Copyright © 2017 by John Wiber
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Julie was lost. She told herself not to worry, not to panic. It wasn’t that big of a deal, honestly, Peterborough wasn’t that big of a city. She wasn’t quite sure which street she was on, but Julie figured she’d recognize something soon. She passed by an elderly couple, making sure there was ample room between them. Old people scared her. The only old person she knew was her grandmother, who frightened Julie because her breath always smelled like coffee and cigarettes, and her hands felt like sandpaper. Her mom and her grandmother were always fighting.
She had been at the lawyer’s office with her mother all afternoon. It was very boring. Julie wasn’t sure what a lawyer was, but she knew it involved lots of paper and talking. She sat in the waiting room with a handful of other people. The room had no windows and the walls were painted light blue. The chairs were green and cushioned, but they weren’t very comfortable, and the fluorescent lights reflected sharply off of the slick hardwood floor.
There was a woman with a baby in her arms sitting across from them. The baby had hardly stopped crying the entire time and the woman’s face looked very sad. It made Julie sad just to look at her. There were other people in the room too. There was a man and a woman sitting side by side at the end of the room, but in a very rigid sort of way so that at no point did their bodies come in contact. Julie thought the man looked particularly funny, like a robot, he was so stiff and straight. The man was squeezing the armrests of his chair so tightly that his knuckles were turning white, and it looked like he had been crying.
For a while Julie sat on her mother’s lap and drew in the colouring book that she brought along everywhere she went. She always brought her colouring book whenever she went out with either of her parents. By now all the pictures had been coloured over repeatedly, but Julie liked her book. She’d had it since her mom and dad used to live together, when they all lived together in the same house and they went places together instead of having to do things one at a time. Julie hated it. She was always having to wait around while her parents argued. She would hear them yelling at each other and sometimes her mom would start crying. And then Julie’s mom would say things to her about Julie’s dad which always made Julie feel weird; made her face hot. But she still had her colouring book, and she didn’t mind that all the pictures were already coloured in because it was easy to just keep drawing over them, just swooshing the colours and mixing them all up together so there wasn’t any real shape or solid colour at all; just a grey sort of mess.
Julie noticed another boy playing with a toy car over in the corner. She went over to him and asked if she could play too. The boy didn’t say anything and hardly even looked up at her at all. Instead he just shrugged and kept on zooming his little red car around in a big circle on the smooth hardwood floor. Round and round the car went, faster and faster until Julie started to get dizzy.
“Wanna race?” Julie asked the boy.
Again, he didn’t bother looking up from his car.
“It’s rude to ignore people you know,” she told him.
Just then the door to the lawyer’s office swung open and a woman came storming out into the waiting room. She pointed at the boy racing his car around in a big circle and told him they were leaving. Julie heard her mom’s name get called out and watched her walk into the office. The man standing in the doorway was wearing a black suit and his hair was slicked back. His smile revealed a set of pearly white teeth and he led her mother through the door, placing a hand on her back.
Julie sat around in the corner where the boy had been playing with his car before. The baby was getting louder and more upset while his mother juggled a soother and a bottle. The baby rejected both. There was a look of absolute contempt and misery plastered on the woman’s face and it made Julie wonder what she could do to help this lady. She tried to colour some more in her book but she couldn’t concentrate with the baby wailing beside her, so she decided to go for a walk.
So Julie had left the lawyer’s office and started walking along the sidewalk. The sun was shining and it was an overall pretty nice day. There was a slight wind which cooled Julie as she walked. She let her hair get caught in the gusts; she liked the feeling of her pigtails waving off her head. Her father had always said that she got her red hair from him, Jewels he would call her. She had to admit that her hair was pretty red. Julie hadn’t seen her dad in nearly a year. He wasn’t allowed to see her until he paid her mom some money. Julie missed him though, and she was sure that he missed her. ‘My perfect little Jewel’ her father would say, and peck her on the tip of the nose.
Sometimes her mother told her that her father didn’t miss her. She said if her father really cared about her he would have stuck around more often and he would certainly have paid her the money already. Julie’s mother said it was her father’s own fault that he couldn’t see her.
She had meant to just walk around the block, but somehow she’d gone a street too far. She walked with her colouring book hugged against her chest, watching the cars drive by. A convertible drove by filled with teenagers and Julie felt nervous when they slowed down in front of her. One of the girls leaned over the side of the car and all of them were laughing really loudly and then the girl wiggled her breasts at Julie and grabbed at them with her hands. Julie sped her pace up a bit and was relieved when she heard the convertible accelerate by her. The teenagers were all laughing.
She passed by tall buildings with people in business suits coming out of them, and many restaurant patios. There were lots of young people sitting with each other, and all of them looked genuinely happy, like it usually is at the start, and Julie wondered if things could stay that way. She watched a boy lean over and kiss one of the girls on the lips. She blushed and giggled and Julie wondered if the two of them would get married. She didn’t understand marriage really.
Julie kept on walking. She came to an intersection and knew to wait for the green light because she’d seen it on an episode of Sesame Street. She noticed an ice cream store and realized that she’d been in there before with her father. He used to bring her there after her soccer games and she would always get a Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream cone – her favorite flavour. She couldn’t remember what her dad used to order, it’d been a long time since he’d taken her here. But at least she recognized something.
She kept on walking and swung her arms in an exaggerated manner, and before long she was skipping down the sidewalk, doing her best not to step on the cracks, humming softly to herself. Julie felt good to be out of that man’s office, outside in the fresh air where she could pretend.
She stopped skipping when she saw a large group of people walking towards her. Julie froze. She moved over to the edge of the sidewalk and stood paralyzed as they passed by. She felt a deep twinge of anxiety surge through every bone in her body as they approached, her skin felt clammy and she itched all over.
