Kathryn Bashaar

Black-and-white image of a group of elementary-school-age children, a dozen or more, in a crosswalk marching toward the photographer. The girls and boys are dressed in 1970s-era casual clothing, mostly short-sleeved shirts and pants in various styles and patterns; a few of the girls wear short skirts or dresses. In the background, a large leafy tree fills the right side of the photograph, a utility pole and "WALK" light are directly behind the children, and to the right, a semi truck and trailer is in the street. The street slopes gently upward and houses and trees dot the hill. Utility poles line the street and a few 1970s-vintage cars are parked on the sides.

Photo Credit: Seattle Municipal Archives/Flickr (CC-by)

Marky Murphy had lived more than twice as long as the doctors expected at his birth. I took my frail mother to the funeral home, where she hugged his tiny, comma-shaped mother. Mrs. Murphy wiped her eyes and shook her head, speechless with grief.

I approached the casket and gazed at Marky, whom I hadn’t seen in almost fifty years. Wisps of gray hair on his round head. The slanted eyes, the stubby fingers, the look of complete peace—and the scar. He still had it, a white slash above his right eyebrow. Ancient guilt stirred in my chest.


The neighborhood where Marky and I grew up was dominated by two enormous families: the Connors and the Santinis. Mrs. Connor and Mrs. Santini reproduced prolifically, an average of a child per year, sometimes delivering twins, so that each of them had five children between the ages of six and ten roaming the streets and woods and terrorizing the rest of us, and two or three more still confined to the yard, preparing to terrorize our younger brothers and sisters.

They were clannish, mean, bossy and capricious. One day you were allowed to join their games, another day not, for obscure reasons. The rules of their games changed to suit them and if you didn’t like it, too bad, go home, they still had more than a baseball team between them and you’d hear them enjoying themselves while you, a member of the rejected rabble, listlessly played with paper dolls in your room or jumped rope alone on the concrete patio.

But I don’t think they meant to hurt Marky.

One summer, they had a clubhouse in a small wood near the Connor home, a sprawling ranch with a two-car garage, bigger and grander than the average house in our neighborhood. There was a path to the clubhouse from the Connor yard. They’d built the clubhouse out of soda-pop crates and some wood scraps that their dads had around, and they had a cigar box which they were very mysterious about. I desperately wanted to know what was in that box. They referred to it often, in vaguely threatening tones, hinting that the box contained objects of great power and possible danger.

Other than the path from the Connors’ yard, the only way to the clubhouse was through a particularly brutal thigh-high stand of thorny underbrush which we called “jagger bushes” or just “jaggers.”

I raced my bike around the Connors’ dead end one blinding summer morning two weeks before my tenth birthday. The sun was high, white and jagged in the hard, blue sky, and the concrete sidewalk radiated heat. I looped the dead end languidly, hoping a Connor would emerge from their house and invite me in to play. For all that her children were the terrors of the neighborhood, Mrs. Connor was very particular about being disturbed by other people’s children. She didn’t like children who came to the door too early in the morning, or during meals, or who came in wearing dirty shoes or who “made pests of themselves” by coming too often.

I pretended not to notice when Sandy Connor emerged from their spacious garage on her own pink two-wheeler, until she started riding beside me, blonde ponytail swinging, trying to cut me off. Finally, trying to avoid her, I wobbled to a stop and put a foot down. Sandy stopped in front of me.

“Patsy Place!” she called, although I was right beside her.

“Yeah.” My heart fluttered a bit.

“What are you doing here?”

“Riding my bike.”

“This is our dead end.”

“Other people can ride on this street if they want to.”

“No, they can’t. My dad said. The street in front of our house is our property. You can’t be on it unless we say. It’s a law.”

“I see other people riding here,” I argued.

“Because we say they can. We didn’t say you could ride here. And you can’t come to our club unless we invite you either.”

“Well, can I?”

“Can you what?”

“Can I come to your club?”

“Maybe. I’ll have to ask everybody. We’d have to have a vote. Come to the woods after lunch and we’ll have the vote.”

“Okay.” I smiled ingratiatingly. “See ya later.” And I rode off, in case what she said was true, about the law.


