The Girl with the Silver Eyes
KATIE SAT ON THE SMALL balcony of apartment 2-A, looking down over the front sidewalk. There was no yard, except for a narrow strip of grass between the parking lot and the street. Nowhere to play. Her mother had been concerned about that, for though there was a park two blocks away, she did not want Katie to go there alone.
So for the moment she sat on the balcony, looking through the iron bars that formed the sides of it, and watched the activity in the street.
Katie had always lived in the country, and she had liked that. This seemed interesting, however, and it was a nice street. It was wide and shaded with big trees, and most of the time there wasn’t a lot of traffic. Except when people were going to work, of course, the way they were now.
She saw Miss Katzenburger emerge from the front door below and head toward the street. Katie hadn’t met her yet, but she knew who she was. She’d seen
which apartment she went into—3-B, one floor up—and had looked at the nameplate beside the door.
Miss Katzenburger had red hair and was quite pretty. Katie admired pretty people, like Miss Katzenburger and her mother; she wasn’t pretty herself. Even if she hadn’t had to wear horn-rimmed glasses, she knew that her face was plain. Her hair was an ordinary color, a sort of pale tan that was not quite blonde and not quite brown, and as straight as it was possible for hair to be. When she grew old enough to have a choice, she thought she might like to be redheaded, like Miss K. Or, her second choice, blonde like her mother.
“Hey, Joy, wait a minute!”
Katie pressed her face against the cold bars to see who was calling after Miss K. Oh, him.
She had met Mr. Pollard. He lived in 3-A, right across from Miss K., and she’d collided with him on the stairs last night, her first whole day at The Cedars Apartments. He had dropped some papers he was carrying, and Katie had stepped on them, after which he had sworn at her. And then, when she had said nothing except, “I’m sorry,” and stared at him, Mr. Pollard quickly snatched up his papers and edged around her, almost running the rest of the way down.
The way people often ran away from her, Katie thought. She’d wondered if it would be different in the city from the way it had been at home, near Delaney. Oh, they didn’t always run, exactly, but when they looked into her face they often backed away, muttering things she couldn’t understand, and hurried in some other direction.
Mr. Pollard, who was nearly bald on top even though he wasn’t very old yet, didn’t see her now. He caught
up with Miss K., and their voices carried clearly to the little balcony over their heads.
“I’m afraid I’ve missed my bus; could you give me a lift?” he asked.
“Sure,” Miss K. agreed. She had a nice voice. “I have to pick up my girl friend, Angie, on the way.”
“That’s OK. Just so I get downtown. I had to stay up for hours last night, redoing all those papers that brat walked on, and I overslept.”
Katie tightened her fingers on the bars. It had been just as much his fault as hers that they’d run into each other; he had been running, too. Why were so many things her fault?
They had stopped, just a few yards out from the front edge of the balcony; she could see the tops of their heads, one a beautiful mass of red-gold curls, the other with a few strands of hair combed across the bald spot.
“Wait a minute, have I got my keys?” Miss K. dug around in her handbag. “What brat are you talking about? The little girl in 2-A? I thought she looked like a cute little owl, with those glasses. The quiet type. I doubt if she’ll be any trouble. Oh, here they are!”
Miss K. held the keys up, jingling them. Katie always thought of people by their initials; it was easier, especially when they had names like Katzenburger. Mr. P. shifted his briefcase to the other hand. “Did you look at her? At her eyes?”
Miss K. stopped jingling the keys. “No. What about them?”
“They’re silver. And they’re weird, she’s a weird kid.”
“Silver eyes?” Miss K. looked at him more closely. “Mr. Pollard, you haven’t been drinking, have you?”
“Of course not! Look at the kid the next time you
see her—she’s got funny eyes, I tell you! And I thought you were going to call me Hal.”
They started walking toward the cars in the parking area. Miss K. owned a light blue Pinto; Katie had seen her get out of it yesterday afternoon.
They were almost there when Mr. P. gave a howl of mingled pain and rage, and doubled over, grabbing for his ankle. Then he turned and looked back toward the building.
His eyes met Katie’s, and there was fear and anger in them. He swore again, loudly enough so she could hear it. “I told you, there’s something strange about that kid. I nearly broke my ankle.”
Miss K. stared at him in amazement. “Well, I can see that, but what did she have to do with it? You tripped over a rock!”
