Mom Won’t Let Me Play On Birch Street
“Grow up, John! It’s not who’s taller, it’s who’s older that counts.” Tom is eleven, Tom gets to tell us what to do because me and John are still ten. I’ll be eleven next week, so I’m nearly the same age as Tom. John just marked all our heights on the door frame, to prove he’s the tallest. John’s the youngest, he won’t be eleven ‘till after Summer. We’ve been best friends since first grade. We are in John’s house today, so with it being John’s house, the age rule doesn’t count. John’s Mom is sure gonna be annoyed when she sees the marks on that door frame.
There’s a girl standin’ at the bottom of the stairs. Weird that the guys ain’t seen her. Normally, when a girl was around, the guys would be tryin’ to look tough and cool. “Am I the only one who can see her?” John looks at me, then looks around the room, but looks right past the girl, as if she ain’t there. I look at Tom, but Tom just looks at me funny and says, “See who?”
I point to the girl standing at the bottom of the stairs. Tom and John just look at each other funny. So, I say, “Guys, let’s go outside and play.” Tom has one of his stupid smirks. Tom always smirks like that when he’s makin’ fun of someone. “Nah, it’s still raining. Besides, it’s your turn to hide, Geoff. We’ll count to twenty. Give you a chance to find a good hiding place upstairs.” I hate it when Tom makes fun of me. We’re in John’s house, so it should be John’s rules. I look at John, hoping he will back me up. John just shrugs his shoulders, looks down at the ground, and says nothin’.
“Let’s play a different game, guys.” There is no way I’m going up those stairs to hide with that girl standin’ there. The girl is wavin’ for me to follow her now. I can’t remember but I think I’ve seen her before. How am I supposed to concentrate with Tom doin’ that stupid smirk? Miss Johnston told Mom I have a great imagination, but I don’t concentrate in class. That will explain if the girl is just my great imagination, and why I can’t remember if I have seen her before.
Tom starts makin’ fun of me again. “Geoff, maybe you’d rather play with your imaginary girlfriend.” Tom and John laugh. John is just laughing ‘cause Tom is laughing. John looks freaked, not by the girl; he can’t see her. He’s freaked by me, by what I have seen, and it’s in John’s house.
John is just starin’ at me. I know he won’t go against Tom; he’ll get a slagging. Everyone listens to Tom and follows what Tom says. John goes over to the window and looks out, then says, “Hey, Guys! The rain has stopped. Let’s go outside and play football again.”
Tom doesn’t like been told what to do because Tom is eleven. “Why can’t we just finish the frigging game? For once, can’t we just finish one God damn game we started, guys?” “But we were playing football till it started raining Tom, we haven’t finished that game yet.” The girl is still there. She has edged a step higher on the stairs and is pleading with me to follow her with an outstretched hand. The girl is about the same size as Darren’s little sister. I never can tell what age girls are unless I know what grade they are in. Mom says it’s rude to ask a girl her age. Besides, I don’t talk to girls unless they talk to me. Tom says my face goes bright red like a beetroot when I talk to girls.
“What about your imaginary girlfriend, Geoff? Is she coming outside to play football? They both laugh at me; I can feel my face goin’ bright red, like a beetroot. We weren’t always best friends. Last Summer, Tom got to hanging around with some guys on Birch Street. I wanted to hang around there too because Tom did. Mom won’t let me play on Birch Street. It’s not fair.
Besides, I think Tom only hung with those guys ‘cause he loves Darren’s little sister. Darren and his gang are bigger, some of them are twelve. Darren is tough and cool, even when there are no girls lookin’. I think Tom was gettin’ told what to do all the time and Tom doesn’t like been told what to do. I think that’s why he came back to play with me and John. Me and John didn’t mind. We missed having someone tell us what to do.
Tom has a big brother called Brad. Brad is fourteen. Tom says Brad is a son of a bitch. I think Tom learnt that word on Birch Street, ‘cause I hadn’t heard it before he was hanging there. At first, I thought Tom was sayin’ son of a birch, but when I called John a son of a birch, Tom laughed and called me a son of a bitch. What would I know? Mom won’t let me play on Birch Street. Mom don’t let me cuss either.
I wish I had an older brother like Tom does. I kind of have an older sister. Karen died before I was even born. That’s why I say I kind of have a big sister. Mom says I was born ten years after Karen drowned and I was born on Karen’s birthday. Because me and Karen have the same birthday, Mom says Karen sent me to her.