On my way home, Marky was in his front yard playing with his pet rabbit, Din. As I passed, he called out to me and waved me into the yard. I laid my bike in the grass near the curb.

Marky poked a carrot through the bars of Din’s cage, smiling at me. “Din,” he said, handing me the carrot and indicating that I should try feeding the rabbit. We laid on our stomachs in the prickly, summer-dry grass. Grasshoppers popped around in front of us, and ants crawled on our sun-warmed legs.

I tried poking the carrot at the rabbit. Din ignored me at first, but then I waved the carrot under his nose and he took a nibble.

“Ayesh!” Marky cried approvingly. Marky said some regular words, but he also had a language of his own; that was why Din had such a funny name. “Ayesh” meant that he was either very happy or very upset.

We vaguely knew that Marky was different from the rest of us. When his parents allowed him to come out and play, we included him. We were casually cruel to him, but only in the same way that we were cruel to each other. We made fun of his cries of “ayesh!” just like we made fun of Jane Mulvaney’s lisp, or like the Santinis taunted me when they caught me picking my nose one day. Mrs. Murphy was protective, though; she usually kept Marky in the yard.

She came out the front door now, to check on us. Her worried brown eyes rested on me and relaxed a bit. “Hello, Patsy,” she said.

“Hi, Mrs. Murphy,” I replied, not looking up, still waving the carrot at Din.

“Din,” Marky said to his mother, pointing to the cage, making a gesture like rocking a baby, and then pointing to me.

“You want Patsy to hold Din?”

Marky nodded. “Ayesh!”

“Would you like to hold the rabbit?” Mrs. Murphy asked me.

I nodded, and she opened the cage’s latch. Marky fetched Din out very gently, his mother hovering over him, and handed the rabbit to me.

“Hold on to him,” Mrs. Murphy warned.

I’d never held Din before. He trembled in my arms, his pink nose twitching.

Marky smiled and nodded at me, making a petting motion.

I cautiously held the rabbit in one arm, and petted his back with my other hand. His black-and-white fur was very soft.

Marky nodded again. “Nice,” he said.

“He’s so cute,” I said. “I wish I could have a rabbit.”

“You’d have to ask your parents about that,” Mrs. Murphy said. She took Din from me. “I think he needs to go back in his cage now.” She dropped him into the cage and closed the latch.

“Bye, Marky,” I said. “Thanks for letting me hold Din.”

“Come back any time,” Mrs. Murphy said.

“Bye, Patsy,” Marky called as I picked up my bike and pedaled home.


I had a baloney sandwich, a glass of milk, and a plum for lunch, my thighs zipping off the sticky vinyl chair when I rose from the kitchen table. My mother was cleaning my little sister’s face and didn’t look up, just said, “Be back in time for dinner.”

I jumped on my bike, pedaled to the Connors’ and shyly rang the doorbell. They had the fancy kind of screen door, with their initial in wrought aluminum.

Sandy came to the door. “We’re still eating,” she said. “My mom’s mad. It’s rude to come to the door when people are eating.” She had a half-eaten Oreo cookie in her hand, a treat we were never allowed at our house, and her teeth were flecked with black crumbs.

“Okay,” I said humbly. “I’ll wait.”

“No, just meet us at the woods.”

“Okay.” I started towards the path that led to their yard.

“No, not that way.” Sandy opened the screen door and poked out her head. “You have to go in the other way.”

My stomach twisted. The other way led to the jaggers. But one did not disobey a Connor.

I waited where the path ended in jaggers for what felt like a very long time, and was ready to give up and go back home to my paper dolls and my jump rope when the Connor-Santini clan appeared on the other path, bearing the cigar box.

When they had gathered behind their barricade of soda-pop cases and scrap wood, Sandy called out, “Patsy Place, do you want to be in our club?”

“Yes,” I called back.

“Who votes that Patsy Place can be in our club?”

Petey, the biggest boy, replied, “I vote that she should have an initiation.”

“Who votes for an initiation?” Sandy asked.

Ayes came from all the Connors and Santinis in attendance, from Petey down to six-year-old Anna.

“It’s voted,” Petey declared. “The initiation is that Patsy Place has to come to the clubhouse through the jaggers.”

