Angie’s Tale: Chapter One
By Ian Galey
Chapter I: Zero and a Half
Once upon a summer day, the fields were wide, the sky was gray. And Angie sat atop the porch railing wondering what she could do; but she was failing.
“How dare you, sky?” The sky did not respond but continued to frown at her. “Oh sky, what should I do?” Angie sighed. “Won’t you give me back the sun? At least give me back the sun . . . .” Nature seemed to mourn with her. Flowers drooped, the leaves of the trees did not flutter in the wind (alas, there was no wind), and the grass lacked its natural spring.
There was some commotion in the house behind her, and Angie deftly sprang from the railing onto the lawn and moved behind a bush. Of course, when I say behind a bush I mean it in relation to the house door. If one were to look at Angie’s home from the road, one would see a nice yard, some trees, a plastered walkway, some common landscaping bushes and flowers, and Angie huddled in front of a bush. All the same, Angie made it just in time not to be noticed by a tall woman and a teenage boy who walked out the door unto the porch.
“What—should we do?” the boy asked.
The tall woman took a moment and replied quietly, “I don’t know.”
“But . . . What about Angie? She needs to be told. We need to find her.”
“Oh give her some peace. She doesn’t need to see the world for what it is just yet. Let her have a few more precious moments.”
“I don’t think we should wait. You know how Angie is; if she finds we’ve been keeping something from her we’ll lose her even more. We need to come together now that—”
“I know what needs to be done just give me a moment for goodness’ sake,” the tall woman retorted. Tears filled her eyes threatening to break upon her cheeks.
The boy, gently, “I’ll tell her, Mom.” Exactly two sobs burst from the woman and she embraced her son.
“You are so strong, James. We’ll need you, both of us.” She pulled away. “Go find her, would you?”
“Yes, Mom.” He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and came down the single step into the walkway. But Angie was already gone from her hiding place having heard quite enough and knowing a good deal more than either James or his mom suspected. James had a good sense about him and proceeded toward the back of the house in search of Angie.
He knew she would be in one of two places: either the treehouse in the backyard, a common place for her to play and think and read, or high up in a tree where she once found a comfortable seat of branches. From her seat she had an effective view of the entire backyard, part of the road, and several rooms of the house. This was her secret hideout, where she would go when upset or stricken with the silliness of adults with all their intense problems, anxiety, and seriousness. In her mind they just seemed to worry about everything all the time, and they never smiled except when the neighbors came over. But even Angie knew those smiles were a mask. In fact, she knew it better than most.
She watched James proceed across the yard to the treehouse. James was indeed proceeding and not walking. When people have important or serious things to say, they always seem to proceed towards their subject. Leastways Angie thought so. James climbed up the ladder, looked in the treehouse, and then came back down; he walked off somewhere behind Angie, but she cared little of where he might go. She had things to think about.
Why did Mom want to spare her? Why couldn’t she tell Angie herself what was going on? Of course she would leave it for James to sort out. Angie did think it peculiar though that her mom had cried however brief. She had not seen her do that in a long while nor had she seen anyone cry so strangely with explosions of sobs and tears that ended as fast as they had started. When Angie cried, she cried freely and never needed to suppress her tears. Yet, a part of Angie became uneasy at what her mother’s tears might have meant. She pushed the thought away; adults would never make sense to her. But deep inside Angie knew what had happened. She had suspected it the moment she perched herself on the porch railing. Indeed, even the young do not stay young for long.
“There you are.”
Angie started and looked down. Her brother was just a few branches below her climbing up. “How did you find me?”
“I’ve known about your little hideout for a while. I just haven’t ever had to bother you here.”
Angie’s disappointment that someone knew of her sanctuary in the tree glossed her face. “Oh.”
“Come on, Angie. I’m the only one, I promise.” He sat across from her; both were adept climbers. “Angie. There’s something I need to—”
“You shouldn’t let her boss you around like that.” Angie was never one to beat around the bush. Though she was quite practiced at sidestepping the bush altogether by carefully choosing a different one to plow through.
James, mildly surprised, “She didn’t boss me. I told her I would do it as you apparently heard. I volunteered, you know, ‘cause she’s—”
“You volunteered because Mom can’t deal with me. Which doesn’t seem like volunteering to me.” Angie gave her statement exactly three seconds to carry out its effect. Then, “She’s manipulating you.”
“Angie Louise! You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Angie made a sound in her throat, “Ugh, don’t call me that!”
“Angie why do you expect me to respect you if you show no respect for Mom?”
“Because that’s what good boys do.”
That bit James a little, but he shook it off and tried to get to the point: “Angie, there’s something I need to tell you.”
“Besides, my problems with Mom never used to make you choose her side.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You used to be kind to me even if I wasn’t to Mom. Now you’re just trying to teach me something like she’s always been trying to do.”
“Angie, we are all on the same side. Now listen.”
“I don’t want to listen.”
“I don’t want to know!”
A wretched silence grew between them. Angie was looking away, but James kept his eyes fixed on her trying to see into her mind. “You know already, don’t you?” he asked.
“I don’t know anything,” she refuted still looking away.
“Don’t run from this, Angie. We need to stick together.”
“Afraid you might lose me?”
James stared hard at her. “Yes. I fear that every day.”
Another short silence followed, but this time it was filled with sorrow and not resentment.
Angie replied softly, “Mom has always tried to protect me from the world, to keep me safe. She says she does it because she loves me. But I already know the world, the little world we live in, and still she pretends like I can’t know, like it’s too much for me. If she really loves me, she would try to understand me. But she doesn’t, so she sends you. And now that,” Angie paused for a second collecting herself, “And now that dad’s dead, there are exactly zero people in the world who know me—who love me.”
Now James was looking away. “Angie,” he cleared his throat, “you know . . . Mom would always . . . I can only speak for myself when I say this, but I am trying to understand you, and I think I do a little bit. And there aren’t zero people in the world who love you, because I do, and I am here, trying my best. I still love you even if I don’t understand everything about you.”
Angie stopped a few tears with her hands and looked at her brother. “Zero and a half then,” she said with a small smile.