Writers often use word ‘prompts’ to prod their imagination. These can be single words or short phrases. I enjoy writing from prompts. Last night the words “Dirty Pigtails” came to mind, quite out of the blue. That thought was soon followed by this fictional story. Beware: it’s not an altogether happy story. It’s more tragic than most things I write.
DIRTY PIGTAILS © 2017 Bill Murphy
Today is the anniversary of the death of Katy Winstead. I think of poor Katy often, especially on this date. I always have, and always will. She’s been gone since 1962, when we were in the 6th grade.
People might ask, “Did you love Katie.” Of course I did. But not in a boyfriend/girlfriend sense. We were only 12 at the time, far too young to understand what true love was all about. Yet I loved her still, as much as a friend as anything.
Had she lived, and we’d continued to grow up together, then our relationship might have morphed into something more serious. We’ll never know.
Katie came from what we called back then, ‘the wrong side of the tracks.’ Katie’s father had abandoned the family when Katie was 5 – forcing her under-educated mother to go to work to support the family of 4. Katie was the middle child. The other 2 were boys.
Life was hard for Katie and her family. If something wasn’t broken or in short supply, then it had been stolen from some heartless neighbor. Katie never wore brand-name clothes – it was either thrift shop, garage sale, or do without. I would say that at least Katie was always clean, but I’d not be truthful. She and her clothing always bordered between dingy and dirty. Perhaps there was not enough hot water, or not enough clean clothes, or not enough time. Who knows. Like I said, life was hard for Katie.
Most people at least bathe more than they wash their hair. So Katie’s hair washing was far less frequent than most of us. Katie’s hair was auburn, but most often looking more like brown. And, she always wore it in pigtails.
Katie and I were friends – close friends. We ate together in the lunchroom, hung out together on the playground, and walked to an from school together – at least as far as where our paths intersected. We spent even more time together in the summer, much to my mother’s dismay. She said that our relationship was ‘unhealthy.’ When she said that, it was like she was referring to Katie’s personal hygiene, and I resented it. I always stood up for Katie.
I’m really not sure what drew us together. Our backgrounds were so different. They say that opposites attract, so perhaps that explains it. And like I said, perhaps, just perhaps, Katie and I would still be a pair, if it were not for that terrible night that October.
It was Wednesday night, and I was in church with my family. Katie sometime went with us. Truthfully, Katie would simply ‘just show up.’ But that was because I’d asked her to. But this night – her mother had to work especially late, her older brother was spending the night with a friend, so Katie had to stay home with her younger brother.
The evil, heartless character broke down the back door and walked in. According to her brother, the man grabbed Katie, and took her.
Katie’s neighborhood was nothing like Mayberry of TV. It was a rough and tumble neighborhood. And just over the back tumble down fence, was a sprawling junk yard. The perfect place for vermin like Katie’s captor.
Precious time was wasted before police finally arrived to ‘investigate the situation.’
Katie’s crumpled body wasn’t found until the next morning. The police were amazed by the terrific way she’d fought back. We heard later that her fingernails on both hands had been broken or bent backwards – where she’d clawed fiercely at him over and over again. There was as much of his blood on her as there was of her own.
Her assailant was never found. Perhaps he was from out of town.
But somewhere today, there may still be an evil character walking the earth who looks for all the world as if he’d been mauled by a grizzly bear. Katie didn’t go down without a fight.
Such was Katie – sweet, innocent, Katie. I miss you girl! I do.