You could set your watch by the yelling. It was always 7:30. It was as much a part of the evening song of the neighborhood as the crickets and the barking of Barney and Fred, the Ackerman mutts. Mrs. Lansky’s voice echoed up and down Oak Lane as she called Sarah for dinner. Michaela, the one Mrs. Lansky always called “that tomboy girl,” finally yelled back that Sarah was in Roberta’s tree house.
Sarah did her best to be out of the house whenever she could sneak away, and she loved that tree house. She would get to sleep in it during the summer, when Roberta’s parents had camp-out nights. It could sleep five, so Sarah, Roberta, Jesse, Mike and Roberta’s older sister Joan would all take their sleeping bags and their K-Mart flashlights, and would tell stories and eat chips, pretzels and peanut butter sandwiches until even the crickets went to sleep.
Now, it was just Sarah alone up there, with the red rag curtains, peeling purple beanbag chair and the mismatched TV trays. She liked to go there to be alone. She would read, and sometimes she would make up stories about the birds that abandoned their nests in that big old elm, or about where her father might be right at this very minute. Sometimes she would pack a lunch and would stay long after the other kids had gone home for dinner. That’s what happened tonight. She heard Mike tell her mother that she was in the tree house, and as she climbed down, she knew she would have hell to pay.
Sarah’s father does keep in touch, but not in the way she would like him to. She sees signs of him – the Rav4 with the custom purple paint job shows up in the Cedar Grove Mall parking lot from time to time, or Joan will call to say she saw him at the theater with that Barbara woman. Sarah always seems to know where he’s been, but it is always second hand. The last time she actually spoke with him was the night of the big blow up.
It started so slowly that no one noticed. Beds got made. Meals were shopped for, cooked and eaten. Bedtimes came and went. Leaves turned color and fluttered down into wet November piles, and silence descended – the kind of silence that never ends well…