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Sally Sue: The Fighter
Sally Sue hated her looks more than she despised her name. After all, Sally was Jewish, which meant dark hair, olive skin, and being called a terrorist at least once a day. Her circumstances of living in a gentile neighborhood made everything worse, including the garage door window that just happened to break every Halloween at midnight. But Sally Sue did not understand any of it.
Melissa, her perfect older sister continuously cried, “You’re just playing dumb. You’re thirteen now so you have to know what’s going on.”
Dad put his hands on their shoulders and then recited a random psalm in Hebrew.
After, Sally asked, “All people can’t hate us just because we’re Jewish, right?”
Dad went on to tell her the story of the Holocaust and how great-aunt Sally and great-grandma Sue survived it. But Sally didn’t listen hard enough because she felt too lonely. She had no friends and anyone she ever talked to was relatives. “That’s why you’re named after them. They’re two extraordinary women who learned to forgive after all they went through. Do you understand now sweetheart?” Sally looked up. Guilt crept across her for not listening. “Yes. I understand.”
They kissed goodnight and Sally Sue was off to her nine p.m. bed time. Instead, she looked out her window to watch the two siblings next door. They always sat on a fence; continuously blowing out smoke and puffing it back in for no apparent reason. The two made her curious. What was it like to do bad things out in the open? She wanted to try and tonight, she was feeling bold.
She listened for anyone near her door and then she locked it. She crept out of her window, jumped onto the tree and after a minute of recovering from her fall, she walked to the fence. They looked at her and she looked back.
“Hi. I’m Sally.”
The boy snickered. “Sally Sue the Jew. What about Sally Sue the schmuck?”
She put her head down. How could they know her school nickname?
“Shut up Gabe.” The girl said.
“Just look at her, she’s scared to even talk to us. Here, come sit with us.”
Sally smiled, hoisting herself up on the fence. Maybe this would turn out better than she thought.
“Except there’s one thing you have to do to join us.” The boy said.
He handed her a cigarette. Melissa had warned her about these. How they’ll turn her lungs black and make her lungs fall apart into little slivers.
She weighed the options. He lit it up for her and she blew it in. It burned up her insides fast. She tried to breathe but couldn’t stop talking. Surely, she was going to die any second now. She could almost feel a fire tearing apart her black lungs out. They couldn’t stop laughing at her.
“Not so deep.” The girl said. “Just take in a little at first and hold it like this.” She moved her fingers around and Sally braved it again. A few minutes later and surprisingly, she got the hang of it. She didn’t like it but that didn’t matter.
“I’m Anne and he’s Gabe.” What mattered was that she had friends now.
It soon became a regular routine. When they were out, she followed. She was becoming a natural smoker and starting to like it, especially the long talks they would have. Though she didn’t care for Gabe as much as she did for Anne - they would talk about girly things and then she’d listen to Sally explain how confused she felt about the prejudice she received from being Jewish.
Gabe kept giving her strange looks. He made her so uneasy, she flinched at times. “I want to show you inside.” He said one day.
“There’s a place I wanted you to see.”
Sally hesitated, but Anne nodded her on. He took her elbow and practically pushed her towards the door. She stopped as she felt this strange fear in the back of her brain. She did realize that this boy called her a schmuck.
“Come on, it’ll be our special place away from Anne and everyone else that’s mean to you. I’m your friend aren’t I?” Sally nodded yes, despite what she reasoned out in her head. Gabe opened the door, let Sally in first and he shut it. It was too dark; she couldn’t see anything. He locked it.
Melissa was confused and had been for several days now. Sally hadn’t been bugging her and tonight she was too quiet; something Melissa had never seen before when she was spending time with dad. He was teaching her boxing and all she did was mope. She missed the blocks, lost aim on the punches and her stomach kicks barley hit the knee. She went into Sally’s room to see if she could find something that was bothering her.
“Come on now.” Dad said. “You got to put some muscle into it. We can’t have you in the eighth grade without knowing how to defend yourself, otherwise boys could hurt you.”
“What do you mean by hurt?”
His punch stopped in mid-air and his mouth dropped open a bit. Did he really want to explain? “Uh…Just in case you feel like punching someone and it just so happens to be a boy.”
“But I would never do that because I’d get suspended. But are there other ways to hurt girls?”
There was a long silence.
