Twila was an ornery thing. No one liked her though she’d lived in our neighborhood forever. They said she was crazy, possessed even. We believed it — her wild orange hair and wandering eye were enough to make us know it was true. We played a game to see who could look her way the longest: if her eye wandered your way and caught you, you had to pay up with your week’s ice cream money. Jimmy and Terry collected a lot of my ice cream money back then.
One day I skinned my knee, slipped off a stone at the creek. I was hurrying past Twila’s house, my eyes stinging from salty tears and afternoon sun and the dirt I’d rubbed into them with my muddy hands. I hobbled past quickly but just as I was near the corner, almost safe, she called me back. It was the first time she’d ever spoken to me. No use pretending I didn’t hear either.
“Boy, where you goin’ with that knee?”
So I wandered up her porch steps and went inside, where she bandaged my knee in her mothball house without saying a word. Then she sat me at the table and cut watermelon into small triangles and didn’t scold me when the juice dripped down my arms to elbows and pooled on her polished wooden table.