Wednesday, July 22, 2020


On August 23rd, 1986, at 5:38 p.m.,
Brittany Harris was cast out
of Girl Scout Troop #835.
Mrs. O’Brien, the troop leader,
called Brittany’s mother
to pick her daughter up
from the meeting that had taken place
in the basement of Jefferson Elementary School.
“It’s her third strike, hon, I’m sorry,”
Mrs. O’Brien explained to Mrs. Harris,
her words a little muffled
by the cigarette dangling out the corner of her mouth.
The craft table had been upset,
the glue and the glitter were all over, and
it was going to be a real pain to clean.
Brittany had made Tish Lopez cry and, even worse,
had slapped Hannah Vaughn right across the face.
“I’m not saying those girls are angels,” Mrs. O’Brien added,
“but we can’t have violence in the troop.
Besides, their mothers are going to lose their minds
when they hear about it,
and I’m pretty sure Tish’s uniform is ruined.
I just don’t have any other choice.”
“No, I understand,” Mrs. Harris sighed.
She wasn’t even angry about it.
Brittany had hated the troop meetings,
looked at the sparkly crafts with contempt,
didn’t speak to the other girls,
never sang the troop songs,
cried so hard on her first overnight camping trip
(which wasn’t even really camping
because they all stayed in a cabin)
that she threw up,
despised going door to door to peddle cookies…
it obviously wasn’t a good fit.
Still, Brittany looked downtrodden
when her mother came to retrieve her,
eyes cast to the ground,
shoulders slumped.
“It’s not fair,” she announced
by way of greeting
as her mother stepped out of
of their 1981 orange Ford LTD.
“Hannah started it, and Tish...”
“I know,” her mother replied.
“Let’s just get home.”
Mrs. Harris didn’t want to run into the other mothers
in that parking lot,
hands resting on hips,
narrowed eyes,
after all,
what have you been doing wrong to raise such a child?
She didn’t want to force her daughter to apologize
to those other girls,
their crocodile tears dried onto smug smiles.
There would be plenty of time for that someday.
Brittany was always going to have a hard time of it,
whether it was a Girl Scout troop or gym class
or a soccer team or a church choir.
She brushed an unruly hair off her child’s face.
Brittany had gotten herself all worked up,
and her forehead was too hot.
“You’re being punished,” her mother warned,
“for making a mess and smacking a girl
and all the rest of it,
but I don’t feel like cooking tonight.
Let’s just get a pizza,
and talk about it later, okay?”
Brittany nodded
and rested her heavy forehead against the cool glass
of the passenger side window.


The famous artist’s final painting
was found in an old wooden chest
that had been buried in a vast green field.
Unlike his previous works of delicate natural beauty,
this piece was the product of a turbulent mind,
waves of angry reds attacking sorrowful blues,
stabbed onto the canvas by a worn brush.
Anyone who stood before it
had the uncanny sensation of falling,
and most people would unconsciously reach out
for a chair or a table or a railing,
something to steady themselves.
The picture bore his signature,
but its authenticity was in doubt
because it was so very unlike anything else
the artist had ever made.
He had vanished from public life
in the three years before his death,
and clearly he had gone mad
or had been possessed by an evil spirit
to create such a thing,
if it was not a blasphemous forgery.
The artist’s cousin, who was in charge of his estate,
was afraid of what harm the painting
would cause to the artist’s reputation
(and future sales).
“Destroy it!” she commanded,
but her assistant hesitated.
He too had known the artist in life
and could not bear to throw the canvas on the fire.
So he hid it in his own attic,
waiting for a time when it could be better understood.
Half a century later,
the painting was declared the artist’s masterpiece.
Unlike his trivial, meaningless little landscapes,
this was a true expression of a tormented soul.
There were lingering rumors about the piece, though,
when one owner, and then two, met their untimely demise
through murder,
when a museum displaying it burned to the ground
with this painting as the only survivor,
when a visitor attempted suicide in front of it.
It was stolen, and then recovered,
and finally misplaced,
then forgotten.
And the artist’s pleasanter pictures
came back in style.