The Tree house in Houlihan Park
He saw her underneath the tree house running around it in fast circles. She wore blue jeans that were rolled up at the cuffs. Her blonde hair was tied back in a ponytail with a white ribbon, and she wore a plain white cotton blouse. He watched her from his front yard, longing to go across the street to the park. He wasn't allowed over in Houlihan Park. He didn't really care. All he wanted was to get to know that pretty blonde girl. He saw her climb the wooden ladder nailed to the oldest, tallest oak tree in town. He watched her until she disappeared into the leaves.
He looked back at his house to see if his mother was up and about. He figured he could slip over and back before she was done watching her soaps. The oak tree stood in the middle of the park. The park was just a square block, but it had several picnic tables, a swing set, slide, and monkey bars. His Mom wouldn't allow him to play in the park without supervision. At all times of the day, there were several old drunks chugging beer and playing dominoes. He thought his parents were just paranoid. They were always scared of one thing or another. Put your seatbelt on. Don't run with scissors. Don't talk to strangers. Plenty of don'ts, but never anything he could do.
Today, he was going to talk to that girl no matter what his noid parents said.
He ran over in a new pair of Addidas running shoes his uncle had bought him. They were blue with white stripes. All the cool kids were wearing them. He wore blue jeans and a white t-shirt, with a picture of the Fonz on the front. The caption underneath the iron-on was Fonz's signature line "Aaaayyyyy!" Charlie loved Happy Days.
Acting cool, and trying not to look desperate, he strolled over to the swing set, sat down in full view of the tree house. He caught sight of her looking out of one of the rectangle openings. The tree house was three different levels. She stared down at him from the highest level. His heart skipped when he saw her wave at him. He smiled and returned the wave. She motioned for him to climb up.
His mother, with her supersonic voice, was calling. 'Crap!'
He streaked from the swing set, across the street, praying with every inch of his heart, his Mom didn't see him.
The next day, he was back in his front yard searching the park for any sign of the blonde girl. He had his baseball glove on. In between glances at the park and tree house, he tossed a baseball on the roof and watched it rolled off into his glove. It was an exercise his uncle told him about to practice catching pop-ups. He was supposed to start first base this summer. He threw the ball up and a flash of white caught his attention. He turned and the baseball smashed into his eye.
"AHH! Man Alive!"
He touched the tender spot, praying the blonde girl hadn't seen him do such a boneheaded thing. His eye felt like it might be swelling, but he was only concerned with searching the park.
He spotted her at the top level of the tree house. He thought she must have climbed up while he was tossing the ball. He built up his courage and went inside his house.
"What Charlie?" She said.
"Can I go over and play on the swing set in the park?"
His mother sat in a recliner in front of the TV. That's all she did, all day long. Year after year, he watched his mother fill the seat until it had no more room. She was multiple folds of candy bars, ice cream and potato chips. She didn't bother to get up and clean the house. The dishes piled up until he made her mad. She punished him by making him clean the kitchen. The house stunk of body odor and rotting food. Charlie never wanted to be inside, especially in the summertime.
"Why do you want to go over there?" She asked.
Her eyes didn't move from the TV screen. She was munching potato chips absentmindedly.
"Because there is a girl over there and I'm bored."
"Is there any Messcans drinking over there?" She asked.
"I didn't see any, Mom. Please can I go?"
He was getting hopeful. She didn't flat refuse when he first asked the question. Maybe she thought he was old enough to cross the street.
'Finally,' he thought, 'I am eleven years old, Jeez!'
She said, "Okay, but if anyone bothers you start screaming and I'll come running. And stay out of that tree house!"
He thought, 'Yeah right! Run right into a heart attack!'
He smiled at her, though. He bent over the arm of her chair and kissed her cheek.
He sprinted to his bedroom. He dropped his glove on his bed, looked at the mirror above his dresser. He smoothed his hair and checked his shirt for any stains.
He ran for the front door.
Charlie glanced both directions before sprinting across the street. He ran straight for the swings. He sat down on the thick black strap. He grabbed the chains and began kicking his legs back and forth.
"Hi!" She said.
He felt gravity tug at his stomach when he heard her voice.
She had startled him. He noticed she wore the same outfit as yesterday. He thought she was so pretty and her clothes were pressed and spotless.
Charlie said, "Hi! Where'd you come from?"
"Oh, from the tree house. I was bored up there and decided to come talk to you. I'm Jenny. What's your name?" She replied.
He felt nervous. He thought she was beautiful. She had freckles sprayed across her nose and perfectly white teeth. She sat down on the swing next to him and began to kick her feet. She matched his swing.
"Why haven't I seen you in school?" He asked.
She said, "We just moved here. Hey! Betcha can't do this!"
