P / P Short Story: Babysitting

Written By: Emily Ballaine

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If the pistol wasn’t pointing at my head I’d kill her. But I can’t let them know. If I let them know there will no longer be a pistol pointing at my head but instead a pistol handle in the back of my head, a glob of blood on those perfectly shined shoes, and my face in the dirt, breathing deep that wet earth smell, so deep it is all I can smell, all that I know, not the rust of blood or the fume of polish or the burn of gunpowder. Wet earth. So I can’t let them know.

I must do as they say. A police officer says get on your knees and you get on your knees. You do as they say. This is not as difficult as it might seem; I often do what others say. I am not the troublemaker they assume me to be. So I will do as they say. I will not even speak because the quiet ones are always the good ones. Be quiet my mother always told me.

I will not even move. Though the ding ding ding ding of the open door is starting to grate on my nerves. The ding ding ding ding that is really saying close me close me close me please close me. And couldn’t one of them just close it? Can’t they tell that the door is insistent? That I would get up off my knees, my dirty knees, wet earth covering bare skin, and kick the fucking door shut if there wasn’t this pistol pointing at my head?

There isn’t a pistol pointing at her head. Her pink shoes poke out from below the car, two pink shoes facing two black shoes. She wouldn’t be standing there, kicking at the dirt, impatient, bored, if there was a pistol pointing at her head, she would be on her knees in the wet earth like I am.

But she is not.

She is talking to Shiny Black Shoes, and Shiny Black Shoes and her are laughing; they are laughing at my dirty knees; they are laughing at the pistol that is being pointed at my head; they are laughing at the holes in my shirt. And then they will stop laughing and go get a milkshake.

There is a pistol pointing at my head because I am quiet, respectful my mother always called it. Be quiet, she told me, listen, always listen. You can’t get into trouble if you just listen.

Shiny Black Shoes say just what in the hell do you think you’re doing?

What am I doing.

Kneeling.

Listening.

Quiet.
Studying, not getting into trouble, waiting, waiting till I can get out of here, waiting till I can get away from this town, always listening, always saving, always working, quiet.

My knees will be black and blue tomorrow, and I want to say this, I want The Pistol and Shiny Black Shoes to know my knees will be black and blue tomorrow so they will know that I am not a troublemaker. A troublemaker would not care if her knees were going to be black and blue tomorrow because troublemakers are from trash, and I am not from trash. Because what would my mother think, I want to tell them, if I come home with knees black and blue. Slut, she calls me, down on your knees for any sort of trash, and now the neighbors will see those dirty knees and know you are a troublemaker, they will see you walking with knees like those and pull their sons away from you, down on your knees for any sort of trash they’ll say.

And it’s all because of her they think I’m a troublemaker, Pink Jelly Shoes. Pink Jelly Shoes who is just one more person who is trying to stop me, who was probably sent by mother to test me. Life is a test my mother always told me. Life is a test and you cannot fail. Work hard, always work hard, always be ready. But you will never work hard enough. Work. That’s how I feed you, that’s how you have clothes, that’s how you have a car. You appreciate nothing, do nothing, good for nothing.
Stop, I want to tell them, stop, please, to Shiny Black Shoes and The Pistol, but my mother always told me to not question the law.

Place your right hand on the dash and remove the keys with your left hand. Shiny Black Shoes told me to do this and I did, though it felt odd and tangled like a game of Twister, and Simon or whoever is saying put your right hand on green and your left hand on yellow, but you’re all twisted up and instead you just topple to the ground. You lose.

But now Pink Jelly Shoes is jumping up and down in the wet earth, and if this were gravel or dirt there would be brown clouds of smoke rising with each fall of her feet, her small, immature feet, but instead her feet just stick and suck into the mud. And now The Pistol is getting distracted. The Pistol is losing his focus, and my mother always said never lose focus. The Pistol is getting distracted by Pink Jelly Shoes, and watching Black Shiny Shoes try to calm her down. He is wondering why she is jumping up and down, why she is behaving so strangely, like, quite frankly, a little bitch. The two men look at each other, the one holding a pistol, heavy and rough in his hands, hands that look surprisingly soft, the other in his perfectly shined shoes, shoes that have already been mucked up and dirtied, they look and raise their shoulders half a centimeter. They’re tired. My knees ache. Pink Jelly Shoes begins to cry.

Do you know what she wrote on the back of the car? Shiny Black Shoes asks me, and he is not shouting, he is asking me, like we had known each other for years, like there was no pistol, no mud, no knees. Like he was asking for the time.
But I’m afraid if I answer I will not say no officer please tell me what she wrote please tell me why this pistol is being pointed at my head please tell me why I am a troublemaker. No, I will not say this, but instead I will scream fuck. I’m going to fucking kill her. So perhaps it is better to just shake my head, but there is still the matter of The Pistol and The Pistol had said do not move, do not move, don’t fucking move. So I just stay still.

I have to get out of here.

That’s what I really want to tell Shiny Black Shoes who seems kinder than The Pistol, but I can’t trust that he is because I can’t trust anyone. Because people lie, people cheat, and I can’t trust anyone, not even myself.

And that was my first mistake. Because I am out of control. You’re out of control my mother once told me, you’re spitting in my face you’re running all over you’re sleeping with whoever you’re trash you’re you’re trash you’re trash.

Yes officer. No officer. What was the question officer? Stop me when I’m getting warmer officer. Stop me. Stop.

Because I was never in control of her. Because she put on pink jelly shoes
instead of the rain boots I laid out by the door, the door to her four-bedroom model home that smelled like casserole and bleach, the door that I shuffled up to in my goodwill jeans, the door that screamed you don’t belong here but I guess we need you for now.
Because I have to work hard.

Because children need babysitters.

And she said God, wait till I tell my mother about this and I’m sure my mother will give you the money if you can’t even afford a milkshake. Because I am quiet except for when I yelled at her. Because my mother always told me to be quiet and she would not be quiet. And I drove her in my battered and beaten down truck to her ballet lessons, French lessons, soccer practice, math tutoring. Because I screamed shut up about the fucking milkshake, you are not getting a milkshake so just stop.
And how the words felt strange and hot on my tongue like a what?

What.

A troublemaker would know.

Hot. And my cheeks burned as we drove in silence.

And now there is a pistol pointing at my head, and my mother will see my bruised knees and Pink Jelly Shoes will get her milkshake and her parents will take her back to the casseroles and the bleach and Black Shiny Shoes will go home and say I need a steak baby today was a long one and my judge will say just another troublemaker lock her up.

Help please God I’ve been kidnapped. Why would she write something like
that? Shiny Black shoes wants to know as he holds up a piece up paper with these words scribbled in crayon.

But the words don’t mean anything anymore. Just a static hiss of dead airwaves.
Because I know already she has done something horrible. That Pink
Jelly Shoes are the reason for the bruised knees and the black shoes that were clean and unmarked before this dirt and the gun that is gritty and heavy in those soft hands. That I was sunk before I removed the car keys with my right hand instead of my left, before those flashing red lights roared up behind me, before the girl said you’ll be sorry, before I failed yet another test, and I do not need to know the particulars of how this girl orchestrated my destruction because she was only the end. Because my mother already told me she would be dead and gone before I ever got out of this town, that even then I would never get out of this town. You have to work to leave. You don’t work. How could you dream about leaving? You’d die. You’d starve. What would you do without me?

Because I already lost control. Like Twister. Right hand red. Left hand green. Right foot blue.

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