Title: Polly
Author: Sylvia Bond
Genre/Rating: Gen/PG
Word Count: 8,287
Fandom: Dark Shadows
Verse: Gina Lee (# 10)
Summary: Polly has a birthday party, and though Willie’s gift to her seems dopey at first, it turns out to be her favorite: drawing pencils. She draws him a picture and then takes it upon herself to deliver the drawing to the Old House in person. Barnabas comes upon the two of them, and Polly knows right away that he’s the mean, mean boss because he won’t admire the new scratch on her knee. Willie takes her home and is in plenty of trouble for having uninvited guests.
A/N: Oh, my god this kid gets herself into almost as much trouble as Willie does!


The stack of presents had been satisfyingly large, and now she was down to the last one. She didn’t want to open it because she knew Willie would be disappointed by her reaction. Just as she had been disappointed by the sight of his gift to her when he had come in the door bearing the flat, uninteresting package in plain blue wrapping paper. No tag, no bow. Nothing. Just dull blue paper that looked like it had sat on a shelf for a long, long time.

Mama had told her, before the party, that when a young lady opened a gift, no matter what it was, she should act pleased and happy and polite. No matter what. Last night, when three little girls from school had spent the night, it had been easy to be excited about their gifts.


Even now, on the following Saturday afternoon with a party with a bunch of tall adults, it was still easy. Mr. and Mrs. Pedersen had brought her a new doll, and Mrs. Bailey from next door had brought a new game of Chutes and Ladders, and from Mama there had been a new pair of Mary Janes, which sat sparkling and shiny, waiting for her to wear.


And then there was Willie’s gift.


She was just in the act of turning away, pretending she didn’t see it sitting there, all sad and lonely, when Mama spoke up.


“Polly, there’s one more gift there.”


She knew that. Just as she knew that Willie was standing toward the edge of the living room, close to the door, as if he, at any time, expected to be leaving. Trying to appear casual, as if he belonged, even though he didn’t think he did. And when she looked over at him, he was just as he always was, shoulders set in a stiff line, frozen in place as if he needed a touch of a fairy godmother’s wand to bring him to life. Even the iced tea in his hand did not look touched.


But when he saw her looking at him, he smiled. Not a big smile like Mr. Pedersen’s, but a little one that only barely touched his sea-blue eyes, as if he didn’t realize he was doing it. He didn’t look like that very often, certainly not when there were a lot of people around, like there was now. Something about it, though, went to her heart, and she didn’t know if it was because of how nice he’d always been to her (except for that time when he hadn’t come around for a while), or how something inside her made a little pang just below her ribcage when he smiled like that.


Okay. She would open it. She would do it for him, she would make like the most boring present in the world, no matter what it was, was the greatest thing she’d ever gotten.


Her hand reached out for the thin, blue-covered present, and she picked it up. It rattled a bit, and wasn’t very heavy, and she worried that she wouldn’t be able to be that convincing. And not only would Mama be disappointed, her Willie’s feelings would be very, very hurt.


Everyone watched as she drew the present close to her chest and began peeling back the paper. Not ripping through it like she had the other ones, she wanted to do it slowly so that she could see it first and find out what it was before anyone else.


The tape along the back was yellow, as if it, too, had sat on a shelf for a very long time. It broke away, and then she ran a finger along the seam to pop the back of the wrapping open. It fell away and she found herself looking at the back of a black box with tiny white print. Even worse than she’d thought, because it could not possibly be anything good. Nothing with tiny white print could be. Biting into her lower lip to keep it from trembling, she turned the black object over. It rattled some more as she did this, and then there, in her hand, was a metal box of brand new drawing pencils. All the colors of the rainbow, 24 pencils in all, each with a sharp, clean point on them. There was even a bright rainbow drawn across the black cover of the box, and as she ran her thumb across the pencils, they rattled together with a woody sound.


It was a moment she would remember forever. And looking back as an adult, she would say to friends, that was the best present I ever got in my whole life. For at that moment, as she looked up at her very good friend Willie, and into those eyes the color of a stormy ocean sky, she experienced something that had never happened to her before. For Willie was seeing her, not as she was, a little girl who adored Mary Janes and who played with dolls, but as what she could be. What she wanted to be, and it was then she realized that she wanted to draw for the rest of her life. Something inside her broke open, and for some reason she wanted to cry. Not because she was sad, but because across the space of the living room, Willie smiled at her as if he could see the echoing smile inside, in her heart.


She managed to walk over to him without tripping on anything, snugged up to him close, and wrapped her arms around his middle to hide her face in his shirt.


“What’s wrong with her?” she heard Mama ask.


She could hear the click as Willie put down his iced tea. Felt the pull of his muscles and the beating of his heart as he picked her up. He held her tight as her arms slid around his neck where she could smell the freshness of the air from the place where he lived and feel the rumble of his voice as he answered. “I guess she likes it,” he said back to Mama. He sounded pleased.


