The Swamp Girl
Chapter 3 – The Best of Everything
My nemesis had long, blonde tresses down to her waist, of which I was envious. That was always my recollection, anyway. But recently she posted on Facebook our kindergarten class photo, taken in the fall of that school year, which shows she had short, auburn hair. My hair was still that baby blonde that eventually fades away to light brown as the child matures; the trick of nature that endears small children to their parents so that they’ll care for them.
My eyes were a bright blue; hers were a rather lifeless brown, like a doll’s. Or a shark’s. How did this girl’s hair go from brown to blonde waist-length tresses in the short space of nine months or so when, as I just pointed out, most children who are born blonde turn to light brown by kindergarten or the first grade? Had it changed hue from the chlorine in their swimming pool? Only if they swam in the winter.
Or had her mother, a beauty parlor queen like my maternal grandmother, discreetly had her daughter’s hair dyed blonde to appease some blonde-envy on the Swamp Girl’s part? Oh what a catty, unbecoming, paranoid thing to think. Still, did her mother bring her to regularly scheduled appointments to keep up appearances, so as not to betray her daughter’s secret? Only her hairdresser knew for sure.
The family across the street also bought their daughter dolls she never played with and dresses that she never wore. Her father would give her anything she wanted.
Forgive me if it sounds like catty jealousy. The jealousy, in truth, existed on her part more than mine. I admit I was envious of her hair. But after seeing that photo, I just can’t help wondering if jealousy played a part in the sudden change of hair color?
She wasn’t merely jealous, the green-eyed monster that infects all of us at one time or another. She seethed with jealousy. She didn’t have everything, after all, for all her father’s money. She didn’t have what I had and she hated me for it.
Her backyard was a swamp, like something you’d find in Louisiana. Sometimes we made the mistake of playing with her, my younger brother and I. He loved exploring the outdoors and The Swamp was a great adventure for him.
“This is a swamp!” he exclaimed excitedly. She stood on a spit of land by a tree. A cunning scheme evidently was forming in her mind. Her eyes narrowed.
“Yes, it’s a swamp,” she said slyly. “And maybe there are alligators!”
“Alligators?!” my brother said in alarm. I had an imagination, too. I looked down doubtfully. In this little drop of water?
“Don’t worry,” I said to my brother, at last. “There are no alligators here. It’s not big enough.”
No alligators; just pests, and one of them was looking down on us over by that tree, scornful, malicious, glittering with a nasty joy, knowing that she’d proven us to be gullible, naïve dupes. If there was an alligator, I hoped it ate her first. If it had only been the tease, I wouldn’t have minded; all in good fun. There was nothing good about the Swamp Girl and not much fun. I didn’t like the contemptuous way she turned her back on us, a superior sneer curling her lips as she looked away as though we weren’t even worth her glance.
She’d exulted in the same manner when her father brought their Doberman pinscher to meet my mother, who loved dogs. The thing was more horse than dog and I was terrified; my head barely cleared its underbelly as it rambled along on its long legs. I was afraid of it the way anyone would be wary around a trotting horse, fearful of being trampled.
Her master, I noted, didn’t trouble himself to bring the dog to heel until my mother asked him to do so. The dog was okay, actually; not vicious (like her mistress) just – big. I preferred the dog down the street; a black and white collie mix with its adorable, wiggle-waggling body. Our family dog – a female Rhodesian Ridgeback – had died two or three years before, breaking my mother’s heart. We missed her, but “No more dogs,” Mom declared.
Swamp Girl laughed me and my younger brother to scorn then, too. I was older, but he was quite tall for his age so that we were the same height and looked the same age. Everyone always assumed a) that I was younger than I was and b) he must be immature for his age. She made sure she was standing on the curb above us for good effect, to appear taller, like the dog, than she really was. Naturally, she wouldn’t be afraid of her own dog, I thought.
I really hated her.