Monday, January 28, 2013

Short Story: The Magic Number

Here's a short story about the difference between age and maturity:

She pulled her cargo pants out of the bottom of her drawer and put them on. She had made them herself. They didn't sell good work clothes for kids in the stores, and even if they had, she wouldn't have been able to afford them. People under fourteen weren't allowed to get jobs. Mowing lawns had been outlawed as too dangerous for young people, and even lemonade stands were no longer allowed, as they involved talking to strangers and preparing food in an unlicensed facility. Of course sewing wasn't allowed, either, but a needle was tiny and easy to sneak, and she'd managed to teach herself by examining the seams of her jeans. She hadn't made them from scratch, just taken a pair of comfy jeans and sewn them full of pockets. Same with her coat.

She got into a workout shirt that was like a sports bra only longer, layered a big yellowish silk blouse over that, and tucked it in. She threaded a web belt through the cargo pants, stopping at intervals to add her gear: a coil of rope, a short chain secured on both ends to keep it from whipping around, Mom's machete, the nice US Army canteen she'd found on the side of the highway, and a pair of cheap binoculars. Then she put on her coat, concealing it all. It wasn't a warm coat, but she hoped it would do for a blanket at night. And she'd rather wear a coat than a backpack, anyway: it was more comfortable and less obvious.

She sat on the floor and pulled on a pair of white cotton socks, then grabbed her right boot, but it was laced up too tightly, wouldn't go on. She began pulling impatiently at the laces. They were a nice pair of hiking boots, and she'd gotten them the way kids were supposed to get things: she'd whined until her foster parents had given in. There was a knock on her bedroom door.

"Just a minute," she called, standing up. She buttoned her coat, glanced around the room and opened the door in her socks. Her boots were still in the middle of the floor.

It was her foster sister's boyfriend. He'd just gotten his driver's license, so that would make him eighteen. There had been too many auto accidents involving sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds, so they'd raised the driving age. Now there were too many accidents involving eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds, and they were thinking of raising it again. It seemed they still hadn't found the right age, that special birthday when people became safe drivers.

He looked at her, looked at her boots. "You running away?" he asked.

She stifled a gasp. Was it really that obvious? Would he turn her in? Should she appeal to his humanity, tell him she was tired of the drunken violence?

He laughed. "Look what I got. I just bought it. I wanted to show you." He had a plastic bag with him, and he set it down on her bureau, pulled something out and unwrapped it. It was a knife.

"Nice," she said.

He waved it around, tried to twirl it like a parade baton and lost control of it. It clattered to the floor and landed near her boots.

She jumped back. "Careful!"

"It's okay," he reassured her, "I'm old enough." He retrieved it, tossed it up in the air and reached out to catch it. It landed neatly in his palm almost up to the hilt, most of its blade protruding from the back of his hand.

He screamed.

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