Margret cried on the side of the playground. Margret always cried on the side of the playground. She hid it well, but there was an air to the crybabies that made them such delicious prey. Lizzie and her friends watched Margret out of the corners of their eyes, waiting. Lately, the teachers monitoring recess had begun to watch out for Margret, as if they sensed how vulnerable she was, but they couldn’t watch out for her all the time.
Lizzie’s little band of bullies played dodge ball for an excuse to hang around. They liked playing dodge ball. It was fun to throw the ball, hoping to hit someone. It was more fun to make the target squeal with pain, but the harsh smack of the ball hitting someone was still enjoyable. Julia was the least athletically inclined of the gang, so they made her dance in the center the most. Lizzie said it would toughen her up, and she’d either learn how to take a hit, or she’d learn to get out of the way. Ben played in the center a lot, too. He thought it was fun to push other kids in to the ball’s path. Tammy had a beautiful pitching arm, so she got to play on the ring more often than not. Sarah, with eyes almost as hard as Lizzie’s, was rarely asked to dance in the center, and no one, but no one, would ever think to ask it of Lizzie.
They watched, waiting for the moment the teachers would leave poor little fat, four-eyed Margret alone. Lizzie was fascinated with how easy it was to wring tears from the freak. Words could wound the crybaby so deeply that she wondered just what it would be like to actually get Margret in the center of her dodge ball ring. Would she cry and stutter and scream as the ball passed from pitcher to pitcher? Why, they just might toss the ball around a bit, closer and closer to the freak just to hear her sobs get louder and louder before actually hitting her.
Lizzie wondered if Margret would bruise as easily as she cried. The thought of a purple and blue Margret cringing at the sight of Lizzie made the little bully shiver with delight.
Lizzie’s shiver ceased sharply. Who was that strange girl walking up to the freak? No one ever walked up to the freak. Everyone was afraid that Margret carried cooties and wouldn’t dare go near her. Apparently, there was a new student in the school, and no one had bothered to pass along the warning.
. . .
Gloria had played for a while on the monkey bars, but they were so popular that she soon got frustrated waiting in line. Looking around, she saw a girl sitting with her arms around her knees on the side of the playground. The girl was tall and slightly plump with frizzy blond-streaked brown hair and glasses like the ones Gloria’s father wore in his high school pictures. Girls with glasses usually had interesting things to talk about so Gloria meandered on over.
Casually staking out a place on the pavement near the girl, Gloria surveyed the playground. It was decent, with the monkey bars to one side and a paved area to play with balls. A small group played dodge ball nearby, and a couple of kids bounced handballs off a convenient wall. Several more played Red Rover on the field, and another group spent the time chasing each other through a game of tag. On the far side of the field sat a pair of sandboxes, currently filled with the kindergartners.
“It’s kinda small, but it’s a nice school, don’t ya think?” Gloria asked in a conversational tone.
The glasses girl shot her a watery glance before turning back to face her knees. “You don’t want to ask me that.”
“Well, sure I do! I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t want to hear the answer. Trust me, my mom taught me lots better. She answers questions.”
There was more puzzlement in the look the glasses girl shot her this time. “What are you talking about? You say that like it’s a bad thing?”
“My mother doesn’t believe in holding back anything, and she doesn’t understand that sometimes you just want a quick ‘yes’ or ‘no’. She has to explain it all and in detail, the really graphic kind. It took me a month to start eating hamburgers again after I asked her where the meat came from. Trust me, I don’t ask questions that I don’t want the answers to. So, what do you think of the school?”
Glasses took a moment to think over Gloria’s little speech. Finally, she said, “I think it sucks!”
“Is it because of the teachers?”
“No.” Glasses looked sullen.
“The other kids?”
“Yes! Why don’t they just, just go away?” Glasses burst out.
Gloria tipped her head to the side and studied Glasses from head to toe and back again. She pursed her lips and said, “Well, you’re different. They’re probably all rat-packing, and until you show them that your difference is stronger than their sameness, they’ll probably keep on picking at you. Sitting on the side lines crying is not showing them strength.”
Glasses glared up at Gloria with fresh tears in her eyes. “What do you know about it?” she snapped, her lower lip quivering.
Gloria tapped a finger to her lips as she gave Glasses one more once over. There was a weighing in her eyes as they met the watery, plastic protected glare. One moment stretched into two before she made her decision. With a gracefulness born of supreme self confidence Gloria sank to the pavement, sitting cross legged facing Glasses.
“I used to sit on the side lines, watching the way you’re watching right now, with tears in my eyes and snot filling up the back of my throat.”
Glasses flinched, hunching her shoulders as if the words were a physical blow. Gloria let silence fill up between them. She was used to silence. Glasses would have to ask the next question.
. . .