“I’ve never seen her this quiet,” Mama said, and Polly felt a gentle hand along her back. “You okay, baby?”


Polly nodded, moving her forehead against Willie’s neck, all the words in her head, gone, just like that.


A murmur of adult voices filled the sudden silence, as she felt a small kiss land along the side of her head, and then Willie said, very low, “You’re okay, kiddo, huh?”


She nodded again, squeezing her eyes tightly together, knowing that she had to get down, and that the party had to continue. She was a grownup seven now, and Mama needed her help to make the party nice.


“‘M okay,” she said, opening her eyes.


Willie pulled his head back to look at her. “Yeah,” he said, with the same still sweetness he always had with her, “you’ll be alright.”  Then he smiled, like sun coming through clouds and she got the idea that he was very, very glad she liked her gift. He let out a breath of air as if it had mattered to him so much that he’d been holding his breath until that moment. A funny little spark moved between their eyes, and she smiled back, and nodded.


Then, he put her down, ruffling the top of her head with his hand, and she walked toward the cake that sat on the kitchen table, and then looked down. The box of pencils was still in her hand, still crisp and new, still full of the promise of something wonderful. She looked back over her shoulder where Willie stood with his hands in his pockets, looking like he wanted something to do with them.


She laid the pencil box on the table next to the pink and white cake. “Willie,” she announced, “is going to cut the cake.”




School got out at three o’clock, and she’d told Mama that she was going over to a friend’s house for dinner. That gave her until around six before anyone knew she was missing. Of course, if Mama had agreed to take her to see Willie at his house, then none of this would be necessary. Not lying to Mama, not lying to the school secretary to find out which bus went by the Collins estate, not lying to the bus driver about how she was visiting someone there, not any of it. And this long walk with her new Mary Janes getting all scuffed up would have been particularly unnecessary. And it was getting later, too, with the sun casting long shadows through the trees as she trudged up the blacktop road that wound up the hill.


But she had drawn a picture of a man with a truck and it was of Willie and she wanted him to see it. As busy as he was he never came to see them much, and she wanted to give it to him. With her own hands, a thank you for the wonderful gift of the pencils. She had them with her now, could hear the faint rattle and click as they nestled in the bottom of her satchel. The drawing was carefully tucked next to them, and she hoped it wasn’t getting too wrinkled.


She kept walking, feeling the bottom of her feet getting hot like they were on the top of a stove, and the backs of her legs feeling like she’d run too far. People did this every day, didn’t they?  The pioneers had certainly done it, she was learning about that in school. And if they could do it, she could do it.


Wiping the sweat from the back of her neck, she pushed a clump of dark hair away from her face and looked at the fork in the road. The blacktop continued up the hill and to the right. To the left, a white gravel road stretched through the trees. Mama had mentioned that Willie and his boss had had work done, so this was the road that led to the Old House. Where Willie lived and worked. But it was taking longer than she had thought when she’d walked out of school earlier that afternoon. A lot longer. She was tired and she was hot, but she couldn’t think of anything else to do but continue. So she did.


It was shadier walking down the gravel road than it had been on the blacktop road. That was a partial blessing because it was cooler there. But it was darker too, with more noises coming out of the thicker stands of trees, and the wind had kicked up, sending new, green leaves spinning down from the canopy overhead. She had a pencil that exact color, though, so maybe she should remember that and draw it later. Another drawing for the gallery, as Mama called it, on the fridge.


The sun had almost set by the time she reached a small clearing, on the other side of which stood the Old House. It was white and big, just like Mama had said, but Mama never said how it looked like it was sleeping, or how it didn’t look like anyone lived there. Over on the side, though, she could see a glint of a bumper, and as she walked over that way, she could see it was Willie’s truck. Just like in her drawing. Which meant that he was home, that he would let her in. Maybe he would even have something to drink, like lemonade; she was terribly thirsty.


Just walking behind Willie’s truck, her foot caught itself sideways in a rut. Her knee hit a rock with a terrible smack, scattering her satchel to one side as she tumbled to the ground. With her hair in her eyes, she squinted against the pain, but she wasn’t going to cry. Willie never cried when he fell, which, Mama had said, he sometimes did. So she picked herself up and looked down at herself, where the shooting red heat raced up and down behind her knee. Blood was pouring from a jagged gash like ink from a fountain pen. All the way down her shin, soaking into the formerly white socks. Mama was going to be mad.


She would knock on the door, that’s what she was going to do. Then Willie could get her a band-aid and then he could take her home, and along the way she could give him the picture to hang on his refrigerator. Okay then.


