Mary Beth Writes

8/29/2023

Note to readers: I gravitate to writing in first person. This is fiction as much as any writer can say they invented what they know.

Umbrellas protect us. Usually against rain but they can also shield us from sun and wind. An umbrella is a test of the intimacy and trust between two or three people. Without being overtly awkward, they have to figure out who’s going to hold it and how high. Too high and it does no good. Too low and it is might become too weirdly intimate. People under an umbrella need to be able to sync their gait. Not everyone is that gifted a dancer, but those who can walk under an umbrella together can probably do other things together as well.

And of course, an umbrella can also be used as a weapon if the need arises.

It was fall of my junior year of high school, back in the 1960’s, a long time ago. I was standing with my clan of girlfriends in the lobby of our high school while we waited for the first bell. Some of the girls were talking to each other, I wasn’t involved in their conversation, I was just looking around. Across the big entrance lobby, I saw a new girl. She was tall and slender with bright red hair in a crooked pony tail. Her skirt hem was uneven which I noticed because I sewed most of my clothes, too, and I couldn’t get my hems even either. She had noticeably big breasts somewhat hidden by the stacks of books in her arms. And a closed umbrella hanging from her wrist. Altogether she looked, well, kind of frumpy. I was not cool, but she looked worse.  

Except, and I intuited this right away, the way she was taking in the scene around her was confident. She was not withdrawn. She was not pulling at her straps or hunching her shoulders to appear smaller. She was awkward but she wasn’t apologizing. She was just standing there, looking at all of us as if she was an archaeologist and we were shards.

Her roving eyes met mine and I didn’t glance away. I smiled a little and then made my way through milling teenagers towards her. When I got close enough to speak, I introduced myself. “I’m Molly and I’m a junior. I think you are new here.”

When she smiled, her pale blue eyes lit her whole face. “Yeah. My dad’s an officer in the army and has to do this year in Vietnam so I have to stay with my aunt and uncle.”

“Where’s your mom?”

“She died when I was a kid.”

“I’m sorry. Why do you have an umbrella? It’s sunny today.”

She laughed. “I broke my foot really hard when I was little. It took a couple surgeries and a lot of time to heal and now, if it’s going to rain, it aches. I don’t even think about it much anymore, I just bring my umbrella.”

The bell was ringing.

“Can I help you carry all those books?”

She shifted some to me. “Sure, thanks. They gave me all the books for all my classes when I enrolled on Friday. By the way, my name is Deborah and I can promise you that within days some jerk boys are going to start calling me ‘the bra’ and they will think they are witty.”

I liked her already, “I know many of the boys in this high school. They call you that, we can call them, uh, flat pants. They won’t get it for hours, if ever, and it will make them furious.”

She laughed at my joke, which made me like her right away.

By the time the school day was over it was, no kidding, raining. I spied her as kids flooded out of the school, so we walked home together under her bright blue umbrella. Her aunt lived a couple blocks from my house so by the end of the week, were already nearly best friends.

..

Tall, skinny, red headed, and with larger than average breasts got the attention of most of the males in the school though I think it was her confidence that made the bullies most crazy. She studied hard, knew answers in class, raised her hand often, and didn’t care what others thought about her. But yeah, we’d hear in the hall between classes, “Here comes De Bra!” Or “Hey De Bra, need help carrying those?”

She just kept ignoring them. Sometimes, when we were walking home or hanging out in my room, she’d sigh and then wrinkle her forehead as she thought. “My dad is risking his life this year leading men in battles that could kill all of them. And for what? So stupid boys can say stupid things about my body? I get angry but then I think of real men doing truly brave stuff and what these idiots say just fades away. There are bigger worries in my life. Like, I’m 17 and don’t want to be an orphan. You know?”

I wasn’t as noble as she was. Those stupid remarks made me furious.  

We were walking home under the umbrella one gloomy afternoon when a muscle car trolled past. When the guys in the car saw us they rolled down their windows. They started yelling about boobs as if they were actually clever for figuring out so many ways to say the word.

Deborah’s face went rigid. Without thinking, I leaned over, picked up a rock that just happened to be on the sidewalk right then, and threw it as hard as I could. It hit the windshield dead center. I watched with joy and terror as the crack immediately webbed out in all directions. The boys were startled and then furious and started to pile out of the car. I grabbed the umbrella, pulled it down, grabbed it like a javelin, narrowed my eyes and started straight for them screaming as loudly as I could.

