The Broken Typewriter
Binny took her eye off the girl momentarily as she watched her parents get into one of the family’s cars and drive up the hill. She had no idea what they were off doing. She was sure it couldn’t be as important as spending time with their kids. But her parents had made their priorities clear.
Binny looked back towards the girl who was now sitting cross-legged on one of the deep steps leading up to her house. She had a shiny shallow teal box of sorts sitting on her lap. What was that thing – a laptop? It had a piece of paper sticking out of the top. Perhaps it was a printer. What was she doing with a printer on her lap?
Binny watched for a couple of minutes, her mind wandering back to how angry she was with her brother, how she was going to get her parents to believe her. There were short interludes of concern for her sister as well. All of a sudden, the teal box on the girl’s lap seemed to gently explode, pieces spilling onto the sidewalk below. The parts fanned out in a rough semi-circle around the girl.
Binny shook her head in frustration – this girl brought things out of her house only to break them into a zillion pieces all over the sidewalk? But before Binny could finish judging, it looked like the girl across the street had started to cry.
Suddenly, Binny found herself empathizing with the girl that she’d been so annoyed with. Binny made up her mind quickly and headed for the door.
As Binny passed Zach on her way out of the house, he started to tell her, “Mom and Dad…” but stopped mid-sentence again. This time she didn’t even need a single word to make her feelings clear about his earlier betrayal.
Binny couldn’t focus on her brother now, though. She had another mission — to investigate the mystery of the girl next door and the teal box on her lap.
“What happened?” Binny took some satisfaction in that now it was her turn to surprise the girl instead of the other way around.
The girl looked up and wiped her eyes quickly. “What are you talking about?” She sniffled a little too.
“Uh, this thing that you broke. The pieces all over the ground.”
“It’s a typewriter. And I didn’t break it.” the girl responded, correcting Binny twice in two short sentences.
Any sympathy Binny had felt for the girl was rapidly fading in the face of the girl’s corrections. They made Binny feel stupid. Of course Binny knew what a typewriter was. How could she be expected to recognize one that was far away, teal, and being used outdoors – who types outside? Now that it was in a zillion pieces it looked even less like a typewriter than she imagined it had a few minutes earlier.
“I know it’s a typewriter. But I saw you break it.” There. That would show her.
“You saw me? Were you watching me?” The girl seemed nervous.
Binny backtracked. “Uh, I wasn’t watching you. I just glanced out my window and saw you break it.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about. I came out here and it was already broken.” The girl raised her voice.
Binny was getting fed up with people lying to her. She wondered if she was going crazy. First Zach lied to her parents, and now this girl was lying about the typewriter. Binny knew what she had seen. The girl must have broken it. What other explanation could there be?
Binny looked up from the mess of parts, preparing to lecture the girl on what Binny had seen with her own two eyes when it became clear the girl was about to cry again. The anger and righteousness that Binny was feeling drained out of her in a rush, replaced once again with sympathy for the girl. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. You’re the one that’s not okay, spying on people and accusing them of breaking things.” The girl’s tears were now coming no matter how hard she tried to keep them inside.
“I’m sorry.” Binny said, not quite sure what else to do.
Not knowing quite what to do herself, the girl sprang from the steps and ran down the hill trying to get away from Binny, the typewriter, and whatever else was bothering her.
Binny started to go after her and yelled, “Wait! Penny!” but Penny had gotten too quick a start and was already rounding the corner, out of sight.
Troubled by her thoughts, Binny walked to the woods on auto-pilot. Even though her last visit had been pretty disappointing, it was still her only place of refuge. She had already forgotten the worst of her experience, though she did remind herself not to sit back down in her secret spot until she, or a summer rain, was able to clean it out properly.
Wondering exactly what had happened to the typewriter, and why the usually cool-as-a-cucumber Penny had suddenly started freaking out, Binny almost tripped over Caleb, who was on his knees weeding and carefully arranging the border stones on one of the paths through the woods.
“Careful Binny, I’m not the path, I’m just fixing it.”