Reaching over, she grabbed the satchel and limped to the side door and knocked on it. There was no answer, so she stood up on tiptoe and tried to peer through the thick glass at what Mama had said was the kitchen. It didn’t look like a kitchen because it was all brown and black and grey and there was no refrigerator, nothing that looked like a stove. But it had to be the place. So she knocked again.


Presently she heard a door open, and she could see someone moving in the room. It had to be Willie, right?


“Willie,” she called, waving her hand to attract his attention to the glass.


For a moment, the figure only stood there, looking at her, tilting his head to one side.


“Willie, it’s me.”  She waved again and tapped on the window.


She’d never seen him move so fast as he did coming to the door. Inside of a second, he had it opened and was bending forward to draw her close.


“Are you okay, Polly?  What are you doing here, where’s your ma?”


He smelled like he’d been painting, she recognized the smell from the new paint in the Pederson’s house that still had yet to fade away. He had splotches of it, as well, dappling his flannel shirt. There was some, even in his hair, which made her giggle.


“You have paint in your hair, Willie,” she told him.


He shrugged this away, brushing a hand through his hair. “Where’s your ma?” he asked again, pulling her inside the house and closing the door.


Polly looked around the drabness of the kitchen, wrinkling her nose at the damp air that hit her. “This place doesn’t smell very nice. Mama says if you open windows, sometimes that can help—”


“Polly,” he said, his voice sharper than she was used to hearing from him, “where is your ma?”


“At home,” she replied, looping the satchel from around her shoulders to place it in one of the rickety looking chairs. “Do you have any lemonade?”


“I’ll give you a glass of water,” he said, “cause that’s all I have, okay? And then you gotta tell me why your ma would let you come up here by yourself.”


She nodded and watched while he got a glass from the cupboard and held it under the spout of the pump, a red pump like she’d seen in books about pioneers. He gave her the glass of water, and she drank it, and handed it back to him.


“Okay, so?” he asked.


“Mama didn’t let me come up, I just came. I wanted to give you something.”


“She doesn’t know you’re here?” he asked, coming close to bend down so he could look her in the eye. “Polly, how did you get here?”


“I came by the bus, silly. Took the bus from school, and then I walked up the road. And then I tripped.”  She pointed down at her leg, unprepared for his reaction


“Christ, what’d you do kiddo, walk through razor blades?”


He picked her up and set her down on the counter next to the sink and the pump, muttering under his breath as he looked at her leg, gentle hands cupping the back of her calf.


“Your ma is gonna kill me.”


“No, she won’t, I tripped by myself, all by myself. And I didn’t even cry.”


A sudden glance of his blue eyes, and she knew he was proud of her for this, even as he made tsk tsk noises, and shook his head. “Well, alright then, but we gotta get you cleaned up, and then I’m gonna take you straight home, before—”


“Before what, Willie?” asked a voice from the doorway, and Willie dropped her leg and spun around. A tall man with very white skin and a dark suit walked into the room, coming close to where they were. So close that Willie had to take a step back. So close that she wanted to leap off the counter and run all the way home. But she couldn’t. Willie was blocking the way and she hadn’t given him the picture yet. So she stayed where she was, even though something in her stomach started spinning around.


The tall man looked down his nose at Willie. “Well,” he said, “I believe I asked you a question, and I expect an answer.”


“Ah—” began Willie.


“I’m Polly,” Polly said. Out of the corner of her eye she could see that Willie had gone a not very nice shade of grey, and he didn’t look very happy. Like he sometimes did, like that time they had seen him in the laundromat and he’d run away from her. Mama had said that it was because he had a mean boss that was hard to work for. Perhaps he needed some help explaining the situation, so she put on her best company face. “My mama is Gina Logan, and I live at—”


A pair of dark black eyes turned from Willie to her. “Mrs. Logan is your mother?”


If he’d been anyone else, the question would have been ordinary, and she would have answered it in an ordinary fashion. But somehow, when this man said it, like that, as if it tasted bad to say it, it made her mad.


“Yes, she is,” Polly stated, nodding. “And Willie is our very good friend, and I’ve come to give him something.” She stuck out her chin, feeling very fierce and brave. “And I’ve hurt my knee.”  Which of course he could see if he was paying any attention at all.


“You know how I feel about unexpected visitors, Willie,” said the man to Willie, barely looking at her knee. “I’ve left you strict instructions, and yet time and again you are determined to flaunt your disobedience and expect me to simply ignore it.”


“But, Barnabas—” started Willie, but he stopped when the other man grabbed him and all at once, Polly knew who he was. Mama had mentioned his name on more than one occasion, talking about him to Mrs. Pederson and using some of those words that she’d warned Polly against.


“You’re the mean, mean boss,” she said, announcing this fact with some certainty. Who else could he be? “Mama doesn’t like you, an’ I don’t like you.”


