I’d take the city bus to her house. If I played it right, I’d have time to win my race, get home to change, catch the bus and show up at Itty Kaminetsky’s birthday party. Itty Kaminetsky with the dark curly hair, and the big green eyes, the pouty red lips and the pink cheeks, the girl all the boys fell in love with the minute she walked into our fifth grade classroom, after all my years of fragile relationship building and tentative social structuring that had undergone seismic shifts between the summer of fourth and fifth grades. Itty Kaminetsky, whose party no one would dare not attend, but who’d scheduled it on the afternoon of our school’s annual sports day, a day when I shone, a rare event.
I calculated carefully. I’d have to forfeit getting a ride with friends’ parent, those girls who’d prioritized parties, but not me. Field day in the morning, the party in the afternoon. Easy. My parents were both in the shop and on a strictly need-to-know basis in any case. No need to bother anyone.
I snagged my trophy, ran home at an even faster clip, changed to my favorite white and black wool dress, arguable too warm for the season, but so pretty, and within minutes was at the bus stop. I had studied the map, even confrimed with the bus-driver, and got off at my transfer stop.
The streets were dirty, the air smelled of garbage, or maybe something worse. This was a place where little girls in white and black wool dresses didn’t belong. I tried to melt into the sidewalk, to become a gray blur that melded to the bus-stop pole, but the longer I stood there, the brighter the spotlight of my glaring white dress. And skin.
A man appeared. A man in uniform. I exhaled. My mother had made us all memorize a song, a ditty. “Go up to the kind policeman, the very first one you meet, and say to him I’ve lost my way, I cannot find my street.” This guy wasn’t wearing a police uniform, but it was blue. It was official. It was close enough.
He winked at me, and my insides crested a wave. He circled around. He smiled and winked again. He wanted to make me feel safe. “This bus never comes. You’ll be here forever. Especially on a Sunday.”
I was already late for Itty’s party.
“I gotta car here. I just got off-duty.”
Off-duty. So official. So responsible.
I showed him the paper with the address. No problem, he said.
Just like my father, a man with a car. A man in a uniform. A man to take care.
I must’ve told him about the field day. The party I was going to. How happy I was that he was driving me.
We drifted into silence.
The longer he drove, the stranger the surrounding area. Empty lots full of weeds, water in the distance.
“Are you sure we’re going the right way?”
“No worries.” He put his hand on my knee, over the sweltering white wool. He was being nice. Patting my knee. Reassuring.
Sweat started to pour down my neck and back.
“Man, this is really way out here.” His mouth curled, his hair was greasy. He smelled like cigarettes and dirty alleys. “What if you have to take a piss in the night.”
I swallowed the vomit in my mouth.
This man in his phoney cheater uniform and disgusting conversation. Outside only blacktop edged with tall weeds.
He left his hand on my knee.
But he was an adult. He wore a uniform.
His hand pressed into my knee. Rubbing it in ever expanding circles.
His hand pressed. My hand went to the hem of my dress, pulling it taut. His hand went over mine, pulling my dress up in tiny increments, the circles widening. Pressing down harder. Harder. His fingers touching my skin.
My hand on the door handle, pushing against the door.
“I can walk from here. Thank you.” I don’t know what I looked like, what he saw as I lied and fortified.
“You sure?” he waved at the desolation outside.
“Yeah, yes. Positive. Thanks” I pushed against the door, gulping swampy air. Ready to jump.
He let me go.
Not for nothing had I won that trophy. I ran.
Stores. People. I held out the clammy address asking women, only women, for directions. Turned out he had driven to the right vicinity.
I arrived at the party.
I probably ate a lot of sugary frosted birthday cake.
I never told anyone. Anything.
It was all my fault, right? For wanting that trophy, for taking that bus, for getting into that car.
After all, nothing happened. Not really.