‘Plum-Pit’ by Zach Harbaugh

sc june 18

The kids on the bus keep asking me why I smell funny.
But it only makes me cry.
They all turn away to stare out the windows in silence.
Watching the snow fall as I sob quietly to myself.

Later on, in second period, when the student counselor calls me down to her office, she asks the same thing.
Only much nicer.
She asks why my clothes have been dirty for the past few days.
I tell her that the washing machine at Grandma’s house broke down.
I tell her that Grandma is going to take me to the laundry mat today after her nap.
That grandma hadn’t been feeling very well.
She asked me a few more questions about Grandma before sending me back to class.

At lunch, nobody wants to sit next to me.
I smell too bad, my friends say.
I tell them it’s ok.
That I understand.

That’s after I got a rectangular slice of pizza, strawberry milk, and a fruit cup.
After the large lunch lady tells me that my account doesn’t have enough money for the fruit cup.
She gave it to me anyway, with a big smile folding through her pale skin.
A smile that reminded me of Mom.
“Tell your parents to deposit some funds tonight, that way you can have all the fruit cocktail you like!”
This she said as the smile grew wider across her kindhearted face.
Ok, was all that I was brave enough to say.

I sat on the ground outside of the cafeteria doors.
The hard-plastic tray between my legs.
My picture of Mom and Dad, planted firmly in a crack on the concrete floor, kept me company as I ate.
I was just a baby in the picture.
Mom and Dad in silly Christmas sweaters.
Big smiles hung on both faces.
Me in the middle, being held by both of them, sporting a floppy elf hat.
I miss them. I miss them so much.

Vince, a fourth grader, walked out of the bathroom door by the cafeteria.
I tried to hide the picture, but he stopped me before I could, snatching it up in a balled fist.
“What’s this?”
He asked.
“Poor little stinky boy eating all alone?”
He continued with a mimicking voice.
“Oh no, I guess not.”
Vince said as he un-crumpled the photo.
“Who’s this then, huh, Momma and Dadda?”
He asked, speaking like a baby.
“Give it back, Vince.”
I trembled.
“Oh, what’s wrong? Does little smelly miss his mommy and daddy?”
He said, then laughed as he scanned the picture.
“Does someone need his diaper changed?”
“Please Vince, give it back.”
I begged.
“Ok, sure. Yeah, yeah, I’ll give it back.”
He said looking at me, then back to the picture.

Before I could muster the will to stop him, Vince ripped the picture into eight pieces.
He sprinkled the chunks of Mom and Dad onto my half-eaten slice of pizza with a violent smile.
As I reached to gather them together, he stomped his Nike to the tray and ground the pizza to fragments.
After wiping the sole of his shoe off on my jeans, he walked into the cafeteria and sat with my friends.

Mom and Dad’s torn, smiling faces were stained red and riddled with spongey bits of pink shaded dough.
I cleaned them gently with a wetted paper towel, as tears welled up in my eyes.
I locked the handicap stall door and cried silently in its solidarity until the lunch bell rang.

Grandma’s house was old.
The rusted metal gate crunched open as I pushed through it after stepping off the bus.
Mom and Dad’s old car rested, just as mangled as the day they went away, in the snow strewn drive way.
The eighty-year-old lock on the front door resisted hard as I crammed my key into the icy slot.
“Hi Grandma, I’m home.”
I yell through the house, plopping my book bag to the wood floor.
She didn’t respond.
She’s probably napping.
Her hearing aid on the fritz again.

I pick away mold from the bread on the kitchen counter before coating it with the last of our peanut butter.
After making two holy sandwiches, I headed up the stairs to Grandma’s room.
I hoped she would wake up long enough to eat her sandwich; but I knew it was unlikely.
The smell was getting worse.
Grandma’s cat Plum-Pit had started chewing on her toes again.
The scattered plates of uneaten peanut butter sandwiches told me that she still hadn’t woken up.
It’s been eight days now, and I’m starting to worry.
Her skin has turned purple and puffy.
I just hope she wakes up soon.

I kissed her wrinkled forehead and went back to the kitchen to do my homework.
Afterwards I cleaned up Grandma’s room and lit some candles.
Then cleaned a few pairs of clothes with dish soap in the bathtub.
The power went out while I was drying them off with Grandma’s hairdryer.
I lit a few logs in the fireplace and set my wet clothes on the brick mantle in front of it.
It had slowly gotten dark, and the house grew cold quickly.
I headed up to Grandma’s room with my jacket and a flashlight.

“I love you grandma.”
I whispered in her ear as I curled up next to her on the bed and shut my eyes.

The police woke me, banging on the door.
I had overslept and missed the bus.
Someone from the school had called them to perform a welfare check.
This the police men told me when I answered the door.
Once they smelled the inside of the house, they insisted on coming in to talk to Grandma.
I told them she was napping.
I never did get to see Grandma after that.
I sat in the back of a car when they wheeled her out of the house.
The sheet veiling her fluttered in the wind, lifelessly flaccid.
The falling snow adorning her with celebratory flakes.
Plum-Pit leapt up onto the gurney as they began loading her into the ambulance.
Later, the social worker told me that Grandma went to be with Mom and Dad.
I smiled widely at that.
I told the nice lady that Grandma was lucky.
That it didn’t make me sad at all.
I told her this as she plopped Plum-Pit into my lap.
I stroked his back, making his skin crawl with involuntary spasms.
“I hope I get to be with them soon.”
I told the social worker, while wiping the crusted blood off Plum-Pit’s chin.

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