The only girl my age in my neighborhood moved in just last Thursday. Her name is a strange one. Lena. The first time I saw it was on a sheet of paper my mum had scribbled on. L-E-N-A. Mum, I had said, whose Leeeenahhh? My voice mangled the name into something ugly and sharp. I remember her correcting me. Lena, honey. Like with an i. Liiiina. She's a girl your age who just moved in down the street. Why don't you go say hi?
I was so excited as I walked down that street, so full of bursting energy that I smiled the whole way, skipping and singing. I felt like a balloon about to pop. I reached her door, which was chipped and red as a brick, just like mine. I knocked three times for good measure and impatiently waited for someone to answer. Suddenly, I was jerked sideways peering out from the bushes with no idea how I had gotten there. Shhh! Said a girl with large brown eyes partly covered by choppy black bangs. She peered out of her black curtains at me curiously.
Who are you? I had asked, and why are we in the bushes? She shook her head impatiently like I was purposely being slow. My name's Lena, she whispered, and we're hiding. Now I was confused. From who? The only person I had seen out this morning was Wally, whistling to himself as he tossed his tennis ball up and caught it. She beckoned me closer with one tiny finger, like my mum sometimes does when she wants to tell me something real important, but doesn't want everyone to know. She beckoned me and I scootched closer. We're hiding from Circe, the evil witch who lives in that house there. She pointed through the bushes to the blue house across the street. Oh! I said with a small nervous chuckle, you mean Ms. Hempscott? She's not a witch. That's a horrible thing to say.
The girl shook her head vehemently. She's a witch, alright. I saw her just yesterday walking her black cat. That doesn't make her a witch I argued.
Is she old? Lena asked.
Is she cranky?
Does she have a wart?
Yes. Right on her left cheek. But mum says it's not polite to talk about it.
That's because she's a witch and she might put a spell on you if you do! Lena declared this with so much conviction I started to wonder if she could be right.
She looked at me seriously. I'm a princess. We're trained to recognize these things. Princess? I asked skeptically.
Princess. She sighed dreamily like the word was some expensive new necklace that was to be envied.
Lena! A voice scolded from behind us, making us both jerk like little Mexican jumping beans. The woman picked her up sideways and all I could hear was yelling. Lena's tears and her mum's stinging insults, like lemon juice on a raw cut. She picked her up like she was a bothersome problem that was not worth the effort to solve. She just picked her up and smacked her hard on the butt. Lena's mother didn't even notice me, but I ran away before she could, just in case. I ran home with Lena's screaming echoing in my ears and I knew exactly why she told those stories that got her into so much trouble. I knew exactly why she wished that poor old Ms. Hempscott was a witch and her a princess. I sometimes felt that way too. Trapped, with the only glimmer of hope, of escape resting in your imagination.