She turned her hands around, grabbed the chain from the front. At the height of her swing, she launched herself into the air. She landed several yards away. She staggered as she landed, then spun around to watch him. Charlie noticed how blue her eyes were as she gazed up at him expectantly.
Charlie didn't want to be shown up, especially by a girl. He copied her technique, grabbed the chains and launched himself. Pain flared in his ankles as he hit the ground.
He winced, staggered, but caught his balance.
Jenny ran back to her flapping swing. She caught the swing, climbed back on.
She said, "Isn't it fun?"
Charlie didn't like the throbbing in his ankles, but he wanted to impress her. He was about to jump on his swing when he heard his mother's call.
He slipped off the swing.
"I gotta go, Jenny! But can we meet here tomorrow? I had fun."
She said, "Sure, come over when you see me."
Charlie yelled, "Bye!"
He sprinted back across the street. He burst through the front door with a huge grin. He was happy to have made friends with the cutest blonde girl in town.
"Charlie go make your father some tuna sandwiches. He'll be home soon and you know how pissed he gets when dinner isn't on the table." She said.
His smiled disappeared when he realized the mundane reason he'd been called away from his new friend. Charlie's shoulders slumped as he stalked off to fix his father's dinner. He sat at the table mixing the tuna and mayo while daydreaming about Jenny.
He thought about introducing her around school. He hoped she would be in his class. His teacher was so boring.
He thought, 'Jenny sure would bring some excitement to the endless speeches about language or history.'
Charlie ran all the way home from school the next day. It was only five blocks. He made it in record time.
Le Grande was a very small community. If a person were willing, they could trot the circumference in twenty minutes, the radius in ten.
As he jogged past a small Mexican bakery, migrant workers unloaded off an old blue school bus. The blue paint had peeled off in several places so the bus was spotted yellow. The men were green head to toe from picking the season's first tomatoes. It was late May and the men seemed baked from the California sun. As he ran past the men, he had a second of admiration for these men before returning his thoughts to Jenny.
He ran past a Spanish styled Post Office, the next block down
Charlie crossed the street to the firehouse. The building was green. It had wide rollup doors. When the fire trucks were beckoned from their slumber, you could hear the sirens throughout the town. Charlie wanted to be a fireman when he grew up. He fantasized about saving someone from a fire, daring to run into a blazing inferno with those cool hats and being the hero.
He turned right at the end of the street. On his left was the street he lived and Houlihan Park across it. He slowed his pace as he approached his house at the corner. He strained to see if Jenny was in the Park. After moments of sheer torture, he spotted her in the tree house. He sprinted to his front door, barged in, and changed his clothes. He pulled on his brown Toughskins jeans with the knees nearly worn through. He grabbed his t-shirt with an iron-on of Chewbacca on it.
He carried out the garbage noticing the piles of candy wrappings. He washed up the dishes in the sink. He glanced around looking for anything else his Mom would call him home for. He saw nothing.
"Mom, can I go over to the park?"
Charlie's mother sat shoveling Rocky Road ice cream. The TV was on and she stared at it as though she were hypnotized.
She spoke without turning her head.
"Did you do all your chores?"
"Yea, Mom!" Charlie replied.
"Okay, be back before dark!" She said.
He bent over and kissed her cheek. She smelled foul, but he was used to it.
When he made it to the base of the oak tree, he called up to Jenny.
"Hey, Jenny! Come down!"
"No, you come up!" She replied from her perch at the top level.
He said, "I can't! If my Mom catches me up there I'll get a beatin'. I'll be over at the swings!"
He ran over to the swing set and began to get some height. He was about to jump off when Jenny startled him again.
"Hi, Charlie. You wanna go over to the monkey bars."
She stood right next to him. He almost hit her, as he swung past.
"Man Alive! Careful I could've hit you!"
Her expression innocently said, 'What?'
She acted if the incident was funny.
He would have been heartbroken if he had hit her.
"So do you wanna play on the monkey bars or what?" She said.
Charlie launched himself off the swing. He again landed hurting his ankles. He just wanted to show off in front of Jenny.
He said, "Sure! Let's go!"
They ran over to the monkey bars that was set in a hole filled with sand. It was shaped like different sized rockets all connected. Jenny climbed to the top without hesitation and sat on the highest bar.
She said, "Betcha can't do this!"
She flipped back suspended by the fold of her knees. Charlie climbed up next to her. He sat right beside her, his heart fluttering from being so close. Their thighs nearly touched as he mimicked her stunt. They hung upside down, her ponytail swaying, her shirt riding up her belly.
"Betcha can't do this, Charlie!"
She clutched the bar and somersaulted back onto the sand at the bottom of the monkey bars. It was a dangerous maneuver being so high up. But, Charlie wouldn't be shown up. He again mimicked her somersault, falling.