Both men turned to look at her, and she hid behind a scowl. Perhaps she oughtn’t to have said that, Mama would find out and say that she wasn’t being very polite. But it was too late now, and she returned his glare with one of her own. Only it wasn’t very easy, because his eyes were so dark, and she felt an echoing darkness start building inside of her. Then she started to shake, and to her horror, her lower lip was trembling as if she was going to start to cry. But only babies cried when they were scared, and she wasn’t a baby.


Willie’s boss let go of him and waved his hand at her, as if waving her away. “Get her out of here, Willie, take her home. Then I want you to come directly back here as you have some explaining to do about why you continue to let visitors in when I have forbade you to do so.” Mister Barnabas turned on his heel and left the room so fast there was almost a little snap in the air, and Willie turned back to her, his eyes slanting down sadly at the corners. His earlier cheeriness was now totally gone as his shoulders slumped and his hair fell across his forehead. He took a deep slow breath and then tried to smile at her.


“Okay, kiddo, we’ll make this quick, huh?”


She nodded, tipping her head down to watch Willie as he cleaned her leg and put a large white bandage on it. “He’s scary,” she said when Willie was just finishing up.

His hands stilled along the edges of the bandage for a moment, stroking it smooth with his thumbs, and then he said, very softly, “Yeah he is.”


Then he picked her up and carried her out to the car and she relished the short trip, feeling the strength of his arms around her, and the small puff of air against her cheek as he spoke.


“You gonna be okay?”


Nodding, she slid out of his arms and into the passenger side of the truck, so familiar from that one trip before Halloween when he’d picked Mama and Danny and Carla and her from the side of the road. The memory of how warm it had been in his truck came back to her even stronger as he started the engine and turned on the headlights.


He drove down the gravel road in silence, and when he got to the main road in front of the Collins’ estate, she asked, “Are you mad at me?  ‘Cause when Mama’s mad, she doesn’t talk for a bit while she figures out what to say, and you’re not talking to me, so—”


With a careful, deep breath, he replied, “No, I ain’t mad at ya.”  He was shaking his head as if to confirm this as he guided the truck down the two-lane road with the trees on either side growing darker and darker in the growing twilight. The cab of the truck was warm, and the night outside was still, and she scooted over to sit next to him, thinking that it might help him remember her, because he was sitting there so tight and focused it was as if she wasn’t even there. Then, after a short bit, the rock, rock of the engine sent her to sleep, leaving her the last, solid memory of the feel of his flannel shirt against her cheek.




Feeling the sweep of cold air across her face, she woke up, jarred slightly by the sensation of being carried up a short flight of stairs at a fast pace. Suddenly the lights were bright and the warmth of the house and the smell of supper on the table woke her. Mr. and Mrs. Pederson stood in the hallway behind Mama, and everyone else was already sitting.


“Where have you been?


That was Mama’s voice, sharp with anger that she was keeping tucked inside till she knew what to do with it. Not like Daddy, who used to explode at every little thing. But not Mama, even if she was mad and pulled Polly from Willie’s arms with a hard snap, she wouldn’t yell. Set on her feet, Polly felt mostly awake, though the warmth of Willie’s arms was dissipating and she found she missed them very much. She even reached out for one of his hands as they hung, straight from his sides. But Mama grabbed her and pulled her back, giving her a stiff shake. Touched Polly’s knee briefly, with its white gauze bandage, and stood up straight.


“Mister Loomis,” said Mama, using his old name, “where have you been with Polly?”


Uh-oh, trouble.


“Gina, I—”


“Mama, it’s me,” Polly said quickly. “I went up to Willie’s house and he brought me home. I went there after school.”


“Is that what happened?”


Mama’s eyes were on Willie, still and watchful.


“Th-that’s right, Gina,” said Willie with a half-shrug. “She showed up a little while ago, and then—”


“How on earth—”


“I took the bus, Mama,” said Polly. “I took the bus and I walked. And then I fell.”


Mama’s eyes fell on her now, and Polly looked back up at her as bravely as she could, the contrast between her earlier pride at having accomplished the task and the trouble she was now in standing out like a dash of cold air.


“She’s alright, Gina,” said Willie, already backing his way to the still-open front door. “She’s alright, and I’ll go now.”


He stopped, never taking his eyes off her.


Polly could feel the tenseness, like a little bit of electricity, spark and then begin to fade. Then Mama nodded, more relaxed now, even though she was not smiling. “Thank you, Willie,” she said, “for bringing her home.”


“I’ll go,” he said again.


Willie was gone, suddenly, like one of those unexpected whirlwinds that scattered leaves around her feet. But still there was Mama to contend with, standing there, somewhat silent, her hands tapping the edge of her apron.


“Do you have any idea how worried I’ve been?” Mama began. “The Pedersons are ready to call the sheriff, and Mrs. Bailey from next door is sure that you’ve been stolen by the same monster that kidnapped that poor Maggie Evans.”


