I am embarking on an A-Z challenge, this one featuring short pieces of fiction. Today’s letter is F for forearmed.
See You on the News
Marta worked a cash register in a grocery store. She’d worked there for eleven years and she’d be there at least another eleven. It wasn’t the best job she’d ever had, but is wasn’t the worst job either. It had its perks, including the fact that she was required to join a union, which guaranteed that she had health insurance for herself and her two children.
Both were latchkey kids, and were well-versed in the ins and outs of being at home by themselves. It wasn’t ideal by any means, but the cost of after-school care was prohibitively expensive, and Rick was, after all, thirteen years old and an eighth grader at a nearby middle school. Anna was eleven and in sixth grade, and an avid reader, which meant that Marta had all she could do to keep Anna supplied with quality reading material. Anna was also very athletic and played both soccer and volleyball. Marta had always maintained that her kids were quick-thinking, and could take care of themselves.
Therefore, when it had become apparent that Marta could either work the graveyard shift, or work days, from nine to six, she chose the latter. Because the store was across town, Marta provided a cell phone for each of the kids, with instructions that either one should feel comfortable, phoning Marta should the need arise. Obviously, she couldn’t interrupt her job to answer the phone every fifteen minutes, but she darn sure could monitor it in the event an emergency came up. Marta had enlisted the help of one of her oldest friends, who actually did work graveyard hours, to come to the aid of the kids, should they ever run into a serious difficulty.
Like any two kids, Rick and Anna got along most of the time, and if they fought, their arguments were noisy and volatile, but brief. There had even been a time when Anna had so violently reacted to Rick’s grabbing ahold of her arm, that she had kneed him in the groin, without realizing the effect it would have. She had been surprised at how much respect seemed to emanate from Rick, after that one encounter.
Therefore, when they got into it, on the way home from school one March afternoon, and Anna stormed on past the house, this was not business as usual. Rick went on into the house, made himself a sandwich out of last night’s meatloaf, and said to himself, “Adios, Anna, see you on the news.”
In the time that it took for him to inhale his sandwich, and quaff a diet Pepsi from the depths of the refrigerator, in about three gulps, he had cooled off to the extent that he started to think about what Anna was up to. She’d probably headed over to her friend, Maria’s house, two streets over, and across the little neighborhood park. Sighing, he headed out after her, figuring he’d text her and tell her that she needed to get home.
When that had no result, he called her, ready to give her a piece of his mind. He thought about the probable reply. “Don’t bother giving me a piece of your mind,” she’d say. “You can’t afford to lose what little you have...” But instead, all he got was the recording. He quickened his pace.
When Anna stormed past the house, she was indeed heading over to Maria’s. She knew that not only would Maria be there for her, so would Maria’s mom, who had let her know that she was always welcome. Right now, Anna was seeing red, as she double-timed down the street, crossed over to the next street, and proceeded in the direction of the park, never even slowing down long enough to survey what was happening along her route.
The park was sparsely planted with decorative trees, and some ivy along one side. The center of the park was bisected by two neatly trimmed hedges, lending an air of symmetry to the little two-acre park. The hedges were no more than five feet tall, which meant that Anna could see over the top, but not what was on the other side of either. As she bustled down the path, her mind was still sizzling, and she had but one thought: Rick was acting like a jerk and she’d have plenty to lay on Marta when her mom got home.
Without warning, a hand shot out, grabbing Anna in a vice-like grip, and pulling her through a gap in the hedge, to the back side, where a small block house for storing tools, coupled with the hedge, formed a little area that was not visible to other people in the park. His other hand clamped down over her mouth, stifling her in a deadly grasp. Anna’s first impression was of overwhelming filth. He was not a big man and he reeked of body odor, grime and vomit. His arm was encased in a tattered army fatigue shirt, and his head was enveloped by a wool cap, several sizes too big, which covered his forehead and ears.
His face was bearded and his hair was long and stringy. When Anna reached out in self-protection, the man jerked her almost off her feet, snarling that she had better not try anything to get free or he would snap her neck like a toothpick. Anna believed him. She also believed, with all her heart, that the man meant to kill her. There was no time to think; there was no time to reason; there was no time to panic.
As the man spun her around to face him, Anna brought her knee straight up into his crotch, with every bit of strength she had, hoping for the same effect that the move had had on Rick. A look of utter shock came over his face, and his hands released her for a nanosecond, while he doubled over and dropped to his knees. Only a split second elapsed, but it was long enough for Anna to spin around, and take one quick step away. As she lurched to one side, the man instinctively reached out and this time managed to grab her ankle, causing her to lose her balance.
As she toppled over, Anna let out a sharp cry, but once again, did what came most naturally to a cornered, terrified child. She slammed the heel of her free foot, right back into the man’s face, as he bent over her, connecting solidly with his nose, which instantly erupted in a torrent of blood.
“You got a lot of damn gall...” He got no further than that, before Anna recoiled her foot and did it again. This was no time to marvel at the amount of blood streaming out of his nose. His bellow of rage gave her a fair idea that he was in pain. When she prepared to do it again, he released her, twisting his scrawny frame sideways to avoid the deadly heel. It was all the Anna needed, as she was up and racing through the gap in the hedge, heading back in the direction from which she had come, with all the speed she could muster.
It was all over in a matter of seconds. As Anna neared her house, she saw Rick hurrying toward her, surprised to see her coming toward him, after expecting to find her at Maria’s. The rest is a matter of police records. The man was quickly apprehended, eventually evaluated, and was put away where he belonged for a long time.
Later, when Marta was berating herself for allowing Anna to be in a precarious situation, Rick comforted her by saying, “Anna proved she could take care of herself. After all, I should know.”