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FICTION: "The Hutch"
This make-believe story is a work of imagination. Any resemblance to any real person, living or dead, is a complete coincidence and unintended.


The girl left Dr. Minter's office in late August and walked in the windowless hallway, hushed as if in mourning, with a mild lemon cleaning fluid smell. The doctors whose offices she passed had sons and daughters who were her classmates. She wondered if she'd ever see them again, and with her eyes down, walked into an elevator when a girl her age greeted her.

"Hi, Stacy! When do you leave for Stanford?" the girl with braces on her teeth asked.

"Oh, hi. I -- I don't know," Stacy said, and pressed a DOWN button.

"Can you come to dinner tomorrow? My mom wants to say -- "

Stacy watched the doors close in silence and made no answer. On the ground floor, two women in maternity smocks waited for the elevator, but Stacy ignored them and started for the door outside. The afternoon glare made her squint as she walked to her new MG where the kids always used to ride, up a ways from Jimmy Smith's. She put her door key in the lock when a varsity letterman with his wrist in a cast walked up and grinned.

"Did you hear about Rex?" he asked her with beer on his breath. "The coach at Stanford called him this morning to offer him a partial scholarship! You'll have a lot of friends up there, Stacy!"

She stepped inside to roll down the window, turned over the ignition, gave him a weak smile and backed out to drive home. The radio played "Ooh Ooh Baby", tears welled in her eyes and she snapped the dial off. She had enough time to put on her dark glasses when her old boyfriend Mike pulled up next to her at the corner of Sunny Crest & Valencia Mesa. Over the roar of his motorcycle, he said, "I'll stop by to see you when I visit the guys at Berkeley. Maybe we can shoot up to San Francisco, you know?"

Stacy hardly paid any attention. Dad was at his office. Mom was talking to Mrs. Fillmore when Stacy walked in. She said, "Hold on, Betty," and looked at Stacy as if to say, "Well?"

Stacy answered with a look, took a 7Up from the refrigerator and started for her bedroom. In the hall, she heard her mom say, "Betty? Listen, we have to pack. Yeah. Talk later."

Stacy changed into shorts and a T-shirt, and pulled her luggage out of the closet.  Before she started, she sat on her bed and sipped her drink. The kids next door and down the way were feeding their rabbits with the hutch door open.

After a while her mom knocked and came inside. She said:

"Our flight leaves Los Angeles International at 8:31 A.M. One stop in Honolulu. Betty'll pick us up at 6:30 to give us plenty of time. We're saying it's to visit my sister Grace in Walnut Creek and her husband's gout attack, OK?"

Stacy nodded without looking away from the kids with their rabbits.

"What do you want for dinner?" Mom asked her. "Chicken pot pie?"

"I'm not very hungry, Mom."

"You have to eat something. I'll get tossed salads with Roquefort from the Orangefair."

With birds chirping outside, the kids next door laughing, a horse's whinny down the street and Mike's motorcycle rumbling on Richman Knoll, Stacy's mom smoothed her daughter's hair and hugged her shoulder.

"I'm sorry, Mom," Stacy said as her voice broke.

"It'll be OK, honey. It's not all your fault. They're Catholics, anyway," her mom whispered.

They heard a splash in the swimming pool next door, and the Golden retrievers on the other side gave their soft bark.

Stacy's mom stood up and said, "Back in half an hour. If anybody calls, just let it ring."

Stacy said she would and waited for the sound of Mom's Lincoln backing out. She'd never been on an airplane except family Christmas vacations at the Royal Hawaiian in Waikiki. Dad always wore a white linen suit with a Stanford alumni necktie to dinner.

He'd be home in a couple of hours. Stacy sat on her bed and stared into the trail where kids rode horses. She couldn't finish her 7-Up.