“Sally.” Melissa yelled from upstairs.
Dad sighed, relieved. “Go on up there.”
“Are we finished?”
“Yes.” He said quickly.
Sally Sue ran up to her room to see Melissa holding her sweatshirt – the smoking sweatshirt.
“Are you smoking?” She demanded.
“Of course not.”
“Then why does it smell like cigarettes? Like a lot of them?”
Sweat prickled her neck. She had to think of a diversion fast.
“Since when did it become your business?” She yelled uncomfortably. “Now get out of my room.”
Melissa was shocked. She had never seen Sally this angry. This was the first time she ever yelled.
“I want you to leave.”
“What happened? Was it something at school? Did someone say something?”
“No, just leave me alone.” After several minutes, Sally finally managed to push her out the door. She quickly locked it. She cringed when she heard that awful sound.
Melissa was more confused than ever. Sally never shut her out. Something had happened to her little sister and she was going to find out what. She waited outside the door and began to hear sniffles.
“Sally, I don’t care if you want me to leave. We need to talk.” She leaned her ear against the door. There were no more sniffles and yet the door was still locked. She took a pin out of her hair and unlocked it, only to find the window open with a stench of cigarettes.
She was furious. If Sally was smoking in here, she would get grounded for life. She heard voices coming from outside. She looked out the window to see Sally by those two siblings, smoking, except that boy was holding her arm. He looked as if he were pulling her towards the house. What was he going to do? Panic seized Melissa as she ran over there as fast as she could.
She approached the fence. The girl was smoking.
“Where the hell is my sister?”
She smirked. “She’s inside with her boyfriend.”
“How am I supposed to know? Want one?”
Melissa rolled her eyes and walked to the door.
“Hey, you can’t go in there.”
“Watch me.” Melissa said furiously.
She yanked the sliding door open.
“Sally, where are you?”
There was dead silence. “Sally?”
She screamed louder.
She heard a bang. She walked towards a narrow hallway that led to a door. Her insides tingled as she ran towards it. She knew something bad was happening in there. What exactly would she find?
The door creaked open. It was a boy’s room. “Sally?” She whispered.
There was a rustling. It came from the closet. She yanked the doors open and gasped, tears watering her eyes.
Sally knew this was it. All he did was stare in shock as Melissa stood there frozen.
Next thing they knew, he was on the floor, his nose bleeding. Sally took Melissa’s hand and they ran.
. . .
“I don’t want to go back in.” Sally said, leaning her head against Melissa’s shoulder.
“Then we don’t have to. Sally, how long has this been going on? Did you know what he was doing to you?”
“Was he hurting me?”
Melissa felt her heart tug. She looked at her little sister’s runny nose and the water spilling out of her eyes. She never saw her in this much pain before.
“He molested you, Sally. It’s a horrible crime. We have to tell dad soon.”
“But we can’t. They were my friends.” Sally cried.
“No they weren’t. They hurt you and made you hurt yourself by smoking. They’re the ones that break our garage window every Halloween. They hate us.”
“But I don’t understand why.”
Melissa sighed. “We’re Jewish, Sally. They think that gives them the right to hurt us because they’re scared that our race is different than theirs.” She paused. “I’m sorry I stood there like that. You know what Sally? I’m proud that you fought him like that. You’re a fighter and I didn’t do anything. You must get that from Sally and Sue.”
A heavy silence filled the air between them as Sally said, “I still don’t get it.”
“To tell the truth, neither do I.”
They heard something crash. The sound of glass shattering pierced the silence. “What was that?” Sally cried.
She felt tears coming into her eyes. She knew exactly.
. . .
The firefighters quickly came. Nothing was severely damaged, except for dad’s dignity. He knew he shouldn’t have moved here in the first place. ‘But at least my girls are safe’ he thought as he hugged them to him.
They watched the firefighters finish up. The two siblings watched in the distance, puffing their own special grave. Sally watched Melissa stare icily at them.
“That’s what racism is like, Sally.” She said suddenly. “It’s everywhere like cigarettes and that second-hand smoke is just more racists catching the disease against us.”
Sally quivered. Did she feel herself finally understand?
Dad felt his heart break a little as he hugged them again and kissed the top of their heads.
“Well whatever happens next, we’ll keep on fighting.” He said.
The three watched the smoke begin to fade into the air.