Binny laughed despite herself, her anger at her family and her confusion about Penny dissipating a bit. “Oh. I’m so sorry Caleb. Are you ok?”
“I may be old, but I’m not falling apart. It’s going to take more than a bump from you to break me.” Caleb teased.
Binny noticed that Caleb hadn’t stopped working when she bumped him. He kept working even when he was speaking to her. Caleb’s focus always remained on the task before him.
Before Binny could ruminate further, she heard a loud “Ding!” over her shoulder. Something metallic had hit a tree. The sound got Caleb’s attention as well.
Three cackling teenagers – they looked about seventeen to Binny – and a dog had appeared through the trees. Caleb stood up with surprising speed, inserting himself between Binny and the teenagers. Caleb was usually in a crouch tending to the forest, and even when he stood he seemed to stoop a bit, so his full height caught Binny a bit by surprise.
“These woods aren’t your trash can.” Caleb’s voice, and caught the teenagers’ attention, interrupting their laughter.
Binny cautiously peered around Caleb to see what was happening.
One of the kids, not the tallest one, but certainly the strongest by the looks of his arms, stepped forward to respond to Caleb’s admonition. He held a large tree branch in his hand. It looked like he’d recently broken it off one of the trees, and decided to use it as a bat to hit whatever had sailed over Binny and Caleb’s heads.
“These aren’t your woods, Grandpa.” The boy had bright red spiky hair and his face was blotchy. Binny couldn’t tell if that was its natural state or the boy was just getting angry. Maybe both.
If the boys expected Caleb to back down, they were soon disappointed. Caleb didn’t seem to be afraid. He just looked at them calmly and sternly. In the silence their dog started barking.
Caleb looked briefly from the red haired boy to the dog and the dog went quiet as well. Then in a more conciliatory tone Caleb continued, “Kids play in these woods. You could have hit her.” Caleb’s head nodded a bit in Binny’s direction to indicate the ‘her’ to whom he was referring. Realizing that all teenage eyes were on her, Binny receded behind Caleb trying to make herself less visible.
A sarcastic “Sorry.” emanated from the boy.
Caleb paused another moment, and continued, “In addition, while I’m not a grandfather myself, I do know yours, Mr. Priluck. And I don’t think he would be pleased to find out that you were drinking beer in the woods.”
A look of stark fear crossed the boy’s face. One of the other two teenagers instinctively put the remains of their six-pack behind his back.
After a moment Binny heard one of the other boys say to the redheaded one, “Come on. Let’s go somewhere else. This is boring.” Binny heard muted grunts of agreement, and the teenagers made their way in a different direction.
Caleb stood still for a moment watching them leave, and then went back to the task at hand. Binny could hear the boys laughing to themselves as they disappeared through the trees. It seemed like Caleb wasn’t going to say anything about what had happened. Binny decided she would.
“That wasn’t nice.” Binny observed.
“No, it wasn’t.” Caleb agreed calmly.
Binny was getting irritated that Caleb wasn’t more upset. “They littered. They broke branches off trees. They, they,” she sputtered, “they were… drinking! Isn’t there more that we should do? Something?”
Now Caleb paused his work for Binny’s sake and smiled broadly at her. “What should we do Miss Jordan?”
“Call the police maybe?”
“You have a strong sense of right and wrong, Binny Jordan. I like that about you.”
Binny was caught off guard by the compliment, which also seemed like a criticism. “Don’t you also?” she asked.
Caleb smiled to himself now at Binny’s retort. “Yes. I suppose you’re correct. We share that.”
“So why can’t we do anything about it?”
“What can we do? I can’t force those boys to grow up. They’ll have to do it on their own schedule. And maybe never.”
“What about telling his grandfather?”
“Well, Mr. Priluck’s grandfather likes me less than Mr. Priluck does right now. But luckily, the younger Mr. Priluck doesn’t know that. So the threat will have to do for now.” Caleb had a mischievous look in his eye as he let Binny in on his secret.
Binny considered his point carefully.
