The End of the Line

It’s to keep you safe, Miss Shayna says.

The End of the Line
Photo by Timothy Newman / Unsplash

by Angel A. Pritts

You always put me at the end of the line.

It’s to keep you safe, Miss Shayna says.

But that's a lie. Miss Shayna wants everyone to be safe. One time when recess was over and she called us to go inside, Honesty was playing with a ladybug and didn’t hear Miss Shayna. It wasn’t until lunchtime when Honesty’s seat was empty that Miss Shayna ran outside to look for her. It was the only time I ever saw Miss Shayna run. 

Honesty was okay. She could have stayed outside, and I would have eaten her nuggets. But Miss Shayna said it wasn’t safe for her to be outside by herself.

Miss Shayna wants everyone to be safe, but she doesn’t put everyone at the end of the line. Only me. Because she doesn’t trust me. I am only four years old, and I don’t know how to put these thoughts into words, but I know I'm right.

On my first day at Lots-of-Tots Daycare, Miss Shayna asks me to be the line leader on our neighborhood walk. She says it's an important job. I wanted to be the line leader, Kia says. Kia is the most beautiful girl in the world. Her braids have gold beads and she wears a gold necklace with scribbly gold writing. She says that's her name in cursive. I don’t have any jewelry and my hair just hangs. My mom calls it a Rat’s Nest. 

Kia can be the line leader, I say.

All we have to do is hold the rope, walk in a straight line, and keep our hands to ourselves. And wait for Miss Shayna, who walks at the end of the line, when she needs to stop because her knee hurts. She says, Knee Break!, and everyone stops walking and kicks the broken glass on the ground and watches the birds eat from the trash can near the Fried Chicken Store.

Nobody told me that Knee Break! means stop, but when everyone else stops, I do it too. Orrin says What’s that and points to a hole in the street, and Miss Shayna says That is a Sinkhole and the workers are going to fix it. Everyone looks at the Sinkhole, but I look at the houses we are standing next to. One of them has a box of cookies sitting on the porch. Nobody is even eating them.

Miss Shayna moves to the front of the line, near Kia. She says that the construction men will fill in the Sinkhole and build it back up. I let go of the rope and walk up the first step to the porch. Honesty says, What are you doing?

Shh, I say. Snitches get stitches.

That’s what my brother says when I want to tell on him, so I know it means No Telling. The steps are cement. They don’t even make noise when I walk on them.

I put my hand on the box. It is a white box shaped like a rectangle. I look behind me. Honesty is watching me but she doesn’t say anything. I'll get a cookie for her, too. There are chocolate chip cookies and oatmeal and the kind with rainbow sprinkles. They are all the same size. None of them are broken. I pick up a chocolate chip cookie and hold it close to my nose. It smells just like I knew it would. I pick up a bumpy, lumpy oatmeal cookie for Honesty. Maybe she doesn’t even like oatmeal. If she doesn’t, I will have two cookies.

I turn around and I am going to put the chocolate chip cookie in my mouth when the door goes creak and I hear it swing open. I am still on the porch. Honesty’s eyes get big and wide.

Well, hi there, sweetheart!

I was going to run, but the voice isn't scary. I turn back around and see a man with white hair and a red face and a Snoopy t-shirt over brown shorts. He smiles with big white teeth.

He puts one hand behind his back and slowly walks to the box. His knees are bumpy like the oatmeal cookie. He picks a piece of paper out of the box. I didn’t even look at that paper. I didn’t even see it.

Hi Dad, these are for you. Hope your hip is doing better, he says when he looks at the paper. Then he smiles at me again and says, Looks like my daughter brought me a treat. Would you like one?

I already have two in my hands so he knows the answer is yes. I hear Miss Shayna yell, Harper! What are you doing? and I know I'm caught. She comes up the stairs and grabs my hand hard. I’m sorry, she tells the old grandpa.

It’s no trouble, he says. Would the children like some cookies?

Everyone holding the rope says Yeah but Miss Shayna says No thank you, some of them have allergies. Then she gives me a mad look and says that I will be her Special Buddy for the rest of the walk. And put the cookies back. So I do. The man smiles and waves goodbye to me before he takes that whole box of cookies inside his house. He wanted to share and Miss Shayna wouldn’t even let him. That is so unfair.

You were so close, Honesty whispers before Miss Shayna pulls me to the back of the line with her.

I’ll get some next time, I whisper back. I’ll be faster.

Now I am at the back of the line every day, and every day I look at his porch and I don’t see any cookies. But if I ever do, I'm going to break free and run up to the porch and put a whole cookie in my mouth at once. Miss Shayna will probably make me her Special Buddy for the rest of my life.

I am going to do it anyway.

I am a fiction writer who recently completed my first novel. I will be a featured contributor in a print anthology for Press 53 Magazine later this year. My life's goals include going on Survivor, publishing my novel, meeting Scar Lip, and traveling to Haiti.