From the Journal of Ryan Kettering
Foster care is like playing Russian Roulette. Sometimes the hammer clicks and you're fine, and sometimes you take a bullet to the brain.
Like the fat guy who beat his wife and used to come into my room late at night and make me do things. That was taking a bullet to the brain. I wasn't there very long, though, because some other kid ratted on the guy and all the foster kids were taken out of their house.
Or those really religious people who made us pray all the time. The man used to beat us with the belt. They were always playing this religious music on the stereo, organ music a lot of the time, like something from an old horror movie. Not CDs or tapes, either, but old vinyl records with lots of scratches and pops on them. That place was so depressing. Another bullet.
The place I'm in now is pretty nice, though. The hammer clicked this time. It's a big house, it's fucking huge and rambling and stands on a plot of land off Fig Tree Lane between two old oak trees. Two stories tall with an attic so big, it's been converted into a roomy bedroom -- that's where Lyssa, Candy, and Nicole sleep -- and a basement big enough to hold a bedroom and a large rec room. The house has central air conditioning, which is nice in Shasta County's blistering summers, like the one we're having now, and there's a big back yard with a nice concrete swimming pool. The woman's name is Marie. She's short and really fat, and she always wears her hair pulled back in a bun. She smiles all the time, even when she's angry. It's kind of creepy sometimes. But she's okay. It seems like she's always rushing around in the kitchen. Her husband's name is Hank, and he's this tall, broad-shouldered guy with only one arm. He lost his right arm in some kind of machine. He used to work in a factory. Now he's got this plastic arm with these metal hooks he can open and close on the end of it. He's got a gut on him, from all the beer he drinks. He sits and watches TV a lot, while she's bustling around in the kitchen. Meanwhile, they've got us working around the house most of the time. Marie keeps the girls busy with cleaning the house and doing laundry and any other thing she can think of, and he keeps us boys -- along with me, there's Gary and Keith -- busy doing yardwork and working on the house. The only one who doesn't do any work is the girl in the basement. But they're okay, Hank and Marie. They're old, in their fifties, I think, but they're okay.
It seems the only time Marie leaves the kitchen is to take care of Maddy. It's short for Madrigal -- what the hell kind of name is Madrigal? Maddy stays in the bedroom in the basement. I mean, she really stays there -- the only time she comes out is once a day when Marie walks her out the back door and around the backyard a few times. Sometimes, Marie asks one of the girls to help her with Maddy. Never the boys. We only see Maddy if we happen to be around when Marie takes her out for her walk.
I was making out with Lyssa in the rec room awhile ago. We've been meeting there at one or two in the morning, after everyone's asleep. We're the newest kids in the home and there was an instant attraction between us when I came three months ago. She'd only been here a month herself back then. She brought a blanket and we stretched out on the couch in the rec room and put the blanket over us. I always use a rubber. I'm fifteen years old and I got a summer job bagging groceries and lifting things at Kent's Market down the street, and I don't need a pregnant girl staring me in the face.
Lyssa is amazingly hot. She's got long black hair and this pale milky skin that I just have to touch when I look at it. She has the kind of body that makes guys bite their hands.
Afterward, we just lay there talking in whispers and she told me she'd helped Marie with Maddy a couple times, most recently the day before.
"Maddy doesn't dress herself," Lyssa said, "so I helped Marie change her clothes."
"What's she like?" I asked.
"Somethin's wrong with that girl," Lyssa said.
I said that she looked fat, and she did. I'd seen Maddy a few times. She looked big and lumbering, with a fat face and narrow piggy eyes, and a flat piggy nose.
"She's big for her age," Lyssa said. "Marie says she's nine, but she's so big-boned and fat. But that's not what's wrong with her."
"Then what is?"
"I ... don't know for sure. Sometimes Maddy looks right through you, like you're not there. Then other times, she looks at you like she can see inside you, like she can see your most secret thoughts. Sometimes she talks and she sounds like a little girl. And sometimes she says things ... really strange things ... and her voice is deep and almost sounds like a man's. Sometimes she talks nonsense, and it sounds like she's speaking another language."
"What kind of strange things does she say?"
"Today, she looked at me, she looked into my eyes and looked deep, Ryan, she saw inside me, I swear, and her voice went deep when she said, 'Sadness will be your constant companion through life, girl.'" Lyssa turned her head to me. It was dark and I couldn't see her face, but there was something scared about the way she moved her head. "That scared me, Ryan. It really scared me. The way she said 'girl,' it ... it sounded like an adult talking to me, it really did, like someone ... old. Really old. And what if she's right? I mean, what if she looked inside me and saw that?"
I chuckled. "Cut it out. She's a retarded girl."
"I don't think she's retarded."
"All you have to do is look at her to see she's retarded. She's got that ... well, that look to her, you know?"
"But what if she's right, Ryan? What if she's right? That girl really gives me the creeps."
Something about Maddy had made Lyssa think it was at least possible that the girl wasn't just rattling off whatever popped into her head. Something about Maddy had frightened Lyssa deeply.
That intrigues me. From what I've seen, Maddy's just a lumbering little retarded girl who's not so little, a sad sight, the kind of child who makes you click your tongue and think, That's too bad. But she'd scared the hell out of Lyssa. Clearly there's more to this Maddy girl than I thought. I haven't been told to stay away from Maddy, but it's been made clear to me that she lives separately and is not a part of the general population of the house. It seems kind of sad that she's kept down in the basement by herself all the time. I don't see any reason why I shouldn't stop by and pay Maddy a visit tomorrow.