“Don’t you dickless wonders ever say boobs or bra again around either one of us. My uncle is chief of police and my mom weighs 250 pounds and knows shotput and that’s just the beginning of who I am.”

I was so loud that people started sticking their heads out of their front doors. The guys saw them, stopped advancing towards me, skedaddled back into their car to spin their wheels as they screeched off.

Deborah sighed. “Thank you for that. I guess. You know this isn’t over, right?”

“I guess so, but they are mean and it isn’t right that they get to say what they want to girls and we don’t get to fight back because they are stronger.”

“You broke their windshield!”

I started to smile, “Yeah. That was kind of awesome, wasn’t it?”

She laughed and shook her head.

“I hope they don’t kill me and send you to prison. Is your uncle really a cop? And I know your mom isn’t a bit fat. And what is a shot putter and why did you say that?”

“My mom is powerful in our family and my dad always says he’d rather have her on his side than a 250-pound shot putter so that just came out of me. A shot putter is one of those huge muscley people who can throw a big heavy ball really far.”

“Like you just did with that rock?”

“Kinda.”

We waited four nervous days for the payback we knew would come. They couldn’t really complain that I broke their windshield without saying why I, a nice girl who joined after school clubs and was a youth leader in my church, would do such a thing. And they really couldn’t mention that I’d called them dickless wonders. Words are pretty powerful.

So when we got close to her locker after school and other kids plus some teachers were standing around it, we knew it would be a mess. The door was smashed and bent. All her books were thrown across the floor. The broken locker itself was jammed with blown-up pink balloons with ‘boob’ written on each of them. One of the teachers started popping them which revealed that Deborah’s umbrella was gone.

She stood there, paler than ever, tears beginning to leak from her eyes. I wrapped my arm around her waist and our English teacher, famous in our school for her shrill voice and true kindness, wrapped her arm around Deborah’s shoulder.

She murmured, half to Deborah, half to herself. “I don’t know specifically which students did this. Maybe you do. But I can see here that you must have pushed back against bullying. I will never understand why some men get so angry when women won’t allow them to intimidate us. Harassed if we do nothing. Harassed if we do.”

I spoke up. “Her dad is in a war and now, by just moving here to our town and school, she is in one, too. Or maybe I am. I know the thing that made them so mad was something I did, not her. But my locker is fine. It’s her they want to bully.”

Ms. Henry looked at both of us then. “Some will say they do this because they think you are attractive. Never believe that kind of claptrap. Okay, girls? No one who truly admires another person will ever tease or bully them. Ever.”

That afternoon we walked home in the rain without an umbrella to pull us in close to each other. It was a long walk.

The next day was Friday morning assembly and Deborah’s blue umbrella was hanging from the beams that held up the high ceiling of the gym. It was opened up with pink balloons dangling from its ribs. Red circles like nipples were drawn on the end. Everyone saw it. Many kids looked up at it, looked at Deborah and me, then sniggered and laughed.

I was turning to leave when she grabbed my hand and muttered under her breath. “If we leave, they win. If we walk in, they get nothing.”

I was in awe of her in that moment and responded in my quietest voice. “Where did you learn to be this strong?”

She pulled in a deep breath. “I am warrior’s daughter and my dad told me that when I am strong, that’s when I’m most like my mom.”

I had no words. I looked at her in wonder. Just wonder.

After the twenty-minute assembly kids flooded back out of the gym to go to their classes. Deborah and I sat until they were all gone. It was just the two of us. I still had no words. I didn’t start this but I had caused it and I was numb.

Just then into the gym came Douglas Hathaway, whom I’d known since grammar school. Douglas was possibly the shortest boy in our grade. He walked over to where we were sitting.

“I just gave the names of the boys who did this to the school secretary.”

“What?”

“I came to school super early today because I’m painting the scenery for the play next weekend. I heard yelling and laughing here in the gym so I looked in and saw exactly who was here. I didn’t say anything, I just watched. I figured if I asked you what to do, you might feel unsure so I just told Mrs. Myers who is, coincidentally, also my aunt. She knows me so she believes me.”

