“Callie Gillespie Sequence” by Leigh Holland

Today, Lise Quintana and Kevin Sharp explore “Callie Gillespie Sequence” by Leigh Holland, submitted to Zoetic Press for the Viable chapbook series.

1. Cally Gillespie, Solver
Our Solver always wore her mom’s pajamas. I found her first,
but half the kids in Peyton said they had. That’s fine. I know
I was first one she did the ritual for, anyways. We’d all head up
to the Junior Store with change we dug from drawers and purses
to buy the M&M’s. Plain only. Peanuts threw the reading off.
At Solver’s house, we’d dump ’em in a cake pan, grab a fistful
each, then show her our hand. How many pieces you had was important.
She’d count them in her head, quiet—the only sound there was was the thumps
from Solver’s mom upstairs. Colors mattered, but they never meant
the same thing twice. A hand with mostly-red M&M’s meant all your fish
were going to die, or it meant you’d find an arrowhead,
or have corndogs for supper, or to watch out ’cause your yard was full
of poison oak. We tried to get her to use a Magic 8-Ball once,
but it didn’t prophesy true, she said. When we ran out of M&M’s, the others
would go to the ball field or the pond and I’d stay inside all day
with Solver. Her mom was always moving around upstairs, but Solver
didn’t leave her couch. We’d sit, watch cartoons and she’d tell me more
about the stuff she’d seen for me, stuff she didn’t want to say around the others.
She knew I was going to move away, that Mom wouldn’t get as much money
as she thought in the divorce, that after a while he’d stop sending any payments at all,
and we’d keep moving where Mom could find work. And Solver said I wouldn’t
hear from her again. It’s been three years, and none of the schools
have had Solvers. I thought every town had one, and I could find another.

2. Callie Gillespie, Box Sitting
The best thing about our new house was the boxes—after we unpacked,
Mom let me keep a big one in every room. They’re where I’d read.
I’d stand a box up in a corner, then crawl over the side with a pillow
and a book. Library down the street didn’t have a lot to pick from, but
there were some books with faeries and goblins and changelings. I still
couldn’t find anything as good as Peter Pan. Only bad part was the end.
Wendy leaves Peter, and she’s taller than him when he comes back to get
her for spring cleaning and even taller the year after that, and he finally
stops coming for her. I would eat while I read. I’d grab a tablespoonful of
peanut butter and make each spoon last for three chapters. Sometimes I
raised my hand to give Mom the empty spoon when I was done, but other
than that, I stayed quiet and if she wanted to find me, she had to go around
and check all of the boxes. I’d fall asleep reading and the boxes all look
the same from inside, so when I woke up I wouldn’t remember which
room I was in.

3. Callie Gillespie, Cinderblocks
Whoever lived in the house before we did left three cinderblocks
in the backyard. I headed for those when Mom decided I was spending
too much time reading inside boxes and I should get some sunshine.
I moved the cinderblocks to the middle of the backyard and set them
a few feet apart but sorta facing each other to make a triangle. I sat
on a block and at poked the dirt with a stick until I had a hole going.
The grass in the yard was patchy but that didn’t make digging easy—dirt
was packed down so hard I didn’t make much headway. In my books,
the only good reason to dig was to bury coffins or treasure, and I didn’t
have anything special to bury, so I scraped up layers of dirt and pebbles
and tried to think of something important to bury—I had a doll I didn’t like
much, that would work—when he came up.
My age maybe, he said he was Brett from next door, then he picked up
his own stick and sat down to dig. I didn’t say anything and he kept his
head down with his Braves cap covering his face. We sat like that, digging
for as long as it’d take me to read five chapters, maybe six if they were
short, then he got up and went to the green roofed house on the left.
He came back the next day, even brought a rusty fork to help with digging.

4. Cally Gillespie, Brett
When Brett came back with the fork, I asked why he didn’t bring two,
and he said he only had the one bad fork, but we could swap out turns with
it and the stick. The hole got deeper, but when he started making the edges
wider, I told him that it didn’t need to be that big, and he asked why not,
and I said I was going to bury something small. He asked what, but I
hadn’t figured out what, yet. Brett thought that if I didn’t know, we should
make the hole as big as possible so we’d have it on hand in case anybody’s
pet died. I didn’t have pets, but he had a lot of them. When I got thirsty
and went to get a drink, I decided to bring refreshments for him too,
because that’s how a hostess treats a guest. I always drank Mom’s
sweet tea from a honeybear. We ate honey on our pancakes, in place
of syrup, and we had these empty bear-shaped bottles left lying around,
so I made them into cups where you drank from the yellow spout
at the top of the bear’s head. I poured the tea into two bear bottles
and slipped a couple ice cubes down inside, and it wasn’t easy to balance,
but I dipped out a big spoon of peanut butter for both of us and carried
everything back out to the cinderblocks. Brett took the bear and said
thanks, but he turned down the spoon because of his peanut allergy. I ate
peanut butter every day, and I started to wonder if eating enough of it
could make Brett allergic to me, if the peanut dust could pass through the
air. I took the spoons back inside and put them in the sink.

