Jan Donley, Author of The Side Door

Fiction

Salamander - excerpt

Kelly watched from her bedroom window as Charlie and Frank rode their bikes up and down Hamilton Way. It was hot. Middle of July. They rode without shirts—just a pair of cut-off denims covered their bodies. Bare feet hung over the pedals. Kelly thought it was silly, how boys could go around without shirts and girls couldn’t. Her mother had explained to Kelly about breasts and puberty, and teachers had shown films about differences between boys and girls. Even so, Kelly’s eleven-year-old thinking brought her to one startling conclusion: something in this puberty picture seemed unfair.

Just moments earlier, Kelly had been out there with Charlie and Frank, but Charlie kept teasing Kelly: “You’re just a girl, why don’t you go inside and play with a doll or something.” Kelly had never heard such nonsense, especially from Charlie. Charlie used to be her very best friend. Charlie and Kelly went everywhere together—especially on “expeditions” (that’s what Charlie called them) into the prairie, just across the street and over the wooden bridge. The prairie stretched out for miles, filled with treasures like horned toads and frogs and hidden ponds-even a junkyard and what might be a haunted house. Lately, though, Charlie was always hanging out with Frank, and somehow, Charlie changed. Suddenly he was calling Kelly a girl and saying she couldn’t do the same things boys did.

Charlie and Frank said they had planned an “expedition” to the old junkyard. “Yeah,” Charlie said, “we might even sneak inside that old haunted house.” It would have been just the kind of adventure Kelly and Charlie would have done together. Now, Charlie planned to leave her out in favor of Frank. Kelly said, “I want to go, too.”

“No way.” Frank insisted. “Adventures are for boys.”

“That’s just stupid,” Kelly said. After all, last summer, she and Charlie had captured a bunch of tadpoles together, put them in a big bowl with sand and water, and watched them become frogs in Kelly’s backyard. Another time, they found an injured horned toad, built a shoebox home for it, named it Bulldog, and cared for it. Together, they carried it out by the junkyard and set it free. Kelly had participated in these adventures, and many more, in the very same prairie where Charlie and Frank said she didn’t belong.

As she watched Charlie and Frank skid down the street toward the prairie, Kelly knew she had to go, too. She would take the shortcut, get there before them—just because she was a girl didn’t mean she couldn’t make discoveries, too.

Kelly steered her bike from her backyard and coasted down the street to the plank that covered the ditch. Once across, she rode her wide-tired bike through the dirt, making a slalom course out of prickly pears and sage brush.

She got to the junkyard fast, just in time to hide her bike behind an old stove and crouch down there to watch as Frank and Charlie pulled up. Lots of junk littered what appeared to be the prairie yard of a run-down house surrounded by a weathered picket fence. One story went that the house was haunted by some tobacco chewing ogre who used stoves and refrigerators as fast as most people used paper napkins. Why else would so many appliances fill a yard? Another story went that a blizzard-wind carried all that stuff here. As anyone who lives in Wyoming knows, those winds can be plenty fierce.

All writings © Jan Donley 1985-2017
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