Original writings by Adrienne Nater

The Skate Key

She stands there looking up at the craftsman house. It is a cloudless day, the first in months, in the spring of the year. She will begin public school in the fall.

Her thoughts of the dark winter times have faded. She is out of doors, in the shadow of the parkway tree, looking to her right and left, up at the branches of the tree, then down to see a pair of roller skates dangling in her right hand, her fingers wrapped around the leather straps. On the end of each strap is a buckle. The straps are attached to her skates. The shiny metal ball-bearing wheels are still, waiting. On her feet are loose-laced Buster Brown heavy-duty shoes: reinforced metal tips covering the toes, metal plates on the soles, both front and back. But, something is missing.

She reaches up and touches her chest. Her skate key! It should be on a string hanging around her neck. In a flash she knows who has it. Where was he? He was not anywhere around! Not in the house, or the back yard, or in the garage. No! He is skating! She is not!

She is furious, so furious that she begins shouting and continues to shout his name, "Shelly! Shelóly, where are you? Bring back my skate key! Shelly, I know you took it, bring it back! Now! SHELLY!"

She looks at the unscreened window of the house; expecting to see a face, see the front door open. She waits, she looks, and when no face appears, she sees each of the three faces that could appear.

 

Thinking: Now if a brown face, with black hair appears it would smile at me, disappear, open the front door, walk to my side with soft said wise words. If a brown haired white face appears, there would be a smile, a nod, the front door would open gently, and this one would also move to me, to comfort and embrace me with reassuring arms. But, if a white face with blond hair appears there would be no smile. The pale face would disappear, the front door would be thrown open, and I would hear the sound of my name shouted from the porch in accusing tones.

Her first choice, the one she hoped to see at the window, was the brown face of Mae. Mae would move to open the front door, step across the porch, down the grassy path, to the sidewalk, and say, "Child, what are you squalling Ďbout? If you needs somethiní, go and get it direct, your shoutiní wonít do a thing but exercise your mouth.

Your mom wonít have none of this shoutiní neither. Donít wake her up, make her upset."

Then I would say, "Iíll quit shouting! But, Shelly has the skate key. My skate key! I know he does. He canít find his. He is so stupid but he knows that without a skate key I canít keep the skates on my shoes. Heís mean and selfish. Besides that he walks funny, big flat feet that point out like a ducks. I donít know why he has to live with us. You and Mommy and I should be on our own. Shelly and his mom donít need to live here." And Mae would say, "Child, just get on with your business."

Second choice was the white face with the brown hair. Not only would she smile from the window --- it would be a worried smile, but still a smile--- she would come out of the house, down the steps to the sidewalk, consoling, "Sh, sh, sh, donít shout, youíll wake your mother. Tell Aunt Willa whatís wrong." I would tell her and then she would say, "Take my hand, baby, weíll walk together. Letís go and find Shelly and your skate key. Here, let me carry your skates. Youíre so little to be skating let alone searching around the block by yourself."

Her non-choice was the face she did not want to see: the white face with the blond hair; and no telling what would happen if she came out of the house. Look out me and look out Shelly!

Someone is home. Someone is always home: But no face comes to the window, no one opens the door, and nobody comes out onto the front porch, or down the path. "Skate key" has become more important then any other word; it is the only meaningful word that relates to an object of the highest value in her right-now life. Without it she is stranded. With it she could travel--- going every place in general, but no place in particular. Her mouth is set in a tight, determined expression. She knows what she must do, what she expects of herself: The plan is simple. Find Shelly! Get the "skate key!"

First she puts her skates on the cement sidewalk. With both hands free she pulls up her socks, reties and double-bows her shoe laces, smoothes down her dress, sweeps her long dark curls away from her face grabs her skates by their straps and sets out marching along the sidewalk, down the street, moving toward the corner, chanting "Step on the cracks, Step on the cracks!" Pauses. Or is it "Donít step on the cracks?"

She is kicking at stones with her steel tipped shoes, swinging her skates by their long buckle ended straps trying to remember the rest of the verse.

Even before she can reach the corner she hears the sound of a truck. It must be Wednesday! And there it comes. Moving along. Stopping at each homeís curbside.

The two black garbage collector men are about their business; one is driving, the other standing on a shelf that is attached to the right side of the tailgate. Gracefully he reaches out with his right arm, his hand grabs the bail of the bucket; in a nimble effortless movement the bucket is swinging in an arc over the back of the truck, the contents spilling out on the already high pile of garbage, disturbing only the flies that follow and ride along for the entire trip, and the pail, back on the curb only inches from its original position.

She is always amazed watching their skill and efficiency. The men are her friends. Each week she helps to put the garbage pail at the curb. Each week she waves to the men and each week they shout at her, smiling back.

She remembers her focus, her mission: Finding Shelly and the skate key. Now, where would he be? Not at the corner house. No. The German family lives there. I like the lady; she makes pickled pigís feet. Weíre not supposed to go into the house. Not to reach into the giant brine filled jar with our hands. Not to eat the pigís feet. I donít know why. I do talk to the lady, I reach into the jar, get one of the pigís feet, that is whenever no one is around to tell on meĺ and that no one is Shelly. And where is that big tattletale crybaby?

She walks on and on, up the street, peering into each yard. There are trees in the front yards and shade, lots of shade. Cool dark shade. She decides to rest and think away from the glare of the cement sidewalk. She puts her skates down by the Elm tree trunk, plops down, sitting with her legs crossed Indian fashion, all but disappearing into the shadows.

She reasons. I need to be ready. When I find Shelly, how will I get my skate key? What would Mae say? I know, "Take care of your business. Do what you have to do." Aunt Willa would tell me that kindness is the best way. Be polite. Just walk up to him and say please, that you need the skate key and that we can share.