“I’m sorry, Mama.”


“Didn’t you remember what I told you about coming straight home?”


“Yes, Mama.”


Polly knew she was in the doghouse for sure. The rule about coming straight home was a strict one that had been repeated a zillion times since Daddy died. She knew Mama worried, and Polly hadn’t meant to make her worry, it was just—




“Don’t try and sweet talk me, young lady, you are in so much trouble—”


“But Mama, Willie—”


This stopped Mama short.


“What about him?”


“Is he in trouble, too?”


With a sigh, Mama seemed to shake off some of her anger, tipping her head to look off to one side as if Willie was actually standing there, in that silent, ready way of his.


“No, of course not. He’s not responsible for you running off like you did, you are.”




“But nothing, young lady.”


“But, Willie—”


“You never mind about him now, I’ll talk with him tomorrow, so he knows I’m not mad at him. In the meantime—”


“But his boss said—” Polly began but then stopped as her mother’s gaze became riveted on her. The hands on her apron stilled.


“His boss?” she asked, her voice sharp. “You mean Mr. Collins?  Mr. Collins was there?”


“Yes,” said Polly, “he came in when Willie was bandaging my knee. See?”


Polly held out her leg in case her mother hadn’t gotten a good look at it before. “He said to come back quick ’cause Willie had some ‘splaining to do.”


But now, instead of looking at her new bandage, Mama was pulling on her on coat, taking Polly by the hand, and leading her out the door. Then she looked down, just as they stepped out on the porch.


“Where is your satchel, young lady?”


“In—at that house. At Willie’s house.”


With extra force, Mama made Polly get in the car and started the engine. It stalled for a minute and then as if by the force of Mama’s will, it kicked into life. Mama backed out of the driveway, her mouth tightened by a fierce scowl, making Polly feel like she wanted to be extra quiet and good and not cause any more trouble. Ever.


The car arrived at Willie’s house very fast, and as it sat there, squatting in the darkness beyond the car’s headlights, Polly didn’t want to get out of the car.


“I want to go home, Mama,” she said, clutching tightly to the door handle.


But Mama turned the car off and got out, slamming the door hard. She came around to Polly’s side of the car and opened it. It was too dark to see Mama’s expression anymore, but Polly didn’t want to anyway.




“Polly, I need you to get out of the car. Willie is going to be in trouble with his boss if you don’t help me, and you don’t want that, do you?”


“In trouble?” asked Polly, as her mother reached to take her hand.


“Yes, in trouble. Now come on.”


Mama tugged, and slowly Polly allowed herself to be pulled out of the car. Then the two of them walked, in the pitch darkness, up to the back door.


“I don’t want him to be in trouble,” said Polly, whispering. Of course she didn’t. Willie was her best friend, he’d given her those wonderful drawing pencils, and when he wasn’t rocking Danny to sleep in the rocking chair, he would sit on the floor with her and talk to her dolls as if he believed they were real. Which of course they were.


Mama knocked on the door, and Polly raised herself on her toes, feeling the twinge in her knee, but tipping her head back anyway, seeing the glimmer of moving candlelight through the wobbly glass. At the knock, the glimmer froze, and then came toward them. A gust of wind sent leaves scurrying at her legs just as the door opened. It was the mean boss, Mr. Collins, holding a candle in one hand. He looked at Mama like she’d just taken something that wasn’t hers and he was considering what to do about it.


“Mrs. Logan, to what do I—”


“Mr. Collins,” said Mama, interrupting him, like she’d always taught Polly never to do. “Polly and I would like to speak with you.”


“Oh? And what about?”


“It’s about Polly’s visit this afternoon.”


“Oh,” said Mr. Collins, his voice dry, in the way grownups sometimes had, as if something was funny in a mean way, only they didn’t want to laugh outright. “Well, you’d best come in then, hadn’t you.”


With a tug, Mama pulled her inside as Mr. Collins stepped back, and lifted the candle high so that they could see where they were going. Awfully high, his arm seemed to go up and up forever, until finally the light stopped, and he closed the door behind them. With that small click, the wind was shut out of doors, and the smell she remembered from earlier in the afternoon rose around her. Colder now, but still more like an old shed than a house anyone lived in.


And there was Willie, she saw now, at the far end of the kitchen, near the fireplace, which, as her eyes grew adjusted to the dark, glowed with coals almost hesitant in their efforts to warm the room. She could not see his expression at all, the candlelight just didn’t go that far, but she could almost sense that his fists were clenched in front of him; she could almost feel the tenseness in him. Which, even from this distance, reminded her of how it was when the bad boys would gang up on someone in the yard at school, backing him into a corner until there was no where else for him to go but down.


“Willie,” she said, “it’s me, Polly.”


