Bill Todd -- Tim and Sharon
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 Chapter 44


      The large V-berth in the bow of the little boat easily accommodated Tim’s cast, and Sharon found the side berth in the main cabin comfortable. By adjusting hatches, they got better ventilation than in the big boat, and the little ceramic heater kept them warm. The only trouble was Wolfgang. He liked to walk on people who were sleeping, he lapped the faces of people who were trying to sleep, and, if anyone had a cut, he would ‘nurse’ it. Tim suggested that he might be trying to be helpful, and Sharon wondered if it might simply be blood-lust. She had already tried to give Wolfgang away, telling the kayak instructors that he could stay in their establishment at night and give them unparalleled security. Already knowing the dog, they decided that they didn’t need security that badly.

     One morning when W was mercifully asleep in Tim’s berth, they read the paper that Jane’s new protégé had written, and which was now posted to a website. Tim remarked, “You’d never guess that she isn’t thirty or so. It’s beautifully written and persuasive.”

“I could never produce anything that good.”

Sharon was amused that Tim didn’t pretend to disagree, and instead remarked, “There are a couple of places where anger and a desire of revenge show through.”

“Good! She’s been given a horrible time, and she’s fighting back. She may be driven out of the school, but her words are going to rankle for a long time.”

     Since the young lady, Helen, and Jane Heber were to appear in two days’ time, Sharon wanted to plan.

“Chris will be here, and he’s now sixteen, the same age as Helen. On the face of it, Helen would seem to be the perfect friend, or even girl friend, for him. But we mustn’t be pushy little matchmakers.”

“That usually drives people apart.”

“We’ll do group activities without any obvious pairings, and engage in our usual random chit-chat. Since Duane and Jane will also be here, that’ll make it multi-generational. Unfortunately, we have no idea how physical Helen is. Not everyone wants to be plopped into a kayak.”

“Jane might not want to be, either.”

“We’ll just have to improvise.”

     Helen turned out to be a fairly tall slim girl with straight blonde hair, not exactly pretty, and with big nerdy glasses. Sharon, having feared that she might be a stiff silent intellectual, was delighted when she smiled and talked easily with people. When there was a chance, Audrey whispered to Sharon, “She could easily be very good-looking!”

Sharon asked, “Are you recommending a Meredith-style fix-up instead of a visit to the Salvation Army?”

Audrey, having been caught out, replied, rather lamely, “Something in between.”

     Just then, Howie and Tim appeared, having finished their walk with Wolfgang. Helen was delighted, and ran to Wolfgang. The latter, always desirous of human attention, responded warmly. After a little play, Helen asked if she could walk the dog. Sharon replied, “He’s so wild that we don’t dare let him off leash. He’s also very quick and strong, and he might drag you all over the place.”

Helen explained that she was used to big fast dogs, but Sharon suggested that Chris help her contain Wolfgang. She hoped that she wasn’t being pushy, but it did seem natural. There was no way that a girl of not much more than a hundred pounds could hold Wolfgang if he saw a squirrel. In any case, the three set out happily.

     Speaking with Jane Heber as the others went in to order food in the deli, Sharon remarked, “Helen seems a lot more outgoing and sociable than a lot of bright kids.”

“I think she’s had to be. Her father’s long gone, hopelessly drug-addicted somewhere, and her mother’s had to work two jobs most of the time to support Helen and a younger brother.”

“Do you know the mother pretty well?”

“Yes. She’s a good friend, an intelligent woman who had a promising career as a programmer until she was de-railed by marital problems, and, at one point, a breakdown. There seems to be no extended family to help, and Helen and her brother were foster-parented at one time.”

“Is Helen close to her brother?”

“Not really. He’s been a hyper-active child with a learning disability and a tendency to fall into bad company. There’s hardly any point of contact.”

“Helen seems to like dogs. Even Wolfgang.”

“I take it that he’s a bit of a problem.”

“Tim likes him more than he admits, but I get stuck with him a lot.”

“Helen’s family had a dog that got killed by a car. That was hard for her, and she’d probably like to adopt another. But her mother certainly couldn’t cope with such a big active dog.”

“No wonder. You know, if Helen’s going to be out of school, could I hire her to take care of Wolfgang?”

“I imagine so. As I understand it, Helen doesn’t want to go back to any school, getting a GED instead. Since her test scores will always get her a scholarship at a good college, I endorsed that idea.”