Deborah just nodded. “Thank you. I hope. I don’t know how to stop this. I didn’t do anything to start it other than grow into my skin.”

He didn’t laugh. “I know about people judging you on the basis of how your body grows. Isn’t being a person hard enough, without piling this on, too?”

I introduced them to each other and was amazed when, coolest teenager thing I’d ever seen, they shook hands. It was if they made a pact.

Then Douglas turned to me and started, I swear, giggling. “Did you really call them dickless wonders?”

I opened my mouth. Snapped it shut. Opened it again. “How did you hear that?”

“Oh man, people should only know. I’m from a big Catholic family and so are my mom and my dad. I swear half the people in this town are related to me. Another one of my aunts lives on that street where you broke their windshield when they deserved it. Aunt Cecelia said the girl with the brown hair has really good aim and a strong arm and I should try to never get on the wrong side of you.”

Each bully was suspended for three days. Plus, and I’m not sure who mentioned my rude comment, but it went around, too.

Deborah, Douglas, and I did not become popular. Not too much changed other than no one mentioned Deborah’s body again. And that year at Christmas the three of us went to the country club shop to buy Deborah an extra big rainbow striped umbrella so we could walk under it together.

 

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Comments

Deborah, Douglas and Molly are definitely teenagers to know! Molly had spunk! Douglas was the hero of the story! Your story is good. I sighed at the bullying and we all know that goes on much too often. Not only as teenagers but from adults, too.
Mary Beth's picture

Thanks! And too many of us are still walking around trying to avoid bully comments from decades ago.

I am catching up on my reading. Which is my excuse for just now reading your contest story. Your gift of words is -a gift you give anyone who reads your stories. From umbrellas to canoeing, I can picture so much! And feel the water caressing my fingertips, as I paddle along. Your gift is appreciated.

Am I the only one who got a bit teary eyed?
Mary Beth's picture

Oh thank you so, so much for this. It fills me.

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A-Z A Fine Romance .....

6/8/2023

Len and I are about to take a trip that’s been in the works since January - you know I will post about it when we get back. Meantime, here’s a story I wrote long ago that I still like and think about a lot. I probably should post this at Valentine’s Day but, hey, we’re at the letter Q.

Blue

The Wisconsin Writers Association hosts a short story contest each year. This morning I submitted a story I wrote over the past few months. If and/or when it doesn't win (I'm not optimistic but I have hope. Thanks, Carly.) I will get around to posting it here.  

Meantime, this is the story i wrote for the WWA contest last year. It didn't win anything but reading it again just now for the first time in nearly a year, the beginning made me laugh. 

Maybe you will like it, too.  

5/2/2023

Blue

 

Harriet Amaryllis

12/13-2021

Harriet Amaryllis met John Blake in her twenties when she volunteered for a medical study; she did those kinds of things back then to make extra money. John, who was the intake guy at the clinic, looked at her name, looked up at her and said her name was the most beautiful name he had ever heard in his life.

She was so nonplussed that she stammered that her brothers called her Hairy.

John said, “Would you like me to clobber them out for you? I did a year in Vietnam. I have skills.”

Thunder and Courage

After I write a story, I like to let it sit and steep. This story has been in the 'story cellar' for two years. I woke up this morning thinking about it, so I think it's time to put it here.

I'm surprised by how much courage  some people have when they think they don't have much at all.  This is my take on that thought.

PS: if you like this story, forward it to others you know who might like it. Thanks. 

...

Thunder and Courage

The Pilgrimage of Wally, Diego, and Miles

I wrote this story nearly 20 years ago. Our second kid was getting ready to go to college, our youngest was in middle school. I needed to find a job - and trying to find a satisfying one when you still don’t know, at the tender age of 50-whatever, what it is you want to do … that is a tricky time for many women. For many adults.

Where Love Died...

(This is a fictional short story I wrote in 2001.  The photo is from Kathryn Rouse. Thanks.) 

           We'd been driving for hours. The unending trees of upper Michigan were a dark corridor around us, the sky above was unpolished silver. I was weary and my neck ached.

            "Mom?"

            I glanced at my son, just waking from a monotony-induced nap.

            "Yeah?"

            "Where are we?" He lifted his shoulders, easing the kinks from the awkward way he'd slept. "Are we close yet?"

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