I learn fraught as fear and ought, like there’s something I ought to do, but it makes me afraid. I blink-around the gaze board and moan-summon. Mom checks my expression (no emergency), and reads the screen.
I L E R N D F R A U T
“Good for you, Zoey! So. Phonetics over spelling,” she says in teacher voice; “this a-u-t can have more than one pronunciation. Like, ‘The rope is taut’—aw. ‘I hate sauerkraut’—ow.” I moan-got-it. “Think of another way.”
F R A W T
“That’s perfect!” She wipes my chin. “Ready for your bath, Sweetie?” I give my lovingest long, slow blink. “Need anything else?” I double-blink, and she leaves.
Then I see the boys across the street climbing the wall again! I blink-around and moan-aid. Mom comes over: “What’s wrong, Zoey?”
N O K W I N D O
“Knock on the window?” She looks out. “Ohhh, those kids!” She knocks loudly. “I’ll be back.”
I’m not often anxious, but I can imagine the older boy inching his way up until he slips. I see a kid fallen, crippled for life. An idea—I bite the spout of my empty water bottle, roll my head in a big circle, and fling it at the window. Good shot! But they don’t hear the thud. They’re busy being stupid boys.
I watch Mom give them hell. She points up at my window. Telling my story, like she does at public meetings. Well, telling my past. Not my current S T O R Y. My book.
I must write it; I haven’t got all my life. Hey—I really do “haven’t got all my life”! A good joke to use.
I T W A S O N A D A R E
It was stupid kid stuff, like climbing a wall using fingernails. Do it, Zoey, Mikey said. Swim like a torpedo. I dare ya. So I did. Head first into the end of the pool. And here I am. I forgive you, Mikey. I hope you’ll forgive yourself. This S T O R Y is for you. For the neighbor boys. For every kid whose howl of a life is fraught. This is Y O U R S T O
The gaze board slips off the stand.
Come onnnn! I want to write!
My nose needs scratching!
I need a bath.
But Mom will be back.
Tom Finnegan received a B.A. in fiction writing from Sarah Lawrence College, studying with E. L. Doctorow and Grace Paley; taught EFL in Europe for eight years; was a freelance writer for ten years, authoring the nonfiction Saving Union Station; was a freelance copyeditor for university presses for twenty-five years, editing more than 1,400 book manuscripts; and now writes fiction.