John Beatty

When John Beatty was three-and-a-half and I was three, my Mommy looked after him while his mother, Mrs Beatty, taught school. He had yellow hair two inches long that stuck straight up, a handsome face and a brawny little body. Until that summer, he had been living with his parents and a dog on a houseboat. I marvelled that John hadn’t fallen into the water and drowned.

In the front yard, we turned the hose on full blast. It snaked up and down, forward and back, spraying water high into the air. Then we gulped the water and sprayed each other. I have a photo of John, feet planted wide, staring into the camera while I dance around him on tiptoes, grinning.

When I started kindergarten, glory be to God, John Beatty was in my class. The kindergartners’ playground was enclosed behind a tall chain link fence so the first graders couldn’t hurt us. But they clung to the fence, swaying backward and forward, chanting, “Kindergarten baby, born in the Navy” over and over while I screeched at them to shut up.

In our play yard, we had a pile of long, sturdy planks for building log cabins. We had already built a cabin and a general store. John Beatty grabbed one of these boards, hurled himself forward, and slammed one end of the board into the fence. His wild impact knocked the first graders to the ground. They ran away and never came back. I knew that John had done this just for me.

Soon thereafter, John and Mrs Beatty moved away. I had no news of him until I was forty years old, when my Mom heard that John had married a woman in Michigan who went crazy. Then a couple of years after that, John himself died. I think if he had stayed in town and married me, he’d still be alive.

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