Fiction Coming of Age

Georgette ran her fingers under the seat of the chair in the nurse’s office, as she thought about the answer she had just given the woman in the beige suit. “He might knock over a chair.” The underside of the chair was smooth, the opposite of the chairs at home. Georgette’s dad had made the four chairs that surrounded their plastic dining room table. They had plaid green and blue fabric stretched over a soft foam cushion, and black leather on the backs. The underside of the seat had big staples to secure the fabric, but they had rough edges. If you brushed against them just right, it could cut your skin. The chairs in the nurse's office were much more cohesive and modern; brown, wooden, and clean. 

The woman in the suit had introduced herself as “Miss Kenzie.” Miss Kenzie pushed her bangs out of her face without removing her gaze from Georgette’s face. “And when he knocks over a chair, is anyone sitting in it? Does anyone get hit by the chair when it falls over?”

Georgette shook her head no, again. Most of the questions had negative answers, except for the ones that involved food. Miss Kenzie had asked if she had brought her lunch that day and if she could see what she had with her. Georgette had been taken out of the line to get into the cafeteria, intentionally, so her Lion King soft lunch bag was with her. Miss Kenzie had seemed satisfied with its contents; an apple, a peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich cut in half, a ziplock bag of sour cream and onion chips, and a tootsie roll. She didn’t ask Georgette for a bite, but she did ask if this was a usual assortment for her lunch. That question had also been a yes answer, and Georgette made sure to mention that sour cream and onion chips were her favorite, and her mom always made sure she had them.

“He’s usually alone in the room,” Georgette remembered the body language she had given Miss Kenzie when her answers were truthful, and when her answers were a lie, she mimicked them in hopes of not getting caught. “He doesn’t knock chairs over very often, but if he does, he’s by himself.”

“What about your brother?” Miss Kenzie pressed, as she watched for clues in Georgette’s tone and expressions. “Has he seen any chairs get knocked over?” Another no.

Miss Kenzie broke her stare to look down at Georgette’s file. Her office had been notified to schedule a visit at Georgette’s school at a specific time, to coincide with the unexpected welfare check her colleague, Steve, was making at Georgette’s house. Steve would check the contents of the pantry and refrigerator, and question Georgette’s mom about her safety and happiness. He would take note of the utilities in the home while there to make sure the family had proper heating and electricity. 

Miss Kenzie re-read the notes on the source of the complaints that had come in about the Bachelder family; they had all come from a woman named Patricia Tenna, though she had explicitly asked not to be named to the family. Her name was familiar to Miss Kenzie and had appeared in other files as well. Miss Kenzie saw her red circled reminder to herself to ask about California and shifted her attention back to Georgette.

“This says you moved here from California?” “Yes, when I was four,” Georgette answered. “That’s only three years ago,” Miss Kenzie continued, hoping to reveal some memories. “Do you know why your parents moved so far away? New York is a long way from California.”

“Daddy’s family is here,” Georgette responded without hesitation. “Mommy wanted to be around them.”

Miss Kenzie nodded. “Do you always call them ‘Mommy’ and ‘Daddy’ or do you have other names for each other?”

Georgette nodded again. “Usually. Sometimes I call them ‘Dad’ and ‘Mom,’ but that’s about it.”

“I see,” said Miss Kenzie. “And do they ever call you any nicknames or a different name? Or have you always been Georgette?”

“Always Georgette,” she answered. Unlike the truth she had withheld that the overturned chairs were broken televisions and smashed knick knacks, her answers were back to being truthful. 

“That’s good,” Miss Kenzie added. “Georgette Bachelder is a good name.” She emphasized the last name just enough in hopes that if it were not her real name, Georgette would do something to indicate otherwise. She didn’t. “Are you happy with your name?”

Georgette answered with another yes. “That’s good too,” said Miss Kenzie, as she again began to press. “How about with everything else? Are you happy with other things too?”

