A different third grader

She’s walking home from school, taking the short cut behind the firehouse through the field of tall grass that is consumed with purple thistle flowers and Queen Anne’s lace.  Her grandmother had told her the legend of Queen Anne’s lace and she is forever checking for signs of Anne’s blood in their centers.  She wonders why the blood has turned from red to black.  She figures Anne lived a long time ago and that things darken with age.  Then she stops to carefully squeeze the sides of the snap dragons until their soft lower jaws gently hinge open.  It gives her delight to know the happy yellow flower’s secret.  That sometimes things are not what they seem.  How a golden flower can transform into a ferocious dragon in a snap when pinched ever so slightly.

She recalls how her mother had pointed out the faces hidden in pansies, the way the tiniest drop of sweet nectar can be extracted from the honeysuckle with a nip, and how if you look carefully, you’ll see wild raspberries among the overgrown sticker bushes by the side of the road.  She plucks a thick blade of tall grass and wedges it between the sides of her thumb like a reed and blows swiftly to sound a call.  If she were a different third grader, she might not have known.

A different third grader would have walked home with a friend along well-planned sidewalks to play games in flat back yards like kick the can and ring-o-leavio.  Or maybe she would learn the words to that song the girls all sang on the playground – what was it – Harrington?  H-A-double-R….spells Harrington.  She didn’t know these games.  Instead, she was invited to Helen Kroetz’s house, the girl with the perpetual booger coming out her right nostril.  A different third grader might be knocking on the door of the girl next door’s house to see if she wants to play dolls or ride bikes.  She would stick with girl scouts or ice skating or rollerskating or dance or gymnastics or swimming or horseback riding so that when she grew up she would have knowledge of one thing and not regret quitting everything.

She continues walking, with a quickened pace as her heart races when she thinks of the bees following her scent and the snakes that might lurk in the grass.  Tomorrow, she won’t walk this path. Instead, her mother will pick her up from school, give her a big squeeze and say, “tell me about your day” with a smile.   Her mom won’t be preoccupied with thoughts of a life that requires so much strength.   It will just be mom and her different third grader.   A different third grader who doesn’t have to worry if her brother will be okay.  Or wonder if her dad will be coming home for dinner tonight, so her mother doesn’t have to sit staring at the empty space while the minutes tick away in silence.  A different third grader might help her mother paint every dark corner of the gypsy house white.  Or help her sew curtains to hang on every window to keep the spirits away.  Or help plant scarlet begonias to brighten the path to the front door.  Maybe then she would know how to paint or sew or garden or dispel silence.

Instead, she swings on the swing that her dad hung for her from the large tree atop the hill that drops prickly balls all over the front lawn.  She swings so high she thinks she might swing right over the edge of the dirt cliffs below her and the world will fall away as she soars like a bird over the field of Queen Anne’s lace beyond.