She heard him take a breath and then Mama gave her a shake. “Polly.”  Then Mama cleared her throat and Polly felt the grip on her hand grow a little tighter. “Mr. Collins, my daughter paid an unexpected visit on Willie this afternoon, and would now like to say something.”


There was a bit of silence in the room, and Polly wanted to hold her breath, only she couldn’t because there seemed to be so little of it, all of a sudden.


“You may be somewhat lacking in the common courtesies of polite society, Mrs. Logan,” said Mr. Collins, “but do allow me my admiration of your straightforward presentation of the facts.”


Looking up at Mama, Polly could see the confusion there, although Mama’s face was partly in shadow. Her mouth was slightly open, as if she were about to say something, only she didn’t know what, and Polly thought that what Mr. Collins had said wasn’t very nice. But what could Mama say to it, without being rude herself? Polly didn’t know. And Willie wasn’t saying anything at all. If anybody said anything, it might get nasty, like it used to when Daddy and Mama would start talking about something, and then Mama would say the wrong thing, and then end up on the floor, not breathing very well, her head hurting, trying to tell Polly it was alright, when it wasn’t. If it happened now, it would be Polly’s fault. She knew she had to do something. So, she took a deep breath.


“It—it was me,” she said, feeling the sudden and uncomfortable focus of every pair of eyes in the room. “I came up without asking Mama first, and I shouldn’t have.”


There was another bit of silence now, filled only by the creak of a tree outside in the wind.


“I see,” said Mr. Collins. “But Willie is well aware that he is not to have visitors without my permission.”


It was bad all right. Willie was in big, big trouble, she could tell by the sound of Mr. Collins’ voice. And that wasn’t fair. Her knees felt like they were about to start knocking together, and she clenched at Mama’s hand. Mama clenched her hand right back and did not let go.


“I didn’t know that,” she said, gulping. “If anyone should be in the dog house, it’s me, not Willie.”


“The dog house?”


Now Mr. Collins was looking only at her, lowering the candle and tipping his head forward a bit as if to look in her face. She couldn’t look back up at him, even if she knew it would be more polite to do that, like Mama always said. That feeling was behind her eyes again, as if she were about to cry, and she didn’t want to, not in front of Willie’s boss. Or Mama, either.


“It’s . . . it’s where you go,” she managed finally, hoping her voice wasn’t the whisper it seemed, “you know . . . when you’re bad.”


He was very close now, the candlelight held to flicker by the side of her face, bending down, and she looked up. His eyes were very still upon her, still and dark, like shiny stones when they were wet as she held them in her hand at the beach. He tipped his head to one side, tucking his chin down, and a very odd twilight seemed to settle over her, as if she were warm and quiet in her own bed and just about to fall asleep. On one of those good nights, when the wind was still and soft, and it had been forever since shouting had come from the next room.


“I see,” he said now, his voice low. Then he looked away from her, his eyes sliding across the room as he pulled the candle away and straightened up. “However, I’m not in the habit of punishing small children, let alone girls.”


“B-Barnabas—” began Willie.


“Be quiet,” snapped Mr. Collins, and the steady quiet lifted from her shoulders with a quick flex of unseen muscle, and the room felt cold again. “It is obvious that you are the responsible party here.”


“Please, Mr. Collins,” said Mama, “Polly feels—”


“And you as well, madam. There is no point in discussing it.”


Whatever she and Mama had hoped to accomplish in saving Willie, it hadn’t worked. Her friend was still in the doghouse. Alone. Mama’s hand was shaking in her grasp, and Polly gave it another squeeze and let go. She went to the chair where her satchel lay, and fumbled inside of it, pulling out the box of pencils and the picture. Then she stepped back and held out the pencil box.


“You can keep my pencils an’ I won’t be able to draw for a week,” she said. The pencils were startling to rattle inside the box as gripped it. She held the box higher.


“Pencils?” he asked, confused.


“My drawing pencils I got for my birthday.”  For some reason she couldn’t mention that Willie himself had given them to her. Mean Mr. Collins didn’t seem to know the first thing about birthday parties or giving gifts or visits or anything. Maybe he didn’t have any friends, and so he probably wouldn’t want to be reminded that other people did.


With a glance to the darkest corner of the room, where Willie was frozen and still, Mr. Collins finally took the box and popped it open with one hand, holding the candle high over it. She could see that he was rubbing the heel of his thumb over the contents of the box, and nodding a little to himself. “Ah, I see. Drawing pencils.”


“But you gotta let Willie out of the dog house, cause it’s my fault. I just came up to give him a drawing I’d made.”


“A drawing?  You came all the way from town, on your own, to give him a drawing?”


Nodding, she held it out for him to look at, and as he put the pencil box down on the table to reach for it, she pulled it back. “Oh, no,” she said, “this belongs to Willie.”