“I am happy, especially with my family,” Georgette emphasized. She was careful not to lay it on too thick. She knew if she said anything realistic, she wouldn’t get to stay with her parents. If she had recounted the story of the previous weekend, Miss Kenzie would never understand. Georgette hadn’t been injured when her father had picked her up and slid her across the counter. Georgette had just been in an unfortunate spot during an unfortunate situation. Her dad had lost his temper, and during a meltdown had pulled his hair and screamed to her mom that help was needed. When Georgette’s mom took that to mean emergency services and dialed 9-1-1, he panicked about trying to stop her. The counter was between the two of them, and his unsettled mind had decided Georgette was a good solution to interrupt the call. 

An outsider wouldn’t hear the end of the story, where Georgette’s dad apologized to Georgette a few hours after the incident. They wouldn’t know the problems had stemmed from a lack of an effective medication, and that her dad was still trying different regimens to get it right. An outside person would only hear the dangerous part, and wouldn’t understand that she didn’t feel unsafe in her home. They wouldn’t know that while she had told him “You’re not a dad,” just to hurt him when he apologized, she still wanted to be around both of her parents. 

Miss Kenzie accepted her answer. She smiled at Georgette and closed her file in her lap. “You have been very helpful today, Georgette. You don’t want to miss lunch though, especially with all those tasty snacks. If you go now, you should have enough time to eat, but let the cafeteria monitor know that I said it was okay if you need extra time, okay?”

Georgette released her fingers from the bottom of the chair and collected the soft lunchbox. She exited.

Principal Scotts and the Nurse, Ms. Shek, emerged from the other side of the curtain in the room. Miss Kenzie shook her head as she loaded the file into her briefcase.

“I guarantee you the welfare check will come back fine. It sounds like Mr. Bachelder has a normal amount of anger, and her lunch seemed fine. I’m also not suspicious in the slightest about her name.”

Principal Scotts shook his head in confusion. “What was the complaint? I’m lost on the name part.”

“Typical Patricia Tenna, that’s what,” Ms. Shek laughed, though irritated. Miss Kenzie sighed and nodded in agreement. “Her complaints came in a few different times, and she cited different sources for where they came from. If you ask me, it sounds like an adult who doesn’t know how a game of telephone works. But her collection of complaints included a lack of any food in the home, violent outbursts by the girl’s father, and my favorite: the accusation that the entire family moved here from California because they are part of the witness protection program.”

“People move all the time,” Ms. Shek interjected, smiling at the accusation. “Exactly,” Miss Kenzie smoothed her blazer as she stood up. “Moving from one state to another doesn’t automatically mean witness protection.”

“Thank you for taking the time to come to the investigation anyway,” Principal Scotts added. “You never know when it could turn out to be true.”

Ms. Shek nodded. “Patricia Tenna is just a gossip. She always has been, ever since she came into this school district with her oldest boy. It’s sad, really. She needs a hobby other than injecting herself into other people’s business.”

“You know what I heard?” Principal Scotts interrupted. “The boy's basketball coach said she has been hanging around trying to get him to go on a date with her.”

“Really?!” Ms. Shek exclaimed as she and Miss Kenzie resumed their seats to hear more. “Was it Phil this time, or Jeff?”

May 27, 2023 12:03

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Evelyn Griffith
14:33 Jun 08, 2023

Carly, I really liked this story, I like that in the beginning we were thrown in and left to figure out what was happening. I think that’s an interesting contrast to how much your precocious character seems to know about her own situation. One thing I’m curious about is what actually happened in California. I feel like we never actually get a clear answer on that (thought maybe I missed a small detail in my reading and if so I apologize). I guess I was wondering if you could maybe work in some flashbacks or sentences that give us a look i...


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Mike Rush
12:20 Jun 05, 2023

Carly, I enjoyed reading your piece. You did such a great job making this a tender rendering of dark material. Dysfunctional families on welfare, and tips that lead to in-school interviews with children is serious business, but it's well done. I was so impressed with the efficiency of this paragraph! “This says you moved here from California?” “Yes, when I was four,” Georgette answered. “That’s only three years ago,” Miss Kenzie continued, hoping to reveal some memories. “Do you know why your parents moved so far away? New York is a long...


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