“Yeah! Yeah, I got hit in the ankle by a rock that wasn’t there a few minutes ago. It just sort of . . . sort of slid right out in the middle of the sidewalk and smacked me!”
He was still glaring at Katie as he rubbed at his injured ankle, hopping on one leg, then balancing himself against a light post.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake! You can’t possibly be blaming a child for that?” Miss K. unlocked the car door and regarded him in exasperation.
“There wasn’t any rock on the sidewalk a minute ago, was there? Did you see it, a minute ago? Did you ever see a rock on the sidewalk before?”
“Well, no,” Miss K. admitted. “But they’re all around the edges of the flower beds; something must have knocked one loose.”
“What?” Mr. P. demanded. “What was near it? It
moved just now, just in time to connect with my ankle bone! And she’s up there, watching us.”
Miss K. lifted her gaze to the second floor balcony. For a moment their eyes locked over the distance between them. Katie’s face didn’t change expression. She could see Miss K. thinking it over, and then she said, “She’s only a cute little girl.”
“Cute? Are we talking about the same kid?” Mr. P. turned and stared at her too, angry and baffled. “I don’t know how she does it, but there’s something about her.”
“Well, if you want a ride with me, come on,” Miss K. said, and they got into the Pinto and drove away.
Katie sat watching two men from the apartment house across the street, men who didn’t pay any attention to her. And then she remembered the rock that was still in the middle of the sidewalk, and she stared at it, very hard, until it began to move. It slid slowly at first, and then, as Katie’s power built up with increased effort, it spurted off the rest of the way and lodged somewhat crookedly in the edge of the flowerbed.
Katie had known, long before she learned that by thinking about moving things she could actually move them, that she was different from other kids. She knew it partly because the adults around her said so.
She had lived with her mother and father until she was nearly four, and she remembered that, though they had both been kind and affectionate, they had sometimes been puzzled by her behavior.
“She never cries!” Monica Welker had said, on more than one occasion, when Katie was listening. “I didn’t want a fussy baby, but even when she was only an infant, she never cried! At first I was terrified that there
was something wrong with her—mentally, I mean. It wasn’t long before we could see that wasn’t so—and then she went almost too far the other way. I mean, Katie’s so bright that sometimes she frightens me!”
Katie, considering that, thought Monica rather confused. First she was afraid her baby was retarded, and then was equally afraid because she was intelligent.
She had, when she was little, called her parents Mama and Daddy. But now Monica didn’t seem like her mother at all. Her parents had gotten a divorce when she was three, almost four years old, and her mother had gone to work and couldn’t keep her, so she’d gone to live with Daddy and Grandma Welker. But then Daddy had gone away to work somewhere else, and she had lived with just Grandma; and Grandma, too, thought she was peculiar. While she lived with Grandma, Monica had come to see her sometimes, but it was clear Katie made her nervous.
Of course, part of that, Katie realized, was her own fault. When she knew that some of the things she did were things no other kid she’d ever met could do, maybe she should have stopped doing them. At least where other people could know about them, anyway. But it was like having an itch and not scratching it. When she wanted to move something, the compulsion was too strong to resist; usually, she’d already done it by the time she thought about the consequences.
Like the time her grandma had hurt her leg and was muttering about not wanting to leave her Social Security check in the mailbox for fear those nasty Johnson boys would steal it on their way home from school. They often went along peeking into everyone’s boxes to see what was there, and more than once they’d scattered
mail in the ditches beside the road.
“I don’t think I can walk that far,” Grandma Welker had said, rubbing at the knee she’d twisted when she slipped on the cellar steps.
“I could go get the check,” Katie offered.
“No, no. I don’t want you to go out there alone in this bad weather. You know what happened the last time.”
The last time a man had stopped and asked her if she wanted a ride. He was a perfectly nice man, Katie knew he was, and she hadn’t gotten into the car, and the man had simply smiled and driven away. Katie had tried to explain that it was only that he thought she was a long way from home, and it was cold and raining, and he was kind. But Grandma Welker was convinced he was a child molester.
Katie was a little vague about what child molesters actually did. But she knew it was something unpleasant, and she had sense enough not to get into a car or walk away with a stranger, for heaven’s sake. Grownups told you and told you things, and then they acted as if you didn’t have any brains at all, even when they admitted you were bright.
