The girl who was flopped on the carpet knew cities of jacks, terrains of kitchen crumbs, the dumb wooden legs of furniture, and all that lay between them. The worn spot beside the right pedal her father’s piano foot had stamped and thumped, and vigorously rubbed off. The catalogues and as–yet–paperless presents beneath her mother’s side of the bed. The jagged letters of her brother Chris’s name gouged white into an underlying beam of the playroom table (which had since become a study table), though he would not now admit that the letters had any association with him. The difference in vibration of footfalls — the hesitancy of her mother’s, the severity of her father’s, the singular triumphant stomps issued by Chris. The place to look for a lost Lite–Brite peg, a kicked Tinker Toy, a clumsy fallen Battleship, an elastic–shot chunk of Lego. The stretch of linoleum where a marble or HotWheels would stall. Whether or not a doll’s shoe would fit beneath the door. First, second, third, and fourth grade accumulated between individual grains of shag. When Tammy rose up, she was halfway through Grade Five, she would soon start Six. She had witnessed the beginning of her life from this fixed, ground level. She teetered through the house off balance, unaccustomed to being vertical. By her eleventh birthday, she had found her footing. Eventually, she became addicted to height, learned to climb.
That summer, Tammy Lane was brave enough and strong enough to reach the very top of the maple tree in her backyard. From there, she could see the cars on St. Lawrence Street shooting past. She could see her brother flying away down the sidewalk on his bmx. She could see him flying away from her, away from everything she had ever known. Tammy watched afternoon lapse into evening and waited for him to come home.
Chris zigzagged through the grocery store parking lot, his butt in the air as the front tire cleared the curb and dropped him into the street. He disappeared through the branches. According to Tammy’s Big Book of Spy Terms, he was “in the gap.” When he reappeared, he was at the corner near the donut shop. Tammy lost him then — longer, “in the black” — and when she spotted him once more, he had doubled back through the grocery lot, riding hard and quick with his head down. Tammy pulled herself up by a branch she didn’t trust, crooked her body onto a side bough that bent away from the trunk — at an alarming angle. The branch had been cut off and had veered, growing at a ninety degree angle from its sacrifice point, though not during Tammy’s lifetime. She held tight, looking down, a thirty yard drop. She glanced back up just in time to catch Chris dodge into the string of back lots of the businesses on St. Lawrence.
Parallel, she located them: three shapes moving in the stretch in front of the donut shop. Bright blue track jackets and yellow hair bands. Girls.
To Tammy’s knowledge her brother had only six fears. One, their father (though Tammy couldn’t begin to fathom why). Two, J.P.’s older brother, who terrorized them on occasion (the same way J.P. and Chris liked to terrorize Tammy). Three, classical music (or anything other than hard rock and metal). Four, visiting their grandfather, but only because it meant being away from Joyland for days at a time (days, Chris said, that would make him “a total amateur again”). Five, ostriches (because he was once bitten while visiting an animal safari during family vacation). Six, clowns (due to too many viewings of the movie Poltergeist).
To this list, Tammy added number seven. Girls (an undiscriminating category including nearly all, except her).
Fears numbers three and four probably didn’t count. Still, Tammy left them in. Chris’s seven fears were a thumb–sized wedge in the pie graph compared to all of hers. The Seven Fears. Like the seven dwarves, fears were real and respiring, each with its own distinct personality.
She pressed chin against branch and let her lips trail over the grey, leaving a wide wet mark, the kiss of the bark on her lips like a hard, scarred thing. She dropped her forehead to the branch and closed her eyes. When she opened them again, Chris and the girls were both long gone. Tammy swung from one limb to another, carefully, letting her body hover in the space between just a fraction of a second longer than needed to obtain the exhilaration of floating.