“I think I got everyone.” I said to myself under my breath.
The green army man was digging into my side, but I didn’t loosen my grasp on the toys at all. I walked through the pain and stared straight at Cary’s grey house on the horizon. The grey house became blurry and far-away looking as my eyes filled with tears. It wasn’t because of the green army man poking my ribs. It was because Cary had hurt my feelings again. She always did this. My mom said that Cary was just mean because she was unhappy that her older brother was in prison. I wanted to believe that, but Mom didn’t understand that Cary was meaner to me than anyone else. I forced my eyes to stay open and the tears dried up.
When I got to the grey house, the backdoor was open, but the screen door was shut and I couldn’t pull it with my arms full. I tried to pry it towards me with the toe of my shoe, but there was no way I was putting down all this stuff after having worked so hard to gather it up.
“I’m going home, Mrs. Rutkowski!” I yelled through the screen door. I heard a scuffing noise from somewhere inside the grey house.
“I’m walking back to my house! Thank you for the juice.” I yelled in case Cary’s mom hadn’t heard me the first time. There was still no answer. I leaned in close to the mesh, listening for a response and noticed an orange patch where the metal of the screen door was slightly rusted. I touched the tip of my nose against the orange rust patch and sniffed.
One time my dad had taken a penny and filed the edge of it. He blew away the metal filings and handed me the coin saying, “Taste this.” I was confused. “Taste the penny.” He said again.
I tasted it. It had a pungent metallic tang. I shrugged. He used the same fingernail file to prick the tip of his finger. I gasped. “Don’t worry,” he said. “It’s a small cut. Smell the blood.”
I sniffed at his fingertip and the red bead which had formed there, but I didn’t smell anything. He told me, “If you taste it, blood tastes the same as the penny. It’s because of the iron. You’d be tasting the iron.”
“I thought pennies were made of copper.” I said.
“Blood smells like copper, sometimes too,” he said.
Ever since then I’d been smelling different metal things, trying to figure out which ones were which. The screen door didn’t smell like anything, not even the orange rusted spot.
A loud thunk inside the house made me jump. I squinted my eyes to try to see inside. It was dark in there and I had been playing in the sun for a while. I heard a meow. Cary’s orange tabby cat wanted out. I stood back and let the cat push the screen door open from inside. Then I caught the door with my foot and pulled it the rest of the way open. I made a graceful turn and rolled along the door into the house. My hands were starting to sweat from gripping my action figures so tightly.
In the distance, I could see the kitchen fine because it was bright with lots of windows. But the back porch where I stood and the hallway beyond were dark, so I stood for a moment waiting to be able to see inside again.
I heard a voice somewhere in the house. The voice didn’t seem to be saying any words, just making a noise. Deep inside my body I started to feel a tickling, itching sensation so I probably had ten minutes before finding a bathroom became really important. It would take me several minutes to walk home, but I wanted to tell Mrs. Rutkowski I was leaving so she wouldn’t be worried. And I also wanted to find out what those strange noises inside the house were. Also, there was no way I was putting down all those toys until I was back home. Cary was so mad at me she would hide or destroy anything I left behind and I would never see it again.
The Rutkowskis’ kitchen was totally different from ours. It was the biggest room in their house, with a table and six chairs and three windows. I stepped carefully in the dark, feeling the way with my toes. Did the Rutkowskis have steps on their back porch? I couldn’t remember. It was a beautiful kitchen. It was painted yellow and the white curtains had little embroidered rosebuds. On one of the counters sat a cookie jar shaped like a sheriff. I bet Mrs. Rutkowski kept it full of cookies.
Our own kitchen was dark and small. The landlord painted once a year, but it was always the same boring grey color in every room. Dad sometimes brought home cookies, but they never lasted long enough to put in a jar. If I could just stand in that kitchen for a moment, alone without Cary or her mother I could pretend it was my kitchen. This thought lifted me and I hurried through the back porch.
There was an unexpected step, and I tripped. I picked up my feet high and tried to stagger up the steps but I was not fast enough and I fell. I kept ahold of the toys in my arms and landed at the top of the steps on my right hip. It hurt but at least I was up the stairs. I forced myself up onto my feet and limped the rest of the way into the bright yellow kitchen.
I said to myself under my breath, “This is better than anything.”