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By Beth J. Whiting
The Knockwood family appeared to be an ordinary family except for their daughter. The parents were starting to worry about her. She was nine years old and had never brought anyone to the house.
Layla was a bit eccentric. She was very bright. She didn’t watch TV. She was always reading or doing science experiments. That, or she was saying that she was bored, a phrase her mother heard too often.
The science experiments weren’t new to the family. Her father was a high school science teacher. People remarked to the Knockwood family about how brilliant their daughter was. They kept the other comments amongst themselves. How she had poor hygiene. Her teeth were brown. Her light brown hair was hardly ever brushed. Her tiny body often appeared dirty. She talked to herself sometimes. She was a pretty kid if you looked past those things, which few did.
Though Mr. and Mrs. Knockwood were proud of their daughter, they hardly spent any time with her. The mother was busy teaching high school English. Actually, that was where the parents had met—the high school. The mother would have to stay after-hours to grade the essays. The father had meetings, homework to grade. He hardly had time to look after Layla himself.
The trouble began when Layla's father noticed the human skeleton was missing from his classroom. At first he thought that another teacher might have borrowed it. But a week went by and no one said anything to him. It was then that he blamed his students.
Mr. Knockwood told them that he wouldn’t punish the culprit. He just wanted the skeleton back. The students looked at him like he was crazy. A student even told him, “Why would anyone steal that?”
The teacher didn’t scorn them for it. He had thought the same thing himself. However, when it came down to it, the skeleton was gone. With the budget as tight as it was, he couldn’t afford a new one. Mr. Knockwood figured they could live without it, but it had been a nice visual model for his snoring students.
At the end of the week, Mr. Knockwood discussed the matter with his wife one morning at breakfast. “To think that someone stole my skeleton. It means that they would have had to wait until I wasn’t there and take it without any witnesses. Just what would a person want with it, anyway?”
Mrs. Knockwood answered with a shrug.
Layla was eating her second bowl of sugar cereal that morning. She interrupted her parents by telling her mom, “I want to go the nursery today.”
Last month Mrs. Knockwood had come up with the idea of teaching Layla how to garden. It was a way of stopping her daughter from saying, “I’m bored.” Now Layla wanted to go to the nursery all the time to buy new things for the garden.
The mother said, “But what about taking care of the plants that are already there?”
“Mom, it’s just watering.”
Layla remembered the watering part. She hadn’t forgotten a single day.
The backyard had been empty a month ago. Now there were tomatoes and flowers. It was just a small patch of ground in the backyard, but Layla took good care of it.
Layla's mother had begun by showing her how to remove a plant from its pot. Layla carefully took it out, making sure she did not hurt the roots in the process.
Mr. Knockwood hadn’t gotten around to looking at Layla’s garden like Mrs. Knockwood has asked him. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to, but things kept getting in the way.
Layla spent hours outside in the garden. She would bring a book and read among the plants. He mother eventually would yell to her to some into the house.
“I don’t want you to get a sun burn. Besides, what are you doing there?”
“I’m watching the plants grow.”
Not too long after that, it was a hot Saturday afternoon. Layla's father was out running errands. Layla's mother was holding a garage sale. There wasn’t much there except for knick-knacks.
The mother walked into the backyard to check on Layla and saw her in a hole about three feet deep.
“What are you doing?”
“Digging a hole.”
A large pile of dirt sat beside the hole.
“I think that’s a little too much for a seed.”
The mother thought about the long bath Layla would need to take later.
“I’m going back to the garage sale. If you see worms, please stop.”
“I haven’t seen them yet.”
The mother didn’t get what her daughter was doing. She didn’t even have anything to plant.
She went back to the garage sale where she sold their used ironing board for two dollars. The mother decided that she would only stay outside for another thirty minutes. How Layla could stand this heat was beyond her.
When Mr. Knockwood returned from his trip to the hardware store, Mrs. Knockwood told him about the hole in the backyard.
“I really don’t know what Layla is doing.”
“I’ll see about this. Plus it will give me a chance to finally see Layla’s garden.”
He opened the backyard fence and walked through the grass over to where Layla’s garden was. He saw tiny tomatoes, some violets, and a large sunflower growing.
He was about to comment on them when he screamed, “My skeleton!” He daughter was putting it in the ground.
“Where did you get this?”
Layla admitted, “From your classroom after hours.”
“You got it all dirty, Layla. Take it out!”
“But, Dad, it’s planted.”
Layla's mother went to the backyard to see what the trouble was. When she saw the skeleton, she had the same reaction as her father.
“You take that thing right out of there.”
“But, Mom, it’s already planted.”
Layla sighed and reluctantly took the skeleton out.
Layla's mother looked at her annoyed, “Just what would compel you to do that?”
“I wanted to plant a friend.”
The father looked at her irritated, “That wouldn’t grow. You’re smart enough to know that.”
“You never know.”
“What about the other kids at school?”
“What about the kids at school? I can’t talk to them. You can’t make someone be your friend. If I grew the skeleton, it would love me.”
Layla's father tore the skeleton from the hole.
“We’ll talk about this later,” Layla's mother muttered and returned to her garage sale.
Beth J. Whiting was born in 1983 to a large family of brainy eccentrics. At eight years old she developed a love of books through the works of Roald Dahl and C.S. Lewis. Her short stories revolve around underdogs in suburban settings, such as the one in which she was raised. She currently lives with her artistic twin sister in a tiny apartment in Mesa, Arizona.