5. Cally Gillespie, Board Games
Brett started coming over every day, and then I went over to his house
some. Mom had made us fill the hole backyard back in with dirt. She
said the neighbors were saying it was an eyesore, all except Brett’s dad,
who thought it was a smart idea to go ahead and start a pet graveyard,
because you were always eventually going to need one. I didn’t talk much
to Brett’s dad, but when I started going over to their house, he and Brett
taught me how to play the mixed-up board games they had in their garage.
Brett collected the board games his dad bought for him at yard sales, but
every game was missing pieces—some just a couple pieces, some only
had the board or a card deck—so they’d combined them into
Battleshopoly, Checkerisk, and Yahtzscrabble. Me and Brett sat on white
buckets in the garage and played until we got hungry or until his little
brother came through and knocked everything to the floor. Brett didn’t
always play fair, but I couldn’t say for sure that he was cheating, since we
kept changing the rules and mixing the games together. He wanted
to combine all the games into one monster game that would take us a full
week to play through one time, but I said I wasn’t going to try it unless we
wrote the rules down so I’d have a shot at winning. He said okay, but I’d
better do the writing because he was dyslexic. I’d never met a dyslexia
person before, but I told him that I could teach him to read, no problem.
He said forget about teaching, and forget the monster game, too.

6. Cally Gillespie, Library
I figured the only way to help Brett was to get him to learn
how to read better without him knowing that’s what was happening.
I told him if he went with me to the library, I’d give him all the leftover
fireworks and sparklers I’d found in the kitchen cabinets.
He said it was a deal. When we got to the library, I took Brett over
to the kids’ books. I looked through the stacks, picking out good ones
and he just stood there watching me instead of picking out some of his
own. I asked why didn’t he find something he liked, and he said he didn’t
want to. I said I’d help him with whatever book he picked, but he just
stared, so I explained how much he was missing out on, not being able
to read, and how we could fix his dyslexia if we worked together. I was
talking louder than I meant to, and Ms. Sherry the librarian heard me and
came by the kids section. She said to Brett in this very patient voice
that the library had lots of resources for helping slower readers, and how
reading delays were very common. He put on his baseball cap, walked out
and didn’t wait for me.

7. Cally Gillespie, Carpet Man
Brett didn’t come to see me all that week. I went next door to see him,
but he wouldn’t come outside, so I went back home and stayed there.
The backyard hole was filled in, and there wasn’t anything else to do
outside. I was tired of my boxes, and they were for reading anyway,
and I didn’t feel like reading. When Mom was home I watched TV, and
when she wasn’t, I looked down at the living room floor and thought about
how I used to keep my feet tucked up on chairs because I was afraid
of the man in the carpet. When I was younger, I thought there was
somebody who lived under the floors in every house, who could see
straight through the ground. He watched everybody’s feet moving back
and forth, and he couldn’t touch the people who didn’t know about him,
but if you knew he was there, he’d wait until you stood still or rested
your feet on the ground for long enough, then he’d reach his hand up
and drag through the carpet with him, down where all the dirt would crush
your chest and stop your nose and mouth. I never told anyone
about the man in the carpet, but I ran from him for years, rushing like
lightning over the floors until I could rest in a high, safe spot.
My show went off. Mom was gone and the house was hot and I didn’t
want to sit on the couch for another second with my feet tucked up,
thinking about the stuff I used to think about. I got down on the floor
and laid on my back, like I was trying to be a target. The carpet man
wasn’t real, but I wanted to make sure he knew I knew it.

8. Cally Gillespie, Sparklers
I’d had enough of hanging around my house. It was time for Brett
to stop being mad. I emptied the books from my backpack,
packed it full of sparklers and marched over to his house.
I went in without knocking and told Brett’s dad that I was here whether
Brett liked it or not, and that we were going to need matches. I turned
down the hall to Brett’s room and pounded on the door. When he opened
it, I shoved the backpack at him and said I was challenging him
to a sparkler war, and he asked what were the rules and I said I didn’t
know yet. His dad left the matches on the counter for us. Half of the packs
were water-damaged and wouldn’t light, but we got enough going to have
a war, which was mainly us pretending to swordfight with the lit ones or
seeing who could light the most and plant them in the ground before they
burned out. Brett said it would have been better to use the sparklers after
dark but he knew where we could buy some more for cheap, maybe get
some roman candles to go with them. I said we’d better do it soon because
there were only two weeks left until school and then I’d be busy figuring
the new place out. He said we’d still have tons of time because
he’d gone to that school his whole life and knew everything
there was to know about teachers and other kids, and he could help me
out. I told him I didn’t need his help. I threw a sparkler at him,
but I missed.