“Yes. I suppose Chris might have done the same thing.”

“School was never as bad for Chris as for Helen, and, now, things have turned around for him. He has friends who admire his ability and ask him questions about all sorts of things.”

“We’ve been very much impressed with Helen’s writing ability, and our group is happy to talk with people about practically anything.”

“I know. That’s why I brought her here. But, of course, considering what Helen’s been through, there are bound to be some quirks. Can you manage, Sharon?”

“Yes. In a funny kind of way, we need her more than she needs us.”

“It’s something like that that keeps me teaching.”

     When Helen and Chris came back with Wolfgang, Sharon asked, a little nervously, if there had been any problems. Chris answered, “It’s amazing! He does what Helen tells him to. I just walked along beside them.”

     Helen wanted to go out in the kayaks, and it was quickly arranged. Jane didn’t seem enthusiastic, and, since Sharon could drive Helen home, Jane left.

     The boat party consisted in just getting people in kayaks while Tim and Howie rowed the sloop with Wolfgang on the stern. There was a lot of confusion, a certain amount of splashing, and everyone had a good time without any capsizes.

     It was when Sharon was driving Helen back that she proposed a job of caretaking Wolfgang. The girl was obviously delighted, but, since she didn’t drive, it would be a difficult commute. Sharon asked,

“Would your mother mind if we put you up on the big boat with Audrey, Howie, and the kayak people?”

“I don’t think so. And I’d like to get away from my brother. He’s deeply weird.”

“Your mother might like to come up and meet us, and see that there’s a reasonably comfortable cabin for you.”

“She’s awfully busy with her jobs, and I’m sure she trusts Jane’s recommendation. Would Wolfgang stay in the cabin with me?”

“If you really want him. He can be a pain, and likes to sit and walk on people who’re trying to sleep.”

Helen laughed, and seemed not to mind. She then said, “I understand that you’re all very productive intellectually.’

“Some are. Audrey’s majoring in Russian at Harvard, and Howie’s writing a film score. Chris is always learning and exploring, but Tim and I have been the slackers.”

“He was playing football wasn’t he?”

“Yeah. That, and the broken leg got us disorganized. But, now, I’ve started learning half-science and primitive mathematics.”


“I read books by people like Brian Greene and Lee Smolin two or three times, and wind up with a partial understanding of modern physics. In math, I go through material on the internet, trying to question everything I come upon.”

Helen was curious, and asked for examples. Upon hearing some, she replied, “Those sound like philosophical questions.”

“They are, really. I’ll eventually interest Tim in them.”

“I’ve got to set to work. It’s no big thing to get a GED, but I can’t go the best part of two years without learning anything beyond that.”

“We do try to learn, not always very successfully.”

 “I talked with Chris about his various projects. He seems pretty self-motivated.”

“He’s actually more mature than Tim. But it may be because he’s just learning how to play.”

“I do know how to play, at least when I’m not about to be beaten up.”

“Did the boys actually hurt you?”

“No. The boys are scared. They know that they can be accused of anything from gross sexual imposition to attempted rape if they touch a girl. But something really weird happened that I haven’t told anyone about.”

There was a pause. Sharon wasn’t about to try to get Helen to divulge secrets, but she realized that, unconnected with anyone in Helen’s environment, she might be a safe person. So it happened.

“There’s a smart girl who, unlike most of the ones in the school, speaks well. She’s big, of some kind of mixed race, and she was the nearest thing I had to a friend. So it wasn’t too hard for Cora to get me to go into the girls’ washroom as the school was letting out. Then, three other girls came in, and they locked the door.”

“Oh oh!”

“Indeed. Cora said, ‘We’ve got instructions to inflict pain on you, Helen, but there won’t be any real injuries. Please don’t scream, because we have connections to an adult group, and they wouldn’t like that.’”

“So it was a gang.”

“Yes. I was scared, but not quite terrified. I had always known that there was something about Cora, and, then, I knew what it was. The first thing she did was take my glasses, wash them in the sink, and polish them with a paper towel before putting them on the shelf. It was a joke with us that my glasses were always dirty, so that was okay. She then asked me to remove my outer clothes so that they wouldn’t get messed up or torn.

     Standing between the four of them in my underwear, I felt a little like someone about to be loaded on to a freight car and sent to an undisclosed location. But I was together enough to ask Cora if it would help if I promised to leave the school and never come back. She nodded and went off with her cell phone. When she came back, she said that there would be a reduction in the intensity.”