But, what if that doesnít work? I will be like mother. I will step out in front of him, plant my feet, my hands on my hips, give him the hard eye, put out my hand and wiggle my finger. Just stand, stare, wiggle that finger and wait. Which one?

And, then, she hears the sound of metal skate wheels grinding on the sidewalk. There he is! She does not move. She is watching him come closer. He rolls down the sidewalk. The key is dangling from its cord in his hand. She waits. Silently, she moves. Now she is standing.

She has picked up her skates. They are hanging from her hands at the end on their straps. He is just about to whiz past. Out she jumps, yelling ĺ "Shelly, you stop right here, give me back my skate key!" He is so startled that he doesnít see the crack in the sidewalk. It catches one of the skate wheels and, zippo; he turns into a sack of spilled beans, all over the place, on his back like a turtle.

One skate is flopping around his ankle. The other is still attached to his shoe. She is standing over him. Her tiny figure is hovering over his large body. He twists and turns and manages to rise to a standing, lopsided position.

"Give it to me!" She points to the object of her desire. The next moment she is on the ground.

Darkness overwhelms her: Stars flash, oceans roar, bells ring. Then silence. She regains her senses. She is surprised to find the sidewalk so close. Her head is throbbing. Her mouth hurts. She puts her free hand to the back of her head. There is an egg-size lump. She rubs the lump. She licks her lips. The taste is awful. She rolls over to her left side and manages to get herself to a sitting position. She moves her head from side to side, looks around. She is alone. It comes back. She had been reaching for her skate key. Shelly had pushed her. Where was he? She crawls over to the grass and into the shade. Her head is throbbing.

She thinks. If I were Shelly where would I be right now? What would I be doing? Hum, if I were Shelly. IĎd be hiding. Not too far away, but close by. Close enough to see me but unseen by me. So. She looked around and she saw a perfect place for observation and concealment. It had to be the porch of this house.

Thatís where she wouldíve hidden. But, she knew what he did not; that this front porch had only one entrance and one exit to the street. It would be a trap. If he were hiding there she would have to surprise him. He mustnít get away. He still had the skate key and now she had another score to settle.

She got up without even a glance at the porch, walked a bit further up the street. Then, hidden by big bushes, she dashed up the neighboring driveway, crouching in the protection of the dense shrubs. Nothing hurt! She surveyed the lay of the land between herself and the porch. Figured that crawling next to the house, screened behind the bushes, would conceal her until the final dash.

She begins a careful, sightless, soundless move back through the skate key battlefield and closer to the Shellycave. She is stealth itself.

When she reaches the edge of the porch she pauses. Peeks over from behind the red Camellia and let her eyes become accustomed to the darker interior ─ she could see Shelly.

She could make out his crouched figure at the far end of the porch, his attention directed toward the street side. Just keep it that way, fool, she is thinking as she picked up a dirt clod and then, barely moving her body, tossed it out to the street side of the house.

Shelly leaned forward, peering in the direction that he heard the sound. She made her move!

Stooped over, feet moving, head low; she scurried around from the corner of the porch, to the entrance. Up the steps, to his corner, it took her just a few seconds, now she was the one hovering. Her hand was out. "Give me my skate key!" He tried to get to his feet. Not this time!

Swish! Womp! Smack! Somehow the skates still gripped by their ankle straps in her hand have come to life. They know how to "take care of their business." His head is bowed and bloody, his feet are moving, the skate key is on the ground. Heís crying. Heís running. Heís bleeding. Heís screaming. "Iím gonna tell, Iím telling. My mom, your mom, theyíre gonna get you. Just wait Ďtill you get home. You be sorry!" Heís down the steps of the porch, across the yard and up the street; she had never seen him move so fast. She hadnít thought that it was possible with flat duck feet.

With great calm, dignity and pleasure she retrieves the dropped skate key. Sitting on the top step of the porch steps: she places her skates on the ground, slips her heavy-duty shoes onto the metal platforms. She positions the closed wrench end of the skate key on the toe-tightening bolt. The toe holders glide into position between the shoe tops where they meet the sole.

She turns the mechanism until she is sure that the skates are on for the duration. She looks down at her feet. She smiles and thinks aloud, Iím on my way!

She slides her bottom down one step; she stands; looks up as she suspends the skate key necklace over her head. The string becomes a rainbow colored ribbon; the skate key a silver star that glistens in the sunlight. She lowers her medal of valor, lets the ribbon settle on her shoulders, runs her fingers along the material, the emblem comes to rest on her chest. With great ceremony she strokes her medal and then, as she has been taught, transfers the key from front to back. She takes her first steps and then glides onto the surface of the smooth pavement, feeling like the winged horse in her storybook.

But, she didnít get far before the picture of Shelly his face covered with blood floats up before her. She had, no, the skates had, cut his forehead open above his right eye. The magic skates became heavy, her feet and legs became wooden, uncooperative.

She tumbled off of her raceway onto the grass: I didnít want to hurt him so much. The skates did it! I did it too. We did it.

She can feel her legs and feet come back to life. She zips up the street, around the corner; waves to no one, stops for no one. And there she is, in front of her house and there he is. Crying, bleeding, pointing. Mother, Aunt Jean, Aunt Willa and Mae appear.

There is enough ice for the both of them. They sat on the sofa nursing their wounds, he on one end and she on the other. An ice pack on the front of his head, an ice pack on the back of hers.

They sat there alone for a long time. Boredom. He looked miserable, the girl thoughtful. So, then, she glanced over to his defeated figure and said softly: "Shelly, hey, Shelly, want to go skating?"