Found: Fiction & Poetry Anthology


by Susan Meyers

  Fall 2012 Fiction & Poetry Anthology  |  Contents  |  Authors  |


The girl, Desiree, was perched on the front steps when I arrived. Although we’d never met, I recognized her. She was lean and dark: a tan, black-haired child a little too tall for her age. The pants she wore were cut off crooked around the knee; her skin was muddied and her shirt stained. As I pulled into the driveway, she sat brushing the hair of a naked Barbie doll, her expression dull and unamused. The rest of the house lay still. Good. Home briefly from college, I’d told my mother that I didn’t want to be interrupted.

But my chore, I realized, would be more difficult than hoped. The garage was a disaster of other people’s belongings: a duffle bag of hockey sticks, a canister of old cassettes; boxes of magazines and hiking maps; a record player; a French horn. Most of it belonged to tenants who had moved out long ago. Ever since Mom had begun renting rooms to augment her alimony, she had lost all sense of boundaries. And now this: an unkempt little girl pushing her way past the hedgerows and rhododendrons over toward where I worked. She tossed her doll carelessly onto a cardboard box and set herself down atop another one. After a minute more, she blurted: “I’m eight,” thrusting up her hands, fingers spread wide to show the years.

I tried ignoring her.

“Hey,” she moved closer: a more brazen girl than I’d ever been. “I’m eight.”

I lifted a box from the top of one pile and set it aside. “Ummhmm.”

“I’m eight and I bet I could whup you.” She shrugged toward the box I’d just set down. “What’s in there?”

“I don’t know. That one’s not mine.”

“Open it.”

“No—it’s not mine.”

“Do it anyway.” She leapt up, pointing her sharp little finger down at the dilapidated box. “Now.”

My mother’s handwriting scrawled along the cardboard flaps: “Lease agreements /app. forms.”

“No, Desiree. Don’t touch it.”

“Hey!” She stood back for a moment. “You know my name.”

I nodded, shifting aside another box.

She studied me, unimpressed. “Maybe so. But you still have to do what I say.” She stomped her sandaled foot as proof; a naked slap sounded across the cement floor.

“Shhh, Desiree,” I tried a stern tone. “You need to stay outta the way.”

She plopped back down on a box, grabbed up her Barbie doll and sat stroking the plastic hair in quick, violent sweeps. Desiree hadn’t lived with her mother for years, not since she had left the three-year-old Desiree alone in a shabby apartment for nearly a week. After that, the otherwise absent father had stepped in—after encouragement from the authorities—and the little girl had weathered his piecemeal life until four years later, when her grandmother—my mother’s new lover—had agreed to take her. Now that the two women were living together in our old family home on Beech Street, Mom hadn’t wasted any time explaining Desiree’s story when she’d declined, once again, to let me stay at the house that summer. The rooms were full. Always, always they were full, she’d tell me—and did I really want to displace a poor little girl whose mother had abandoned her?

After a while, Desiree piped up again, “Know what?”


“I hate you.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Uh huh. I bet you hate me, too.”

I didn’t even swivel around to look at her: “Not really.” Finally, I’d uncovered something of mine: an old box of photo albums. After shoving it into the bed of my pickup, I finally turned to look at her. She sat cross-legged atop a box marked “Christmas Treasures,” also labeled in my mother’s tightly curled penmanship.

“Well,” she huffed, “you should.”

I wiped my brow and looked to the sky; the day was hot already. “Yeah?”

“Yeah, ‘cause I’m a bad girl.”

“Why are you bad?”

“Because I break things.”

“Really?” I hoisted a crate of old books into the truck. “Like what?”

“Stuff. Like I broke my dad’s guitar. That’s why I came here.”

She sat peeling up the tape at the edges of the Christmas box. I could have told her to stop, but didn’t feel like it.

“And because he hit me. They said he couldn’t do that. So I came to live with my grandma. Both grandmas.”

“And do you like it here?” For a moment, I tried to imagine Desiree in fifteen years: like me, just out of school, and already a bit dubious about the world.

Desiree shrugged, “It’s okay. They don’t hit you or yell. But they’re pretty boring. I hate them too.”

“Yeah,” I nodded sharply.

Her eyes rounded large; she stopped peeling at the box. “You hate them too?”

“Well, I don’t like them very much right now.”

“Same thing,” she chirped, settling more comfortably onto the box, her legs crossed. “Why do you hate them?”

“They’re selfish.” I shoved another box into the truck.

Desiree thought about that. “Oh,” she breathed, still fingering the shredded tape. Then she brightened: “Yeah. Hey, do you know what? My mom was selfish, too. She a-ban-don-ed me.”

