Short story excerpt
From The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes:
They say that when the baby girl was born she did not cry, not even when the nurse dropped her on the tile floor of the delivery room. The nurse held the baby with the gentle ease of experience. She cooed and caressed the soft skin fading from purple to pink, and then those little pinched eyes opened and the girl focused right at the nurse. She screamed, and fled. The doctor cursed her even as he scooped up the serene girl, the parents in sudden distress, mother now calling for her child. The words died on his lips as he turned his eyes to the baby’s face. He stuttered, stumbled, barely managed to roughly lay the child in her mother’s arms before crying out in primal fear. The father’s own curses chased the doctor from the room. This was how the life of the little girl began.
It would not get any easier.
Dorita Bakker. The girl with kaleidoscope eyes. I heard the stories of the strange little girl told and retold in grocery store aisles, parking lots and parks, wherever neighbors gathered to gossip. It was the story of a small town. It was a story of my childhood, the girl who – two generations ago – was cursed or blessed. Touched by God, said a handful, the mark of the Devil many more others were sure. Rumors became stories, stories became tales, and then it all passed into local legend. Finally I would hear some of the truth, much later, when I was no longer a boy, when I was no longer a small town kid.
The Bakkers tried to tough it out at first. They brought the baby to a baptism by the shaking hand of the terrified preacher. They took the child to the park, propped her up in the sand box even as panicked mothers snatched their babies away. The other young children did not notice, they played happily alongside Dorita until pulled away. They looked into her eyes, fascinated, and feared not. It was the older ones, the ones over five, that loathed the girl with the strange eyes, their older sisters and brothers, grown-ups, parents.
Slowly the town ostracized the Bakkers in terrible ways. The preacher came to them, visibly relieved that the girl napped. He told them the congregation had voted, told them it was best they not come back to church. He started shaking when the baby woke crying in the other room, made excuses and a hasty retreat through the screen door and up the dusty driveway. The house they rented burned down on a night they were away. No one would take them in for any money, not that they had much. They found a place a way out of town, a sharecropper’s ramshackle. They paid far too much. There the mother and the girl disappeared, only the father showed his dogged face walking to work at the mill six days a week, taking groceries home Saturdays. He spoke to no one, if he didn’t have to, and no one spoke to him.
I heard the stories, from my mom to make me eat peas and carrots and slimy okra, from kids to scare each other, as a joke, as a threat, as idle gossip. I told the stories, repeating, adding, not knowing the truth or lie to any of it. Long ago the Bakkers had left Millton, left Jackson County to no one knew where. Still the stories were told.