The steel barrel of the Daisy pump action BB gun snapped shut against the stock. Loaded and cocked, pointed right at me.
“Hey, you!” He jabbed the barrel of the BB gun in my direction like a bayonet. “Don’t get up, piggy, or I’ll shoot your fat ass.” It was Eddie Favarro, the neighborhood thug. He lived across the street, the reason our strawberry harvest was sparse every summer. He moved closer. “Make oink-oink noises. Come on, piggy.” He laughed.
Omaha schools were out for the summer of 1966 and dad’s strawberries ripe, ready for picking. Mom’s Tupperware bowl was half full of ruby-colored gems, my lips stained crimson. The sun, directly above, threatened to shoot through our Cottonwood canopy. I sat underneath, searching our lawn for 4-leaf clovers trying to escape the heat. Mom bought my clothes at Kmart because they had a fat girls section. The size number was supposed to match your age. My pale yellow culottes had sweat marks from being stuck in skin folds, the elastic waist stretched to capacity. A tight cotton pullover girdled my stomach. I was seven, ready to enter the second grade in the fall and wore a ten.
“Sandy,” mom called. “Go out back and pick some strawberries. I’m making shortcake for dessert.”
“Do I have to?” Silence from inside the house. “Okay.”
We lived in a cookie-cutter house in a lower-middle class neighborhood. The milk and eggs in our refrigerator were free every Friday from dad’s milk route. He said it was our secret. It helped us avoid the monthly state aid lines. Our house was on the prime side of the street. The backyard sloped up, leveled off. The Skyview Drive-In Theater was on the other side. We set up our aluminum lawn chairs on summer evenings and watched movies for free. The Ka-POW of Batman and Elsa’s roar in Born Free traveled through the speakers effortlessly to the top of the bluff. I squinted to make out the grainy big-screen images. We were always careful where we put our chairs. Dad’s prized strawberry patch, a lush carpet in our private movie theater.
I was never fat until I had my tonsils out. One day, I was regular size and the next summer my thighs rubbed together. Maybe it was the chicken fried steak and French fries every Saturday night. The first time we looked for fat girl clothes, my mom had to ask a clerk. She whispered the word chubby.
“I bet you’re going to tell your dad I’ve been stealing his shitty strawberries?” Eddie had B.O., greasy hands, hair slicked back with Vitalis tonic. The combination made me gag. I didn’t know how old he was, but he could drive. He spent hours under the hood of his broken-down Chevy. I saw his plumber’s crack even though he wasn’t a plumber. The starter whined as he cranked the engine and the tailpipe exploded with black smoke. Dad called him a dropout. White trash.
“I-I won’t say anything, promise.” The gun inched closer, strawberry vines shackled my wrists and ankles. I nervously flipped my mousy-brown bangs out of my eyes.
“So, you think I’m the one taking your dad’s shitty berries, don’t you?” Eddie poked me in the stomach with the gun. Eyes blurred, cheeks wet, I trembled, and wanted somebody to save me. He poked me again, hard. The force made me screech. I was glad. I let out one scream then the rest came out rapid-fire, piercing the lazy afternoon silence. The screen door slammed shut. Someone was running across the backyard. Eddie looked toward house. I wanted to run, but couldn’t move. Eddie wasn’t fast enough. Dad caught him by the collar.
“What in the hell do you think you’re doing, you piece of shit?” Dad was red-faced, breathing hard. He shoved Eddie back, grabbed the would-be murder weapon. “I know you’re up here stealing my strawberries and now you threaten my daughter? I’m calling the cops or maybe I’ll shoot you in the balls, you bastard.” Dad took aim.
Eddie stammered, “Wa-Wait, Mr. Williams, don’t!” Even thugs in the ‘60s called adults by Mr. or Mrs.
“You get the hell outta here and if I ever see or hear you’ve been near my daughter again, I’ll tear you apart. You hear me!”
“Yes, sir!” and Eddie was gone. My dad knelt beside me stroking my bangs hanging in my eyes. “You okay, Sandy?” I collapsed and sobbed into his protective dad arms.
We moved when I was eight, left dad’s strawberries to Eddie. Dad and mom said they wanted to move to the country. I heard them talking from the living room. They were having dessert. I said I didn’t want any, but I did. “Sandy shouldn’t grow up being afraid,” Dad’s fork pierced one last berry, brilliant red, stark contrast against white angel food cake. He would miss his berry patch. So would I.
The new house was brown brick with green-apple colored paint, gravel driveway. Our street, Manchester Drive, wasn’t cement. It was thick black tar. My shoes stuck to the goo when it was hot. An endless cornfield bordered our backyard, green like strawberry vines, bearing yellow treasures, not red gems. The Kmart was only a fifteen-minute drive. Mom was glad. I wasn’t glad at all.
The cornfield was now my strawberry patch most days in the summer. I could still hear the steel barrel snap shut against the polished maple stock, loaded and cocked. The waxy green leaves rustled in the wind, whispered fat girl, fat girl. I waited every day for Eddie to appear, armed with the BB gun. Instead, she emerged from the cornfield sea. Blonde with inviting blue eyes, flushed cheeks. My new best friend had ringlet hair cinched in pig-tails. She was close to my age. Her hot pink peddle-pusher pants were like the ones mom put in my drawer that morning. She tugged at a forgotten tag at her waist. Kmart, size ten.
VICKI OEHRING is a business writer by day and writes creatively in her spare time. She writes flash fiction and is working on a cross-genre novel.