The Guava Tree
It was hot. I could feel the heat of the Florida sun burning my bare arms and legs as I left the little board shanty, my mother’s words still ringing in my ears. Try to stay out of trouble, Lizzie, and act like a lady, please. We both knew one of these admonishments would be a stretch, both…impossible.
Reaching up, I lifted the heavy wad of sweat soaked, red hair away from my nape and for the millionth time wished that Ma would let Dad cut it. It wasn’t fair that my brothers could plop down in a chair and have their hair ruthlessly shaved to the scalp while I, as a girl must suffer the discomfort of having a thick mane hanging down my back like a winter cloak.
I hurried my steps not wanting to be late for what was going to be a very exciting day, a triumph for all girls, a huge step in my young brain for female equality. Today I would be tested to see if I was worthy to become a Rebel—the only girl ever to be considered.
The old shed came into sight and the group of boys gathered round it was quiet as they stood scuffing their bare toes at the hot sandy ground. I approached cautiously, not knowing if they had changed their minds about allowing me to join.
“Hi, guys.” They all turned and stared at me as though I had suddenly grown two heads or something.
“Hey, Lizard, what’s up?”
Jimmy Hatfield was short, skinny and the most annoying person ever. He liked to call me lizard, my first name being Elizabeth. I returned the favor by calling him beanpole even at risk of my life. He really hated being called beanpole. Jimmy was twelve and always looked as though someone had tied him to the back of a car and drove a mile down a wet road towing him behind. No one would venture a guess as to what color his hair was, it being caked with grime just like his clothes. He had a round face in opposition to his skinny frame and it was streaked and smudged with black.
“I’m ready for the initiation, Beanpole.”
Jimmy made a lunge for me and was grabbed around the middle by Willie Johnson. Willie was as big and strong as most men and Jimmy looked like a rag doll swinging off Willie’s arm, flailing his legs and arms around wildly while trying to break free.
“Hold up there, Jimmy. She’s just a girl and you shouldn’t call her lizard.”
As much as I appreciated Willie’s timely intervention in my early demise, I didn’t appreciate at all being referred to as just a girl. It made me feel insignificant.
“Let him go, Willie. I can take care of myself.”
Willie let go and Jimmy dropped into the dirt with a hard thud. Scrambling to his feet he made a show of dusting off his dirt caked clothing and straightening himself to a dignified stance, glaring murderously at me the entire time.
“That’s right,” he said. “You’re just a girl, a tiny little pip squeak that has no bees wax being here with us.”
“I may be a little, but I can do anything the rest of you can do and even better,” putting my hands on my hips, I bent forward and glared right back.
“Well, we’ll see about that.” Jimmy smirked his evil grin into my face.
“I’m ready to do what you want. Let’s just get on with it.”
Walking over and taking my arm, Willie led me a ways away from the other four boys and leaned close so only I could hear what he had to say.
“Look, Lizzie, I know I promised I’d get you into the club, but you don’t have to do it. You can go on home and forget this whole thing.”
“No way! You just bring on them tests and I’ll pass them.”
“You’re a girl. I don’t want to see you get hurt. I kind of like you, kiddo.”
“Willie, I’m doing those tests.” I turned and went back to the group. “I’m ready whenever you guys are.”
Willie joined the group and stared at the circle of boys until one by one they all looked at the ground refusing to look at him or me.
“Let’s just get on with it.” Jimmy said.
Willie sighed heavily knowing he was defeated. Willie was fourteen, the oldest of all the boys and we had been friends for two years. His pale blonde hair reminded me of corn silk and his blue eyes always held a twinkle of good humor.
Jimmy came to stand in front of me. “Your first test is to climb up and get us some of those guavas hanging in that tree.”
Walking over to the old tree and kicking off my flip-flops, I hiked my shorts a little higher and began to climb. When I was standing on the bottom most limb, there was a green guava hanging right in front of my face.
“Grab that one, Lizzie, and come on back down here.” Willie was obviously afraid that I was about to fall and break my neck.
“No, I want to get a ripe one.” Reaching up with my arms, I grabbed onto a higher limb and swung off the one I was standing on, hanging by my hands. Swinging my legs out and over the old shed, I let go and dropped onto the rusted tin roof. It clanged and rippled. I thought for a moment I was going to go crashing right through.
“What the heck are you doing? Hurry up and get down here!” Willed yelled up at me.
Inching slowly over the old roof, I made my way to the middle where I could see a lovely ripe guava hanging just out of my arm’s reach. I decided I could jump up and grab the fruit. I jumped, grabbing the guava with one had and hanging on to it as I came back down on the tin. It rattled and clanged loudly as one end came up off the board it had once been nailed to. Fortunately for me, it held and I didn’t go crashing through to the ground inside the shed. Holding my prize guava, I made my way back down the tree.
I looked around at the stunned faces. Willie’s had gone as white as a sheet and the others were bug eyed with their mouths hanging open.
“Don’t you ever do anything that stupid again!” Willie ordered.
I was going to tell him not to give me orders when I saw Jimmy coming over. I knew he’d want the guava to eat. After wiping it off on my shorts, I raised it to my mouth and took a huge bite out of it.
“Hey, what are you doing?” Jimmy came running up.
I couldn’t believe how really good that guava tasted. I don’t know if it was the excitement of almost dying to get it or if it was the look on Jimmy’s face as he licked his lips and watched me as I enjoyed it.
Just as I was about to take another bite, I remembered something Ma had told me about selfish people. I looked at Jimmy and realized he was hungry, not hungry like the rest of us when we were waiting between breakfast and dinner or between dinner and supper. No, he was hungry, a hunger that comes from never having enough to eat. Suddenly I felt shame. Shame because I wanted that guava. I wanted it even knowing I had enough to eat, while others like Jimmy were going hungry. I handed the rest of the guava to Jimmy and turned my eyes away as he devoured it, wishing I had taken the time to get the other ripe one for him.
“What’s next?” I asked.
“You have to walk across the short end of the swamp where old Sally has her nest.” Willy answered, looking none too happy.
Old Sally was a gator that had built her nest in the same place for as long as I could remember. She was mean, ornery and hated people. Crossing the short end would only take about ten big steps, but being closest to her nest, you could bet she’d come after you. I wasn’t afraid of old Sally, but I didn’t have a death wish either.
“You don’t have to do it. You can quit now.” Willy’s eyes had lost their twinkle.
“Will I be in the club if I don’t?”
“No, but you can still hang out with us.” Jimmy walked up wiping the guava juice from his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Let’s go, I’ll do it.” I turned and headed for the swampy area at the end of the dirt road, Ma’s voice ringing loud in my mind. Stay out of trouble, Lizzie.
Chapter One: Excerpted from “Lizzie And The Boy’s Club”
Available in e-book, paperback, and hardback.
E. G. Parsons