Home > Where We Belong(6)

Where We Belong(6)
Catherine Ryan Hyde

“She stopped,” he said.

He had the voice I would have expected from him. Sharp-edged. A little hard. Almost critical.

“Yes, sir. She did.”

“Will she stay stopped?”

“Only till you go back in.”

I got up and walked over to the fence, even though I didn’t really want to go closer to him. But I didn’t want Aunt Vi to hear that we were having trouble with one of her neighbors. Already.

I took two more earplugs out of my pocket and held them out toward the fence. “These help a lot,” I said.

He stared at them a long time. Like they were some kind of math equation. Maybe one that was just beyond his skills in math.

“They’re earplugs,” I said, to try to break us through to a new moment.

“I know what they are.”

“You want to know why she’s doing that.”

“You’re getting warmer.”

“She likes your dog.” That just sat in the air for a moment, like nobody knew quite what to do with it. I guess if you didn’t know Sophie, that didn’t answer every question that was hanging around by then. “She’s been sitting with your dog all day, and she got upset because he went in.”

“She,” he said.

“Oh. It’s a girl dog.”

“Yes. She’s female.”

“My sister got upset because she—your dog—went back in the house with you.”

“And she makes that noise whenever she’s upset?”

“Pretty much. Yeah.”

Then he got that look on his face that people always get. Like Sophie ought to know better. Like she ought to do better. And it makes me mad, because they don’t know. They shouldn’t be judging her if they don’t know.

“I don’t suppose your dog could stay out awhile.”

He shot his gaze back up to me, and it burned. It was the same look, but this time for me. Like I should know better. Like I should do better.

“I work hard,” he said. “Every day. And I hate every minute of it. All I want to do at the end of the day is come home and see my dog and watch the evening news in peace and quiet and have something to eat. Is that asking too much?”

“No, sir. I don’t suppose it is.”

It was more than he was going to get, though.

“But she’ll start again the minute I do.”

“Yes, sir. I expect she will.”

“And you can’t stop her.”

“No, sir. Nobody and nothing can stop her.”

“So when does she stop on her own?”

“She can generally go about two hours before she loses her voice. Then all she can do is whisper and squeak for a couple of days. That gives us all a break.”

He looked into my eyes for a minute. Like he was desperate to find the place where I was only joking. Then he looked down at Sophie with this look of total contempt. Like she was the lowest life form on Earth. My face started to burn, and I knew this time I was going to say something. Whether I humiliated myself by crying or not.

Before I could open my mouth to do it, though, he turned to go back in. And Sophie started up shrieking again.

“She’s not a brat,” I said. Nice and loud, so he could hear me over the noise.

But he didn’t hear. He cupped one hand behind his ear to tell me he didn’t. Then he came back to the fence, and Sophie wound down. I could feel it in my gut. Or the lack of it, I guess I should say. Like something nasty had been vibrating around in there, and it felt so good when it stopped.

“What did you say to me?” he asked, which made it much harder to speak my mind.

I did, anyway.

“She’s not a brat.”

“Funny, because she acts like one.”

A few tears leaked out, but I couldn’t let myself care. Well. I couldn’t not care. But I could not stop.

I looked right into his face, tears or no.

“I’m sick and tired of people treating her like we don’t raise her right or something. My mom raised me, and I turned out fine. Sophie’s different. Her brain is different. It’s like a kind of autism. I mean, it’s like autism in most ways, and not like it in other ways. It’s what they call the Autism Spectrum. The doctors still don’t really understand her, but she can’t help it, and we can’t help it, and you don’t know us, so you shouldn’t judge what you don’t know a damn thing about.”

By now, the tears had broken free, and there was no hiding them. I actually felt one slide down my cheek. Which was total humiliation, but what was I supposed to do? I wiped it off hard and fast with the back of my hand.

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