Issue 193, Summer 2010
Tweezer Painton was a burly ten-year-old with a glower built into his square mug. His name came from his hobby of grabbing individual hairs on his victims’ heads and yanking them out for fun. Mostly he did it with his thick, grubby fingers but sometimes he used tweezers stolen from his mother’s bathroom cabinet.
Whoever sat in front of him in class developed a reflexive shudder around the nape of the neck. On the playground he would throw another kid down, straddle their arms so they couldn’t fight back, and hold their screeching faces with one hand while he tweezed away at their eyebrows or head hair.
Looking back on it later, Rhonda assumed there was something strange going on in Tweezer’s house, but she never developed any sympathy for the thug. He meant nothing but pain to her and every other kid at Ribbon Ridge Elementary.
And then there was her baby brother, Todd. She was almost five years old when he was born and she had a lot of different feelings about him, all strong. He was cuter than she was, dark and dramatically adorable. She liked looking at him but she resented the attention he got.
Before he was a year old, her mother decided he was so beautiful that adults would be tempted to kidnap him, to keep him for their own. The ensuing watchfulness disgusted Rhonda. Nobody was ever scared she’d be kidnapped. And she got yelled at for every worm or bottle cap Toddy ate when she was supposed to be taking care of him. But he adored her and that sparked her interest.
As he grew she began to teach him things. They started the alphabet when he was three. She played teacher with far more rigor than she ever displayed as a student.
That crucial summer, when he’d just turned five, they’d been playing a game with the old, battered globe in her room. One of them would write down a name printed on the globe—anything from a range of mountains to a city or river, an island or a nation. The namer would go on twirling the globe and pretending to be undecided long after picking the spot so the searcher couldn’t tell on which hemisphere or continent or ocean it lay. Then the other one had to find it. If the searcher couldn’t find the place, the namer would crow and sneer and get another turn at dictating the search.
Toddy specialized in names in the smallest print. Rhonda discovered that big, obvious items could bamboozle someone who expected you to deal in the hidden. But he was smart, and she was proud of his quickness, as if she’d invented him herself.
Still, she often resented having to tend to him while her mother painted romantic pictures of other people’s gardens. He tagged along everywhere, calling her name constantly, which shamed her in front of the big kids.
On the worst Sunday of that awful July, some of the kids were going to the end of Elm Lane to fish off the rocks where Ribbon Creek boiled into the river. It was a soft day the temperature of blood. Her mother would have thrown a conniption if she’d known Rhonda was taking Todd to the river. Neither of them could swim and the current there was known to suck down strong men and powerboats. But Rhonda had a ball of twine and one of the old fishhooks from her dead grandfather’s tackle box. She wasn’t going to be stopped by her cretinous little brother. She had a life.
Jenny and Lou were already settled with real fiberglass poles and reels by the time Rhonda got there. Toddy promised not to tell and was happy scrabbling over the rocks above the rapids while she arranged her fishing gear.