So, not wanting to upset her grandma, Katie had said no more. But when the old woman was busy peeling potatoes for supper, Katie sat in the window seat in the dining room and concentrated on the mailbox. The door of it stuck, and for a few minutes she thought it wasn’t going to come open. But then it did, and she lifted the tan envelope that the government check always came in, wafted it noiselessly through the air, opened the door, brought it in, and deposited it on the dining room table.
Grandma Welker found it when she came in to set
the table. She let out a sort of yelp, like old Dusty when someone rocked on his tail, and almost dropped the plates she was carrying.
“Where did that come from?” she demanded.
Katie turned from the window seat, pulling her short skirt down over her knees to cover the scabs. “What?” she asked innocently.
“My check! My Social Security check!”
Katie simply stared at her blankly.
“Did the mailman bring it up to the house?”
“He must have,” Katie decided, seeing an easy way out. Only her grandma couldn’t leave it at that.
“Did he give it to you? Did he knock on the door?”
Katie stared. She knew it bothered the adults around her, the way she could keep her small face perfectly expressionless, yet it seemed the safest thing to do most of the time.
After a moment, her grandma gave up and took the check away, muttering under her breath.
Maybe, Katie thought, it would have been better to risk having the Johnson boys steal it than to have saved her grandma the walk to the mailbox.
It had taken her a while to learn to be careful about what she moved. She knew the name for the moving, now; she’d read it in a book. Telekinesis. That meant that she was able to move objects from one place to another without touching them. At first she hadn’t realized that she was the only one who could do it. But when people got upset or excited about it, it didn’t take her long to catch on.
There had been a time when Grandma Welker had been busy in the kitchen and had spoken to Katie over
her shoulder. “I need a clean hanky. Be a good girl; run upstairs and get me one out of my top bureau drawer.”
And Katie, who was curled in the rocking chair munching on an apple and reading Call of the Wild, paused long enough to slide open the bureau drawer, mentally search out the handkerchief, and waft the square of linen down the stairs and into Grandma’s apron pocket.
“Katie! Did you hear what I said? Run upstairs—”
“There’s a hanky in your pocket,” Katie said, spitting out a seed and looking up long enough to see the amazement creep over her grandma’s face when she felt in the apron pocket.
“Why, I declare, there wasn’t one there a minute ago . . .”
She looked suspiciously at Katie, who was again engrossed in her book.
“I could see the edge of it sticking out,” Katie said. Grandma Welker said no more, but the suspicion remained, unspoken.
As time went on, this peculiar ability of Katie’s made more and more problems between them. When Katie learned how to turn off the light from the wall switch after she’d gotten into bed and turn the pages of her book without touching them (she didn’t mean to do that when someone was watching her, but sometimes she forgot) and smooth her hair without using the hair brush, she made Grandma Welker nervous.
Grandma stopped taking her to church after the time the pages of Pastor Grooten’s sermon got all mixed up, although Katie hadn’t actually had anything to do with that. A breeze had come in the open window (it was a
very hot day), and the pages had slithered off onto the floor, and when he picked them up they were out of order.
Of course, she had been responsible when Pastor Grooten’s hair stood on end and seemed to do an odd little dance. It had been a long, boring sermon, and Katie, unable to keep her mind on it, had started entertaining herself. She hadn’t thought anyone would notice. She’d also stirred up air currents carrying pollen from a nearby field of ragweed, and people in the congregation had begun to grab for their handkerchiefs.
Pastor Grooten was the sort of preacher who didn’t appreciate crying babies during his sermons, nor coughing and sneezing. He had paused and looked down on his flock, frowning. How could all those people suddenly have to sneeze at the same time?
Just for the fun of it, Katie had shifted the air current then so that the pollen drifted under his own nose; and when he sneezed, Pastor Grooten had to grab for his sermon pages before they sailed off the lecturn. But they didn’t actually slide until the next Sunday. On that day Katie remembered how suspicious her grandma had been about Pastor’s hair standing on end the Sunday before (after the windows had been closed by one of the deacons). It all came to a head after the service when Grandma had said Katie could stay with old Mrs. Tanner, down the road, instead of going to church. Mrs. Tanner was bedridden, and Katie could read to her for an hour and a half a week, on Sunday mornings.
Katie didn’t mind. She read very well—she had taught herself to read at the age of three—and Mrs. Tanner let her read anything she wanted to. Katie read her Gentle Ben, and The View From the Cherry Tree, and Charlie
and the Chocolate Factory. And Mrs. Tanner fed her oatmeal cookies. They were store bought, and not as good as homemade, but it was a kind thought.
