Petula's Birthday

April 22, 1940


The clamoring, toneless yell was as familiar as ever, and Petula paid no attention. She knew that Mrs. Jolie knew exactly where she was, nestled between the branches of the sycamore tree in the front yard, and that she wouldn't come down, not for all the poor woman's yelling and screaming. It was much better to sit high above the yard and peer out through the budding leaves at the dusty road that ran along beside her fence, hoping that by some impossible wish an interesting person would wander by. It was a special day, after all.

She had never understood why her street was called Paris Avenue. Paris was the name of someplace exotic and unreachable, the word itself chiming on her lips like a foreign bell. Susan Grady's father, who had been in the Great War, once spoke of Paris to Reverend Thomas during the church social last winter, and of course she had found it on the map. But people in Oasis Rock rarely spoke of the outside world. Even the war had not much affected them.

"Petula Milk!" Mrs. Jolie called again, her voice punctuated by the creak of the screen door. "I know you're out there! Come in at once, or I'll--"

Petula added another bead onto the long chain that dangled between her fingers. She was fond of Ms. Jolie, who had been the family's housekeeper since the day she had been brought into the world, nine years ago today, "a-hollerin' like the Devil got his hold on her," as her mother often said. It wasn't that she meant to be difficult, but ever since those first minutes of her life, Petula had been as feisty as a wild raccoon in the trash barrel. She'd heard the whispers behind closed doors, in church and at school, and she'd seen the other girls sit quietly with their dolls while she tossed a baseball and shimmied up tree trunks. It didn't bother her that the boys in town called her "mangy", and the girls sneered down there noses at her "improper" ways. It only bothered Mother and Father, and Petula sometimes wished she had it in her to please them.

"There you are!" Mrs. Jolie snapped. She was standing at the base of the tree, peering up at Petula through thick-rimmed glasses. "Climb down from there immediately! I was just about to ice your birthday cake."

Petula bounded obediently out of the tree and pattered into the house, letting the screen door crash behind her with a clamor that made Mrs. Jolie flinch. Oh well, she thought to herself. It's my birthday, after all.

The End

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