“Do we eat sushi?” Craig Wu asked his mother in their old apartment. She was boiling water to make him Mac and Cheese while he fumbled on the floor with his older sister’s Barbies.
“You want to try sushi? I don’t think you’ll like it, you don’t like fish.”
“No! I don’t want to try it!” Craig said. He raised Barbie’s arms in alarm, then had her bend stiffly at the waist. She was throwing up at the thought of sushi. “Sushi is disgusting.”
“Now who told you that?”
“The boys at school.”
His mother nodded, rubbing her neck.
“What else do these boys say about you?”
That night as Craig and his sister Louise listened at the wall between their room and their parents, the words “move” and “commute” and “West Merrimack” seeped through the insulation. Louise, arched above Craig’s shorter frame, deflated, and her hair got in his eyes.
West Merrimack was lovely, with rolling hills and single-story houses connected by dainty power lines. The lawns were rectangular and well kempt, some with gardens and bird baths. Craig thought gardens were only for museums and farms. He was amazed at the thought of owning one himself.
Dogs were tethered to the front stair or roamed around a fenced back yard. Trees let the sun down in speckles that were easy on the eyes and dotted the street like stars. They were on a spaceship, Craig decided. He sat up straighter in his chair, adjusted his seat buckle, and was prepared for landing on the moon. He lowered the window slightly, then shut it, pressed several imaginary buttons on the back of his father’s seat, and let every bump in the uneven road serve as a comet striking the hull of the ship, or an alien attack, starboard. He fought them off with a blaster.
“An alien!” he shouted at Louise, then shot her with his hand held like a gun.
She shook her head at him. “Not now.”
Louise hadn’t wanted to play with him for awhile. She only wanted to be with her friends, lately. Maybe in West Merrimack she’d play with him more, since none of her friends were here. Mom said she’s getting a little too old for Barbies. Maybe she was getting too old for Craig, too.
The house was twice the size of their apartment, with a backyard lined with actual, real life trees with branches low enough for climbing and high enough for hanging swings from. The kitchen could hold enough food to feed a giant, and indeed the ceilings were so high Craig felt he was Tom Thumb. He couldn’t even see over the kitchen table here. Mom called the chairs “bar stools.”
He and Louise got separate rooms in the new house. Louise was happy about that, but Craig was a little nervous. What about their toys? Or talking late at night?
Craig didn’t get much time to think about it. School started the next day. This was when he was asked about karate. His mom told him that if kids pulled at their eyes they were being mean, but the kids in West Merrimack didn’t pull their eyes.
“No, but I want to,” Craig said.
“Can you use chopsticks?” another kid asked.
“Yes! They’re easy,” Craig said, and the kids all gasped, shot down his claim, asked him to teach them.
“Do you want to play on the swings with us?” asked a little girl. Her bright red hair was curly and hopelessly tangled. She was in overalls with two green buttons, a pink shirt, and yellow shoes. She looked like a kaleidoscope.
“Sure,” Craig said, with as straight a face as he could manage. Back in the city, none of the girls wanted to play with him, and he didn’t want to mess up. He knew he should remember her name from when everyone introduced themselves in the morning, but he couldn’t. “Um…what’s your name again?”
“Bonita,” she said.
Craig wondered if he had to marry Bonita someday. They swung together, and it was fun, so he decided he loved her. She was pretty, after all, and talked to him, so he was closer to marrying her than anyone else.
Over time, he realized that at this school the boys and girls didn’t treat each other like ugly wallpaper and actually played together in groups. He supposed this meant he didn’t have to marry Bonita, which was fine with him. He wasn’t yet ready for the married life, anyhow. He un-decided he loved her.
Craig and Bonita’s favorite game, which no one else much liked to play so they were often alone in it, was making mud pies. Only when they grew older did they realize their misphrasing, but as little first graders it was all in innocence. They would sit on the ground at recess and dig under the woodchips to the good stuff. They’d create a circle of mud, then frost it with woodchips, shove sticks and grass into it for candles and bugs for “A bit of crunch!”
They would then run around the playground with handfuls of their dessert, asking children and teachers to try a sampling of their mud pie. The teachers would overreact and the kids would double over laughing.
Their friendship evolved past mud pies and into writing horoscopes, then into drawing, then making paper cootie-catchers, then ghost hunting, then earthworm hunting, then pretending the playground set was a pirate ship. They thought long and hard about their pirate names.
“You should be Craig the Cruel!” Bonita said.
“You should be Bonnie the Brave!” Craig said, and Bonita wrinkled her nose.
“Bonnie? Only my dad calls me Bonnie.”
“It sounds more like a pirate than Bonita, though.”
Bonnie the Brave. The name ended up sticking, the first part anyway, even after their pirate phase. Soon they were in fifth grade, and the pirates were now interested in skateboarding and television shows their parents didn’t approve of, the two of which they did whenever Bonnie wasn’t at dance, which was far too often in Craig’s opinion.
Bonnie snorted at the other girls in class, who bragged at recess about how long they got ready in the morning. The boys played touch football, glancing at the gaggle of girls nearly as much as the girls glanced at them. The boys and the girls were in a stalemate, never speaking to one another, all except Bonnie and Craig.
“They’re so stupid,” Bonnie said as she and Craig sipped on Coca Cola on the curb of Craig’s street. “You know Meghan’s mom got her a bra? Meghan doesn’t even have any, like…” Bonnie sniffed instead of saying one of the words that always caught in her throat. “You know she like-likes you?”
“Gross,” Craig said because he was supposed to, but he was burning inside. Meghan M….
“You don’t like-like anybody, do you?” Bonnie asked.
Bonnie always said that it was possible for a guy and a girl to be friends, that they won’t ever fall in love, that all this dating stuff was stupid. Craig wished things were easier. Her scabbed knee, purple shorts, green helmet, brown shirt, and ponytail mess of orange hair made her look like a kaleidoscope.
“No,” he said. “Wanna go on the swings, and forget about those lame-os?”