“There’s one thing we can do,” said Caleb. Binny’s ears pricked up. “Could you please pick up that can they threw and put it in my trashbag.”
“That’s certainly one thing I can do,” Binny said with a sigh. It wasn’t the answer Binny was hoping for. It didn’t feel right to just sit there when someone wasn’t doing what they were supposed to. But she dutifully walked over to the tree to search out the offending litter.
Binny searched until she found the can. A tall silver beer can. Well, it had been tall – it was crunched up now to make for better throwing – but there was no mistaking it. It was the same kind of can as the ones that were covering the floor of the abandoned car that was Binny’s secret hiding place!
Binny tried to think of ways she could restrict entry to her hideout from teenager and dog alike as she deposited the can in Caleb’s trash bag. Caleb interrupted her thoughts, “What’s on your mind, Miss Jordan?”
Binny liked it when Caleb called her that. It sounded so formal. Binny remembered being called “Miss Jordan” by Caleb when he worked in his flower shop. She would sit on the counter while Jay would pick out flowers for her mom. Invariably, Caleb would offer her a free blossom and call her Miss Jordan like she was one of the adults. But since Caleb had closed his shop, her Dad hadn’t taken her to buy any more flowers.
“Something’s on your mind.”
“Just regular stuff.”
“Oh, just ‘regular’ stuff,” Caleb responded gently, teasing her. “Don’t be too hard on your parents, they’re doing their best.”
How did Caleb know she was angry with her parents? It didn’t occur to Binny that most ten-year-old girls are angry with their parents on a regular basis, so this line of thought might not have been that difficult for Caleb to divine. Binny closed up a bit worried about what else Caleb knew.
“Taking care of someone, or something, is hard. You can’t always protect it from getting hurt.” Caleb motioned with his head to the boys who had been leaving their trail of destruction and garbage throughout the woods.
“You don’t have kids to take care of. Kids aren’t the same as trees.” Binny said.
If it bothered Caleb to be reminded that he had no children, he didn’t show it. “That’s true Binny. But don’t underestimate how hard it is for your parents to see you hurting, or how much they wish they could spare you every cut and bruise.”
As if sensing that Binny didn’t want to dive into the embarrassing details of how dysfunctional her family had become, Caleb went in a different direction. “But something else is bothering you right now. You look like you just had a fight with your best friend.”
At that Binny really was taken aback. “She’s not my best friend. She’s not even a friend! I was just trying to find out what happened.”
“Who are we talking about?” Caleb asked.
“Penny. She lives across the street from me.”
“Ah yes. Miss Yang.”
“Yes.” Binny confirmed.
“Miss Yang who is most certainly not your best friend.” The corners of Caleb’s mouth were slightly upturned.
“Or a friend at all.” Caleb said.
“Exactly.” Binny said firmly.
Caleb grabbed a small shovel and pick and tried to dislodge a stone that could be a tripping hazard in the path. This felt like disapproval to Binny.
Binny didn’t have a lot of interaction with her grandparents, who lived far away. Caleb had been sort of a part-time grandparent figure when she would see him at his shop, or in more recent times in the woods. And while he wasn’t family proper, she did want his approval. “She was upset, about the broken typewriter, and I was just trying to help.”
Caleb kept working.
“It’s not my fault that she ran off.” Binny explained.
“I’m sure you did your best.” Caleb answered.
“Yes. I did. My best. Wait. What are you sure I did my best at?” Binny was confused.
Caleb answered slowly, “Well, I’m sure you did your best to let her into your ‘fortress of solitude’, so when the time came, she knew she could trust you with her feelings as well.”
Binny had to chew on that one for a moment. As much as she didn’t want to admit it, Caleb had a point. She hadn’t been very welcoming to the girl, who didn’t seem to have anyone else.
Before she could reflect on that more, she heard someone running up the path towards them. Worried it was those boys coming back, she instinctively took a step behind Caleb.
It was Zach. He was out of breath. In between gasps for air he said, “Binny, I need your help, Cassie’s missing.”