Deirdre Royce is hairy, flat-chested for her age and has no eye lashes. She plucks out her eye lashes leaving her eyelids bald. We went to a circus that was travelling through town once, and Deirdre could not bear the bright lights the shone from above the three rings where the performers entertain the southwestern Ontario town. She blinked against the glaring light and her eyes teared. She had no eyelashes to shield her eyes from the brightness. Her mother shaves Deirde in their laundry room tub. Shirley and I spied this act through the Royce basement window one day. Shirley laughed at the sight of Deirdre’s mother running the shaver over her body but it hurt my heart to watch a mother do this for her child as she tried to protect her daughter from further neighbourhood teasing. Shirley told her brother what we had seen though I kept mum. I am ashamed to admit that we witnessed such an intimate moment between a mother and her child. Dicky MacKirdie and the other boys already say that Deirdre has cooties and shun her regularly. Once they learn that her mother shaves her back and her arms, they show Deirdre no mercy.

We swim at the MacKirdie’s pool one hot, August afternoon. Summer is winding down and we are soaking in every last moment of the sun’s rays as school looms large. Deirdre is often excluded from these neighbourhood invites but she is there that day. She is boy-daft, my mother says. Deirdre jumps in the pool and lunges at the boys at every opportunity. When she jumps into the MacKirdie swimming pool the boys jump out of the pool screaming.

“Cooties! Cooties!”

I am tired of their cruelty toward Deirdre even though Deirdre is never very kind to me. I know the way they treat her is wrong but I don’t speak out. I think too that Deirdre brings it on herself by throwing herself at the boys and leaping on their backs every chance she gets.

We swim all afternoon and then disperse to our individual homes to eat dinner. After doing dishes we reconvene on the MacKirdie’s front lawn for night games. We decide that we will play Hide-and-Go-Seek and declare the lamp post on the corner of the MacKirdie property as home before we review the rules of play.

“She’s not playing!” Dicky points at Deirdre.

All eyes fall on Deirdre and she lowers her head. The other boys start to chant. “Cooties can’t play!”

I see Shirley laugh. She hates Deirdre though I am not sure why. Shirley is pretty, blonde, athletic and popular. Deirdre is none of these things. She is of no threat to Shirley’s emerging feminine power yet Shirley likes it when the boys are cruel to Deirdre. I feel fed up with the exclusion of Deirdre.

“If she’s not playing, then I’m not playing either!” I declare.

There is silence. I look at my street gang as they look at the ground and shuffle their feet uncomfortably. Only Dicky returns my gaze and we lock eyes.

“Okay. Suit yourself!”  Dicky says. “Let’s play you guys!”

“Just play!” Shirley nudges me.

I shake my head ‘no’ and march for home.

“Well, if Angela’s out can I take her place?” Deirdre asks.

“No!” they all shout in unison.

“We don’t want you!” Dicky shouts at Deirdre leaving no room for ambiguity.

I continue on my way home. Cissy is Deirdre’s friend and classmate but she doesn’t stand up for Deirdre that night or any other night. Cissy plays with the rest of the neighbourhood children as I continue into our house. Cissy has a crush on Dicky MacKirdie. She would never challenge him whereas he and I fight constantly.

It is a short time later that our house phone rings. I pick up the phone.

“It’s Deirdre,” the voice on the other end of the line says. “Thanks for sticking up for me tonight.”

“It’s okay,” I say. “They’re jerks.”

My ploy didn’t work that night but the following night the boys let Deirdre play with us. She repays them by jumping all over each of them every chance she gets. They don’t like it when she mauls them but they put up with it because Dicky doesn’t want to lose me from the group and what he says goes for the rest except me. I never do as he desires and it irks him, but at the same time he respects me for it. I stick up for Deirdre because I also participate in cruel actions against her by laughing along with the rest and feeling a sense of power at the shunning of another who is weaker. I felt guilty for my actions and wanted all of the childhood cruelty of Cant Crescent to cease.



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