She was wild.
Wild and dirty and free.
Charlie could hardly imagine a life like hers; a life with no rules, no siblings and no shoes.
Charlie's life was led by his mother. She made the rules and they were followed or else. That meant Charlie always had to wear his clunky shoes outside and empty his pockets every time he ventured back inside. It meant Charlie wasn't allowed to tug off his pants and run around the neighborhood; well he could and did, but then his Ma would always catch him and make him put his pants back on before he reached the end of the block. It meant always having his mothers spit on him to slick back his hair or to wipe off the dirt that was constantly smudging his face.
The girl that lived across the street however didn't have any of that. She wasn't like any of the other kids on the street, or the whole town for that matter. Her mom didn't make her wear shoes outside, even when the wind started blowing leaves off the trees. Her dad didn't make her come in after the sun went down. She didn't even have to wear clothes if she didn't want to- at least that was what Charlie guessed. If he were in her position, Charlie would have done without clothes altogether.
The wild girl didn't have any rules; she could do whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted. Her hair was never slickered down with spit and her clothes never had to be clean. That's what made her so intriguing to the six year old; her freedom. That was all Charlie thought when he caught sight of the girl, wild. Charlie was only six, but he knew how to feel envious.
Everyone seemed to have their own opinions of the wild girl though. Thomas, his older brother, always said she wasn't a girl, she was an animal dressed like a human. He had told Charlie to stay away from the girl or else she would eat him like lions eat the antelope on the TV. Charlie didn't believe him; even though Thomas was older and smarter than Charlie by four years he still didn't believe him.
Charlie scowled up at the ceiling above him knowing that Thomas was up in his room playing with his ants or reading his dumb comic books. Thomas never wanted to play with Charlie and when he did, Charlie always ended up eating dirt or being a target. He didn't particularly like being the target and he didn't particularly like getting his face shoved in the mud so he tried to stay away from his older brother.
He glanced back out of the window watching the house across the street for the wild girl. He had never talked to her before, but they had been on the same team in war. The wild girl was the only girl ever allowed to play with the boys on the street because she could throw a ball further than Harry Shunkins who was eight. Bobby Drekins from across the street and Lewis Tumds were on his team too. They had all been Indians and painted their faces with ground up grass that the wild girl had smooshed with a rock. Except no one told Charlie that the Indians were supposed to lose. If he had known that, he'd of been a cowboy with Willy Thompson and Quincy Stevens.
The six year old could smell the thick scent of coffee in the air and the chatter of women in the other room. They always did that. As long as Charlie could remember they had always gathered in the kitchen on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Making pot after pot of coffee and gabbing away about nothing remotely of interest. Charlie's mom was chair lady of the town committee or something of the like; he never paid close enough attention to remember. Which meant all the other mothers in town, or most of them anyhow, spent their afternoons in his mom's kitchen drinking coffee and cackling.
Charlie rubbed his cheeks ruefully still staring out the window. They had been pinched by every woman in the kitchen. All because Charlie woke up late and couldn't escape out the back door before his Ma caught him. Charlie stood and listened with one ear on the table of clucking women and both eyes on the house across the street that was just as wild as the girl livin' in it.
His mother had an opinion about the wild girl too, like every other mother in the kitchen and she was often the subject of their conversations. It would always start with someone bringing up a funeral or one of the ladies catching a glance of the wild girl as she ran shoeless down the street. Charlie would always listen to see if he could catch the girl's name, but nobody seemed to know it. They always called her 'that poor child' and 'that girl'.
"Uh-uh that child needs some motherin'." His mother would start shaking her head and pouring more coffee for the table of gossipers.
"Amen." Mrs. Hovenly nodded pursing her lips and fanning herself lazily with her black hand.
"That poor child." Mrs. Mearty would nod her head slowly in agreement.
Charlie didn't understand how they could call her that. What was so bad about not havin' rules and being able to stay out past the sun? His Ma only let him stay out past dark on the fourth of July and the town barbeque. The wild girl never had to go in after dark.
"Oh it's a phase is all-" The heavy wheezing voice came from Ms. Wid. The oldest woman Charlie had ever met. She had been widowed twice with five grown children and an estate larger than Charlie's neighbor hood. "Once they get out of that stupor they'll pull themselves together. You'll see."
"Oh, I do hope so." Charlie didn't have to look to know the whinny voice belong to Mrs. Poodle. "Every time I see that child I just barely stop myself from pickin' up the phone."
Being a kid Charlie didn't know a whole lot, but he did know that if they ever did pick up the phone the wild girl would be taken away. Just like Lanette Perkins when her Dad took too hard of a swing at her and Billy Feans when his mother was killed on vacation. Lanette Perkins and Billy Feans never came back after they were picked up.
"Oh darlin' no." His mother was shaking her head and pouring more coffee. "They already lost one child. We can't take another away from them."
Charlie pulled at the shirt his mother picked out and scuffed the floor with his shoe until he got bored of the gossip and wandered into the yard. Like the rest of the block his lawn was green and trimmed, the hedges were square and the sidewalk cracks sprouted no weeds. Every lawn looked like his except for the wild girls.
Her lawn was tall and the green grass was tangled together. The hedges poked out of the forgotten picket fence and the sidewalk up to her front door was yellow with dandelions. A red and rustin' lawn mower was buried in the tall grass and had been since last year. Two untrimmed trees sat beside the outer picket fence and Charlie caught himself eyeing the things.
Today was gonna be different. He wasn't gonna go find Dustin Willis and Quincy Stevens. He was gonna go over and climb the wild girls trees. Maybe roll through the long grass, pretend he was ambushing some pirates. He wanted to check out that ol' lawn mower and see if he could get it to run again. His Ma had told him no last year when he tried to have snowball fight with the girl.
She told Charlie not to bother the nice people while they were grieving. She said it wouldn't be polite to climb their apple trees or throw snowballs at their daughter while they were mourning their dead baby. Charlie didn't know a whole lot about a whole lot but he did know his mama was wrong; about the wild girl anyway. She wanted to play. Whenever Charlie was outside the girl would come out and stand on her weathered porch and stare across the street at him. If that wasn't an invite to play with her, then nothing was.
His Mama was wrong. Adults could mourn away their own children for as long at they wanted, but kids did it different. Charlie knew that the wild girl wanted somebody to play with. And Charlie was tired of Quincy and Dustin fighting all the time. He was tired of Willy pushin' him off his own bike when the other kid wanted to ride. He was tired of playin' the same ol' borin' games with 'em.
Plus he didn't see any reason why he couldn't. It had been a whole year since the last time his Ma had told him no; he figured by now she had either forgotten about it or had changed her mind. With that thought in mind Charlie tromped across the street and stood outside the grey fence waitin'.
She usually barreled out the door of her white house and stomped around her porch for a while. Sometimes she'd be runnin' up the sidewalk or down the sidewalk either escaping or chasin' something. Sometimes she'd already be up in the trees hanging off the branches like she wasn't afraid of fallin'.
She was wild and dirty and free.
Charlie could hardly imagine a life like hers.