There was nothing Lisa Green hated more than being a kid.
When she wasn’t floating around this vast, barren trailer park in this vast, barren town in this vast, barren desert, she was wedged into her tiny, secret ditch hidden in the hills, far from her bed. When she wasn’t hiding there, she was in her room, getting chewed out by her latest “aunt” for not being quiet enough. When she wasn’t sitting through that, she was at school, getting chewed out for not learning hard enough. When she wasn’t in class, listening to her teacher’s bullshit, she was at recess, pretending not to hear what the other kids were saying about her when they followed her around. And when she wasn’t getting tormented by them, she was home with her father.
Kids her age couldn’t wait to grow up. They would eat fast food and ice cream every day. They would watch movies whenever they wanted. They wouldn’t have to take naps if they didn’t want to. When Lisa grew up, she would be left alone.
But even with the way things were in her seven-year-old life, she never believed for one minute that it could get worse; but there it was, in her hand: an F. She couldn’t hide it from her dad, because it had to be signed and returned by Monday. She might be able to get her “aunt” to sign it, but she’d inevitably tell her dad, and she knew full well how that would go.
Since she was in for a long, long weekend now, she figured she’d take her time getting home, and that’s how she ended up in the catholic school playground. She went there all the time on the weekends because they had the cool, older-kid swings–the rubber ones you could jump off of, not the crappy baby harnesses they had at the public school.
As she sat there, swinging back and forth, imagining what it would be like to bring home an A, a pair of hands shoved her off the swing, into a puddle. She rescued the soggy report card and sat up in time to watch a chubby kid her age waddle over to two others.
She recognized them immediately; they were that pack of little shits who prowled her trailer park, breaking things and running away from grownups. They never really bothered her, which made them some of her favorite people in the world. The really tall one, the Arab, was in her third-grade class, and she’d heard around that it was his second time. She never caught his name, though. The chubby one went to Catholic school, so she didn’t know his name either. But the other one? The alpha dog? Him she knew. His dad was her father’s supervisor at the bottle factory, so he had a name: Fuentes. If he had a first name, she didn’t give a crap, especially now, as he stood there, wearing a wicked smirk.
Something in her snapped. Sure she’d been pushed to the ground more times than she had fingers, but this time she was getting even–just not yet. She had no intention of going after the kid who’d done the deed either. It was obvious that shoving her wasn’t his idea. And so she came up with a plan, which armored her up that night as her father punished her coming home late and soaked, and again when he came back for seconds because of the F.
A few days later, she woke up early and skipped breakfast so she could find him alone at his bus stop. She never said a word. She just snuck up behind him, kicked him in the balls, and made him eat two handfuls of dirt. That night, she slept like the dead, even with inevitable retaliation circling the sky around her.
It didn’t take long.
The following Saturday, as was the case every Saturday, she got out of bed, shoved a handful of dry cereal into her mouth, and headed for the hills encasing the world she had to live in. She wasn’t running away from the trailer park, though; she was running toward the only peace she knew of.
Scattered across the landscape, like green, brown, and clear sprinkles across pink, sandstone icing, were drained bottles of beer, wine, malt liquor, whiskey, gin, and any other kind of alcohol that could be purchased cheaply. Rage, frustration, and despair filled them, and the only way to dispel these things was to smash them, with rocks or with each other. Eventually, she’d run out of strength and curl up in her secret ditch, sated, for a little while anyway.
She was on her way to do just that when a voice behind her said, “Green.”
She was pretty sure she knew who it belonged to. Her face hot and her stomach very, very cold, she turned to watch Fuentes, his friends in tow, stroll up and look her right in the eye. There was no fear on his face; just that predatory smirk. “Hi,” he said, “I’m–“
“I know who you are, you fart!” she told him, balling up her little fists.
At that, the chunky one charged, but Fuentes held him back, saying, “I got this, Ange.”
“But she called you a fart!”
“I said I got this!” To her, he said, “Sorry. He’s still pretty mad about how you cracked my huevos.”
In her toughest voice, she asked, “You want me to do it again?”
“Yeah,” he replied.
She dropped her arms. “Huh?”
Ange frowned. “Huh?”
The Arab turned to Fuentes. “Huh?”
Fuentes’s cheeks lifted with that dangerous smirk. “Not to me, you dummy. Simon Largo.”
“Who the fart is Simon Largo?”
“He’s in my class at the catholic school.”
“And you want me to kick him in the balls?”
“You don’t have to kick him in the huevos,” he explained. “You can give him a black eye or a wedgie or make him eat dirt like you did to me; all I care about is that he knows he got beat up by a girl.”
“Why?” she asked.
“He’s a bully.”
“So are you,” she replied.
Fuentes said, “I got better.” Again, there was that cocky smirk.
Fuentes ignored him. “I need you to make an example out of him.”
She frowned so hard it hurt. “Like, a math problem example?”
He snorted. “Jeez! What do they teach you at public school?”
“How to crack nuts.”
The Arab whistled and shook his head.
Fuentes laughed. “Simon Largo and his friends need to know they can’t get away with that kind of stuff anymore.”
“What does that have to do with me?”
“You’re mean as heck,” he replied. “The meanest person I ever met, actually, and I need your help.”
“What if I don’t want to help?” she asked again.
“I’ll pay you whatever you want.”
She thought of the most ridiculous thing she could imagine so they would just go away. “What if I want Five Merde Bars?”
“You’re crazy!” shouted Ange.
“Let me handle this!” Fuentes barked, and then he strolled over to the Arab and whispered in his ear.
The Arab shrugged and whispered back.
Fuentes headed back over to her, extended his hand like grownups doing business would, and said, “Deal.”
“How do I know you’ll pay up?”
“If I don’t,” he replied, “you make scrambled eggs in my pants.”
She couldn’t stop herself from smiling. “Deal.” They shook hands, and he passed her a slip of paper with Simon Largo’s address on it. The following Monday, she snuck into the Largos’ backyard, punched Simon in the face three times, and threw his action figures into the street. Wednesday after dinner, she found Fuentes waiting for her in her secret ditch. He was holding a paper bag and that stupid smirk of his.
She snatched the bag away and looked inside, ready for one more disappointment in a long life full of them. Instead, she found six assorted Merde Bars–and not the mini ones either. “I only asked for five.”
“I know,” he replied, “but I threw an extra one in because everyone knows what happened to Simon and why, but no one knows it was me.”
“Thought that was what you wanted.”
“It was, but I didn’t expect you to do it so good.” Again he smirked that cute smirk.
She blushed. “So, ah, if you want me to, like, I don’t know, beat someone else up, um…”
“And if you ever, you know, want to throw rocks at stuff with me and Ange, like, whenever, you totally can.” He added, “I’m Max.”
Okay, so she was crushing on him then, just a little, but she didn’t want to be too easy. “I don’t give a fart, Fuentes,” she replied.
“Suit yourself, Green.” Right before he ran back to the vast, barren trailer park, leaving her alone, wedged in her tiny, secret ditch, he gave her one more dazzling smirk and told her, “I’ll be in touch.”