Beatrice rode her Schwinn Cruiser along 2nd street content with her pedalic rhythm: one two three four cycles on the pedal, one two three four seconds of coasting, the chain clicking like fishing line drawn through a caster. It was the same route everyday, the same pattern of exertion and release, bringing dinner to old Juniper Helms in the midday scourge. This outing was typically executed after school except that it was early August—the dog days—her father called them. She’d been told by George Junior that the Eskimos had a million words for snow right before he’d tried to plant one on her, so it made sense that her town would have a million words for heat.
Flicking the kickstand down with a casual ease, she parked the bicycle in the driveway of the forties style craftsman. The house was a cracked frosting white with blue trim painted to look like shutters around the windows. BB liked to call it the cupcake house in her mind. She imagined the pale wood that peeked through the faded paint as moist yellow cake underneath icing.
In March just after Easter her Baptist girls group had drawn names out of a converted coffee tin turned pencil holder. She’d drawn Miss Howser out on Dry Creek Lane, but her mother had told her that was much too far to bike and she didn’t want the added responsibility of carting her out there 5 days a week, and for god’s sake can’t the church group just memorize a bible verse or two instead of adding another extra curricular activity to her already unruly social calendar? BB thought briefly about giving the whole thing up but Janette’s mom phoned Miss Calloway, the old preacher’s daughter who ran the outreach, with a similar complaint. So in the end she was given Mr. Juniper Helms four blocks away on 2nd street and Janette got Miss Howser and their moms were able to continue their afternoons at the hair salon.
Despite its pastry like appearance in daylight, Old Juniper’s house was a fixture of pre-teen conspiracy. Although he regularly sat on his porch reading the paper spitting chaw saliva into a plastic cup with a Fresno State Bulldog emblem, the mythology developed that he couldn’t leave his house. The children speculated that Old Juniper suffered house arrest for some unspeakable crime, the murder of his wife or cannibalism, resulting in quite a few dares in BB’s time concluding with “or you have to do such and such at creepy old Juniper’s place.” BB didn’t put too much stock into the whole mumbo jumbo; she saw old Juniper occasionally through the open curtains of his living room doing what she imagined most old people did who lived alone: watching television, reading the paper or periodical, sometimes a cat in the lap, sometimes a beer in the hand. She was a practical girl, well mannered when it mattered, indifferently scholastic, with black hair pulled into a pony-tail high atop her head that exploded into a bouquet of curls. Her smile was loaded with braces and her blue eyes held a respect for harmless mischief. In truth it was her discretion in playmates that lead her to trouble rather than an innate desire for such unscrupulous activity. But such was the magic of the town in summer time, fathers farming or shop-keeping until the four o’clock happy hour at Salida Club, mothers escaping the infernal heat of the home in gossip parlors and Walmarts, and kids told to play outside without any further direction as to the play’s constructiveness.
Today was no different. As was her routine, BB rang the doorbell, heard its four part chime somewhere off in the hallways of the Juniper’s house, waved at no one in particular through the window, and left the industrial cardboard meal container on the mat that read “God Gave Me This.” Hopping back on her bike she returned down 2nd heading for Poplar St. and from Poplar to 4th, which lead past Dickie’s Slaughterhouse to the old lean-to by the railroad tracks just outside town where George, Willy and her spent the majority of their summer afternoons.