It was a mess an hour ago down at the campground. Kids yelling, huge RVs, garbage spilling out of the trash cans.
Mother said, “You’d think these people would know better. They’re supposed to love nature if they’re in the High Country. What’s this world coming to?”
Mother’s mastered the art of speaking from a lofty place.
According to her, the people at the campground will all be driving over to a big swimming lake made by a dam. “They won’t put in the effort to hike up to the beautiful lakes. Lucky us, we’ll have them all to ourselves.”
She smiled at Father and flashed Mindy her fond-of-Mindy look. Nothing to me.
I’m Mother’s affront to nature.
The beautiful lakes were left behind when the glaciers receded. Each one is a perfect little jewel, a star sapphire. Mother’s practically racing up the trail she’s so eager to reach where “The Fairyland” begins.
Mother talks like that, like we’re still in kindergarten, but Mindy’s almost nine and I’m fifteen.
The trail is dusty and the dust flies up in my face.
Mother told me, “Alicia, don’t worry, you’ll be able to make the climb. We’ll help you up the steepest parts. We’ll even push you, won’t we, Dear Heart?”
Father didn’t answer. Father hasn’t spoken in years. He’s a shaking stick of tall pale.
They’re way ahead of me. Father, Mother and darling little Mindy skipping right behind them. Except Mindy’s taller than me. She’s six years younger and six inches taller.
I’m short. Short, squat, and hairy. There’s hair all over me.
I’m those bones they dig up in Africa and make an imaginary picture of, showing how they looked back in the Pleistocene, whenever. I’m like Lucy, the big Leakey find. I could pass for her sister.
“She’s not going to grow much more,” the Height Specialist said. “Her leg bones are setting too early. She’ll reach four feet, four and a half if she’s lucky, that’s the limit. Sorry, little girl.”
I wanted to kill him.
“See,” Mother said. “See, Alicia, it could be so much worse. You could be a midget.”
I can’t breathe anymore through the dust and the heat. The hair under my arms and between my thighs is pulling and sticking, itching and dripping, and this horrible trail is practically vertical and I’m climbing it at about an inch an hour.
I’m desperate to go on all fours, feet and hands, hustling along like I bet those primitive Neanderthals did if something was chasing them. I tried it once in the park and it is so much faster.
It drove Mother crazy, “Stop that this minute, Alicia. You look ridiculous.”
“Mainstream her,” the Child Psychologist said. “She’s smart, she’s savvy, the teachers will keep the other kids in line. She’ll be fine.”
What school did he go to? Not one in this universe.
Down at the campground, Mother said to Father, “I can’t believe we waited sixteen years to come here again.”
I can believe it.
They had me, they had the parade of docs and shrinks, the support groups for deformity parents, special outfits to hide the body hair, one beyond belief misguided year of electrolysis.
Then they had Mindy. Pretty Mindy, special outfits for her too. Pink leotards and ballet slippers.
But listen to her, Mother, listen to her, don’t you get it? Mindy drools all over her Barbie dolls. She coos and giggles at them.
Did you happen to notice who does her homework for her?
One short hairy throwback, one Barbie, not so good, Mother. You should’ve had your reproductive organs clamped in a vise.
A shout from up ahead, “Girls! Mindy, honey, wait for Alicia to catch up. It’s just a few more steps.”
And then what, Mother? You think I’ll love it, out of the dust into the meadow over the stream on to the lakes, waltzing through Wizard of Oz country, and Mindy’s Dorothy and I’m supposed to be yapping little Toto?
Here comes Mindy, “Alicia? How ya doing, Sis?”
Last year, she called me “Big Sis” once too often.
I lost control, grabbed her, shoved her across the room.
She wailed, “Ow, ow, Alicia, you’re hurting me.”
Usually I try not to.
A few more steps and we’re over the top, into Fairyland. A broad lumpy green meadow with boulders and trees scattered around, one blue lake directly ahead, two more beyond it, mountains in the distance. Like Mother said.
First we have to cross the stream, fast-flowing and shallow with muddy banks and a muddy bottom. Tiny flowers like red and yellow stars stick up along the edges.
“Look,” I say. “Mindy, look at those flowers, why don’t you pick some for Barbie?”
I mean, what do you think Mindy’s carrying in her backpack? Lunch, yes, and a rain parka, but Barbie’s along for the ride, too.
Mindy kneels to smell the flowers and I stand over her.
I think how light and graceful she was on that trail, how lumbering I was. How she’ll dance along in life and I’ll plod. How that blonde hair will get her everything.
I don’t even hesitate.
I push her.
She jackknifes into the shallow water but then doesn’t pop up. I reach in the next second and pull her out but there’s red streaking down her face and through her hair. A big flat rock was right under her head with a thin muddy layer camouflaging it.
I didn’t see it. I didn’t.
Mother calls from the lake, “Alicia, where’s Mindy?”
Mindy’s across my lap. I’m rocking her. Her eyelids are fluttering.
Mother’s rushing at us screaming, “Oh, God, Alicia, what have you done?”
“Please, Mindy,” I whisper. “It was only a joke. Please, Little Sis.”
Mother’s almost upon us when my mind snaps into gear. There’s only one choice. I lay Mindy down, kiss her cheek, rise up onto all fours, and off I go fast and howling toward the mountains.
Joanna Bressler has been a dancer, psychologist, health researcher, professor. Currently she writes short fiction and memoir. Her work has appeared now and then in national magazines, anthologies, and on the Internet. Her hobby is writing unfinished novels. She’s terrifically skilled at it.