Betty’s blue sneakers are alongside of the road. My sneakers are red.
Me and Betty were the different ones at Decatur High. New in town, and we didn’t look like the other girls in their plaid skirts, white blouses and circle pins. First day, cafeteria, me in the corner, alone, Betty had her tray, looking around for a place to sit, eyes dark brown, near black, big, wide, then slits scoping, saw me, came over. Ten-foot-long table. Could of sat anywhere, but she sits right next to me, close, knees touching, even. About to say something, but her smell, like jasmine, and her Joseph’s coat, blue tights under, no shoes. It was good to sit close. A frizzy kind of feeling.
First thing she asked, “Where’d you get your hair?”
Not a stupid question. My hair, down to my waist, was crimson with an under shade of green. I was wearing black that day, lipstick, and heavy eyeshadow. “Did it myself.”
“Would you do mine? Something to match my coat. I’ll pay you.”
“I won’t let you. My treat.” I wanted to do something, something so somebody would be like me. She opened her eyes wide, like nobody had ever done anything free for her before.
We stopped at Woolworths after school and looked around, bought some shoes, cheapest ones that they had were sneakers, I think they were two dollars, and hair dyes, then walked to my house, about a mile out of town where the school bus doesn’t go. Fact is, nothing goes that way except me, Ma, and my little sister. Before I forget to say, turns out Betty and me wore the same size shoe, funny because she was lots taller.
We don’t have much of a place: kitchen and a couple of bedrooms, one for Ma and one for me and Sis. I tried to apologize to Betty for it, but she wouldn’t have it.
When I was doing her hair, Betty kept asking questions, not like she was nosy, but like she wanted to know about me. “What’s your Dad do?”
“Don’t know. Mainly, cuz Ma and me don’t know where he is. Judging from the last time we was with him, being apart is a good thing.”
Next day, the whole school knew Betty and me were tight when we walked in together holding hands, in switched shoes and with her pale pink hair with orange streaks. The colors picked up the crimson in her coat.
After school that day, I asked about her folks. Turns out her Ma had run off and she was in town with her Pa. He got a job at the ball bearing factory that opened in August there on the edge of town. According to Betty, “He didn’t pay me no mind, hardly two words a day, ‘til six months ago.”
“Bet that’s when you started having boobs and he couldn’t stop wanting to fool around with them.” My Ma told me men were like that.
Betty pretty much closed her eyes and didn’t say anything. We walked a bit more, she looked up, asked kind of shyly, but I could see the pleading, “You think I could stay with you? I’ll sleep on the floor.”
“No, you won’t sleep on no floor. My bed’s not big, but that’s where you’ll be, you hear.”
“Okay, but only ‘til I find someplace permanent.”
Betty moved in and we became more than friends, more than sisters even. Just a look at her eyes and I knew what she was thinking. And she, me. Lots of things we thought the same, boys and what they try to get away with. Especially the rich guys with new cars, knowing we were poor.
Thing about Betty. At school, she was quiet, serious, hardly talked, mumbled her answers in class. Back at the house, she filled it with singing. We could ask her any song and she’d sing it like the original. Knew all the words. Her favorite was Carousel, saw it a couple of months ago. She did “You Never Walk Alone,” better even than Claramae Turner. It was like she had all this in her, but only in certain places, certain times would she let it get out, or could.
Even though she’d left his house, Betty’s old man kept hounding her. We’d be walking down the street in our blue/red, red/blue sneakers, he’d follow us in his car. Hollering at her. Didn’t pay him mind, but that didn’t stop him. And he’d drive by my house, call her, on our phone. Ma and I protected her, best we could, didn’t let him talk to her when he called.
One day, she got a letter, looked official, so we didn’t try to hide it. Don’t know exactly what it said, but after she opened it, she squeezed her eyes shut tight, stumbled into the bedroom, heard her crying, scared crying, not sad sobbing. Didn’t come out, even for dinner, stayed curled up on the bed. I slept with Sis that night. We asked her next morning, but she wouldn’t say what was in the letter.
Along about a week later, it stormed all day, thunder, hail, sheets of rain, but stopped as we got out of school. Betty’s father was there in the parking lot, slouched up against his truck, eyes squinty, sneer on his lips, holding an envelope in his hand. Betty, instead of ignoring him like usual, she took off. Ran across that big road that runs in front of the school.
“Betty, Betty,” loud as I could.
Black pick up, twenty miles over the limit, she was hit, flew over the truck, torched, she came apart, clothes scattered, backpack exploded, schoolbooks, a teddy bear, a scrap book. How come her blue sneakers are alongside the road. Won’t be there long. How come you’re only going to see me in blue sneakers. How come Betty is not gone. She is in me.