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Eartha taught her kites to fly, high above the necks of the giraffes she loved to watch at the Brookfield Zoo. She spent her adolescence holed up in her kite-tangled bedroom, selfish, crying, pounding on her typewriter. She wished she had a kite so high that she would teach her feet to soar. Such things as gravity and families would no longer make her cry.
Her father had gone to be with Jesus. Her mother was as tough as a man, tough as a garbage incinerator. Her brother wore lipstick and long nightgowns when he was only five years old. They had a maid named Boadicea, who tyrannized and terrorized the house.
“Look after your little brother,” said Eartha’s mother, banging the door. “I’m going to work!” That was a lie. Eartha’s mother was going to the lawnmower demolition derby, up for an afternoon of beer-guzzling. The house Eartha’s family lived in was in tatters.
Eartha could not find solace in her kites or her typewriter this sultry summer day, when not a bird chirped, and the grass wilted. She was ordered to stay in the kitchen. Boedecia and Eartha’s little brother trapped her in the four walls of the scorching kitchen. She could not breathe in that room. The air was so hot from Boadicea’s snuff-cake that the refrigerator magnets were melting with oven fumes and boredom.
“It is June First,” Eartha informed the kitchen flypaper.
“Yes,” said Boadicea, “What’s on your mind?”
“I wish I had a kite I could soar away on, up and up and away. I wish I had a ship I could sail on—I wish I had a stallion I could ride away on. I wish I had a huge, frozen river as wide as my sorrow, a river with no beginning and no end. I would skate on my river till the moon and sun became one. I wish…I wish I had a train I could ride away on. I’m too big a loser to leave this kitchen, where I pace like a bruised rat. I wish I could collect daylight in a jelly-jar and let time rise like bread dough. I wish I could find a meadow where I could live forever.”
Boadicea sipped her blackberry wine and said nothing. Boadicea never liked Eartha—she liked Wernie, the little brother, who was like herself, the strong silent type. Eartha talked too much and made little tornados in the kitchen with her words.
“I wanna look like Marilyn Monroe,” whined Wernie. “Don’t I look glamorous?”
“Pretty is as pretty does,” said Boadicea, whose words never made sense, either. Their words landed like hornets on the flypaper. The three of them were hot, very tired, very bored, and too different to exist in the same kitchen without tearing each other up.
Eartha was pacing distractedly, counting on her stubby fingers. “…Volleyball League, Lacrosse Club, band, flute lessons, rowing lessons, fencing lessons, Girls Manners Club, Patriots’ Club, Bird-Watching Club…I’ve tried to join all these clubs! None of them want me! I went to the Ladies’ Plant Club and begged on my hands and knees to join them. I said I knew everything about reviving sick plants. I told them about a geranium I brought back from the dead. They told me to go home, little girl. I wish I could move to another planet! I want to kill all the people in this town, and I wish, I wish…”
Boadicea cackled. “Move to another planet? You ain’t named Eartha for nothing! I never saw beat of you in another human creature. You ain’t looking hardly human these days. Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if you sprouted wings and left us.”
Eartha shook Boadicea like she would strangle the cook with one of her kites. “Aren’t you going anywhere? Haven’t you ever left this stupid kitchen? Get that idiot look off your face. Tell me you’ve left this place. Tell me you’ve been to the South Pole. Go on, tell me! Lie to me!”
Boadicea dipped her finger in snuff. She spoke in a droning voice, but her words were deathly important:
“Matter of fact, I’m getting married on Friday. Didn’t your mama tell you? Yes, siree, I’m marrying Thanos, and we are going back to Athens. We will take a Mediterranean ship along the blue, blue sea, so blue you could go blind looking at it. The waters will rock us till we get there.”
“STOP!” shrieked Eartha. It was too much. She was going to hyperventilate. Her words flew uncontrollably from her mouth, like dough spattering from the beaters. “ATHENS! ATHENS! MARRIAGE! Athens…Athens…I must, I must, I must go to Athens…tell me the waters will rock me, too! Let me go! Let my people go. I will go to Athens. I am going to Athens!”
Wernie’s eyes were wide. “A wedding! Can I be the flower girl?”
Boadicea said, “Your mama will marry Thanos and I as soon as she gets back from work. We got a taxi scheduled to pick us up on Friday and take us down to the sea. Now, leave me alone. My snuff-cake is burning. If you jump on the linoleum, you don’t get any cake. Shoo, I’ve got a lot on my mind.”
How could she drone about something so important? Eartha knocked the burning cake out of the cook’s hands and smashed it on the floor. She deserved it. The cook was a hateful, spiteful woman who threw words in her face that overwhelmed her with longing.
“The sea!” wept Eartha. Something like the sea crashed and broke inside her. She had never known this terror, daring, and excitement existed inside her, calling, no, screaming— Sail away! You must escape!
“Where are you going, bad girl?” Boadicea cried. Eartha ran away. She knelt in her bedroom, took out her suitcase, and let her tears fall into the empty bag.