Felicia runs off the church bus straight into your yard and screams, “I can’t play with you no more, Sarah. You’re not saved.”
For a second, you’re glad. Most days, Felicia sprints into your yard, grime ringing her lips, and leaps on your swing set like it’s her own, pumping hard until the front poles kick up. One kick is enough for you, but she keeps going, as if she wants the swing set to keel over, wants the smack on the back of the head. Felicia’s older than you, so you don’t yell, “Stop!” You don’t cry.
Felicia’s mom is big and mean and her stepdad is small and mean and you never run to her yard. But, now, when Felicia vanishes into her old stinky house, you feel a loss. She’s a part of your world, like the buckeye tree at the edge of your yard and the cardinals and robins that land there, and the dandelions everywhere, and the fat worms shining on the sidewalk after it rains.
You don’t go to church. And if your town had a temple, you wouldn’t go. “It’s just a bunch of gobbledygook,” your dad likes to say.
“Saved” means the jar of coins you keep in your bedroom until it’s full enough to matter. Your parents help you count: “Good job!” your mom cheers when you count a big stack. “You see?” your dad says. “Doesn’t come easy.” You nod, glad to understand the lack of ease. To save means to grow up.
But that’s not what Felicia means, your dad, that night before bed, explains. Felicia means Jews go to hell. “There’s no such thing as hell,” he says. “Except the hell people make, right here in this world.”
The next day, Felicia’s in your yard again, her pumps jerking the swing set off the ground. You clutch the chains, silent as always, hating her, her grubby mouth and stinking house and stupid church, hating your fear of her, your fear of the coming fall, the slam of soft grass turned hard at your back.
Jennifer Wortman is the author of This. This. This. Is. Love. Love. Love., a story collection forthcoming from Split Lip Press in 2019. Her fiction, essays, and poetry appear in Glimmer Train, Normal School, DIAGRAM, The Collagist, SmokeLong Quarterly, Hobart, The Collapsar, and elsewhere. She is the associate fiction editor at Colorado Review and an instructor at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. Find more at jenniferwortman.com.