“Polly Marie!”


“But Mama, I drew it for Willie, not for him.”


Mama was stretching out a hand to pull her close, casting a glance at Mr. Collins as she glared at Polly as Polly stepped away to stay out of reach. “I’m sorry, Mr. Collins, I don’t know where she gets it, we only came up to make sure you understood about this afternoon, and not—not make Willie, well, so that you wouldn’t—”


Obviously at a loss, Mama’s voice trailed off, and Polly walked through the darkness to the corner by the fire, finding herself, at last, near Willie. Behind her, Mr. Collins said, his voice dry again, “I know precisely where she gets it, Mrs. Logan.”


Then she smiled up at Willie and held up the picture. “Here,” she said, “I drew this for you.”


Her eyes had grown used to the dark, and now, near the slight little glow of the fire, she could see his face as he looked down at her.


“Polly,” he said. Simply that, as he reached out to take the picture and tip it toward the coals so he could see it. A picture of a man and a truck, same as it had been earlier, only now, in the soft darkness of the kitchen, the picture looked better, somehow. The size of the man looked right against the size of the truck, and the color of Willie shirt looked right, too. Or maybe it was just the shine in Willie’s eyes as he looked at it and then at her that made her feel as if the picture were a masterpiece. Or maybe it was his smile that told her this, the soft one that was only a little sad. Or his hand reaching out to gently touch her hair


“Thank you,” he said now.


“Willie,” snapped Mr. Collins, suddenly, breaking through the quiet pleasure in Willie’s voice. “Come here.”


With a start, they both turned around, to where the single candle glowed bright, and her mother stood a little distant from Mr. Collins, gripping Polly’s satchel in one hand. Willie moved past her, the hand that held the picture falling back on the counter behind him as he walked over to his boss, and it seemed to Polly that he was hiding it, the way she might a forbidden treat so that Mama wouldn’t see it and take it away.


Then Willie stopped in front of his boss, tucking his chin down, though Polly could tell by the glimmer in his eyes that he’d not taken them off of Mr. Collins and wasn’t going to, not even for a second. She’d seen Danny do that very same thing, a time or two or three. Like when Daddy had been yelling at Mama late in the evening, and whirled to find her and Danny standing in the doorway, watching. Listening. Danny would never say anything, of course, only scurry away to hide under the bed if Daddy came too close. Though she hardly imagined that Willie would scurry away; he seemed firmly planted there, waiting.


Mr. Collins picked up the pencil box from the table and shook it once, hard. The pencils rattled inside, and Polly feared that the points might snap off and be wasted, but Mr. Collins shook it only once, as if to attract everyone’s attention.


“Drawing pencils,” announced Mr. Collins. “Apparently, young Miss Polly is willing to trade a week’s use of them to keep you out of, as she says, the dog house.”


“B-Barnabas, you don’t have t-to—”


“Indeed, I do not,” said Mr. Collins, interrupting as rudely as Mama had done earlier. “However, I can hardly fault you for the impetuous nature she has apparently inherited from her mother.”


Polly didn’t know what some of the words meant, but apparently, as her mother’s eyebrows drew together, Mama did. Mama looked like she wanted to say something, but being with Daddy had taught her not to. Instead she took a breath, and closed her eyes for a second. Then she opened them.


“So we are agreed?” Mama asked. “Polly is without her drawing pencils for a week, and Willie is not in the dog house for this?”


Willie’s mean, mean boss and Mama looked at each other for a long moment, and the room grew chill in the silence. Willie stood within arm’s reach of Mr. Collins, his eyes still steady on his boss, but his shoulders hunched up slightly, as if he thought that Mr. Collins, like Daddy, might haul back and clout him one upside the head.


“Maybe two weeks, huh?” Polly found herself saying. “Or maybe even three, or maybe there’s another little girl who could use them while I waited? I wouldn’t mind if someone else used them, if they didn’t bite the ends like Danny sometimes does, he likes to chew on things sometimes.”  The words tumbled forth like they used to when Daddy would come pounding into the room, demanding to know where his paper was. As Mr. Collins looked at her, she stopped, and this moment became like that one, exactly like it, as she discovered that her stomach was churning madly now, and she wanted to find a bed to hide under. Even though he never made a motion toward her, nor looked like he was going to raise his hand to Willie.


“No,” Mr. Collins said, after a moment. “That won’t be necessary. One week will be sufficient.”


Mama and she sighed all at once, and though Willie’s shoulders didn’t unhunch at all, he looked like he was breathing now, too.


“I will keep them safe,” he continued, “and a week from now, Willie will return them. And you, Miss Polly,” he said, looking only at her now, “will remember that young ladies should not traipse around the countryside unattended, and, what’s more, that Willie has work to do, and should not tarry with visitors, or he will be behind schedule, and you wouldn’t want that, would you?”