“So I heard.”

“Yeah, but my name was in the newspaper. It said I was an abandoned child. And there was a picture and everything.” Desiree popped up from her seat on the box and examined other unused objects in the garage: a flattened soccer ball, a broken coil of garden hose, Mom’s old treadmill.

“I could show you the newspaper,” she said. “Maybe next time you come.”

She stood peering into a box of rusted tools—my dad’s.

“I’m not coming back,” I said carefully.

She stopped. Looked up at me. “Why not?”

Inside a box marked “Mementos,” my high school diploma was shoved between old certificates honoring various school awards—honor roll, track meets, choir competitions—and a picture of me with both of my parents somewhere along the coast. “Because I’m moving away.”

“Where? Where you gonna live?”


“Where’s that?”


“Is it far?”

“Yeah, pretty far.” I pulled the photo out of the box. The coastline boasted the same beautiful and jagged rocks we’d seen every year on our summer expeditions. Dad grinned at the camera, squeezing a ten-year-old me, affectionate and content. Mom stood beside us, tilting her head loosely toward the happy father-daughter couple.

“Well, I’m going with you.” Desiree laid her doll on the truck’s tailgate, the doll’s legs prickling the air at odd angles and its pink, pointed face grinning up at me.

“Desiree, you can’t come.”

“Yes I can.”

I slipped the picture back inside the box and refolded the flaps. “Why, Desiree? Why would you want to come with me?”

“Because you’re nice. And I don’t hate you anymore.”

Beneath my fingers, the box flaps felt smooth as worn leather. I wondered what kind of photograph a small town community newspaper would print next to a story about domestic abandonment: Desiree, reunited with her father? A small, dark child and her punk dad, himself barely twenty?

“Desiree,” I turned to her. “You wouldn’t like it there. It’s real different from Oregon.”

“But isn’t it nice?”

“Yeah, but different.” The box was heavy. I grunted lightly, lifting it up into the truck.

Desiree was unconvinced. “Then why’re you going?”

“Because I got a job there. And my dad lives there, too.”

“Oh,” she paused. “You gonna live with your dad?”

“Not exactly.” Dad had been enthusiastic when I’d told him about the job: an HR intern at Quest. He was proud, he said, and happy for me. The next week he’d sent a copy of apartment listings from the local newspaper.

I slid the box into the truck. “But he’ll be around.”

“I used to live with my dad,” she said, running her fingernails roughly up and down the corrugated box front. “But not anymore. He says I shouldn’t be allowed to live with Grandma ‘cause there’s no man here.”

“Well, he doesn’t sound too generous, either.”

Desiree agreed, then caught herself. “Yeah, but you’re not, neither. You should take me with you.”

She flipped the Barbie doll legs back and forth in a swimming motion.

“Desiree, I don’t have anything to do with you.”

“You’re talking to me.”

“But that doesn’t make you my responsibility.”

“Hey,” she pouted. “You’re bad.”

I turned away, and after a few moments of silence, she gave up. Angry and restless, she looked around for something to do, grabbed the Barbie doll and threw it skidding out into the driveway: So there. Then she disappeared into the tangle of trees and underbrush that lined the side of the garage.

new part

 With Desiree absent for several minutes, I finished loading boxes and was starting to rope them onto the truck. Then the sound of sandals on the driveway caught my attention. Desiree was dragging a huge, rotting tree limb—nearly as long as she was—behind her: “I’m gonna fight you.”


“I’m gonna fight you. C’mon, we’re fighting now.” She lifted the limb a few inches off the ground and let it thunk back down, with what, I supposed, was meant to be an intimidating thud.

“What are you talking about?”

“Ready?” she smacked the truck tires with her stick.

“No, stop it Desiree. I don’t want to fight with you.”

“Hey,” she looked up. “Where’s your weapon?”

“Stop it, Desiree. You’re giving me the creeps.”

“You gotta have a sword.”

“I don’t have a sword.”

“Then I win.”

“OK.” I pulled a length of rope in place and tied it off with a firm square knot. “You win.”

“Yeah, I win, so you gotta stay here.”

“Desiree, go put that stick away. I told you I’m leaving, like permanently.”

“I know what that means.” She was smiling now, as she swished the “sword” back and forth in the gravel.

“What what means?”

“Why you’re leaving.”

“Oh, do you?”

“Yeah, it means you’re in trouble.”

“I’m not in trouble, Desiree.” The quick clap of my voice surprised me.

“Everybody goes away when they’re in trouble. When they do bad things. Like my mommy.”

“Desiree,” I stiffened. “I’m not your mother.”