He landed square on his back, the wind knocked out of him.
He blushed as the embarrassment overcame the discomfort. He sat up and looked around.
Jenny was gone. Stunned that she had deserted him, Charlie's heart sank.
"Charlie! Are you alright?" Jenny called.
His eyes followed the sound of her voice. Jenny sat at the top level of the treehouse looking down at him from the rectangle opening.
He said, "Yeah, I'm okay!"
He hurt all over, but he wouldn't let her know that.
"Come up into the tree house with me, Charlie! I got something to show you!"
Charlie's curiosity caused him to forget the tumble and pain. He ran for the ladder. About three wooden rungs up, he heard his mother.
He yelled, "Sorry I gotta go, Jenny, but will you be here again tomorrow?"
Jenny said, "I wouldn't miss seeing you, Charlie."
He blushed at the comment, but his heart did flips.
"Okay, I'll see you tomorrow, Bye!"
Charlie started toward his house. His neck ached from his fall. He was also glad Jenny hadn't teased him about it. He was really beginning to have feelings for Jenny.
Charlie stretched his sore back as he opened his front door.
His mother sat watching Merv Griffin on TV. Merv was introducing a band from Sweden. Two women wearing very tight matching white body suits.
He walked past his mother as she chomped on cashews.
"Charlie would you go fry some hamburgers for dinner?"
He went in and started dinner for his father.
The next day, Charlie couldn't stop thinking about Jenny. He couldn't wait for the final bell to announce the end of the school day. He wanted to get home as soon as possible. Charlie had decided if she wanted him to see something in the top of the tree house, he would do it. No matter what the noids said.
Charlie was hesitant about the height of the tree house, but he wasn't about to be shown up again. He desperately wanted to impress her. He would do anything to get her to like him. The bell finally rang and he started home.
He walked his usual route. In front of the firehouse, he waved to Mr. Watts, the only full time fireman at the station. The rest were volunteers.
Charlie turned the corner and immediately spotted Jenny on her perch in the treehouse.
'It's so high up there!' He thought.
They both waved at each other.
He reached his front door and entered. As usual, his mother sat shoving an assortment of chips and candy into her mouth.
In his room, he changed his clothes. He took out the garbage. Charlie noticed the empty ice cream carton that was just bought yesterday. He wondered if his mother would eat herself to death in front of that stupid TV.
After returning inside, Charlie washed up the dishes in the sink. He wiped down the countertop and put the dishes away. He threw a load of clothes into the washing machine.
He walked back into the stench of the living room.
"Mom, can I go over to the park again? I finished all my chores."
"Yeah, just get back before dark to fix your father's dinner." She replied
Charlie was out the door sprinting for the tree house.
At the base of the tree, he hesitated, hoping maybe she wouldn't be up there.
"Jenny? You up there?"
Charlie saw her stick her head out of the opening and look down at him.
"Hi, Charlie! Come up! I have to show you something!"
Charlie began his nervous climb. It was thirty rungs to the bottom of the tree house. He didn't dare to look down. He might lose his nerve. Charlie scrambled into the bottom level and looked around. It was just really old plywood nailed to two-by-fours. He couldn't stand up straight. He crawled over to the opening cut above him.
He stuck his head through to the second level. Charlie used his foot to push against the wall and climbed into the second level.
It looked identical to the first level. He couldn't hear Jenny above him, but he knew she was up there.
He stuck his head through and saw Jenny sitting at her perch beside the rectangle opening.
Charlie was about to burst with curiosity about what Jenny had to show him.
"Hi, Jenny! What'd you want to show me?"
He hoisted himself up and crawled over next to her.
Jenny ignored his question.
She said, "Betcha can't do this, Charlie!"
To Charlie's horror, Jenny climbed out the opening.
He jumped up and hit his head on the ceiling. Charlie looked out of the opening. He saw her hanging from a branch. She swung her feet back and forth. She was laughing and her blue eyes mesmerized him.
Jenny said, 'Come on Charlie! It's fun! Then I'll show you what I've wanted to!"
Charlie didn't look down as he climbed out on the edge of the opening. He jumped and grabbed the limb Jenny hung from. When he was sure of his grip, Charlie turned to look at Jenny.
"This is what I wanted to show you, Charlie."
She smiled at him almost regretfully.
Then, she disappeared.
Charlie heard the branch crack from his weight.
He screamed as the branch broke.
No one saw the girl standing over Charlie. Jenny watched as Charlie's legs twitched their final movements. His neck was bent in an awful angle.
His eyes were open as he caught a last glance at her.
And Charlie saw Jenny disappear.
Charlie's last living thought was why his mother didn't want him playing in the tree house. He heard his mother's words echo, as he drew his last shallow breath.
"Somebody fell from that tree house and died!"