My heart raced and my baloney sandwich heaved in my stomach. Between me and the clubhouse lurked a five-foot-deep, two-foot-high snarl of thorny scrub. I was so close to being in the club. But I hesitated.

“Patsy Place, do you want to be in our club?” Petey called.

“Yes,” I quavered.

“Then you must walk through the jaggers,” he decreed.

I bit my lip and lifted my right leg as high as I could, stamping a section of jaggers under my red, rubber-soled Ked. It was harder to lift my right leg and tramp down the next section. I felt the prick of the thorns on my inner thighs. But not until I contemplated my next step did I understand the trap I was in. As soon as I lifted my right leg again, the jaggers behind me would spring back up and trap me from behind. But some pride or determination or abject desperation drove me on, and I lifted my right leg again.

My red knit shorts were now pinned by half a dozen thorns from left, right and behind, but I was halfway there. I patiently detached the branches from my shorts, drawing pinpricks of blood from my small white fingers, and took another step. I felt the sharp scratches on my legs and refused to look down. The jaggers were a little higher here towards the barricade. My shirt and shorts were both caught and the bushes were too high in front of me to tramp down. But I was almost there. I moved forward. I could feel my clothes snagging and ripping. The jaggers tore at my arms and legs like tiny, vicious teeth.

I emerged at the barricade with a branch stuck to the front of my shirt and another one in my hair. When I looked down, I saw that my arms and legs were covered with small gashes, some of them with thorns still embedded. My shorts were a fuzz of snags, my white cotton shirt had a large tear and dozens of pulled threads. One fingernail burned, a thorn embedded beneath it.

Petey was laughing. “I can’t believe she actually did it!” he said to his sisters. To me, he said nothing.

“You’re bleeding,” Anna observed.

“So, am I in the club?” I asked.

“Who votes that Patsy Place can be in the club?” Sandy asked.

Ayes all around again, and I sat down on one of the soda cases. I didn’t notice the pain in my fingernail any more.

“That was funny,” Petey said. “I can’t believe you did it.”

“You’re going to be in trouble when our mom sees your clothes,” Kim Santini warned.

“No, I won’t,” I lied. “So, what do we do in the club?”

“We don’t have to do something every single time,” Sandy snapped. “Sometimes we don’t do anything. It’s just a club.”

“What’s in the cigar box?” I asked.

The mood turned somber. “You have to promise not to tell anyone,” Kim said.

“She won’t,” Petey said, “because if she does, I’ll beat her up and take her pants off and she’ll have to run home naked.”

Everyone laughed except me.

“Okay,” Petey said, “show her.”

Kim slowly lifted the box lid to reveal a bone nestled in dead leaves.

“We think it’s a human bone,” Sandy whispered.

“We’re going to find the rest of the body and then we’re going to find the murderer,” Kim added.

“Maybe it was you!” Petey yelled at me suddenly, and then laughed at my startle, slapping his knee repeatedly. When he finished laughing, he said, “Okay, meeting adjourned for today. Same time, same place tomorrow.”

I proudly trailed after them down the path that led to the Connor yard. “Bye, see you tomorrow, good meeting,” I called as I ran to the other entrance to retrieve my bike.


I went to the Connors’ door after lunch the next day. Sandy came to the screen door again. “My mother says you’re making a pest of yourself. Wait in the yard.”

I hung around in the Connor’s yard for a while, wishing to be invited in for Oreos and admiring the litter in their yard: dented bikes, seam-ripped baseballs, hula hoops, jump ropes, scratched metal trucks, and a couple of naked, disheveled Barbies with glitter nail polish chipping off their hands.

“Don’t touch our toys,” Davey Connor warned as the Connors flooded out of their house.

“Come on, let’s go,” Petey said, and we all ran into the woods, where the Santinis were already waiting for us.

Freddy Santini passed around a bag of Wise potato chips and everyone took big handfuls. I was on the end and got mostly crumbs. I licked my fingers and plunged them to the bottom of the bag to draw up the greasy remains of salt and potato.

“Ewww,” Kim exclaimed, pointing at me. “She got her germs in the bag. I don’t want any more.”

Although I longed for more crumbs, I put the bag down.

“The meeting will now come to order,” Petey announced. “First order of business: new members.”

