All summer Becky had looked forward to finally going to school. She didn’t care about learning anything, so much as getting out of the trailer. School meant she wouldn’t have to change stinky diapers and try to soothe Bambi’s crying because she was hungry but Mama was too tired to feed her. School also meant she wouldn’t have to be home when Mama woke up.
Mama must have sensed this, as she was meaner than usual in the weeks leading up to school. It didn’t seem like Becky could do anything to make Mama happy. Every time Mama saw her, she’d poke Becky’s tummy and growl, “What are you looking at, Piggy?”
“Nothing, Mama. I swear,” Becky would say, but it was too late. Mama would seize her by the hair, dragging her into the furnace closet. She hated the furnace closet more than anything. It was so cramped Becky couldn’t move and so dark that she couldn’t see anything. She had learned quickly enough not to make a sound, or else Mama would drag her out of the closet to hit her.
Mama wasn’t going to let Becky go to school at first. “What do you need school for?” she hissed when it first came up. “Not like you got a brain in that head of yours. Just more fat.”
Becky knew better than to argue. She didn’t have to. Mama changed her mind a few days later. “The damned county says I got to send you,” she said.
Britney already went to school; she had made it to the fourth grade. From what she said, the teachers were much nicer than Mama; they couldn’t hit you or they’d get into trouble. There were other kids to play with too, on playground equipment like at the park. “But you can’t ever, ever tell them about the furnace or Mama hitting you,” she said.
“Because then they’ll take us away.”
“They’ll split us up then, dummy. They’ll put us all in different homes.”
“Even the babies?”
“Yes, stupid.” Britney rolled her eyes as she usually did when Becky didn’t understand something.
While the thought of getting away from Mama appealed to her, she didn’t want to be separated from her sisters. She had pretty much raised Brandi and Bambi so far, changing their diapers, feeding them from a bottle, and singing them to sleep. She couldn’t bear the thought of them ending up with strangers.
The night before her first day of kindergarten, Becky couldn’t sleep. She sat in one corner of the room the four of them shared, rocking little Bambi in her arms. She had spent almost her entire life in this trailer, Mama refusing to let her go any farther than the mailbox. “Someone would run over you and then you’d be a dead little Piggy,” she said, squeezing Becky’s cheek hard enough to make her wince.
What would it be like to ride the bus? What would the other kids look like? Would they like her? These thoughts kept running through her mind. Brandi woke up just before dawn, screaming from a bad dream. This in turn woke Bambi up, who also began to cry. Settling them down was a welcome distraction for the rest of the morning. She pressed Brandi against her, patting the one-year-old’s back. “It’s all right,” she said. “It’s just a bad dream.”
It occurred to Becky that if she weren’t here there wouldn’t be anyone to take care of the babies. Bambi, being only three months old, especially needed looking after. Mama wouldn’t do it; she slept most of the day. Britney would be at school with her. Who was going to change Bambi’s diapers? Who was going to calm down Brandi after a nightmare? Maybe this wasn’t such a good thing after all.
She had just finished getting the babies into the drawers they used for cribs when Britney finally woke up. Her older sister always seemed able to sleep through the racket the babies made, leaving her to care for them. Becky voiced her concerns to her sister, who only shrugged. “The babies will have to look out for themselves,” she said.
“But they can’t. They’re babies.”
“So Mama will have to change their stinky diapers. Or they can try not pooping all the time.” Britney took Becky’s arm, leading her towards the bathroom. “It’s not like you have a choice about it, dummy.”
These concerns hung with Becky as she washed up—they had to use a washcloth since the shower woke Mama up—and got dressed. The clothes Mama had given her didn’t fit very well. If she raised her arms, a roll of fat would peek out from her shirt. She didn’t want to try bending over either, afraid her shorts would split open. Britney did Becky’s hair, putting it into pigtails that wound up lopsided, the left one a lot longer than the right. “They’re crooked,” Becky whined.
“So what? No one’s going to care about your stupid hair anyway.”
Becky stifled any tears at this. She bent down to kiss each baby on the forehead, hoping they would still be all right when she came back. Then she slung a ratty pink backpack over her shoulder and followed Britney out to the bus stop.
Being the littlest kid at the bus stop by a few years, Becky stayed protectively close to her sister. That was until one of Britney’s friends asked, “Who’s the little twerp?”
“That’s my dorky sister Becky,” Britney said. “She’s still in kindergarten.”
Becky drifted to the back of the pack, idly kicking at the dirt until the bus came up. It was a lot bigger than she expected—a lot noisier too. She watched the other kids get on while paralyzed with the fear that she was climbing into the mouth of a monster. She stood there trembling for a moment until Britney called out the window, “Hurry up, stupid, or they’ll leave you behind!”
Becky climbed up the steps, throwing herself into the front seat. She sat there with her backpack, hunkering down so that no one would see her. As the bus pulled away, she looked back towards the trailer, thinking of her sisters. Would they still be all right when she got back?
She was the first one off the bus, but she waited by the door for her sister. Britney walked by, pretending not to see her. “Wait up!” Becky called out.
Her sister turned around, glaring at her. “Don’t follow me,” she snapped.
“But I don’t know where to go,” Becky said.
Britney rolled her eyes. “God, you’re so helpless,” she said. With a sigh, she said, “I’ll show you where it is, but just for today. After that you’re on your own. Got it?”
She knew better than to take Britney’s hand, hurrying to keep up with her sister. The inside of the school was much bigger than the trailer, so big that Becky worried it might take her days just to find the kindergarten. She broke into a run as her sister continued to stomp ahead of her. She had to be careful not to run into any of the other kids, all of whom were bigger than her, so that she felt as if she were in a land of giants.
She was out of breath when Britney stopped in front of a door with pink ducklings pasted to it. “That’s where the babies hang out,” Britney said.
“I’m not a baby,” Becky said.
“Yeah, right.” With that Britney stomped off, leaving Becky alone.