It was a whole family: a father, a mother, and three kids. The boy was clearly a lot older than his two sisters and he walked in front of them. The two sisters trailed behind him hand in hand. The mother and father were last and their arms were wrapped around each others’ waists. They stopped and looked down at Julie.
“Oh dear, are you lost, little girl?” The woman asked, bending over at the hip so her face was close to Julie’s.
Julie shook her head.
“Are you sure, sweetie? We can help you find your mommy or daddy. I’ve got a cell phone if you know their numbers.”
Julie noticed that all the other children had stopped and were staring back at her.
“No I’m not lost, I’m actually waiting for my mom and dad – they’re in the ice cream store buying ice cream cones. Sometimes they only get one and just share it with each other, but I always get my own cone – Mint Chocolate Chip. I’m just waiting for them to bring it out to me while I colour in my colouring book.”
She held her book up to the lady to show her.
“Oh,” she said, “that’s… very pretty. You’re sure you’re alright then?”
“Yup,” Julie nodded her head. “I can see my mommy in the window now.”
She waited for the family to walk a good distance away from her before she started moving again. The sun wasn’t as bright in the sky now and she could see her shadow stretching out along the sidewalk much further than it had been before. She couldn’t help but giggle at how tall she looked. She started stomping her feet up and down in an exaggerated fashion, pretending she was a giant.
She kept on walking and the sky kept getting darker. She wondered if her mother had even left the man’s office yet. She wished that her mother’s car would pull up beside her just then, and her dad would be sitting in the front seat. They would both jump out and come running over to her. Her dad would scoop Julie up in his arms while her mother kissed her cheeks and hugged the both of them.
Up ahead Julie noticed a man wearing a blue uniform. He had a big belt with lots of black objects hanging off it. She realized that this man was probably a police officer. She’d seen police cars before, but she had never seen an actual police officer. The police had come to her house once when her mother and father still lived together, but Julie was hiding under her covers in her room so she never got to see the man. She’d seen lots of police on TV shows before though, except this man didn’t really look like the ones did on TV. He had a big belly and his chin was covered with whiskers. It reminded Julie of how her father would tickle her by rubbing his prickly cheek against hers.
My little Jewel.
She walked up to the police officer and tugged on his pant leg. He jumped a bit and was clearly surprised by Julie.
“Hello, little girl. What can I do for you?” he asked, bending over in the same way the other lady had before.
“Are you the police?”
“Yes, I’m the police. Do you need help, my little darling? I can take you over to my car and give you a ride home. Are you lost? Do you know which way is home?”
“My mother told me never to get into a car with a stranger.”
“Well she was very right to tell you that, but I’m the police, sweetie; I’m not a stranger. I’m one of the good guys. I protect you from the bad guys, remember?”
Julie wasn’t sure. This man’s breath didn’t smell too good, there was sweat dripping off his forehead and his hair looked greasy. There were pimples scattered all over his face, big and red. Julie could tell he hadn’t brushed his teeth in a long time; they were very yellow.
“What’s the matter, sweetheart? You can trust me. I’m a good guy, remember?”
“Do you know which way is home?”
Julie shook her head.
“Well what about your address, do you know what your address is my little angel?”
“742 Wakefield Street” she told the man.
“I can drive you there,” his voice jumped a bit and he seemed to get rather excited for a moment. He stood up taller and pointed over to a white car parked a bit further up the road. “See, there’s my car right over there, darling. Why don’t we walk over to it and I can drive you home to Wakefield Street – 742, Right?”
“Right,” Julie said.
“What’s that you got in your hand there?”
“My colouring book,” she said.
“That’s splendid. I’ve got some crayons in my car that you could use. You could colour in your book on the way home.”
“I’ve already coloured everything in it,” Julie told him.
“As a matter of fact, I think I have an extra colouring book in my car. Let me give you a ride home. It’s getting dark and your parents will be getting worried.”
The man reached down and wiggled his fingers towards Julie’s hand. She brought her hand up and let him take it. She thought it was nice. She imagined she was walking hand in hand with her father and that he could protect her from anything.
When they got to the car, Julie noticed that it didn’t have any words or anything painted on the sides; it was just a plain white car. Julie thought that police cars were supposed to be painted. The police officer opened the passenger side door and gestured for Julie to get in.
“Where are your flashy lights?” Julie asked.
The man’s face looked puzzled until Julie pointed up towards the roof of the car.
“Oh,” he said, “right, they’re getting repaired right now little girl. But don’t worry. We won’t need any flashy lights to get you home to Wakefield Street.”
Julie hesitated. She noticed a lot of garbage on the floor in the car, empty McDonald’s bags and Tim Horton’s cups.
“Don’t worry sweetie, not all police cars have flashy lights on top – some of them are undercover – secret cars so people don’t know it’s a police car. Now come on, it’s about time to get you home. Your mommy and daddy must be worried sick about you, it’s getting dark out. Look, the street lamps are starting to come on. You don’t have to be nervous, baby. I’m a police officer. I can look after you.”
Julie didn’t respond and stood there a second longer. She thought about the lawyer’s office and the crying baby. She thought about the happy family that had passed her and of the ice cream shop she used to go to with her father. The police were here to protect her.
“Do you like soccer?” she asked the man in blue.
“Soccer? I love soccer my darling. Are you a soccer player? I bet you are. You look like a soccer player.”
Julie nodded. “My daddy used to take me out for ice cream after my games.”
“That’s excellent,” the man replied. “Ice cream is yummy in my tummy. Why don’t we go grab a cone together and then I’ll drive you home to Wakefield Street?”
“Okay,” Julie said as she hopped up into the passenger seat of the plain white car. “My favorite flavour is Mint Chocolate Chip.”