Four years ago, I’d stood here in the driveway, this same truck piled high with my belongings. After my first year of college, I’d come home for the summer, but Mom had forgotten: “Oh, Gracie, all the rooms are full. I guess you’ll have to go back by the university and rent there.”

“But, Mom, you invited me here. I mean, you’re my mother.”

“I’m not your mother anymore.” Her voice sounded like a recording, something she’d said to herself in a quiet room. Something she now believed. “You’re a grown person, and so am I.”

“But Mom, what am I going to do? You’re supposed to care about where I live!”

“Oh Grace, don’t get bitchy.”

And I didn’t. Not me. Not bitchy. I shut my mouth, put my extra things in the garage, and went back downtown, like she’d told me to.

“I know,” Desiree didn’t miss a beat. “But you’re like her.”

“Christ, Desiree, I’m not anything like your mother!”

“You’re leaving, like her.”

My head hurt. “Desiree, go put that stick back where you found it. If your grandma finds it out here, I bet she gets mad.”

Desiree’s brows lifted in a resigned “I told you so” expression, as she sadly, melodramatically dragged her weapon back to the bushes. By the time she got back, I was already in my truck, starting the engine and rolling down the windows of the heat-baked cab. “Hey!” I heard her frantic voice behind me. Desiree had been fooled, and she knew it; I was getting away from her.

“Don’t leave me!” she shrieked.

I craned my head out of the window to look back at her. She stood stared terrified at my truck, idling in the dirt.

“I’ve got to go now, Desiree.”

“But you can’t go leave me,” she yelled again. “I. . . I’m an abandoned child!”

Because I was unsure of what she’d do—whether she’d stay put or run foolishly after me—I eased the car forward slowly. And because I sat eyeing her in my mirror instead of watching the road, I hit something: some small plastic thing that gave a quick, sharp snap as I rolled over it. Desiree heard it too. I edged forward and watched as she scrambled after me to rescue her Barbie doll. I’d run right over its little neck and snapped off the head. Desiree looked at me in horror. And that’s when I made my error: “I’m sorry, Desiree. I didn’t mean to.”

In that instant, she saw her opportunity. “Killer!” she screamed. “You killed it! You can’t leave! You gotta stay and buy me another doll!”

“Desiree. . . .”

“Killer! Killer!” she raised her head and her voice, yelling for all the trees to hear, the too-hot sky, the red-breasted robins and dirty, scattered crows. “You’re a killer! Killer! Killer! Don’t go away killer! Don’t run away!” In her tirade, she threw the headless doll at the truck, where it thunked mildly against the metal and fell back into the dust. Then she leveled her eyes with my mirror. She could see me watching her, my mouth agape. Her expression was narrow, tough, unforgiving.

“I can’t, Desiree. I’ve got to go.”

When I slid the car forward again, Desiree lost it: “But you can’t go! You can’t leave me! I’m an abandoned child!” She ran toward the truck and began slapping it, then grabbed the side door, and as it swung open, she fell backwards onto the gravel driveway. I slammed the door and locked it, my foot pressed hard against the brake. Desiree was screaming. Jesus. Jesus Christ. I looked up at the house: no movement. My God, I thought suddenly, I wonder if they’re even in there. Then Desiree was up again, smacking her fists against the truck. Blood stained the palms of her hands where she’d fallen; but otherwise, she was unhurt. My own heart was pounding and I was breathing hard as I told myself. Good God, I’ve got to get out of here. I eased my foot off the brake, and Desiree jumped back, grabbing handfuls of dirt and gravel and flinging them at the cab. “I hate you! I hate you!” she screamed. “Killer! You killed me! Stop! Stop! Stop!”

Never have I so vehemently wished away the old potholes that line that road. They slowed me, but I didn’t pause again until I’d reached the main road a half mile away. Shaking, I pulled onto the shoulder, turned on my hazard lights, and stepped out to check the boxes. Goddamit. Goddamn. My breath was still too short and too fast. The pit of my stomach lurched. Bitch. Bitch. You little bitch.

Desiree had dirtied the cab with gravel and smeared the side panels where she had smacked it—one small, greasy handprint stained the very front—but there was no other damage. I crawled back inside the pickup and lay across the seat, holding my arms against me and shutting my eyes. “I hate you. I hate you,” I repeated under my breath. No cars passed. I choked against a sob, and let myself cry louder: I hate you. I hate you! The sun boiled down through the windshield; my face burned in the heat. The Sunday seclusion around me was perfect, mute. And there along that county road, with all of my history packed up behind me, I pressed against the pebbled seat and screamed and screamed and screamed.

end of story

© 2012, Susan Meyers

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