at the bakery.  It would have been so cool if she’d yelled “Sarah-Jill told a lie!” and Mrs. Kling ordered her to go to Old Overalls’s office and Melissa screamed “I WON’T!!” and Brenda volunteered to take her down and Melissa resisted in a frenzy so even big Keith Vespa couldn’t budge her and Brenda had to run fetch Jumpin’ Jack and other seventh-grade thugs to come drag her away, carried shoulder-high, with the wind blowing up her skirt in front of the entire school, to be locked in the Tower alongside Tall Mark.

 

That would have been SO cool.

 

But Melissa simply took her seat and watched her yap and closed her ears to the snortles of April and Stephanie; and life went on.

 

Though not unchanged.

 

*

 

Early in December the Kalács Bakery hosted a gathering of Peachy families, and there Sarah-Jill’s father made a presentation.  Morris Shapiro was a jeweler, which meant intricate work with tiny soldering irons rather than living in a palace encrusted with rubies.  But Moe, in collaboration with his fellow parents, had fashioned five small peach-shaped pins, colored appropriately.  Brenda was given hers as a Hanukkah gift and the rest got theirs as early unstuffed stocking stuffers.

 

Everyone’s mother took photos of the pinned quintet lining up in order of size, like Bugs Bunny’s Overture parade: Sarah-Jill, Vicki, Kris, Hayley, Brenda.  And by way of thanks they performed their latest team cheer, composed with help from Billy Goldfarb:
 
  The butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker,  
  The cop and car dealer, not one is a faker!   
  Say “Boo!” to Blue Meanies—beside us they’re weenies!  
  ‘Cause we are the Peaches—far out is our reaches!  
  G-O-O-O-O-O  PEACHES ! ! !  

 

 

    

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
   

 

Return to Chapter 7                          Proceed to Chapter 9

 

 

A Split Infinitive Production
Copyright © 2010-2011 by P. S. Ehrlich

 

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