Counting Tiles

Erica glanced at her little sister across the backseat. Every so often, Bridget would bounced out of her seat a little; once, and then twice slowly, then three times, really quick. She kept doing this randomly. Erica knew there had to be a pattern, but for the life of her, she couldn’t figure it out.

“Bridget, ” she leaned over and whispered so that Aunt Mildred wouldn’t holler from the front to pipe down. “What’re you doing?”

Bridget turned and looked at Erica vacantly. “I’m jumping the crossways,” she replied simply.

“You’re what?”

Bridget rolled her eyes as if she couldn’t believe she was having to explain the concept. “The crossways. You know, intersections, driveways, sidewalks. Anything that meets up to the road where people might cross. You jump them so if some comes across the same time as you, you jump over them and don’t crash into them.”

Erica really didn’t know how her sister came up with half the stuff she did. “But what if they jump too. Wouldn’t you crash midair?”

Bridget frowned. The only thing she hated worse than people questioning her actions was people questioning her logic.  “Of course not silly. Everyone knows people going through the main road jump and people crossing stay still.”

Erica debated asking what if it was the intersection of two main roads, but decided to let it go. Aunt Mildred was driving the girls downtown, and that usually made for a miserable day. Instead she stared at the buildings flashing past her window as she felt the seat reverberate from her sister’s jumping.

Eventually Aunt Mildred parked the car in a huge parking lot, muttering bitterly about how the cost for parking was outright thievery. She hustled them out of the car and towards a looming gray brick building.

Erica played mediator between her impatient Aunt and her sister. Bridget was avoiding stepping on any cracks, but having to strategically place her feet, because if cracks were too close together, she was only allowed a certain number of steps between them.

Mercifully for Erica, once they entered the building, the flooring was 2′ x 2′ tile, so Bridget’s steps became much less sporadic and more in line with where they were trying to go.

After passing through a metal detector, going up the elevator and walking down an endless corridor, Aunt Mildred herded them into a familiar room.

“Hurry up, hurry up now,” she instructed. “Grown ups don’t have all day to be waiting on the likes of you two. In you go!”

Erica and Bridget scurried past their Aunt, knowing she carried a switch in her purse to encourage them.

“Jesus, Mildred, they’re just kids. Cut ’em some slack will ya?” Erica smiled as her favorite uncle got out of a folding chair and stooped down, arms wide open. “Erica, Bridget, come give your Uncle Charlie a hug!”

Then girls ran to him, even as Aunt Mikdred tsked in disapproval.  “How will they learn discipline and punctuality if I don’t drill it into them, Charles? No one else seems to care to teach them.”

Uncle Charlie replied low enough that Aunt Mildred couldn’t hear, “I’m more concerned they don’t end up with a big old stick up the arse like one of my sisters.” Erica giggled inspite of herself.

The outer door opened and two women entered, the complete opposite of each other. The older woman had mousy brown hair and wore a frumpish grey business suit with clunky black pumps. The younger woman, by contrast, had sleek blonde hair pulled back and wore a tailored navy business suit.

“Oh good, everyone’s here,” the younger woman said. “Erica, Bridget, darlings! Come give Aunt Karen a kiss.” The girls dutifully walked to Uncle Charlie’s and Aunt Mildred’s youngest sister and gave her a kiss.

“Girls, you remember Mrs. Plumby, don’t you?”

The older woman walked towards the girls with a warm smile. “Girls, remember that little play area over there? Why don’t you go play while your uncle, aunts and I talk for a bit?”

The girls turned to what they had known was going to be their fate for a while, and Erica started rummaging through a pile of Highlight magazines. Bridget plopped herself in the corner and stared at the mosaic tile on the wall.

“Whatcha doing Bridget?” Erica asked, only half interested.

“120 tiles up and 202 tiles over, there is a discolored tile. I’m checking to be sure it’s still there.”

Erica nodded, shrugged and continued rifling through the magazines. Inevitably, as voices rose, she began to hear the conversation through the paper thin walls.

How many times do I have to tell you, Charles, I don’t like children and with my disability, they are far too demanding! Damn Alice for dying with no one to provide for her children!

Was it so unreasonable to think her sisters and brother would take care of them?  Damn it Mildred, I’m a truck driver. I’d love to take them, but that’s no suitable life for two little girls!

Mildred, Charlie and I give you plenty of money to help! Maybe after I make partner I can take them, but I’m working 80 hours a week! You are the only one that can do it right now!

I understand this is difficult for everyone, but if you three can’t come up with a viable solution, I’ll be forced to enter these girls in the foster system.

Erica couldn’t listen to any more. She went over to the corner and knelt on her knees by her sister.

“Bridget, can I help you count tiles?” She asked softly.

Bridget turned and studied her sister for a moment. The she slowly untucked her hand and slid it into Erica’s. “Sure.”

 

Source: Tues Truthiness: Very Superstitious

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