My heart sank. I was enjoying the distinction of being the only non-Connor, non-Santini member of the club.

Freddy’s hand shot up. “I know who we can invite: Marky Murphy.”

“I don’t think we should invite Marky,” I said. “Isn’t he… retarded?”

“That’s a bad word,” Sandy scolded.

“Yeah, you shouldn’t say ‘retarded,’” Freddy agreed.

“All in favor of asking Marky Murphy to join our club say aye.” Petey said.

I reluctantly added my aye to the chorus.


The next day, rather than make a pest of myself, I wandered through the Connors’ toy graveyard, right into the woods where the Santinis and Connors already waited. Sandy, Petey, Marie, Jill, Nicky, Anna, Kim, Debbie and Tommy were in the clubhouse. Freddy stood with Marky on the other side of the jaggers.

Nobody greeted me or seemed to notice that I had arrived. They were milling around with an air of excitement and agitation.

“Shh, shh, shh,” Petey said, then intoned, “Marky Murphy, do you want to be in our club?”

Marky grinned and yelled, “Ayesh.”

The girls giggled.

“Then you must walk through the jaggers,” Petey commanded.

Marky looked confused.

Freddy explained, “Just walk through the jagger bushes to the clubhouse. Then you’re in the club.” He took one step forward, then stepped back and nudged Marky forward.

Marky frowned, folded his arms and shook his head.

“C’mon, Marky!” the girls yelled. “Please! We want you in our club.” They beckoned to him. “Pleeeease!”

Marky shook his head again.

Freddy gave Marky a shove. “C’mon. It won’t hurt you.”

Marky was bigger and stronger than Freddy, but he was caught off guard. He went down on his hands and knees. “Ayesh!” he wailed. His T-shirt and shorts were caught and his face was marked with a dozen scratches. He panicked and began to flail, trying to escape, lost his balance, and went into the brush head first. When he rose back onto his hands and knees, blood streamed over his right eye.

“He put his eye out!” Freddy yelled.

“Jesus Mary Mother of God!” Petey said. “Get out of here! Everybody out of here!”

We ran. I found my bike in front of the Connors’ house and raced home. I ran to my room, leapt into bed, pulled the covers over my head, and cried into my pillow.

I should tell, but then Petey would beat me up and take my pants off. Somebody would go looking for Marky pretty soon, and then the dads would know how to get him out of the jaggers. And he only lost one eye, so at least he wouldn’t be blind. That wasn’t really so bad.

Finally, I stopped crying and realized that I had to tell my mother, even if Petey did beat me up and take my pants. Just as I was getting up, my mother stormed into my room. “Patricia!  What did you kids do to Marky Murphy?”

I started to cry again. “It wasn’t my idea! I was going to tell you, just now!”

“Those Connor kids said it was your idea.”

“No, it wasn’t! It wasn’t me! It was Freddy!”

My mother sighed. “I can believe that.”

She sat on my bed. “What in the world were you kids doing in the woods anyway?”

“It’s a club,” I choked. “You had to walk through the jaggers to get to the club. I told them not to do it.”

“I see,” my mother said, glancing down at my own scratched legs and arms.

“I’m sorry, Mommy. But at least he’s not blind. At least he still has one eye.”


“Marky’s eye. He put his eye out.” The tears started again.

My mother put her arms around me. “No, honey, no. He didn’t lose an eye. He was just scared and scratched up. The Connor kids told their mother and she called the fire department.”

“Are we going to jail?”

“No, no, the fireman had to cut through the brush.”

“I feel like I should go to jail. I feel terrible. I’m sorry, Mommy.”

“I know you are. But I want you to think about what you did and take a lesson from it. You’ll have to apologize to the Murphys. Your father and I will talk about whether there will be any other punishment.”

She rose to leave. “I think you’d better stay in your room until your father gets home.”

I squeezed my eyes shut and nodded, eyes and nose still running.

I wiped my face on my arm, crawled back under the covers and pulled them back over my head, although it was a hot day. I would rather anything than have to face the Murphys. Rather go to jail, rather if my father would spank me every day for a year. I would rather be yelled at by every teacher in every class every day for the rest of my life, rather have leprosy, rather be kidnapped by Communists, than apologize to the Murphys.