After those fateful Sundays, though she preferred the new arrangement, Katie knew she had to be more careful. She tried to lull Grandma Welker’s suspicions by walking after things and not turning off the light from in bed unless she was sure her grandma was nowhere about.
It was too late, though. While Grandma Welker didn’t come right out and accuse Katie of being a witch, or something worse, it was easy to see that she wasn’t comfortable around her.
Mr. and Mrs. Armbruster, the neighbors across the road, made it clear that they didn’t want Katie around their place. Most of the things they blamed on Katie were things she hadn’t had a thing to do with, just like when the wind blew Pastor Grooten’s sermon pages around. Things like ripe fruit dropping onto Mr. Armbruster’s head could happen to anyone who walked through an orchard at the right time of year. If he hadn’t seen Katie watching him at the time, would he have thought she had anything to do with it? And she hadn’t been the one who opened the gate and let the pigs out into the cornfield that was supposed to be growing silage for Mr. Armbruster’s cows.
The Armbrusters had never accused her of being a witch, either; but Mr. Armbruster did say (in Katie’s hearing, to Pastor Grooten) that he always seemed to be unlucky when that child was around. Like so many of the people Katie saw regularly, the Armbrusters regarded her as someone to be mildly afraid of.
The same was true of the kids at school.
Katie knew she would never be the type who joined in and became a leader of anything. She was good at games, but there was always someone who didn’t like the way she played them. She didn’t like balls coming at her, hard and fast; once, when she was a kindergartener, she’d been hit in the face with a softball, and her glasses were broken and she’d had a black eye. That was before she learned how to make the ball veer off to one side. She knew that could spoil a game, but somehow, like other things she did, she couldn’t help doing it. When it seemed vital to move something, she moved it.
So far, that rock she’d sent out to connect with Mr. P’s ankle was the heaviest thing she’d moved. The power was growing stronger, she was certain of that. Maybe someday she’d be able to move big things, like automobiles or people.
Sitting there on the balcony of The Cedars Apartments, Katie giggled, thinking about moving Mr. P. suddenly up the stairs, with his briefcase and his papers flying in all directions. She’d never dare to do anything like that, but it was amusing to think about.
“Katie!” Monica’s voice came through the open sliding glass doors behind her. Monica wanted Katie to call her Mama, the way she had when she was little, but so far Katie couldn’t bring herself to do it. Grandma Welker had always referred to her as Monica, and that’s what Daddy had called her, too, and Katie had come to think of her that way. She was, after six years of living apart, almost a stranger to Katie.
“Katie! Where are you? Oh—honey, be careful out there, it’s a long way to the ground.”
Monica stood in the opening, dressed for work in a smart summer suit of pale blue that made her eyes bluer
and her hair more blonde. There was an anxious expression on her pretty face.
“How could I fall off, when I’m sitting down behind the bars?” Katie asked reasonably. “Are you ready to go?”
“Yes. The sitter just arrived. Come in and meet her, darling.”
“I told you,” Katie said. “I don’t need a sitter. I’m almost ten years old, you know.”
“Yes. But you’re used to living in the country, and it’s different, in the city. All kinds of things can happen—”
“I know about child molesters and all that,” Katie said with dignity. “And keeping the doors locked, and not admitting on the telephone that I’m alone. I’m not stupid.”
“No, of course not. But I’ll feel better if there’s someone here with you. So indulge your old mother, will you? And put up with her?”
Katie got up off the floor of the balcony and went inside, sighing. It was so silly, and a needless expense, too, to have a sitter for someone who was nearly ten. Especially when she knew Monica really couldn’t afford it. She’d already admitted this apartment was the best she could manage, and she’d have to cut down on something else to pay for it.
Not that there was anything wrong with the apartment. It was very nice. Only it was small. Monica had been living in a one bedroom place, which was cheaper, and had had to find this one in a hurry when Grandma Welker died. Katie’s bedroom was so little there was only room for a single bed, a dresser, and a tiny desk, but it was considered a two bedroom apartment. The pantry at Grandma’s had been larger than Katie’s new
bedroom. Some of the closets had been almost as large.
“Mrs. Hornecker, this is my daughter Katie,” Monica was saying brightly. “Katie, this is the sitter, Mrs. Hornecker.”
Katie took one look at Mrs. H. and knew she was going to hate her.