“So they were acting under orders?”

 “Yes, I’m sure I wasn’t the first. Two of the girls took my arms, and Cora punched me in the ribs. She hit me really hard, and it was a stabbing pain. After a couple of times, I was crying and furious, and blurting out things. But I could hardly breathe from the impacts. Nothing I tried to say probably made any sense. I would have fallen if the others hadn’t been holding me up by the arms. My bra was around my neck, tears were streaming down my face, and I wet my pants.”

“That must have amounted to torture.”

“Yes. You sort of lose your personality. I would have confessed to serial murder or anything else to make it stop.”

“That’s what the CIA and Mossad do to people.”

“But their version goes on for weeks or months. Cora actually hit me only five times. I’ve since realized that she probably didn’t hit as hard as she could have. However, she had to be careful. The other girls might have told on her if they thought she was going easy.”

“So that was it?”

“From Cora. The kick specialist then went behind me and kicked me in the thighs and rear. I don’t have much padding there, but it wasn’t quite as bad as the ribs. Cora was in front of me, counting the five kicks out loud. Each time my body jerked forward with a kick, there seemed to be a look of pain on her face. She’s certainly no sadist.”

“How are you now?”

“Sore everywhere. I probably will be for weeks. I can do things, particularly things that distract me like kayaking, but I have trouble getting comfortable enough in bed to sleep.”

“I know about rib injuries. Tim had intense ones inflicted when his leg was being broken, and I’ve had some myself. Ice at first, and mostly heat later. It can take a month or so.”

“After it was over, the girls walked me over to the sink and washed me up. They took my panties, washed them, and got them as dry as they could with paper towels. My bra strap was broken, but they had safety pins. I was still crying and breathing hard, but eventually came to. They then got me dressed, and Cora, reaching into her purse, did a make-up job on me.”

“Did she say she was sorry?”

“No. I guess it was obvious. But I repeated that I’d never come back to the school, and they needn’t worry about me. She nodded. I guess that was what they wanted. I then managed to make it home on the bus.”

“What did you tell your mother?”

“Just that I got into a fight with tough girls and got beaten up. I worried about Cora’s remark that they had connections with an adult group. I didn’t want our house to get burned down, so I persuaded my mother not to make a big stink. I told her that, whatever she did, the school would be a bad place for me.”

“And she agreed?”

“Yeah. She just told the school that I was dropping out. The principal called, wanting me to come back, but I refused without giving him any details. A fair number of the kids, both boys and girls, are just animals. There’s nothing he can do about that.”

Sharon could imagine the feelings of a principal whose best student had just been driven out of the school. Would it be time to think about another profession? She said, “Chris has also had problems, but I don’t think anything as bad.”

“He said he’s had some humiliation without too much injury. It was the opposite with me.”

 “At least, we can provide you with peace and security. Wolfgang will also enhance security, but probably not peace.”

“That’s all right. I really like big dogs. The security is an afterthought, at least on the conscious level.”

“We could take Wolfgang back to your school at letting-out time and scare the shit out of the thugs.”

Helen began laughing, and replied, “It wouldn’t be so good if he wagged his little tail and made nice to them.”

“Yes. There’s the old story of the guard dog who welcomes the burglar into the house. But we could hope.”

     When they arrived, Sharon briefly met Helen’s mother. She seemed a nice, but harassed, lady who was thankful for any sort of help. Sharon supposed that she was the victim of something close to tragedy, but she didn’t seem defeated. Sharon could see why Jane Heber liked her.

     When Sharon got back, she saw Duane having a coke at one of the outside tables, and sat down with him. Pleased, he said,  “I knew Jane from the PTA conferences, and it was good to see her again. It turns out that she doesn’t like my wife and thinks I’m better off without her.”

Duane seemed amused, and Sharon replied, “I did get that impression when we talked at the dance we chaperoned. So, what next, Duane?”

“As you may remember, I spent some time with Melissa. It was okay, but fairly humdrum.”

“I suppose she’s rather trapped, like a lot of people. But I’m not about to move mountains for her.”

“She has gotten her job back, and seems fairly cheerful.”

Sharon, remembering Brian Howison’s remark, had to laugh. It was good to know some movers and shakers.

Bill Todd -- Tim and Sharon
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