I don’t like having a kind of big sister. It’s my birthday next week and all Mom will talk about is Karen’s birthday. Mom said Karen will be twenty-one next week. Mom always cries on my birthday and it’s just not right. Birthdays are supposed to be happy days. Heck, I’m going to be eleven and John won’t even be eleven till after the Summer holidays.
Anyway, John has the football now, and like I said, its John’s house, so he’s allowed to change the game. Tom has a face on him, but we all know the rules, so Tom can just suck it up. Heck, if Tom saw a strange girl, I would have helped him get outside to play. The girl is gone now, but I’m not tellin’. I just want to get outside and finish the football game. We have to finish a game, Tom said.
When we go outside, we see a girl across the road, but we can all see this girl. It’s Darren’s little sister. How come she’s allowed to play on Western Street, and I’m not allowed to play on Birch Street? Tom’s mood has changed now ‘cause he loves Darren’s little sister. “You guys wait there,” he says, trying to sound tough. “I’ll be back in a minute; don’t forget I’m winning the game.” Tom says this loud enough so Darren’s little sister will hear. The big show off. Tom tries to look cool; he jumps over the gate, then whistles a tune as he crosses over the street to Darren’s little sister. Funny how guys change when girls are around.
We can’t finish the game ‘till Tom comes back over, so me and John just wait, and we’re not sure what to do ‘till Tom tells us. So, we just try to look cool in case Darren’s little sister looks at us. Tom said he’d be back in a minute; it’s been at least two minutes and he said we had to finish a game. “It’s your house John, you gotta call Tom back over to finish the game.” John doesn’t get many chances to tell us what to do. I kinda thought he would take advantage. John just looks at the ground and says nothin’.
John then says, “Geoff, you were just messin’ when you said you saw a girl in my house, right?” John’s a scaredy cat. Just yesterday, we were robbin’ the Henderson’s orchard. John wouldn’t even come over the fence, said he wasn’t allowed. I told him that was the whole point. None of us was allowed. Tom said not to give John any of the apples. We weren’t at John’s house yesterday, so John didn’t get to tell us what to do. Tom even threw apples at Mr Wilson’s cat rather than give them to John. Tom called John a chickenshit. John just stood there, looking down at the ground, just like he always does when he’s got nuttin’ to say.
“I just imagined her, John.” I tell him. “Miss Johnston said I have a great imagination, John; she told my Mom last week. Yep, your best friend has a great imagination, so, I must have been imagining the girl, John. It’s like in the TV show, ‘Who’s Super?’ Well, my imagination must be my kind of superpower. That’s what Miss Johnston told my mom.” John just nods his head, then looks down at the ground.
Tom shouts over to us. “Guys let’s go. We’re gonna walk Holly back home. Darren forgot to come get her.” Darren’s little sister doesn’t live on Birch Street, she lives beside the lake at the top of Birch Street. We would need to walk down Birch Street to get to Darren’s little sister's house, and Mom won’t let me play on Birch Street.
I shout back over, “But we haven’t finished the frigging game, Tom. You said we have to finish a game.” Tom just looks at me with big bug eyes. I know what he’s thinking; I haven’t been tryin’ to be cool and tough when there is a girl lookin’.
I’m not allowed to play on Birch Street, I’m not allowed near the lake. Mom won’t allow it. It’s not fair ‘cause Mom goes to the lake all the time. Tom said he saw my Mom there last Summer, when he was hangin’ with Darren’s gang. Said he saw Mom there on my birthday and she was cryin’ at the lake. I just can’t figure Mom out sometimes. I asked Tom if his Mom ever cried. Tom went quiet for a while, then looked at me funny, not with his smirk. He said all moms cry, but it’s usually after they get beat for being disrespectful. I think Tom’s Mom might be disrespectful because I heard my Mom say Mrs Jenkins had a shiner last week when she was meeting Miss Johnston.
John starts walking over to Tom, and Darren’s little sister, but I stop him. “John, I’m not allowed to play on Birch Street.” I say it quiet, so Darren’s little sister don’t hear. It’s not cool or tough to say you ain't allowed to do somethin’. “You’re a chickenshit, Geoff. You said we’re supposed to do things we’re not allowed. Are you commin’ or not?” I guess I’m in John’s house, so he can tell us what to do. If I don’t go, I’m in for a slagging from Tom, and with a girl lookin’ too.