Margret drew in several deep breaths. The new kid was short and dark, her eyes a bright golden peace is a sea of mismatched features. With skin closer to bronze than beige and tightly braided brown hair, she reminded Margret of the brownies Margret’s mother used to swear lived in their kitchen, the fey creatures of lore that guarded homes and families. Margret’s mother used to pull out the Big Book of Fairy Lore and show her pictures of brownies and bogarts and pixies and Will o’Wisps. Since Darren’s birth, Margret would pull down the book and remember the way her mother used to be before giving birth to Margret’s baby brother.
“I used to sit on the sidelines.”
The words reverberated inside Margret’s mind. Even she could see that the new kid wasn’t one to be picked on. She was too substantial to be pushed around. How could she have ever sat were Margret was sitting?
So was the brownie-girl.
“Sitting on the side lines crying is not showing them strength.”
Well, so far it was the best she could do, now wasn’t it?
“I used to sit on the sidelines.”
So what changed that?
“I don’t ask questions that I don’t want the answers to.”
Did Margret really want to know? Unbidden, Lizzie Dunsten’s face flashed across Margret’s mind’s eye. Anything was better than Lizzie.
. . .
Glasses looked up again, but this time the brightness in her eyes wasn’t from unshed tears. Her voice soft and her words firm, she asked, “How did you get off the sidelines?”
Gloria met that seeking gaze. She filled herself with sincerity and let it pour out with her words. “I discovered that I am divine. It took a while to realize it, but everyone is. The sad thing is how few of us actually let that knowledge sink into our souls.”
Glasses narrowed her eyes, scrunching up a pretty face with thought. “How?” she asked.
“It starts by learning what divinity is and what it isn’t. Sit cross legged like me, put your hands on your knees and straighten your back. Let your shoulders fall back and take long, slow breaths.”
Glasses moved slowly to comply. She faced Gloria and kept her eyes open, filled with a wary expectation.
“That’s right, try to focus on everything around us, the wind over the pavement, the sounds of the balls bouncing, the laughter of the other kids, the creaking of the swing rings. Hear it all, and let the sounds build a picture in your mind.”
Glasses frowned. “But the other kids aren’t nice.”
Gloria gave Glasses a patient look. “Divinity isn’t always nice. Nice doesn’t always get the job done. And I think that’s probably your biggest stumbling block right there.”
“What do you mean?” Glasses’ voice came out soft and alarmed, matching the widening of her eyes and flaring of her nostrils.
Gloria tipped her head to the side again, obviously thinking. After a short pause, she said, “Divinity is everything, but there’s only so much divinity to go around. People confuse things when they talk about creation and destruction when they really mean building and tearing down. Creation is really making something from nothing and destruction is making nothing of something. Building is taking what’s there and shaping it.”
Gloria looked around before she pointed off to the far side of the field. “Take the sand boxes over there, the ones the kindergartners use. If all of them wanted to build a sand castle in that box, the castles would all be really small, little more than sand shacks. But if they took turns, say four kids a day getting to build the castle they want, then they could build big happy castles. The thing is, though, that all of those castles would have to be torn down so the next set of kids could build theirs. Which is the more not-nice: to tear down the castles or to keep them up and prevent the other kids from playing in the sand box?”
Glasses frowned in thought. Gloria felt a small bubble of pleasure grow right over her belly. Girls in glasses were so much fun.
Finally, Glasses asked, “What’s that have to do with being divine?”
“We’re both the kids building sand castles and we’re the sand, too. We don’t get to create things out of whole cloth; we’re not Almighty God. But we build things and to build things sometimes you end up knocking other things down. Sometimes it’s on purpose and sometimes it’s a mistake, but it still happens. Sometimes, sometimes we’re the ones who get knocked down. Then we got the choice to stay knocked down or build ourselves back up.”
“That’s not fair!” Glasses proclaimed.
Gloria raised an amused eyebrow and said, “Ain’t nowhere on your birth certificate said life’s fair. It’s the way things work. Deal with it or don’t, it’s your choice. But the less you deal with what is, the weaker you look and the weaker you look, the more people will try to knock you down. If you aren’t building yourself then you’ve abandoned yourself and your sand’s up for grabs.”
Glasses just stared at Gloria in a stunned silence. Gloria gave back a patient, calm gaze until the school bell rang a moment later, ending recess. Gloria got up and reached over, patting Glasses on the shoulder, “Think about it. No one can take your sand until you let it go, and if you build shoddy, it’s easy to knock down. Bullies gotta get their sand somewhere. Build solid enough and they won’t get it from you.” She walked away, a small satisfied smile curling her lips.
. . .
Margaret watched the brownie-girl walk away in a mild state of shock. She got up and went back into class, lost in thought. She didn’t realize until she got home that night that the brownie-girl hadn’t walked towards the classrooms. She had walked over to the sandboxes, disappearing into the crowd surging the opposite way.