The Murphys were nice people. Everybody else in the neighborhood only had little kids, but Marky was the younger brother of two pretty, friendly teenage sisters who wore miniskirts and mohair sweaters and babysat the little kids sometimes. They gave me chewing gum and their old issues of Girls’ Life magazine. Mrs. Murphy was easy to talk to and had a candy jar. She was friends with my mom and came up for coffee and sometimes brought coffee cake that had crumbly cinnamon sugar on top. She had pleading dark eyes, especially when Marky was around. I would rather go blind myself than ever have to look into those eyes again.


That same evening my parents marched me two doors up to the Murphys’ little ranch house. The teenage sisters weren’t home. Mr. and Mrs. Murphy sat on the couch, Marky between them. Mr. Murphy was a city policeman and it occurred to me that he might still send other police to arrest me any time.

I stood in their dim, silent living room, with the candy jar on the coffee table, flanked by my parents, hanging my head.

My mother nudged me. “What do you have to say for yourself, Patsy?”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Murphy,” I burst out, sobbing. “We didn’t mean to hurt him!”

“I’d rather if you directed your apology to Marky,” Mrs. Murphy said gently.

“I’m sorry, Marky,” I choked out. My eyes were squeezed shut. I couldn’t look at them. My head hurt. The room was warm and felt like it was swaying gently, like a boat.

My worst fear was that they’d ask me why I did it. I didn’t know why. But, instead, Mrs. Murphy said, “That’s all I wanted to hear. I know you’re a good girl.”

Mr. Murphy didn’t say anything. My parents ushered me out into the evening’s waning heat.

“Bye, Patsy,” Marky called.


My punishment was to play only in my own house or yard for a week, no friends. I didn’t want to go out, anyway. I played house with my little sister, jumped rope, drew new clothes for my paper dolls, read Nancy Drew mysteries. It felt just that I should be cloistered like a nun. It felt safe.

The second day I was allowed out, a Red Rover game was starting in Jane Mulvaney’s yard. Jane had cousins visiting from Ohio and so we had a respectable number to play even without any Santinis or Connors. It was after dinner. Cicadas screamed and fireflies blinked lazily in the blue evening light.

We were sorting ourselves into sides when Marky approached, smiling as usual. He took a place beside me, raised his arms and cried, “Ayesh!”

Chuckie Siebert laughed and nudged the boy beside him.

I froze. The chatter of the other kids receded and the world again began to tilt like a ship at sea. I felt like ants were crawling around right under my skin and I wanted to run back home, but something kept me rooted.

“Do we have to have her on our side?” Chuckie whined. He jerked his head towards one of Jane’s cousins. There was something wrong with her. She was skinny, not normal skinny like me, skinny like a starving person. Her glasses looked huge on her bony, big-toothed face. She looked around nervously.

Jane folded her pudgy arms. “My mom said we have to let Tracy play.”

Chuckie rolled his eyes and puffed out an annoyed sigh.

“There’s something wrong with her,” Alicia Smith whispered to me. “What’s wrong with her?”

Jane heard her. “There’s nothing wrong with her,” she insisted.

“Come be on our side, Tracy” I said. I could hardly believe I said it. As soon as it was out of my mouth, the ants were back under my skin and my stomach felt fidgety.

“Oh, great,” Alicia muttered. “Now we’ll definitely lose.”

“Come be on our side,” I repeated, and beckoned to Tracy.

Tracy looked around as if seeking someone’s permission, then walked across to our side of the lawn. She took Marky’s hand at the end of our line. Marky patted me on the back. “Nice,” he said.

“You’re going to lose,” Chuckie taunted.

“Let’s just play,” I retorted. I took Marky’s hand and squeezed it hard.


I looked down at Marky now, the man who had beaten the actuarial odds, the boy who, at age ten, had surpassed me in courage and character. I kissed my index finger and lightly touched it to his scar, then knelt to say my prayer.


Kathryn Bashaar‘s first novel, The Saint’s Mistress, is published by CamCat Books. Her shorter work has been published in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Civil War Times and the literary journals Metamorphosis, PIF, Grand Dame and Persimmon Tree. My story “The Girl From Bethel Park” will appear in the anthology Children of Steel later this year. Email: kbashaar[at]

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