Birch street ain’t that far away. We got there in fifteen minutes, would have been faster if Darren’s little sister didn’t walk so slow. Tom was yakking and showing off with Darren’s little sister the whole way. Me and John didn’t mind. I don’t talk to girls unless they talk to me, and Darren’s little sister didn’t talk to me. Tom says I go bright red like a beetroot when I talk to girls.
I don’t know why Mom won’t let me play on Birch Street, it’s just a street like any other. You gotta walk on Birch Street to get to Darren’s little sister’s house. She lives near the lake. I didn’t even play on Birch Street, I just walked on it.
Darren didn’t take kindly to us guys walkin’ with his little sister. Darren is twelve and I won’t even be eleven till next week. Darren had a right go at Tom. “Hey, Tom, you son of a bitch. I told you before, you’re not allowed around Birch Street.”
Tom don’t like been told what to do, but Darren is Twelve. That’s the way it is for us guys. Two of Darren’s gang came over then. One of them is called Andy. Andy is eleven. I can’t remember the other guy’s name. Miss Johnston said I don’t concentrate too good. John said the other guy must be twelve.
Darren said we could come and play on Birch Street if we could show him how tough we are. Darren said if we could swim across the lake, then we could all hang with his gang. Tom said we gotta do it. It’s only a small lake. Tom even threw a stone across to show how small the lake was. The stone nearly made it all the way across.
Dad used to bring me swimming. Rebecca said I was a great swimmer. Dad said Rebecca came third in the County swim finals. After Dad left, Mom said we couldn’t afford swimming lessons no more, but I think it was ‘cause Rebecca only came third in the County swim finals. Mom says I’m not allowed talk to Rebecca no more. It’s not fair ‘cause I seen Dad talkin’ to Rebecca lots of times.
The water wasn’t even cold. Tom was further ahead of me. I guess he was showin’ off, ‘cause Darren’s little sister was lookin’. Darren, Andy, and the guy whose name I can’t remember, were waitin’ on the other side of the lake with Darren’s little sister.
We walked at first, which I guess is kinda cheatin’. It was easy, we must have been halfway just by walkin’ and we was already past where Tom threw that stone. I was thinkin’ it would be easier for John, with him being the tallest and all. I looked back at him. “John, can you still reach the bottom with your feet?” John started swimming then, swam right past me, nearly as far as Tom, and John won’t be eleven till after the Summer.
The guys across the lake were hollerin’ and cheerin’. Darren’s little sister even shouted at me. “Come on Geoff, you’re comin’ last. I wanted to tell her I was third, and that Rebecca came third in the County swim finals, but I don’t like talkin’ to girls. The water was getting in my mouth now, so even though a girl talked to me, I couldn’t talk back anyway.
Sure don’t feel like a small lake now. Looks like Tom has slowed down ‘cause John is almost beside him. Wish I could walk again, but I can’t feel the bottom with my feet no more. I looked back to see how far we’ve gone and get freaked. That girl from John’s house is in the lake. She’s right behind me. “Hey guys…” I have to pause ‘cause of the water goin’ in my mouth. “Can you guys see her this time?” The guys don’t answer. Looks like the water is getting in their mouths too. The girl has her hand out. She wants me to follow her.
They called me a hero ‘cause I had a hold of John, but I was just freaked when the girl got a hold of me. I didn’t know girls could be so strong. I shouted at Tom to come back to the shore, but Tom doesn’t like been told what to do.
I told Mom about the girl I imagined. I kind of remembered where I saw her before. She kinda looks like the photograph of my big sister that Mom keeps on our mantlepiece. Mom cried; Mom said my sister must have saved me and sent me back for her. I told Mom it couldn’t be, ‘cause my kinda big sister will be twenty-one on my birthday next week and this girl was only the same size as Darren’s little sister. Mom just hugged me and cried again. Mom said my big sister Karen was ten, and she will always be ten.
I’ll be eleven next week, so Karen will kinda be my little sister then, ‘cause she’s gonna always be ten. I’ll be twelve next year, same as Darren. Darren has a little sister, same as I do. I guess Tom will always be eleven. John said Tom will never grow up now. Me and John are gonna miss Tom. Who’s gonna tell us what to do? John said he saw Mrs Jenkins crying by the lake. Wish I could have seen it. The lake is at the top of Birch Street. Mom won’t let me play on Birch Street.