It was hard to follow everything the mean, mean boss was saying now, but she thought she understood what he meant to say. It was in the same way that someone at school might announce to her that girls don’t climb trees, which Mama had told her more than once was absolutely not true, but that some people didn’t know better. As for Willie and his schedule, what Mr. Collins meant, of course, was that she was to stay away, or else Willie would be in the dog house, and there would be no getting him out.


“Okay, I mean, yes, Mr. Collins.”


“And now, I must bid you good evening, and Willie as well, for he has a great deal of work that he has missed.”


“I see,” said Mama. “Okay then. Goodnight.”


“Goodnight, Mrs. Logan.”


“Say goodnight, Polly,” said Mama, taking her hand and giving it a shake.


“Goodnight, Mr. Collins, goodnight, Willie, see you in a week.”  Polly ducked her head, trying not to look at the pencil box, so small in Mr. Collins’ large hand. What if he lost it? Or worse, what if he used all the pencils? Or really let some strange, other little girl use them?  She swallowed, trying to be brave. Mama led her to the door, and opened it, and then stopped, halfway across the threshold. Polly tried to push past her, wanting to get out of the crisp wind and into the car as soon as possible, but Mama pulled up her hand a bit to stop her. Mama turned back to the room, her eyes serious in the light of the single candle.


“And we’re agreed, Mr. Collins, we have a deal, yes?”


“You have my word as a Collins, Mrs. Logan.”


With a silent nod, Mama turned to go, pulling Polly close to her. Polly twisted her head, and delivered a quick wave to Willie, who lifted his hand slightly, waist high, to wave back. She could see he was almost smiling. And, as the door was swinging shut closed behind them, she heard Mr. Collins say, “Well, Willie, I see that you have not just one champion, but two.”  Only he didn’t sound the least bit impressed.


The door closed on Willie’s reply, but Polly hoped it wasn’t anything that would make the mean, mean boss mad all over again.


She and Mama crossed the short, dark distance to the car, and as they got in, Polly could hear her mother taking a deep, deep breath. Mama started the car and cranked the heat up way high, though she usually liked to wait until the engine had a chance to warm up first.


“I’m never so cold as I am in that house,” said Mama to the steering wheel. “Don’t you find it cold, Polly?”


It took Polly a moment to realize she was being spoken to. “Yes, Mama,” she replied.


After a moment of thinking about this, Mama made the car go backwards and then wheeled back down the gravel driveway toward home.


“Mama?” asked Polly when they were almost there.




“Did I do okay, did we get Willie out of trouble?  Is his boss still going to be mad at him?”

Mama waited to answer until she pulled up in front of the Pederson’s house. They both had averted their eyes as they drove past the black space that used to be their house, and though neither of them ever spoke of it, Polly knew that both of them hated to look at it. Then Mama shut off the engine, and reached to pull Polly close. It was a bit narrow behind the wheel, but as Mama held her, she stroked Polly’s hair back from her face.


“You are,” she said softly, “the bravest girl I have ever known. And no, Mr. Collins isn’t going to be mad at Willie now.”  Polly felt a kiss along the top of her head, and then Mama sighed. “But if you ever, ever do that again, or go anywhere without asking me, it’ll be more severe for you than no drawing pencils for a week, do you understand?”


“Yes, Mama.”  Polly had a very good idea of how much trouble she could have been in. “But I only wanted to—”


“I know, and I think Willie liked it very much. But you know, don’t you, that you could have gotten him into a great deal of trouble.”


“But why does Mr. Collins say—”


“Shhh, Polly, listen to me. It doesn’t matter why or whether it seems right, or anything. Remember how it was with Daddy?”


“Uh huh.”  She remembered all right, although this was the first time Mama had ever said anything aloud about it.


“Well, it’s like that for Willie, only he can’t get away and he can’t say anything.”


“Oh,” said Polly, thinking of the time that she’d hid with Danny in the closet on the night soon after Willie had picked them up along the highway. Daddy had been having some beers and using those words Mama said no one should use, and saying mean things about Willie, and then the hitting had started. The closet had seemed a very dark place at first, but then when things got even louder and the walls in the living room had shuddered when something was tossed against them, the closet had seemed very safe. She hoped that Willie had someplace to hide when things got loud and the hitting started.


“You and I,” said Mama, setting upright, and pushing Polly back far enough to look straight at her. “You and I have to do the best we can to help Willie without upsetting the mean, mean boss. And that means not doing anything to get him into trouble. Okay?”


“Okay, Mama.”  She nodded. It was going to be a long week without her pencils, but she would manage it, if it meant that Willie wouldn’t have someone shouting at him. She got out of the car and followed Mama into the house. And, at the very least, he would have a drawing to enjoy when his chores were done.